Gregg Hill’s Bayou St. John, recorded in New Orleans, is music that soundtracks a vision of (to quote the great John Fogerty!) “Barefoot girls dancin’ in the moonlight”. This record courses through the musical Mississippi River Big Muddy bloodstream and flows in the wake of sources like Bobby Charles, Jesse Winchester, John Prine, and even Florida ‘Margaritaville’ guy, Jimmy Buffett. That’s nice company on Huckleberry Finn’s mythical river raft.
The first song, ‘Places In Between’, sets the thematic construct for the rest of the album, as it elevates the common everyday life stuff to melodic folk art. The lyrics are a litany of common existence – the trip to the grocery store, his “Baby doing the laundry and folding all the clothes”, and “playing the guitar at night in the candlelight”. Claude Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes”. This song finds that very same “space”. Not only that, but the tune has a definite (to mention John Fogerty, again!) loping ‘Lodi’ vibe, minus of course, the memories of being “stuck” in a town “where people sat there drunk”. Instead, these “places” ooze with a warm and deep contentment because, thankfully, “the river is always flowing”.
Then, ‘New Orleans Again’ sings the praises of the town, with an echo of John Prine, as the lyrics love The Big Easy in the same way that ‘Muhlenberg County” breathed country beauty before “Mister Peabody’s coal train hauled it all away”.
Ah – ‘Oh-Dee-Aye’ gets piano funky. Sure, Jimmy Buffett fans will dance to the song, but it also recalls the up-tempo Jesse Winchester groove of ‘Third Rate Romance’ from his Learn To Love It album, or even (the sadly forgotten brother) Tom Fogerty and his pretty great album, Excalibur, that at times, really did “get funky”.
And there’s ‘One Minute Song’, which is exact to its title. However, the tune’s brevity is perfect for the lyrical insight into a romance that disappeared into “beads of rain” that “roll down the windowpane and gather on a pool on the sill”. As (the also great) Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame once said, “‘nuff said”.
Three tunes follow that expose the soul of the album. ‘Magnolia Bridge’ is a brisk guitar instrumental. I suppose this sort of exercise in dexterous six string wit has been picked by many great players. But, my compass memory points to the acoustic prowess playing of Fully Qualified Survivor Michael Chapman who loved all those ‘Naked Ladies And Electric Ragtime’. Then, ‘Big Blue Moon’ follows with a slow waltzed melody that’s worthy of any sunny day’s baseball seventh inning stretch. The song cradles a warm passion that nests in a Sunday picnic serenade. And the long afternoon with a carefree autumnal thought continues with ‘Pooh Nanny’, the absolutely gorgeous portrait of a man and his aging dog, Pooh, who needs his collar to be removed as they journey on “the Leatherstocking Trail”. Yeah, youth is always able to run “through the brambles and the trees”. But, sadly, not so much anymore; it’s autumn, and “now those little legs don’t work so well”, but the guitar melody is reflectively sublime, and to quote (the before mentioned) Michael Chapman, the song is about “time past and time passing”. Really nice. Oh, of course, I’m a dog lover. It’s a beautiful song.
The final proper song, ‘Old Like Me’, is a joyous romp in which GH compares his weathered guitar to his own ageing and also well weathered life. But thankfully, he confesses, “We have secrets they’ll never know”. Thoughts like this sort of manage to relax the confusion of the universe. Really nice, once again.
There are two radio edits of ‘Oh-Dee-Aye’ and ‘Places In Between’ that complete the twenty-seven-minute album that strolls, waltzes, stretches, gets funky, loves a dog, and yes, still watches all those “barefoot girls” as they are “dancin’” forever “in the moonlight” in the rippled reflection on every never-ending and always baptismal river that flows into all those very Americana “places” that are always “in between” and filled with the breadbasket bounty of a really decent folk song melody.
Artist’s website: https://gregghill.com/
‘Places In Between’ – official video: