The year’s going well for former frontman of Grant Lee Buffalo. It’s been confirmed that he’ll be reprising his recurring role as The Town Troubadour in the revival of The Gilmore Girls and he’s just released his first album since relocating to Nashville after 30 years in L.A. – and it’s one of the best of his career.
Working in a trio format with drummer Jerry Roe and bassist Lex Price providing the rhythm section its reflective of the both his new surroundings and memories of time in his native California as well as exploring his Creek and Cherokee heritage, the songs pivoting between the personal and the historical. The latter is notably evident on Cry Cry (premiered on Folk Radio UK), its deceptively undulating groove and soulful feel underpinning a lyric about the Removal, when Native Americans were forcibly relocated from their lands, forced to journey what is now dubbed the Trail of Tears, part of which winds through Nashville.
It’s also at the heart of the soft, resonator and fiddle backed Moccasin Creek, from whence the album title stems, the Narrows being a stretch of river situated on the Ozarks Highland trail, and which makes mention of the home of his kin (his late father was born in Arkansas) and finding arrowheads in the mud. His home, father and memories of childhood are also the core of Yellow Weeds , the title referencing the Tinkers Weed that proliferates in the state’s roads.
Meanwhile, life in California specifically informs San Andreas Fault, a nostalgic dreamy, pedal steel streaked acoustic number about living on the crack in the earth that runs through the Golden State while another reference surfaces on Taking On Weight In Hot Springs, a languid tale of life “moving slower than molasses” and sharing the waters with gamblers and gangsters from Chicago.
Striking up a plangent guitar and more pedal steel, Just Another River Town strikes a ringing country note for a portrait of a working class community with shattered dreams and broken homes that’s “seen its share of bad go down”, yet, as embodied in its Sunday morning choir and a girl; with a voice to reach the sky, remains resilient. The guitars are loaded up too on the swelling album opener Tennessee Rain and the rock swagger Rolling Pin with Price on banjo while Loaded Gun, which he says is “about the volatile force of youth, that time in our life when we feel indestructible”, races along on an urgent rockabilly beat.
But, while such fire is invigorating, it’s the quieter numbers that anchor the album, also among them the acoustic strummed anthemic timbre of Smoke And Sparks, the heatwave haze of the hushed No Mercy In July with its brushed drums and lines and the Americana of the mandolin accompanied Civil War themed Holy Irons where the influence of The Band looms large.
During his time in Los Angeles, Phillips released four band albums and seven solo that led leading magazine American Songwriter to declare him a national treasure. On the evidence of his first in Music City, they just sound like warm ups.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Yep Roc
Order via Amazon
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