Calgarian Craig Moreau recently unleashed an incredible album of modern country music that actually earns that designation. (And no, I’m not going to go off on another old-codger rant about what passes as ‘country’ today.)
Progressive enough certainly to find favour within the wide-open Americana field, The Daredevil Kid is truly an album that recalls everyone’s songwriting heroes…if those happen to be folks like Tom T. Hall, Merle Haggard, Henson Cargill, and Kevin Welch, who actually appears on the album’s closing track “Against the Skyline.”
Vocally, Moreau reminded me first of Ray Materick, but there are certainly a few Randy Travis, Blaze Foley, and Vern Gosdin influences hinted on songs such as “The Uptown Pony” and “Blame It On The Fields.” And while those references may be dated, one suggests they are more accurately labeled ‘classic.’ Moreau has some smoothness about him, but no slickness. Life lessons abound in the frisky “Call It Ignorance,” with “Sweet Luanne” providing a darker, nuanced bit of instruction: Moreau’s vocal depth allows him to bridge the stylistic distance his songs encompass.
If additional evidence of Moreau’s ability to convey the intensity of a song was necessary, I offer up the album’s sole cover, Bill Morrissey’s “Casey, Illinois.” Yup, that’ll do.
Austin producer and musician Mark Hallman has a significant presence on this recording resulting in an Alberta roots album that speaks to home while having the gravitas of Texas connections. Kimmie Rhodes lends her voice to the refrain of “Stranded,” a highlight. Gurf Morlix sings on the title cut, a song well set in the Jerry Jeff Walker mold. Kim Deschamps handles the pedal steel and Elana James (Hot Club of Cowtown, Bob Dylan) violin, each providing expressive textures rooted in tradition.
Before Moreau sent me a text offering to send me the album for review, I had never knowingly heard of him. Man, have I missed out. I was inclined to purchase his previous album Every Know And Then as few weeks back, and was further impressed. Not only does he have Jane Hawley singing on that 2000 release (never a bad idea, that!), but it also contains great songs. The unsettling “The Final Price of Grain” is every bit as powerful as “Thirty Years of Farming,” while “Eighteen Dollar Room” and “Couldn’t Have Done It Better” aren’t going to be pushed off the iPod anytime soon.
Whether categorized as country, folk, Americana, or simply slipping into the indefinable OMFUG, The Daredevil Kid is a strong, dynamic, and eminently listenable platter of fresh sounds.