Wood, Steel, Dust and Dreams
A Veritable Smorgasbord of Newly Re-Recorded Cleaves/Picott Co-Writes
Aimed squarely and unashamedly at die-hard fans, this 1000 physical double CD only limited release is not going to be streamed; so as Rod himself says
–“It’s a collector’s edition. I’m thinking of it as a run of folk art prints. This album is for the folks who have sustained me over the years and want to help get me to the other side of 2020.”
The thinking behind the album was to bring together in one place all of the songs co-written by Rod and long time friend and musical accomplice Slaid Cleaves.
It turns out that both had had a similar idea to produce such a project, but it was Picott who got to it first, with Slaid’s blessing.
Over two CDs there are 26 tracks – some released by Picott, some by Cleaves, some by both and some never released at all; but everything here is a brand new recording though.
The liner booklet provides copious notes on each track so it defeats the object in a review to repeat the information contained therein – how does it stand up as a body of musical work therefore?
Well, it’s very good indeed. Being recorded as one project, there’s a consistency and warmth about the whole sound, glued together admirably by producer Neilson Hubbard.
My first reference point when listening were the tracks I knew, to see how they compared with versions that I’d already heard.
“Broke Down” was my point of entry and it’s a gorgeous take – Rod’s voice is more upfront and mellow and the lack of drums and addition of gentle harmonica fit the mis-en-scene of the song’s sentiment(s).
Conversely, “Bring It On” is a harsher, rougher take with gritty Twang and a more anguished vocal – “Sinner’s Prayer” has more of a darker, apocalyptic edge too, now.
Throughout the superb notes that accompany the release, there are explanations as to how these versions – and others found their shape; and it’s a fascinating read.
Instrumentation is generally sparse and supportive but tender, acting as an appropriate counterpoint to what are (to these ears) Rod’s finest recorded vocal performances.
“Beyond Love” is nearly all vocal, punctuated by lonely guitar and it’s something that Leonard Cohen would have prodded you with a sharp object to get his hands on.
Of the songs I was less familiar with (or hadn’t heard before in any form) “Sparrow;” about the effect of the death of Rod’s mother, is tender sentiment without sentimentality, sung from deep down and sounding far away and yet close. “Fire Inside” from “Out Past the Wires” now becomes a Springsteen Nebraskaesque howl of raw emotion.
The one track on the release which is not a co-write is “The ballad of the Magic Rats”, the story of the band that Rod and Slaid played in as teenagers, and ties the whole musical and thematic package together quite perfectly.
If you’re one of the die-hard fans that this double CD is aimed at, you’ll love the insights to the songs, but most of all you’ll love the performances; this is the closest I’ve heard to encapsulating the essence of Rod Picott as I’ve heard him on stage and in person.
You’ll need to hurry though, because as soon as word gets round, the 1000 copies will be gone. Make damn sure you get yours.
Produced and Mixed by Neilson Hubbard
Recorded by Rod Picott and Neilson Hubbard
Guitar : Will Kimbrough
Acoustic Slide Guitar : Matt Mauch
Mandolin and Bass : Lex Price
Percussion : Neilson Hubbard
Harmonies : Neilson Hubbard and Matt Mauch
Harmony on “Bring It On” : Slaid Cleaves
Mastered by Alex McCollough
Guitar, Vocals, Harmonica : Rod Picott