Imagination is a glorious thing. Have you ever stopped the car or got off a train in a small town and wondered about the lives of the people in the houses, pubs and factories around you? I’m obviously not the only who has done this – Bill Booth’s new album River Town is a song collection inspired by the lifestyle and characters of typical American mill town, akin to the one he grew up in.
And it’s a gem
Melodically there are tunes and arrangements mingling blues, folk, country, swing blues, celtic rock, country rock – these are Booth’s definitions on his sleeve notes of the various tracks. The album is held together as a consistent whole by the emotional grittiness of Booth’s vocal, by the rock-steadiness of the band as they play the different styles, and by the thematic lines of the songs.
The first track is ‘Ice House’, inspired by a working-class neighbourhood bar. The Wurlitzer is blasting Elvis, sailor boys are playing pinball, Little Mary Jo is everybody’s favourite girl, the foghorn blows in the neighbouring harbour, nobody wants trouble but “sometimes that’s how it goes”. I’ve been in that bar many times in my youth and it’s captured perfectly with a swing blues-cum-folk style in this track.
It’s followed by ‘Peltoma Avenue’, a minor blues in which we meet Jimmy Jones “the roadhouse was his home”, Candy Cane a “sadness in her eye that no make-up could hide” and young trash man Sam, “troubled mind and shakey hands/Thanks to Uncle Sam” – a Vietnam tunnel rat who can “make any broken motor run”. In my mind it’s easy to see these people – so well are they drawn that they are people not characters. The rest of the album builds in a similar style to these two opening tracks.
Though raised in Maine, Booth has relocated to Oslo where he has picked up Norwegian Grammy Award (Spellemannpris) nominations in both country and blues categories. You can see why. There are thirteen tracks on the album. They parade proudly the mix of genres; eleven of them (there are two instrumentals) sympathetically create a mix of individuals of the kind you only become acquainted with if you stay long enough in a place to know the person underneath the appearance. If you add a little lyrical and musical imagination into this mixture, you get River Town.
Booth has created a gentle gem, great to listen to and visual enough in the lyrics that River Town is alive in my mind. If there are any film-makers reading this, it would also make the basis of a short film about the river town, the place and the people.
I can’t see any live music booked to tie with the release of the album, which is a shame and would make it particularly worthwhile to keep an eye on Booth’s website to see if anything is planned for the new year.
‘Under The Pine’:
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