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  Listen Up! 8/27/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Aug. 27

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and many others, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Capitol Records. Today, I played the second disc, and was struck by the beauty of the instrumental cuts (which take up about the first third of this disc, as I recall an entire side of the original 3-LP set). We often get all caught up in jazz as the great American music, and yeah, it is and all that, but country music deserves props, too. The chords may not be as tricky, the rhythms more straight-forward, and the melodies considerably more direct, but the skills of these great musicians aren’t something to be sneezed at. Or, as I once argued with a particularly snooty progressive rock guitar player who insisted these songs were simple because there were only three chords, “It’s all in where you put those chords.” Not just anybody can do it, and when you gather a whole bunch of people who do put them in the right places just as effortlessly as they breathe, you’ve got something truly enchanting. A quick word about the four bonus cuts at the end: You will listen to them out of curiosity, but you will never play them again. The original album ends with the delicate beauty of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as played on solo guitar by the young Randy Scruggs, meant to symbolize the future of the unbroken circle of folk/country music. As it turned out, Mitchell moved into a whole different direction, and so did folk and country, but I still love the hope embodied in that original ending. Some records don’t need anything extra to sell themselves. Program the last four tracks right off the disc.

Shemekia Copeland, “Talking to Strangers,” Alligator Records. Obviously, nobody really needs 15 new blues tracks from anybody, but these are pretty solid. Copeland is developing some real soul vocal chops, and Dr. John produces the record with a restrained take on the traditional Alligator house-rockin’ style. Solid B grade record.

Delbert McClinton, “Room to Breathe,” New West Records. Delbert McClinton just gets better and better, and for a guy who’s been around 40 years, that’s saying something. It’s all about knowing your voice (weaned on equal parts country, blues, soul, and rock’n’roll) and constantly striving to improve your delivery of what are pretty classic song forms. In other words, you’ve heard it all before, but you’ve never heard it like this, a career plan that should be applied to a whole lot more tradition loving performers. This record has a lot more country than he’s been doing of late, but not so much that you’d forget he knows everything else, too. It’s got a nice, relaxed groove to the songs, whether slow burners or uptempo stompers.

--Steve Pick



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