SoundStage! Music Online Editor's Pick Archives
November/December 2000

Mark Olson & The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers - My Own Jo Ellen
HighTone HCD8127, 2000

SnapShot! Rating:

Mark Olson and Victoria Williams are not the prime-time-special draws that Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are, but I know who I would rather see in concert, and it ain't Nashville's super couple. Olson was one half of the harmonies and songwriting of the Jayhawks, one great band, and here he re-creates some of the grounded charm of Hollywood Town Hall, one great Jayhawks album, with the help of his wife and Mike "Razz" Russell. The songs on My Own Jo Ellen capture the small but meaningful gestures of real people, making it a kind of hyper-country-music collection, replete with searing guitars and some gritty, folky, gospel-esque arrangements. If you're a fan of Neil Young's Harvest Moon, anything by Lucinda Williams, Victoria Williams, or the Jayhawks, you'll want this CD, which derives its heart and soul from acute observation, as all significant art does....Marc Mickelson

Hot Club of Cowtown - Dev'lish Mary
HighTone HCD8124, 2000

SnapShot! Rating:

Easily the greatest musical discovery I made in 1999 was the high-octane western swing spiced with improvisational flair of the Hot Club of Cowtown. Well, they're back, with a new bass player (Matt Weiner) and coronetist Peter Ecklund, who lends his jazz chops to some Louis Armstrong-era tunes. But the heart and soul of the Hot Club of Cowtown remain Whit Smith on guitar and Elana Fremerman on violin, with both providing vocals. If you want an instant lesson in what Dev'lish Mary, the band's third CD, is about, listen to "Exactly Like You" groove hard, then skip over to the loping picking and playing on "I'd Understand Why," a Fremerman original. The beauty's in the juxtaposition and high musicianship. Smith and Fremerman are traditionalists for sure, covering "Star Dust" here as well as other known commodities, but it's also clear that they're interested in making their music -- and sweating a bit from the energy expended along the way. The sound of Dev'lish Mary is good too, which only makes me want to play this disc all the more. I can't get enough of these guys -- and gal!...Marc Mickelson

Guy Van Duser & Billy Novick - Lovely Sunday Afternoon
Darling Records 25101, 2000

SnapShot! Rating:

This CD takes its name from a Guy Van Duser original tune and conjures the feelings its title suggests -- placidity and repose. Lest you think I'm damning with faint praise, I mean these terms literally: This CD captures and conveys a mood through the plaintive chemistry of the pairing of Van Duser on acoustic guitar and Novick on clarinet. The tunes are a mix of traditional and original arranged by the musicians, but the reserve of the playing makes each one boil very, very slowly. "New Orleans Farewell" had me hanging on each small gesture -- and there are many of them -- drawing me in, seducing me. This is infectious music, not in any showy way, but rather through its slow-rolling nature. The sound is naturally detailed, the clarinet and plucked guitar strings displaying lots of clarity but not even a hint of aggression. Anything less would kill the effect of the music. If you need more simplicity and quietude in your musical life, this disc is your ticket....Marc Mickelson

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