Over a 40-plus-year career, David Ferguson has engineered projects for Johnny Cash, John Prine, and Sturgill Simpson, among other luminaries. Now producing and contributing lead vocals to his own album, Nashville No More, the Grammy Award-winning Ferguson is supported by an impressive ensemble of back-up singers and instrumentalists, his 10-song set evoking a wistful and dreamy mood — an ideal release for the waning days of summer.
The project opens with “Four Strong Winds,” written by Ian Tyson in 1961 and recorded by Ian and Sylvia in 1963. Ferguson’s version is amply arranged, benefiting from Mike Rojas’ ambient piano part and Sierra Hull’s strummy mandolin. “Boats to Build,” first released on Guy Clark’s 1992 album of the same name, highlights Ferguson’s mellifluous voice and gift for crafting precisely balanced mixes. The interplay between Russ Pahl’s pedal steel part and Stuart Duncan’s mandolin trills is notable.
The serenade “Nights with You,” penned by Roger Cook and Sandy Mason, moves between gossamer verses and climactic choruses. Kenny Vaughn’s languid electric guitar part and Matt Combs’ strings, reminiscent of a Golden-Age Hollywood film score, weave throughout the track. Charles Cochran and Roger Cook’s “Looking for Rainbows” spotlights Ferguson channeling his inner crooner, bringing to mind Sinatra’s slower songs.
On Hugh Cornwell and Roger Cook’s “Chardonnay,” the singer appeals to the popular white wine as if it were a cruel paramour (“Chardonnay chardonnay how I love you chardonnay / as I reach to hold you in my trembling hand”), one of popular music’s more eye-opening depictions of the relationship between an alcoholic and his drink of choice. Margo Price’s etheric back-up vocal contrasts effectively with Ferguson’s earthy drawl.
Ferguson turns Gordon Lightfoot’s 1966 gem “Early Morning Rain” into a bluegrass-inflected, hootenanny-ready version, Béla Fleck offering a twangy banjo part. “Knocking Around Nashville,” written by Pat McLaughlin, has a sultry, morning-after quality, conjuring Hank Williams and the early days of the Grand Ole Opry. The album closes with the Stephen Foster classic “Hard Times Come Again No More,” Ferguson’s slightly gravelly voice appropriate for the subject matter.
On Nashville No More, Ferguson surrounds himself with talented musicians, stepping into the role of band leader and producer. Additionally, his range and timbre are appropriate for the melodies he’s chosen, and his baritone delivery is invariably fluid. Nashville No More is a celebration of song, songwriters, and community, a collection of enchanting tunes culled by an industry legend who is also, more importantly, a lifelong lover of music.