Family, Friends and Heroes
People used to make albums, you know, with a beginning and a middle and an end. Given the way we buy music these days, it seems like the impetus to make a real album — a piece of work made up of songs rather than a bunch of songs that make up a piece of work — is less present. In the current issue of No Depression Tim O’Brien says that he may not make an album again, these days releasing single songs at a time, one or two a month, as part of his SOS project, the Short Order Sessions.
This release from Frank Solivan, while presented as a piece, has the granular feel of the SOS sessions. The opener is a fun, if average, bluegrass take on “Pretty Woman.” Its the song we’ve heard a million times, and despite the instrumentation and Del McCoy, is the same arrangement. Del is a hero, no doubt, but his voice arrives here as an afterthought — you’d be forgiven for wondering where Del is, even when listening to the track.
Following on, there are lots of very big names on this one, including Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and John Cowan. All turn in performances that are exactly as we’d expect from them: clean, clear, and masterful. Bush and Douglas contribute a beautifully sympathetic accompaniment to “I am a Rambler,” supporting the kind of careful, skillful vocal that we’ve come to expect of Solivan. It’s followed by a “Cazenovia Casanova,” another standout on the disc, and also featuring Bush and Douglas in the foreground.
But the material is tiring in part because it goes from one place to the next, track by track, without a map or a flashlight. You never know what you’re going to get. And then you get it. Such as the Calypso inflected “You Didn’t Write” and John Cowan’s take on “Leaving on a Jetplane.”
Still, with all the firepower here, I guess I was hoping for something more than a collection, something that makes better use of the available resources. I love what Solivan can do, and he’s made great albums. The collection is certainly worthy of our attention. But, while the concept behind the project would have made for a delightful evening, as an album, it would benefit from more coherence across the content and the arrangements. Some will argue that it doesn’t matter, and perhaps they’re right. But, still, I think it does. When we listen to music, we want to get lost in something. This collection just kind of bumps us along.
— Glen Herbert