Rock Salt and Nails. Run to the River.
Rock Salt and Nails, 2014. Website: http://www.rsn-band.com
We posted a review of the debut album by this band from the Alliance area about six months ago, and here they are, back again with a new CD. The band members are the same, all talented and enthusiastic, and they continue to plow the fields of traditional folk music with a mix of old tunes, originals, and songs by such artists as Si Kahn, Utah Phillips, Guy Clark, and Rosanne Cash. As with the first album, they trade vocal leads, and although I can’t tell if everyone sings lead, it sounds like it (they gave credits on the last album). The variety of voices is one of the highlights of the album, providing a new and fascinating mix of leads and harmonies on each track.
I won’t run through all of the 20 tracks on the album, but instead, I’ll make do with overall impressions and mention my favorites. As with the first album, the musicianship is stellar. The combination of guitars, mandolins, banjo, and bass vary with each song, personalizing the tune with a unique signature. Second, the harmonies are just lovely, the combined voices making each song come alive behind the lead vocalist. Finally, each of the vocalists has a particular strength, whether it be the timber of the voice, the emotive quality, or the phrasing.
First, the covers. I was expecting the Phillips tune, “Rock Salt and Nails,” to show up on the first album, but here it is as the opening track. and it’s beautifully done. “Gone Gonna Rise Again” is a pleasant surprise. I have never been a big fan of Si Kahn (something about his voice bugs me), but the group does a magnificent job on his song. “Worried Man,” a Rosanne Cash song is a dandy, rather jaunty in style for an essay on anxiety. “Stuff that Works” is a song that is both clever and poignant, written by two of my favorite songwriters, Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell. The last of these I will mention, “Unchained,” is by a younger songwriter, Jude Johnstone, and is a quality song, finely done. These days we often see a stark demarcation between country and folk music, but Rock Salt and Nails cares little for these distinctions, to their credit.
Of the original tunes, I was particularly impressed by Ann Hendel’s “Obsession,” a bleak ballad of love lost at sea. “Empty Bottle,” by Priscilla Roggenkamp has a cheery sound bolstered by the mandolin, but the lyrics speak of loneliness and solace in alcohol. The title track is another song by her, and is equally dark, but equally delightful (if that’s the right word), in the form of a warning of bad things coming. “My Love,” by Andy Dutter and Ann Hendel, is a lovely ballad with sweet harmonies that has lasted in my head long after listening to it. The group finishes off with a beautiful instrumental also written by Andy Dutter.
The album has a somewhat darker overall tone to it than the first release, not in terms of recorded sound (which is excellent), but in the choice of songs, from “Dark Hollow” to “Empty Bottle” to “Worried Man” to “Obsession.” But I guess that’s one of the hazards of folk music. It’s a pleasure to hear this group again on another batch of great songs.
Personnel: Keith McMahon (guitar, mandolin), Andy Dutter (guitar, mandolin), Ann Hendel (banjo), Jim Dutter (guitar), Priscilla Roggenkamp (bass). Vocals by all.
Tracks: Rock Salt and Nails, Gone Gonna Rise Again, New Railroad, Dark Hollow, Empty Bottle, Fannin Street, You Went Away, Nevada Jane, Unchained, Falling, Hole in the Day, Run to the River, Stuff that Works, Caledonia, Uncle Jack, I Often Feel this Way, Worried Man, Obsession, My Love, Leona/Simone.