Some guy named Joe Kelly from 'CDX' (what the hell's a CDX?) termed Mike Aiken's Your Memory Wins as 'hillbilly nirvana', and that so thoroughly nails a decent percentage of Aiken's unorthodox prowess that I chuckled out loud. Dammit, I could never have come up with that cool an image in just two words, so I'm pretty jealous. But Aiken titled this 6th release the way he did, Captains & Cowboys, for a reason, as there's a lot of trailer park sodbuster and dusty philosopher in his work as well. Still, hell yeah, listening to this CD is like sitting across the barroom and watching a hillbilly, a cowboy, and a sagebrush-tattered professor from the College of Hard Knocks throwing back shots 'n brews while extolling life and its grassroots perplexities alongside joys and sunsets.
Before I'd jumped into the promo lit, just as the first song pealed forth, I thought "No way in Hell this is a first disc for this dude, it's WAY too polished and knowing!" and certainly got that one right. But there's more to the marrow-deep resonances here than time-honed spit 'n polish. Aiken, y'see, is one of the captains of the disc's titular nomenclature, a guy who's lived in and sailed his boat across oceans and is a Licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain. Remember Melville and the Pequod? Well, throw Ishmael, Queequeg, and Ahab forward quite a few years, and you'll re-meet them and others in this collection of songs. Of course, Queequeg now has dreadlocks (listen to the reggae element in Put a Sail on It), Ahab's presently a Sea Shepherd intervening in behalf of what he once hunted (in Aiken's rousing version of Country Joe McDonald's Save the Whales), and Ishmael? That's Aiken himself.
Every cut here is like a finely crafted nugget in a drifting soul's necklace of memories, but the stand-out for me is Coal Train, an upbeat shuffle commenting sardonically on the plundering of the Appalachians in order to supply China with coal ('n don't get me or Aiken started on this 'clean coal' bullshit, Bertram!). Lightfoot influences shine in Get Down River and all through the CD, and Dan Baird's influence is heavily felt. I've much missed the Georgia Satellites, but Dan's co-pro and musical contributions here show him to be a soul kindred to Aiken, and it can only be hoped these gents stay teamed for at least one more sally into the heart of a troubled country.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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