Rusty Evans & Ring of Fire,
Burning Man
(Blue Skunk, 2007)

At first, when I listened to this CD, I wrongly believed that Rusty Evans was just a Johnny Cash clone. He is dressed in black on the CD sleeve photos, and his previous CD was a tribute to the Man in Black. He imitates Cash on the first few cuts and calls his backup group Ring of Fire, which would seem to clinch it. In fact, the CD Baby site for the earlier Cash tribute record said that when both men were playing in Greenwich Village Clubs, fellow folksinger Bob Dylan told Evans he sounded like Cash and should "keep it country."

"Lost Highwayman," "Blackjack Shirley" and "Shackles of My Mind" could comfortably fit on a Cash album. But on the fourth cut, I wondered if Evans was doing more than just spending Cash. "Sweet Baby's Gone" sneaks in a lot of what sounds suspiciously like psychedelic guitar, and the song itself inches towards rock. "Doctor Love" is just goofy, beginning "Hello, baby, this is Doctor Love." Of course, novelty songs were a Cash specialty ("A Boy Named Sue" was the best-known of these).

"Tavern on the Lost Highway" is too well written for someone who is just a clone (Evans wrote all 13 songs on the CD). It's about a drinking man who visits a mysterious bar ("A neon sign says 'Cold Beer Here' night and day"). Evans sings it straight, so you can't be sure if this ghost story number is tongue-in-cheek. Either way, it's great.

The title track is another mysterious one ("On Highway 10 there's a burning man standing on the side of the road"), on which Evans adds some slow, twangy rockabilly guitar. It does not appear to have anything to do with the well-known art festival, but who knows?

"Shadow of Night" ("I know you know what lives inside the hearts of men") is another of these minor key reflections, a bit like "Ghost Riders in the Sky" or "Stray Cat Strut."

The last three cuts are more traditional country, particularly the live "If This is Country Music," which complains about the current state of the genre. "Von's Cafe" is notable for telling a whole story in just over two minutes.

These interesting songs are not as much of a surprise when you look at Evans' history. Born Marcus Uzilevsky in Brooklyn, his career has included a stint in a psychedelic band with David Bromberg, a short stay with the New Christy Minstrels, a few recordings of world music under the name Uzca and an appearance on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand." Evans is backed by bass, drums and rhythm guitar, the latter done by his son Danny Uzilevsky and the well-named Mark Twang. This mixture of country, rockabilly, folk and rock moves at medium speed, but it is burning with imagination.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Dave Howell

2 June 2007

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