Husband and wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim, collectively known as The Quiet American have come up with a neat concept on their album Wild Bill Jones. While it’s not as well known as similar songs such as Stagger Lee or Long Black Veil Wild Bill Jones is a staple of the old time country songbook telling the tale of Jones being caught in flagrante delecte and shot dead by his lover’s lover. The album takes this song and weaves a back story around it creating an artefact that works on several levels. Taken at face value it’s a superb selection of songs and tunes that showcase the Keim’s virtuosity as they deliver a collection of traditional and self penned numbers along with a few selected covers. With guitar, banjo, ukulele, lap steel, keyboards, percussion and glockenspiel at their disposal (along with assistance on fiddle and harmonica) they conjure up an old time feel that is sepia toned and reeks of authenticity. Delve a little deeper and the storyline emerges, almost a screenplay as they inhabit the protagonists in this fatal love triangle and add an audio backdrop that lends colour and veracity to the story.
The album starts with a boastful swagger depicting young girls as ripe for the plucking on Apple in the Fall and the meeting of Bill and Posey at a dance in Give The Fiddler a Dram. Bill puffs his chest out on the strutting Come Walking With Me while Posey ponders on her beaus before offering a witness account of the killing as she chose to go with the dashing Jones. Thereafter the killer has a chance to reflect on his afterlife on Keys To The Kingdom before he is led to his punishment depicted by a rousing version of Gallows Pole. Posey, bereft, wonders What Are They Doing In Heaven Today. Gathering her strength she rallies with the uplifting Free Little Bird and finally reflects on the whole goddamn mess as they end the album with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End.
Story told but in between these songs the Keims add colour and atmosphere with a slew of instrumentals that recreate the era including a fine version of John Fahey’s Sunflower River Blues along with some fine traditional tunes with John Brown’s Dream being particularly evocative. This almost forensic investigation recalls the methods employed by film critic David Thomson in his novel Suspects where he unearths the unedifying truths that connect It’s A Wonderful Life and The Shining. On a more prosaic note one recalls Fairport Convention’s album on the failed attempts to execute Babbacombe Lee. As an imaginary soundtrack Wild Bill Jones is excellent.
Strangely enough the song Wild Bill Jones features on Long Gone Out West Blues, the latest offering from Pharis & Jason Romero. Another couple it’s almost spooky to consider that both Jason Romero and Aaron Keim are accomplished luthiers and that both couples are drinking from the same traditional well. Pitched up in British Columbia where Jason runs the J. Romero Banjo Company the pair have lengthy and separate musical histories before hitching up in 2007. Long Gone Out West Blues is their second album and it’s a perfect offering of handpicked and hand plucked songs and tunes, some new and others borrowed from the canon. Using banjo and guitar they share and swap vocals and listening to this it’s not unlike hearing a Gillian Welch album with David Rawlings sharing more of the spotlight.
The spare sound of vintage Martin guitars and Jason’s self built banjos is superb and there are moments here when one is mesmerised by their picking. Both sing well and their harmonies are divine throughout. The two instrumental numbers delicately highlight their instrumental empathy and they deliver fine versions of Wild Bill Jones (acknowledging a debt to the Doc Boggs version), Waiting For The Evening Mail, a Riley Puckett number and Truck Driver Blues from the pen of Ted Daffan. Pharis’s own songs are indistinguishable from these vintage offerings with the title song, I Want To Be Lucky and The Little Things Are Hardest In The End standing out, the latter in particular sounding like the saddest song the Everly’s never recorded. A tremendous album and well recommended.