Road Songs

The I-10 Chronicles - Various Artists
(Back Porch / Virgin)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

The U.S. Interstate 10 is the southern-most highway in the United States. It extends a staggering 2,460 miles long from Jacksonville, Florida to Los Angeles, California. But this particular highway defines more than just a stretch of concrete that bridges east and west, it's a way of life on the road - biscuits and red-eye gravy, cheap hotels, stale beer and, maybe more than anything else, American roots music. From the Texas roadhouse to the New Mexico hole-in-the-wall to canyons that still echo the ancient chants of the American Indian, the I-10 has been the main artery that has pumped America's rich folk music through the south for decades.
Documenting this grand road comes The I-10 Chronicles, a rich collection of songs that celebrates the diversity of the music found on that long stretch of highway.
Led by a core band of strong, but largely unknown, musicians that include, among others, Flaco Jimenez on accordion, David Hidalgo, David Immergluck and Randy Jacobs on guitars, The I-10 Chronicles also features many familiar artists such as Willie Nelson, The Counting Crows' Adam Duritz, Joe Ely, Charlie Musselwhite and Emmylou Harris.
Opening the album is the rich country number "L.A. Freeway" performed by Bill and Bonnie Hearne, a Texas-born couple who, while not a household name up north, have influenced a wealth of Southwestern singer-songwriters with their earthy country music. Bill's honest vocals along with a light-hearted acoustic guitar solo by Willie Nelson make the the number "Eighteen Inches Of Rain" a pleasant little rest stop, before Hearne kicks into a foot-stompin' rocker, aided by Jimenez' lively cajun-flavored accordion on "Are You Listenin' Lucky". Willie Nelson turns Harry Nilsson's hit from the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy, "Everybody's Talkin'" into an introspective tune for a thinking-man's cowboy, while Adam Duritz lazily laments over a greasy slide guitar of being "all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town" on a cover of Warren Zevon's "Carmelita".
With his low, parched voice and sensual harmonica Mississippi-bred bluesman Charlie Musselwhite makes a welcome appearance on Carlos Santana's "Black Magic Woman", where his harp intertwines wonderfully with an accordion and trumpet, while his harp playing also helps accentuate country / western rebel Joe Ely's southern-fried, bluesy rocker "Smack Dab In The Middle".
The album also showcases the talents of newcomers like Meredith Marshall and her wanting vocals on "Borderline", the country warblings of California native Sarah Nicole on the two-steppin' "He Don't Care About Me" as well as the touching, almost spiritual, vocals of Cherokee Rose on "Yipi", in which she sings in both English and Cherokee. Although well-known in Cuba, the talents of singer / guitarist Eliades Ochoa are rarely heard in the states. On the traditional Cuban composition "El Guateque de Don Thomas" Ochoa along with a raucous Latin rhythm and spicy trumpet adds the zest of a bottle of truck stop hot sauce on this collection.
The only disappointment of this album is that it only documents the music of half of the I-10 - from Los Angeles to Houston. Anything east of that is nowhere to be found here, leaving a wide gap of music - cajun folk and zydeco of the bayou country of Louisiana, Mississippi Delta blues and Alabama folk - sorely lacking from this collection. Hopefully though, Back Porch Records will decide to incorporate the other 900 miles of musical highway into a follow-up album.
Like a roadmap of the highway, the artists and songs on The I-10 Chronicles provide a clear direction of where southwestern roots music has been, and where it is heading.

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