First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2008, Volume 15, #1
Written by John Metzger
Tue January 8, 2008, 06:45 AM CST
Over the past few years, Grayson Capps has received a wealth of well-warranted attention from the roots-music community for both If You Knew My Mind, his proper solo debut, as well as his subsequent outing Wail & Ride. His latest endeavor Songbones, however, provides a truer glimpse at why he has earned such a sterling reputation. Recorded in 2002 in a single, impromptu, five-hour session, with multi-instrumentalist Tom Marron at his side, Songbones features music that is stripped-bare and pure, and the entirety of the set unfolds effortlessly even as its emotional core gnaws tenaciously at the listener’s soul.
Many of the tunes that Capps recorded with Marron were revamped for inclusion on his later albums. Therefore, it ought not to be a surprise that Songbones’ overriding theme revolves around the notion of escaping the pain and sorrow of life in the hope of finding redemption. On the opening cut Slidell, for example, Capps paints a portrait of a deadly car accident’s aftermath as well as his own alcohol-fueled travels. With his vivid imagery, he connects the aching loneliness of the road with his desire to rise above his problems, clean up his life, and embrace something greater. Beautifully scored with just acoustic guitar and violin, the song not only serves as a haunting ode to road-weary musicians and lost souls alike, but it also establishes the mood for everything that follows.
For the record, Songbones’ subsequent tracks aren’t quite of the same caliber. Nevertheless, their skeletal frameworks subtly illuminate Capps’ essence from within, bringing his influences into sharp relief. Junior & the Old African Queen bears hints of The Doors, while Marron’s harmonica accompaniments often recall Mickey Raphael’s work with Willie Nelson. Elsewhere, there are flashes of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen tucked into the craggy corners of tracks like Junkman and Graveyard, respectively. Overall, however, the ghost of Townes Van Zandt plays the biggest role in feeding Capps’ muse — so much so that cuts like Guitar and Mermaid sound like long, lost outtakes from Van Zandt’s astounding canon. Regardless, Capps and Marron never settle for mere mimicry, and the passion of their performance combined with their alchemical connection to each other and to the music is what transforms Songbones into such a powerfully moving endeavor. ½
Songbones is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box