By Jeff Burger
John McCutcheon, Cabin Fever: Songs from the Quarantine. If you have fond memories of the days when variously funny and poignant topical songs from artists like Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs occupied the limelight, you’ll probably appreciate this digital-only release from John McCutcheon. The veteran singer/songwriter—who sounds a bit like fellow folkie Richard Shindell—recorded the album in three weeks, starting in mid-March, in the Georgia log cabin where he was self-quarantining.
The set opens with “Front Line,” a tip of the hat to the health-care workers fighting COVID-19, and includes numbers like “Six Feet Away,” a humorous look at romance in a time of social distancing, and “When All of This Is Over,” about how quarantining might permanently change us. Not everything here relates to the pandemic, however. There is, for example, a song about Alaska as well as a track called “The Night That John Prine Died,” which pays heartfelt tribute to the beloved late singer/songwriter and deftly references several of his compositions.
If Cabin Fever offers your first taste of McCutcheon and you like what you hear, get ready to play catch up: this is his 41st LP.
The Staples, Let’s Do It Again, Family Tree, Pass It On, and Unlock Your Mind. The Staples (aka the Staple Singers) were at their peak in the 1970s, and the rerelease of four of their albums from the latter part of that decade—all with bonus tracks—offers a reminder of just how terrific their secular music could sound. It doesn’t hurt that two of these CDs—Let’s Do It Again and Pass It On—were produced by the great Curtis Mayfield and consist solely of his compositions. The other two albums are strong as well, however; and their diverse programs—which make room for material ranging from “I Honestly Love You” (the Olivia Newton-John hit) to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Showdown”—prove that the Staples could stir up soulful magic from just about any ingredients.
LeRoux, One of Those Days. This bluesy eight-man Southern rock group, which debuted way back in 1978, have resurfaced after a decade-long break with this seventh album. Their sound is not particularly original, but the musicianship and Jeff McCarty’s lead vocals are excellent, and the songs are catchy. At their best, on high-energy numbers like the six-minute title cut, they seem like a cross between the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band.
The Wildmans, The Wildmans. The eponymous debut from this Virginia-based quartet displays an inviting and unusual blend of influences, including classical music, jazz, and the country fiddle tunes that have issued over the years from their Appalachian home turf. Consummate musicianship and vocalizing characterize the set, whose highlights include Eli Wildman’s “Falling Up” and the traditional “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” both instrumentals; the traditional “Sitting on Top of the World”; and “Rid My Mind,” a song by the up-and-coming Dori Freeman that finds her guesting as a background vocalist. The music on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is a bit too cheery to be a good fit for the melancholy lyrics, but the performance sounds good nevertheless.
Anthony Geraci, Daydreams in Blue. Boston-area-based singer, songwriter, and keyboard player Anthony Geraci offers a satisfying follow-up to 2018’s excellent Why Did You Have to Go on this release. The former member of Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters again occupies a blues-based space that incorporates more than a dollop of R&B and jazz. Geraci’s vocals are a highlight, as is his piano work. His band, which makes prominent use of sax, is terrific, and so is the program, which consists of original compositions plus two covers: Earl “Fatha” Hines and Billy Eckstine’s “Jelly, Jelly” and “Dead Man’s Shoes,” which the J. Geils Band’s Peter Wolf coauthored.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.