I came into FAME seeking the folk, blues, bluegrass, and other styles I was lacking while critiquing rock, jazz, avant-garde, and neoclassical works in national magazines. I more than found what I was seeking in the years I've scribed here and am leaving, as the venue breathes its last, with a bit of a heavy heart, knowing I'll be missing an 18-wheeler load of great stuff exemplifying zeniths in a number of modes, all riven with tradition and often boasting highly intelligent innovations engaging mind and heart while scootin' boots across dance floors. Such an ensemble is Barnstar!, headed by Zachariah Hickman (bassist for Josh Ritter, music director for Ray Lamontagne) flanked by a quartet, all and sundry hailing not far from my birthplace (Worcester, Mass.) but sounding as though they'd been whelped and raised in Tennessee and the glorious Great Smoky Mountains.
More than once I was reminded of the core of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Pure Prairie League, what with all the great finger-tangling riffs, solos, and ornamentation amid popularizations, not to mention killer group vocals, but also quite heavily of the great traditionalists, Audie Blaylock and such. I was just as pleasantly surprised when the sophomore track, She Loves the Bands (and, yep!, you can easily guess what that rhetoric means when the liner warns that the song's 'Explicit') was imbued with more than a little of the earliest days when the Faces band was evolving out from the Small Faces. I've dug Rod Stewart in just about everything he's ever done, and First Steps still finds its way onto my turntable with frequency, so, glancing down the menu and spying Stay with Me, I had to lash my legs to the desk and self-flagellate in order not to jump straight to it, as I must observe certain idiosyncratic protocols as a critic (nothin' serious: a cat o' nines and hairshirt usually do the trick) lest I become a gushing fanboy.
But come to it I did, after a really surprising and highly gratifying listen to Barnstar!'s take on Cat Stevens' classic Trouble (hadn't noticed it at first in the line-up and damn near passed out—luckily, I store smelling salts in the hairshirt's furry pcoket—when the song popped out after the kick-it-up of Sequestered in Memphis). Stay with Me is attributed to Stewart and Ron Wood but has from Day One been suffused with Ronnie Lane's irrepressible presence…and he woulda LOVED this band, had the guy not passed from us far too early at 51, as Barnstar! think, compose, and play quite a bit like him, with more than a little of The Band thrown in.
More, as with their debut in 2011, Sit Down! was taken live in the studio and often sounds like a barn dance rave-up, though Darling is a great ballad and my favorite cut. Nonetheless, if your fancy runs to the recent wave of new applications upon an old style, this CD is a must-have 'cause it collates a number of wide-ranging influences without losing a single molecule of the dogwood, moonshine, tick hounds, and Sunday-go-to-meetin' nuts 'n bolts of the eldest of American musical styles.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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