Twenty years on from the release of his debut album, the Indiana-based Americana singer-songwriter revisits Heart Land with a re-recorded version alongside two new numbers and, this time round, with his then young sons Jackson (guitars, banjo, mandolin, harmonium) and Connor (bass) joining him and his harmonica-blowing wife Jan. Alongside Dan Lodge-Rigal on piano and percussionist Ben Lumsdaine, the background ‘oohs’ come courtesy of Krista Detor who should be due a new album of her own ere long.
The running order here is different from the original, although it kicks off with one of the new songs, ’Staying In Love’, a warm strummed and piano-accompanied memory of childhood and his father, the first thing he’s written since his passing two years ago. Keeping the family connection, it’s followed appropriately enough by ‘That Old Man’, this time, dispensing with the fiddle and joined by his two sons on vocals, about his grandfather.
Given a completely different uptempo treatment rather than the original slow waltz, ‘Too Hard Drivin’’ draws on the two years spent commuting between LA and southern Indiana and the decision to finally leave the one for the other and is followed by what was the first track on the debut, ‘Better Days’, still a semi-spoken Guy Clark-like memory of the older and longer established farm couples that were his neighbours when he moved back home and their fate. The first to pass was one Amos Chestnut, his wife running the farm on her own until her kids finally moved her to town, ‘She Remembers’ revisited with a jauntier pacing underpinned by banjo rather than acoustic guitar in memories that speak of joy rather than melancholy.
Grimm has made a point of recording a traditional number on each of his releases, the first, 20 years ago, being the Carter Family’s ‘Carter Blues’, fingerpicked again here before the arrival of ‘Down The Road’, a song about the highway along which workers come and go and of the encroachment of progress with its mortgaged houses and mortgaged lives given a more scurrying bluegrassy arrangement.
The original album actually had two traditional tunes, the second being ‘Sowin’ In The Mountain’, formerly a front porch gospel stomp but here a slower blues with throaty electric guitar.
Again reconceived, ‘Perfect Getaway’, a storytelling number based on his mother’s story of three high school kids in her remedial class who boosted a car and heading down Highway 65 until being pulled over by state troopers, began life as a Steve Earle-styled outlaw country tune but now takes on more of a laid back Clark perspective.
The remaining two reworks line up as ‘80 Acres’, a song about the land on which they live and those that went before now given a talking Johnny Cash chug, and, serving again as the final cut, this time with piano backing, ‘Pumpkin The Cat’ is another love song to the life and land they chose, “a slice of Heaven..pie in the sky” on which to raise “three boys, two dogs and a cow”.
Disappointingly, the album’s Texicali-coloured storysong about corporate outsourcing and resulting homelessness, ‘South Of The Border’, doesn’t get revisited, but you do get another reflection on the state of the nation with the folksy, mandolin-strummed waltztime ‘Love More’, a song calling for faith and kindness in dangerous times as, striking an optimistic note, he sings “There’s hope in the shadows, there’s God in the trees/There’s beauty in waiting when you fall to your knees”.
Reworking the album isn’t just a revisiting of the past, it’s an act of both memory and renewal, a love letter to what has gone before and a reminder that the music and the lives it celebrated remain as important today as they were two decades ago.
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Artist’s website: www.timgrimm.com
Something like the original – ’80 Acres’ – live: