CD Review – Jerry Douglas “Traveler”
The world class resonator guitar player and producer Jerry Douglas of Union Station fame has just released his fourteenth (!) solo album. This is one is a little different, though. He goes out of his comfort zone to play new styles, try new things, collaborate with new people and most surprisingly: He does a lead vocal on the opening track. The one track that stands out from this album is without a doubt The Boxer. It has the potential to become the new definitive version of this classic track. Keep reading and you’ll see why.
The opening track ‘On a Monday’ hits you right from the start with some of Jerry’s tasty blues licks. Most people will associate Douglas with bluegrass and Union Station, but he can slide his way all across the musical spectrum with equal skill. This Leadbelly tune is faithfully played, without the usual nod to Johnny Cash’s reinvention ‘I got Stripes’. Douglas is not the best singer in the world, but it definitely works and with Del McCoury on harmony there is nothing wrong with this track.
Eric Clapton’s contribution on the second track is a little lackluster. It’s a soulful slow blues with some nice horn work, but it soon turns into an exchange of standard blues licks. If you’re into guitar solos that drag on slightly too long, this one is for you.
The third track, ‘So Here we Are’ is the first original composition on the album. Douglas plays lap steel and has a new, almost funky sound that is very refreshing. Viktor Krauss, Alison’s brother, plays bass on this track and thanks to his excellent chops and Omar Hakim’s fill-heavy drumming this track grooves all the way to the bank.
The highlight of the album is without a doubt the excellent version of Paul Simon’s ‘The Boxer’. This classic song has been covered so many times I don’t know where to start counting, but of all the versions I’ve ever heard, this one has become my favorite. The first time I put it on I immediately recognized Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons singing lead. The pathos he brings to everything he sings with his British accents lends itself very well to this song. The arrangement is a very typical Mumford & Sons affair. Just after the second “La-la-lie” chorus starts to make you wonder if this isn’t a Mumford & Sons track, Douglas comes in with a lap steel solo that elevates it to perfection. The fact that Paul Simon himself lent his voice to this track gives it even more credibility.
From there on out, the album is a back-and-forth effort between guest vocalists and instrumental tracks. ‘Duke and Cookie’ is a very powerful collaboration between Douglas and mandolin player Sam Bush. It sounds like a jam, and with two virtuoso players of this caliber, that’s not a bad thing.
A nice change of pace is ‘High Blood Pressure’ by Huey Smith with Keb’ Mo’. It’s a piano based soul ballad with lots of brass texture. It’s definitely cool to hear what Douglas can do with a little crunch and a little dirt on his lap steel. ‘Gone to Fortingall’ is another original. It is by far the most ‘Douglasy’ track on this disc and it really ties this album together as being a Jerry Douglas solo record. Tasty and smooth as always, this dreamy track reminds you who’s name is on the cover.
The next song, ‘Right on Time’, is forgettable. It’s almost too smooth for its own good. If you like Marc Cohn’s vocals and sidestick drumming, this is right up your alley. ‘American Tune/Spain’ sounds like another track that could have been on any Jerry Douglas record until you realize it is Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’. Well done and it’s good to hear nothing but Douglas on this one.
For the final two tracks, Douglas brought in his Union Station colleagues. The world already knows well that this team is capable of producing gold, and ‘Frozen Fields’ is no different. An excellent recording of this Jeff Black & Jon Randall Stewart song. ‘King Silkie’ is another highlight of this album. Dan Tyminsky and Douglas should write more together. It’s standard bluegrass fare, and that’s where these two gentlemen bring the magic.
It’s a worthy album with a track for everyone. The tracks have been recorded all over the world in many different studios and it’s the first time Douglas has worked with a producer. He brought in Russ Titelman so he could focus on playing, and play he does! Not all of these experiments work, but it’s good to see legends like these go and try something new every now and then.
If you’re not sure about buying the whole disc, at least get ‘The Boxer’. You won’t regret it.
The CD is available in stores and can be ordered through Jerry Douglas’ online store at www.jerrydouglas.com
1. On A Monday
2. Something You Got featuring Eric Clapton
3. So We Are Here
4. The Boxer featuring Mumford & Sons and Paul Simon
5. Duke and Cookie
6. High Blood Pressure featuring Keb’ Mo’
7. Gone to Fortingall
8. Right On Time featuring Marc Cohn
9. Americna Tune/Spain
10. Frozen Fields featuring Alison Krauss & Union Station
11. King Silkie
About the Author: Frank is a Singer Songwriter and music and entertainment author from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. You can find out more about Frank on his website, www.frankensongs.com