This 2002 release works well as a gateway into this artist's work, but should also be pleasing for his steady fans. For the Hard Times for Dreamers recording, Greensboro, NC, singer/songwriter Bruce Piephoff assembled a small band featuring several talented musicians from the area. There is a cohesion to the resulting tracks, and sometimes even a rollicking sense of fun group interplay, but the effort is also undermined by nervous mixing. The rhythm section is too far in the background, particularly drummer Scotty Irving. What he plays is understated to begin with, especially from a guy who makes enough noise to warrant using the name the Clang Quartet for his own solo concerts. Scott Manring is once again on hand with his guitar, banjo, dobro, and National steel guitar, in this case providing most of the sparkling instrumental touches. While the larger ensemble makes this a bit different than most of the releases by this artist, the program of songs and poems, a dozen in all, is quite typical in its display of Piephoff's strengths as a writer and interpreter of his own material. The title track, which begins the program, is a tale of woe from the state's textile industry, quite typical for this sort of thing other than the interesting enhancement involved in regarding the narrator of this type of song (i.e., the common working man) as a dreamer. "Daryl," a portrait of the singer's brother, is next up and it is haunting, skillfully etched, and full of amusing details. "That Don't Stop the Train" once again has a strong autobiographical sense and some totally entertaining lines. Any songwriter deserves a pipe packed with praise for kicking off his first stanza with this rhyme: "Like Eudora Welty singing a John Prine song, like standing on a mountaintop puffing on a bong." Some of Piephoff's releases have been truly epic in nature, featuring from 18 up to two dozen tracks. This one keeps the list down to a dozen, which on one hand might make it more appealing to listeners who don't want to feel like their ears are being chewed off. It also lends a sense of the slight to the proceedings, as some of the more trivial numbers (including a musical portrait of that moron Richard Petty) take on too big a chunk of the sonic real estate. There are several numbers that would be good enough to become folk anthems -- the aforementioned "That Don't Stop the Train," the spirited "Sing Behind the Plow," the inquisitive "Keep on Looking," the cuddly "Fat Chalk Cat," and "Gil Barber's Blues," an example of Piephoff's flair with character portraits. In some cases these songs would be even better if there were some further tinkering and a bit more variation in the lyrics.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne