Montana’s John Lowell, founding member and guitarist with the popular but now disbanded Kane’s River, has just released a new album. I Am Going To The West consists primarily of Lowell singing his original material, with sparse guitar accompaniment.
But when I say “sparse,” I don’t mean lacking in any way. John is a formidable guitarist, with a rhythm style that is rich and multilayered. His guitar provides the perfect counterpoint to these ballads and story songs, which collectively convey a vivid imagination in both time and place.
And counterpoint is exactly the right word. The lyrics and melodies Lowell has created sound like they belong in the folk or old time tradition, while his instrumental approach places him squarely in the bluegrass or flatpicking school. Of course he’s not the first. Norman Blake and Doc Watson dedicated their careers to such music, and Church Street Blues is still a mainstay for Tony Rice fans.
So perhaps it’s the lyricism of the songs that sets this record apart. Writing songs in the present day that either tell of, or sound like stories from the distant past takes a special skill, one that Lowell possesses in abundance. In fact, were I to suggest that this record was a collection of undiscovered folk songs from the 19th century, not many would find reason to air a dispute.
All but 3 of the 12 tracks are Lowell’s: an arrangement of the old time standard, Waterbound; a catchy version of Eight More Miles To Louisville; and the title track, a new composition by Connie Dover.