This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 7/99
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Carefully crafted and aged like the best of fine wines, the songs on Rob Laurens' debut CD gently meander back and forth between the sound and feel of traditional folk and contemporary folk music. The combination of his warm, inviting voice and stylistic versatility have produced a captivating collection of crisp, clean compositions presented with the aplomb of a grizzled veteran.
Produced by Ellis Paul, this release is a remarkable achievement, especially for an initial offering. Laurens sounds like he's been doing this for years and, in fact, he has been meticulously honing his art for some time, crisscrossing the country in a painstaking effort to root out and absorb folk music's kaleidoscope of elements.
His efforts have handsomely paid off for this is a superb release that should be shining near the top of everyone's Best of 1999 lists. Yes, it is that good.
Laurens opens with "Cotton-eyed Joe," a sweetly pensive ballad about human reactions and emotional connections woven together in the face of a disastrous event. Basking in a smooth, flowing rhythm and backed primarily by fiddle, organ and harmonica, this lead cut will secure the attention of even the most blase listener.
"As I Was Walking Out Late This Evening" features subject matter akin to British traditional folk or celtic material--regret over the abandonment of love. Backed by Don Conoscenti on lap steel guitar, Laurens' rueful vocals and high-string acoustic guitar work exceptionally capture the mood of this elegy.
"Wondering How You Are" may very well prove to be Laurens' signature song. Featuring two recent college graduates traveling across the country to begin life anew, he sings:
We are rolling across the country
and I'm thinking how we've made love
every night since leaving Philadelphia
but I still feel so alone..."
It's a secret I don't want to show you
but I wear it beneath my eyes
you don't mind because you love me
at the time I didn't realize..."
So if on some quiet evening
when you're driving alone out there
listening to the fading radio
changing stations in the cool night air
And you hear something crackle in the static
that brings a memory back into your heart
I'm riding there with you
wondering how you are"
Simply featuring Laurens on vocals and resophonic steel guitar, "Daniel in the Lion's Den" is reminiscent of a old spiritual. The repeated usage of the clipped line "Daniel gone away" and Laurens' guitar play facilitate the old-time feel of this tune.
The authentic sounding, "The Fields of Kingdom Come" is a Laurens Civil War composition that could easily have been written in the 1860s. With Laura Risk on fiddle and Laurens again on resophonic steel guitar, he sings of getting caught up in the fervor of defending the homeland against General Sherman ravaging through Georgia:
Like the answer to a prayer,
the matter of course toward what is still right
and true in your life-
serendipity in continuum."
This is no precocious, flash-in-the-pan performer. He waited until he felt he was ready for this almost 65-minute release and, boy, was he ever correct in his timing. Let's just hope it isn't too much longer before the seeds of his sophomore effort are sown.
Laurens on vocals, resophonic steel guitar, high-string acoustic and resophonic guitar, hollow-body electric guitar and harmonica is assisted by Jackson Cannon on acoustic and electric bass; Paul Antoniades on drums; Don Conoscenti on drums, percussion, electric guitar and lap steel guitar; Laura Risk on fiddle; Tom West on Hammond B-3; Sparrow Snow on piano and backup vocals, Fender Rhodes, hollow-body electric guitar and accordion; Ellis Paul on high-string acoustic guitar, trumpet and backup vocals; Steve Faria on trumpet and Josh Pawelek on drums and percussion. Lucy Kaplansky, Keith Greeninger, Richard Shindell, Tom Eaton, Matt Smith, Christopher Williams and others provided harmony and backup vocals.
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