Joe Walsh’s cross-picking on the introduction to Angel Dream, and rhythmic fluttering that begins his solo on I’ll Love Nobody But You, still stand out as “had me at hello” moments from the mandolinist’s work on the Gibson Brothers’ albums Ring the Bell and Help My Brother. On his own second solo album, Sweet Loam, Walsh widens the canvas for his fretboard work, and gives every touch distinction and purpose, regardless of tempo.
As a singer, he achieves emotional depth and easily engages the listener by being fully engaged in the song. I hear James Taylor in his timbre and a regional American accent that I am unable to place. Darol Anger moves through his many roles of mentor, fiddler, co-producer, and engineer with deft agility. His fiddling is earthy and frequently ethereal. Eric and Leigh Gibson are in great voice. I sense their 110% investment in the recordings and enjoyment of the ride.
The pairing of an old-time tune with a Greg Brown song for the opening track gives the first flavor of the album’s contrasting delights. I like to think of Ain’t No One Like You / Solly’s Little Favorite as having the briny goodness of a bucket of steamers. The Republic of Strings works like the low pipes of a church organ at the beginning of I Shall Be Released. Combined with Maeve Gilchrist and Joe’s singing, the ensemble takes on the spiritual introspection and pain that Dylan’s lyrics demand. Emily’s Welcome to Portland is my favorite of Walsh’s five excellent original instrumentals. I experience the same sense of exciting musical conversation as when I first heard the fiddling of Natalie MacMaster or the late John Rankin.
The insertion of Walsh’s lyrics into the verses of Mole in the Ground moves what might otherwise be considered a children’s song toward Lyle Lovett’s If I had a Boat. Darol leans his fiddle into Clayton’s on Hold Watcha Got, as I imagine Vassar would with Kenny Baker when the Bluegrass Boys teamed up on fiddles. Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie is a fitting statement to end the album and affirm the sweetness of its loam.
There is CD Release Party for Sweet Loam in Portland, Maine on Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 7:30 PM at One Longfellow Square. Joe will be joined by Scott Law on guitar, Darol Anger on fiddle, Lauren Rioux fiddle of Republic of Strings, Wes Corbett of Joy Kills Sorrow and Karl Doty of Heather Masse’s band filling out the core band, with special guests TBA.
The CD is available at http://joewalsh.bandcamp.com/album/sweet-loam