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Session Americana with Jefferson Hamer - Great Shakes (Self Release)
Session Americana are a Boston based band who have been playing together since 2003, Jefferson Hamer, because of his album with Anais Mitchell is slightly better known in the UK, but don't be put off by a low profile, there is much here to reward the listener. A languid, west coast early 70s vibe permeates this album. The playing, the warm atmosphere with its suggestion of valves and well-worn vintage guitars, harmonised vocals time stamped by people like The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, create a definite sense of time and place. Don't be wrong footed by the sensible, affable looking bunch on the cover, there is more going on than that candid shot would first suggest; something a little more woozy, weatherworn and dark would be required, for it to 'do what it says on the tin.' Opener One Skinner occupies the same 'end of the party - one more till bed' space as Ryan Adams and Neil Young at their most delightfully dilated. Helena has some beautiful vocal harmonies, with a wonderful harmonica break and a guitar part at the end that could be 'old shakey' himself. Bumbershoot is a little more contemporary with an interesting time signature against a great gnarly organ part and those layered vocals that Crowded House did so well. Apparently a Bumbershoot is a 19th American term for an umbrella. Big Mill In Bogalusa has that great 'whisky vocal' that Dr John and Tom Waits inhabit so completely. Deep South imagery abounds, again there is some nifty guitar and wonderfully dirty harmonica. If your musical reference points include Robbie Robertson circa Crazy River then you'll hit repeat on this track and turn it up for the massed voices at the end. What Are Those Things is more acoustic Americana, the guitar riff nods to Johnny Cash's Man Comes Around, heartfelt vocals recall Dylan and Tom Petty.
Tired Blue Shirt is something else. The ambience and bass intro could be Massive Attack doing Country and becomes one of those atmospheric loops you could listen to forever. The vocal when it cuts in is filtered and layered like the nu-country electronica of Jim White and the observational lyrics of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner. This song just oozes melancholic regret. Great Western Rail is all about the vocals and the pictures they draw. Poignantly given its timing, over a wonderfully late drumbeat the spirit of Leon Russell inhabits this track. Mississippi Mud, as the title suggests is a fine piece of Southern Soul, an ode to the vagaries of a mighty river. The track gets into a great classic 70s groove with layers of percussion and a snaking guitar. The tempo change and Grateful Dead guitar solo at the end suggests a band who can really stretch out live. One Good Rain has vocal harmonies the Eagles would have been proud of. Tight playing and metaphor laden lyrics build the atmosphere of an anthem. The album closes with Barefoot Sailors again the writing is wry with the weary reflection of a drinking song. Beautiful vocals paint vivid timeless pictures over an undercurrent of melancholia and regret. Having created such a pervasive atmosphere, the track just rolls on. If this isn't a folk song it soon will with a thousand acoustic cap wearing troubadours strumming it for small change. They should send a copy to James Taylor, he'd snap it up. While aware of a rich musical past, this is no tribute or pastiche. Its rich palette is evocative and embracing and suggests that real greatness in terms of profile and sales is very close.