Doug Seegers- Going Down to the River review

DougSeegers_River_coverFINALDoug Seegers Going Down to the River Rounder Records

Delia Bell. Ted Hawkins. David Ball. James Hand.

Every once in awhile, a singer who has been around for a long, long time gets ‘discovered’ and is thrust into the roots limelight for a wee slice of time.

Sometimes they hit. More often, they are soon forgotten.

Like the four names mentioned above, Doug Seegers has been making music for more than a little while. His story got a great deal of attention starting a couple months back, and his Rounder debut is coming out in early October. (Actually, I thought it was already out it has been in my hands for so long; good idea always to fact check.)

I don’t know if Seegers will stick around in what passes for a roots mainstream or not. I do know that Going Down to the River is a darned good sounding country music album.

In case you missed it, here’s a capsule of the capsule: raised on Hank, Sr., a fan of Lennon and Gram, NYC street musician Seegers made his way to Austin, befriended Buddy Miller, got married, settles back in upstate NY, gives up music, but keeps the itch. Eventually, he moves to Nashville and for almost two decades busks for tips in West Nashville and on Lower Broadway. Off the bad habits, he is discovered by a Swedish country star, and becomes a bit of a sensation in the Scandinavian country, with “Going Down to the River” topping the iTunes chart. He is introduced to the right producer, reconnects with Miller, impresses Emmylou Harris, and Going Down to the River makes Swedish gold in a couple months!

The very talented Peter Cooper wrote a story about Seegers a few months back, and it should be read; it gives the full picture.

Going Down to the River was produced by the always tasteful Will Kimbrough (he’s worked with Fervor Coulee favourite Kate Campbell), and it is as stunning a disc as its back story promises.

The album kicks off with the emotional “Angie’s Song,” a favourite of the singer-songwriter. From his first notes Seegers reminds me of no one more than Eddie Noack, the long ago singer that brought “Psycho,” “Delores,” “Barbara Joy,” and other gruesome songs to life. As this lonesome song develops, Marty Brown—another long ago discarded singer that Nashville discovered for a few months, and who I just learned had some success on America’s Got Talent last year—comes to mind, and to my ears he is the best vocal comparison I can locate. (A YouTube clip of Brown’s AGT audition is here.)

There is no mistaking the emotional intensity that Seegers brings to his songs; this natural quality is apparent within each of Going Down to the River’s dozen songs. The quality of his songs is impressive, and this excellence combined with Seegers’ vocal appeal soon makes one set aside similarities or phrasal tendencies and simply concentrate on the connection he is making with his audience.

“Going Down to the River” is the composition that first gained Seegers notice, and it isn’t hard to understand why: “I’m going down to the river, I’m going to wash my soul again; I’ve been running with the devil, and I know that he is not my friend.” Beyond the words, the performance is stunning: restrained, raw perhaps, but crackling with electricity.

By song three, when Emmylou Harris joins in on “She” (which she didn’t on the original GP version more than forty years ago), all bets are off and Seegers is soaring. Harris comes bouncing in on the second chorus before taking a few lines for herself; this is a strong arrangement choice, one that I’ve not heard elsewhere and it serves the song beautifully.

Because of the many production choices Kimbrough makes on this track—the slivers of pedal steel from Al Perkins, the vigorous reverb, even allowing Seegers the first 100 seconds without Harris—everything comes together on this notable take: a (overly?) familiar song is completely reinvigorated.

The album’s other non-original is a quick little run through of Hank Williams’ “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight.” Joining Seegers on this one is his old Austin friend Buddy Miller, and the pair duet nicely together. Barbara Lamb, who plays fiddle on every track, accounts for herself well here.

“Pour Me,” “Lonely Drifter’s Cry,” and “Memory Lane” are not only well constructed, they ring with the authenticity that comes from having been written by one who has lived his songs. Not an obviously autobiographical songwriter, Seegers’ reality have influenced his compositions.

Going Down to the River delivers on the promise the advance press has hyped. A feel good story delivered via a remarkable neo-traditional country album.

Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald



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