Sam Gleaves and Tyler Hughes: September 2017 Album of the Month

Sam Gleaves and Tyler Hughes
Sam Gleaves and Tyler Hughes
Community Music

The unpretentious title of this album is also its dominant mood. This is Appalachian music featuring warm, inviting vocals and fancy pickin’ that never sounds like showing off. Sam Gleaves made a splash a while back with his admission that he’s gay and proud. That wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in much of the urban Northeast, but it was an act of courage in the backwoods part of Virginia from which he hails. Here’s the deal, though. A confessional such as his will get huzzahs from the LGBTQ community and its allies, but you still need to be good if you want applause from music fans. So get this in your head: he’s not just good, he makes mountain music the way it ought to be made. This record, a collaboration with a fellow Virginian, Tyler Hughes, is the sort you’ll dust off any time you feel like you need to get back in touch with things fundamental and time-honored. One listen to “Living with Memories” will remind you you’re hearing the real deal, not a bunch of studio enhancements. It’s an elemental sort of country weepy, but there's not a false note to be heard. It made me think back to the days in which music was supposed to connect on the personal level, not make you stare at the musicians like they were gods. Is it a bit corny? Sure, but it also invokes walking by a neighbor's house when he looks up and says, "Hey--want to hear an old song my grandfather used to play?"

Gleaves and Hughes are equally sublime on the delicate harmonies of the wholesome “When We Love,” the breakout solos and forays into the minor key of “Georgia Row,” and “Mister Rabbit,” an Appalachian children’s song popularized by Burl Ives that is rendered here in a more folkloristic style. Gleaves and Hughes also give us a pastoral remake of “I Can’t Sit Down” to make Sister Rosetta Tharpe smile from the Beyond. (I caint sit down/I caint sit down/Just got to heaven and I’ve got to walk around.] They give a spiritual twist to “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew” and make “Lonesome Homesick Blues” sound like we tuned in the Wheeling Jamboree on Sunday afternoon. Two soothing high tenor voices and enough instruments to fill a music shop: guitar, fiddle, autoharp, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer…. These are songs and tunes that scurry and circle, slow down and crawl, give a swift kick and lift your soul to the clouds. It such fun that it’s easy to overlook just how accomplished it is. Call it honest, earnest music that will melt the stony heart of a flinty cynic.

Rob Weir

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