Last Train from Poor Valley: Richard Bennett

Richard Bennett has been around for quite some time as a singer and guitarist working throughout the 90’s with JD Crowe and the New South. After leaving Crowe’s band, he worked with Jimmy Gaudreau and Mike Aldridge where the trio put out three albums.

On this his new project on Lonesome Day Records, Bennett has put together quite a nice compilation of tunes, with covers from songwriting greats including Merle Haggard, Norman Blake, John Hartford, AP Carter, Gordon Lightfoot and has even included a few original compositions. As a session leader, he has put together a stellar group of musicians to back him up on the various cuts, including JD Crowe, Ron Stewart and Ricky Simpkins.

One of the first things that comes across on this recording are the similarities to the singing and playing of Tony Rice. Richard comes out of the Tony Rice school. It’s obvious when you listen to these recording that he spent a considerable amount of time listening to and digesting the Rice approach to guitar, through the embellishment of melody, the quick passing chords that adds depth to the accompaniment, and the use of hammer ons and hammer offs. I find it interesting how he has developed his style as a musician and soloist, where he taken some of these signature Rice elements and incorporated them into his own sound.

“I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes”

Every song on this album is a gem. “Workin’ Man’s Blues,” the album opener, is a lively bluegrass recording that leans towards the bluesy side of bluegrass and gets you right in the mood for what’s to come. All the instrumentalists get the opportunity to stretch out a bit on this one with solos traded between mandolin, banjo and guitar and is a nice way to kick things off.

Last Train to Poor Valley” – The great Norman Blake tune from his 1974 The Fields of November album. Richard’s rendition is more reminiscent of the one found on the 1987 Rounder recording Blake and Rice. This is a lovely version with the band providing a steady, subtle rhythm which brings out the beauty of his voice and guitar on this beautiful lament.

Next up is “Gentle on My Mind” and what a treat. This classic John Hartford song has always been a favorite of mine, and this version doesn’t disappoint. I’ve heard a lot of recordings of this tune, many by Hartford himself on solo banjo, and Bennett’s choice to do this one backed by a quartet was right on the money. Upbeat with some gorgeous guitar solos throughout, further enhanced with melodic mandolin and fiddle fills underneath his rich vocal, this is an excellent addition to the song’s rich tradition.

We can’t ignore how much the Carter family has added to the traditional American musical landscape, and they are represented here with “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes.” This is just a beautifully simple version of AP Carter’s timeless classic.

Taking things in a slightly different direction, Bennett contributes 2 originals, “Roan Mountain Rag” and “From the Top,” both instrumentals that give him and the session’s musicians the opportunity to stretch their considerable chops. Richard chooses his instrumentation wisely, leveraging the instruments and players to suit the mood he is trying to achieve on each track. Also of note is the jazz influenced, solo rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.”

I could keep going and describe the other tunes on the CD, but I think I’ll stop here and leave it to you to discover the rest on your own. Give this one a listen, you won’t be disappointed. One final note, don’t be too quick to eject the CD after the final cut, if you let it play on through the silence, you’ll get a surprise uncut studio bonus. Enjoy.

Lonesome Day Records

Jacques DiCroce

Jacques DiCroce is a guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, residing in the Hudson Valley.

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