When Rick Danko puts his singularly emotive voice on a record, it's something of an occasion. He sang a trove of great songs as a member of the Band (there are no more heartfelt performances in the annals of rock than Danko singing "It Makes No Difference" or "The Unfaithful Servant") and in 1977 released a strong, promising album of his own. But since then, as far as recordings are concerned, little if anything has been heard from him, despite his fairly active round of live dates. On this collaborative effort, recorded in Norway in 1991, Danko reappears, thriving as he did in the Band, in the company of sympathetic partners who are distinctive singers in their own right. Andersen, a veteran of the '60s folk boom, and Fjeld, a Norwegian with strong folk and country influences, combine with Danko on a cohesive album in which three feeling-filled, lived-in voices convey warmth and an aching beauty in songs that mine the inexpressible hurt at the core of life. The trio's harmony blend is a natural fit, yet each singer has room over the course of the album to establish his own identity. Backing the singers is a crew of Norwegian musicians whose playing is so sensitive and at home with American roots-based styles that one wonders whether the history books have it all wrong: From the sound of things here, the American South must have been first colonized by Vikings. Guitarist Knut Reiersrud and accordionist Kristin Skaare are especially capable. Danko (who will be reunited with Garth Hudson and Levon Helm, but not Robbie Robertson, on a Band reunion album called "Jericho" that is due Nov. 2) shows his continued command as a heartbreak-balladeer with his rendition of "Blue River," a song Andersen wrote that was popular in the early '70s. The gospel-tinged song's world-weary yearning for respite embodies the overall emotional thrust of the album. Fjeld distinguishes himself as a gruff-voiced story-song singer in the Guy Clark tradition. His contributions include his own "When Morning Comes to America," which expresses unfulfilled longing for a more welcoming world than the one we know, and his poignant reading of a Paul Kennerly song, "One More Shot," in which a heartsick Jesse James dreams of giving up the outlaw life for a normal, family-man existence he realizes is beyond his reach. Andersen, who in 1989 returned after a long recording absence in the U.S. with a good release called "Ghosts Upon the Road," lends a touch of the dramatic to his baritone voice in "Wrong Side of Town," an affecting country song he wrote with Fjeld. There are lighter moments, such as the slip-and-slide, New Orleans-boisterous Chris Kenner oldie "Sick and Tired," wherein Danko shows an undiminished aptitude for spirited, roadhouse R&B. But overall, there is a wintry feeling that sweeps through this collection--not a raw blast from the elements, but a protected, gathered-near-the-hearth mood in which the warmth and intimacy of the performances take some of the sting out of the storm outside.
For information regarding last week's New Pick, "Give It Up for Love" by Mighty Sam McClain, contact Audioquest Music, P.O. Box 6040 or P.O. Box 3060, San Clemente, Calif. 92674. An incorrect address was given in last week's OC Live!