The Quiet American is both a controversial Graham Greene novel and the artistic name of Colorado-based roots music aficionado Aaron Keim. His new album The Quiet American Vol ii (Volume i was released back in 2009) mixes interpretations and reworkings of old time blues and gospel numbers with original songs. For the most part they integrate seamlessly, the sea shanty Whiskey Johnny sitting easily among low-fi finger-picker I Will Be the One. You get the slightest hint of modernity with wig-out violin and distortion in album closer Black Jack Daisy, but otherwise it’s traditional American folk all the way.
Keim makes his own five-string banjos and ukuleles, and has considerable chops, pulling off a number of old timey styles: Break the Hold is classic down-picking clawhammer ukulele, whereas Wandering Boy is more classic finger-picking. It’s a sparse and homespun sound where the odd shake of a tambourine or hand clap suffices for percussion and the faint hum of an organ drone often aids the transition between songs. Keim’s voice, while expressive and perfectly up to the job, lacks the rough edges and raw power you might expect from a true blue folk singer. This makes the vocal contribution from Nicole Keim (his wife) all the more welcome, her deft harmonies upping the melodic stakes on Carolina and thigh slapping injecting a sense of fun into upbeat gospel duet Death Come Creeping in the Room. It may be short of original songs, but there’s depth to the material assembled here, and instrumentals such as Spanish Fandango, a graceful and delicately played ukulele piece, are album highlights rather than mere interludes.