Album reviews: Tyler Childers, The Handsome Family, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
Tyler Childers / Rustin’ In The Rain (Hickman Holler/RCA)
After giving us Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven? last year—containing the same eight gospel songs presented in three separate mixes, each on their own CD—Tyler Childers has scaled things back on Rustin’ In The Rain, a taut seven songs lasting just 28 minutes, and arguably his most potent release to date. Tyler has stated he envisioned the record as songs he would have pitched to Elvis Presley, and there certainly is a rough-edged ‘70s feel about the collection overall that provides some crackling energy distinct from Tyler’s past, folk-inflected work. A bevy of guests adds a lot of diversity as well, including guest vocals from Margo Price, and assistance from bluegrass royalty the McCourys. But aside from a bold update of the Kristofferson standard “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” the remainder of Rustin’ In The Rain suggests a new vision for outlaw country, best captured on “Phone Calls And Emails,” a Willie Nelson-esque ballad bemoaning the downside of modern communication. While Rustin’ In The Rain could have benefitted from a few more songs, what it does possess is precisely why Tyler is often named as one of the leaders of country music’s current renaissance.
The Handsome Family / Hollow (Loose Music)
I first heard The Handsome Family—the long-running project of singer-songwriters Brett and Rennie Sparks—in the mid-1990s, just as the concept of the “old, weird America” was emerging, largely from of the reissue of the Harry Smith-curated Anthology of American Folk Music. From first listen, The Handsome Family sounded as if they belonged in that time capsule as well, with their dark, original folk songs tapping directly into the mystical sources of ageless music that still can’t be explained. Pressing play on any of their albums feels like leaving our reality behind, and that remains true on Hollow, the Sparks’ first collection in seven years. Brett’s baritone is as haunting as ever, providing the perfect instrument through which to convey Rennie’s startling imagery that continues to challenge what we take for granted in a way that suggests it all might be conspiring against us. That’s most evident on songs like “The Oldest Water” and “To The Oaks,” which suggest the benefits of having our relationship with nature re-evaluated. It’s hard to think of other songwriters aside from the Sparks who have such a deep knowledge and respect for what is broadly known as folk music, and for that reason alone, any new songs they offer are a treasure.
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers / Live In 1967 Volume III (Forty Below Records)
There’s no argument that Eric Clapton’s brief tenure with John Mayall in 1966 set a new standard for blues guitar, but it could also be claimed that Clapton’s replacement, Peter Green, led to the best-ever version of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Of course, Green’s stint would be short as well, with he and the rhythm section, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, going on to form Fleetwood Mac, meaning that any recordings of this line-up are highly valued. The first two volumes of Live In 1967 appeared in 2015 and 2016, drawn from audience recordings of several club gigs, which, despite a lack of fidelity, managed to fully capture the glory of Peter Green in his prime, before LSD experiments eventually derailed his career. Volume III is said to be the final entry in the series, and at only eight tracks, it does feel a bit unsatisfying. Nevertheless, Green addicts will still salivate over his unmatched fluidity on Freddy King’s “The Stumble” and another powerful version of Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble,” among the other staples of Mayall’s repertoire at the time.
SONG OF THE WEEK
Margo Price / “Stranger In A Strange Land” (Primary Wave Music)