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James Talley | Touchstones (Cimarron Records)
First and foremost, this is a straight and totally pure country record, differing little in style from most any male traditional country artist that you may have ever heard. But the names that James Talley's music are ever likely to be compared to are only going to be good ones, such as Merle or Willie. But it is Woody Guthrie who Talley is most commonly linked to, for his are songs concerning the burden of being, the plight of Average Joe and rising above the mire, as well as the obligatory country and blues themes of loneliness and lost loves. The dustbowl sentiment is best exemplified in the startling opening lines to Give My Love To Marie - "I'm a black lung miner from east Tennessee / I raised all my family on coal dust and beans"; grim stuff, and entirely typical of Talley's socially conscious output. This is an old Talley song; this and fifteen others are dusted off, minimally rearranged, and performed with fresh vigour and personnel (in this case, an entirely Texan ensemble that includes Joe Ely and accordion giant Ponty Bone), much in the spirit of, say, John Prine's gorgeous 'Souvenirs' project. (The originals are drawn from four albums released on Capitol between 1974 and 1977, when the average country singer-songwriter was bunging out a couple of albums a week - not that such heavy productivity had any detrimental effect to at least this man's work). Producer and guitarist maestro Tommy Detamore particularly shines, coaxing the band to gentle twangy wonder behind Talley's soft, expressive voice, all captured at surely one of the more enticing rustic studio locations available, according to the booklet snapshot. Cherry Ridge Studio in Floresville, Texas, is a small white wooden building with porch out front, shaded by trees. A wheelbarrow leans against one, a small cement mixer and bucket sit close by, a few yards from a truck; an ordinary setting for extraordinary songs of ordinary folk.

Tom Sheriff
August 2002

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