As they vie for the position of the man who’ll play with anybody (a title previously held by John Kirkpatrick) there has been surprise that Brooks Williams and Dan Walsh haven’t gone head to before now. After all, acoustic guitar and clawhammer banjo are natural bedfellows and the chaps sing in very much the same register so their harmonies are seamless. Actually, Brooks and Dan did record a lockdown video of ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ which just happens to be the second track of Fortune By Design.
First, though, comes ‘Church Street Blues’. Inevitably, they make some changes to Norman Blake’s lyrics – or learned it differently – but that doesn’t matter. It’s a settle down on the back porch start to an album that is enjoyable from start to finish. Dan’s banjo dominates the decoration of the track but Brooks’ guitar takes that role on the traditional ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’, which borrows some lines from ‘Dear Companion’. From then on, it’s share and share alike. In fact, they trade lines on ‘Just Listen’, a modern song that they make sound old.
Next, there is an instrumental set: ‘Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine/Lockdown Hoedown’; the first traditional, the second a Dan Walsh original with the composer going full tilt on the banjo. The Inkspots’ ‘It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie’ takes us off in another direction and gives Brooks a chance to show off his flat-picking. Then a lost treasure: ‘Well, Well, Well’ was written by Bob Dylan and Danny O’Keefe and barely acknowledged on Dylan lists. It was written (probably) in 1985 and the chaps do a bang-up job of making it sound like a mid-80s recording by the man himself. ‘Imagine That’ by the O’Kanes, and recorded by Don Williams, is different again.
The final three tracks are all originals. ‘Stays The Same’ is a co-write reflecting on life changes and demanding the right to decide what won’t change. It features Brooks’ slide guitar. ‘Paper Jam’ is another Walsh composition and Williams’ song ‘Tornado Smith’ provides the tailpiece.
I would have enjoyed listening to Brooks and Dan knock out an album of blues and country standards, which they could do in their sleep, but they have really gone the extra mile in selecting material for Fortune By Design and putting together a record that keeps you listening until the final note dies away.
‘Church Street Blues’ – live in the studio: