Review: Jerry Butler and John Wade, Haulin’ Grass

A clever title for a highly enjoyable album of songs dealing with the life of the drivers of those big semis crisscrossing the land.  Several of the tunes are covers of classics originally recorded by the likes of Merle Haggard, Del Reeves, and Lester Flatt, along with some originals by Tom T. and Miss Dixie Hall, Dale Pyatt and Steve Thomas.

According to the liner notes, which are minimal (more about that later), this is a debut CD.  This came as a surprise to me, given the polished production values and the impressive sidemen, including Kenny Ingram on banjo, Chris Harris on mandolin, and Ron Stewart on fiddle. Jerry Butler is the lead vocal, with John Wade backing up on baritone and Steve Gulley on tenor.  Butler’s voice is instantly pleasing—rich, resonant, and fully at ease—more like someone on his twentieth, rather than his first, CD. At first, he struck me as having an avuncular tone reminiscent of Lester Flatt—until I heard his reprise of one of the numbers on the disc, Flatt and Scruggs’ “Backing To Birmingham,” in a terrific (if exaggerated) imitation of Flatt’s sound (loose dentures and all).

“Shorty Is Forty”

One quibble is that the liner notes are minimal. Considering that several of the tunes are covers, I would have appreciated knowing which were associated with which artists. Two or three I knew as Merle Haggard or Del Reeves numbers, but not all—although that’s probably due to my limited exposure.

My favorite cut was “Shorty Is Forty,” an affectionate and very funny portrait of a truck-stop waitress of a certain age. In two and one-half minutes, it creates a vivid image of a person I’d love to know. (This is one of the tunes whose provenance I don’t know.) My least favorite is “Daddy’s Girl,” which I found overly sentimental—but I’m afraid to criticize, lest I be subject to the “Are you talking about my mama?” reaction.

The musicianship is excellent, as are the vocals. This is an album that will be enjoyed by not only bluegrass fans, but lovers of good country music in general.

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