For an Anglo-Irish music-lover such as I, the sound of Bluegrass is as natural and familiar as rain.
Take some Appalachian Country, add a generous pinch of Irish and English Folk, mix in some wicked harmonies, a little Jazz and there you have it.
My Great Aunt was an Irish Nun who learned to fly a plane and taught music to children in the wilds of Ireland and Scotland. My Grandmother taught me to play hymns on the piano. My uncle was in a folk band, Blue Horizon, and he’d play me Irish Rebel records on green vinyl, raucous old Dubliners songs and melancholy ballads like The Fields Of Athenry.
Family friend, Archie, introduced my childhood ears to old Ragtime records by Blind Blake and Country EPs by The Carter Family, The Stanley Brothers and Hank Williams.
It’s no wonder Bluegrass seems to appeal to me. It’s in my DNA.
There’s a brilliant American writer and singer called Alan Stockard, who suggested I listen to Tim Stafford’s new album, ‘Just To Hear The Whistle Blow’. I have a great deal of respect for Alan and his music, so I bought Tim Stafford’s album from iTunes on the strength of his recommendation.
Alan was right. The album is a classic. It has everything I could ask for – reeling banjo and fiddle driven tracks that make your feet tap and itch to dance; stories, ballads, melancholy and joy. The whole thing is a triumph.
I used to think Folk, Bluegrass and Country music was polite, sedate and slightly toothless. I was wrong. My travels across Ireland and the USA taught me the truth: it can be a riot of rafter-pounding, dust-thundering, lusty dance tunes, angry, righteous, honest stories and heart-breaking sadness. It can be real, earthy, touching, spiritual and fantastic to jump around to.
The instrumental tracks on this album are just immense. The musicianship is extremely impressive, and very, very well recorded. I know from personal experience that recording acoustic instruments is not easy. Capturing a natural sound seems harder to achieve with every technological advance, but these guys have found a way.
The guitars sound rich, warm and alive. The fiddles sound dynamic and either mournful or wail like raging banshees. I love it. You can hear the love of music that these guys clearly have.
I immediately liked Tim Stafford’s voice. It has a James Taylor laconic ease and enough dust and husk to add some authenticity and road-worn soul.
Worry’s Like A Rockin’ Chair is a classic, well-crafted Country song. It isn’t easy to write with such economy – ask any songwriter – but it’s particularly effective when done properly. This is done properly.
On The Ledge was co-written with Alan Stockard and Robert G Starnes – a comment on how good, hardworking people can end up in trouble, through no fault of their own.
Poodle On The Dashboard deserves some kind of award for the title alone.
Country radio will surely be playing the hit-to-be, Dimes. Mr Stafford will be making a truckload of them very soon. It’s fantastic. Part Randy Travis, part George Jones.
Hideaway Hotel is a particularly good song. It has a mid-70s feel, a touch of West Coast harmony and a bar-stool storyline that I appreciate greatly. Mr Stafford’s vocal delivery is perfect. I hear a little Seals & Crofts in the chorus, too, which I think is great.
Morgan’s Way is very evocative for me. Hot, smokey, sawdust bars in Ireland. A sacred circle of men, wordlessly communicating their hopes, loves, sorrows and soul through music. It was divine to me, and still is.
It segues into an epic ballad of love, slaughter, vengeance and Mexican ghosts. Which is exactly what I want to hear. It could have been written 500 years ago. Time grinds on, but people remain the same.
Then there’s Janet’s Song. I swear, it had me weeping. If you have a heart that’s beating, this track will floor you. It’s just beautiful. No words, no singer. Just pure music.
There are no negatives here. At all.
If you like Folk, Bluegrass or Country, you should buy this album.
If you don’t like Folk, Bluegrass or Country, you should buy this album.
It will change your mind.