SONGS ABOUT TRACTORS AND STUFF
ARTIST: DENNIS ROGER REED
LABEL: PLASTIC MELTDOWN RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: 2014
By Jackie Morris
From the very first blue notes of Dennis Roger Reed’s guitar, I knew I was hooked. And the vocals that followed did not disappoint. Reed has “that sound” – so casual, so fluid, so rhythmically right-on-the-money – that makes his blues-infused Country/Americana, rootsy, rock-a-billy and other “stuff” groove so immediately appealing. It’s a sound that conjures up fantasies of old-time honkytonks and gritty biker bars; yet at the same time, it’s the timeless sound of polished talent.
But before I go further, let me make one thing clear: This CD is NOT about tractors. Mr. Reed has a sense of humor – as evident in some of his upbeat original songs as well as the liner notes, in which he explains that the album’s title was inspired by the words of a “fan review” which read: “There was a group of geezers playing songs about tractors and stuff to an apparently appreciative audience of slack-jawed locals...”
Well, I wasn’t there. But you can definitely count me in on the “appreciative” side. And for all the tongue-in-cheek attitude, the title does, in fact, do a good job of conveying the down-to-earth, country feeling of this album – as well as its eclectic predisposition (the “stuff” part).
Songs About Tractors and Stuff is Reed’s third album, produced after a ten-year hiatus, and offers up a generous 17 tracks. That’s a lot of songs. But with the average song little more than 2 ½ minutes long, the album goes by very fast (just over 45 minutes) – as fast as the train on the opening track, Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash.
Eight of these songs are Reed originals, and nine of them are covers of country classics, ballads, folk-rock, traditional folk...even one piece of popular old-timey theatre or circus music, Intermission by Tim Horrigan. But “covers,” when it comes to D.R. Reed, is an inadequate term; “innovative arrangements” would be better; and in many cases, “reinterpretations” would be better still. This man knows how to put his own stamp on a song and take it to another level. To put it another way: Reed’s originals sound like old Country classics. And his classic covers sound original.
My favorites among Reed’s originals are three Country love songs – Crazy Old Arms of Mine, I Remembered That I’m Lonesome, and After All This Time. Like all great songs, they have an authenticity that makes you feel like they have always existed, without ever sounding trite. Then there are some rollicking, fun songs like Take a Whuff and Mr. Lucky; and a very interesting Celtic-sounding instrumental, Quaich.
His covers need no introduction. In addition to Folsom Prison Blues, you’ll find a potpourri of popular songs, including Words by Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb; Sin City by Gram Parsons & Chris Hillman; Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood; and Mr. Spaceman by Roger McGuinn; as well as traditionals like Corrina Corrina, and Spacey Grove (a brilliant electronic instrumental takeoff of the English folk ballad, Matty Groves, capturing all the dark tension of the ancient narrative of adultery and murder). In every case, the songs retain their original “essence” within a completely fresh format.
To this end, Dennis Roger Reed draws on his own multi-instrumental talents, as well as those of some first-rate players. In addition to acoustic and electric guitars, he plays mandolin, bass, and Porch Board (an amplified low-end rhythm instrument that you play by tapping your foot). His 7 string guitar arrangement in Corrina Corrina is nothing short of addictive! He also does many of his own harmony vocals – and the album is laced with great tight harmonies!
Some of the other outstanding artists who season this musical gumbo are Mike Dowling on all manner of guitars, including bottleneck...Dan Fuller or Phil Hawkins on drums.... Marty McPhee on harmonica (so wonderfully melancholy in Folsom Prison Blues!)...Ellis Schwied on fiddle...Tim Horrigan on piano and accordion...and Dennis’ multi-instrumental brother, Don Reed, on acoustic 7-string guitar, mandolin, and electric guitar.
Used intermittently, these players add a rich and varied texture to the album...and that texture extends to Reed’s vocals, as well. From his stylized country affect in Folsom Prison Blues, using a deep, gravelly voice, to his “straight-from-the-heart” delivery in After All This Time, Dennis Roger Reed is a pleasure to listen to...the real deal. And at the end of the album, I can bestow my highest compliment: Songs about Tractors and Stuff always leaves me wanting to hear it again.