DON RIGSBY & MIDNIGHT CALL
The great Tom T. Hall once said about him: "There is a mystery in music that can't be put into words. The way Kentuckians feel about it has always been something special. Don found that special something; he kept it, nourished it, mastered it and takes it all over the world." Don Rigsby, tenor singer and mandolin player, has lived in Eastern Kentucky all his life. In 2001 he became the first full-time director of the Kentucky Center For Traditional Music at Morehead State University, in other words he's preserving and promoting traditional music in all forms.
Meanwhile he also keeps playing all over the United States with his band Midnight Call, probably named after his previous album. Shayne Bartley, a veteran on guitar and Dale Vanderpool (banjo) sing those trademark three-part harmonies together with Don. Jesse Wells (who surprisingly has a degree in jazz performance) plays fiddle plus clawhammer banjo and Robert Maynard is the bassist. Don Rigsby also continues to release top-notch bluegrass CD's! This one has been slightly different for him, as he recorded it with his own band instead of bringing in studio players. He is fond of his musicians: "They truly shined brighter than an old Kentucky moon here and I couldn't be prouder of them."
Don picked another great collection of songs (ballads and fast ones) to perform. The title track (written by Shawn Camp) opens the album, it turns out to be about an old black train: "Whistle blows the blues each day / Here comes the Hillbilly Heartache". More wonderful story songs like "Old Green Chevrolet", that's a truck owned by the "circuit preacher" who brings the gospel to little churches in the mountains; followed by the tale of a reverend who disappears two weeks every year, where can he be found? "Any Bar In Birmingham"! Then there's "Big Jim", who couldn't stop the freight train running into a stalled car on the crossing and the trucker in "Prisoner Of The Highway". Dixie & Tom T. Hall wrote the enthusiastic gospel "He Loves To Hear You Shout", while "Make God Laugh" has a religious background too: "If you wanna make God laugh, make a plan", that muted banjo sounds awesome in the rhythmic arrangement! Jim Lauderdale's "Redbird", Bill Monroe's "Kentucky Waltz" and instrumental "Forked Deer" are also played before Don ends with an impressive "I Am The Man, Thomas": just his vocal and the clawhammer banjo.
We can expect more of these first-rate bluegrass records as Don promises: "If the Lord lets me live, I want to play and sing for you until I die!"
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, April 2007.
The intriguing photographs of that brightly lit but, except for the main characters, ghostly deserted little trainstation belong with the title track "The Midnight Call". Handiwork of Dixie and Tom T. Hall, about the mysterious reappearance of a mother who just passed away. I go for sentimental stories like that! There's a simular piece by the Halls featured, "Little White Cross Out On Highway 13", about a girl who was hit by a drunk driver on the night she went to celebrate her graduation. Especially in America's heartland those little crosses are often seen on the side of the road, once we noticed four of them together behind a t-split with very poor view, that really makes you think and slow down!
So Don Rigsby doesn't write the songs himself, but he sure knows how to pick 'em out, from "Those Gambler's Blues" (Jimmie Rodgers) as the opener, along heartbreaking stories ("Blood On My Hands" is another good example) to humor that puts everything back in place: "I'm falling to pieces, look out below" and an instrumental hidden track.
Whoever lives in Eastern Kentucky plays bluegrass, besides that Don is also a cousin of Ricky Skaggs and he looks exactly like him: face, figure and voice. He sang already in various well-known bands, The Bluegrass Cardinals and J.D. Crowe's New South among others and brings here his third solo-album to our attention. As expected there's flawless playing and singing to be enjoyed, by Don who handles mandolin, mandele (cross between mandolin and ukelele?) plus guitar, as well as by the various guests with familiar names, like Carl Jackson, Rob McCoury and percussionist Kenny Malone. I also hear my favorite fiddler, the late Vassar Clements, he gives a voice to "the devil laughing in the wind" ("Muddy Water")!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, Dutch original of this review previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.