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Pressed Flowers and Forgotten Treasures (10/8/99) Write to CD Shakedown
Catie CurtisKatie Curtis, A Crash Course in Roses (Rykodisc 1999) - Roots-rocker Katie Curtis hits her stride with her third release, A Crash Court in Roses. The album works both because of Katie's assured vocal delivery and her intriguing and expressive songs. Which is to say, A Crash Course in Roses works as a whole.

Katie grew up in Maine, and attended college at Brown University. Her last, self-titled album (recorded with producer Roy Bittan) was an overproduced disappointment.

Catie CurtisYet, A Crash Course in Roses redeems all. From tracks like "World Don't Owe Me" to "What's the Matter" to the radio-friendly, "Look at You Now," the new album unfolds gently, through repeated listenings.

A Crash Course in Roses was produced by Ben Wisch, and recorded in Boston with a crew of seasoned musicians and friends, including Paul Bryan on bass, Billy Conway on drums, Duke Lavine on guitars, Jimmy Ryan on mandolin, and Kenny White on organ. In addition, harmony vocals are provided by such talents as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Melissa Ferrick, and Jennifer Kimball.

Catie CurtisA Crash Course in Roses is one of those albums that builds on you with time. Unassuming at first, the album soon becomes a friend, intimate and willing to share. Enjoy this delightful catch.

Ray Wylie Hubbard, Crusades of the Restless Knights
(Rounder 1999) - Now in his early 50s, Ray Wylie Hubbard has spent the 1990s re-establishing himself as one of the more interesting country/folk songwriters to emerge from Texas. With songs that are filled with evocative images and earnest playing, the new album develops Hubbard's style on such tracks as "An Airplane Fell Down in Dixie."

Ray Wylie HubbardCrusades of the Restless Knights is the second album recorded by Hubbard for Rounder Records, and follows his 1997 release, Dangerous Spirits. Yet Ray Wylie's recording career goes back more than 25 years, as he penned Jerry Jeff Walker's 1973 hit, "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother."

Hubbard has now moved far beyond that honky-tonk partying genre, since he got sober 11 years ago. Says Hubbard, "I quit on my 41st birthday and I haven't done any of it since."

Ray Wylie HubbardYet Ray Wylie recalls, "The Texas music scene in the late 60s and early 70s was very powerful, and I was glad to be part of it." Then he jokes, "A lot of stuff from that era I don't remember, though I can't deny it."

Crusades of the Restless Knights was co-produced by Lloyd Maines, and was recorded with a band that includes Stephen Bruton and Terry Ware on guitars, Glenn Fukunaga on bass, and Paul Parcy on drums.

Lisa MednickYet the split comes with the backing singers. Several songs were recorded with Lisa Mednick on backing vocals and guitar, including "There are Some Days" and "After the Harvest," which have a subdued folk feel.

Then there are three tracks with Patty Griffin on backing vocals, including "The Lovers in Your Dreams," "This River Runs Red" (inspired by a Flannery O'Connor short story), and "The Messenger," which have a decidedly different and more upbeat feel. For my taste, the Patty Griffin sessions are the highlight, and wish more of this material was included.

Hubbard says he is not a churchgoing man, yet his songs are filled with religious images and a search for deeper truth. Hubbard draws from the school of Southern wordplay, as his songs often have melancholy overtones. Explains Hubbard, "There was a period in life when I was going through some dark times; there were days when I had no hope at all . . . About a year after I came out of that honky-tonk fog, I looked at my life and said, 'What do I really want to do?'"

Patty GriffinHubbard continues. "A lot of my songs are dark because that's the way life is, but there's also hope in it. That's what I am trying to do in my songs these days - give the darkness its due, but also provide some hope."

Ray Wylie Hubbard walks the walk and talks the talk. Fans of authentic Texas singer songwriting, with a healthy dose of Southern imagery mixed in, will enjoy Crusade of the Restless Knights.

Willis Alan RamseyWillis Alan Ramsey, Willis Alan Ramsey (Koch 1972/1999) - Here's a haunting collection that will make you wonder what might have been. Released in 1972 when Ramsey was just 21, and backed by a solid team of studio musicians, Willis Alan Ramsey remains the only recorded output from this enigmatic artist.

But what a treat it is. Working out of Austin, Texas, Ramsey has overtones of John Prine and Jim Croce. Willis Alan was obviously no slouch, as the musicians on the album include Carl Radle on bass, Jim Keltner and Russ Kunkel on drums, and Leland Sklar on bass.

Toni TennilleYet the real treat is songs such as "Muscrat Candlelight," with Leon Russell on vibes and electric piano (which was later made into a hit by the Captain & Tennille), and the delightfully playful, "Geraldine and the Honey Bee," with Willis Alan providing all vocals and instrumentation.

Also included is "Satin Sheets"(recently covered by Shawn Colvin), and such easy-swinging tunes as "Wishbone" and the album-closer, "Northeast Texas Women."

Leon RussellWhen Lyle Lovett goes so far as to call the album "one of the greatest records of all time," you have to wonder why Ramsey never returned to the recording studio. Long a cult item, this quiet gem should be rediscovered.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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