John Cowan’s latest is taken from sessions recorded four years ago by George Massenburg.
Cowan’s music combines traditional bluegrass with rock-influenced players and the songs here show Cowan’s talents as a singer and bass player, as well as the skill of players including Jeff Autry on guitar, Wayne Benson (mandolin), Shad Cobb (fiddle), and Tony Wray (five-string banjo). “My Time in the Desert/Maggie Little” is highlighted by wonderful playing and a pedal-to-the-medal bluegrass segment. The classic “Caledonia” gets a country-swing feel with everyone taking a solo. Dave Alvin’s sublime “King of California” gets a run-through that allows Benson to give us a short lesson on how mando can be used as a primary percussion instrument. The oddest song – and one of the most fun – is a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Heart of the Country.” While the arrangement doesn’t change much, the band makes it their own through Cowan’s vocal and banjo throughout by Wray.
Cowan could be one of those guys who sneaks a hit record. It’s also nice to hear Massenburg’s production skills and studio magic bringing out the best of Cowan’s band.
This article originally appeared in VG’s Sept. ’10 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.