Gene Parsons

Kindling

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A torrid love affair between popular music and its old-timey Appalachian music roots occurred in the early '70s, more than a quarter of a century before the much-publicized success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Some of the '70s' examples of pop roots music homages were definitely worth forgetting, such as the overrated and sanctimonious Will the Circle Be Unbroken triple-album project by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. And too often, a sort of snot-nosed influence from pop music would erase out the more interesting, smudgy aspects of old-timey music. Kindling is also a project that some listeners may find too smooth around the edges, the vocal harmonies treated to a kind of dry, too-hip studio reverb and the instruments themselves occasionally sounding more like a greeting card than a reading from the good book of bluegrass. But the best parts of this Gene Parsons album have that clear taste of a mountain stream, at least one of the ones that some company hasn't dumped waste in. It involves many pickers who were crusading heroes of this period, including Clarence White, who, like Parsons, overlapped into the roster of Byrds sidemen, as well as the always-creative fiddler Vassar Clements, who was simply everywhere in the '70s. Ralph Stanley is also on hand to take part in sections of this cross-generational musical communication, just as he would be ready and willing decades later for the aforementioned soundtrack's success. Some of the most interesting aspects of a program that is packed with nice touches include Parsons' skill at overdubbing, innovative if not strictly down-home use of Bill Payne on synthesizer, and the nice use made of Red Callender's tuba on "Long Way Back"; Parsons must have decided he needed someone to play tuba, but handles all the other instruments himself, including drums, bass, and pedal steel. "Banjo Dog" is a wonderful track, while "Sonic Bummer" has to be heard to be believed, the drumming of Andy Newmark contributing to the combined weirdness of a track that has to be one of the strangest mutant offspring of psychedelic rock and country music.

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