Roots to Dig

Some notable roots music CDs from last year didn’t fit into my year-end music wrap-up, but are highly recommended. They are:

CD: The List by Rosanne Cash — When an 18-year-old Rosanne Cash was on the road in 1973 with her father Johnny Cash, he compiled a of “100 Essential Country Songs” for her education in American roots music. On this CD she offers 12 of them in reverent yet vital versions marked by the class and quality of virtually everything she has recorded. It reaches back to numbers like the blues chestnut “Motherless Children” to “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” from the legacy of her in-law relatives The Carter Family, and includes country classics like “Long Black Veil,” “She’s Got You” and “Sea of Heartbreak” as well as Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” and Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings.” Joining her on some tracks are guests Bruce Springsteen, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright. It’s a perfect set to play for those folks who think they don’t like country music as well as — in the same manner as Johnny Cash did with Rosanne — edify younger listeners with gems from the musical tradition, and a simply splendid listening experience from a wonderful and affecting singer and recording artist whose own songs prove how well she learned her lessons.

CD: Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks — Another delicious primer on the songs and styles of the American music legacy that reaches back to the country-blues and jug band music of the first half of the 20th Century and delivers it with a zing and zest that charms any modern listeners. Longtime folk and blues scene Muldaur cut this charming set in my hometown in Austin, Texas with some of our finest local players and singers as well as blues and Cajun violinist Suzy Thompson and special guest Jim Kweskin, creating an acoustic music gem that features delightful renditions of traditional blues tunes and numbers by Robert Johnson, W.C. Handy and Big Bill Broonzy. It’s a magical trip to the past sure to bring a smile to your face and a lilt to your dance step.

CD: Time Stands Still by Chris Smither — For some four decades now singer, guitarist and songwriter Smither has been one of the most compelling contemporary acoustic blues artists in popular music. With his burnished vocals, spry finger-picked guitar work and gift for writing neo-blues classics, he has a deceptively subtle presence that nonetheless brims with power and vitality. His new original songs here, as the title implies, examines the mysteries of existence, and are augmented by a wonderfully radical and revelatory take on Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and Mark Knopfler’s elegant “Madame Geneva’s.” Cut in a quick three days with just a second guitarist and drummer, this disc has the presence and immediacy of Smither and company playing in your living room and resonates with the eternal allure and potency of the finest downhome real-world blues.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2010


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