Talented musician Randy Kohrs is best known for his dobro (resonator guitar) playing on other artists’ records, but he also has a fine voice and has released a number of his own albums. His latest, on Rural Rhythm Records, was originally due to be released last year, but was delayed until this month. He produced it himself in his own studio (as he has done before). There is a mixture of blues, country, and bluegrass, all acoustic. The backings, from a variety of mainly bluegrass musicians, are fabulous throughout, and always appropriate for the song. The whole album is a pleasure to listen to.
Randy wrote or co-wrote five of the 13 tracks, including the outstanding song on the album, ‘Die On The Vine’, written with Dennis Goodwin and set to a very pretty tune. This opens with the auction of a farm’s contents, and builds with the farmer’s being saved from relapsing into alcoholic despair, by remembering his father’s advice 20 years earlier:
“Son don’t let your life die on the vine
Don’t plant your roots in whiskey and red wine
Grow up straight and tall like an old Georgia pine
Son don’t let your life die on the vine”
Then I pushed away my glass
And pulled myself up straight
I knew that I could stand up
To the bitter winds of fate
Cause suddenly I’d realized
That one thing hadn’t sold
The best thing daddy ever planted
Was his strength in my soul
Harmony vocals on this track (and several others) come from Garnet and Ronnie Bowman.
The same partnership wrote the enjoyable up-tempo traditional country ‘Time And Time Again’, as the protagonist leaves a woman who has hurt and cheated on him once too often (with Shannon Lawson on harmonies):
“You two timed me this time one time too often
And now it’s time to watch me leaving you”
They joined with Ashley Brown (who plays fiddle in Randy’s band) to write the western story song which opens the set. ‘Devil Of The Trail’ recounts the hardships (eventually overcome) of a wagon train and a girl named Sarah on the Oregon Trail with her family, and is another effective number.
Brown also helped Randy write the closing track, the straight blues ‘Down Around Clarksdale’, which is the only track I don’t really enjoy, but well done. Along similar lines, with blues/soul/gospel backing vocals from Scat Springs and Anne and Regina McCrary on both tracks, but more interesting, is the soulful gospel of ‘If You Think It’s Hot Here,’ a warning to the godless about the prospective temperature of Hell, written by the SteelDrivers’ Mike Henderson and Robert Stockton.
One of the best vocals is on the eerily atmospheric ‘The Ghost Of Jack McCline’, written by Randy with Andrew Crawford, telling the story of a logger who owned the woods he felled until he got in the way of developers:
Big money could not buy him out
And soon old Jack was gone
(Soon old Jack was gone)
No one knows where old Jack went
Some say he was killed
But he lives on to haunt the homes
That big money built
So as you lay within your sturdy walls
Tucked safely in your bed
If your house was built with old Jack’s wood
Then you’re sleeping with the dead
Early in his career, Randy played in Tom T Hall’s band, and he repays the favor here by including his former boss’s 1972 song ‘More About John Henry’. This offers the romantic (mis)adventures of the legendary hammer-swinging John Henry, culminating in murder, with bluesy backing vocals from Regina and Anne McCrary set against mainly ramped up bluegrass instrumentation.
There are two other engaging covers of older country songs. Webb Pierce’s classic ‘It’s Been So Long’ (a #1 hit in 1953) has a bouncy feel which makes it a joy to listen to despite the downbeat lyrics. Del Reeves’ minor hit from the late 60s, ‘This Must Be The Bottom’, adds a wry sense of humor as the protagonist wakes up, unemployed, penniless, hung over and dumped.
‘Sunday Clothes’, written by Billy Ryan and Brent Baxter, is a sweet and genuinely moving tribute, as the narrator reports attending church for the first time in years for what materializes as his mother’s funeral. This leads into fond recollections of being an eight year old unwillingly attending church in his Sunday best, paralleling the present day, and develops into a testimony of filial love.
Mama made me go every week
Where all her friends sang old time hymns,
The ones she said blessed her soul,
But my new blue tie wouldn’t let me breathe
I just wanted to go
And Mama’s the only one that could get me in my Sunday clothes
Just like old times there’s mud all on my shoes from the rain
But this time she’d understand
But she can’t see these tears rolling down my face
All her friends sang old time hymns, the ones that blessed her soul
And Lord why’d she have to go
Mama’s the only one that could get me in my Sunday clothes
I also really like the thoughtful title track, written by Canadian singer-songwriter Codie Prevost and Adam Wheeler warning about the traps of being sucked into vicious spirals of addiction or pursuing material success at the expense of the true wealth of friendship and family:
Well, ain’t that just the way the devil leads us down a path
Where we wind up worse than we were and there’s no turning back
You go from standing tall to disappearing where you stand
Like a slow-sinkin’ man in quicksand
Dennis Duff contributes a semi-anthropomorphic ode to the Kentucky/Tennessee river ‘Cumberland’, set to a pretty rolling tune with the rhythm of a river. Bluegrass mandolinist-songwriter Trey Ward’s ‘Truman’s Vision’ is a lament for rural change in 1949 as President Harry Truman’s government confiscated 300 squares of farmland and tore down the narrator’s father’s home town to build an atomic weapons facility. Apparently this track is used on the soundtrack to PBS documentary Like Heaven On Earth, about the US Cold war nuclear program.
DuPont built a plant on the edge of the river
There’s no corn or cotton growin’ by those old dirt roads today
There’s no more rows to hoe where only the concrete grows
Mr Truman’s vision on Thurmond’s red clay
I don’t like this quite as much as my favorite Randy Kohrs album, I’m Torn, but it is a fine album well worth seeking out if you like acoustic music, and a good start to this year’s releases.
Read Randy’s interview about the album with The 9513’s Sam Gazdziak. Quicksand is available at Amazon.