Continuing the journey…
Pale Imperfect Diamond Cedar Hill Refugees (Effigy Records, 2009) I can’t say John Carter Cash’s production decisions do a lot for me, but on this disc- which brings the musical influences of Uzbekistan to Nashville- he and Jack Clift get it pretty much right. Jadoo is the name of the Uzbek band featured throughout, and I’m not really sure where they stop and the array of the usual guests, including Marty Stuart, Ralph Stanley, John Cowan, Randy Scruggs, Ronnie McCoury, Harry Stinson, Dennis Crouch, start.
But the music works on a number of levels. First, the music of the Uzbeks does remind one of southern mountain music, at least as it is presented here. Second, the exotic and mysterious rhythms and unusual instrumentation which includes horns, percussion, and stringed instruments galore works as an alternative to the increasingly glossy bluegrass sounds one ever more associates with ‘mountain music.’ Not that this music isn’t highly produced, but if I’m going to listen to studio polish I’d rather find it here than in my bluegrass.
Finally, the vocals are full of treats that even the most casual of listeners will appreciate. Dr. Ralph’s contributions to “Keys to the Kingdom” are worth the purchase alone, but John Cowan shines on “Oh, Bury Me Not”. The downside is the lack of liner notes beyond general musician credits; a project such as this cries out for explanation and reflection on the song choices, the instruments featured, and the interplay of the participants.
The Record Bar Shows Bob Walkenhorst with Jeff Porter and Norm Dahlor (Internet Archive, 2009) Not an album or even a series of albums, but an ongoing archive of weekly shows performed by the Rainmakers front man at a Kansas City pub. Amongst the wealth of original material are choice country, folk and rock (“Dirty Water”) covers, many with timely significance (“Woodstock” in early-August, Ellie Greenwich’s “Hanky Panky” and “Chimes of Freedom” dedicated to Ted Kennedy as the month drew to a close.)
Walkenhorst and his compatriots are obviously comfortable performing within this largely acoustic setting. While over 300 Walkenhorst recordings are available on the Archive, this summer’s slate of shows were particularly strong, with focus and looseness apparent in equal measure. http://www.archive.org/details/BobWalkenhorst
South Mouth Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot, 1997) An unfortunately long-neglected favourite, I rediscovered South Mouth when I ran across a deeply discounted copy and picked it up for a gift. Of course, I had to listen to it in the car on the way home…and then the next day and a week later. I still haven’t passed it onto Cheryl and Ross, but I trust they’ll like it as much as I do if they ever get a chance to listen to it. Every song, except “F%&k this Town” would sound terrific within a bluegrass arrangement with “Cold Statesboro Ground” already having been given such by James Reams & the Barnstormers. When I hear songs like “I Told Her Lies”, “What the Lord Hath Wrought (Any Fool Can Knock Down)”, and “Busy Not Crying”, I remember why I love country music so much, and how rare such performances seem.
Black & Blue The Rolling Stones (Universal 1976/2009) I’ve wanted to pick up this album ever since reading Ian Rankin’s excellent novel of the same name a few years ago. I was curious not only because of the way Rankin referenced the album throughout, but because I’d heard such mixed messages about the disc. I finally purchased it when it was rereleased this year and I found it cheap enough. The album didn’t blow me away, but I certainly appreciated the mood the grooves inspired in me- good for highway driving, no doubt. Listening to the album, I couldn’t help be surprised that folks claimed the Stones went disco with Emotional Rescue just a few years later; the two albums certainly share the same DNA. I’m glad I listened to it, if only to satisfy my curiousity. Not essential, but few Stones albums are.
Songs My Father Loved Ricky Skaggs (Skaggs Family, 2009) A beautiful album, artfully rendered. And that isn’t something I say very often about a Ricky Skaggs album. Likely the last time I had overwhelmingly pleasant thoughts about a Skaggs disc was somewhere prior to the turn of the century with Bluegrass Rules and Life is A Journey. On the cover, Skaggs looks terrific- and the photo reminds me of both Guy Clark and Marty Stuart- and he appears to be accepting the passages of time. Despite all the necessary multi-tracking, the music is fresh and homely (as in simple and unpretentious) presented. When Skaggs sings country, as he does here- not commercial country, mind, but mountain inspired country- he is in his wheelhouse. Wonderful stuff!
Sylvain Sylvain/Syl Sylvain & the Teardrops Sylvain Sylvain (1980/1981/2007 Acadia) I first heard “I’m So Sorry” on a Rachel Sweet bootleg where she is playing tunes on the Kid Leo show. I picked up both of these albums over the years in delete bins (remember them?) and had been keeping my eyes open for them on disc. I was completely surprised when I (again) tripped over this 2fer in an Athens Metropolis store. I’ve written about the store elsewhere, but what a wonderboon it was- four or five stories of music, neatly if confusingly (to me, a non-Greek) arranged in a roomy and clean environment. Anyway, the second album doesn’t hold up to the first, but the first three tracks (“Teenage News”, “What’s That Got To Do With Rock n Roll”, and the perfect “I’m So Sorry) are as wonderful a ten minutes as I’ve heard in all my years. Maybe the best seven Euro I spent on the trip, although all those Orange Fantas were mighty tasty.
Different Views David Gogo (Cordova Bay, 2009) I’ll be honest. The only reason I even gave this album a fair listen was because I noticed the cover of John Stewart’s “Gold”. I’ve got a stack of CDs that I haven’t had time or inclination to listen to, and this one likely would have found a place in that pile. Do I really need to listen to another self-indulgent blues guitar album?
Good thing I noticed “Gold” because the album is very strong, not the least bit wankerish. It holds up and draws in even the most reluctant listener. The originals are power blues-rockers of the finest sort, with changes of tempo that encourage air-guitar miming from listeners and vocal arrangements that recall Tom Wilson and Carlos Santana. Different Views is soaring voices, power chords and waves of organ, tightly arranged for maximum impact.
I’ve searched for covers of John Stewart’s most famous song this side of “Daydream Believer” and they are rare; Gogo’s version, featuring Carolyn Mark in Stevie’s place is remarkable; Jim Bass may now be making $8.50 for an hour, but the rhythm in his hands is as steady as ever in Gogo’s treatment.
A reminder never to judge without listening.
Two Dimes & a Nickel David Davis & the Warrior River Boys (Rebel, 2009) Along with Dale Ann Bradley’s latest, maybe the finest bluegrass album I’ve heard this year. Beautiful, cinematic songs. Davis picks songs with more care that it appears do his higher-profile bluegrass contemporaries. Yes, they include clichés but the familiar phrases and expected treatments work for the song, not against it. See my full review at http://lonesomeroadreview.wordpress.com/
Motorway Tom Robinson (Music de Luxe, 1994) I’m not sure when or where this collection was recorded. I found it for cheap in a bin of leftovers several years ago and promptly forgot about it. Last winter, ”2-4-6-8 Motorway” worked its way back into my brain when it was featured in an episode of Ashes to Ashes. So I dug out my vinyl of Power in the Darkness and had some fun for a few nights, and actually was listening to PITD in the car this morning before writing this piece. Re-found this disc on the shelf when I was doing some reorganizing of the CDs. A fine little set that captures the freewheeling attitude that was so obvious when these songs were first heard during university days- we can do anything and will accomplish everything. Well, we didn’t- or at least I haven’t. ”2-4-6-8 Motorway” is still one of the best driving songs of any genre of the past forty years, and while the version here is a bit restrained, it still feels right. This album encouraged me to further explore the Tom Robinson and TRB discographies, and it has been great fun.
A few more to come…. Cheers, Donald