My desk is a garbage dump. I knew I knew Jefferson Ross. He's the guy who put out an album titled Dogwood Cats a couple of years ago, an album with which I was impressed enough to put him on my list of albums to be reviewed. I just found that list in my dump amongst notes and other lists I had somehow forgotten about. I need either a shrink or an office manager. I should never have let that album get past me.
Call it serendipity if you want, but I have been given a chance to make amends of a sort. Ross has just released a new live album, Live at Hillbilly Haiku, and I'll be damned if I bury this one. Mr. Ross, please accept this review as an apology. You deserve better than what I have given.
I know Ross as the man who, folkie that he is, writes songs which transcend genre. I know him as a singer of truths. I know him as storyteller and musician and realist and dreamer. I don't know if he writes from experience but he sure makes me think he does. Give him a guitar and he can quiet a room. Give him attention and he teaches you things.
I just listened to Dogwood Cats again this morning and got the same rush I did when I first heard it. The man has a touch. Like when he writes about this dude named Arvin---
Arvin had him one true love/His record collection/He said they don't talk back/But they sing along/And they keep on spinning/In the right direction/And, Lord, that's a comfort/When everything goes wrong
Man, I know Arvin. I could be Arvin. I watched a handful of women I dearly loved walk away. The first one took half my records. I never let that happen again.
I love Dogwood Cats. I hate myself for not letting people know until now. I somehow felt that Ross had written the songs for me as much as I know it's not true. But he made me feel that way and that in itself is an accomplishment. Chances are many others feel/felt the same way.
Here's the thing. His new album echoes that feeling times two. This is live with repartee from the man himself. And he has Thomm Jutz along for the ride. Jutz, for those who don't know, has become a mover and shaker on the Indie scene in Nashville. Together, the two make a mark. This is folk the way they used to make it during the Hullabaloo days. This is an acoustic guitar or two and a couple of voices putting stories to music. This makes me smile. I loved the old folk days when The Kingston Trio and, later, artists like Tom Paxton and Gordon Lightfoot ruled the roost.
I once saw Utah Phillips play a show in Seattle and walked away shaking my head. The guy had been through it all, it seemed, and there was talk of the people he knew and had met during his years stumping for Wobblies and Fellow Travelers. Ross is getting there. He has the stories and he's still living, so who knows how his life (and legend) will grow? I hear a bit of Phillips in him--- and David Bromberg and David Grisman and so many other folkies who hold the genre close to the vest and yet twist them to their needs.
Don't expect anything fancy here. One of the key elements of good folk music is that it is uncomplicated. Sometimes bells and whistles just get in the way.
Here is Ross a few years ago upon the release of his first album.