Cousin Harley

Blue Smoke: The Music Of Merle Travis
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Cousin Harley
Blue Smoke: The Music Of Merle Travis

Canadian guitarslinger Paul Pigat has recorded under his own name (Boxcar Campfire) and with his wild, infectious rockabilly trio, Cousin Harley. The latter’s tribute to Merle Travis may be the group’s best effort yet.

Tributes can go one of two ways. You can take liberties with the material, as on the Elmore James homage reviewed elsewhere in this section, or you can stick close to the original, as Clapton did for The Breeze, his tribute to J.J. Cale. Both approaches beg the question Pigat asks in Blue Smoke’s liner notes: “Why mess with the best?” Clapton’s reasoning was that he wanted his audience to hear what Cale’s music sounded like – a valid point that also applies to Pigat/Harley’s following of rockabilly converts.

Travis tributes typically concentrate on his namesake instrumental style, like Bill Frisell’s take on “Cannonball Rag” and the title cut here. But most of the CD (with Jesse Cahill on drums and Keith Picot on upright) spotlights Travis’ songwriting – from novelties like “Fat Gal” to the somber “Dark As A Dungeon.”

With his Gretsch Custom Shop Synchro-Club, Pigat injects his own personality into the repertoire and closes with the original “Rosewood,” a fitting instrumental nod to the master.


This article originally appeared in VG April 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.