Rhythm & Views

Stefan George and the Fellow Travelers

While most folks acknowledge him as an interpreter of the blues, Stefan George takes a sharp turn off that well-traveled path with this homage to his country, bluegrass and old-timey roots. Paying tribute to early influences Bob Wills, the Stanley Brothers and the Carter Family, George presents a body of work that honors these artists and allows his own voice to shine.

While all these songs were written specifically for this project, many sound remarkably familiar. "Darkness" could pass for a track off the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. "Two Dollar Bill," "Life's True Gold" and "God Willing" all sound like songs Bruce Springsteen could have covered on his freewheeling Seeger Sessions. But George also writes great contemporary tunes: "Kale Water" and "Whisky Row" reflect the Peter Rowan school of storytelling more than anything by Hank Williams.

Bringing all this to life is a small cadre of Tucson's finest, including Earl Edmonson on mandolin and guitar, Tim Wiedenkeller on banjo and Neil Harry on pedal steel. Bassist Steve Grams, along with John Convertino and Tom Larkins on drums, provide backing that is not overly dependent on solos, but rather an ensemble approach that allows these tunes to work best.

George's voice has a bit more range here than in some of his blues recordings, and the harmonies with Lavinia White, Edmonson and Bobby Kimmel are stellar throughout. Like the traditions it honors, Blue House will age well.

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