Billed as an album by The Pawn Shop Saints, ‘Ordinary Folks’ is really all about Jeb Barry. He not only wrote all nine songs (although one, ‘New Year’s Eve Somewhere In The Midwest’ is a co-write with Jason Isbell), he does all the lead vocals, plays guitar, bass and banjo and recorded, produced and mixed the album – oh and he designed the record cover as well! He probably swept the floor and made the coffee too! He wasn’t totally alone as Michael O’Neill plays guitar and sings the occasional backing vocal, Josh Pisano is on drums and Chris Samson plays bass. On the only track that has any real harmony vocals on it, ‘Dry River Song’, Laini Sporbert appears low down in the mix.
Recorded at The Attic Studio in Adams, MA, Berry’s imagination is anywhere but on the north east coast of the USA. There are songs that feature lyrics about southern mansions, midwest bars, lost cotton harvests, Texas starlight and levees – the locations in the songs of these ordinary folks range far and wide. As for the characters themselves, they vary between old men in trucks to screeching preachers, from orphans to factory workers and Lynyrd Skynyrd loving loners to star-crossed lovers – all human life is here. As Berry himself says: “I have spent years driving around the country, especially to the Carolina’s and to Nashville, I began pulling off the interstates to hit the small towns where ordinary people live. You can drive a couple of miles and find other worlds, mostly small towns with non-brand name convenient stores, bars and chicken joints. I found myself interacting with the people that live there more and more and found out that I was too quick to judge them as less than the hard-working folks they were. Most were just ordinary folks trying to get through life’s hard times”.
Unfortunately, with all that well researched imagery and imagination, the songs are all a little dull with not a lot of light and shade. They’re mainly led by acoustic guitars with the occasional electric guitar solo or burst of banjo to liven them up and jolt the listener out of a gentle reverie – they’re just a bit soporific at times.
Also, Berry’s world weary, laid back, Jeff Tweedy like vocals along with the lo-fi production, stops the listener engaging completely with the characters in the songs – they just don’t come to life – they’re 2D rather than 3D , fuzzy rather than sharply drawn. And the result is a disappointingly ordinary album about some ‘Ordinary Folks’.