The Wide Open,
Long Road Home
(independent, 2018)

As the Wide Open, Allen Rayfield and Season Ammons, who live in Texas, draw on various genres of American vernacular music as settings for their original songs. This in itself isn't a particularly original idea or practice. What is unusual is the confidence with which they handle folk, blues, soul, rock and jazz (though rarely at once), letting us know they are anything but genre tourists. Wide Open feels like actual roots, as opposed to the poseur equivalent sold as "Americana," as often as not less a musical form than a marketing niche. Rayfield and Ammons are sufficiently conversant in genuine grassroots styles to apply that familiarity to impressively creative re-imaginings.

Their songwriting talents are considerable. Thirteen cuts, 50 minutes and one's listening pleasure does not flag whatever the particular musical context may be, whether it's Rayfield's affecting modern folksong "Not My Father's Son" or Ammons' striking soul ballad "Raining in Memphis." Long Road Home arrived in my mail at the tail end of last year, just in time to make my Best of 2017 list (posted here on 23 December). The depth and intelligence of the songs have kept the album a continuing presence on the player.

There isn't much -- if anything, not to put too fine a point on it -- that isn't working here. Inevitably, however, listeners will find their favorites. Mine include the two already mentioned songs as well as Ammons' deliriously raunchy electric blues "Feel All Right," delivered with humor and over-the-top energy, and Ammons & Rayfield's oldtimey-flavored "Ol' Missouri." Rayfield's "Walton County Jail" has the resonance of a 1930s hillbilly blues, framed by its composer's snaky harmonica and acoustic guitar.

Besides lead vocals she shares with her partner, Ammons contributes banjo and guitar. Eddie Dickerson plays fiddle, while a blues and rock band consisting of electric guitarist Scott Rockwood and others offers expert back-up. Because the year ahead of us looks to be a rocky one, taking us in uncertain directions to an unpredictable destination, we're going to have to rely on good music more than ever. It may indeed be a long road home. You could do a lot worse than to start your 2018 with Long Road Home.

music review by
Jerome Clark

20 January 2018

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