HARVEY THOMAS YOUNG:
Highways of Gold
Austin music legend Harvey Thomas Young (aka Tex Thomas) inspired me to start Wildchild! with charismatic guitar-accompanied tales of his snuff-sniffin Grandma and his beer-induced lusts. The warm moan of Junior Browns pedal steel guitar flawlessly frames Harveys hops-and-barley soaked growl. Reunited Blood, Sweat & Tears bandmates, Lou Marini and Larry Willis, wonderfully enhance Harveys sincere, colorful narratives with in-the-pocket arrangements and accompaniment. (#02252)
Harvey Thomas Young, vocals/acoustic guitar
Mapleshade has spun off its Wildchild! subsidiary to release musical forms other than pure blues and jazz. Its first disc, Harvey Thomas Young's Highways of Gold, bodes well for the series. Young, a Texas singer/songwriter, has put together an eclectic band for this outing that includes Junior Brown. ¡Ay, mamacita! The minute you hear Young's hoarsely straining voice, you know that this is not just another faultlessly dead audiophile recording ³ it ain't pretty, but it gets the job done. The songs are copacetic, and the band really cooks.
The Tracking Angle:
Take an audiophile producer with a jazz sensibility, a no bullshit gravel voiced, West Texas country singer/songwriter, then add a legendary Austin, Texas pedal steel guitar player (Junior Brown) and a jazz pianist whose played with everyone from Gary Bartz, to Jackie McLean to Blood Sweat and Tears (Larry Willis). Oh, and add a sax player, a fiddler, some gospel singers and a jazz infused rhythm section. What do you get? A bizarre cross cultural experiment; the ingredients for a potentially disastrous mess.
Fortunately for all concerned here, it adds up to a unique homebrew hybrid consisting of unequal parts jazzy urban sophistication, country, Tex-Mex border dust, and some fifties rock, all ably serving the cause of Harvey Thomas Young's gruff, yet intimate songs.
The title tune, Highways Of Gold, a bitter, heartfelt articulation of the "life sucks, then you die" view of the world, serves as a paradigm for the album. As you listen to Thomas' plaintive voice on the chorus - backed only by his acoustic guitar: "There's no highways of gold, there's no rivers of brilliant diamonds, there only hearts made of stone and the money the world survives on" you can clearly hear a kick ass commercial country band breathing chart popping energy into the song. You can also hear how that action would ruin the chilling, almost uncomfortable intimacy of the moment.
When the drums and piano come in, its not with a country crack. They kind of insinuate themselves into the mix with a delicacy not usually found in this genre of music: partly due to the deftness of the playing and partly due to the simple miking which places the drummer way in the background.
It takes some time getting used to the off the beat playing accompanying the straightforward West Texas sensibility of Young. At first the two styles clash, then the accompaniment ³ mixed way back ³ seems like an annoying afterthought. Its only after your ear become accustomed to the strange combination, that you begin to appreciate the audacity of this fascinating project. It doesn't always work, (Bad Feelings starts with a piano line out of Bach's Goldberg Variations, turns into an early •60s Phil Spector vamp and finally falls flat on its face) but when it does, it hits a home run ³ as on the title tune and on the ethereal Dreams and Distant Shores.
The minimally miked analogue recording is redolent with room sound and the natural projection of acoustic instruments playing live in a space. Young and his acoustic guitar are highlighted in the mix, with the other instruments playing dreamily in the background. I would have preferred more drum kit, and more of Junior Brown's achingly gorgeous pedal steel, but compared to commercial recordings, this is a brutally honest portrayal of live music.
Some of these tunes deserve commercial treatment (Start Again for example) and I hope Young gets the recognition and financial reward such treatment would bring him. But you won't find more effective renditions of Young's material than he gives them on this very special disc. Take a chance and I don't think you'll be disappointed.