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Jeff & Vida - Selma Chalk

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 7 / 10 / 2009



Jeff & Vida - Selma Chalk
Label: Rosebank Records
Format: CD

intro

Exceptional fourth album from New Orleans-based duo Jeff and Vida, with a unique and unusual interpretion of bluegrass


This is apparently the fourth album by Jeff & Vida but it’s the first time one has come our way. Right from the off the listener is impressed by the excellent playing and vocals on the first song, ‘Heartache Train’, although there is nothing that really distinguishes the actual song from many other well-crafted tunes that, even if you don’t like labelling music, has to be classed as bluegrass. The tune could well be one that any number of musically like-minded bands are churning out daily. It’s extremely well sung, played and produced but looking down the track listing on the admittedly appealing CD cover the thought does come to mind that if bluegrass isn’t your particular thing then it’s doubtful you’re going to make it to the end of track thirteen in one sitting. But when the second song, ‘Alabama Sky’, starts, despite its mandolin, banjo and fiddle the song is not rooted so deep in the traditional bluegrass sound. It’s not a million miles away from it for sure but by slowing the tempo down a little the song will appeal to more than just bluegrass fans. It’s with this second song that thoughts start creeping in that maybe this duo have more to offer than the usual country / bluegrass bands. It’s here that you first get to appreciate just how well the vocals of Vida Wakeman and Jeff Burke gel together. On slower songs like ‘Alabama Sky’ the duo, especially Vida who tends to take a little more of the lead vocals, have the opportunity to inject more passion and feeling into their vocals and it’s then that you realise that here are two very accomplished singers and not just another band who have been inspired by the country / bluegrass sound and are just duplicating it. Vida, who also plays rhythm guitar, had a hand in composing all of the thirteen songs, Jeff, who adds mandolin as well as his vocals to the songs, co-wrote four with her and Pat Flory was Vida’s writing partner on the closing song, ‘Time Will Heal Your Hands’. The duo is joined by Jake Schepps on banjo, Justin Hoffenberg on fiddle, Greg Schocher who handles guitar and bouzouki with the bass coming from Will Downes. Jeff & Vida often play more than 200 gigs a year and while I am uncertain if the above musicians accompany the duo on the road they certainly sound, on these studio recordings, that they are a tight little band who have been making music together for some time. The production, by Jeff and Vida, is uncluttered and every instrument is clear, it’s almost like the band are playing in your front room. Or on your front-porch even. Without wishing to take anything away from any of the other musicians or to dismiss Jeff’s vocals lightly, because the playing and Jeff’s singing is first class, the main attraction for many people here will be Vida’s vocals. Apart from writing, most of them solo, some outstanding songs that will attract attention and praise from people not usually fans of country / bluegrass Vida has one of those singing voices that make everyone sit up and take notice. From June Carter through to Gillian Welch and even taking in a young Dolly Parton along the way, traces of all the great country / bluegrass singers can be heard in her vocals while she still manages to inject some of her own original vocal sounds into the songs. But there’s no doubt that while I’m sure that the band had a blast recording the more upbeat songs and that they will find an audience that will find it hard to sit still when hearing songs like ‘Boxcar Blues (Hello Sunshine)’, ‘Fire in the Water’ and ‘Little Sara’ which fall into the more familiar bluegrass genre it’s the slower songs where those vocals really blow you away. ‘Sharp as a Knife’ has possibly the best vocal by Vida on the whole album, it’s soulful, it’s real and it touches the parts only a heartfelt vocal can. When Jeff joins in on some lines it’s even more affecting. But it’s not just that one song that shows a more sensitive side to this duo’s work, ‘Letter to My Love’ where Vida adds a jazzier feel to her vocals show that she’s no one-trick pony and is just as stunning as is ‘Fall like a Stone’. Maybe next time the duo should do that age-old trick and have a fast side and a slow side on their next album. The faster more traditional bluegrass songs are without a doubt audience pleasers so catching the band live might be a good thing but just now I’ll wrap those soulful vocals of the slower songs around me to keep the coming winter weather away.



Track Listing:-
1 Heartache Train
2 Alabama Sky
3 Boxcar Blues (Hello Sunshine)
4 Sharp As A Knife (Inst. Petal In The Creek)
5 Jealousy
6 Letter To My Love
7 Never Hurt Before
8 Sugarcane Blues
9 Fire In The Water
10 Little Sara
11 Fall Like A Stone
12 Crush
13 Time Will Heal Your Wounds



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