Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shawn Starski

There’s a train that runs just a little bit down from the crossroads. It’s maybe a half mile walk down a dirt path from the tracks to the Juke Joint and every so often we get somebody who’s been riding the rails dropping by to wet his whistle. The Professor’s got a soft spot in his heart for these guys – see my grandfather worked on the railroads when he was just a small boy and he told me lots of stories about the hobos that used to ride across the country.

Yeah, I know it’s dangerous as all get out and illegal as hell, but stay with me. I’m talking about a certain amount of freedom to roam this great country, to be able to stop and stay awhile, or pack up and take off for somewhere else. No plans, no calendars, no responsibility. Of course that also means no job, possibly no meal, and most likely no one you want to snuggle to on a dark and chilly night.

I said I admire ‘em, not that I wanted to be one. Still, I’ve always wondered.

Anyway, one of my favorite people in the whole world dropped by the other day looking to wash some dishes in exchange for a hot meal and a few drinks. Jailbird Larry, that’s what he calls himself – only he and God know what his birth name is – stopped by with a bedroll, harmonica, and the clothes on his back. He knocked a couple of miles worth of dust off his pants and rapped on the back door.

The cook is new and was about to run Jailbird Larry off, but I saw him and waved him in. I explained to the cook that Jailbird was okay and welcome here anytime. Cook grumbled and went about making up tonight’s chili and Jailbird greeted me warmly and proceeded to bend my ear for the next hour or two.

I’ll skip the details of his journey and the amount of Slumgullion that he packed away (by the way, we make the best in the area – be sure to order it the next time you’re by) and tell you about the CD he dropped off for consideration.

It’s a good idea to listen to Jailbird, he’s a pretty good harp man himself and he’s sat in with more than one professional band and held his own. Tonight he dropped off a CD with what looked like homemade packaging. Still, if a hobo carries around a CD with no way to play it, it must be good.

And it is. Shawn Starski is the artist and the name struck a bell. I had to do some research, but found out that Starski played with Jason Ricci and New Blood. They recorded with Delta Groove and now he’s out touring with the Otis Taylor Band.

As busy as this cat is, I don’t know when he found the time to write or co-write all of the ten songs on this CD. The album is just called “Shawn Starski” and it looks like you can get it on iTunes and CD Baby. I’ll bet you a doughnut you can get it at live shows, and if you have a chance to catch him live, that’s the way to go.

Starski handles the guitar and vocals for the CD and his wife, Elle, provides vocals on two tracks. This is no Linda McCartney wife has to play situation, her voice is beautiful and if I ever find a CD that she records, I will add it to the juke box immediately.

Todd Edmunds plays bass, Steve Johnson handles drums and Phil Wolfe provides the keys. There are a few additional guests; Cole Burgess plays sax, Geoff Newhall adds some bass work on three numbers, and Jim Folgelsong plays drums on three sides as well.

The first song is “Sea of Faces” and right away I was hooked on Starski’s guitar and vocal. Wolfe’s keys add a nice gospel feel to the work. “Was It You” is next and it’s a dark song about love that’s hit a rough spot. Starski’s guitar work is stellar, the mark of a confidant performer. “Dirty Deal” starts out with a nice swing vibe and carries it through the song.

Starski and company slow things down a little for “For Us,” a jazzy number that shows just how versatile the band is. It’s exactly the kind of late night loneliness that should be taken with a glass of something for the pain.

Then we get to “Cry Baby,” the first song to feature the earthy tones of Elle. Great side. She’s got a great voice and I look forward to hearing some more from her in the future.

The band rocks hard with “How It Come To Be.” Starski’s guitar gets a real workout on this number. Next us is “The Truth,” a relaxed soulful slow number featuring Elle. Sometimes it’s easier to rock out on a driving number, so the contrast here is one of artists in control of their art. It’s a true standout.

“Means Nothing Now” is a good tune that mixes some guitar pyro with a swing beat. Nice touch. “Hallows Eve” is another late night jazz number that features some very nice sax by Burgess. It’s the kind of music the Professor used to listen to on those long nights studying.

Finally the CD ends with “Sweet Cherry Rose,” a driving number that puts us squarely back into hard blues territory. A fitting end to a good tight album.

We listened to the album a couple of times that night. Jailbird told me stories of jumping a train in Colorado and ending up a couple of states over. He never said in which direction. Sometimes I’m not even sure he knows. I was enjoying the album but it was getting late and I needed to catch some shut eye since Henry and I were recording some intros in the morning. I watched as Jailbird slid the CD back into his old coat. He took his bedroll and cleared off a spot behind the kitchen.

Cook had left him a pot of coffee and some sandwiches. His way of apologizing.

When I got up in the morning, Jailbird Larry was gone, but he left me great stories and a super CD to add to the juke box. You bring me music like this, you are welcome to drop by any time.

(Picture taken from the internet. If you are the copyright holder and don’t want us to use this, please let us know and we’ll take it down. We’ll flip you the bird as soon as your back is turned and tell all our friends we did it to your face.)

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