First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4
Written by John Metzger
At its heart, bluegrass might be all about maintaining history and heritage, but the best players find a way of paying homage to the days of old while also sounding wholly contemporary. Itís precisely this balance that Uncle Earl strives to attain on its latest endeavor Waterloo, Tennessee. Produced by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, the album seamlessly bridges the gap between folk musicís past and its present. Uncle Earlís instrumental virtuosity as well as its fearlessness about bending virtually anything and everything to its will presumably were what attracted Jones, a student of Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile, to the group beyond their initial encounter at Coloradoís long-running RockyGrass Festival. Utilizing a subtle touch, he added a surreal, psychedelic air to the manner in which the vocals dart through the latter portion of Black-Eyed Susie, and he helped the outfit to blend the a cappella Buonaparte with the gently rolling Bony on the Isle of St. Helena.
Over the course of Waterloo, Tennesseeís 16 tracks, Uncle Earl offers an adventurous mixture of original songs, cover tunes, and traditional fare. However, unlike many similarly textured collections that are designed to pass material from one generation to the next, the overall mood is warm and playful rather than calculated and stuffy. Streak Oí Lean, Streak Oí Fat, for example, is updated in a whimsical fashion as banjoist Abigail Washburn calls out in Chinese over a whirling fiddle-based groove, while Wish I Had My Time Again is fitted with new lyrics about a manís wrongful imprisonment. Elsewhere, Bob Dylanís Wallflower is lent an undercurrent of Cajun, backwoods charm; Gillian Welch furnishes a simple cadence to the sweetly soulful strains of The Last Goodbye; the quiet, aching sadness of The Carter Familyís The Birds Were Singing of You is fitted with a strikingly luminous arrangement; and Olla Belle Reedís My Epitaph shrugs off its initial weariness to become a haunted, mournful meditation on the brevity of life. At times, Uncle Earlís daring eclecticism feels a tad scattered, but more often than not, Waterloo, Tennessee achieves a timelessness that stretches hypnotically from past to present and back again without skipping a beat. Ĺ
Waterloo, Tennessee is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box