From the delicious black humour on the album sleeve to the 12 songs of down home rambles contained within, ‘Fill Dirt Wanted’, the third album from Texan Zach Aaron, is a delight from start to finish. Recorded in Oklahoma, the album finds Aaron seeking succour from that old Okie, Woody Guthrie while maintaining a fine Texas voice with songs reminiscent of Guy Clark, Willie Nelson and Terry Allen. Recorded live straight to tape with a small ensemble, there’s a vibrancy to the songs which range from humorous talking blues to songs addressing the human condition and its attendant woes. Throughout the album, Aaron shines, his voice honest and earnest, an engineer of the human soul.
The album opens with the spare title song, a sort of Texas waltz with Aaron digging his own hole as he flees from all his attachments, a man alone. It opens with just voice and guitar but midway through a gorgeous bar room piano joins in giving the song a hint of Terry Allen. ‘Animal Of Burdon’ is much meatier as a pounding rythym and busy banjo drive this tale of toil, a working man’s lament but then there’s some light relief in the joyful country picking of ‘Dayton Train’ which rips along like an energised Grateful Dead covering Guy Clark. There’s more fancy picking on the jaunty ‘No Road Too Cold’, a song which has “classic” stamped all over it as it encapsulates just about all that one holds dear about American country folk with its zinging Dobro, blacktop adventures and brief spoken passage. ‘Hold The Line’, a stout and hard barrelled piano led love song, is another cracker with Aaron on top form here, channelling Levon Helm and Waylon Jennings as he tugs at the heartstrings.
Each and every song here is excellent. ‘Southeast Texas Trinity River Bottom Blues’ is a bit of a hoot as Aaron gets all Guthrie on us while ‘Potato Salad’ adds a bit of early Dylan whimsy to the talking blues idiom. ‘CCC’, a song about a 1930s New Deal work programme (The Civilian Conservation Corps) is indebted to Guthrie’s songs from that era and as it proudly struts its stuff with back porch strings, oompah horns and martial drums, it’s the equal of the likes of Ry Cooder’s reclamation of archival digs. Dylan comes to mind again when ‘Shelter Of The Storm’ weighs into view but, aside from the song title similarity, Aaron’s song is a mournful ballad of the first degree while ‘Dying Hobo Blues’ eschews Dylan for Townes Van Zandt on this short and doom laden tale. More up to date, ‘Saratoga Light’ is a scabrous blue collar country song with weeping fiddle which might scare the pants off Tyler Childers.
Aaron signs off with a simple story song, a murder ballad of course, steeped in border lore. ‘Aztec Cafe’ could have sat on any number of Texas musicians’ albums from the past few decades but, here and now, it’s Aaron’s turn to shine and he does so with this magnificent number. Listen to it and weep and then smile.