Thursday, November 15, 2012

CD REVIEW - Siamese Cousins - 2 Chairs, No Waiting

By: W.J. Hallock

Siamese Cousins - 2 Chairs, No Waiting

Released: Sept. 2012

Label: Mountain Roads Recordings

I have been very lucky since Brian McNeal asked me to start reviewing new bluegrass CD releases for Prescription Bluegrass. My intake of new music has increased drastically! And I’ve been at it long enough now that I’m starting to do follow up’s on previous reviews and artists, which only adds to the pleasure.

Such was the case when I received a new disc from Mountain Roads Recordings called “2 Chairs, No Waiting” by SIAMESE COUSINS. Edwin Lacy, on vocals and claw hammer banjo, and Scott Freeman on vocals, mandolin, fiddle, guitar and bass, are the “SIAMESE COUSINS” in question. The name comes from the fact that Edwin and Scott have been playing together for so long, in one musical incarnation or another, that they consider themselves “joined at the frets.” NOW I get it! Works for me!

Karl Cooler, owner of Mountain Roads Recordings, Bristol, TN. seems to delight in turning various members of his label’s roster loose in the studio to come up with something new, different and exciting. It sounds like he’s done it again with this CD. Edwin and Scott appear to be having the times of their lives, and the music shows it. Lots of traditional favorites, seven instrumentals, four originals, plenty of pickin’ and vocals that will make you want to sing along. Mr. Cooler’s previous explorations have included “CLOSE KIN, A Reunion Of Bluegrass And Old Time Music,” which Scott and Edwin both were a part of, and “FREEMAN AND WILLIAMS,” consisting of Jeanette Williams, Scott and Johnny Williams. Both the “COUSINS were also members of SKEETER AND THE SKIDMARKS, another noted MRR act. I was immediately interested and attracted just by the familiarity factor.

Another reason I could hardly wait to hear this release is that MRR does all of it’s recording at Eastwood Studios, Cana, VA. Wesley Easter is without a doubt one of the finest producer/engineer’s East of the Mississippi River! And, as usual, the technical side of this CD is flawless. Every song I’ve heard coming from Wesley’s studio is always first rate and every nuance of the music is captured with perfection. Wesley’s knowledge of the music itself, his tech savvy behind the board, and the fact that he is also a fine banjo player himself, help to make him the “go-to-guy” for acoustic recording.

This CD is chock full of good songs and I had no problem just letting the disc play over and over. Scott and Edwin each wrote two, and as good as they are, I would have loved to have heard even more of their compositions. There are three instrumentals….. Edwin‘s “Julianna Eyes” has him on claw-hammer banjo, Scott on mandolin and bass, and it also features Brandon Davis on guitar. Scott’s “Bowl Saint Croix” has them stretching out with the aid of David Johnson on dobro, guitar and bass. Scott plays very tasty mandolin, Edwin is again on claw-hammer and the dobro fit’s the Caribbean/Calypso/island feel to a tee. If this tune doesn’t make you want to get up and dance, nothing’ will! If you listen really close, you’ll hear drums keeping this song cookin’. Ah, the wonders of technology…. and those drums MAKE this tune come alive. Nice touch! This song is my favorite instrumental on the disc. And ….why am I tasting one of those rum drinks with an umbrella in it?

They do a very interesting thing on several of the songs on the CD, and it’s also done on the other two originals. Edwin is playing claw-hammer banjo, and they also use Steve Lewis or Butch Robbins on three finger bluegrass banjo. The way both instruments intertwine makes for a wonderful “janglely” (I wonder if that’s a REAL word?) sound that seems to super charge the tracks. Edwin’s “Vulture Peak,” has both banjos, Scott on fiddle and bass and Steve also on guitar. Wesley Easter’s overdubbing skills were working over time, and I love the results.

Scott sings his own “I Feel A Heartache Coming On,” and I have to say it’s my OTHER favorite song presented here. This is a good one, and this arrangement couldn’t be better. Scott also plays mandolin, fiddle and bass, Edwin is on claw-hammer and Mr. Lewis is on bluegrass banjo and guitar. There is a liveliness and bounce to the song that is instantly ingratiating. Lyrically strong with an unforgettable melody, you’ll want to sing along to this one, too. The strength of these four songs are worth the price of the entire CD….. they are super! Scott and Edwin have instrumental abilities to spare, but their song-writing is proof of how deep their talents are. These songs are inventive, catchy, musically adventurous and faithful to the genre’s Scott and Edwin revere so much. These “Siamese Cousins” have raised the bar on what the next generation of bluegrass picker’s are going to be expected to emulate and try to out do.

Speaking of the next generation, another of the nice surprises on this release is the introduction of Scott’s daughter, Dori Freeman. She does an absolutely lovely version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Way I Feel,” and Edwin’s banjo puts just the right amount of “haunting” into the song. Dad plays guitar, fiddle and bass. The old A.P. Carter song “Gold Watch And Chain” couldn’t sound any finer than it does with Scott and Willard Gayheart singing the harmony lines to Dori’s lead vocal. This young lady’s voice has an ethereal quality to it that is only going to get more dynamic and distinct as she matures. She already sings with passion, precision and heart. She has a strong individual tone, vocal technique beyond her years, AND her pitch is dead on! My only question is….. has Dad started writing songs with her? I’ll bet she’s already advanced into that stage, too.

“Lonesome Road Blues” is the CD kickoff song, and the guys really do it justice. Former Bill Monroe Bluegrass Boy, Joseph (Butch) Robins, plays banjo on his own song, “Rural Retreat,” and it makes me want to hear more of his originals, too. Edwin, Steve and Scott shine on this one, and it is an attention getter. As is Don Reno’s “Dixie Breakdown,” which has never sounded better than it does here. And on Marshall Wilburn’s “Little Black Pony,” Skeeter and the Skidmarks have a reunion with bass player Sandy Grover Mason again joining Scott, Edwin and Willard Gayheart for a wonderful rendition of this good old song.

Maybe it’s just me, but, when I come across an original song that I’ve never heard before, and it’s a treat to my ears, I want to hear more. I love hearing song-writers that really have their game on! For a writer to include as many of his own songs as possible on a release is what I enjoy the most. When I find a CD of completely original songs, I’m in heaven! The last three songs included here are all done extremely well, but…. how often has the old instrumental “Forked Deer” been recorded? “Homeward Bound” and “Gentle On My Mind” are both in just about every performing musicians stage repertoire, so why include them? It would have been great to hear three more of Scott’s and Edwin’s songs instead….. If you’re gonna swing, swing for the seats in the nose bleed section!

“2 Chairs, No Waiting” is a fun, enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoyable CD, and it needs to be in your collection. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a Volume Two…… I sure hope so!


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