Bill Booth “River Town”

Wheeling Records, 2024

Expertly contrived country blues from New England emigre now settled in Europe.

Bill Booth River Town cover artBill Booth is a charmingly grizzled yet supremely talented country folk/blues singer/songwriter, who happens to play excellent acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and fiddle, but who also happens to fly well under the radar, except in Norway where he has lived, toured and recorded for many years. He looks a lot like Buddy Miller, though his music is much more folksy, with some Celtic influences to go with his bluesier and country swing offerings.

Born and raised in a mining town in New England, his seventh album ‘River Town‘ in a thirty year recording career is a little gem inspired by towns typical of the one he grew up in and contains little stories peopled with fascinating characters who inhabit such towns – like Little Mary Jo, in the opener ‘Ice House’, everybody’s favourite little girl who “grew up here in the west end, And then left to see the world!”, or  Ethan Allen James in a song of the same name – “he and his wife Elaine would dance the night away To the sound of the country swing, Temptation in the bar And the crying steel guitar, Elaine fell in love  with singing cowboy Slim”, or the unnamed character in the desperate ‘Town Farm’ who “moved into the poorhouse after the mill shut down, with his wife and five children, on the outskirts of town”.  It didn’t end well! And a similar sad end befell many of the featured characters (as in ‘Trouble Downtown’).  One of the standout tracks ‘Peltoma Avenue’ introduces three such characters, all of whom are facing struggles, but there are some great couplets from Booth that bring these characters to life and strongly suggest that they are based on real people. Take Trashman Sam who can mend anything he finds in the trash, who happens to be a Vietnam vet “a hero with the scars to prove, Troubled mind and shakey hands, Thanks to Uncle Sam” – brilliant stuff! You could close your eyes and imagine a great little movie based around all these characters.

The songs are served well by a cracking band supporting Booth (old friend and Norway resident Billy T – Bill Troiani- on bass, who sometimes tour as The Two Bills), Norwegian national and drummer extraordinaire Alex Pettersen, plus Paul Kirby on banjo and backing vocals. These guys really shine throughout , but the album belongs to Booth, who wrote the lyrics and music to all the songs and produced the album in Oslo.   The aforementioned ‘Ice House’ opens proceedings with a great down and dirty guitar riff before a gently rocking blues, ‘Peltoma Avenue’ is gentle country swing with swirling fiddle over a nice acoustic guitar backing. ‘Under the Pine‘ would not be out of place on a John Prine album.  The title track is a lively country jig about the place where Booth may have been brought up, but always wanted to leave.

‘St Alban’s March’ is the first of two instrumentals, sounding like a Civil War tune, which particularly highlights Booth’s fiddle playing. Another standout is ‘Slave to the Man’, a nice loping song which touches on corporate, sexual,  and racist abuse, and injustice, in the space of eighteen lines!  And then there is the upbeat folksy Celtic song about a boy being lost (and found) in ‘Baxter Mountain Range’ (it’s in the Adirondacks, New York State).  ‘Chicken Coop’ is a nice funky but sad song about being paid a pittance. And the album is rounded out with a short Cajun instrumental, ‘Snake Root Reel’ that sounds like a light-hearted riposte to the dark deeds and unimaginable happenings of the earlier part of the album.

This is a very fine album and Bill Booth should be much more widely known. He has been likened to Springsteen or JJ Cale or even Mark Knoepfler, but he is very much his own man. Take a listen – you won’t be disappointed.


About FredArnold 57 Articles
Lifelong fan of predominantly US (and Canadian) country roots music. Previously an avid concert-goer before wives, kids and dogs got in the way- and although I still try to get to several, my preference for small independent venues often means standing, and that ain't too good for my ancient bones!! Still, a healthy and catholic music collection helps ease the pain
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