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Tender Mercies

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Tender Mercies is a side project, of a sort, that includes two Counting Crows — Dan Vickrey on guitar and vocals and drummer Jim Bogios. The band's origins actually go back 20 years, to the time when Vickrey first came to the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the first people he met was Patrick Winningham, who was the manager of the Hotel Utah, one of the best singer/songwriter venues in San Francisco. Winningham was also a songwriter and enlisted Vickrey, and bass player Kurt Stevenson, for the group that became Tender Mercies. In 1993, Vickrey joined the Counting Crows on second guitar. In the early days, the Crows augmented their set list with tunes written by Vickrey and Winningham. One of them, "Four White Stallions," actually appeared on the Crows album New Amsterdam: Live at the Heineken Music Hall. When the Crows went on hiatus in 2010, Vickrey set up a bedroom studio, rounded up his old bandmates, and cut this album. With the exception of a long electric guitar freakout on "Scarecrow," the music on this album fits easily into the folk/Americana bag. Its stripped-down sound keeps the focus on the excellent lyrics, haunting melodies, and low-key virtuosity of the assembled players: Vickrey, Bogios, Stevenson (who also plays mandolin, slide guitar, and fiddle), and the original instigator, Patrick Winningham, on guitar and vocals. Vickrey's "Safe and Sound," a celebration of love's healing power, opens the record on a high note that suggests the work of the Band or early Van Morrison. The compassionate "Angeline" sums up the life of a single young woman struggling to get by with a child and no prospects. Stevenson's unsettling slide guitar adds extra emotional frisson to "Almighty Trial." It's an anti-gospel song with a mysterious lyric that explores life's tribulations with an unsettling dose of dark humor. "Riding Blind" has one of the album's strongest lyrics and suggests a mystic country ballad in its music and performance. Winningham sings "I had a whiskey straight for breakfast/I had a whiskey now for lunch/Need a sober straight decision/But all I got was a drunken hunch" with the straight-faced resignation that gives the song, and the entire record, its understated power. ~ j. poet, Rovi

Tender Mercies, Tender Mercies
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