After a long period out of the limelight, hints of Sam Bush's public re-emergence were displayed in 2015's award-winning documentary Revival: The Sam Bush Story. Now with Storyman, his first studio recording in seven years, he's fully present again. This is something of an anomaly in Bush's catalog. He calls it his "singer-songwriter" album, but it's free of any negative connotations that term might suggest. Cut over four years in Nashville and Florida, he produced this set and co-wrote all 11 songs with friends including Guy Clark, Jon Randall Stewart, Jeff Black, Emmylou Harris, and Deborah Holland, as well as his bandmates. Opener "Play by Your Own Rules" is classic Bush. Written with guitarist Stephen Mougin, it's a fiddle tune framed in rocking bluegrass with brushed tom-toms, twinned guitar and mandolin fills, and a hot banjo solo from Scott Vestal. "Everything Is Possible" is set to a swinging reggae rhythm. Holland guests on harmony vocals, and recording engineer Donnie Sundal offers Jackie Mittoo-inspired grooves on the B-3. The charging instrumental "Greenbrier," written with Vestal, comes right out of early Flatt & Scruggs and transforms itself into a slow burning blues before winding out at full tilt. Alison Krauss delivers a passionate harmony vocal on the Appalachian folkgrass of "Lefty's Song," with a beautiful slide mandolin solo from Bush. "Carcinoma Blues" is a wry rag co-written with Clark and done in prime Jimmie Rodgers style. Hargus "Pig" Robbins lends his honky tonk piano for flavor. "Bowling Green," named for the artist's hometown, is a fiddle tune with a Cajun flavor. (Kentucky's legislature resolved Bush as "The Father of Newgrass" in 2010.) "Handmics Killed Country Music" is co-written with Harris and features her on harmony vocals. It humorously yet sincerely celebrates the place of the guitar in vintage country music. With Steve Fishell on pedal steel, this honky tonk number recalls the work she did with Gram Parsons. "Where's My Love" is a newgrass take on the Chicago blues with gorgeous solo breaks, while "It's Not What You Think" is a band-written instrumental that indulges jazz-rock changes before finding its way home, led by Bush's excellent fiddle solo. Closer "I Just Wanna Feel Something" is a downright funky blues with killer banjo and mandolin breaks. The sequencing and care Bush put into cutting Storyman is obvious. Despite the long recording process, it feels holistic, immediate. Each song offers surprise. This album doesn't merely reflect the joy of music-making, it doles it out.
by Thom Jurek