The label “Americana” means music that blends folk, gospel, country, R&B and gospel, but it’s no uniform, sound-a-like genre. Artists carve out distinctive sounds mixing acoustic and electric, creating an eclectic delight. Edward David Anderson’s record released in October is as wide-ranging as the prairie where he grew up.
The 10-track “Chasing Butterflies” is a masterful musical mashup, sure to be showcased live this month, when he plays St. Louis, Milwaukee, Berwyn and Peoria (Nov. 17 at the Red Barn).
Anderson, 46, grew up between DeKalb and Chicago, and wears his Heartland heritage like a seed-corn cap. Formerly with other Midwest groups, Anderson has recorded three efforts with the band Brother Jed, eight with Backyard Tire Fire, and two EPs and two LPs as a soloist. This is his best.
Comparisons are dicey but hearing “Chasing Butterflies” is like dancing or trancing through a music collection.
The bluesy “Bad Tattoos,” for instance seems like Alison Krause jamming with Cab Calloway with vocals by Duke Tumatoe. The humorous yarn of regret and acceptance could be heard from a church choir or a chain gang. Likewise, the haunting/hopeful “Season Turn” is a virtual sonic sonnet, a philosophical sound that resonates “Norwegian Wood” – with power chords.
“Crosses,” with an uptempo beat to a downbeat topic, has vocals akin to Bono or even James Blunt, and a creative structure that does a sweeping turn to a gripping guitar fadeout comparable to Lynyrd Skynyrd or Marshall Tucker. “Dog Days” is a favorite, partly because of its subject but also due to its playful lyrics and sense of envy at canine love, loyalty, innocence and forgiveness. Rivaling the Bottle Rockets’ “My Dog” for its theme, the upbeat elegy to a pooch comes across like it’s sung by NRBQ’s Terry Adams (only tuneful). And the title song is a rollicking, borderline ballad: melodic and poetic, melancholy yet accepting, with an authoritative bass line and muted pedal steel that conjure collaborations by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, or Lyle Lovett fronting the Sons of the Pioneers’ rendition of “Riders in the Sky.” (Yippie-yi-ay, yippie-yi-o!)
Elsewhere, the storytelling captures listeners, as in “The Ballad of Lemuel Penn,” a mournful ode to a moving memory and cautionary tale of tragedy and evil, with an effective narrative and affecting rhythm. Similarly, “Only in My Dreams” is a plaintive realization of lost love, less a dirge than a matter-of-fact epiphany that fights troubled imagery to find relief from unexpected anxiety. A first-rate guitar part and subtle piano punctuate the vibe.
Recorded at Muscle Shoals, the record’s producer is Grammy Award-winner Jimmy Nutt, who assembled sizzling session musicians who add a fierce foundation to Anderson’s soaring talents. Besides Nutt playing bass, the sidecats are Todd Beene on pedal steel, drummer Jon Davis, Brad Kuhn on keys and violinist Kimi Samson.
Finally, however, “Chasing Butterflies” is wholly Anderson’s own, as shown in a few rootsy cuts as candid and sincere as a perceptive confession. The easygoing “Best Part” has a catchy chorus, plunking banjo and tapping tambourine that get heads nodding and hearts thumping. “Sittin’ Round at Home” is the most country-flavored number here, and the fiddle adds a dash of rural spice, conjuring thoughts of doing a two-step at a barn dance. And the jaunty “Harmony” starts things off with bright vocals, a fine chorus and light keyboard wash alongside a delicate guitar, combining to cook up a slick, sweet-pickin’ treat.
The whole record is a treat, in fact, with many flavors to savor.