Putumayo Presents Acoustic Cafe

Various Artists  Acoustic Café Putumayo Records

Attempting to define the singer-songwriter sound is a fool’s errand and fortunately on their latest release Putumayo makes no such claim. Rather they have gathered 11-tracks from names both familiar (The Waifs, Justin Townes Earle, Harry Manx) and less so (Trevor Hall, Jon and Roy, Fences) that share little in common.

I’ve often felt out of my depth with Putumayo releases. With albums featuring a breadth of music from around the world, I’ve often wondered if their featured African and Caribbean tracks are the ‘world’ equivalent of “Sunglasses at Night”: they sound legitimate but are rather silly and insubstantial.

So it is nice when Putumayo releases something that is right in my wheelhouse, an album I can consider with some measure of confidence and even expertise. It reaffirms my faith in the label’s commitment to quality.

Along with Manx, Lucy Kaplansky provides an experienced perspective to the set. Her lyric-heavy “Manhattan Moon” is a substantial offering that deserves a fresh chance at capturing those who may have missed it when it was released several years ago.

Multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz, the youngest artist on this collection, delivers the requisite Dylan cover and one questions why a more inspired original from her very impressive Follow Me Down wasn’t selected; similarly, Manx has many tunes more substantial than his rather pedestrian cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.

The Acoustic Café discovery, for me, was Jon and Roy, a Vancouver Island four-piece with which I was previously unfamiliar. Their offering “Any Day Now” has a light island (Caribbean, not Vancouver) vibe that is appealing.

For me, this type of coffeehouse collection has limited appeal because I’m always thinking, “But they should have a song from…” That Mark Erelli, Tracy Grammer, Maria Dunn, and John Wort Hannam are not included should not enter into my evaluation of the set, but invariably does especially when confronted with dreary tracks from The Sweet Remains and The Waifs.

Preaching to the converted, Putumayo’s new endeavour could easily have gone deeper (at 37-minutes, it is rather brief) but as a compact sampler still provides trails for future exploration.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

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