I know better, but I still do it. I develop a presumption about a musician’s style based on their performance with a specific band. Then they join a different group, or step out on their own, and it’s like that scene in Wizard Of Oz where the world goes from black and white to color. Take for example the new record from Steep Canyon Rangers’ banjoist/vocalist Graham Sharp, Truer Picture. There’s barely a banjo to be heard, and Sharp’s rich baritone showcases his musical versatility.
Many of the songs on the record are a variation on earnest country music. The title track is a ballad about not getting drawn in to judging someone by their social media feed. It’s underscored by some humor when Sharp sings, “what the hell was I thinking with a haircut like that.” Why We Explode is a slow, bluesy, country song about the small things that can trigger a flood of emotions and memories. Love Yourself is an easy folk song that starts a little dirty around the edges, but then the strings come in and gussy it all up.
The variety in the album takes some different directions. Generation Blues is a little bit rockabilly and a little bit 60’s British rock. It points out the challenges of handing down something the next generation actually wants, and probably hits close to home for a few people when it explains, “my father was a general pain in the ass, and I was a private disgrace.” Bad Apple snapped me back to the first time I heard Ozark Mountain Daredevils with its assertive harmonica. Speaking of getting snapped back, Sharp channels John Hartford in about a dozen ways on Coming Back To Life, and is the only time the banjo is front and center on the whole record. Come Visit My Island invites you to sway in the breeze as the lyrics philosophizes about the hidden benefits of something out of your control.
Listening to Truer Picture is like sitting down and having a friend play you some of his favorite music. There’s some sort of theme, but a lot of variety as well. In this case it’s all original music, but with those same characteristics. As much as I like the Steep Canyon Rangers, I hope this isn’t the last solo effort we get from Graham Sharp.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.