Relaxed enjoyment from a 40-year veteran and his many friends, on a debut release.
I can’t say I’m not liable to get a frisson of amusement at the potential for furrowed brows if I start this review by mentioning Jim Reeves and Don Williams – or are they in this week? Gentleman Jim was a childhood favourite of mine and I loved, ‘He’ll Have to Go’ and, ‘Distant Drums’, (if only for the childish amusement afforded by various scatological re-workings of the latter). The reason I mention any of this? – well because David Ferguson’s baritone voice put me right in mind of Reeves and Williams, it’s the kind of singing that we don’t hear often enough.
Add that to the sweet video that goes with the song, ‘Boats to Build’, (courtesy of Will Oldham) then you have an offering that’s halfway to a good review without even trying. Children in videos seem like an easy option but marrying it with the classic pirate films works well.
Ferguson is a Grammy award-winning recording engineer – in 2013 on the Del McCoury Band’s, ‘The Streets of Baltimore’, and in 2016 for Sturgill Simpson’s, ‘A Sailors Guide to Earth‘. He is also a studio owner, video game soundtrack composer, and collaborator with the likes of Johnny Cash, John Prine, and the aforementioned Simpson. He is about to release his ten-song first album, ‘Nashville No More’, and it’s amazing that a voice like that has waited so long to be recorded.
Guy Clark’s, ‘Boats to Build’, is a highlight, reminiscent in its longing to Lyle Lovett’s, ‘If I Had a Boat’, and the beauty of Ferguson’s singing is that every word is audible. There are songs by Lee Hazlewood, Gordon Lightfoot, Stephen Foster, and three by Roger Cook who in 1997, became the first (and so far apparently only) British songwriter to enter the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Even more intriguing is the track, ‘Chardonnay’, – a collaboration with Hugh Cornwell. People do get about – it’s a long way from Blue Mink to Nashville.
The album maintains a gentle pace throughout with a low-key feeling to both the vocals and instrumentation – it’s a lights out, log fire, glass of wine kind of affair. The only vague note of discord is at the end of, ‘Fellow Traveller’, which starts off dangerously close to the middle of the road but ends on, for this album, an almost raucous note. It’s not sure that title would have passed muster in the ’50s though.
Gordon Lightfoot’s, ‘Early Morning Rain’, is a stand-out, and Lee Hazlewoods, ‘My Autumns Done Come’, offers the only real departure from the overall sound with a slyly wry take on old age and backing that carries just a hint of menace.
‘Let those ‘I-don’t-care-days’ begin / I’m tired of holdin’ my stomach in / No more slinky folk dollars for me / I’ll take Sears & Roebuck dollars gladly / For my autumn’s done come / My autumn’s done come. Done come’.
It’s a country music bookend to Jenny Joseph’s poem, ‘Warning’, (twice voted Britain’s favourite poem), which declares, ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me’. Both of them are just polite ways of saying, fuck you I’m old and I’ll do what I want.
The final track of note, ‘Hard Times Come Again’, is by the man reckoned by many to be the father of American music, Stephen Foster.
‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary / Hard times, hard times, come again no more / Many a days you have lingered around my cabin door / Oh, hard times, come again no more’.
There are times when Ferguson veers towards a country club cabaret sound, particularly on, ‘Chardonnay’, which even the press notes suggest might have been a Dean Martin song. Whether it’s a paean to alcohol, a female, or both it isn’t a great choice but there’s plenty to redeem things and at the other end of the scale are the pure country pedal steel sounds of, ‘Knockin’ Around Nashville’.
It’s not at the cutting edge (wherever that may be) and it’s not meant to be, but it is a relaxed and relaxing, well-crafted, well-sung album of generally carefully chosen songs. The recording is such that you can almost feel the warmth coming through the speakers.
If you want a recommendation with credentials then Mr. Simpson is at hand, ‘The Ferg is a bonafide card-carrying legendary hillbilly genius, and when he talks you better shut up and listen’.
How come it took so long to make a debut Mr. Ferguson?