Paul Burch

Fevers

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AllMusic Review by

Fevers is songwriter/guitarist Paul Burch's debut album for Plowboy Records. Co-produced with bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin at the songwriter's Pan-American studio in Nashville, Burch wrote all but two tunes on the 13-song set that moves through honky tonk, rockabilly, country swing, string band blues, and vintage R&B. His killer band, WPA Ballclub, often slips the trappings of a tune's given style to graft on another one seamlessly. Each song was arranged around a central instrument, and Burch (ever the analog junkie) taped various takes live, just as rehearsals were gelling. The vibe is relaxed but kinetic, live yet perfectly aurally balanced. The punchy, reverb-drenched rockabilly of "Couldn't Get a Witness" pushes the margin of the form into jump blues. "Straight Tears, No Chaser" is pure Bakersfield honky tonk, with a fine harmony vocal by Kristi Rose and a singing steel guitar by Kaplin. "Two Trains Pullin'" weds an early R&B feel to proto rock & roll -- while its lyrics offer a nod to the blues of Jimmie Rodgers, the tune's sweet spot is the meld of Burch's voice with a harmony vocal by Jen Gunderman. Speaking of harmony, Kelly Hogan lends hers to the stellar cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Ocean of Tears." Hogan, singing through the same mike, plays the role of vocalist Kay Starr from the original. "Breakin' in a Brand New Heartache"'s use of a Rhodes piano weds country boogie to Memphis rhythm & blues à la Wilbert Harrison. The interplay between Burch's voice and Kaplin's fiddle on "(I Love) A Melancholy Baby" elevates one of the set's two lovely ballads; the other is the poetic, midtempo "Sagrada," which weds mariachi to country (and features the best lyrics on the album). The reading of "I'm Going to Memphis" combines both Johnny Cash's and Memphis Slim's versions simultaneously. Choogling acoustic two-step country introduces electric guitars, drums, and bass, transforming it into a strutting juke joint blues. On "Sac au Lait," Burch channels Hank Williams' "On the Bayou" feel, with a party-time Cajun fiddle by Kaplin. On Fevers, the vibe is electrifying: the sound is round and warm, the playing red hot. Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub rip it up on a fine group of songs to create what they like to call "American Groove."

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