Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Album Review: “Dreams Of The San Joaquin” Randy Sharp & Jack Wesley Routh Team with Maia Sharp, Sharon Bays

drams of the San Joaquin

Dreams of the San Joaquin
  • Audio CD (September 25, 2012) Number of Discs: 1 Label: Blix Street
  • ASIN: B008OHV69K In-Print Editions: MP3 Music
When you hear someone say California music, you probably think of surf music of The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean or “the San Francisco Sound’ of Jefferson Airplane or Quick Silver Messenger Service. or the L.A. sound of The Doors. But before all of that came the music, usually grouped with “western music”, out of the rural farm communities of California’s fertile valleys. South of the Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta in Stockton, California,  running south and encompassing the cities of Stockton, Merced, Madera, Modesto, Fresno, Hanford, Visalia, Porterville (who John Fogarty and CCR wrote a song about), Delano,  and finally Bakersfield, and a whole lot of rural agricultural land,  lies the San Joaquin Valley. The nations salad bowl.   

This diverse region, home to cottonwood forests and the great blue herons is also a major influence on American music. Usually when we talk “Americana” or roots music we think of folk music of the early English, Scotts, Welsh and Irish settlers and 19th century immigrants, country music from the hills of Appalachia, The Blue Ridge Mountains, blues from the Mississippi Delta, rhythm and blues from the northern industrial cities, and early rock and roll. It’s not often that Americana makes you think of California and the rural valleys but these valleys, especially the San Joaquin is a melting pot of immigrants from various regions of Europe, Latin America and Asia mixed with the 20th century Depression-era Okies and Dust Bowl refuges.

The music of the San Joaquin is of the migrant farm workers, the cowboys, the outlaws that populated the region and influenced the culture. Dreams of the San Joaquin is one nice piece of ear candy, highlighting and paying homage to the music of that fruitful valley. Featuring Grammy®-Winning Writers Randy Sharp and Jack Wesley Routh teaming up with rising star Maia Sharp and singer, scholar and cultural anthropology lecturer Sharon Bays all with deep roots in California's great agricultural region, the album honors the stories and musical styles of the massive valley that first welcomed the Dust Bowl refugees and migrant workers amid the economic strife of the 1930s and 1940s.

“Dreams Of The San Joaquin” from Blix Street Records

The music is wonderful stuff, and perhaps too evocative of those Dust Bowl days. "It's not a coincidence that Ken Burns' next PBS series, airing in November, is The Dust Bowl," says Blix Street founder and president Bill Straw. "We are now closer in many respects to the 1930s than at any time since." Straw points not just to the country's current economic situation, but also to climatic conditions similar to those that brought about the Dust Bowl: "Twenty-six states were officially declared in drought in June." While he points out that the album is totally independent of Burns' series, Straw emphasizes that the album is "a collection of songs that pay homage to the musical styles of California's San Joaquin Valley, the migrant worker destination of people displaced by the 1930s Dust Bowl."

Among those people are the direct ancestors of all four of the performers. Randy Sharp's and Sharon Bays' families emigrated there from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, and members of Jack Wesley Routh's family made a similar trek westward from Kansas in search of work.

Each song on the album really plays to the strength of the singer-songwriter, and the supporting musicians are out standing. Marty Stuart contributes mandolin on several tracks, Louie Ortega (Texas Tornados, Sir Douglas Quintet) lends his warm voice to the Spanish verses on the album's title tune, and Karen Brooks sings harmony on Routh's tracks. You’ll hear songs that remind you of western music, songs with a hint of eastern Europe, songs with a definite Mexican heritage and songs that were raised on western swing from Oklahoma and Texas. It’s really an out standing collection and a fitting tribute to the centennial birthday of Woodie Guthrie.

Randy Sharp, whose four songs on the album include the lead-off track "Burn Day" and the moving title cut, is the veteran country-music co-writer of "The Connection," which earned Emmylou Harris the 2005 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance. Among artists who've recorded his songs are the Dixie Chicks ("Home," written with daughter Maia), Restless Heart (their chart-topping "A Tender Lie" and "Why Does It Have to Be Wrong or Right"), Linda Ronstadt ("Dreams of the San Joaquin") and Alabama ("The Cheap Seats"). Sharps wife, Sharon Bays is the featured vocalist on the ballad "For Old Times' Sake," as well as background vocalist on Randy's "New Way Out" and "Dreams of the San Joaquin," She holds Masters and PhD degrees in Cultural Anthropology from UCLA, where she currently lectures in the Anthropology and Women's Studies departments.

Randy and Sharon's daughter Maia, likewise a product of the Great Valley, has released four critically-acclaimed albums (and an album with Art Garfunkel and Buddy Mondlock), performed with Bonnie Raitt, Keb' Mo' and Patty Griffin, and penned songs for Raitt, Trisha Yearwood and Cher. Jack Wesley Routh, longtime friend of the Sharps, comes to the project with his own impeccable pedigree. The Kansas-raised, now Californian Routh co-wrote "The Connection" with Randy, and served as tour and recording guitarist for Johnny Cash. Routh's tunes have been recorded by Cash, Waylon Jennings and Emmylou Harris.

Blix Street Records, based in Gig Harbor, Washington, is an eclectic independent label whose releases include the catalogs of internationally acclaimed songstress Eva Cassidy and Irish music legend Mary Black, as well as groundbreaking blues-rock band Back Door Slam (featuring guitar phenom Davy Knowles).

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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