Travers Chandler has made no secret of his love for the bluegrass music of the fifties and sixties; he names Charlie Moore, Buzz Busby, and Red Allen & Frank Wakefield among his biggest and earliest influences. His music lies firmly in the traditional camp, both instrumentally and vocally, and even the title of his latest album serves as a reminder to listeners that they’re not going to encounter any drums or electric instruments or even country influences more recent than the 1970s. Archaic, Chandler’s fourth solo album overall and second for Patuxent Music, is not modern traditional. Instead, it’s just as the title indicates – “marked by the characteristics of an earlier period.”
Befitting traditional bluegrass, Chandler has included several mournful weepers here, and one of the best is the classic country-style In the Shadow of a Lie, penned by George Jones and Dick Overbey, and originally recorded by Jones in the early sixties. Chandler’s regretful drawl spins a tale of a love triangle and a fateful fishing trip that should have solved things for the singer but didn’t. Another strong track is Todd Grebe’s Until Tomorrow, a more recently written song that still maintains a weary, old-school vibe. “I spend half my life drowning in a bottle, and the other half trying just to swim,” Chandler sings, and with the shake in his voice, you believe him. It’s a very good lonesome drinking song, and one of the album’s best numbers.
On the more upbeat, driving side of things are songs like Lost and Found classic Brown Hill, rendered here at breakneck speed with fiery instrumental solos (Chandler’s mandolin break is especially scorching) and excellent rhythm guitar from Adam Poindexter. There’s also a bouncy cover of Merle Haggard’s Ramblin’ Fever and a nice version of instrumental Uptown Blues, perhaps most recognizable to bluegrass fans from Jimmy Martin’s recording. The latter is a showcase for Chandler’s mandolin and also features strong fiddling from Merl Johnson.
The Many Faces of Charles Edward Brown, from Bill Grant, is an intriguing, tragic story that traces the joy and pain of a man’s life through both the expressions on his face and his changing identity. Ray Edwards’ banjo helps guides the song and provides a nice background to Chandler’s hurt-filled vocals. Edwards lays down another strong track on opening track Shot Man Blues, the tale of a man shot down for loving another man’s wife. It’s a neat concept – the other side of so many bluegrass songs about a man who catches his wife cheating. Chandler’s voice has a hard edge to it here, fitting the song’s lyrics well.
Chandler (mandolin and vocals), Poindexter (guitar and vocals), Edwards (banjo), Johnson (fiddle), and Steve Block (bass), along with Tom Mindte (harmony vocals), make an excellent traditional bluegrass band. The musicians are all skilled in the playing styles of the early decades of bluegrass music, and Chandler has obviously studied the vocal nuances of his heroes. Archaic should suit fans of classic grass just fine.
For more information on Travers Chandler, visit his website at www.traverschandler.com. His new album is available from several online music retailers.