Bruce Piephoff

Deep River Anthology

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If all of the 20 different tracks on this collection worked like a charm, it would have almost been too much to take. Greensboro, NC, poet, songwriter, and performer Bruce Piephoff, holding forth on a variety of subjects from light to almost unspeakably heavy, seems more interested in coming across as a normal human being than an artistic ├╝bermensch rendering a masterpiece. He visits a local supermarket in the lyrics to one song and lists some of the jobs he's had in another, as if he were out shopping or on the phone with a potential employer and not in the recording studio. But speaking of those frightening places, Piephoff also attempts to make a more ambitious work than usual for himself, at least instrumentally. He brings in accordion and keyboard to some songs, invites several area bluegrass pickers who were part of his first recordings a decade before, and frequently vocalizes in harmony with singer Claire Holley. All of this gives Deep River Anthology something of an unusual sound and flavor. Some of the material just doesn't work all that well, meaning this might be a recording listeners will want to skip around on rather than taking it all on as an epic. Lighthearted or even silly songs are not a style this artist should simply avoid as a rule, but on these particular sessions there is a stiffness to some of the playing. Mandolinist Arnie Solomon's heart might not have been in the proceedings. He picks out patterns as if demonstrating some notes that could be used, not as if cutting a take. These songs need the thrills and chills a mandolinist is supposed to bring into the picture. David DiGiuseppe's accordion is a nice touch, however, and would be a good instrument for Piephoff to make use of more regularly. "Ballad of Ricky Sanderson" is an incredibly tough number. If some of the tracks have the effect of someone poking a souffl├ę with a stick, this one is like somebody else showing up with a whole new meal, ready to eat. "Song for Casey" is also wonderful, one of Piephoff's best. "China White" is a curiosity, even among songs about heroin. Something about the arrangement and the combined vocal sound of Piephoff and Holley turns the piece from grisly to practically cheerful, and it is hard to conceive that this is what the songwriter had in mind. "Greensboro Blues" starts off promisingly -- "I've got the Greensboro blues, for the 99th time" is a good opening line -- but doesn't really go anywhere, perhaps a comment on some of the city's avenues. "Two Sisters" could be compared to some of the better work of John Prine; how many songwriters take on a subject such as this? All in all, this collection is as uneven as just about anything with "anthology" in the title.

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