A couple of CD’s have been sitting atop my pile for a few weeks–demanding attention, but not in my usual review write-up kind-of-way. I finally realized, like chicken and waffles, they complement each other as sensory bookends.
The first is Hemingway, by Texas songwriter and author Dan Johnson. This is not an album to be handled lightly. Put the liquor back in the cabinet and the sharp things back in their drawer. Frankly, the first time I listened I couldn’t get through the whole thing in one go. The 2-CD project is an EP of folk/country songs and an accompanying audio book that tackle the issue of veteran’s suicide. They do so with intertwining stories of the life around an Iraq or Afghanistan war vet who was raised on Key West. The characters, especially the namesake whose nickname is Hemingway, are deep and sometimes lovable, and occasionally a little loathsome. But they are incredibly human and the stories themselves are so compelling I found myself listening the second time hoping, through some technical trick of the recording, there would be a different ending. If ever there was a record that will compel you to go hug your loved ones and find a way to help those in need, Hemingway is it.
For the flip side of your emotions, take a listen to the debut album from Wyoming trio Prairie Wildfire. With all three members still in high school, Hometown Hearts is about as far from world weary as it gets. Sure, they talk about the tough choice of which boy they want to kiss on the title track, and Tennessee Rain brings in lead singer Sage Palser’s bluesy lament about lost love. But you can hear that they realize they’re lucky to get to make the bluegrass music they love on Not Your Ordinary Girls and the instrumental Raindrops On Snow. The CD finishes with a really beautiful version of the Wailin’ Jenny’s One Voice. Like the Jenny’s, Prairie Wildfire is so adept with their harmonies you can’t help but crack a smile and somehow feel a little better about the world around you.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.