Sammy Walker/Blue Ridge Mountain Skyline
This double-disc combines Georgia singer/songwriter Sammy Walker's two Warner Bros recordings from 1976 and 1977. His debut, Song for Patty, was released by Folkways and produced by Phil Ochs. Produced by Nick Venet, these two records were basically ignored simply because they were released in a near-perfect storm: AOR was king, and punk and new wave were on the way. Walker had little in common with his navel-gazing West Coast contemporaries who were writing about generational alienation. But he didn't really fit with the Texas gang, either -- Guy Clarke, Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt, et. al -- because his songs were decidedly more Southern than Western, rooted deeply in folk and mountain traditions. To make matters worse, Walker's voice was a dead cross between a young Bob Dylan's and John Prine's. His only real peer was James Talley. Venet enlisted a sympathetic crew of studio aces for both these records including Jim Gordon, James Burton, and Chris Darrow. His debut illustrates his deep Southern songs in country and folk-rock settings, but its narratives are mostly hard-bitten stories of working people -- in mines, mills, factories -- and ramblers, who've been cheated by life either by circumstance or choice. The highlights include "Catcher in the Rye," "A Cold Pittsburgh Morning," "Decoration on the Wall," and "Little New Jersey Town." The songs on Blue Ridge Mountain Skyline are much more acoustic. They are bluegrass-tinged folk waltzes and four-four backporch shuffles illustrated by mandolins, fiddles, shuffling drums, flat-picked guitars, dobro, etc. Based on the opening title track, the feel is sunnier, but the song, as beautiful and tender as it is, is an outlier. Even if they are framed in more uptempo leanings, these songs are just as dark as their stories. Check "Appalachian Coal Miner's Son"; "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone," with its lonesome accordion; the barroom blues of "Hollywood Sue" (the more melancholy cousin of Jerry Jeff Walker's and Jimmy Buffett's "Railroad Lady"), and the tragic "Ballad of the Late Edgar Dooley." Walker includes two fine covers on the album as well. There are excellent readings of Woody Guthrie's "Dust Storm Disaster and Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting on a Train" that reveal two of his biggest influences, but they're not merely revisionist, Walker adds something to each. These are two excellent if forgotten albums from the mid-'70s. This two-fer should absolutely be procured by anyone interested in American roots music at its best by a master storyteller.