David Ferguson — Nashville No More
There are musicians who don’t actively seek the spotlight, and then there’s David Ferguson. “Fergie” has spent decades behind the scenes in Nashville, working his way up from serving as a literal errand boy for “Cowboy” Jack Clement to co-founding the Butcher Shoppe recording studio with John Prine to engineering Johnny Cash’s heartbreaking cover of “Hurt” and recording Sturgill Simpson’s Grammy-winning A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Chances are, your favorite Music City artist has worked with him. Now, a number of them are returning the favor on the 59-year-old legend’s debut album, Nashville No More.
Ferguson’s focus on the album was to pick some of his favorite songs from across several decades and collect the very best players in town to back him up. “Four Strong Winds” (written by Ian Tyson, and perhaps most familiar from Neil Young’s cover) is the first of several tracks to feature mandolin and harmonies from Sierra Hull, but it’s Ferguson’s pleasant baritone, which resembles a cross between Waylon Jennings and Colter Wall, that lends a sweet sadness to a trip across Canada – “If the good times are all gone/Then I’m bound for moving on.” “The Ferg” also tackles the wistful Guy Clark/Verlon Thompson tune, “Boats to Build.” Hull shows up again, along with Russ Pahl with some subtle, aching pedal steel, while Ferguson sings of the itch to keep moving – “Days, precious days/Roll in and out like waves.”
If there’s fun to be had in Nashville, chances are Margo Price is somehow involved. Sure enough, she appears on “Chardonnay,” Hugh Cornwell and Roger Cook’s love song to, well, wine. Ferguson says that the titular drink “was there to comfort me during the recording of this record,” and the song itself is a stylistic departure into bossa nova territory, but with a curious bit of melancholy in its glass – “I’m in love with your bouquet/You’re so cold but you’re/So beautiful tonight.” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” might be the result of one two many chardonnays, with the singer marooned at the airport with but a dollar to his name, “Stuck here in the grass where the pavement never grows” (damn good line, by the way). The mood is lifted by some great string work from (among others) Bela Fleck on banjo and Jerry Douglas on Dobro. And with a band like that, how sad can you really be?
There’s space on Nashville No More for a good, old-fashioned country weeper or two. “Knockin’ Around Nashville,” penned by Pat McLauglin, swims in pedal steel as it bemoans good times gone by – “And your man, he don’t sing it/Like back in ‘74” (the song is made even sadder by the appearance of Kenny Malone, who passed at the end of August). And “My Autumn’s Done Come,” a Lee Hazelwood tune, addresses aging with a mix of bone weariness and gallows humor – “Let those ‘I don’t care’ days begin/I’m tired of holdin’ my stomach in.” Finally, Ferguson jumps into the way, WAY back machine with “Hard Times Come Again No More,” Stephen Foster’s 1854 jam about resilience. Starting off with Mike Rojas’ pump organ (such an underrated instrument), then adding fiddle, mandolin and banjo to Ferguson’s simple, pretty delivery, it’s a tune that, even with its 167-year-old references to cabin doors and “sup”ping, rings true in the times we’re trying to get through today, hopefully with friends as steadfast as The Ferg’s.
Nashville No More was produced by David Ferguson. Additional musicians on the album include Anna Ternheim (background vocals), Ashley Wilcoxen (background vocals), Bela Fleck (banjo), Billy Sanford (electric guitar), Bobby Emmett (organ, Wurlitzer, B3, keyboards), Charles Cochran (Wurlitzer, piano), Dan Auerbach (acoustic guitar), Dave Roe (bass), Hannah Combs (background vocals), Maddie Combs (background vocals), Harry Stinson (background vocals), Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Joey Miskulin (accordion), Justin Moses (banjo, background vocals), Kenny Malone (conga), Kenny Vaughan (electric guitar), Margo Price (background vocals), Mark Howard (acoustic guitar, ukulele, bass, classical guitar, banjo), Matt Combs (strings), Matt Sweeney (background vocals), Maxwell Schauf (drums), Mike Bub (bass), Mike Rojas (keyboards, pump organ, piano, mellotron), Pat McLaughlin (acoustic guitar, background vocals), Pete Abbott (drums, percussion), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Roy Agee (horns), Russ Pahl (pedal steel), Sam Bacco (percussion), Sierra Hull (mandolin, background vocals), Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin), Tim O’Brien (mandolin, background vocals) and Will Oldham (background vocals).
Go here to order Nashville No More (out September 3rd): https://fatpossum.com/products/nashville-no-more