Restless on the Farm
Sugar Hill Records
A review written for the Folk Acoustic and Music Exchange
The slide guitar is a curious instrument with a curious popular history. From the time that a particularly creative native Hawaiian picked up a knife and applied it to a paniolo's ki ho alu (open tuned and finger picked) guitarra to its acoustic cousin, the dobro, to that elaborate cousin, the pedal steel guitar, a series of key individuals have pushed the concept consistently to the next level. Hawaii's Sol Hoopii is probably the best known of the early slide pioneers. Josh Graves and his work with Flatt and Scruggs pushed it to prominence in the burgeoning country music genre. Tut Taylor, with his unusual flatpicking slide playing, crossed genres taking the instrument into the mainstream by recording with Dylan and other folk-rock types in the '60s and '70s. While there are a series of younger players currently making a name for themselves, the pre-eminent dobro player of the last 15 or so years has been Jerry Douglas. A six-time Grammy winner and six-time IBMA Dobro Player of the Year, Douglas has done it all. An in demand studio player, Douglas has played with every name musician with roots credentials in country, bluegrass, folk and rock circles with a versatility that is nothing short of amazing. A great deal of that versatility is quite evident on his latest CD, RESTLESS ON THE FARM.
In assembling this eleven track show of strength, Jerry Douglas has surrounded himself with a stellar cast of friends and studio associates. Superb instrumentals predominate, but are nicely leavened with four guest vocals by long time Douglas pals. Tim O'Brien, with whom Douglas has long toured, and with whom there is an apparent mutual respect and enjoyment, kicks things off with Things In Life. O'Brien is a real talent and has a mellow, but authoritative voice that is ably supported by Russ Barenberg on guitar, and Victor Krauss on bass. This is followed by a very sympathetic reading of Don't Take Your Guns To Town by Steve Earle, who lends some real depth to what can be a trite song. Douglas' lap steel really underpins Earle's delivery here. There is a long history with Maura O'Connell, whose earliest U.S. albums were produced by Douglas, and whose voice is as close to a heavenly instrument as one is likely to find. O'Connell is a brilliant interpreter of Paul Brady songs, and her work on Follow On is no exception--passionate and involving (note that O'Brien makes a return appearance in a supporting role). Douglas' association with New Grass Reunion alums is a long established fact. The high pitched wail of New Grasser John Cowan makes an appearance on Johnny Winter's TV Doctor in a fun and funny take that makes it clear that these guys were having a great time (the diversity of Douglas' song selection is noted here).
Ah, then you get to the instrumentals. As good as the vocals are, and they are great, it is Douglas' instrumental prowess that is a real kick. From his ode to a lost candy of his youth, Turkish Taffee, to the dueling dobro duet with Sonny Landreth (Passing The Bar), to the jazzy intonations of the Errol Garner tune "Like It Is," Douglas' precision, creativity, intricate subtlety and sense of drama are there supporting the songs and making them sing. The instrumental work with fellow Strength In Number alums, Bela Fleck (on the co-composed The Ride) and Edgar Meyer (on Takarasaka and the celtic wonder of A Tribute To Peadar O'Donnell - no relation of the author), is every bit as good as the best of that much missed all-star gathering. Having had the opportunity to see the recent tour in support of RESTLESS, one cannot help but be astounded by the Douglas oeuvre. He can hold the stage by himself, but has a sense of the ensemble that is not at all the norm for a player of his caliber. RESTLESS ON THE FARM is his best solo recording to date. All in all, you have never heard 45 minutes go by so quickly. It's a beauty.
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Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz (firstname.lastname@example.org)