Monday, December 26, 2011

Moreland and Arbuckle -- "Just A Dream"

Guitarist Aaron Moreland and harpist/vocalist Dustin Arbuckle are a musical force. This is their 3rd cd I have reviewed--"1861" and "Flood" and now "Just A Dream." This is their second release on the Telarc International record label, a division of Concord Music Group. On this album Moreland & Arbuckle take their latest step in the quest to unearth the rawest and most honest elements of the American music tradition – without getting caught up in definitions and categories that would only serve to limit the vision. It sounds like hard-driving blues to me--so here I am reviewing them again. This is the best thing they have done so far. So far. The next one will probably be even better than this.

“It’s hard to say exactly what we are and what we do,” says Arbuckle. “Blues is definitely at the core, but we’re huge fans of all sorts of American music, and all of that comes through as well. Obviously, there are elements of traditional country in what we do, elements of vintage rock and roll, soul and all that sort of stuff. We always try to stay grounded in that traditional blues center, and at the same time branch out and do as many different things as we can while still keeping it consistent with the sound we’ve developed.”

This time out the first thing I hear is a new depth in the lyrics. Especially compared to "1861," the songs here, opening with a tribute to Joe Louis, "The Brown Bomber" and continuing thru the title track and "Purgatory," are both more direct and deeper than were the songs on previous releases. By the time Moreland & Arbuckle do an awesome cover of Tom Waits' "Heartattack and Vine," things have picked up a few layers of sophistication to their roots-y sensibility. "Gypsy Violin" is a spoken-word song that is the most different moment on this disc, but even it works. Every song here is good and tough and strong.

The 12-song set showcases Moreland's dynamic and compelling guitar work - two tracks were recorded on his cigar-box guitar consisting of three guitar strings and one bass string - Arbuckle's emotionally charged vocals and edgy harp, which here often rteminds me of Little Walter - and drummer Brad Horner's rock-solid backbeat. Chris Wiser adds his swirling organ work on four songs, and Steve Cropper adds his guitar to "White Lightnin'."

Just A Dream is a really good release. These guys dig down deep and bring the goods. You can buy this cd at

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