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Published: 2003/07/28
by Jesse Markowitz

Country Libations – Doug Wamble

Marsalis Music / Rounder Records 11661-3303-2
Labeling seems to be something people fixate on these days without good
reason. Is it jazz? Is it funk? Does it swing? Does it rock? The real
question is, does it matter? Great music does not need to be labeled, and
that is especially true with Country Libations, the debut record from
singer/guitarist Doug Wamble. Country Libations is a refreshing brew
of delta blues, post-bop jazz, country, and gospel. It makes sense that this
mix of music from the Deep South comes from a man who grew up in Memphis,
Tennessee, and has cut his teeth gigging with everyone from Steven Bernstein
(with the Millennial Territory Orchestra) to Wynton Marsalis (with the
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) to Cassandra Wilson (on her Travelling
Miles record).
Besides the stylistic diversity shown on Country Libations, there are
several other unique characteristics of Wamble that come to mind upon first
listen. First and foremost is the simplicity of his setup. In an age where
guitar players have more effects boxes than CDs to their name, Wamble
chooses to stick to an acoustic guitar held up to a microphone.
Unlike most debut records, Country Libations is a showcase for a real
working band (in addition to vocalist/guitarist Wamble, the record features
ex-James Blood Ulmer violinist Charles Burnham, pianist Roy Dunlap, bassist
Jeff Hanley, and drummer Peter Miles), as evidenced on the Ornette-ish
swinger "Dim Tangy Tennessee Twang," as well as the bluesy-funk (or is it
funky blues?) "Libation #2-Trouble, Lord," which makes all sorts of twists
and turns in the form, rhythm, and tempo. This music wasn’t sight-read at
the recording session. This is music that must be shed on the bandstand over
a period of many months.
What separates Country Libations from other stylistically diverse
records (Tony Williams’ The Joy Of Flying comes to mind), is that the
music retains a certain mood throughout, which evokes images of the Deep
South. A surprising cover of the Police hit "Walking On The Moon," which
features guest Branford Marsalis on soprano sax (Marsalis both produced the
record and signed Wamble to his Marsalis Music imprint), sounds as if it
could be a voodoo tribal dance number (think Indiana Jones & The Temple
Of Doom). The opening track, "Libation #1-Back Of The Hymnal," comes
straight from the church service. "Libation #4-Ain’t Quite Four This
Morning" is a gut-wrenching blues shouter that would have even Howlin’ Wolf
begging for mercy. The most dramatic piece is the folkish "Libation #7-Along
The Way," which is performed unaccompanied, and features a reflective,
haunting lyric.
Country Libations is the start of what looks to be a long career in
the record business for Wamble. Rarely does a musician sound so mature on a
debut record, and that is what makes this a record of integrity. As Branford
Marsalis is quoted on the back of the jewel case: Wamble is a musician who
has done his homework. He knows the traditions of each style of music he
plays, but certainly isn’t limited by them.

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