What a worthwhile and inspired concept album this is, and has them get off to a flyer as Foucault fresh from last year’s John Prine tribute records slots into the wonderful ‘Philadelphia Lawyer’ like he has been singing it all his life. He could well have been for all I know; as the standard for both acts to aim (and regularly achieve) for is registered. On moving through the twelve murder ballads I became more and more taken by the vocals and spare, stripped back instrumental presentations.
With the material taken from the work of an impressive selection of songwriters ranging from Bruce Springsteen (as Erelli lets rip on ‘Johnny 99’ —some of you will recall Johnny Cash doing back when he was on CBS) to Norman Blake by way of the likes of Kevin ‘Blackie’ Farrell, Steve Earle and Neil Young among others that include an original song from Erelli (‘Wyoming Wind’) to close up the record it measures up against the rest. Mark, with the aide of some neat slide guitar and harmonica like with the sensitive cover of Blake’s ‘Billy Gray’ that also contains banjo (Foucault) and Jeffrey’s fabulous handling of Farrell’s ‘Senora’s Death Row’. Previously covered by Robert Earle Keen and though the Texan’s take of it has more punch the heart-felt emotions of Foucault is more than just adequate!
‘Louise’ (Paul Siebel) also has Foucault take up the reigns and with Erelli tucking in alongside in splendid fashion it is a big, big song for them. Linda Ronstadt introduced me to the song many moons ago and, like a good many on the album it possesses an aching beauty that cuts right to the bone.
While traditional folk ballad ‘Pretty Polly’ is no stranger to anyone targeting tales dealing in murder and is okay enough; but I have never thought the song to be better than a host more of its ilk. Better, possibly, because it hasn’t been done to death I thought was Earle’s ‘Ellis Unit 1’ and while it doesn’t contain Earle’s festering world-weary edge the boys do a terrific version. Erelli at his best. As for the picking it doesn’t get much better. If Steve hears this before he goes to bed tonight I expect he will sleep well; likewise Tom House on hearing Foucault rattle out a punchy take of his song ‘Cole Durhew’. For a mellow, gentle on the ear tune Bill Anderson’s ‘The First Mrs. Jones’ aided by guitar-banjo and a chugging rhythm eases home in style with minimal ease.
As for Foucault’s impassioned version of Young’s plaintive ‘Powderfinger’ —it too offers much, and not just via his lead vocals but the well timed interventions by Erelli on harmony vocals. Also, the picking performed by the boys is mighty fine!