I was mugged! At the 2009 Sisters Folk Festival, I went to the Sisters Coffee Company for relief from the heat and was bludgeoned over the head with an acoustic guitar! To be fair, Shaun Cromwell, the musician who wielded said guitar, was kind enough to finish me off with a banjo and, in my head, a star was born! Well, maybe not a star, but he certainly gained my respect and admiration and I was not alone. Thirty or forty others attracted by coffee and music made their way to the little park next to the coffee shop and not one left. The guy was good! The guy was mesmerizing!
At my behest, Cromwell sent me a copy of his lone CD (at that time), a 2007 release titled The Turning of Clocks, and I sat through a more rootsy version of what I'd heard that day—the blues, folk and feel a step back but impressive. I remembered the first song he played that day when he switched from guitar to banjo (I even remembered the title) and was disappointed to not find it there. The album was good, make no mistake, but something about that song had struck home and I—after hearing it only one time, mind you—found I had a jonesing for it.
Last year, Jones came home. Cromwell released another album, this one titled Folk-Worn Prose, and, not surprising to me, kicked it off with an outstanding version of that song I'd heard—The Gristmill. With plucked but flowing banjo behind a voice which rolls more than sings, Cromwell lays it out exactly as I'd heard it—smooth and masterful. There is something about the ease that he brings to the song, an effortlessness, if you will. You don't have to lean in to hear it and you don't have to tap your foot (though some may be so inclined). All you have to do is lay back and let it take you away. Upbeat, stroked banjo (perhaps even flailed at times) strike a groove and all you need do is enjoy. Listening to it I felt, well, a little vindicated (I would have, anyway, if there was any vindication to be had). Not only was it as I remembered, it was better. A great way to start off a new album, I thought, and indeed it is.
Luckily, that is not all Cromwell brings to the studio. There is an old-timey feel that he updates here and there, and a sincerity in the music. Twelve songs which could change your attitude if you've not embraced the idea of acoustic music and which will reinforce the attitude of those who have. For myself, he did not have to do anything more than invite Devon Sproule to sing duet on a song which sank deep into my psyche at first listen, I Am Undone. Upon hearing it, I speared an email to Cromwellville to find out who owned that voice and was very pleased to receive the reply: "Devon." Those of us who know and love her music and her personality need hear no more. For us, there is only one Devon.
For Cromwell to ask Sproule for harmony and for Sproule to accept says a ton about the future of Shaun Cromwell. He has a gift, and sure, there are lots of musicians out there who have it, but not as many as you might imagine. Some have good voices, some exceptional instrumental skills, some a musical vision…… Cromwell seems to have been blessed with those three and possibly more. Now that I think about it, slip exceptional songwriting abilities in there as well.
I tell you, I have never really been a fan of acoustic music until the past few years. I ranted and raved when the "unplugged" fad came around (I think my line was "If God had wanted rockers to play acoustic instruments, he would not have invented amplifiers.") and it has taken a number of exceptionally talented musicians to bring me around, but I'm almost there. No, I'm not giving up my amp-driven music, but I do have an appreciation for what can be done outside of it. And that appreciation encompasses Shaun Cromwell and his Folk-Worn Prose. It is a great second step to what I hope will be a long stairway to success. I suggest you check this guy out at your earliest convenience. He's that good.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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