Not long ago, I finally got ahold of the Willie Nelson / Waylon Jennings / Ray Price concert DVD (Last of the Breed—and not just for those luminaries, that goes without saying, but the deal clincher was the presence of Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, one of the greatest Tex Mex bands ever, if not the best) and, for reasons I can't precisely put a finger on, Bill Emerson, a 50-year vet and legend in the industry, reminds me somewhat of Price with a bit of Willie tossed in. Not an entirely apt comparative, perhaps, but the one I hear nonetheless.
The Rural Rhythms label has been exhibiting consummate taste in its release schedule, and Southern illustrates exactly where they're coming from (along with Randy Kohr's co-released Quicksand [here]), as real a deal as Roy Rogers and John Wayne; Emerson's long been celebrated for his innovative banjo work and twangy voice. He doesn't write any cuts in this release but sure knows how to pick 'em, especially in vigorous numbers like Anton Delmore's The Midnight Train, with Teri Chasm plunking the bass and adding sweet vocal refrains, done throughout the disc.
Of course, then you have the hilariously titled Grandma's Tattoos, an instrumental written by second banjonist (what the hell is the proper term for that, anyway?) Janet Davis, and a song I dearly would've loved to hear lyrics for as the players dance and hop through their paces. Of special note are the tri-voiced numbers like The Black Fox, a cut to put gooseflesh on ya, so trad is the presentation. But, no matter were you go in this release, you get a righteous earful of what liner writer George B. McCheney calls "a thorough comprehension of how a song should be played". Damn right. Emerson comes from 50 years of playing and is indisputably a statesman for the cherished music he so adeptly presents.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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