may 2008

Various Artists
Proper American Recordings

A lot of people were introduced to Blind Alfred Reed by way of Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions album, on which the Boss offered a slightly updated version of Reed's ever-timely lament, "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live"; this long overdue tribute underscores how seriously Reed approached the song as a meaningful vessel for appraising his times and contemporary mores. Although hardly a household name, even among roots music enthusiasts, Reed's music has endured, because his themes—tough times, abiding faith and the battle of the sexes—endure. A multi-generational mix of West Virginia-rooted artists is represented here, from reliable old-timers such as Little Jimmie Dickens to seasoned veterans such as Ray Benson to younger whippersnappers on the order of Todd Burge. Both Dickens and the actress/writer/musician Ann Magnuson offer witty, feel-good versions of, respectively, "Woman's Been After Man Ever Since" and "Why Do You Bob Your Hair Girls," two songs in which Reed fretted over the distaff side's growing independence and floozy behavior (such as bobbing the hair to appear more masculine), whereas Kathy Mattea offers a sprightly defense of womankind in "We've Got To Have 'em That's All," an epistle energized by producer Tim O'Brien's happy-go-lucky mandolin soloing. Larry Groce, in an electrified, dirge-like "You Must Unload," rumbles about the wages of sin, and husky-voiced Connie Smith, with husband Marty Stuart on mandolin, wrings poignant melodrama from the death-and-drink ballad, "The Prayer Of the Drunkard's Little Girl." Nat Reese offers a whiskey-voiced, deep acoustic blues in "Black and Blue Blues," and O'Brien reconfigures "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" into a plugged-in, shambling country workout complete with stuttering steel guitar commentary courtesy Russ Hicks. Good work, and true, by all concerned.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024