By Larry Stephens
With Beneath Still Waters, Courtney Granger steps out from his role as fiddle player for both Balfa Toujours and the Pine Leaf Boys—a four time Grammy nominated Cajun/Zydeco/Rock ‘n Roll band from Lafayette, Louisiana—to sing and play guitar as well. Granger plays his Cajun fiddle too along with Jamey Bearb and Joel Savoy. (Unfortunately, there’s no track-by-track credits to tell who fiddles where).
Granger, a grandnephew of Cajun music legends the Balfa Brothers, is joined here by his co-producer Dirk Powell, a fellow singer and musician with Cajun roots (and husband of Christine Balfa, Dewey Balfa’s youngest daughter), who sings and plays while also engineering and mixing this CD—doing an excellent job on all of it. In addition to Powell, Tom Rozum, longtime collaborator with Lewis, plays mandolin and adds vocals. Playing drums with a tasteful touch is Christian Dugas.
The title song is a beautiful Dallas Frazier song made famous by Emmylou Harris. Featuring a kickoff by pianist Glenn Patscha, this may be the best track on the CD. It features a walking bass line and touches of fiddle in the background with the piano carrying it until the steel guitar of Kevin Barry takes a turn. You can’t beat a steel-and-piano duo on a country ballad.
Granger picked other great country songs for his project: “Mr. Fool,” co-composed and recorded by George Jones; “Lovin’ On Back Streets” recorded by the late Mel Street and Daryle Singletary, another piano – steel guitar laden ballad; Cindy Walker’s “Warm Red Wine” that was a George Jones hit—Granger channels Hank Williams on this number; and Bill Anderson’s “When a Man Can’t Get a Woman Off His Mind,” recorded by Gene Watson and Craig Morgan. Granger stays close to the Watson version, a blues-laden, laconic ballad, here with an added mandolin break.
There’s a tinge of bluegrass as well, with Hazel Dickens’ “Don’t Put Her Down, You Put Her There,” recorded famously by Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens (as well as the Sweetback Sisters), it proves an excellent song in this new context as well. Granger’s voice fills all of these songs with shades of mood and atmosphere you’ll hear if you drive out of town and stop at a country store on a two-lane highway out where they still see fireflies at night.
Granger adds a gospel touch with a song first recorded, as far as we know, by Washington Phillips, the ethereal “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?”
Oh, what are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
But what are they doing there now?
Granger sings country simple, without affectation. You picture him on stage like Williams or George Jones – singing the songs from his heart without fog machines, flashing lights and running around on the stage. It’s about the music. This is a good selection of country music.
If there’s any downside to the Beneath Still Waters, it’s the lack of uptempo songs. “Back In My Baby’s Arms Again” is a faster-moving number with some Cajun fiddle (and another George Jones song), but it stands alone—the rest are slow ballads, befitting the project’s title. But that’s a small quibble about a great classic country recording.