BareBones & WildFlowers,
BareBones & WildFlowers
(independent, 1998)

When listening to BareBones & WildFlowers, I recommend settling back in a comfortable chair with a mug of rich, milky tea or dark beer. The duo -- Steve Palmer and Rachel Handman -- plays folk music that is mellow and sweet, stripped of all artifice and in its truest, simplest form.

I met the pair briefly in a Galway pub, where they and I had settled into an afternoon session with a loose circle of local musicians. Their self-titled CD, however, reflects very little of the Celtic tradition; a few tunes and occasional flourishes on Handman's fiddle are the extent of it. Rather, the duo plays earthy American folk songs, both old and new. The stripped-down approach and delightful fiddle ornamentals are evidence of a well-chosen name for the band.

I gave thorough attention to the CD for the first time on a late-night drive through rural, coastal Maine. (My wife says that, not a comfy chair with chai, is the perfect setting for this music, and I can't say I entirely disagree.) Palmer and Handman kept us pleasant company as his voice and guitar and her fiddle wove through such songs as "Gentle on My Mind," "Simple Twist of Fate," "Jack of Diamonds" and "Land of the Navajo." With Jon Handman on cello, the band offers a stark, beautiful rendition of "Ashokan Farewell."

My wife, in a comfortable doze on our moonlit drive, sat up and took notice at "I Know You Rider." The song held fond personal memories for her, with friends and guitars singing in a circle -- only later did she track down the popular recorded version by the Grateful Dead. "This version is better than the Dead's," Katey -- a Dead fan, no less -- asserted. "This is how it should be done. It's perfect."

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 20 August 2005