He must have heard his share of flattering comparisons over the past years. Mentioning of Townes and the other Texas greats. But by now everybody who's into singer-songwriter music must know who Jeff Talmadge is. After three self-released albums in the years 1999 - 2001, this is the third on Dutch label CoraZong. And when he played a radio session in my current hometown, he remembered immediately the piece Bert van Kessel wrote for this page, praising "Gravity, Grace And The Moon". Jeff also stated that Insurgent Country is such a cool name for a music website! No big surprise everybody liked him a lot here, not only for his excellent session, he also talked and joked with the small audience at the music cafe. He really listened to the records that were played and made it a point to get the names right of the two Dutch artists, also guesting in the show. One of them wrote a song about the blue bonnets in Texas... And Jeff wrote two songs about The Netherlands for his new album "At Least That Much Was True"!
Although he lives in Atlanta, Georgia now, he was born in Uvalde, Texas and grew up in small towns, scattered across the Lone Star State. "The ghosts and memories of these places appear often in his songs - distant trains in the night, unread letters lying in weathered mailboxes and memories of the things we love -and leave- blowing across the vast Texas plains", according to his bio. So this CD features more of the great music I know already from "Blissville" (I'm not familiar with his earlier albums, sorry...) and also some new things, as a good artist always tries to do even better. Jeff worked with Bradley Kopp again: he did a perfect job producing & mixing & engineering, guitar playing too, we also hear him on bass, percussion and backing vocals. The talented Chip Dolan plays accordion on a few tracks. New are the keyboards, played by David Webb and most noticably, the steel guitar! Lloyd Maines was brought in to do his magic on that instrument and also on the dobro. Jeff couldn't stop talking about the professional, yet friendly attitude of Mr. Maines. He wouldn't just lay his tracks down, like the average session player, he would also try variations, thinking about touches to make the tracks even better!
The memorable melodies are fitted with superb lyrics, hey, the man won an Academy of American Poets Award! So he has to live up to high expectations but manages to surprise us again here. Poetry, not too pretentious, it just creates beautiful images. "A cold North wind is moving in / And there's black ice on the mountain / And there's a past that's growing colder / You can't see where the highway ends", we find it right there -together with fine fiddle playing (Rich Bowden)- in the first song. "It's raining way down South / A cold front's moving in / And they say that a bridge is out / Between here and Birmingham". "Austin When It Rains", what a title... Speaking of, the album title is hiding in "Because Of You": "And if you see her / Give her this picture / And tell her how it means at least that much was true." "White Cross", those white crosses on the side of the road, put up in memory of a person killed in an accident, used here in smart imagery: "And in the faded desert light / There's no clear picture of who's wrong or right / I could turn around and I think I might / But then I hit the gas and go / For every cross and city limits sign / There's one who goes and one who stays behind". Slow & melancholy "So The Blues Would Stay" (Chip Dolan on accordion, Lloyd Maines on dobro) features this impressive chorus: "Oh, it's a price to pay / To chase the ghosts away / Some say he did the things he did / To keep the blues at bay / I say he did them so the blues would stay."
The only cover -also the first cover song Jeff ever recorded- fits very well inbetween the originals: Bob Dylan's "Girl Of The North Country", beautifully done with the harmonica solos (Rich Brock). And then there are those trains: "Train From Amsterdam" and "Wrong Train", both inspired by Jeff's rides on the Dutch rails. Especially the last one is a stand-out track with the catchy arrangement that makes you hum along and the cool story. Let me explain: in The Netherlands we have trains that run from The Hague to Groningen and from Rotterdam to Leeuwarden, cross-country rides of about three hours. Between Utrecht and Zwolle they're hooked up to each other, which can be very confusing, even for insiders: front goes to another city than back. If one part comes in too early, they don't mind changing the order though, or they leave a unit behind, or an unannounced delayed train appears along the platform... I travel every week on these trains and even I got confused once last year! So we certainly can't blame Jeff for ending up on the "Wrong Train" ("This train don't care if it's wrong or if it's right"), where a fellow passenger spoke these wonderful words: "It's not the wrong train that you're on / It's just another way to go / It's not the wrong train that you're on / And you found another way back home." Wow... The bonus track is also well worth noticing, "Chet Baker Street", indeed with a jazzy arrangement and faint backing vocals by Catherine Berry. "She would always talk in code / And I'd have to guess what she meant", while the story ends like this: "The fog is rolling in / And the night isn't quite complete / So why don't you come on over / We'll get lost on Chet Baker Street."
Before I put the disc back, I looked again at the tray photograph: Jeff with his guitar next to him on the left and a cute white dog -fur covering his eyes- on the right. I had to ask about doggy... "His name is Manfred. He's pretty old now, probably around 12 years old and sleeps a lot. In that picture, it looks like he just woke up! I'm uncertain of his age. He had been a stray, so I don't know for sure how old he was when I got him, but I've had the pleasure of his company for about 10 years.
Although I have had some disagreements about the subject with some of my friends who are dog owners, I remain convinced that Manfred is the world's best dog."
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, May 2007.