Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cotton Field of Dreams reviewed by Mark Thompson

Cotton Field of Dreams
Albert Bashor
Earwig Music Co.
14 tracks/57:59

It took nineteen years but Albert Bashor finally has a recording out on Earwig Records, Michael Frank's label. The two had discussed the possibility of working together in 1993 when Bashore
 was a member of the acoustic duo 32-20. But the plans never came to fruition and Bashore went on to a career that ranged from playing drums for Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band to doing session work for blues producer Bob Greenlee at his King Snake studio.

The setlist is comprised of original material by Bashor, who handles the lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar. One song, “Rockin' Red Rooster”, was recorded by Lonnie Brooks for his Alligator release Roadhouse Rules. The songwriter's version features Forrest Rodgers on slide guitar and Ron Holloway on tenor sax with Bill Payne of Little Feat fame adding some spice on piano. Payne switches to organ on “Tater Diggin' Woman”, creating a funky mode for Bashor's exuberant vocal. “So Blue” features a sultry duet with Bashor sharing the spotlight with Shay Jones on a acoustic number that displays some jazz influences, a point driven home by Holloway's blistering solo.

On the title track, Bashor makes an attempt to imagine the thoughts of early bluesmen has they struggled to plot a way out of the back-breaking manual associated with King Cotton. The dark, harrowing tone generates the appropriate backdrop for Bashor's melancholic singing. The leader gives listeners a glimpse of his storytelling skill on “Poodle Ribs Story”, guaranteed to give you pause the next time you contemplate ordering some BBQ. The associated song has a jaunty rhythm and more fine work from Holloway.

Some of the tracks have a strong musical foundation but suffer from generic lyrics. The opener, “Jukin' Down on Johnson Street”, has Bashor looking back seventy-five years to the day David “Honeyboy” Edwards first met Robert Johnson. But the promising storyline line never really goes anywhere with the second verse simply a roll-call of famous blues singers. The band digs into “Fetch Me”, with rocker Pat Travers delivering a meaty solo. But the repetitive lyrics diminish the impact despite Bashor's energetic attempt to make them relevant. “No Place Like Home” is a travelogue that mentions the familiar spots like New Orleans, Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. Bashor regains his footing on the humorous “Seeing Eye Dog Blues”, featuring some outstanding country blues harp from Michael Frank.

Three songs - “One Last Time”, “High On Your Love” and “Lucky Man” - are love songs that fall into a gentler folk-rock vein. I found myself picturing Ricky Nelson – Garden Party era - singing the first tune. Nothing wrong with the performances but they are a marked departure from the rest of the cuts.

Besides the previously mentioned musicians, additional help comes from Mike McConnell on guitars, Larry Jacoby on bass and Willie Hayes on drums. The varied, well-played program shows that Albert Bashor refuses to be plugged into some narrow stylistic vein. Time will tell how listeners will respond to this solid representation of his musical vision.

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