Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time
Took Down and Put Up
Lonesome Day Records
4 stars (out of 5)
There are some songwriters whose work sounds best when sung by someone else. Others simply need to sing their own songs.
Larry Cordle is neither kind. Loretta Lynn, Garth Brooks, and Alison Krauss have all recorded the Cordell, Ky. native’s work, and his “Murder on Music Row,” when cut by Alan Jackson and George Strait, quickly become the most important country song of its era.
But Cordle can hold his own as a singer when considered in the same class as his famous clients. With a wide-open, sonorous voice, Cordle has led Lonesome Standard Time on five albums since their 1992 debut, with 2004’s Lonesome Skynyrd Time being an album-length tribute to the band whose raucous side owes more than a little to the same hard-driving bluegrass evident in Cordle’s work.
Took Down and Put Up has 13 tracks, nine either a Cordle original or co-write. However, it kicks off with Booie Beach’s lead guitar and Kim Gardner’s Dobro introducing Jim Rushing’s “I Can’t Lose What I Never Had,” which builds to an emotional and musical crescendo halfway through the track and ends with a strong vocal tag – from Cordle, mandolinist Chris Davis on tenor vocal and bassist Mike Anglin on bass vocal – that sets the tone for more fine harmonies to follow.
Chris Stuart’s “The First Train Robbery” is next, marked by Kristin Scott Benson’s tough banjo and Anglin’s thumping bass. Guest fiddler Jenee Fleenor sets the ominous mood for “Hole in the Ground,” Cordle’s able take on the customary coal-mining dirge.
“B.Y.O.B.,” “Old Cheater’s Blues,” “’67 Chevy Malibu,” and “Rough Around the Edges,” which has Travis Tritt duet with Cordle, are also strong bluegrass cuts, with just enough of that Skynyrd-style boogie to make it sound fresh.
By contrast, the Skynyrd track “Mississippi Kid” is a mid-tempo one, here played much like the original in a loping country blues groove.
My personal favorites are “Hero of the Creek” (it’s opening line “He had the biggest muscles of anyone around / Smoked cigarettes and had a mustache at fifteen” makes me laugh every time) and “I’m a Lie,” the type of song that would be unbearably preachy if not for Cordle’s writing wit and sly vocal.
“A Song for Keith” is a tender, stripped down tribute to, of course, Keith Whitley, Cordle’s voice full of honest sadness. “A Visit with an Uncle” is just Cordle and his guitar on another sentimental-in-a-good-way song that leaves you wishing that there was a show called VH1’s Storytellers: Bluegrass Edition.
by Aaron Keith Harris