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Album Review

What's really obvious from the choice of two of Ragged and Right's four tracks that marks a solid collaboration between guitar hero Jack Rose and Dave Shuford's band (aka D. Charles Speer & the Helix), is that these cats really loved Link Wray's 1971 self-titled album (unofficially dubbed "Three Track Shack" because it was recorded in a three-track home studio in a converted chicken coop on Wray's Maryland farm). Two covers from that recording bookend this 17-minute EP, released a few months after Rose's untimely — and wholly unexpected — death. "The Prison Song," the first of these, features Rose on acoustic and electric guitar, Marc Orleans on pedal steel, Shuford on mandolin, Hans Chew on piano, Jason Meagher on bass, and Rob Gregory's trap kit. Shuford's vocals are deep baritone, traditional country, relating the narrative as Johnny Cash would. The feel is elegiac, funereal, but there is also a mercurial, mischievous glee in the performance. It's followed by the lone original tune on the set, "Linden Avenue Stomp," written by Rose with Glenn Hughes. Its rumbling tom-toms, lap steel, fingerpicked electric guitars, rickety upright piano, and popping bassline are a loose weave of rag and breakdown that reflects the sheer joy of this band playing together. A Merle Haggard cover, "The Longer You Wait," while played somewhat reverently, is not without its sense of humor and irony thanks to Shuford's vocal. But it's the final cut, the version of the traditional "In the Pines," which was also on Wray's album, and which most reflects his influence. It's raw, with vocal echoes of "Surfin Bird" in the intro and drums playing a rhythm that has nothing to do with the song. It pauses briefly and kicks into a woolly, careening barroom take that references Wray's anything-goes version. Shuford sings and picks his electric mandolin with abandon, and Chew chants along on the refrains while banging the hell out of his out-of-tune upright. Rose plays lap steel just above the rumbling drum kit that shambolically pushes the tune to the rails with the bassline. Quick solos come and go, the only constant being the refrain sung in drunken revelry. Ragged and Right is a fine extension of Rose's catalog, but even more, seen in the context of that catalog, it's a less than reverent send-off that's as full of life as the man was.

Ragged and Right, D. Charles Speer & the Helix
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