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The Blues Foundation's 1999 "Keeping the Blues Alive Award"
The Great American Yard Sale
Review Date: November 2009
by Mark E. Gallo
An appropriately titled disc, like any garage sale worth its salt, there's a little something for everybody. "Scarlet," the opener, has elements of alternative country, with Lemhouse's banjo and resonator over a hard drum/bass line that nails it to the floor. The following "Paper Sack" adheres closer to a blues line. Lyrically, Lemhouse is brilliant, here ("moonshine broke the porch swing now its hangin' on the fence/your mouth is movin', but it ain't makin' sense/oh no babe, here we go again.") as throughout the collection. More than just a singer/songwriter collection, Lemhouse is a master storyteller and equally impressive musically. His banjo and guitar playing are exceptional, compositionally he is stunning/stark/spirited, and he rolls it all together in a superb tapestry of colors, flavors and moods. There are influences in the shadows, but none come into recognizable light. We just know that it's riveting, top to bottom.
Leroy Feller's Blues ("Leroy Feller had a heart half the size of Oklahoma … nothin' on this earth is promised/no guarantees no reason why/you don't get nothin' for your trouble/but the angels sing about you when you die") is fat and joyful.
The take on "Cluck Old Hen" one of two non-originals, is enhanced by hard, almost military rhythm from Scott Bomar (bass) and Paul Buchignani (drums). "Salem," with Lemhouse adding impressive plaintive lap steel to the arsenal, reminds of Tom Waits out in the country. Here Amy Severin's cello is the only added instrument to Lemhouse's acoustic and lap steel guitars.
"The Unofficial Ballad of Story Musgrave" reminds of Watermelon Slim singing with Dr. Hook, with a lotta serious accents goin' on. "The Queen of Easy Street" is the rocky tune of the lot. Co-written with vocalist Charles Normal, who gets co-credit on a couple of tunes, it sports the largest musical ensemble on the collection and lets Lemhouse work out his rock and roll electric guitar jones. This is followed by "Hazy," a John Prine styled solo number that's catchy and visual. The closing "You're a Bastard" is a killer tune that whips out Lemhouse's affinity for hard country and clever lyrics.
Open to close, this is impressive. Kept my ears smilin' for a long while.
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