It's been a good while since I listened to Gary Hall, either solo or with the Stormkeepers. He was at the forefront of what became alt.country/Americana along with The Good Sons. This is his tenth album and from the first song you realise that Hall is a distinctive singer who is immediately recognisable. He is also a compelling songwriter who has written ten of the songs on the album with two co-writes and a cover of the Bob Dylan/Ketch Secor Wagon Wheel which is rapidly becoming a classic. The album features a full band with a bass and drum basis topped by acoustic instruments including banjo, mandolin and Dobro with various strings added to give the album mood and merit.
This produces a sinuous sound that has electric guitar intertwined with acoustic and topped by Hall's voice and strong backing vocals. This creates an effective directness that keeps the listener's attention throughout. Aside from the immediate recognition of Wagon Wheel the remaining songs tackle loss with I Can't Believe She's Gone and longing with One Step Ahead Of The Blues. The latter is a six minute plus song that has a slide guitar over a robust rhythm and a most convincing vocal. Stick Around Bojangles features a violin motif on a song that wants the good times to roll but warns that the things we think we may want are seldom the things we actually need. A Small Price to Pay is stripped back to voice and guitar and delivers a love song that posits that sacrifice is a necessary part of the process. Red Dirt Roads is a tale of a troubadour's travels.
These songs are about place, people and the pursuit of dreams. Gary Hall has a voice tinged with soul, Celtic passion and a down-to-earth attitude that gives his songs their heart. Anyone who remembers him from his earlier albums will be happy to hear him again and those who are unacquainted with his previous work will find this is full of reasons that underscore Hall's place in the annals of rewarding UK roots music.