Charlie hails from Minnesota where he grew up listening to the radio and falling in love with all the magic sounds of the sixties. He's been learning songs since before he was old enough to sing them in a bar and has made a living from singing other folk's songs - and a few of his own - all his life. He claims to have over 1000 songs in his repertoire, so I guess at his shows, if you want to hear something familiar, you can call out for some John Prine, Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard and Charlie will more than likely oblige. He's in the business of keeping people happy, after all.
Broken Ground is his fifth cd and concentrates on his own songwriting; of 13 songs, four are covers, two are co-writes and the rest are Charlie Roth originals. By far the most familiar song is Kris Kristofferson's Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down, a song which I seem to be hearing a lot of versions of recently. Charlie's version is very fine; it maybe doesn't have the melodrama or the pain of the original but it's true to the spirit of the song nonetheless. The three other covers on Broken Ground are from writers I'm unfamiliar with. Effron White's song Long Haul uses the long distance truck driver's working days as a metaphor for his life. Separated from his family, the man is on the verge of death - killed by the cigarettes that have propped him up from day to weary day. Kurt Rodman's slide guitar work does the heartstring-tugging. It's poignant stuff, and real enough. Jonathan Byrd's Diana Jones is a song in the Guy Clark mould, lyrically at least, and celebrates a one-off, someone who lives life on her own terms. The most fun on Broken Ground, though, comes from Elam Blackman's If We Keep Kissin', a bit of optimistic nonsense with an oompah tuba from Tom Pattock and wacky harmony vocals from Carla Luft. It puts me in mind of the late 60's - Country Joe MacDonald or Arlo Guthrie, perhaps - cheerful and serious at the same time.
And then there's Charlie's own songs and I have to say he writes as he sings, which is to say that he is thoughtful and heartfelt. The single to promote the album is, I believe, the title track. It's a paean to the land he sprang from, a world that's disappearing as the young folk don't hang around anymore. It's kind of familiar territory for the Americana music scene, but a fine song nonetheless, with a great band arrangement around John Ely's swooping pedal steel, evocative of wide open spaces.
I like his mature love songs especially where he writes about the pleasure of discovering - or re-discovering - the deep joy to be found in having someone to go through life with. In one of his songs, You Won't Talk About Love, it has all gone wrong; his woman has told him she's through with him and he really doesn't know how to put it right. However, in Everybody Wants (What We've Got) a happy ending has been reached: "second chances don't come that easy/ I can't believe we got so lucky". A couple of his songs return to that 60's vibe of irreverent fun in the same vein as If we Keep Kissin', some mad harp blowing and feet stomping loosening the whole thing up on Candy Cane and Waitress in a White Dress. These songs open you up to the man totally; he really is a troubadour, an entertainer - and a really endearing one at that.
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