As I’ve noted before, Joel Mabus has a most impressive body of work spanning both traditional and contemporary folk music. He’s a fine singer, plays any number of stringed instruments – some at virtuoso level -- has a deep repertoire of traditional ballads, old-time music and blues, and is a songwriter whose work consistently equals the venerable traditional music in his repertoire.
Joel devotes American Anonymous to 14 authentic folksongs, all of which were written by that venerable songwriting team of Trad and Anon. Joel’s impeccable solo performances – his voice and either guitar, banjo or autoharp – are riveting.
Among the highlights are a version of “In the Pines,” played on the autoharp, which brilliantly captures the inherent loneliness of the lyric, and a unique ragtime guitar arrangement of “Rising Sun Blues (House of the Rising Sun)” which turns the song into more of fun thing than the tragic ballad we’re used to.
Other favourites include Joel’s hot-picking takes on “Grieve My Lord No More” and “The Fox” on the guitar, and “Sally Gal” and “Ebenezer,” the album’s only instrumental, on banjo.
Joel ends the set with a great version of “A Closer Walk with Thee” that reminds me a lot of how Merle Travis reinterpreted some great old African American spirituals.
American Anonymous, like virtually every other album Joel Mabus has ever made, gets my strongest recommendation.