Thursday, April 8, 2010

CD Review: Shy Blakeman & The Farewell Drifters

Within the horde of CDs we received last month there was one absolute winner, each song a hit. The artist is Shy Blakeman and the CD, Long Distance Man. Blakeman isnew to us, but probably not for people who frequent Texas honky tonks or even regular viewers of “Nashville Star”. He participated in 2006. But to us, Blakeman reflects the outlaw sound made famous by Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver: country and rootsy - with some outside influences from blues, jazz, and classic southern rock. And more importantly we enjoyed every single song on the CD. Completely enjoyed them; and obviously this is one of our favorite CDs of the year. It helps that Blakeman recruited an all star cast of supporting players; but he also arranged the songs to make each entertaining. The title track blends a mix of sounds including gospel-flavored backing vocals, horns, rockin' guitar, and a Hammond B-3 organ. Some songs contain swampy Louisiana blues, others southern rock ala Lynyrd Skynyrd, Late Night Early Morning is completely The Band, and Save a Little Room - a Celtic folk tale. Nice diversity. He also does a great job with Rusty Weir's So Many Honky Tonks and slows down with Cannon Ball - one of our favorites. There's to much to write in one setting about this CD, just go out and get it.

In contrast to our ignorance concerning with Blakeman, we are extremely familiar with The Farewell Drifters and actually requested a review copy of their latest CD, Yellow Tag Mondays. Quite literally a year ago while meandering through the 2009 Merlefest grounds I heard some awesome harmonies emanating from behind a strand of trees. And there on the Austin Stage were The Farewell Drifters. They then performed the best cover of John Hartford's – In Tall Buildings that I had ever heard and ended the set with my all time favorite Farewell Drifter tune - River Song. I was hooked and when I returned home I immediately downloaded these two tracks - Hartford's original version. Since then I've casually followed the band looking to see if they will venture into the DC area and was pleased to hear that not only were they routing through one of our favorite venues this Spring, but they were also releasing a new CD, and the new compilation included the River Song. I had to have an early copy.

However, it took awhile for me to warm to this release. Yes, the tight harmonies are prevalent throughout the entire CD. But initially I thought the tracks was too polished and focused too much on these harmonies. But over time, while not really concentrating, I really started enjoying the music. And when initially I thought most of the songs sounded very similar, it turns out I was wrong. Virginia Bell is a banjo explosion; All We Need has nice mandolin solos; more banjo and fiddle in I've Got Your Heart in My Mind; an a cappella finale in All We Need; and love the guitar in Sunnyside Drive. Plus there's the River Song. These guys are talented. There are still a couple songs I don't really care for - but in general this is a very enjoyable piece of work. I'll have it in the CD player while driving to Merlefest. Unfortunately the Farewell Drifters aren't scheduled to play this year but I do have an opportunity to see them perform live at Iota on May 21st and 22nd. See you there.

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