The cover to this one is going to grab you right away, an exercise in Old West / film noir / dark-literature via finely grained B&W photography appearing in every aspect of the liner and credits sheet. Paul Needham and Gregg Roth outdid themselves in creating spookily compelling visuals and iconically mythic mysticism. On the front cover, Olney's pitching an ace of spades straight at you, perhaps following a successful High Noon encounter, playing with fate and ambivalence. The reverse liner shows him in a Hamlet / Yorick pose, either contemplating the nature of temporal existence or perhaps thinking "Wait a minute, wasn't I knocking back shots with you yesterday at Miss Kitty's?"
Olney has an extensive backlog, 30 releases to Wikipedia's count, this one not included, a couple with the X-Rays and the Nashville Jug Band, but it was 1988's Deeper Well that clicked him into the high profile music scene: more than half the songs on that slab found quite a bit of favor with Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and others, appearing as covers in their albums. The guy also has a sense of humor as well as a street dramaturge's understanding of narrative, tone, pacing, and imagery. Scarecrow Man is an excellent example of all that, but, really, most every cut spins an engrossing story packed in with key elements from religion, mythology, folk tales, urban legends, anything that will enhance effects via id, ego, ancient word-ciphers, modern variants, yarn-spinning, and whatever might pack that extra ounce of impact.
On the other hand, Why So Blue sounds like a Roaring 20s cut as and sung written by Willie Nelson (Olney hits that register more than once here, minus Nelson's Tejas twang), Mark Robinson packing a Django Reinhardt guitar by way of Oklahoma, stepping aside to let F. Scott Fitzgerald saunter by to shake hands with Dan Hicks. Mr. Stay at Home veers close by Leon Redbone territory, a song about a hermity son of a gun deciding he's tired as hell of solipsism, venturing out for a little overdue whoopie. Guitarist Sergio Webb is Olney's right hand man but Robinson's close behind, and the two pair up to deliver a wallop, subtle and overt, in many places. Olney wields guitars (and mouth tuba!), but predominantly sings, unfolding his pictures and dramas in North 40 troubadoric fashion. Servant, Job is thematically akin to Chris DeBurgh's Spanish Train, and Little Bird (What I Do) ain't all that far from Marianne Faithfull's This Little Bird, Jethro, but, really, David Olney's a cowboy philosopher walking the byways waiting for rain. It's never all that far away.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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