Dave Mallett,
(Flying Fish, 1999)

Veteran singer/songwriter Dave Mallett is primarily known for his writing abilities. Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss are just two of the many names who have profited from Mallett's talent. Knowing this, one almost tends to forget that he is also a musician in his own right ... probably because there is absolutely nothing flashy or trendy about him. He seems like a guy who doesn't exactly love to be in the spotlight.

Dave Mallett's music hasn't changed radically if you compare his new CD with his early work. Certainly there is better production and the details are perfect nowadays. But it's still the same warm baritone. If you think of Gordon Lightfoot now, then you have got the right picture. But where Lightfoot's voice shows folk influences, Mallett's vocals are more in a country vein. Mallett still plays his guitar, but also the harmonica, and it's all done very nicely, all done with understatement, nothing spectacular. The only noticeable change is that these days Mallett can afford to have distinguished studio cracks to back him up. Especially nice are Steve Sheehan's guitar licks -- listen to the wonderful figures he creates on "Walkin'."

Despite drums, electric guitar and Hammond organ, the sound is kept very acoustic and natural, very relaxed and laid back. The sound is really built around Mallett in order to give him space to tell his homespun tales. Many of his lyrics are inspired by his rural home in Maine. "Greenin' Up" is an ode to spring and to a horse that Mallett once used to have; "Lilacs" is a beautifully painted declaration of love to his partner, admitting that while it may be a different kind of love, it's still love.

Mallett is quite often looking back at his life; sometimes wishing back the idealistic times of the '60s, as in "Wild In The Sixties," sometimes missing the carefree existence of his "Sportin' Days." The best composition here though may well be "Whiskey Talkin'," a sad story of an alcoholic in a vicious circle that leads only to more loneliness and desperation.

Dave Mallett is a troubadour in the best sense of the word. In an earlier century he probably would have wandered from town to town, telling his stories at the campfire. It's not very likely that this release will attract thousands of new fans. But those who love Mallett's work will get exactly what they may expect: solid, reliable and entertaining music on a high level.

[ by Michael Gasser ]