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Published: 2011/05/03
by Brian Robbins

Tara Nevins
Wood And Stone

Sugar Hills Records

Wood And Stone finds Tara Nevins – the frighteningly-talented multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter who has co-led Donna The Buffalo for over 20 years – doing what comes naturally: being a frighteningly-talented multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter … just doing it with a different gang of folks.

You can thank Levon Helm’s Barn and its crew of talented musicians and sound shapers for the vibe of Wood And Stone. As perfect and right as Nevins sounds leading the charge of Donna the Buffalo, her music takes on the spirit of the Barn like a well-worn and cozy Gypsy jacket that was tailored to her shoulders. Check out the core band: upright bassist Byron Isaacs; Justin Guip on drums; and Larry Campbell on just about anything with strings (including some tasty citern picking, for all you citern freaks out there). All three are regulars at Helm’s Midnight Ramble concerts – and with Guip and Campbell doing double-duty (the former engineered and mixed the album; the latter produced), Wood And Stone is another example of why Helm’s studio is becoming known as the Muscle Shoals of roots music.

The title track kicks the album off with an opening snake dance between Nevins’ fiddle and Campbell’s banjo. 15 seconds in, Isaacs’ bass comes rumbling up from the Earth’s inner core, accompanied by the snap of Guip’s drums. Add in a chunky rhythm guitar figure (a la Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing”) blending nicely with the banjo’s steady tick and the fiddle’s soulful moan – and Nevins’ tale of her childhood is off and running. The sound is both loose and tight at the same time; the band knows how to walk that line and let Nevins be herself. To put it simply, it just plain works.

The arrangements themselves range from the hay bale-scorching whirling dervish of the instrumental “Nothing Really” to the Zydeco-flavored churn of “All I Ever Needed” (Nevins dons her accordion, while Campbell applies some tasteful pedal steel) to “The Wrong Side”, where Campbell’s jazzy guitar work and Nevins’ fiddle combine to conjure up the spirit of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

Guests on Wood And Stone include Jim Lauderdale, Allison Moorer, and Teresa Williams, who all contribute vocals; Rose Sinclair on banjo for several tracks; acoustic guitarist Beverly Smith; bassist June Drucker; and Helm himself who sits in on drums for a couple of songs. (It’s a tribute to Guip’s talents that you don’t slap your forehead and say, “That’s gotta be Levon!” on the tunes with Helm behind the kit.)

The shake-your-head-and-grin musical moments courtesy of Larry Campbell are too numerous to mention – although he manages to never grandstand … he just makes things better. His playing is all over this album (catch the swap between his pedal steel and Nevin’s fiddle on “You’re till Driving That Truck” or the darkly-shimmering apocalyptic guitar on “Tennessee River”), but it always serves the song.

And that’s the deal overall with Wood And Stone – the presence of talented friends both new and old never overshadows Tara Nevins; rather, they provide the perfect background for her talent.

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