Afterglow: The Will Rogers Sessions
First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2001, Volume 8, #5
Written by John Metzger
The hybridization of country and rock has been around for half a century. The rockabilly of the ’50s, the psychedelic country of the ’60s, and the country-pop of the ’70s all merged these elements together to provide a more commercially viable outlet for hillbilly music. As the’70s and ’80s wore on, however, the genre stagnated, and it wasn’t until 1990, when Uncle Tupelo sparked the No Depression/alternative country movement, that the tide began to turn.
But here we sit, more than a decade later and again the style has begun to fade from view. Such is the ebb and flow of the industry’s interest, but let’s not count them out quite yet. The latest tact is to change the genre’s name to "Red Dirt." The only problem with this is that unlike its predecessors, the Red Dirt bands have yet to infuse anything new into the music or find a gifted songwriter — like Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar, or Steve Earle — to hail as their savior.
For what it’s worth, The Great Divide makes a valiant effort on its latest disc Afterglow: The Will Rogers Sessions. True, there still isn’t anything new contained here, but fans of Earle, Robert Earl Keen, and Uncle Tupelo (as well as its offshoots Wilco and Son Volt) will find this to be quite a satisfying endeavor. In fact just about every song on the album sounds like a tri-fold collaboration among these artists — save for the galloping Lyle Lovett-like Hang on Cowboy, the Rattle and Hum outro to Floods, and the bland, generic, and utterly unfortunate missteps that virtually destroy the final half of Wildflower and all of Ain’t About to Fall and Blue Skies.
Overall, however, songwriter Mike McClure’s knack for fusing solid melodies with respectably heartfelt lyrics just might hold the key for revitalizing the No Depression crusade. Faring best is the opening track Days Go, which boasts a blend of pedal steel and organ that underscores its reflection on life, and the subsequent Out of Here Tonight, with its tale of escape from the stifling nature of a small town and headstrong yearning to hit the road and experience life. It’s here that the Great Divide finds its stride and extends the long tradition of the great country-rock song. And even though the group is treading familiar ground, it does so with the style and grace that pays the utmost respect to its predecessors, making this a worthy accessory for anyone who just can’t get enough of those artists.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box