bustin' old genres

Ham Days (Galoot Music)

By Joseph Dinwiddie

When I moved back to Louisville last summer, the first band I went to hear perform was the Galoots, because so many people had told me how much I would like them.

They were right. Then as now, I have really enjoyed their acoustic mix of country, bluegrass, folk, and older sounding ballads, which have the pleasures of each genre without the limitations of any of them. Ham Days, the Galoots CD released last December, is a great collection of original songs written by two of their three members. Shannon Lawson, the lead vocalist who plays guitar and occasionally mandolin, wrote seven of the songs, and I speculate composed mystery song #11 as he sang it. Todd Osborne, who plays (very well) five-string banjo, mandolin, guitar and sings harmony, contributed three of his originals. Dennis Talley rounds out the group with his steady upright bass and harmony vocals. Lawson has a strong and beautiful singing voice that, for the sake of reference points, reminds me of the power of Van Morrison's voice, the emotional white soul of Gram Parsons, and the grace of Doc Watson and the Everly Brothers. The harmony singing of Osborne and Talley is rich.

Even though the songs on this disc are rooted in older genres, the Galoots' sound is fresh and unique -- an amazing accomplishment. "Bardstown Road" is a concise summary of a local working musician's experiences in the bars up and down the Highland's nightlife corridor: "From time to time, I'd feel the load/Of paying dues on Bardstown Road." It reminds me somewhat of John Fogerty's "Lodi" in naming the place and nature of performing music for a living.

Several other songs on this disc also convey subtleties of live music bars from the performer's perspective: The warm "Four Roses Whiskey" acknowledges that life on the road isn't all roses; "One Night Only" shares the longing by a musician for companionship while playing one night stands; and "Who's Gonna Have This Dance" reflects the dynamic of people coming to hear a local band while "trying to find something more" on the dance floor or in their lives.

"Katie Walton," by Osborne, is a very moving song with images of rural, Southern working-class life and the sadness of dying alone and poor. "Old Time Way," also by Osborne, is an energetic balance to "Katie Walton." Its bluegrassy zest celebrates agrarian family life like a Wendell Berry poem.

"Second Chance" and "Fallin' Faster" are both love songs, the former a sad but uptempo account of romance with a woman who "wasn't meant to stay" and the latter a very rhythmic acknowledgment of falling faster in love with another. "JFK' is a powerful, timeless, spoken-word ballad with banjo and bass accompaniment about a lone moonshiner killed by young hoodlums who then die from drinking his brew.

As a postscript, the mystery track at the end is what sounds like a liquored-up Lawson accompanying himself on guitar singing/talking a rhyming refrain like Dylan's drunken rhyme songs on bootleg Basement Tapes, complete with slurred singing and laughter.