Bob Cheevers,
Texas to Tennessee
(Back 9, 2005)

From the evidence of his recordings (I believe Texas to Tennessee is his fourth), one gets the sense that Nashville-based singer-songwriter Bob Cheevers must be good company even when he's put down his acoustic guitar and is simply talking. He's a natural storyteller with a good eye and an affection, sometimes a tad on the sentimental side, for people. His songs tend to have specific geographical references, almost always Southern, and the musical settings come out of the same place -- all Southern country, folk, rock and r&b, rooted as can be.

I am not a Southerner nor ever aspired to be one. Sometimes those of us who aren't from that section of the map have been known to grunt in irritation at what may strike us as Southerners' chauvinist self-absorption with the region's history and ways. Cheevers will not strike you that way. The South is where he comes from, and that's the voice he sings in, and he has nothing to prove or anybody to put down. He's who he is, and so his songs are so easy and unforced that even the ones about Texas don't grate. Would, in that last regard, that the world knew more of his like.

If Cheevers reminds me of anyone, it's not a Southern artist, but the Californian John Stewart. A consistent theme of Stewart's work over the years has been American identity, examined from a range of points of view, often expressed in tales of individuals Stewart thinks of as more or less representative national characters. Though Stewart is no Phil Ochs, his work has a subtle political subtext.

By way of contrast, Cheevers seldom comes across as a political thinker. (Yet "Shoulda Picked Our Own Cotton," on his 1997 release Gettysburg to Graceland, excoriates slavery and its destructive legacy.) His geographical focus is less broad, even as his approach is more relaxed than Stewart's, which feels increasingly -- and, sad to say, understandably -- exasperated and despairing. Still, in their overall sound and in their fascination with quotidian experience on a particular landscape, they could be brothers.

Cheevers, however, sings sort of like Willie Nelson. He has a stellar Nashville band behind him, and the production is clean, effective and unerring. The songs are uniformly enjoyable. Even the rosy-hued "Me & Dan & the Spoonman" is so open-hearted that you'll forgive its excesses while that tear you didn't expect trickles down your cheek. Very much on the other end of the temperature scale is the icy murder ballad "Jesse Lee Kincaid," the disc's most unsparing, unsettling moment. My favorite cut, however, is "The Soul of Savannah," one beautiful song, wild and mysterious and moving.

by Jerome Clark
15 July 2006

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