Joel Harrison – Free Country (2003)

FrontCover1This is certainly an intriguing release. Guitarist Joel Harrison recorded a dozen songs associated with country music, some of them quite traditional, but he recast them in surprising ways, making the CD title of Free Country fit quite well. Sometimes his steel guitar pays respect to the melodies and at other times he freaks out a bit on his electric guitar. None of the vocalists are that outstanding, and an instrumental “This Land Is Your Land” receives a surprisingly downbeat rendition. Norah Jones sings “I Walk The Line” and “Tennessee Waltz” quite straight, showing that she is more comfortable in country music than in jazz, but making one wonder how she created such a big stir in 2003. However, Dave Binney’s alto playing is a major asset on some of the more adventurous interpretations, and violinist Rob Thomas, pianist Uri Caine, and Tony Cedras on accordion add to the changing atmospheres of this strange but consistently colorful set. Well worth checking out for listeners with extremely open minds. (by Scott Yanow)

David Binney (saxophone, sampler)
Sean Conly (bass)
Joel Harrison (guitar, vocals)
Alison Miller (drums)
Rob Thomas (violin)
Rob Burger (keyboards on 02., 05., 11.)
Uri Caine (piano on 04. + 12., sanpler on 07.)
Jen Chaplin (vocals on 02., 05. + 11.)
Tony Credas (accordion on 01., 03., 06., 07., 10.
Stephan Crump (bass on 02., 05. + 11.)
Todd Isler (percussion on 02., 05., 11.)
Norah Jones (vocals on 01., 06.
Raz Kennedy (vocals on 10.)
Dan Weiss (drums on 05. + 11.)

01. I Walk The Line (Cash) 5.04
02. Lonesome Road Blues (Traditional) 3.29
03. Wayfaring Stranger (Traditional) 6.47
04. This Is Your Land (Guthrie) 6.01
05. Twelve Gates To The City (Traditional) 4.56
06. Tennessee Waltz (King/Stewart) 6.09
07. Hell Broke Loose In Georgia (Traditional) 5.24
08. Folsom Prison Blues (Cash) 6.39
09. Tender Years (Jones) 3.12
10. Will The Circle Be Unbroken (Carter) 6.05
11. Sing Me Back Home (Haggard) 3.36
12. Lone Pilgrim (Traditional) 8.16