june 2009

Red Stick Ramblers - My Suitcase Is Always PackedMY SUITCASE IS ALWAYS PACKED
Red Stick Ramblers
Sugar Hill

The venerable Red Stick Ramblers keep it geographically circumscribed and musically expansive on the entertaining outing that is My Suitcase Is Always Packed. Working with producers Gary Paczosa and Brandon Bell, the quintet rips and roars when it stays close to its Louisiana home, and gets downright swaggering and bluesy when venturing west across the border into the Texas swing and honky tonk precincts still swinging to Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and Asleep At the Wheel.

Now about those Louisiana tunes... It is true the Ramblers rip and roar through them-that shambling, fiddle- and accordion-fired rhythm and Linzay Young's high-spirited vocals are downright irresistible-but pay attention to the liner book, cats, because the fellows are dealing some down 'n' dirty stuff herein. Reflect on the album opener, "Je T'Aime Pas Mieux." Thanks to the English translation provided, we learn the song concerns a man who's basically staying with his gal because he's got no one better to go to. Against the jauntiest of rhythmic surges, Young sings of domestic bliss most prevalent among couples who have been together too long—"You kick me in the head while we're sleeping in bed, and you talk about another man in your sleep/And each morning you don't make me anything to eat/I drink dish water instead of good coffee." He goes on to complain about "living in trash," specifically "your old underwear all over the floor." It's not a pretty scene. "Nonc' Yorick (La Bataille de 1916)" may echo a Civil War song in its Appalachian-styled melody and prominent rolling banjo lines, but it is in fact Young's original tale based on the exploits of his great uncle, Yorick McGee, a bootlegger who shot it out with the cops in the early 1920s and went to the big house for his malfeasance. So while you're frolicking to the happy beat, remember the song's last line: "Uncle Dutile fired three shots from his pistol from the buggy/He hit Mr. Sidney Frugé, who fell to the ground like a big, wet sack of potatoes"—not an especially sparing portrait of the lawman, non? Another jaunty number, "Old Fashioned Two-Step," puts the lyrical emphasis on "old fashioned," as its English translation reveals it to be a young man complaining about his girlfriend's parents' determination to break them up "because of these ideas," presumably meaning a clash between old and new generational values. Following this comes a lovely, keening waltz, "La Valze De Meche," with beautiful solos from steel guitar, fiddle and accordion spicing a story of a fellow who's headed "alone, to the big marshes," awaiting the arrival of the girl who done him wrong.

Things lighten up when the Ramblers get away from the bayou country and really go country. The happy-go-lucky "Drinkin' To You" is one of the better drinkin' and lovin' songs to come down the pike in awhile, thanks to the evocative twin fiddles, rich steel guitar and Young's personable vocal. The easygoing lope of "My Suitcase Is Always Packed" is eminently suited for an Asleep At the Wheel cover, right down to Young's wry, humorous lyrics about a fellow who's always primed for a quick getaway. On the other hand, Rambler Chas Justus teams with Young to pen a lazy, sultry blues, "Lay Down In the Grass," with Young sounding for all the world like ol' Willie at his laid-back best, appreciating the easygoing pace and natural beauty of "my lazy southern summer day" and letting the fiddle, piano and guitar heat up the laid-back ambiance. Signing off on a comical note, the band serves up a delightful tribute to "Looney Tunes and Louis Jordan" with a Jordan-esque swing and strut through the animal kingdom in "The Barnyard Bachelor," a double entendre gem with Tympany Five-like choruses from the band in response to Young's lively vocal recreation of "the baddest rooster for miles and miles," for whom "one naggin' chick's no good for me/Man, I need 'em in threes and fours." Some laughs, some heartache, some drama, a smidgen of braggadocio—the Ramblers have a suitcase well stocked with it all this time around. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024