Once in awhile, an album comes along that is so strong in certain areas that they overshadow the weaknesses that exist. Whereas there are minor flaws on the Possum Trot Orchestra's self-titled CD, the strengths make them asides more than weaknesses. But first, the strengths.
The most obvious is songwriting. Songs are pretty evenly split between Susie Suraci and John Minton, Suraci providing six to Minton's eight. Suraci leans more toward the folk/country vein, partially I am sure because her voice fits well within that genre. Homebody and Mixed Blessing stand out, good enough for country airplay while not being pure country. Of Minton's eight, Just a Little Further (Stars Will Light Our Way) captures that wailing Neil Young feel—indeed, if Young ever wanted to sing something not from his own pen, this would do nicely. The seven others dance between straight folk, Stephen C. Foster's Blues having that minimalist Jim Ringer style, to a cross between traditional folk and choral (The Distant Shore uses minor chords in the chorus quite effectively). All are well written and well-performed, all worthy of multiple listenings.
As pickers, the trio is exceptional. John Minton excels on mandolin, lap steel and banjo as well as electric and acoustic guitars while Rob Suraci has a Fairport Convention touch on his bass. Susie Suraci plays a fine acoustic guitar and the music is best when all three are working the song.
Minton produced and gets a big thumbs up, but one can hardly give him total credit. The Suraci's probably had a little to do with it, along with recordist, mixer and masterer Tom Tempel. Whoever is responsible, production stands far above many of the independent releases of today.
If this has a weakness it is vocals and that is not necessarily a negative. Had Suraci, Minton & Suraci sung anywhere else, the grade would be high, but next to their own excellence instrumentally and production-wise, the voices are just short of the mark. Of course, that's like giving Dylan a half-star off because he doesn't sound better. He does sound like Dylan, after all. The hell with it. They sing plenty fine. 'Nuff said.
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