And what a special gift RED ROME BEAUTY is, with a surprise in every bite. Don't let their reputation fool you, Travels With Charlie is far more than a bluegrass, dobro playing band from the Great White North. RED ROME BEAUTY, their latest release, proves the versatility of its three members: singer Jackie Janzen, singer/guitarist/songwriter Steve Mitchell and dobro wizard Doug Cox. RED ROME BEAUTY is a musical journey right to the heart and core of what we in the US think of as American music. So you can imagine my delight and surprise to find out that indeed these very fine musicians hail from Victoria, B.C. Could have fooled me! They've performed all over Canada and now it's time to get them to expand their horizons so we in the states can have the privilege of seeing them live.
Filled with many surprises, this well-produced album runs the gamut from the bluegrass and folk of the back hills to the soul of the South. It is the strength of Jackie Janzen's versatile vocals, however, which bring the listener into the fold and make TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY a group to be reckoned with. She can go from twangy bluegrass to throaty blues to an earthy folk sound in the blink of an eye. So it's no surprise that she is compared to such popular divas as Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. Janzen is blessed with a sweet, natural sounding voice. Her vast range of tone and emotion also includes just enough gravel to bring us down to earth. She can growl like a tiger in such songs as "Great To Be Gone," a bluesy rendition worthy of Janis Joplin. Janzen uses humor and irony in her presentation and music as well. ("It's good, good, good to be back. But it was great . . . to be gone.") You almost feel her winking at the audience, playing with them, and it feels good. She has you rig ht where she wants you, in the palm of her hand.
If Jackie is the "soul" of the group, Steve Mitchell is the "backbone." He writes all the lyrics on the album. He has a clever sense of wit and wisdom while his rhythm guitar and vocals complement each song without being intrusive. Steve and Jackie handle most of the lead vocals for the group. The group credits themselves with writing the music to Mitchell's lyrics. Janzen's vocals provide a soft, natural easygoing statement to Mitchell's lyrics on "Some Other Town." In "How Did You Live," a folk son g much in the traditional style, telling questions are asked about a person's life. Steve Mitchell's rendition of his "Old Emotions" speaks to everyone holding onto past baggage that prevent them from moving forward in their life.
Through it all is Doug Cox. His Dobro accents each song just enough, drawing you into the depth of the group's music, taking you to a different place with each song. Doug is the core or the "heart" of TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, his inimitable stylings entrusting the group to its own unique yet traditional sound. The two instrumental tracks, "Red Rome Beauty" and "Grassy Knoll," showcase his powerful musicianship. Cox's expertise on the Dobro rates right up there with the best of them. He can make the dobro wail or caress, and it's his dobro that sets the course for this musical journey.
This band is smart enough to include some smashing traditional cuts. Among the chestnuts are Robert Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down," "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor" and the wonderful "Trouble You Can't Fool Me," where the gospel harmonies make you feel like you're sitting in at a revival meeting. The soulful folk ballad, "Some Other Town," depicts a musician who has just had a fight with her lover. She knows it's time to take her music to another town but expects to meet up with him again somewhere, someplace.
Above all, the words and music marry the emotions of the performances on this 12 song album. Each member is vital to the whole of the instrument, each song a musical journey into the core of the purist form of music. In fact, listening to RED ROME BEAUTY makes you feel privy to a very special and intimate musical concert right in the privacy of your own home. You can imagine the band picked up their instruments and just started playing - it's that pure! Backed by James Young on the string bass, TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY has a winner here. Now the only question left is, how do we get TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY to travel to the United States?
[Editor's Note: Travels With Charlie is planning its first US tour for the Pacific Northwest in April and May 1996. E-mail dobro@IslandNet.com for ordering and tour information. Dates are still available.]