Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Grant Dermody -- Lay Down My Burden
Lay Down My Burden
I was quite impressed, in 2003, with the debut album by Grant Dermody, a Seattle-based singer and harmonica player. As I wrote in Sing Out! magazine, “Despite the diversity of the collaborations, the tastefulness of Dermody’s harp, his relaxed vocals and a good choice of material, make for a nicely cohesive album...I’m looking forward to hearing more of Dermody’s playing on future projects.”
Earlier this year, in a review of Eric Bibb’s great album, Booker’s Guitar, I said, “the only other musician is harmonica master Grant Dermody. Grant’s playing is always creative – I especially like his use of chromatic harmonica on “Flood Waters” – and complements Eric’s singing and playing beautifully. Eric and Grant’s playing together is some of the finest guitar-harmonica duo work since Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were in their prime.”
Lay Down My Burden, Grant’s second solo album, is also a fine effort in which he and various collaborators offer fine examples of various blues and gospel styles and also occasionally delve into old-timey country music.
The album opens with one of my favourite tracks on the CD, a sweet version of the Reverend Gary Davis spiritual, “I’ll Be Alright,” which kind of picks up where Grant and Eric left off on Booker’s Guitar, except that it’s Grant singing the lead vocal on the gentle, optimistic song along with Eric’s sublime fingerpicking and some equally sublime harmonica playing by Grant.
From there the album moves on through a series of other collaborations ranging from full band settings to unique combinations with one or two other musicians to several tracks in which Grant backs up older bluesmen John Dee Holeman, Louisiana Red and the late John Cephas.
A couple of the most interesting tracks are harmonica duets. “Rain Crow Bill,” sees Grant and Mark Graham trading harp licks and whoops in the tradition of Sonny Terry (in fact, I have a recording of “Rain Crow Bill” from the 1940s in which Sonny and Woody Guthrie are trading harp licks and whoops). On “Twelve Gates to the City,” the second harmonica is ably played by Joe Filisko.
A few of the other highlights include “David’s Cow,” a playful guitar-fiddle-harmonica hoedown; a sad version of Dirk Powell’s “Waterbound”; and a beautiful a cappella arrangement of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” in four-part harmony.
Most of the songs on this album – whether drawn from the traditional repertoire or from Grant’s own song bag – feel timeless.