Joel Harrison

Free Country

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This is certainly an intriguing release. Guitarist Joel Harrison recorded a dozen songs associated with country music, some of them quite traditional, but he recast them in surprising ways, making the CD title of Free Country fit quite well. Sometimes his steel guitar pays respect to the melodies and at other times he freaks out a bit on his electric guitar. None of the vocalists are that outstanding, and an instrumental "This Land Is Your Land" receives a surprisingly downbeat rendition. Norah Jones sings "I Walk The Line" and "Tennessee Waltz" quite straight, showing that she is more comfortable in country music than in jazz, but making one wonder how she created such a big stir in 2003. However, Dave Binney's alto playing is a major asset on some of the more adventurous interpretations, and violinist Rob Thomas, pianist Uri Caine, and Tony Cedras on accordion add to the changing atmospheres of this strange but consistently colorful set. Well worth checking out for listeners with extremely open minds.

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