A few months back, I did a couple of days in the studio with Jeff Pehrson and his excellent band, The Fall Risk, as they recorded what they then thought would be their first EP. Originally, this was projected and planned as a five-song sampler, and the studio in question was Bob Weir's state of the art TRI, up in Marin County. A piece of advice from a compadre with some cred (Sam Cutler by name, former tour manager for both the Stones and the Dead, and himself the author of a memoir) turned the EP into a full-length deal: nine songs.
Make that nine wonderful songs. Yes, I have an early mix of their eponymous release pumping out on the overheads even as I write. And damn, this CD kicks some serious tailfeathers.
(Oh the highway lights are shining, as thick as Mississippi air, the watershed is rising somewhere, somewhere in LeClaire)
I love every song on The Fall Risk, Volume 1, no exceptions. But I've got personal favourites, because everyone has favourites. "LeClaire", for instance, has a lyric that somehow stands back just a little from the edge of the highway, like a traveler deciding whether or not to stick out their thumb and flag down that big rig headed for Oklahoma City - yet the music is warm, immediate, right there. You just believe it, somehow. The watershed is definitely rising, somewhere in Le Claire.
As I noted in the original article, the seven-piece ensemble is stellar. That's a good thing, because the way these songs are crafted, anything less than stellar bandmates would risk doing those songs a disservice. The layering achieved here, guitar and slide and bass and keyboards and drums and lead all supporting and complementing the soaring vocals, are like the sheerest of transparencies, overlying one another to produce a kaleidoscope of sound.
(We're born to fall in line, counted to a God, so make me something more, make me more than lost, and hollow)
The CD is, in the truest sense, purely Americana. "Hollow" may well be my favourite of a collection without a weak tune anywhere in the lineup; it touches some interesting nerves, just below the surface where many people may not want to look. Lyrically, it has a deep interior echo; musically, as keyboard player and vocalist Matt Twain (he also handles the lead vocal on "Cry Baby Cry") gives the vocal before that last "hollow" a breath, the echo becomes stronger. In its own way, the song is one of yearning, and every vocal breath taken meets what that fantastic ensemble - lead guitarist Phillip Savell, drummer Mark Abbott, bassist Mike Sugar, keyboard aces Matt Twain and Sammy Johnston, and slide guitarist Rich Goldstein - are doing with the music: a breath held, a breath exhaled. A lovely, lovely song.
(The queen of Coca-Cola, SonnyBoy and me, sleeping on the banks of a 3-part harmony)
That particular snippet comes from "Angeline", an exquisite thing that didn't exist when I closed out my stint in the studio. Pehrson wrote it as the first handful of tracks were being completed. If "LeClaire" is the hitchhiker standing in Iowa and looking towards Illinois, "Angeline" is the riverboat riding the bends past Gatlinburg and down to the delta. It's barrelhouse in the thirties. It's the cry of a distant train whistle, sometimes hard to differentiate from the hoot of the steamboat or the plaintive voice of a harmonica.
"The Fall Risk, Volume 1" covers America, coast to coast. This is a five-star must-listen, and just pure joy. Go get yourself some. The CD will be available August 10 2013 at http://thefallrisk.com/, as well as at iTunes and CD Baby. You can get a taste of what these guys are all about by checking some of the links under "music". Go do it.
And you can follow them on Twitter @TheFallRisk