Written by 9:47 am Audiophile Music

Three More Fine Albums From 2001

This Friday’s blasts from the past include a glorious Celtic vocalist, Two mandolin legends, and a country singer-songwriter. All three albums are superb.



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Chris Knight – The
Jealous Kind

Occasionally I hear a disk that grabs me so hard during the
first ten seconds that it makes me stop whatever I’m doing and just plunk my
scrawny butt down to listen. Chris
Knight’s
The Jealous Kind did exactly
that. Knight has a voice that wears an aura of suffering and grit like a merit
badge. Couple his bone-chilling vocal delivery with songs that reel you in with
hooks and bridges worthy of the best A-list Nashville song-crafters and the
final result is killer music.

An often-heard complaint about contemporary country music is
that it lacks depth, purpose and true feeling. Less than totally cheerful tales
and experiences from marginalized Americans are an anathema to the happy
hit-makers of hot country.  Personal
experiences and idiosyncratic viewpoints of the disenfranchised populate every
cut on The Jealous Kind. Imagine the
social concerns of Bruce Cockburn coupled with the musical sensibilities of
Clint Black. Call it anti-hot country. You might think that stories about
roofers turned outlaws, or hitchhikers picked up by Satan driving a big black
Cadillac Couple Deville would be depressing, but like Bruce Springsteen’s best
material, most function as anthems celebrating America’s soft white underbelly.

Co-producers Dan Baird and Joe Hardy assembled a fine
collection of performers for Chris Knight’s third solo release, including Bob
Britt, Don Baird, and Ty Tyler on electric and lap steel guitars, Keith
Christopher on bass, Greg Morrow on drums and percussion, Tony Harrell on B-3
organ, accordion, and harmonium, Dan Dugmore on pedal steel, Tammy Rogers on
violin and viola, and Matraca Berg on harmony vocals. Chris Wright wrote all
the songs on The Jealous Kind. But all but three are collaborations with an
impressive list of co-conspirators. Gary Nelson, Chuck Prophet, Christie
Sutherland, Gary Nicholson, Stacy Dean Campbell, David Leone, Matraca Berg, and
Austin Cunningham all share co-writing credits.

Perhaps there are songwriters and singers producing more
genuine country music, but I haven’t heard them. The Jealous Kind is the kind of country music that makes hot
country sound lukewarm in comparison. It would make Hank Williams smile.

 

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Bill Jones – Two Year
Winter

Bill is short for Belinda. I can’t help but wonder how someone
with such a decidedly feminine musical demeanor ended up being called Bill, but
Bill it is.  Although relatively unknown
in the United States, Ms. Jones has won the BBC’s Horizon Award for Best New
talent in 2001, and already has two previous albums under her belt. I think
it’s about time we North Americans got up to speed.

The opening cut on Two
Year Winter
, “From My Window” by Eamon Freil and Dave Duggan brings you
face to face with Bill Jones’ most notable asset, her voice. Her vocals have a
simple purity and disarming intimacy that could bring traffic to a dead stop
during rush hour at Piccadilly Circle. Her harmonic purity coupled with an
almost total absence of vocal artifice (she does very occasionally add a
smidgen of vibrato at the end of a line) makes it seem as if she isn’t really
doing anything. Willie Nelson has a similar vocal trait. Their phrasing makes
it sound so uncomplicated and effortless that you think to yourself “That’s
easy. Even I could do it.” Try and you soon discover delivering a song as
simply and directly as possible is harder than tarting it up.

To compliment her disarming voice, Bill Jones also plays piano
and accordion. The title cut “Two Year Winter,” written by Ann Hills, features
Ms. Jones’ masterful piano. As with her vocals, she eschews flash in favor of
delicate runs and precision power chords. Joined by David Wood on guitar,
Stewart Hardy on violin, Sarah Wright on flute, Miranda Sykes on double bass,
Shanti Paul Jayasiha on cello, and Keith Angel on percussion, Jones also adds
an occasional flute, diddle, or whistle. What is a diddle you ask? Sing the
word diddle and you’ve just diddled. Now go diddle yourself.

In addition to a full 12 cut CD, Two Year Winter includes a bonus CD entitled Bits and Pieces EP with four additional selections. Two Year Winter certainly doesn’t need
any additional padding, so the second CD serves as a spectacular dessert to a
most filling musical meal.  Recorded with
the same personnel, and in the same recording studios, the Bits and Pieces EP has a very similar sonic signature to the main
43:14 minute disc.  Since Bits and Pieces is only 14:34, I can’t
help but wonder why its material wasn’t just included on Two Year Winter. But it’s good to have some mysteries, right?

Much of Bill Jones’ material is either from traditional Gaelic
sources, or written by Anne Hill, who is able to write songs that mate
contemporary lyrics with a strong traditional feeling.  Here in the United States the “Americana”
musical movement has heralded a welcome return to traditional musical forms and
sounds. In Great Britain a similar revisitation to older influences
(Britannica?) from artists such as Kate Rusby and Bill Jones has also
rejuvenated their airways.  What was old
is once more new, and Bill Jones’ Two Year
Winter
can penetrate musically jaded sensibilities like the first cold
north wind of autumn cuts through a lightweight fall coat. This is great stuff.

 

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Sam Bush & David Grisman – Hold On, We’re Strummin’

When asked to name the two most influential mandolin players of
the last twenty years most mandolin aficionados will say Sam Bush and David
Grisman. Although they have shared the same stage and often jammed together,
they’ve never released any joint studio recordings playing together. Hold On, We’re Strummin’ rectifies this
serious oversight.

Recorded at Grisman’s Dawg Studios during April 2001, except
for four tunes, Hold On, We’re Strummin’ consists
entirely of new material composed especially for this release. Titles like
“Crusher and Hoss,” named after their two primary signature mandolins, and
“Hartford’s Reel,” dedicated to the memory of their friend, the late John
Hartford, indicate the personal and intimate nature of the music on Hold On, We’re Strummin’. Besides their
regular vintage Gibson F-5 mandolins Grisman and Bush play mandocello, octave
mandolin, National steel-bodied mandolin, fiddle, octave mandola,
banjo-mandolin, and even (sigh) banjo. Jack Lawrence and Dave Nunally on
guitar, Jim Kerwin and Sam Bush on bass, and Hal Blaine on drums join the
party.

Extensive liner notes by the fine jazz mandolin player Don
Stiernberg and spirited Stax-Volt inspired graphics make a package that
successfully foreshadows the eclectic yet erudite music within. As usual with
Acoustic Disc CD’s the sonics are first-rate throughout. Engineers Larry
Cumings and Dave Dennison bring out the best from all the acoustic instruments
used on Hold On, We’re Strummin’,
even the difficult ones to record like a National mandolin. I applaud their
decision not to add artificial reverberation to enhance the warmth or space of
the recording venue. The real sound of acoustic instruments recorded in natural
way rules.

Several years ago David and Sam played together during a
memorial service for Charles Sawtelle at the Boulder Theater. During their dual
solos I couldn’t help but think “I sure would love to hear a whole CD of these
two playing together.” Now my wish is a reality. As Charles Sawtelle would have
said “You need this CD.” Yup, you do.

 

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