Wood and Stone
Sugar Hill Records
4 stars (out of 5)
A founding member of Americana mainstays Donna the Buffalo, Tara Nevins has delivered her second solo album more than a decade after her first, Mule to Ride (1999). Both her songwriting and her voice are inviting enough, but bringing Larry Campbell on board as producer elevates this 13-track, 44-minute album. Campbell, multi-instrumental sideman for Bob Dylan and producer of Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt, brings just enough crunch into the mix to make it tastier than the average Americana singer-songwriter release.
The title track has one of the catchiest grooves I’ve heard in a while, while Nevins’ fiddle slipping in over Campbell’s driving guitar lines as she sings about dirt lanes, maple trees, grandma’s applesauce and other touchstones that make up “the better part of me.”
When Campbell’s lead guitar is not featured, his pedal steel often is, again working with Nevins’ fiddle on nicely built songs that are equal parts modern Americana and classic country, tunes like the Cajun-flavored “All I Ever Needed,” the good-natured put-down “You’re Still Driving That Truck,” and the gospel-tinged cheatin’ song “The Wrong Side.” “Who Would You Tell” and “Snowbird” start out with more primitive arrangements before working up to the full-band sound, while “What Money Cannot Buy” stays in a rustic fiddle groove and features Nevins’ vocals at their most sensitive. Nevins also reaches down to her roots with “Nothing Really,” an original old-time fiddle tune, and “Down South Blues,” a party number.
Two surprises on the album are “Stars Fell on Alabama,” in which Nevins turns the ‘30s jazz standard into a bleak, gothic soundscape, and “Tennessee River,” an even more desolate turn recalling the best of Lucinda Williams. The album closes on a suitably grand nostalgic note with a yearning take on Van Morrison’s “Beauty of Days Gone By” aided by the characteristically expressive drumming of guest Levon Helm.