Tagged by one review as a hippie-folkie-cowboy singer-songwriter, the New England troubadour simply describes himself as a singer songwriter interpreter of Americana Folk and Country. Having released his debut album back in 1973, he went on to form country rock outfit Them Fargo Boys, touring with them for almost 20 years before returning to his solo career. Rogues is his 12th solo studio album.
Featuring just his deep rich voice and acoustic guitar, it’s very much on the folk side of the Americana spectrum, a collection of self-penned stories, a couple of co-writes, three covers and two traditional numbers, ‘Days of 49’ (a song about the 1849 gold rush of which there are many lyrical variations, including one by Dylan) and a sonorous reading of the evergreen ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’.
He opens proceedings with one of his own, ‘South Dakota Town’, immediately laying out his storytelling credentials with a old school Western tale of a man seeking revenge for the shooting of his lover before turning to ‘Bound To Lose’ by fellow storyteller Scott Roby about two doomed losers (“the night that Johnny died, angels could not find them, even though they tried”), a number you could imagine Johnny Cash having sung.
Along with Madison and his wife Nancy, Roby also has a hand in writing restless traveller number ‘Mexico’, as well as collaborating with Madison on album closer ‘Old Oak Tree,’ a bluesy celebration of how all you need is a nickel and a song in order to be free (hence the hippie tag) that features an intricate arrangement of two guitars, the one providing the itchy rhythm and the other fingerpicking the chords over it.
The memory of boat burning after being struck by lightning (and essentially about moving on) ‘Bluemoon’s Waltz’ is the other Roby original, Madison recalling old school cowboy country names like Tex Ritter and Marty Robbins. Elsewhere, written by Jeffrey Reid, ‘Barcume’s Fishing Boat’ spins another nautical story, here recounting the tragedy of an old fisherman who doesn’t come home one night, his old boat found washed ashore, upside down.
There’s two other collaborations, Madison and John Cluley penning the bluesy strum ‘Tuxedo’, balancing the groom’s joy of his wedding day with the awareness that, at some point, death will separate them, while the Madisons team with Suzie Litton Wood for ‘Drifting’, a song about finding love and then being abandoned that opens on a Texicali note before shifting into first a folksy strum and then an almost chamber baroque mood with what sounds like dulcimer.
The remaining number is a Madison original and arguably the album’s finest moment. A former single, ‘Ben Graves’ returns to narrative for an echoey sung story of a man hunting down and shooting the titular fictional coward who fled the Battle of the Little Big Horn, though quite why his killer, Mac, is seeking vengeance perhaps remains a tale for another album.
Madison doesn’t make music that seeks to ride any current Americana trends, but then neither is he being self-consciously retro, he simply sings the music in his heart and on which he was raised. Look him up and invite him to your campfire CD player.
Artist’s website: www.billmadisonmusic.com
‘Rogues’ – album sampler: