June 2000

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines - Moving Back to the Country
Tone-Cool TC34047-1174-2
Released: 1999

by Doug Blackburn

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]This CD is one of those surprise finds. I had no knowledge about the artists, but I instantly took a liking to what I heard. Eight of the 13 tracks here are old blues or near blues from the ‘20s and later. They have that authentic, old-timey blues jingle-jangle. The other five tunes are written by Paul Rishell and/or Annie Raines and have a slightly more modern feel to them, a great deal of which comes from Rishell’s switch to Fender electric guitar on these tunes. Annie Raines fills in on mandolin and piano on several tunes, and they add a drummer and bass player on most of the songs. After a number of listens, I’m still not skipping over any of the songs.

These songs aren’t the slow "woe is me" flavor of the blues. They are the lighter side of the blues, which, for me, is easier and more fun to listen to. So while you don’t get the plaintive wail of the sad bottle-necked National Steel, you get a happier, endearing bouncy sound that gives the proceedings a lighter, but still obviously bluesy feel. The song selections are also not the saddest blues you’ll ever hear either. Leadbelly’s "Keep Your Hands Off Her," for example, is a nothing more than a guy warning others away from his girl -- not one of the sadder blues subjects.

The high points of this CD are Paul Rishell's acoustic-guitar and National Steel playing along with Annie’s harmonica and mandolin on the older songs the two didn’t write. There’s something about their obvious dedication and enthusiasm for these songs that comes though in their performances. They re-create the bouncy feel of these songs with great success. The performance of these songs does not attempt to re-create the original performances. This would be nearly impossible. Instead, Paul and Annie put the songs out front with tasty singing and playing that uncovers all the nuances of the songs without trying to reproduce those unreproduceable original performances. Unlike some attempts to update the blues for a modern audience, like the Rolling Stones’ near total re-make of songs by Robert Johnson and others, Paul and Annie re-work the songs, but in a way that retains the traditional sounds, the original pace and beat.

The sound quality is typical of well-produced and -mastered recordings from commercial record labels. It has a nice cleanness and transparency, though there is not much depth to the soundstage. The tone of the National Steel guitar and harmonica are captured quite well, better perhaps than the vocal performances, which seem to be a little removed from the instruments as if the instruments and vocals were not performed and recorded at the same time. With this type of music, something is lost when you record the instrument and vocal tracks separately. Here the "loss" is pretty subtle and I can easily forget about it -- it could have been much worse. You don’t get the last word in detail and tonality and space that you get from the best "audiophile recordings" but you do get a nice, honest, non-gimmicked recording of some really nice music. I’ll take that over a sterile uninteresting performance with fabulous sound any day of the week.

It’s nice to have performers like Paul Rishell and Annie Raines out there keeping some of these older songs alive and giving them a voice -- especially when they do it in a way that preserves the original character of the songs while giving them the best possible showcase for a newly appreciative audience.