Jefferson Ross- Southern Currency review

Jefferson Ross Southern Currency

As much as we may despair the political and social decisions of the past (and in many places, currently being made) to undermine equity and justice, the southern United States hold interest because of its beauty, artistic culture including music, and resilience.

Georgian Jefferson Ross partners with producer and guitarist Thomm Jutz to create a tome of musical postcards representing the southern states. As Ross states, “…[the] South is not just one culture, but a collection of many cultures, accents, food traditions, world-views…” and he was inspired to write a song for each state (Texas and Missouri are left aside) with a different mood and emotion. He has done so successfully as Southern Currency is a cracking collection of songs.

The band chosen represents the diversity of the music. Mike Compton (mandolin), Mark Fain (upright bass), and Tammy Rogers-King (fiddle and harmony vocals) provide what would seem to be a bluegrass core. However, these musicians demonstrate that they can play any of the required roots styles, including Louisiana-flavoured (the brilliant “Baptize the Gumbo”), acoustic blues (“King of Mississippi”), and the tangible, hardcore country heartbreak required for “The Nashville Neon Waltz.” Lynn Williams provides drumming and percussion (his contribution to “Down in Macon, Georgia” is a highlight), while Ross and Jutz handle the guitars and vocals. Ross possesses a fine voice, one filled with honest heart and gentle reassurance. This writer’s regard for Rogers-King couldn’t be greater, and her fiddling throughout Southern Currency further cements the esteem in which she is held.

Ross: “I wanted to tell the whole story, warts and all, not just moonlight and magnolias, but, also the sins and hard struggles and battles between those of us who live here. It’s a land of contradictions. Pride and shame. Penance and celebration. Wisdom and ignorance. Judgment and mercy.”

Many of the songs are straight-ahead, unblemished Americana troubadour with “Turquoise and Tangerine” (Florida) and “High Times in the Low Country” (South Carolina) being additional highlights. The common tale of siblings divided by blue and gray (“Two Kentucky Brothers”) is a bluegrass workout, while the lead track “Alabama is a Winding Road” captures some of that state’s complicated and hate-filled history.

Ross: “The South is my family. But, like family, the wound go deep as do the joys. Families are complicated.”

An ambitious project, the eleven songs comprising Southern Currency work together to provide a near-balanced, musically appealing portrait of the South. Ross doesn’t take an advocacy position, allowing his human and geographic protagonists to exist within their reality, revealing the challenges of their existence and shared histories.

Ross: “I hope that whoever listens to Southern Currency will get an honest feel of my home, maybe put a face with an idea. Maybe a sound or a taste will humanize a preconceived perception of this place. It’s a place I love.”

The album closes where it begins, in church. The title track is assigned to Virginia but reflects much of what Ross attributes generally to the south: incongruities rooted in a Christian-dominated past (and present) that separates people for the benefit of the dominant. With a touch of bluegrass flair, this number provides the album with its thesis statement: “southern currency…won’t pay the rent in this day and time…ain’t worth a cent, ain’t worth a dime.”

Contradictions are alive in The South, and Jefferson Ross captures these within his impressive Southern Currency.

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