Calling You From My Mountain
Peter Rowan continues distilling his mostly bluegrass essence on “Calling You From My Mountain,” his second studio release for the venerable Rebel Records label.
The former Bill Monroe associate — who went on to help found Earth Opera, Seatrain, Muleskinner, Old and in the Way and The Rowans before launching a 25-year solo career — follows up 2018’s “Carter Stanley’s Eyes” with another collection inspired by a country music legend (at least, that was the original plan).
This time it’s Luke the Drifter, an alias Hank Williams recorded under in the 1950s.
“When I left Nashville in 1990,” Rowan explains in the new album’s press release, “the only country music album I had, besides one Ernest Tubb record, was ‘Hank Williams Sings Luke the Drifter.’ So, I listened to that all the time on my little turntable, and I just loved that Hank had an alternate ego who was himself but the sentimental-songs-with-a-message side.”
The release explains how Rowan wrote an entire album of songs inspired by Luke the Drifter — but before he could travel to Nashville to record it, the coronavirus pandemic hit. Rowan instead stayed home in California, playing and trying out old favorites, which in turn brought forth ideas for new compositions. Just one song (the ruminative “Dream of Heaven”) from the originally planned album made the final cut for “Calling You From My Mountain,” but Luke the Drifter’s spirit runs throughout.
The final tracklist contains one cover apiece of songs by Monroe, Woodie Guthrie, Tex Logan, the Carter Family and Lightnin’ Hopkins, as well as eight Rowan originals.
The album’s two instrumentals are Logan’s “Come Along Jody” and Monroe’s “Frog on the Lily Pad,” the latter being more sprightly and featuring lots of stringed instruments in near unison.
“The Song That Made Hank Williams Dance” — with its playfully Zen-like lyrics — is bluegrass in lineup only, and a prime example of Rowan’s knack for placing a subtle philosophical stamp atop a multigenre number.
The ebullient treatment given Guthrie’s “New York Town” tempers the desolation of the source material, eliciting a carefree virtual shuffle down that big-city sidewalk.
But the pièce de résistance is the closing, newgrass spotlight “Freedom Trilogy,” a six-minute suite Rowan created by tweaking Rex Foster’s “Freedom” and prefacing it with a pair of originals. Guest bluegrass phenom Billy Strings’ lead guitar lends the tune a greatly appreciated ’70s country-folk-rock vibe.
1. New York Town
2. Veil Of Déjà Blue
3. Come Along Jody
4. Little Joe
5. The Song That Made Hank Williams Dance (feat. Shawn Camp, shared lead vocal)
6. A Winning Hand
7. From My Mountain (Calling You) (feat. Molly Tuttle, lead/harmony vocals; Lindsay Lou, harmony vocal)
8. Frog On The Lily Pad
9. The Red, The White And The Blue (feat. Molly Tuttle, banjo & vocal)
10. Light At The End Of The World
11. Penitentiary Blues (Big Brazos)
12. Dream Of Heaven
13. Freedom Trilogy
a) Eagle’s Nest
b) Panther In A Cage
c) Freedom State Of Mind
Total time: 46:55
Rebel Records (CD)