CHARLIE WALLER AND THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN
"Songs of the American Spirit"
When Charlie Waller departed this world last month at age 69, he left with the same warm, melodious, untarnished tenor that made him -- and the Country Gentlemen -- bluegrass legends. In the liner notes to "Songs of the American Spirit," an album that places the emphasis squarely on Waller's remarkable voice, producer and CG alum Eddie Adcock writes: "Take Hank Snow and Bing Crosby, put them together and you have a little bit of Charlie Waller." Turns out there's a lot of Waller to enjoy on "Spirit," a loosely knit collection of patriotic, spiritual and working-man themes. Merle Haggard's contentious ballad "Fighting Side of Me" kicks things off, and though it doesn't particularly suit Waller's tone or temperament, it soon gives way to a batch of songs that do. Ranking high on the list is "Crying in the Chapel," which Waller recently performed during his final show July 23 at the Birchmere after recalling his earliest sightings of Elvis Presley at the "Louisiana Hayride." Other highlights include Bill Dailey's coal country lament "A Miner's Life," Tom T. Hall's twist-ending ode "Joe," the unabashedly sentimental "There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere," and the prayerful coda "Let Me Fly Low." Providing crisp, unfussy support -- in addition to a vibrant string band reprise of "Blackberry Blossom" -- are guitarist (and offspring) Randy Waller, banjoist Greg Corbett, mandolinist Darin Aldridge and a couple of like-minded friends.
Randy Waller inherited his father's vintage Martin guitar and his eclectic musical tastes. His voice boasts a mellow soulfulness of its own, and it's put to good use on his new, self-titled CD. There's bluegrass gospel here (courtesy of "The Vision"), along with hard-core country (Carl Jackson's Haggard-inspired "A Sad Song Don't Care Whose Heart It Breaks"), a Bonnie Raitt slide guitar blues ("Give It Up or Let Me Go") and a touching tribute to the family patriarch ("Daddy's Old Guitar"). Not surprisingly, some old friends show up to lend a hand or voice, too, including mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau and, on vocal harmonies, Martha and Eddie Adcock.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Wednesday at State Theatre. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Charlie Waller & the Country Gentlemen, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8109; to hear Randy Waller, press 8111. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)