COURTNEY HARTMAN & TAYLOR ASHTON
Free Dirt Records
The debut recording from Della Mae’s virtuoso guitarist Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton, clawhammer banjo player and guitarist of Canadian roots ensemble Fish & Bird, is a quietly introspective piece of mostly original music recorded in the dead of winter with a fireplace crackling in the background at an old dance hall in South Dartmouth, Mass. Hartman is a well-known guitarist and Ashton’s clawhammer style weaves melody deftly into the rhythm of his banjo. But this album focuses more on their songwriting than their instrumental chops. We primarily hear guitar and banjo behind vocals from both, with accents from a woodwind/brass ensemble, pump organ, and electric guitar.
This recording is best listened to by a fire or candlelight, with glass in hand. A lyric sheet would be appreciated. These songs require that listeners lean in to catch every nuance. Courtney’s “Meadowlark” describes the delight of simply being in the company of a new love: Sing me a song like the meadowlark do / And all that I want is to sip with you. The title-cut from Ashton is written from the perspective of a true friend who is consistently there for you, even when you don’t always return the favor. I’ve always been on your side,they sing in close harmony throughout the song. Taylor’s original “Loving Hands” would make a great courtship or wedding song with the strong hook: I believe my heart belongs in your loving hands.“Dead To Me” is the funniest track, presented with male/female alternating verses. The gentleman is infatuated with the woman, who unfortunately is simply bored with him. In the next verse he’s in love with her, while she is done with him. In the end, the man professes that she is heaven to him, to which she replies: You’re dead to me.The listener feels sorry for the poor guy, but it is humorous.
If you’re in the market for a collection of thought-provoking new songs painted with spare but delightful instrumental accompaniment and honest unadorned singing, you’ve found it here. (www.freedirt.net)NC