It seems the time has come for soulful country and folk-country. First Danny Brooks' devastating No Easy Way Out and now Richard Shindell, who takes a completely different tack, investing his work with a quieter but equally imbued sense of rurality. This is a CD of covers, the sort of thing I'm a sucker for but am really enamored of when anyone takes this much effort to re-interpret so broadly and wisely. The standout track is his take on Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street, which transplants Pete's Londoner plaint to a Nebraska twang with a history of pained endurance in the wide open plains, but Lawrence, KS is equally affecting, in fact compelling. Shindell's version of Springsteen's Born in the USA is striking for its unearthing of what's really in the song, restoring a great deal of what Springsteen himself lost in all that ginky work after Born to Run, reminding the audience that Brucie boy started out as Guthrian folkie before money transformed him into a stultifyingly successful mediocrity machine.
Richard Shindell's been around for a while, has a handful of releases, and has garnered an impressive backlog of accolades (even from, of all places, the Wall Street Journal!) and fellow professional admirers, several of whom appear here: Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Thompson, Eliza Gilkyson, David Sancious, Tony Trischka, and others. His root is definitely country but of the olden unreconstructed from-the-heart variety, not chart-hugging fusionoid stuff. In that, then, he has a hell of a lot more in common with Woody, Pete, and others than Springsteen or Mellencamp could ever possibly claim as they hunker down with Avenue K to strategize the next cookie cutter. Damn near all of South of Delia is melancholy, shrouded in lament and wheatstraw, stormy afternoons, rain on the wind. A couple of traditionals make the cut, Sitting on Top of the World and Texas Rangers, as do Dylan, two Robertsons (Robbie and Harry), Guthrie, and sundry. Sitting, though, is solo Shindell, demonstrating richly inflected vocals, great fingerpicking, and an unhurried meter pulling the listener slowly in, like benevolent quicksand. Myriad sessioneers support the guy completely, bedding his refrains down in a richly evocative quilt of pioneer sentimantality and modernist refinements. Beyond all that, though, Shindell is someone who understands perfectly why all this great music he's borrowing was made in the first place…even if the writers themselves might have missed some of it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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