Every year since 2008, songwriters from the fields of country, folk, roots and Americana have gathered together aboard the Cayamo cruise ship and spent a week at sea, working and playing together. In 2012, Buddy Miller decided to haul along some equipment so he and Jim Lauderdale could record a few of these often one-off collaborations for their radio show. It went well, so Miller returned, this time with more gear and some backing musicians, among them Joel Guzman, Fats Kaplan and David Jaques, in 2014 and 2015. Cayamo Sessions At Sea features some of the results.
Things kick off in vintage honky tonk style with Miller and Lee Ann Womack duetting on Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty classic After The Fire Is Gone with Larry Campbell on steel guitar, moving from love faded to love reborn with Buck Owens’ Love’s Gonna Live Here drawled out in bouncy fashion by Kasey Musgraves. Of the artists featured, only two sing their own songs, first up being Kris Kristofferson sounding in excellent shape on the signature Sunday Morning Coming Down, Miller providing baritone guitar with accordion flourishes from Guzman. The other is the rather less well known Doug Seegers, a 63-year-old veteran songwriter friend of Miller’s who became an overnight success in Sweden in 2014 and who’s featured here on the rousing fiddle driven country gospel Take The Hand of Jesus.
Equally obscure, though currently building a solo career after co-fronting Tennessee oufit The Everybodyfields, the twangy Jill Andrews gets some useful exposure with a duet cover of Bob McDill’s Come Early Morning. Another name working her way up the ladder is Nikki Lane who’s been likened to Wanda Jackson and tagged The First Lady of Outlaw Country, although her contribution here is rather more old school duetting with Miller on Jack Clement’s Just Someone I Used To Know.
That, of course, was a huge hit for Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner and Dolly herself is channeled in fine style by rising Nashville name Elizabeth Cook duetting with Miller on the lively rockabilly bouncing If Teardrops Were Pennies.
The remaining cruise crooners are all decidedly better known luminaries, two being legends in their lifetime. After some preamble studio chatter, the incomparable Lucinda Williams triumphantly takes on Gram Parsons’ immortal Hickory Wind, Kaplan on weeping steel, her throaty, deep warbling delivery making this slow, weary reading sound even more achingly forlorn than you’d think possible. She’s followed by another stellar name, though not one you might expect to find among such country company, Richard Thompson, his distinctive tones giving a folky edge to the Claude Boone penned Hank Williams’ hit Wedding Bells, here given a Johnny Cash style chugging rhythm.
No stranger to covers, another veteran artist, Shawn Colvin gets moody for a mournful, blues-streaked, early hours take on the Stones’ Wild Horses leaving the album to close with Brandi Carlisle and folk-rock outfit The Lone Bellow transforming John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery into a stripped back, brooding gospel number with plangent acoustic guitar, cello and a revival tent style, unaccompanied handclap finale. Here’s hoping Miller’s booked his cabin for the 2016 trip.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released 5 Feb. 2016 via New West Records
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