Archive for the ‘ Country Rock ’ Category

Beachwood Sparks “The Tarnished Gold”

Tarnished Gold

Beachwood Sparks are one of the most accomplished country rock bands on the indie rock scene today.  Influenced by classic LA country rock styles rather than 90s alternative country, the group has been around since the late 1990s.  In The Tarnished Gold Beachwood Sparks have released perhaps their finest album to date, their masterpiece and a return to form (their last album came out 10 years before).

While there are a couple of throw away tracks (see the clumsy “No Queremos Oro”), the album as a whole is uniformly excellent – easily one of the finest country rock releases in the past 20 years.  “Sparks Fly Again,” “Mollusk” and “Tarnished Gold” strongly recall the Byrds from their Younger Than Yesterday and Notorious Byrd Brothers albums, as they combine Bakersfield/LA style country with trippy guitar work.  “Goodbye,” “Nature’s Light” and “Talk About Lonesome” find the group arriving at their own sound (indie folk, rock and country) and are more original than much of what’s here (even though what’s here is great).  “Water From The Well” one of the album’s finest songs, sounds like a classic and should be as it’s a great folk rock cut with catchy guitar figures.

The sounds here are soft, laid back and sublime – none of this music rocks hard but it doesn’t matter because the quality of the songcraft here outshines the lack of rock n roll music.  Without doubt The Tarnished Gold is one of the finest folk/country/rock/indie albums of 2012.  It’s an important album for Beachwood Sparks in that it shows the group’s maturity as song writers and performers.  Let’s hope Beachwood Sparks continues to release records this good.

mp3: Mollusk
mp3: Water From The Well

:) Reissue | Subpop | 2012 | buy from amazon ]

Gene Clark “Two Sides To Every Story”

Two Sides To Every Story

It was three years after Gene Clark’s infamous, cocaine-fueled mid 70s masterpiece No Other, teaming again with Thomas Jefferson Kaye as producer and employing the best musicians of the era, Doug Dillard, Emmylou Harris, Jeff Baxter, Al Perkins, John Hartford to name a few, Clark took things down a notch while retaining a tight (but not overly slick) studio sound on 1977’s Two Sides To Every Story. Even judging the albums by their cover, the excess of No Other gets stripped away to reveal a regular, humble Gene Clark in its wake. On the surface what appears to be a late, perhaps too-safe offering from a washed up Gene Clark (it did turn out to be another commercial failure) in hindsight is one of his finest moments on record.

A little bit a country, a litte bit rock n roll, a heavy dose of Gene’s trademark ballads and tender vocal deliveries, you’ll probably fall for one of the styles offered up on Two Sides more than another, but the varied mix works. Album starter “Home Run King” is an oddly great track as good as anything from the Fantastic Expedition, though Dillard’s pronounced banjo picking will surely turn off the less country inclined. In the same kind of feel, the band lends traditional “In The Pines” as much a ‘Gene Clark’ sound as Nirvana would do for themselves some fifteen years later. I’m less inclined to stay around for the barroom rock sound on his own “Kansas City Southern,” previously recorded for Dillard & Clark’s Through The Morning Through The Night, and a cover of Young Jessie’s “Mary Lou,” but these are still strong cuts.

The key to this record is to not let the soft ones sneak by. Like all good Clark tunes the slower numbers here are moody, dynamic, dramatic rides that pay off more and more with each new listen. The beautiful “Sister Moon” could have easily found a home on No Other.  “Give My Love To Marie” is a tender take on a sad track penned by the underrated James Talley. The final trio of ballads, “Hear The Wind,” “Past Addresses,” and “Silent Crusade” all originals where he does his thing; the growing beauty of this album further solidifies Gene Clark as one of my favorite singer/songwriters (a shame I hadn’t found this one sooner).

Perhaps a little more thought on the sleeve design (not that Gene’s big goofy grin on the back is without its charm) might have ensured Two Sides would be properly recognized as the classic it is. On the other hand, most of Clark’s material remains woefully unrecognized today, Two Sides no exception.

The fairly new High Moon Records issued Two Sides To Every Story on vinyl (with 16-page booklet) earlier this year. They plan to also put it out on CD for the first time this spring, included with an extra disc of bonus material. Apparently vinyl buyers will eventually be able to get their hands on the extra material as well through a download card. You can’t be a Gene Clark fan without this one.

mp3: Home Run King
mp3: Sister Moon

:) Reissue | 2013 | High Moon Records | buy from highmoon ]
:) Original | 1977 | RSO Records | search ebay ]

Buck Owens and his Buckaroos “Carnegie Hall Concert / In Japan!”

It’s certainly not a lost gem or unknown by any means. In fact this one is considered one of the best live country albums of all time,  holding the #1 country album slot for five weeks in 1966, and is often cited as Buck and his Buckaroos’ greatest record. But I’ll be damned if the Carnegie Hall Concert doesn’t have its place on this page (especially in concert with its sister album In Japan!) as a great live document of a great band in its own right, but mostly as a model for all the country rock that would closely follow in the steps of Buck’s classic Bakersfield Sound, right down to the Nudie suit.

So what is it about Carnegie Hall that’s makes it worth hundreds of listens? Sure, it’s filled with corny bits that don’t necessarily make the transition to audio, Buck always playing the consummate ham (“pure pork”), and manages to condense a quantity of hits into medleys where any would serve to stand on its own.  Just, dang me, find me a Buck tune that sounds better in the studio than on Carnegie. We’re talking about a band at the top of its game, tighter than a tick, in the prime of its prime. Led by Buck’s right hand, “Dangerous” Don Rich, who’s simple licks would come to define Telecaster country guitar, “Tender” Tom Brumley on pedal steel, “Dashing” Doyle Holly on bass, and “Wonderful” Willie Cantu on the drums, the Buckaroos never had a better lineup. And yet they play it so straight: no virtuosic runs or fancy orchestrations, just pure, honest electrified country.

The classic self-titled instrumental “Buckaroo,” covered later by the Byrds, Burritos, and Leo Kottke, is evidence enough of their significance to the sound of late sixties country rock. Don’s high harmony reinvents “Together Again,” rendering the studio version limp in comparison. “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Act Naturally,” “Tiger By The Tail,” and one of Buck’s latest #1 singles “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line” get a full, lively treatments. The medley’s serve as a great introduction and reminder to Buck’s library of classic tunes and move the record along well in contrast to wacky comedy stuff like “Fun ‘N’ Games with Don and Doyle” and “Twist and Shout.” The Sundazed reissue even restores the full concert so not a moment is cut (like the original LP).

Amazingly, not a single track is repeated on live follow-up In Japan! While not loaded quite like its older sis, this is more or less a continuation of where we left off (only replacing Doyle Holly with Wayne Wilson on bass), the band every bit as good, and featuring lots of Buck’s less appreciated classics. My favorites obviously include “Open Up Your Heart,” the ungrammatical “Where Does The Good Times Go,” and the very sweet “We Were Made For Each Other.” Also the ballad, “I Was Born To Be In Love With You,”  is quite lovely and for some odd reason appears only on this album.

Most of anything, these records are plain fun. The way Buck will introduce a tune saying “this one’s called…” and launch into the chorus; the perfect timing and interplay of a band that wouldn’t even think to rehearse. You can just hear the smiles on their faces, even the audience.

mp3: Buckaroo
mp3: I Was Born To Be In Love With You

:) Original | 1966, 1967 | Capitol | search carnegie | search japan ]
:D Reissue | 2000 | Sundazed | buy carnegie | buy japan ]

Borderline “Sweet Dreams & Quiet Desires”

Here’s yet another gem I found tucked within these pages at the The Band’s best fan site. Involvement from a Band member or two can’t guarantee a record’s gonna be a good one, but most of the time, you can count on it.  Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson both grace this class act recording credited respectively as “Dick Handle” and “Campo Malaqua,” but they’re no show stealers next to some heavy hitting session men, a fine set of original tunes and Borderline’s down home, roaming feel.

Sweet Dreams and Quiet Desires somehow manages to blend classic rock with the Bearsville sound, Nashville country, even as far as bluegrass – albeit more of a laid-back and stoned grass-rock than that of the Dillards, Brummels or Goose Creek. Brothers David and Jon Gershen turn in 8 original numbers ranging from swampy groovers like David’s “Don’t Know Where I’m Going” to Jon’s strung-out, anthemic ballads “Please Help Me Forget” and “Dragonfly.” Traditional numbers arranged by producer and guitarist Jim Rooney (“Clinch Mountain,” “Good Womans Love,” and “Handsome Molly”) seamlessly flow next to classic sounding country numbers by David Gershen (“Marble Eyes,” Sweet Dreams”). In addition to the Band members, Band producer John Simon appears on piano as well as Billy Mundi on drums and Vassar Clements on fiddle.

Sadly, Sweet Dreams and the ill-fated Second Album remain criminally unissued.  For now, get yer Borderline info/story here. This record certainly deserves as much recognition as any other genre-forging classic country rock record I’ve heard.

Update:  Borderline is finally being issued, along with their never before released Second Album, by Real Gone Music! The CD includes new liners with a limited amount autographed by the band. Scoop this edition up before it leaves us again.

mp3: Don’t Know Where I’m Going
mp3: Please Help Me Forget

:D 2CD Reissue | 2012 | Real Gone Music | buy from real gone ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Avalanche | search ebay ]

Crazy Horse “Loose”

After releasing their classic debut on Reprise back in 1970, Crazy Horse underwent some serious changes in personnel. Guitarist Danny Whitten got kicked out for substance abuse, keyboardist Jack Nitzsche left to focus on his highly-successful career as composer and producer, and occasional Horse cohort Nils Lofgren got sucked into a promising solo career before eventually finding berth in a top dollar position backing Bruce Springsteen. The result was that Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina – band mainstays to a degree that they have pretty much become Crazy Horse – decided to call up their former Rockets compatriot George Whitsell and rewire the group. It would be foolish to claim the ensuing record, 1972’s scatter-shot country-rocker Loose, is anywhere as good as its predecessor, but it’s nowhere near the disappointment its neglected position in Horse history has led some to claim it as.

What we have here is a solid collection of 1970s Canyon stompers and Zuma beach jams, pulling the spirit and sound of the band’s first album into a slightly lower register and trading in a bit of the garage-band cackle for a smooth, whiskey-soaked groove. This is by no means a tamed Horse, as some might lead you to believe, but rather one that’s learned the ropes a little and has decided to switch pastures before getting ground up in Los Angeles smog. “She Won’t Even Blow Smoke In My Direction,” a seemingly insignificant one-and-a-half minute instrumental coda to the record, actually does everything to sum up this new Crazy Horse cool: loose, laid back groove, raw, twangy guitar and the “hell, might as well switch on the tape recorder” spirit that has always been the band’s modus operandi.

A reference point for some of the material might be the New Riders of the Purple Sage, especially on the mellow shuffle of “One Thing I Love” (very obvious shades of Sage ballads like “Last Lonely Eagle” here) and the barroom ramble “You Won’t Miss Me,” which features tasty pedal steel licks and honky tonk piano. “Hit and Run” is pure Horse, however; it would be hard to mistake those ragged harmonies and that classic rhythm section beat with any other group. Numbers like this help bridge the new, sleepier approach to the band’s prior incarnation, and perhaps even hint at where Horse catalyst (and arguably, founder) Neil Young’s own music was meandering around this time. Those missing the jams that defined the Horse’s original work on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere might be reassured to come to “All the Little Things,” which has some great guitar playing that, while remaining distinct, does occasionally slip into some Neil-style, one-note growls.

Loose has been reissued on compact disc twice: once in 1998 and, more recently, by Wounded Bird Records in 2006. Both of these are out of print, however, and commanding ridiculous sums. You’d be much better off tracking down an original vinyl copy, which occasionally finds its way into record store cut-out bins. If you’re a Horse fan, bite the bullet and give some of this mid-period material a shot. Though Whitten and latter-day Horse mainstay Frank “Poncho” Sampedro may be absent from the proceedings, this is a worthwhile chapter in the band’s history that has remained sorely overlooked.

mp3: All the Little Things
mp3: And She Won’t Even Blow Smoke In My Direction

:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Reprise | search ebay ]

Bronco “Country Home”

British country rock sounds about as likely and as authentic as British blues, but both were forces to be reckoned with in late sixties and early seventies rock respectively. Whilst the UK country rock vein certainly aped its US counterpart rather than actually kickstarting it as its blues predecessor had done, a number of artists from this side of the Pond found moderate success working in the form back across the water as well as at home. One of these was Bronco, whose early work compared favourably in its low-key ensemble construction with such luminaries as Neil Young’s Crazy Horse and The Band.

Vocalist Jess Roden had been featured frontman for the Alan Bown Set, one of London’s foremost live soul and R’n’B outfits during the late sixties. When the Bown train began to roll in a more psychedelic direction, Roden re-teamed up with guitarist Kevyn Gammond and bassist John Pasternak from his earlier blues combo Shakedown Sound. Gammond recommended second guitarist Robbie Blunt and drummer Pete Robinson from his own previous Band Of Joy – which had also featured a certain Robert Plant – and Bronco was ready to start buckin’. Happy to change direction yet again and clearly inspired by the likes of The Band, Bronco became one of the first British groups to take a punt at the upcoming country rock form. Widely regarded even then as “Britain’s finest unknown singer”, Roden had no trouble bagging a recording contract at the mighty Island Records, and Country Home and a leadoff single “Lazy Now” (not on the album) appeared rapidly. Roden and Co. toured it extensively on both sides of the Atlantic – I recall seeing them supporting fellow Island labelmates Traffic at Bristol University Union during the autumn of 1970 – to favourable responses which unfortunately failed to translate to record sales.

Composed principally by Roden but with input from all band members plus close friend, future schlock-folk singer/songwriter Clifford T Ward, the album exudes rough charm with its low-key, live-sounding recording. The first five of its seven tracks ride mainly on acoustic rhythm guitars with clean countrified electric licks from Blunt and rather more pentatonic input from Gammond plus occasional restrained piano from guest Jeff Bannister, Roden’s former colleague in the Bown set, and bluesy harmonica from drummer Robinson. The harmonies are endearingly rough-edged throughout with a distinct Band vibe. My favourite tracks are “Civil Of You Stranger” with its rolling rhythm, E-string twang and funky modulation, the jugbandish “Misfit On Your Stair” recalling the Lovin’ Spoonful and “Home” with its simple two-chord motif decorated by distant wailing cross-harp and a soulful piano solo. The last two tracks see the band “man-up” with a saw-toothed twin-electric guitar attack that certainly recalls Young’s and Danny Whitten’s partnership or perhaps Free’s slower, funkier material.

Despite the failure of Country Home to sell in droves, a second album Ace Of Sunlight appeared the following year. This featured considerably more composer input from Ward and songwriter Suzy Worth plus a lot more instrumental arrangement and studio gloss, and consequently sounds much more urban mainstream soft-rock, lacking the rough rural edges that had made Country Home such a charmer. When this too failed to set the charts alight Roden saddled up for the States to team up briefly with ex-Doors Robby Krieger and John Densmore as the Butts Band. Blunt and Gammond would work extensively again with Robert Plant post-Zeppelin, whilst Roden finally embarked on an uneven solo career producing a body of work that confirmed him as “Britain’s finest unknown singer” until a total change of direction saw him become a graphic artist in the mid-eighties. Country Home and Ace Of Sunlight are available as a mid-priced twofer, as is a two-disc anthology of Roden’s solo work, reflecting the high regard in which a small but discerning cognoscenti still hold him.

mp3: Civil Of You Stranger
mp3: Home

:) Original | 1970 | Island | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | 2fer | buy at amazon ]

 

David Wiffen “Coast to Coast Fever”

The name David Wiffen may or may not ring a bell, but to anyone with an interest in 1970s folk rock I can promise that at least one of his songs will. His material has seen quite a bit of mileage in other performers’ repertoires, and through them a small handful have even filtered up into popular consciousness. Tom Rush and The Byrds both threw their individual spins on “Driving Wheel,” Eric Andersen recorded “More Often Than Not” on his doomed-romantic classic Blue River, and calypso crooner Harry Belafonte rather unexpectedly included both “One Step” and the self-referential “Mister Wiffen” on his 1973 record Play Me. It was the age of the singer-songwriter and David Wiffen seemed to be the next big thing. So what happened?

Coast To Coast Fever, Wiffen’s follow-up to his critically-lauded debut, tells the tale. An informal concept album illustrating the life of the traveling musician and the rigors involved in trying to gain success as a songwriter, it plays as a sort of autobiographical meditation on where the man was at. “He played his tunes to empty rooms, right on down the line,” Wiffen sings on the melancholy title track, “but before he went the money got spent on good times, whiskey and wine.” As in the rest of the album, the singer’s guitar downright sparkles. The production, courtesy of legendary Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn, is as laid back and stripped down as one would hope on a record like this, built around a wide acoustic piano sound and smokey percussion. Indeed, Wiffen could hardly have found a more sympathetic ear to this collection of beat meditations and road songs, and Cockburn’s understated guitar playing is arguably one of the record’s musical highlights.

It is hard to break this record into specific highlights when every piece of the puzzle is so essential to the album’s overall character, but a few key cuts do stand out. The down-and-out blues of “Smoke Rings” rests uneasily between gruff, masculine charm and absolute desolation, cigarette smoke drifting quietly out into an empty landscape and paralleling the sad admissions already found in “Coast To Coast Fever.” The story wouldn’t be quite so affecting if one did not get the feeling that this is not a man who has lost it all, but rather one who never had it to begin with, only having glimpsed the possibilities of fame and seen them immediately dissolve into a hard and bitter reality. It’s a strange story for being so common, the successful songwriter that’s never able to make it on his own terms. Then again there must be some light to all this darkness considering that we are not only still listening to and talking about David Wiffen’s records, but that he’s still around and singing. The man even managed to record a belated follow-up to Coast To Coast Fever in 1999, featuring a handful of new songs that still stand strong alongside his most enduring material.

Whereas Wiffen’s debut seems to have disappeared into the aether, only having been reissued once by an independent Italian label before quickly falling back out of print (original copies of the album are obnoxiously hard to obtain, and have sold second-hand for several hundred dollars apiece), Coast To Coast Fever has remained somewhat easier to find. A North American release on compact disc remains available through most online retailers, and original vinyl copies seem to have seen far wider distribution than any of Wiffen’s other recordings, frequently appearing in record store cut-out bins and online auction sites.

mp3: Coast To Coast Fever
mp3: White Lines

:) Original | 1973 | United Artists | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Isotope | buy here ]

 

Jimmy Buffett “High Cumberland Jubilee”

Today we delve into yet another unexpected gem by an artist that is usually considered anathema to any discerning aficionado of American popular music. Long before Jimmy Buffett started scoring big in the top-twenty with insipid margarita beach music he was cutting weird, electric folk-rock records and hanging out with folks like Steve Goodman (yeah, that’s him on the cover of Somebody Else’s Troubles) and Jerry Jeff Walker. Nowadays Buffett doesn’t even acknowledge these earlier records, though they have been kept in print under a seemingly-endless number of guises on his own Margaritaville Records.

The second and, unfortunately, last of these, 1976’s High Cumberland Jubilee, is a killer, even though it remained unreleased until three years after it was recorded. The sound of the band here lays somewhere between psychedelic country-rock and late-sixties power-pop, with lots of weird phased drums, banjos, and twelve-string guitars. Heavy attitude everywhere, believe it or not. The production is pretty well-polished, but hardly overproduced; there’s just the right amount of definition between the instruments to keep things clean, which actually proves to be a beautiful thing when the band leaps into its little instrumental breaks, such as that which closes the record. The most relaxed pieces here definitely call to mind the man’s aforementioned folk-rock affiliates, but also have a touch of starry-eyed Gordon Lightfoot polish to them that you don’t normally find on records like this one.

As one might expect, Buffett’s songwriting tends to be hit-and-miss here. There are some light and entertaining moments, with slight-but-eventually-memorable lyrics, some good shots at obtuse sixties social commentary, and then some numbers which read like failed assignments from Songwriting 101; cliché, dragged-out, full of tired juvenile romanticism. It’s too bad that any chance to hear the singer mature as a songwriter was cut short by his untimely descent into artistic oblivion.

The unfortunate side to some of the reissues of Down To Earth and High Cumberland Jubilee is that Buffett has taken to cutting out the first song of the former, a relatively-scathing indictment of Christian hypocrisy which he today, as beachfront-yuppie-poster-child, presumably suspects will hurt his image. If you can track down original copies of these records, which looks to be a difficult task, snatch them up because, despite all the faults to be found here, there really is a lot to enjoy. Plus you get to see the look on your friends’ faces when you suggest breaking out some Buffett (and they thought they knew you so well).

mp3: England (As the Sun Went Down)
mp3: Travelin’ Clean

:) Original | 1975 | Barnaby | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Doc Watson “Doc and the Boys”

There’s little doubt folk and bluegrass lost one of its legends in Doc Watson, a self-taught founder of flatpicking and popularizer of traditional American music for 60 some years. While you can’t miss on any Doc record, this one is my go-to favorite.

Though Doc and the Boys was Doc’s highest charting LP (41 on US Country), little mention is heard of the record today. A lot of the early pickers are subjugated to compilations, best-ofs, and box sets. Fortunately, this LP comes from a time when singles were eschewed for album length statements, and Doc and the Boys delivers a rock solid 35:00 straight from the prime of that funky, in-the-groove Nashville country of the mid-70s.

Starting from the studio recording side, we get a smoking kickoff in “Darlin’ Corey,” Jim Isbell’s zip-tight rhythm dispelling any doubt that a drum kit belong in a bluegrass tune. Merle trades lines with Doc’s harp on the deep-in-the-pocket “Cypress Grove Blues” and Doc proves his gifts with a song on Tom Paxton‘s very sweet “Can’t Help But Wonder (Where I’m Bound),” an easygoing “Girl I Love,” and a bouncy number called “Natural Born Gamblin’ Man.” Side one closes with the hottest rendition of “Little Maggie” I’ve yet to hear. He may be known for his picking, but Doc may have had one of the best rounded and perfectly suited vocal tones in the history of country music. Such a comforting, deep, and rooted voice.

Recorded live at the Hub Pub in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, side two doesn’t skip a beat in its sound. It took me a year to even realize the sides were split between live and studio! If anything, the live atmosphere only adds to the octane in the picking and harmonies. In any case, tunes like the a capella “Southbound Passenger Train” clearly had to be recorded live and we are treated to honest takes on gems like Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spikedriver Blues” and a fine original from piano player Bob Hill in “Southern Lady.” Cash may have done better with “Tennessee Stud” but it’s nice to hear Doc close with a happy take on a hit.

If you’re a fan of “honest, down-to-earth” and damn good country music, track this one down. We’ll miss you, Doc!

mp3: Cypress Grove Blues
mp3: Spikedriver Blues

:D Reissue | 2003 | 2fer w/ Live & Pickin | buy here ]
:) Original | 1976 | United Artists | search ebay ]

Douglas Dillard “The Banjo Album”

Douglas Flint Dillard died in a Nashville hospital on May 16th, 2012, at the age of 75. He never became a household name – doesn’t even rate a personal Wikipedia page – but that was probably fine by this self-effacing, self-mocking virtuoso musician. On the plus side, he survived to an age not achieved by so many of his peers whose names are more widely celebrated. Sometimes it’s better not to become a rock’n’roll legend, especially if it’s posthumously.

Hailing from deepest Missouri and starting out as a bluegrass purist along with guitarist brother Rodney as the eponymous Dillards, Doug became part of the West Coast country-pop revolution of the late 60s, initially as a session player (it’s probably him on the Monkees’ “What Am I Doing Hanging Round”, although Peter Tork could handle the five-string instrument quite capably) and then as a band member touring Europe with the Byrds playing the Sweetheart Of The Rodeo material. Prior to the tour Doug struck up an enduring friendship with former Byrd Gene Clark, contributing to Gene’s album with the Gosdin Brothers, and on his return jam sessions with Gene, Bernie Leadon and Don Beck led to his own Banjo Album.

Coming as it does between Sweetheart and Dillard & Clark’s peerless Fantastic Expedition, the humdrum-titled Banjo Album occupies a seminal place in the evolution of country-rock, as the instruments and players of the standard bluegrass ensemble go in search of new and uncharted musical areas to occupy whilst taking a rockin’ sledgehammer to the traditional lightweight bluegrass sonic envelope. The historical notes by Joe Foster to the present CD put it more dramatically: “Eclectic is certainly a good description . . . jazz drums, harpsichord, djembek, tablas and various sound effects, as well as a manic attack poised somewhere between Earl Scruggs and the Ramones”. Amen to that. And yet despite the frenzied presentation of the numbers – most of the tracks rush along at breakneck pace and clock in at around two minutes – the oddball instrumentation and the thick rock production, this remains an instrumental bluegrass music album at heart. Bill Monroe fans have nothing to fear.

Whilst credited to Douglas Dillard, this is a genuine band effort: Doug on the five-string plus the core combo of Leadon on acoustic and electric guitars, Beck on Dobro, John Hartford on fiddle and Red Mitchell on upright and electric basses. LA session veteran Andrew Belling contributes the harpsichord licks, future longtime Ry Cooder companion Milt Holland adds drums and exotic percussion and there’s a cameo from Gene Clark on harmonica. Departing on “Train 4500”, surely one of the best musical train simulations ever recorded, the journey takes us through a landscape of familiar and rare traditional tunes spiced with Dillard’s piquant arrangements. Sometimes only the timbre of the instrument reveals who’s soloing, as Beck and Belling can both whack out the triplets damn near as fast as Doug. The other high spots are “Clinch Mountain Back Step” on which Doug slurs the notes like the skirl of bagpipes, never missing a triplet roll even through the deliberate lurch in the rhythm, and the closing Dillard/Leadon original “With Care From Someone” with its distinctly non-bluegrass descending chromatic minor chord progression, on which all the protagonists get a chance to solo and Belling produces some revolutionary rock harpsichord. The bonus track on the Rev-Ola reissue is “Runaway Country”, the one-off track Doug contributed to the movie Vanishing Point with scorching assistance from Byron Berline and Billy Ray Latham of Country Gazette.

After the high-water-mark of Fantastic Expedition Doug’s career would settle into a comfortable stream of sessions with just about every country-flavoured performer in California and subsequently Nashville, intertwined with recordings and live appearances with a procession of reformed Dillards, New Dillards, Doug Dillard Bands and Rodney Dillard Bands until Doug became too ill to perform around 2010. If his epitaph be sought, it’s probably fair to say that every subsequent outfit from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Bela Fleck & The Flecktones that’s twisted the tail of banjo-powered country music into new and unfamiliar shapes can be said to owe a debt to what Doug and Co. did on The Banjo Album.

mp3: Train 4500
mp3: Clinch Mountain Back Step

:D Reissue | 2012 | Floating World | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | search ebay ]