A review for the Folk & Acoustic Exchange
by Donna Trussell (Touche@aol.com)
Few musicians can touch David Olney when it comes to irony, story-telling and tongue-in-cheek humor. John Prine and Townes van Zandt come to mind, but Olney has more in common with Richard Shindell when you add his relative obscurity into the mix. Why some great talents hit the big time and others rarely show up on the roster, I'll never know.
The cuts on his new release, HIGH, WIDE AND LONESOME, differ widely in sound. Olney must get his inspiration wherever he can find it. Like a compilation disc, Olney's album zigzags from electric-guitar-driven numbers that would be right at home at a rock club or on a honky-tonk dance floor to a mournful ballad accompanied by fiddle and accordion.
This may be folk, but it's not spare. Even the quietest songs have no fewer than five musicians, while the more raucous numbers boast as many as 11. Olney is backed up by such luminaries as Rodney Crowell, Brian Ahern, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Jimmy Markham, as well as members of Nashville's The Bluebloods. The production by Tommy Spurlock is so clean and Olney's singing so clear that no matter how dense the instrumentation you still hear every word. (A good thing, since printed lyrics are not included.)
"Flood of '93" mimics Dixieland jazz, with party sounds (breaking glass, yelling, general mayhem) accompanying the saxophones, trombone and trumpet. "You Gotta Hold on Me" suggests the unsurpassable Cab Calloway. "Raw Bone" satirizes the movie industry with a hard-rocking edge. Throughout the album, references to Elvis and old-time country music abound. (The words "mansion on the hill" show up in not one but TWO songs.) As with a mockingbird, you never know what you'll hear next.
Olney's soulful singing and compelling lyrics unite the songs on this album. A juke-joint, lost love and the ghost of Elvis blend in the lively "Walk Downtown" where Olney sings, "I might have me a drink/I might have me two/if it loosens up my tongue I'll tell the world what you put me through/if the gettin' gets good/well I might have to sing/you know there ain't nobody better than me at impersonatin' the King."
Olney apparently loves adopting personas, especially that of a rich, unapologetic misanthrope living outside the law with impunity. On Olney's 1991 album the song was "Millionaire," and on this one it's "My Family Owns This Town". His maniacal character rants, "I dealt with poor Delia in my own way/I drowned her in the river/I just could not forgive her/her suicide was all the news next day/but the boy ran off before I could make him pay."
Plenty of musicians have pushed the envelope of folk music way beyond the outdated stereotype of a hobo with a headful of work songs or a blonde with a guitar and a case of melancholy. Let's hope someday the marketing geniuses notice that the boundaries between folk, rock, country and blues broke down long ago. Tag David Olney's HIGH, WIDE AND LONESOME, perhaps his most accomplished album to date, as Exhibit Z.