Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin & Todd Phillips,
The Colton House Sessions: Songs for the Southwest
(independent, 2017)

Zoe & Cloyd,
Eyes Brand New
(independent, 2017)

I praised -- rather extravagantly, I see -- Chris Brashear & Peter McLaughlin's Canyoneers in this space on 27 September 2003, at the dawn of my Rambles.NET association. The Colton House Sessions, which comes along 14 years later, is a belated sequel. That means a return to Western landscapes and historical narratives, played on acoustic stringed instruments, now with Todd Phillips joining the duo on stand-up bass, percussion, and harmonies.

As I listen to it again for the first time in more than a decade, I am relieved to find that Canyoneers is indeed a pretty decent album. Besides being similarly themed, it and Sessions, both recorded in Arizona, have in common a pleasingly uncluttered style of picking and singing, mostly of songs Brashear and McLaughlin separately have composed. As a whole the cuts on the earlier album are a little more story-oriented, though not by much. The largely mid-tempo folk-ballad melodies are as tuneful as ever. In fact, you could say it's two CDs with one personality.

There is only one non-original here, Katy Lee's "Song of the Boatman," said to be "based on 'Cry of the Wild Goose' by Terry Gilkyson," a folk-pop figure in the 1950s and the father of singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson; "Goose" was a hit for Frankie Laine. Whatever its origins, it's a stirring tune and an improvement on the original. While heavy-rotation radio fare in the pre-rock 'n' roll era, Laine's recordings (e.g., "Rawhide," "Mule Train") have not aged well. On the other hand, Colton House Sessions will sound as good 14 years from now as Canyoneers does.

Zoe & Cloyd -- Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller -- are out of the Asheville, North Carolina, music scene. Both of them sing, both solo and harmony, in clean-cut voices. On Eyes Brand New Zoe also performs on fiddle, Cloyd on guitar, mandolin and banjo. Three guest players step in to fill out the arrangements. As the instrumental line-up (and arguably the duo's place of residence) would suggest, the sound is Appalachian. Well, it's sort of Appalachian. The lyrics and melodies are, most of them, from the singer-songwriter school, a genre onto itself.

It's a little unsettling to hear rooted arrangements attached to rootless pop love lyrics. You will have to decide for yourself if that's what you want. My own tastes being what they are, I am drawn to the occasional more trad-based stuff, such as the Miller-composed ballad "Jewel of the Caspian Sea," the fiddle tune "Underground Railroad" and the authentically Scottish "Farewell to Fiunary," which ends the album on a lovely, melancholy note.

music review by
Jerome Clark

29 April 2017

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