Kevin Deal,
(Blind Nello, 2007)

Kort McCumber,
Lickskillet Road
(Lucky Nugget, 2007)

Though singer-songwriter Kort McCumber's laid-back country-folk sound will be familiar from a genre's worth of comparable material since the 1960s, it is always a pleasure to hear when it is capably delivered. The model here, broadly speaking, is Guy Clark, though McCumber is technically a more accomplished singer and his melodies are more consistently memorable.

Based in Colorado but with something of a Texas sound, McCumber has a foundation in bluegrass and 1970s California country-rock, the latter genre not particularly to my taste; still, it's hard to dislike tuneful, pop-inflected pieces like "One Day" and "There'll Be a Time," the second of them resounding with its echoes of the mostly forgotten hippie back-to-the-land fantasy, satirized wittily at the time in John Prine's "Spanish Pipedream." On the other hand, since McCumber has his feet where his music is (he lives in rural parts), the man surely knows whereof he sings. To paraphrase a line from an old minstrel tune, Lickskillet Road is a pleasant one to travel, I believe.

Kevin Deal, very much a Texas musician, has worked the circuit for years, as both solo artist and bandleader. Since last I heard him -- about a decade ago -- he has gotten a lot better. The Kevin Deal I heard back then was somebody I wanted to like; the Kevin Deal I hear now is one I like with no problem whatsoever. All Deal originals (three co-written with producer Lloyd Maines), Roll is as solid and rooted a fusion of rock, folk and country as you could ask for. Deal's charmingly weathered voice delivers the songs -- on traveling, hard times, the musician's lot, love's ups and downs, barroom idiots (the wry "Another Drinkin' Song") and soldiers ("What I'm Fighting For" -- not what you'd think it would be about). As you would anticipate with the veteran Maines at the helm, the band sound is soulful and flawless.

Though the 14 songs are all good ones, the opening cut, "That's the Way I Roll" (written with Maines), is the standout. It borrows a cliche -- in my hearing anyway, usually rendered as an irritatingly self-righteous boast -- and turns it into a stirring affirmation of a man's struggle to maintain decency, strength and integrity. Freddie Lee Spears' mandolin and Richard Bowden's fiddle make for a particularly masterly touch, transporting an already exceptional song into another realm entirely.

[ visit Kevin Deal's website ]

[ visit Kort McCumber's website ]

review by
Jerome Clark

16 August 2008

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