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
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
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.
A 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."
Crusades 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
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."
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
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.
Yet 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
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?'"
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.
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.
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
When 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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