Album Review

James King - The Bluegrass Storyteller

James King - The Bluegrass Storyteller

James King's voice can wring the lonesome from the lyric of a song. He's not a flashy player; he's not the best looking. He's short on image, which might explain why he's routinely overlooked by the IBMA. But no one sings a sad song like James King. In fine bluegrass fashion, this set tends toward the maudlin. Death toll for the first three songs: four humans, one hound dog. People die of natural causes, they die in childbirth, they're flung in front of trains, they're crucified. Not to suggest this album is single-themed; there are also songs about cheating. (Though, often as not, somebody dies before the end of those songs, too.) King's choice of material is most interesting. He covers Lefty Frizell's "Saginaw, Michigan" and Porter Wagoner's "Carol County Accident", making each sound like a bluegrass chestnut. He also borrows from such respected country songwriters as Larry Cordle, Carl Jackson and Tom T. Hall. Less likely sources are alt-country stalwarts David Olney, Buddy Miller, Fred Eaglesmith and Robert Earl Keen. Miller's "Garage Sale" is a real tearjerker, and you'd think the Eaglesmith and Keen songs were written 50 years ago. Eaglesmith's "Flowers In The Dell" -- death by train -- manages to be simultaneously twisted and hilarious. King is well supported by a crackerjack band. Mandolinist and tenor vocalist Kevin Prater returns to anchor the ensemble. Adam Haynes segues into Olney's "Jerusalem Tomorrow" with an eerie fiddle intro. Ben Greene plays crisp, clear banjo without dominating the song, and Jerry McNeely, on bass, rounds out the group.