Memories of Mine
4 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
There is some fine singing and playing on this CD, and very good song selection. I’m guessing most people who hear it will be satisfied with that, but some are going to be puzzled at how it all ties together.
“Wayfaring Stranger” is familiar to anyone who has been around bluegrass or country music. This arrangement is entrancing, and Etheridge has a great voice for it. Effects have been used to give it a large, concert hall sound and the background support of Randy Kohrs on the Dobro and Aaron Till on the fiddle and mandolin are as good as I’ve ever heard on this song. A different approach is used on “Land of Beulah.” The backing music is kept at a minimum with guitars, fiddle and mandolin. Etheridge has added herself on a harmony track along with Kohrs. This is an effective, beautiful way of doing this old song.
Etheridge has a top supporting cast on this album. In addition to Kohrs and Till, you’ll hear Cody Kilby on guitar, Buddy Greene playing harmonica, Shad Cobb playing banjo, Jeremy Abshire (fiddle), and Tim Crouch (viola and mandolin). It’s no surprise that the instrumental support is excellent.
In addition to the two songs already mentioned, she includes three other gospel numbers: “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” done slow and with feeling, just her vocals and a piano; “Amazing Grace,” also done slowly with a chord progression that goes beyond the standard three chords and only a rhythm guitar, viola and mandolin behind her; and “The Old Rugged Cross,” with a cello included in the instruments, but done at a faster, workmanlike tempo.
“Tennessee Waltz” is another done with minimal instrumental support and she sings it well, but throws a curve, at least for me. I’ve heard and played this countless times as a verse and a chorus. That’s the way its composers (Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart) did it as well as Patti Page. I somehow missed the Emmylou Harris version but according to another site there was originally a second verse and chorus with a new second verse added by Leonard Cohen – more or less the Emmylou Harris and now Ehteridge version. People have been revising songs forever (usually just forgetting the lyrics) and Etheridge gives a good performance regardless of the lyrics used.
Rounding out the CD, she does the first swing version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” that I recall as well as the first blues version of “In The Pines.” Different, but they work if you’re not tied to tradition. Another surprise is “Filipino Baby,” a World War II song that I haven’t heard on a new recording for decades, giving a slower, more feeling version than Cowboy Copas’ hit version.
So, with all this good singing, what’s so puzzling?
Etheridge comes out of nowhere with a CD sent out for reviews. A fair inference is the CD is targeted for commercial success, but she has only covered songs well known to most everyone and recorded (perhaps excepting “Filipino Baby”) dozens, maybe hundreds of times. It’s a strange mix of songs in some unusual styles and the CD leads off with two gospel numbers. It feels like just what she says it is: memories dedicated to her parents and grandparents. She isn’t following the usual road map for a commercial album, but I hope people prove there’s more than one path to success. If you buy it, you’ll enjoy it.