Redd Volkaert looms large in the world of country guitar pickers. Heck, he looms large in just about any world. I dont know how he gets those big mitts of his dancing on the strings, but he sure does. A veteran country session man and current guitarist for Merle Haggard, he lets his fingers do most of the talking on No Stranger to a Tele, his second solo album (in case youre wondering, the "tele" is slang for his Fender Telecaster guitar, not English argot for the boob tube).
Volkaerts Telecaster doesnt blast or scream. Rather, he tastefully plays at the intersection of country, jazz, roots rock, and the blues. He exudes the cool passion of a jazz musician who knows exactly what hes doing.
The non-instrumentals, which are the minority of songs on the album, are all traditional country. Volkaert looks like a big, gruff man, and he delivers big, gruff vocals. Hes not a natural singer, but the vocals dont bog down the songs. On the other hand, he seems to concentrate more on singing than on playing on these songs. "Before She Made Me Crawl" is classic countrified woman-trouble material --"I wish Id learned to run before she made me crawl"-- as are "End of the Line" (a Bob Wills tune), "Conscience Turn Your Back" (Johnny Bush) and "Back to Back." Wynn Stewarts old war-horse "Big Big Love"is a big, big country love song sung by a big, big man.
Volkaerts choice of material on the instrumentals is more eclectic than one might expect because they often veer far from straight-up country. The title track features country picking with jazzy phrasing. "Granny Grunt" is almost straight jazz (complete with bass solo), and sounds like it would belong in a smokey Greenwich Village nightclub, circa 1955. "Twango" could pass for the overture to a rock opera. The multi-tracked guitars on "Drewpster" pay homage to the Allman Brothers. "Chee-Z" is, of all things, a country surfin instrumental; the line between it and "Walk Dont Run" is shorter than one would imagine. Volkaert trades his Telecaster for an acoustic lead on most of "Rubberdance," a bit of bluegrass with a classic rock chorus. "3 1/2 Minutes Left" is an electric blues workout.
The overall recording quality is quite good. There are no tricks or gimmicks to speak of, except for some guitar multi-tracking (which is hardly a trick or gimmick). Other than that, the record has a live feel to it, with its natural and uncluttered mix, just Volkaert and a band of country pros backing him on steel guitar, piano, bass, and drums.
No Stranger to a Tele isnt going to compete with Janet Jackson for the top of the pops. Its a sturdy album of traditional country songs sandwiched in between some frisky and semi-adventurous instrumentals by a guy who knows his way around the fret board. As a result, it should appeal to both country (real country, not cowboy-hat country) fans and guitar aficionados. If you fall into either category, this disc is worth checking out.
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