Blue Rodeo – Small Miracles
Believe it or not, this is the 11th album from Canada’s contribution to Americana, and the menu here is diverse. Most of these meals offer more than tasty flavors, dealing with the healing powers of nature, the loss of love, and clinical depression. Greg Keelor sings the album’s title track and is clearly distraught over the changes in his lover’s moods, both before and after medication. Don’t let the subject matter throw you, because the song’s seriousness is its greatest attraction. Since so many of us carry troubles, it’s easy to connect with someone who’s willing to share out loud. If you’re in the mood for something philosophical, with a steel guitar and a piano backdrop, give Blue Rodeo a try.
Ry Cooder – My Name is Buddy
Ry Cooder’s concept album about a traveling cat in the depression-era West offers a surprising complexity of ingredients, despite its intended musical simplicity. Throughout his lyrics, the symbolism is vastly layered, tasting of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” Woody Guthrie’s penchant for protest, and Aesop’s Fables. In the album’s second song, we find a hungry “Buddy” the cat overcoming his distrust for mice partaking in the mouse’s food and then sharing his shelter with his new friend. Cooder’s rich symbolisms of prejudice are echoed throughout the album, and are sometimes answered with acceptance. With more than a subtle hint of politics, a touch of American history and a rich base of social commentary, My Name is Buddy will leave you with a delightful aftertaste and an experience worth talking about.
John Sebastian and David Grisman – Satisfied
Forty years ago, John Sebastian walked into Washington Square Park with a dozen harmonicas tied to his belt. Mandolinist David Grisman saw this and never forgot it. They met, played together, and later both joined The Even Dozen Jug Band, playing Carnegie Hall and on The Tonight Show. From that point until today, their paths rarely crossed. John plays harmonica and various guitars; David is featured on mandolin, mandolas and, on one number, banjo mandolin. The selections are an expected mix of traditional and original revisits. Most of the songs and tunes we’ve heard before. There was one surprise. As you may know John has lost a good bit of his vocal range and thus I expected this collection to be all instrumental. Instead, he does sing half the songs, and it sounds like he’s struggling. A good chef knows his best recipes and those are the ones he prepares for guests. On top of that, if a burner is out or is working intermittently, he avoids it all together. Grisman and Sebastian as co-producers know how to cook. On Satisfied it sounds like they were only cooking for each other.
The Everybodyfields – Nothing is Okay
This new group from Johnson City, Tennessee serves up a peaceful romantic dinner with a few Southern accents. While some of the dishes hold their own, and are even filling, it’s fair to point out that the entrees featuring Jill Andrews are the best. In other words, she overshadows her partner Sam Quinn as a singer. He has the better sideburns however. Folk Alley is sharing three from the album and Jill sings them all (“Leaving Today,” “Savior,” and “Wasted Time”). Through these songs, we get a grip on why people go away, and why we falsely expect love to do the hard work of making us happy. We’ve all been where these songs will take us, and it’s nice to know we’re not alone. Removing these three from the menu, however, leaves you without much to order.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
These two first performed together at a Leadbelly tribute for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. They enjoyed the experience so much that this album was born. Upon tasting, it becomes immediately obvious how well this unlikely pair of chefs compliment each other. It turns out both were fans of the other. But take warning, while Krauss and Plant are known for high energy, this collection of songs is mostly solemn with little variety. One of the album’s brighter numbers, however, is Gene Clark’s “Through the Morning, Through the Night” with guitar work provided by Mark Ribot and T Bone Burnett. Most of the other songs are purposely slow. Burnett also produced the album and one wonders if he might be the one supplying the recipes. His spices were carefully selected: Greg Leisz on steel, the aforementioned Mark Ribot, and a popular session bassist, Dennis Crouch. Only on the album’s last song do we get to hear clawhammer banjoist Riley Baugus, Mike Seeger on autoharp, and Norman Blake on guitar. While this album is sweet and soothing to the core, it may leave you wanting more flavors .