Harvey Reid,
In Person
(Woodpecker, 1997)

Maybe it's expensive to do, but I really appreciate liner notes that tell me something about the music and musician(s) on the CD. Thank you, Harvey Reid, for your entertaining and informative liner notes. With them, when I'm listening to one of the many cuts I really love on this CD, I can find out what the instruments are, how they're tuned, who else is singing and/or playing, where you got the song and when and where it was recorded.

The other thing I learned was that Reid seems fated never to perform during mild weather. It looks like it's always at least 30 below with three feet of snow on the road or it's 110 in the shade.

Besides having a wonderful voice for the songs he sings, Reid is one of those terrifically talented people who seem to be able to play any stringed instrument in the room. In this room are a Larivee C-10, a Taylor model 810 six-string, a metal body dobro, a Taylor maple jumbo 12-string, a bouzouki and an autoharp. Additionally, Brian Silber adds his violin and viola, Rick Watson provides mandolin and piano, and Lynn Rothermich brought her lovely voice.

Reid has been national fingerpicking guitar champion (1981) and international autoharp winner (1982) and calls his style "modern minstrel" with good reason. He writes enough of his songs, literate, pertinent and empathic lyrics with often innovative instrumentation, to wear the title of minstrel well. Reid steps over the perceived boundaries with his instruments and gives us for example, a Celtic bagpipe, complete with drone, on his twelve-string, and he tunes his bouzouki as an octave mandolin.

In Person is a two-disc set, "a compilation of virtually unedited recorded performances culled painstakingly from my archive of hundreds of hours of concert tapes." There are sixteen cuts on the first disc and fourteen on the second, too many to review individually in this space but so many are so well done that it's hard to choose. Of the thirty cuts, fourteen are original to Reid and one is so originally arranged that he takes credit for it. In his songwriting, he pays homage to the likes of J.S. Bach, Willie McTell, Willie Johnson, a Brahma bull rider named Mac, and his own great-grandfather who made two of the violins in his collection.

Besides being a terrific songwriter and performer, Reid has nearly perfect taste in choosing pieces from other songwriters. The range in this set is enormous, from airs to blues to bluegrass, from rock 'n' roll to gospel to marches and waltzes, this collection covers it all. Reid gives us traditional works along with works from Arthur "Blind" Blake, Gershwin, J.J. Cale, Reeva Hunter, Turlough O'Carolan, Woody Guthrie, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, Bill Monroe and Click Horning.

The liner notes reveal Reid as something of a human rights advocate as well. In "Police Dog Blues," the Blake piece and one of my favorites, Reid comments, "I do not salute those who have profited unduly from obtaining ownership of the copyrights or publishing rights from the often unwitting musicians or their heirs, and in some cases I urge you to steal and not to buy the reissues of old blues records." That's OK as far as it goes, I guess, but I'd suggest that if you're going to steal them, you contribute the money they'd have cost to BluesAid to help provide medical care for those aging musicians.

Guess what's on cut five of disc one in this set? "Duncan and Brady" arranged so differently and reworded so ironically that it's my favorite rendition of this song so far. The song is played with a lot of energy and Reid inserts the opinion that Brady's "been on the job too long, one day too long." Both characters come across as sonamabitches, Brady's a bully and Duncan's cold-blooded.

"All or Nothing," my favorite song on disc one, is a song Reid wrote while he was living in Nashville. It's all about trying to get past your lover's passive-aggressive behavior and get some resolution. The Nashville publishers said it was too gray, that songs should be black and white. So, Reid took his gray songs and left Nashville. Reid is accompanied by Silber, Rothermich and Watson on this one; the issue is complex and one we've all experienced, and the accompaniment emphasizes the emotion.

"John Barleycorn" is on here. I hate the song but I love "Archibald MacDonald of Keppoch," the song with which it's paired. Reid puts a lot into both, I just can't listen to "Barleycorn," it gives me the creeps.

Reid loves to play bluegrass, and Bill Monroe's "My Louisiana Love" and his own "Dreamer or Believer" are convincing proof of that. "Dreamer or Believer" is original to Reid and is one of what I'd call his "road" songs, referring to the life of a musician on the road. It, along with Reid originals "Show Me the Road" and "To the Western Wind," can make the listener empathize with the rigors of traveling and performing in the kinds of conditions Reid describes for some of the songs.

My favorite cut on the second disc is "A Very Old Song," written in tribute to Brian Silber. My grandfather, Francis Sylvester Higgins, played fiddle that could have you laughing one minute and crying the next. Silber does it like that, every time. Grandpa Frank died when I was 3 but I can remember him playing for me when I was staying with them while my sister Evelyn was being born. Funny, I really can't take much violin but I feel embraced by good fiddle music. Reid's connection to the fiddle is similarly spiritual. He tells about picking up one of the violins his great-grandfather made and playing it well the very first time. I guess that's a lot of why he stays so connected to Silber.

In 1976, Reid spent an evening at a rodeo in Wyoming with a friend and an old bull rider friend of hers. The dignity of that old rodeo cowboy changed Reid's perception a lot in regards to sports and athletes. He wrote "Too Old to Ride," a touching tribute from that experience.

"How Can I Keep From Singing?" may be Harvey Reid's mantra. I think he can't keep from singing. He says it must be sung a capella and that's how I've always heard it. He does an excellent job on it with just the right measure of spiritual wonder in his voice. He says he suspects it's a "sacred harp" song but can't corroborate that. It's one of those songs like "Simple Gifts" that contains such enduring and universal wisdom that any classification would be superficial anyway.

All the instrumental pieces, from "Off to Adventure," through "Maggots in the Sheepshide" and "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine," to Gershwin's "Summertime" and Reid's arrangement of "Cripple Creek," are great by themselves and in this collection, they provide a nice moment to stop and reflect after the nearly always emotionally charged vocal pieces.

If you're already a Reid fan, this is a good CD to have as an overview of his work. If you're new to Reid, buy this CD and learn all about him as an artist and entertainer.

[ by J. Higgins-Rosebrook ]