Monday, August 17, 2009

Odds and ends

I am listening to Jim Henry’s One-Horse Town (2005) as I type this. It is one of the CDs I bought at Falcon Ridge this summer. It is one of a series of “seven-song six-packs” from Jim Henry and Tracy Grammer over the past few years. Tracy’s are called The Verdant Mile and Book of Sparrows. Jim Henry has this one, and another called King of Hearts. I’ll write about the others soon. For the moment, here’s what they have in common. They are all short; seven songs each. Tracy plays and sings on Jim’s six-packs, and Jim plays on Tracy’s.

Anyway, One-Horse Town is excellent. It opens with “deep river blues,” a Doc Watson-arranged traditional song, which sounds like it came from a Jorma Kaukonen album, with some delicate finger-picking and tasty dobro solos (Jim overdubs his own parts; Tracy is credited with vocals and violin). The title track comes next. It’s a Jim Henry original, and it’s very sweet, about the power of roots and their power over the children who leave small town life. The portrait of small-town life is conservative—“a peck on the cheek when there’s no one around”—but loving, and the melody is simple and direct. Think of it as a more optimistic, less fatalistic version of Dave Carter’s “Ordinary Town.” The version of “St. James Infirmary” that follows is straightforward. Then comes a previously unrecorded Dave Carter song, “Quickdraw Southpaw’s Last Hurrah,” typically excellent, yearning and sad and hopeful. “A sad farewell” is instrumental, pretty good. “This Lullaby” is a Jim Henry original, a lovely ballad about growing up. Finally, there’s another Jim Henry original called “Ruby,” about his daughter, that begins, “when Bob Dole spoke / your mom went into labor / her water broke / she started screaming for the savior.” I love it.

I hadn’t realized that Jim Henry is such a good songwriter, but he is. On the basis of “One-horse Town,” “This Lullaby,” and “Ruby,” I want to hear more.

I’ve also just listened to Richard Shindell’s latest album, Not Far Now (2009). It is good but, so far, I’m not sure what else to say about it. It actually peaks toward the end: the final three tracks are "Get Up Clara," in which Richard lets his lover be their guide, Dave Carter's "The Mountain," and "Balloon Man" which had me spellbound at the Signature Sounds concert last month. Based on two listens to the disc, they are the best songs on the album, the ones in which lyrics, music, arrangement, and performance yield something I'd like to hear again. None of the other tracks have made contact yet, although "Parasol Ants" has a great lyric. I think I need to listen again.

I've also been listening to the Flatlanders' Wheel of Fortune (2004) which has stuff on it that makes me smile, even laugh out loud, and all the singers are great. I'm starting to get the feeling I've stumbled onto something great. After perusing some of their other stuff via iTunes, I now realize that I know some of their other songs. WFUV used to play a couple of songs from their 2002 disc, Now Again, that I really liked.

I have yet to listen to Jack Hardy's newest, and it's on my agenda to give it a spin tomorrow. Ditto Carsie Blanton's newest. And Loudon Wainwright and Chris Smither both have new albums coming out in the next month or so. Goody!

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