There’s something haunting about the way Lyle Lovett sings. His word choice and his distinctive phrasing explain why he was an instant success and why he is so imitated.
Recent albums were a bit rock n’ roll or featured his “large” band, but Natural Forces is right down Folk Alley.
The title song concerns a restless soul heading west. Through the character in the song, Lovett playfully reminds us of ancient travelers on some of the same routes – the unfortunate pilgrimage by Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. Lyle is also an adept song chooser. “Whooping Crane,” by Eric Taylor, is a deeply poetic narrative about the injustices that prevail. There are also joyful offerings – “Keep it in your Pantry” explores the draw of home and home cooking. We are provided both a country and a bluegrass version. By far the saddest song on the album is Vince Bell’s “The Sun and Moon and Stars” If you are alone, and seemingly satisfied, wait till your heart connects with the singer’s revelation during one of those “moments” of regret that we all have.
If you are drawn to Lyle’s acoustic offerings, Natural Forces is in that style. Sam Bush and Stuart Duncan lead an impressive array of back up musicians.
This is only the second full length release by this Virginia based contemporary bluegrass sextet. Susanville is an album of road songs, and a concept album. In other words, each song connects as the characters are either leaving or returning to a small town named Susanville. Highlights are “Find Out,” “I Need 18 wheels,” “Brake Lights” and “In My Pocket.” The group’s co-leader, Buddy Woodward, hopes that the album becomes “the soundtrack for a movie in your mind.” Due to the well crafted lyrics and arrangements, you do feel like you’re watching a movie.
Susanville is the first of several concept albums which the group is planning.
Due to the band’s history, this theatrical style should not be unexpected. Buddy was Musical Director for an off Broadway play about Loretta Lynn in New York some years back. Brandi Hart understudied every role and often appeared as a different character each night. They recognized each other’s work ethic and creativity and the Dixie Bee-Liners carry those qualities forward. You can visit Folk Alley’s Extras Section to watch video of the entire group being interviewed as well as performing.
They’re back. One of America’s first country-rock bands in the 1960’s was The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. This group did traditional music a huge favor. At the height of their popularity in 1972, The Dirt Band gathered as many living authentic country musicians as possible to release Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Young fans of the group inadvertently discovered Doc Watson, Merle Travis, Jimmy Martin, and Mother Maybelle Carter. There were also two follow up releases (1989 and 2002).
Almost all of the early members are still in the band: Jeff Hanna, Jimmy Fadden, Bob Carpenter, and multi instrumentalist John McKeuen. The album’s title song may be the best. Whether life is good to you at the moment or sour, it moves so quickly, those events will change in short order. The band hopes to make a point that we probably shouldn’t get too excited or too disappointed, as everything is temporary. “Earthquake” is a light hearted swing parody about living on the San Andreas Fault. “Trying to Try” is a clever admission that even though a solution isn’t at hand, an attempt to find one is.
Fans of the The Dirt Band will find that the playing as good as ever, the singers are in full voice, and that the wonderful whimsy that attracted so many smiles has not faded.
Joel Mabus is folk legend in Michigan and very worthy of that moniker. He has been crafting songs and preserving overlooked traditional melodies for years, and he does all of this on every stringed instrument you can think of. From the amusing “Duct Tape Blues,” to the calming “The Only Way Out is Through,” Joel’s observational eye has gifted the Folk Alley library with dozens of heartwarming gems over the years.
There is no let up in No Worries Now. He covers lots of subjects. He pokes at political parties in “You Voted Red” (and I voted blue…). Mabus offers a practical solution for those who no longer drink in “Two Cents Plain.” The song’s title is an old term for ordering a non alcoholic drink, but his clever rhyme and reasoning might open a few eyes among those trying to quit. Perhaps the most alluring number is “Give It Up.”
This song addresses our ambitions, which if we’re not careful, can drift away from the meaningful toward the materialistic.
I don’t mean to paint Joel as a lecturer, because he’s not. This album is very entertaining, and often comical. Very few songwriters can poke you in the ribs and stick to your ribs at the same time. Mr. Mabus has this double ability and he always has. No Worries Now is another collection defining why fans will remember his songs.