East To West
Bloodshot Records BS135
A quick and dirty definition of the melting pot that is pop music is something with structure that sounds good to the ears. It can come in many flavors. In the case of Nashville singer/songwriter/sideman Paul Burch, his economical style of pop consistently finds an appealing balance between throwback country and hillbilly rock ‘n’ roll, not to mention the folk tradition, all the while having something very fresh about it. On his sixth release called East To West, whether he’s delivering a straight-up love song (the terrific “December Sparklers”), paying homage to the late and legendary BBC radio host John Peel (“John Peel”), going the murder ballad route ala “Last Dream of Will Keene”, throwing a country shuffle beat into the mix (“When I’m In Love”), or chugging away in Cash-like fashion (“Daddy Rhythm Guitar”), Burch’s crafty tunes once again strike a retro chord without sounded dated in the least. A guy who knows his way as much around a Webb Pierce tune as one from Nashville quirksters Lambchop, that wealth of knowledge plays into the finely tuned lyrics and tasty melodies of the original songs comprising East To West. The latter blooms in large part thanks to Burch surrounding himself with a collection of talented and likeminded comrades in music, a.k.a. his stellar WPA Ballclub band, whose respective resumes include work with acts ranging from the Jayhawks and Emmylou Harris to Jason Ringenberg and Last Train Home. Unlike his prior albums, Burch enlists a bit of star power on East to West with assists coming from the likes of Ralph Stanley (vocals on a cover of the Stanley Brothers classic “Little Glass of Wine”) and Mark Knopfler (lead acoustic and electric guitar on “Before the Bells”), not mention Tim O’Brien and Kelly Hogan helping out on vocals. The sum total is a tight-as-a-tourniquet recording on which Burch and company deliver the pop country goods in relaxed, but always spirited fashion. (Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618, or www.bloodshotrecords.com)
Paul Burch opens for singer/songwriter Amy Correia at the Narrows Center for the Arts on Friday, October 6. Show time is 8 PM. The Narrows is located at 16 Anawan Street in Fall River, MA. Call 508-324-1926 or check the Center’s web site at www.ncfta.org.
Country Super Hit Vol. 1
Yep Roc Records YEP2136
Country Super Hit Vol. 1
Yep Roc Records YEP2136
It was hall of famer Ernie Banks would who greet just about every sunny morning during the baseball season with the refrain “Let’s Play Two” meaning it was a great day for baseball. Judging by his latest releases which arrived simultaneously in September, when it comes to making records Jim Lauderdale must think in a similar fashion. “Let’s record and release two.” That’s exactly what he does with the albums Country Super Hits Vol. 1 and Bluegrass.
After major label deals with the likes of Warner Brothers, Atlantic and RCA where his releases earned loads of critical kudos, Lauderdale retreated from the bigs back in 1999. The creative freedom of the indie label world paid dividends soon after on the 2002 release Lost in the Lonesome Pines which garnered Lauderdale a Grammy for Bluegrass Album of the Year. Similar to what he’s done here in 2006, Lost in the Lonesome Pines was one of two recordings from 2002 that saw release on the same day, the other recording being a country album called Hummingbirds. Even with a Grammy on his mantle, it has been country music, thanks mainly to his songwriting skills, that has garnered Lauderdale his greatest financial success. Writing hit songs for heavyweights like George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Mark Chesnutt will do that for you. It has also enabled him to continue to make records on his own terms for labels like his latest suitor, North Carolina-based indie Yep Roc Records. One could describe the honky tonk songs and sounds of Country Super Hits Vol. 1 as formulaic, but the real truth is that very few in the commercial country ranks follow the tried and true formula anymore. Such is not the case with Lauderdale’s Country Super Hits Vol. 1. As flip as the title of this album may be, it is a record in the real stuff that is brimming with plenty of fiddle, steel, and twangy guitar to bolster hard country nuggets like “Honky Tonk Mood Again”, “Playing on My Heart Strings”, “Single Standard Time”, and “I Meet Jesus in a Bar”.
Whereas writing country songs has been his chief meal ticket, with each and every bluegrass album he does it sounds to these ears that the music from the house that Monroe built is Lauderdale’s true calling as a singer. Not that he came upon it in the latter stages of his career. Growing in western North Carolina, it was bluegrass that Lauderdale was weaned on. The simply titled Bluegrass is Lauderdale’s fourth venture into the country subgenre. Simply put, it is an album which can stand toe to toe with the Grammy-winning Lost in the Lonesome Pines. In fine voice throughout the 13 tracks, what distinguishes it from all too many run-of-the-mill bluegrass albums is the top notch collection of musicians accompanying Lauderdale and the country feel he brings to his songs. How better to describe numbers like “Who’s Leaving Who”, “Love in the Ruins”, “Forever Ends Today”, and “Time’s a Looking Glass” than as straight-up country songs in a bluegrass setting. Throw a little high lonesome in there, which Lauderdale has no trouble reaching with his versatile voice, and it’s nothing but bluegrass country bliss. (Yep Roc Records, PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, or www.yeproc.com.)
Jim Lauderdale headlines at the Narrows center For the Arts on Thursday, October 5. The band Hem opens. Show time is 8 PM with Jimmy Barrett in the opening slot. The Narrows is located at 16 Anawan Street in Fall River, MA. Call 508-324-1926 or check the Center’s web site at www.ncfta.org.
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)