By Michael J. West | Published March 2019
Guitarist Joel Harrison returns to his Free Country series after about 15 years, and it’s worth the wait. His celebrated fusion of jazz and country now expands its scope to include many of the other music traditions he’s assayed since the series left off in 2004: psychedelia, soul and gospel among them. It’s certainly the richest album he’s yet made.
Harrison’s take on Bob Wills’ “Osage Stomp” probably best expresses that richness. It opens on a riff that’s equal parts Western Swing, bebop, Eastern European oom-pah and rock ’n’ roll, before collapsing into a free-jazz breakdown courtesy of pianist Uri Caine. The tune’s then reconstituted as hard swing with a blistering turn from Harrison and bluegrass vibes courtesy of violinist Christian Howes.
Even that, however, doesn’t encompass all the ingredients. An eerie, psychedelic “America The Beautiful” tips its hat to Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock; vocalist Alecia Chakour leads a simmering neo-soul arrangement of “Ring Of Fire.” Harrison, Caine and alto saxophonist David Binney trade blues-tipped post-bop solos on a pathos-laden “Wichita Lineman,” with drummer Allison Miller keeping them tight.
Angel Band: Free Country, Vol. 3 easily shows that Harrison grasps not just the basis of the music he mines, but the nuances, too, resulting in a collection of great diversity and remarkable cohesion.
Angel Band: Free Country, Vol. 3: America The Beautiful; Jerusalem Ridge; Ring Of Fire; 900 Miles; We Shall Rise; Angel Band; My Epitaph; Osage Stomp; Wichita Lineman; Go Rest High On That Mountain; Lost Indian; Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain. (63:11)
Personnel: Joel Harrison, guitar, dobro, 6-string banjo, National Steel guitar, vocals; Nels Cline, guitar (6); David Mansfield, pedal steel guitar (10); David Binney, alto saxophone; Jon Cowherd, piano, organ; Uri Caine, piano, Fender Rhodes; Nathan Koci, accordion (4); Chris Tordini, Stephan Crump, bass; Brian Blade, Allison Miller, drums; John Hadfield, frame drum (4); Christian Howes, Darol Anger, violin; Hank Roberts, cello; Alecia Chakour, Everett Bradley, Theo Bleckmann (6), Nicki Logan (10), vocals.