Rick Neeley, with
John Cavalier & Marc Edelstein
General Merchandise
(Rickety, 2002)

On this General Merchandise album the trio led by country musician Rick Neeley performs mainly covers of other composers. The compilation is a selection of the ensemble's own favorites collected during years of live performances.

Apart from leadman Rick Neeley on 12-string guitar and 5-string banjo, we can hear John Cavalier on guitar and acoustic bass-player Marc Edelstein.

To be honest, this is just a middle-of-the-road CD. Not bad, but nothing special, either. The most attractive pieces are actually traditional compositions like "St. James Infirmary" and "East Virginia," on which Neeley plays the 5-string banjo. Another traditional tune, "King Brady," received a new arrangement from Neeley, although that also does not make it really stand out.

More gunman stuff we find in "Lilies Grow High," where another man has died before his days, and in "Evangelina," about an outlaw in Mexico. Unfortunately there are some really mediocre pieces, like "That's the Easy Part," "Strange Rivers" and a Hank Williams composition, "Weary Blues."

The only composition by Neeley himself is the CD's closing number, "Better Times." A pity that he did not get his lyrics right, because the prosody just does not fit. It would not be fair to call General Merchandise a disappointment, it is just so-so.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 17 May 2003

Using a musical mix of guitar, banjo and acoustic bass, this trio, subtitling themselves the Store Keepers (dispensing the General Merchandise, I suppose), presents us with a wide-ranging mixture of old and new tunes. We learn from the notes that Rick Neeley has been playing for over 40 years, John Cavalier is a classically trained guitarist and Marc Edelstien suggested a musical get-together a quarter-century ago. Well, they got together and the CD is a joy to hear. The tracks range from the traditional to songs by some of the modern giants of songwriting.

Gordon Lightfoot's "Ribbon of Darkness" is given an excellent treatment. This is followed by a spirited rendition of "St. James Infirmary." I was expecting a version of the "Lock Hospital," but this is a very much gospel take on death and loss. "King Brady" is one of those very interesting story-songs that could be adapted as a crime drama for television.

The trio gives us a beautiful rendition of the great tune "Evangelina." Evocative banjo picking transports us to "East Virginia," a traditional tune and song. John Stewart's song "Strange Rivers" is a new one to my ears, but I would class it as one of my favourites on the album. It is a clean, classy piece that is delivered with clear voice and unobtrusive backing that deliver a strong tale.

Neeley is also a writer. His track "Better Times" is well written and expertly performed. The album ends with the Gibson/Silverstein track "Fog Horn."

General Merchandise is a CD that delivers on the content of the title. Here you will get a very good mix of music and styles. It is a very worthwhile album and well worth seeking out.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 15 November 2003