One of America's deepest and edgiest roots lyricists moves triumphantly into American Songbook mode. His stark and stripped down recordings and penetrating portraits of modern, historical or mythic figures are supplanted by an intriguing atmosphere of banjo and tuba, ukulele and steel guitar. But rest assured that the tremolo guitars are still in full effect, as are subjects like a ventriloquist's dummy ("Who's The Dummy Now?") and mortality in "See How The Mighty Have Fallen."
Seems like a little less Faulkner, a little more Sandburg this time around, and bring on the clarinet too, the harmonica and the euphonium. (It's a relative of the tuba, but an octave higher.) Co-producer Jack Irwin (who recorded and mixed at his Silvertone Recording Service) has brought Olney to new places that behoove his experience. Richard Bailey on the banjo, Jim Hoke on steel, and Bill Huber on trombone and tuba, it just doesn't get any better than these guys can do it. Dave Roe on bass and Craig Wright on drums sound as musical as they do because they've played with a long list of legends and each play a host of other instruments and sing their asses off. Nashville.
David Olney has a fine songwriting partner in John Hadley, who co-wrote a handful of the songs, and Gwil Owen co-wrote the great "Panama City," which features the Hoke's celestial steel. Townes Van Zandt (whose biographer John Kruth is interviewed in this issue) was a well known proponent of David Olney's songwriting, and his spirit is well represented in "Snake Song."
Throughout the proceedings and in the live show, the sinewy guitar of Sergio Webb winds and hammers, stabs and shimmers. In fact, we have a couple of video clips below from one of the Puremusic.com Presents shows that featured David Olney and Sergio Webb, the first of many clips we'll be bringing you soon.
For Olney fans, One Tough Town is a milestone not to be missed. If you've heard of him but don't have him in the collection, this is the place to start. As always, highly recommended. • Frank Goodman
[designer note: If you go over to Onley's site, about a third of the way down on the Bio page (currently), there's a section called "A Few Words from David Olney" where he tells about how he came to make this record and then he goes through it cut by cut. I really like the way it's written--so might you.]