By the end of the '70s a certain kind of re-energized approach to country and bluegrass music was a clearly audible phenomenon, and some of the musicians associated with this movement were also well integrated into the American rock scene. Although done on an obscure independent label and under the leadership of a great pedal steel player who is mostly known as a sideman, this album puts some of these important players together in a studio with results that are fine enough to warrant consideration as some kind of epistle rather than just a stray, largely side project. A problem with albums spotlighting pedal steel players is sometimes a loss of emotional content resulting from downplaying lyrical song content at the expense of instrumental virtuosity. In this case, this approach actually works to the overall benefit of the album, since the heartfelt songwriting efforts of Sneaky Pete Kleinow as well as his participants, such as fiddler and vocalist Gib Guilbeau, sometimes don't stand the test of time as well as the solidly traditional showpiece instrumentals such as the opener, "Cannonball Rag." While a popular group from this era, such as Flying Burrito Brothers or the Byrds, would have buried this type of track in the midst of a side, here it starts things off with an effect that will make a listener want to spin around the room. There is marble-solid drumming from Gene Parsons, Mickey McGee, and others, with Jamie Faunt and Skip Battin covering all the bass action as if chicken-frying a steak. Fans of Sneaky Pete Kleinow's pedal steel playing should emerge with a full gut; he takes plenty of breaks through the program, even taking the precautions to identify himself as the guitar soloist on one of the album's highlights, "Sleepy Lagoon," so completely does he succeed in masquerading his instrument's sound in an alien form. In light of such impeccable and inspiring playing, captured to an extent often only hinted at on his sideman appearances, it would be silly to think too many listeners would remember much about the vocal performances on this record. Yet while no major life experience would be lost if the needle was lifted before hearing Sneaky Pete croon the original number "California and You," the vocals of Connie Williams on several tracks are very nice, especially "Trains in the Station." Another highlight is the instrumental cover of the country hit "Love of the Common People," with intricate interplay between the pedal steel and pianist Charlie Harwood.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne