Review: Eric Marshall – Long Steel Rail

Pleased to welcome this ambitious CD of mostly original tunes written and performed by longtime HVBA member Eric Marshall.

The CD’s ten songs touch many of the familiar patches of the American song quilt, beginning with a deep country tune called “One Too Many,” which refers not to hangovers but the repeats of love gone sour. Co-producer Fooch Ficshetti’s pedal steel swells in plangent 1950s style, supporting some clever country wordplay along the lines of “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.” This convincing tears-in-your-beer lament suggests that the honky tonk era may be in for a renewal: has Trump “Made America Sad Again”?

The next tune, “Two Good Men,” steps straight into trad bluegrass territory, not only in sound but in its worshipful tribute to past folk/country greats such as the Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger et al. I’ve never been a fan of this genre, so I’m going to fast forward to the rousing jazzy rendition of “Limehouse Blues” that follows. This chestnut, an ode to London’s Chinatown written c. 1920 by a pair of Brits and given lasting fame by Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Four, provides guitarist Van Manakas space for some ripping jazz solos in rapid-fire gypsy time: all hail Django, whose star grows brighter with time!

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“Waterfall”

The next number, “Keith’s Song,” falls into the genre of romantic longing, while “Grandpa’s Hip” is a raggily comic take on the ubiquitous hip replacement, a surgical option our cane-toting forebears would not have imagined. “It’s Been Too Long” walks into a nice blues groove, featuring Jeff Anzevino’s resonator guitar and some T-Bone Walker style electric lead from Manakas. It is in the next song, however, that Marshall’s song writing and singing grab the stage front and center: “Church Street” is a Prine-like evocation of the dying mill towns we are all too familiar with. Even as it evokes nostalgia for the lost era of American industry, its viewpoint and treatment seem more contemporary than many of the CD’s other songs, evoking a national lament whose reality goes a long way toward explaining our current political crisis.

Moving along, “You’re Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone” is standard bluegrass fare, and the the back country dance favorite, “Old Bo Clark” (Joe’s brother?) gives the twin fiddles of Eric’s daughters, Mathilde and Alice, a chance to shine, as well as mandolinist Manakas and fiddler Kalia Yeagle. The CD closes on a high note with perhaps the finest and most evocative of Eric’s original songs, “Waterfall,” a lovely ballad whose stately, aqueous spirituality reminds me a lot of “Walden” on Molly Tuttle’s new CD. The opening descending lines of mandolin and guitar suggest the falling water, and outstanding mandolin and fiddle interplay go on to enhance the song’s thoughtful, transcendental mood.

Altogether, this is a varied, substantial and satisfying effort from singer/songwriter/guitarist Marshall and his distinguished group of backing musicians. Buy it!

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