Album Review

David Zollo - Uneasy Street

David Zollo - Uneasy Street

A cat's just gotta play around awhile to find out who he is. In the half-dozen years since forming countrified roots-rockers High & Lonesome, David Zollo has expanded his vocal and keyboard vocabulary while distilling his stylistic influences closer to the indigenous mix exemplified by his Iowa City homeys Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey and Dave Moore. One could argue that he's extended his reach further before, but never has he so surely grasped his goals as on Uneasy Street. All but gone are the alt trappings and penchant for Southern boogie that colored Hi & Lo's three CDs. The pre-tumor-surgery voice captured desperately on his first solo disc (in 1994) has healed, mellowed and grown in expressiveness. Since his half-year stint as keyboardist for Todd Snider, Zollo's full-tilt boogies and Jerry Lee breakaways have been tempered with moody, Charlie Rich-style blues and delicate country lace a la Floyd Cramer. Ten of the eleven tracks on Uneasy Street are Zollo originals, but the lone cover may be the most telling, a lazy-ass breakdown of Greg Brown's "Poor Backslider", on which Zollo stamps his mark directly in the shade of its maker. Shoveling damp coals on a smoldering fire, Zollo rides herd over guitarist Ramsey's skunky funk with his greazy drawling vocal. The opening, title track introduces the album's theme and major players: Ramsey (just back from a stint in Lucinda Williams' band), Andy Carlson on guitar (he rips the snot out of his fiddle later, too), bassist Mary Christensen and drummer Eric Griffin. Brown chips in a cameo on acoustic guitar. There's much to dig into here: the Band-esque wistfulness of "Kissed By The Fingers Of Angels" (with a chilling harmony by BeJae Fleming); the heartland crush of "This Time"; the extraordinary backroads country charm of "The Girl I Used To Know"; the hard-luck "Parnell" (featuring a resonant western twang from Ramsey's git-box). "Washington County Blues" is Beale Street, Iowa, with no apologies. As a postscript, the snarling "Brush Factory Blues" may be the last track to be recorded by High & Lonesome, and it's as fitting a way to bury that trusty ol' hound as one could wish for. Uneasy Street comfortably takes its place among the works of Brown, Moore and Ramsey as the finest roots music to come out of Eastern Iowa. And if you don't sense the weight of that, ye'd best git busy...