Sunday, December 21, 2008

Little Muddy - The Road to Bodie - An Americana Daily Review

I had the opportunity recently to do something that I haven't done since back in the late 20th Century - listen to an album by a band that I had never heard of and knew absolutely nothing about - these days all you have to do is google a group, or as my grandson says, "Try Googly pawpaw", to learn everything there is to know about them. It's certainly convenient, but it also detracts from discovery experience.

Back in the day, when I was roaming record stores (they used to be everywhere) it wasn't unusual for me to pick out an album based on cover art, group name or a recommendation from a clerk. The classic example, and my first experience at impulse trying, was back in 1969 with Mott the Hoople's debut album - the cover art, the name of the group and the song selections all screamed, 'Take me home and listen to me!'

Another classic example - one that didn't turn out quite as well - Banco's 1975 self-titled release on Manticore. The clerk raved about them as Pink Floyd-ish and the cover art was interesting to say the least, but it turned out to be an album I rarely played. (I understand there are prog-rock fans shuttering in disbelief at reading this, but since this is a site about Americana music, I doubt if any prog-rockers are reading it anyway.)

With all that being said, you'll find there is no connection between the above mentioned albums and the album being reviewed here, other than the personal experience factor of hearing someone's music for the first time. And, to be perfectly honest (a curious expression - I always wondered if you could be imperfectly honest - and if you were, wouldn't that be dishonest?) this is not an album I happened across that screamed 'Take me home and listen to me!'

The Road to Bodie is an album that came to me via what used to be referred to as guerilla marketing - they call it networking these days, and that's ok here in the 21st Century, because there is so much good music around (contrary to what other old farts like me are saying) that it's virtually impossible to keep track of it all.

So, when I received an e-mail from Rich Goldstein, Little Muddy's founder and guitarist, wanting to know if I'd like a copy of their latest CD for possible review, I replied 'You bet!' Because, that's what we like to do here, and besides who doesn't like free music! And, while Rich included links to and their MySpace site in his initial email, I purposely resisted clicking through. I wanted to get that old feeling of unwrapping an album, placing it on the turntable (the days of both are long gone - I get nostalgic for them though) and waiting in anticipation for the opening cut to reach out and grab you...or not. After all, anticipation is almost always the best part of any experience.

The first thing I noticed about The Road to Bodie (this copy came with a cool promo kit) was the cover art - moody and mysterious. It just looked like it was going to be my kind of album. I like moody and mysterious. The second thing I noticed was that it contained 28 songs, all less than three minutes with most running a minute or less, with titles often repeated as #1 and #2, like the opening cuts, It's Up Above Us Now #1 and It's Up Above Us Now #2, though not all #1's and #2's were back to back, sometimes the variations were several songs apart.

The third thing I noticed, as I hit the play button, was that Rich Goldstein is listed as the only musician and is credited with all acoustic and electric guitars, slide and resonator mandolin. Since I've always been a fan of true 'solo' albums, the anticipation factor was rising.

As the opening cut drifted in, and I mean that literally - like a wave washing up on the shore - I was immediately reminded of early Fleetwood Mac and the Peter Green/Jeremy Spencer/Danny Kirwan soft acoustic blues, or maybe something on Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Trilogy album - From the Beginning, perhaps. The sound was familiar, soft and mellow with an edgy-bluesy undertone. It felt like I'd heard it before, but not quite like this, and not in quite some time. The songs blended together like streams spilling into a river, like rivers spilling into the ocean of soundwaves washing up on the shore.

As I read through the promo kit, there was much mention of bluesy instrumental landscapes, roots music and movie themes, with comparisons to guitar players like Roy Buchanan and Tom Verlaine. No mention of Fleetwood Mac or Peter Green and surprisingly enough, no mention of Pink Floyd and the soundtrack to More or Mudmen an instrumental cut from Obscured by Clouds, their soundtrack for the French film La Vallée - both albums had wandered across my mind as I listened closer.

Maybe I'm showing my age or maybe I'm way out in left field...but that's the best part about discovering a new group or artist and hearing their music for the first time. It conjures up feelings and thoughts that aren't biased by preconceptions, that are pure and spontaneous and that allow you to reach your own conclusions, to make your own comparisons based on your own musical history. I think comparisons with Mac and Floyd are valid, and for me, that places Little Muddy - The Road to Bodie in pretty good company.

By the way, it is the perfect soundtrack for watching waves wash up on the shore or watching the sun come up on one of those Sunday mornings coming I mentioned earlier about the cover art, the music is moody and mysterious. It's ambient, cinematic (in a film-noir kind of a way) and an instrumental treat the likes of which I haven't heard in a very long time.

Americana Daily

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