The Dustbowl Revival – The Dustbowl Revival
Dustbowl was a highlight from last summer's Blissfest Festival. But the album didn’t make it to my turntable until after seeing them again a couple of week’s ago.
I just saw them described as an “American Roots Orchestra”. That’s it in a nutshell. They’re an eight piece band that incorporates brass band and string band traditions. The sound is rollicking and joyous. Lead female vocalist Liz Beebe reminds me of Michelle Shocked. But she also belts them out like a blues shouter.
Call My Name, a horn infused rocker with attitude, sets the tone for the album. Debtor’s Prison is a beautiful melodic and touching song about what his Lulu, their twins and what really matters in life.
. . . Come on say take it all
It’s a big old world
And I’m down on my knees
Put us in debtor’s prison
And I’m still gonna be free.
The single, Busted is a sultry blues rocker. Got Over is another highlight. A great example of their awesome genre mixing. It starts as a simple folkie tune with a beautiful horns rounding out a beautiful melody.
Chris Buhalis – Big Car Town
Ok, so this one is personal. Listening to Chris brings back some of the fondest memories of my life. But it doesn’t matter. Big Car Town is one fine album and I’m delighted that it is.
Chris has a gorgeous rich voice that just draws you in. I used to hang with him and a host of other Ann Arbor musicians at the aptly named Blissfest back in the 90’s. In those days half of the show was in the campgrounds. After the main stage closed, the campsites would come to life. I’d follow Chris around just to hear him sing Townes Van Zandt songs all night long. Great songs in a great voice at the best place in the world. You couldn’t beat it.
Anyway, the years have sailed by and the Blissfest faces have changed. The Ann Arbor contingent stopped coming years ago. But last year, Chris was actually on the bill. As me, Grant, Fred and Wyatt hiked out to catch his midnight show in the woods, I told them about the old Blissfest days and how I’d love listening to Chris sing Townes songs. Chris did a wonderful set of originals and sounded good as ever. Before his last song he talked about how special it was for him to appear at Blissfest. He talked about the old days and how special they were. He talked about walking around the campgrounds playing Townes songs and then he looked up from the stage and recognized me. And then he did a beautiful rendition of Townes’ Snowin’ on Raton. Just like I remembered it.
Ok, enough of that . . . Big Car Town is a tribute album. It’s a tribute to nature, and Michigan, and Detroit, and his dad, and the working class. It feels like Chris had been waiting his whole life to sing these songs.
The first two songs on the album Weird Old World and Big Car Town are beautiful country tinged folk rock songs that foreshadow the album’s Woody Guthrie themes including fake news, whitewashed history books and corruption.
The Virgins is a sad but beautiful tale of a man who did what he had to do to get by. But later cries after the seeing the destruction that the so-called progress did.
“. . . I left Calumet, all scarred by the copper king
I kept having dreams of being buried in the mine.
I took a job fellin’ trees, with The Johnston Company
and I hopped a train on that Copper River line. . . .
. . .Well tonight I’m running with the virgins on my mind.
They built Chicago and all that you can see.
And the company gains and all that remains
is two old virgins, this river and me. . .
. . . One summer day
It was the year Charlie Williams died
The foreman called down said “tomorrow boys we ride”
I looked up at the last two trees
And just between you and me
I fell to my knees and for my sins I cried . . .
Daddy Worked the High Steel is an awesome rocking tribute to his Dad that also includes a rebuke of political hypocrisy.
…I learned from him
That working ain’t no sin
It was working folks who built your town
whatever town you’re In . . .
It also includes one of the greatest baseball references ever. An uber poetic life lesson metaphor straight from Detroit Tiger lore!
. . . when times got tough
as times will do
like a Mickey Lolich fastball riding up and high to make it 2 and 2
he always digs back in cause that’s all that you can do
he’ll stand for me he’ll do the same for you.
And then includes a scathing rebuke to contemporary political hypocrisy.
. . .well you can quote Ayn Rand
promise that you’ll take us back in time. . .
. . . well mister if you’re wondering why I don’t believe when you’re lying
my daddy worked the high steel
his daddy worked the mine.
Chris Smither – Call Me Lucky
Folk/Blues Icon Chris Smither first emerged on the Cambridge folk scene in the mid 60’s. While I’m not too familiar with Chris’ early work I do like Bonnie Raitt’s two Chris Smither covers from that time period. Bonnie reworked the genders and had a hit with Love Me Like a Man. And even more notable for me is her version of I Feel The Same, which features searing slide guitar by the late great Little Feat front man Lowell George.
Chris re-emerged in the 90’s and has released about a dozen great albums since. His latest, Call Me Lucky debuted at number two on the Billboard Blues chart. As always, it features his fine songwriting, trademark gravelly voice and crisp fingerpicking. He wrote some great songs for the album. Everything on Top and Lower the Humble are my favorites. But it’s the three covers that have really grabbed my attention, The Beatle’s She Said She Said, Chuck Berry’s Maybellene, and the blues classic Sittin’ On Top Of The World (all of you who think it’s a Dead song, need to check out Howlin’ Wolf’s version). Each of these are slowed way down and performed in different keys. It’s a whole new take on each song and you can really hear the lyrics. The songs register at a different level with perhaps a new understanding. Sittin’ On The Top Of The World is replete with melancholy beauty. His dark interpretation of Maybellene seems a lot truer to the lyrics than Chuck’s version.
One last thing about Call Me Lucky that I want to mention. The world’s most coordinated person, Matt Lorenz, plays violin, organ, and guitar on it. And he whistles too! (more on Matt in a future post).
- Alan Likes Music