Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

New Pick of the Week

Various Artists "A Celebration of Merle Travis" Shanachie

September 09, 1993|RANDY LEWIS

Few musicians in any field have been as influential as composers and instrumentalists as Merle Travis. The Kentucky-born guitarist, who died in 1983, not only developed a finger-picking style that became an integral component of country and folk music, but also contributed numerous songs to the standard repertoire, among them "Sixteen Tons," "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," "Steel Guitar Rag," "Nine Pound Hammer" and "Dark as a Dungeon."

A slew of Nashville's best pickers pay homage to Travis in a generous 19-song tribute that does justice to both aspects of his legacy. Chet Atkins is probably the best-known, and most accomplished, of Travis' countless disciples, and he turns in two characteristically dazzling yet tasteful duets with Marcel Dadi, an equally gifted CGP (country guitar picker).

Guitarist-singer Thom Bresh is something of a point man here, handling many of the lead vocals and guitar solos. He gets first-rate help from fiddler Vassar Clements, banjo great John Hartford, steel guitar legend Buddy Emmons and multi-instrumentalist whizzes Mark O'Connor and Sam Bush. Neo-rockabilly upstart Marty Stuart even drops in for vocal spots on three tunes.

As a songwriter, Travis tapped the pleasures and pains of the daily lives of Appalachian working men and women he grew up with. He knew the sheer fun of playing with words, captured here in "Knee Deep in Trouble."

But hearing this ad hoc group's straightforward rendition of his best-known tune, "Sixteen Tons," also provides a perfect reminder of the economy and power of his writing: "Some people say a man is made out of mud / But a poor man's made of muscle and blood / Muscle and blood and skin and bones / Got a mind that's weak and a back that's strong / You load 16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt / St. Peter don't ya call me 'cause I can't go/I owe my soul to the company store."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|