Portland’s Silver Lake 66 releases a solid debut country gem, Let go or be dragged. Backed by an ensemble of Portland’s Americana scene, the duo of Maria Francis and Jeff Overbo deliver an album of straight ahead country music, performed with deep respect for the genre. This release, a dozen well-crafted songs arranged and produced with the focus locked in on honest depictions of human struggles and simple joys, reminds us that to be flawed is to be human, and to struggle is an honorable thing.
The song writing credits are split evenly between the duo. The album starts off with “Bury My Bones in Arkansas,” written by Overbo. The song is an homage to those late night AM radio stations that brought a diversity of music to the heartland. Overbo sets the scene:
Blue earth’s hard and frozen
Lays dark against the sky
Am static and guitars
Find me every night
Feeding my addiction
Transformer sings its song
Working hard all
Through the night
So I can sing along
Overbo’s tasty traditional style of country guitar plays off the lyrical pedal steel of Portland’s string wizard Bryan Daste. Daste, a member of Portland’s Small Souls and recording and touring partner of Alaska’s chanteuse Emma Hill, turns in excellent work on steel and dobro across the twelve tracks here. Overbo keeps his approach unvarnished, preferring a vocal style that serves up the emotional truth of the lyrics via restraint as opposed to a more over the top presentation. His voice is reassuringly blue collar without having to say so.
Maria Francis is stylistically old school and emotive, offering a different bent on relationships and their risks. This contrast in delivery is remarkably everyman, as if the listener could watch the way a couple might handle a situation differently, from opposite points of view. It’s like hearing your neighbors disagree through the open windows at night. They make a heluva racket. And just when you think you can judge them, they start making up, audibly, and with the windows still open.
Francis shines on “Sherman County,” a place that keeps calling her back to a former flame, and a past she can’t quite escape. The tune is part lament, part surrender to the inevitable. The juxtaposition of emotions is where the song finds its strength.
“San Francisco Angel” finds Overbo observing his female counterpoint trying to escape the life she left behind. California, as Overbo sees it, isn’t far enough from her past to bring her sanctuary. “Devil’s Lookin’ For Me” is another Overbo composition. This time out the central character is in a ramshackle house, waiting on the devil to find him. With a pistol hidden inside his bible, he doesn’t plan to defeat old Slewfoot with the word of God, but with a hunk of lead.
Clearly on edge, his confidence is revealed as a shaky false sense of bravado. Overbo’s character appears ready to brace his adversary, only to let slip his true emotional state.
I got a saw tooth monkey
Hanging off my back
Clawing through my body
Like a heart attack
If the Devil’s looking for me
I’m not too hard to find.
Overbo and Francis self-produced and independantly released this collection of original compositions. The joy in records like this is finding a true grass roots voice, something Silver Lake 66 has in spades. Although these are new tunes it is easy to see these songs were years in the making. This is music for cold nights and warm whiskey. In the wee hours this album will ask you to question the price you have paid for your journey. Silver Lake 66 would tell you it was worth the cost; the Devil be damned.