Joe Overton. Clear Blue Sky.
Self-produced, 2014. Joe Overton: http://joeovertonmusic.com/
Spring is in full bloom, pollen coats cars and sidewalks like newly fallen snow, and my eyes are nearly swollen shut from allergies. What better time to listen to some country music? I clearly recall Joe Overton (Class of 2007) as one of the more intense music fans on campus at the time, and he along with a few others played around campus a lot and regularly pawed through our music collection in the library. Since he left us he has been doing many things, including studying and teaching fiddle and banjo, community organizing against mountaintop removal, and being a member of two bands, The Party Line (Nora Jane Struthers’ band), and his own Clear Blue Sky. The two bands share personnel. This is Joe’s first album as leader, and he wrote all the songs.
Overton has a voice that seems suited for bluegrass, a high lonesome sound, but that’s not the only style he presents here. He combines country with occasional forays into rockabilly, with a touch of folk. In other words, he’s Americana, a term to which he probably would not object. The opening track, “Trouble,” is a strong one, with great hooks, interesting lyrics, and some great fiddle and pedal steel featured. The rockabilly side is presented in “Introvert Boogie,” a style reminiscent of Charlie Feathers, with a bit of Chuck Berry thrown in. This is an especially good tune, since it really goes back to roots, rather than being derivative of later revivals. Beautiful electric guitar work is featured in “Hook,” which has a heavy honky-tonk feel, drinks and all. “Front Door” has a bit more of a bluegrass sound to it, although the band doesn’t feature the heavy-duty harmonies usually required in the style, and the tune takes more of a country turn toward the middle. If you’re looking for a real weeper, try “Tallest Tree,” which displays both Overton’s fine vocals and Buck Reid’s excellent pedal steel. “Foundation” is similar in style, and we encounter similar strengths, and the fine, sensitive lyrics manage to include country music touchstones such as guitar strings and whiskey without being forced. The last track, “Start Over,” engages with Overton’s environmental ethic, and in using his lower register, he gives the song some gravity.
This is a very enjoyable album, filled with memorable songs and excellent musicianship, tied together by Overton’s fine vocals and vision. Clear Blue Sky is a worthwhile effort, and I recommend it highly. Good start, Joe. Let’s hear some more.
Personnel: Joe Overton (vocals, guitar), Nora Jane Struthers (harmony vocals), Josh Vana (electric guitar), Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle), Drew Lawhorn (drums, percussion), Nick Disebastian (bass), Buck Reid (pedal steel).
Tracks: Trouble, Horizon, Kind, Introvert Boogie, Hook, Front Door, Tallest Tree, Ballad of the Objectivist, To My Foundation, Start Over.