Pharis & Jason Romero,
Long Gone Out West Blues
(Lula, 2013)

From their outpost in small-town British Columbia, Pharis & Jason Romero deliver a form of Southern American music that predates bluegrass and, if organically related in some sense, has virtually nothing to do with what's called "country" these days. Still, in their current release, Long Gone Out West Blues, they've modernized in their own way, by pushing forward into an approximation of the relatively sedate hillbilly sound of the 1930s.

Because I like anything the Romeros do, this is meant as observation, not a criticism. I like it, too, that they devote an original banjo tune ("Lost Lula") and call their label Lula after "our beautiful yellow lab, seven-year-old Lula, who was lost to the vast B.C. wilderness." I will take a wild guess and suggest that these are probably good people.

The bulk of their previous output has focused on traditional songs and fiddle tunes, largely from the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Here, only three of the 13 cuts can be so characterized. Others draw from recordings by country pioneers Riley Puckett (the rarely covered "Waiting for the Evening Mail") and Ted Daffan ("Trucker Driver's Blues," the very first song on that subject). To the historically minded, these will recall the transition rural music underwent in the '30s as it evolved, in our time, to ... well, whoever's and whatever's big in Nashville these days. It's been a while since I checked.

In any event, Long Gone revisits a country music that was actually country -- which is to say founded in rural musical expression. It is stark and acoustic, focused on harmony singing and framed by the most elemental of themes: home, faith, love (true and otherwise) and violence. They're all here, the last represented by a stellar arrangement of the old-time murder ballad "Wild Bill Jones." Pharis's composition "The Little Things are Hardest in the End" would have made for an unforgettable, three-hanky Blue Sky Boys number.

The Romeros's original songs, about half of the total, are happily indistinguishable from the older ones. In common with others who successfully recreate this kind of primordial American music, they appear to live inside it and to speak its language as their own. There's not a false word or note to be heard.

music review by
Jerome Clark

6 July 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new