Paul Burch has been a rock-steady songwriter since he began making records in the late '90s. His trademark -- and all but indescribable -- manner of combining musical styles from vintage country, rockabilly, Western swing, blues, swing jazz, and even postwar Latin rhythms is as baffling and beautiful as his mellifluous tenor, which sounds timeless, is. And his recording and production style is usually quite minimal and always has a live feel; he has always tried to get the warmest sound possible without losing the tension of a band in a room in front of microphones and tape machines. Still Your Man is Burch's most compelling collection of songs yet. Along with his killer band, the WPA Ballclub -- Jim Gray, Fats Kaplin, Dennis Crouch, Jen Gunderman, Dennis Church, and Marty Lynds -- Burch brought back the guests from his last recording, East to West, Tim O'Brien and Kelly Hogan, to help out. But the unofficial member of the band is Burch's Pan American Studio. The songwriter purchased an old empty garage near Music Row for its high ceilings and converted it into a recording studio. The high ceilings enable him to get the warmth in the sound he wanted (little to no slap-back). He recorded himself and the band playing these songs live with minimal editing done in the mixing process. The end result is immediate; it puts the listener inside the recording experience, lending the illusion that one is in the presence of the musicians as they play, which gives the sound a great deal of weight.
Ultimately of course, it's the songs that matter. "Like a Train" opens the set with Burch's acoustic guitar all bluesy and taut, which is joined shortly by Dennis Crouch's upright bass, Gunderman's use of a clavinet and a bass and tom-tom-driven drum kit by Burch. When Burch's electric guitar (with full reverb in the break) joins the fray, it's all shuffling, fingerpopping, bluesy groove that straddles the swaggering yet sultry side of rockabilly, but it's funky too. The slippery old-time country feel of "Little Bells," a duet with Hogan, has the pedal steel, a liquid electric guitar, vibes, and piano all winding around the singers but leaving plenty of space in the center. It swings as it shuffles. The rhumba rhythm on "Honey Blue" is startling, but with that funky acoustic piano and popping bassline, it's got plenty of hip shake, and it's all up to Burch to phrase this timeless roots rocker, and he does. It would be easy to take this 14-song set track by track, but it would be an injustice in a sense because it would deny the listener the pleasure. There are many twists and turns in this collection, little touches that add so much delight and surprise in the experience of hearing it. Despite all the technical details, who played what and where, the most endearing thing about Still Your Man is that every song is about love and devotion no matter how stylistically diverse. And though its elements add depth and dimension to the opinion that it might have been recorded in the '40s or the '50s, it couldn't have arrived at any other time in music history. The album has been released on the stellar independent Ramseur label, whose track record is as solid as Burch's. For fans this will be exactly what the doctor ordered, but for anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of checking Burch out yet, this is a fantastic place to start.