Jim Lloyd & the Skyliners,
Songs from My Attic
(Mountain Roads, 2010)

If Jim Lloyd & the Skyliners were mining another genre of Southern roots music, they'd be Piedmont bluesmen, not their deep-blues Delta equivalent -- in other words, the melodic, low-key, immediately accessible alternative. No brooding, Ralph Stanley-like plumbing of "Man of Constant Sorrow"-level despair darkens the mostly sunny skies over Songs from My Attic's world.

The Skyliners are Trevor McKenzie (guitar, mandolin) and Mark Rose (stand-up bass, washboard), aided and abetted on a couple of arrangements by either Herb Key (guitar) or Ed Ogle (whistling). Aside from periodic guitar venture, Lloyd sticks to banjo in bluegrass and oldtime picking styles. The overall sound is pleasant and breezy, what you might hear put down by some talented homegrown pickers on a slow afternoon in a small-town Virginia barber shop. Actually, Lloyd is a small-town Virginia barber. He also comes from generations of traditional Virginia and West Virginia musicians.

The 16 cuts visit a range of down-to-earth tunes, derived from old folk, early country, gospel, the inevitable (and always gladly received) Dixie & Tom T. Hall and -- a bit more surprisingly -- Fats Waller and Steve Earle. Lloyd sings in a likable light baritone in the voice of a man who knows how to tell a story.

My one complaint, which has nothing to do with anything that should affect a listener's enjoyment, is the occasionally mangled song-composer credit. The often-covered "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues" is not traditional but the work of professional songsmith Carson J. Robison. Steve Earle, not tradition, composed "Valentine's Day" (also, alas, the album's least effective cut). The man named "Jimmy Rogers" (as Lloyd spells it in the liner notes) was a Mississippi-born, Chicago-based electric blues guitarist (1924-1997) who, to the best of my knowledge, never recorded "Any Old Time." That is, on the other hand, the title of song famously associated with blue yodeler and country-music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933).

As the closing number, Lloyd and friends revive "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," a pseudo-folk tune written in 1912 by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Lewis F. Muir and later recorded by Al Jolson. It's done as an instrumental with ragtime inflections. I hadn't heard or thought of the piece since I was a kid, which is not recently, but it proves to be an outstanding choice. With it, Jim Lloyd & the Skyliners leave you smiling.

review by
Jerome Clark

1 May 2010

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