It's the same humility you can hear in his voice and delivery, which combine to make this song, a cousin of which may appear on just about every roots record ever released, stand out like a beacon. This guy is serious as a hand grenade. How else to completely own Dylan's "I Shall Be Released"? (BTW, go find the video of Wilco and Fleet Foxes doing this song live — spectacular.) Or to have the Gibson Brothers sing two songs on his record and have them be the weakest two? The "Early" (Greg Brown) is kind of syrupy and the Jimmy Martin classic "Hold Whatcha Got" is just sort of by-the-numbers. They're fine. Just nothing special.
Really, Walsh had me with the call-and-response he does with his mandolin and the fiddle/cello to introduce the opening "Ain't No One Like You" (Greg Brown). Darol Anger, who also fiddles all over this record, handled production duties in an old workshop of fiddle-maker Jon Cooper's (also used by Joy Kills Sorrow, Walsh's old band from Berklee) and the result is warm and welcoming, as though you might even sneeze with the sawdust.
His original instrumentals, too, are celebrations, playful and balletic, and showing a range of interests. "Wolfcat Breakdown" is old-timey, reminiscent of an "Old Joe Clark," and "Sunday Morning Reel" could be 200 years old, but "Emily's Welcome to Portland," with paired drones from bass and cello in the start, is much more contemporary, as is the downright Fleckian "I Remembered When I Knew," where Anger and Walsh come firing in on matching riffs one after the other, punctuating what is a genuinely moving piece.
The overall result is a national-level important record that is likely to be paid some attention. Walsh is announcing himself as a multi-layered talent. His disposition might make him particularly well suited to being the ultimate hired gun and sideman, but this album says he's a man who can put a band together.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
SWEET LOAM | Released by Joe Walsh | accompanied by Darol Anger + Scott Law + Karl Doty + Wes Corbett + Lauren Rioux | at One Longfellow Square, in Portland | May 15 | myspace.com/minnesotajoseph