Better With Age

The Simplest Plans (Binky Records)
Jeff & Vida

By Paul Moffett

It was like rooting around in the fridge and coming up with a fabulous sauce you had made, then forgotten about. And, like any good sauce, better for the aging.

Here's the story: last year at Derby, I had just gotten a copy of The Simplest Plans, Jeff & Vida's second CD. I had given it a spin, then took it and a Sarah Harmer CD to a Derby party to add to the host's music. As such things can happen, I left sans CDs, one thing lead to another and I never got back by to pick them up.

The hosts, a most competent couple, had dug out the CDs for me at this year's party. Most thoughtful, and, given that I had searched high and low for the Harmer CD (okay, I forgot I took it.), a welcome return. Especially in light of the fact that I hadn't listened hard to J&V's CD before leaving it.

I first heard Jeff & Vida at the Lighthouse one night when it was still on Pope St. and they stopped in for a bite while on their way to Chicago. They got up played a few tunes (it was an open mike night) and left their first CD, One Horse Town, which I reviewed in the February 2002 issue.

Their second CD is more polished, though the essential elements are there: Vida's distinct voice (lyrically and vocally) and Jeff's music and splendid picking on the Dobro, mandolin and guitar. The dozen tunes on this project, like the material on One Horse Town, are drawn from the lives of people on the bottom of the ladder, living day to day and trying not to be too tired to enjoy living a bit. Twelve is just the right number; any more and the melancholia that suffuses many of them would be overwhelming; too few and the emotional journey through worn-down houses, bars and people would seem incomplete.

Consider this chorus from "Trucks in the Distance," a tale about being broke and lonely on the weekend:

You hear the trucks in the distance

They push you right on

If you had a reason you know you'd be gone

But the bar's open sign means the night is still young

And you're hoping tonight you'll be having fun.

Intermixed with the sad story songs are snappy bluegrass tunes, some of which ought to be on "Bluegrass Beat," particularly "Dead & Gone," which I would swear is a stock jam session number but isn't. The opening tune, "Don't Leave the Lights On," is a bluegrass-flavored rip-it-up, finger-in-the-face leaving song that any self-respecting hot bluegrass picker would use to show off his/her chops.

Then there are a couple of tunes that echo that alt.mountain sound and feel, which seems odd coming from folks from New Orleans but there you are.

For those of you who need to have comparisons, imagine Gillian Welch grew up in Eastern Kentucky (rather than California) but mixed a rock feel into her music. Alternately, imagine Catherine Irwin with the edge off her vocals, backed up Storefront Congregation.

You can explore and listen to the music further at

www.jeffandvida.com

. I'd recommend it strongly.