Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms
Imagine that country music didn’t take a heavy countrypolitan swerve in the 60s. Pedal steel guitar remains prominent, but things didn’t go all schmaltzy. Emotion is paramount, loves challenged and lost, frustrations voiced. Syrup is for pancakes, not country songs. What else may have been avoided? No urban cowboys of the 70s? Sawyer Brown? No Garth and Shania pop-rock? Bro country and the current slate of misguided country would never have evolved.
Nope, had things gone just a little differently and things remained more Louisiana Hayride and less uptown, there is a fine chance that today’s country music might more frequently sound like that produced by Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms.
This is the real stuff.
Veterans of Washington state’s more authentic country music environs, Klauder (Foghorn Stringband) and Willms (also FHSB) joined forces a few years ago, and if Innocent Road is any indication of the magic they produce when performing together, I need to search out their debut Oh Do You Remember.
Featuring the Caleb Klauder Country Band, Innocent Road is comprised of a half-dozen Kluader songs, a few obscure covers, and a healthy dollop of familiar country classics from the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones. The kicker is a track from Paul Burch’s stunning Fool For Love album, “C’est le Moment (If You’re Gonna Love Me,)” artfully sung by Willms.
Klauder and Willms sing together very well, and as much as I enjoy Prine and DeMent and Robison and Willis, I think I might just prefer what this duo accomplishes. There is no artifice within these recordings, no hint of sly aside. They sound as if they are in the corner of a county hall, singing their hearts out for folk who have worked too damn hard all week and need a few hours to forget enough to do it all again come Monday morning.
Songs like “I’d Jump the Mississippi,” “Coming on Strong,” and “There Goes My Love” may be familiar to some listeners, and their performances are nothing short of splendid. The true jewels of Innocent Road are Klauder’s songs, whether the faithful title track or the mournful and slightly Roger Milleresque “New Shoes.” “Just A Little” is a weepy duet shuffle of missed opportunities.
Outside the Burch song, the album’s strongest five minutes might be the double shot of “Been On the Rocks” and “Last Time I Saw Her.” Great guitar work (maybe from Rusty Blake,) some sweet bass (Jesse Emerson), and Jason Norris’ fiddle, combined with great lyrics, close harmony, and a feeling of yearnsome one doesn’t usually find outside an Alison Krauss recording. Beautiful.
Mostly acoustic, this is the kind of country music for which we at Fervor Coulee plainly pine.
Some of these songs have appeared on previous recordings, but that should dissuade no one. Innocent Road is an excellent collection of country music. The packaging is nothing short of ingenious, too: kudos to Colleen M. Heine and Stumptown Printers.