Disfarmer was an outsider artist who became famous for his Depression-era photographs of families, farmers, and individuals around his hometown of Heber Springs, AR. This is set by Bill Frisell is the score commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts to accompany a retrospective of the artist's work. Frisell and producer Lee Townsend assembled the guitarist's "country" band for the occasion: violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Viktor Krauss, and steel guitarist and mandolinist Greg Leisz. There are 26 cues in this score. Most of them are very sparse, skeletally melodic variations on old-timey parlor music, country blues, and country music, with a few, such as "That's All Right, Mama," done as fusions of hillbilly boogie and square dance music. There's a version of Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" that's a showcase for the atmospheric power of Leisz's steel guitar, which adds to the melodic shades of the tune. Most of this, however, falls into moody, extremely minimal music that is haunting in nature -- much like the figure of Disfarmer himself, who scared many of the residents of Heber Springs with his strange and imposing presence. That said, if only Frisell's music were a bit more imposing. This approach of his is so familiar by now that the listener knows exactly what to expect from cue to cue. Tempos vary little, from slow to almost static, and the lyric palette is extremely narrow. In their restraint, the players are all excellent, but nobody here, not even Frisell, shines. Still, it is a pleasant recording to listen to if not hang on to. It floats and hovers about the room as a peaceful backdrop. Disfarmer is to be taken as a soundtrack rather than as a Frisell album proper, and listened to as a series of sketches rather than as a fully assembled statement from the artist.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek