The new John Cowan release, The Massenburg Sessions, was recorded in a custom-built uniquely designed studio at John McBride’s Blackbird complex in Nashville capturing the crisp creative clarity of a “more perfect sound” allowing the musicians to hear the intricate work of each other.
Produced by the widely respected George Massenburg and Kazuri Arai, the disk has 13 selections. Throughout Cowan has extended his elastic New Grass Revival Americana roots’ rhythms. Simply known as “The Voice,” his transcendent soulful vocals roam as we tremble and pause in wonder hearing Cowan soar above the canopy of our expectations.
Wayne Benson on mandolin and Shad Cobb on the fiddle bring backing vocals to aid the recordings’ sonic physique.
“Caldonia,” written by Fleecy Moore, is a tune often associated with Louis Jordan or B.B. King. Here it contains rolling piano work from Reese Wynans, and accomplished fiddle work by Luke Bulla, and sharp guitar licks from Darrell Scott. Band guitarist Jeff Autry sings lead vocals on Dave Alvin’s “King of California.” This tale cites a dream quest to gain gold riches, then return to claim a waiting true love east of the Ohio river. Instead he finds serious trouble.
Irish folk singer Maura O’Connell provides her terrific duet vocals on “The Lakes of Ponchartrain” with Mike Bub on upright bass and Jim Hoke on an accordion. The gospel a capella of “Jesus Gave Me Water” will infuse your spirit with genuine goose-bumps. “Long Road Back to You” is co-written by renaissance mandolin master Drew Emmitt, the founder of the Colorado jam band Leftover Salmon.
“Heart of The Country,” written by Paul & Linda McCartney, has a rural road rhythm featuring a fun finishing touch boogie, courtesy of Reese Wynans on the piano. Norm Pikelny is playing the banjo duet with Cowan band member Tony Wray.
Restoring our high lonesome feeling is the earthy bluegrass standard by Bill Monroe, “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’” featuring Del, Rob & Ronnie McCoury. The horrific frightful reality of a tornado is fiercely outlined in “Black Blizzard,” written by Bob Lucas. The cyclone spiral of death is the signature of a twister and here you will wince with sympathy. The CD collection end cap has Jon Randall Stewart delivering a fine duet vocal over a beautiful string arrangement on “Soiled Dove.”
With each steadfast outing, Cowan climbs beyond the summit of our anticipation delivering a refreshing new addition to his wealthy body of work one day at a time.