Did you know that noted Bostonian Michael Tarbox of Tarbox Ramblers fame has two terrific new songs out? Yup. Both recorded live and with & without his Ramblers at the Beachland Tavern in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio, by somebody in the audience.
And did you know he did a beautiful album of covers in 2020 called Paler Suns?
I didn't. It follows eight after 2013's Work and Days. I guess I need to get out more or something. The songs on Paler Suns vary from William Blake's poem Ah! Sunflower which he set to music, Hendrix's Room Full of Mirrors on which Tarbox accompanies himself on harmonium - a bellows-powered organ - to haunting effect. This is followed by an acoustic cover of Mississippi Sheiks' World Gone Wrong. Talk about deep blues! Whew! Little Moses was first recorded by The Carter Family in 1929 and Tarbox does a lovely rendition here some 90 years later. Blind Lemon Jefferson popularized the song Jack of Diamonds via his 1926 recording. According to Wikipedia (because I do love some research) Jack of Diamonds "...was sung from the point of view of a railroad man who had lost money playing conquian" Also called "Coon Can, or Colonel" it's a rummy-style card game requiring close attention and a good memory to play. The song Jack of Diamonds is also called Drunken Hiccups as well as Rye Whiskey and A Corn Licker Still in Georgia. The alternate titles are all popular fiddle tunes and Tarbox is accompanied here by fiddle player Alan Kaufman.
Now, I've skipped a couple songs because what's the point of not being surprised? But the last song, Jerry Garcia's Mountains of The Moon is one that Michael Tarbox has had on his mind...well...I should let Mr. Tarbox tell you about it:
"I came away from learning this song with an even greater love for, and fascination with, the otherworldly version that's on AOXOMOXOA, which I believe is the Dead's second album. I've always been a sucker for they way Jerry Garcia uses minor chords, and I think this song may be the best example of the master at work. That, combined with Garcia's fragile singing and Robert Hunter's great lyric, has kept this on my mind since I first heard it when I was twelve."
As an album, Paler Suns, as Garcia said about his song Mountains of The Moon, "...came off like a little gem." It's a wonderfully varied work, artistic, and well-played (as you would expect coming from Tarbox) featuring Michael Tarbox's rough-hewn voice that feels like a well-worn and comfortable dress shoe. Yes, there's similarities in voice and sound but to tell you the truth I've never heard a Tarbox album that wasnt as if not more solid that anything Bob and Neil have put out in the last twenty-five years. Fight me. I'll be over here listening to some new to me Michael Tarbox recordings.