Artist: SHAUN CROMWELL

Title: THE TURNING OF CLOCKS

Label: MELON PATCH RECORDS

Release Date: 2007

BY KELLY MARIE MARTIN

ShawnCromwell.jpg

The Turning of Clocks is an album of original and traditional flat picked blues by Shaun Cromwell.Although released in 2007, the impetus for reviewing the album herestems from his solo performance at the Fourth Ever Los Angeles Old Time Social in May of this year. The reality, and I'm not being trite, his  performance knocked everybody's socks off-- an audience largely full of discerning American roots musicians. As stated on his Myspace page, it was recorded with one microphone, a couple of beat-up guitars and many short sessions over a period of several months, is his first release and is a meditation on death and impermanence. Produced by Shaun and recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Stickrock and Shaun Cromwell at Dead Squirrel Production Studios in West Hollywood, The Turning of Clocks has a beautiful cover painting by Andy Suriano, who also did the layout design along with Ben Kalina and photography by Genevieve Everding. The typesetting for the song titles and the thick brushstrokes of the cover painting of a child clad in a sailor outfit and crossword puzzle newspaper hat sitting among a pile of clocks and a guitar set the tone to complement this quote from the album's liner notes by way of explanation of the album's theme:"...a person who is mindful of death and impermanence progresses steadily and makes the most of every precious moment". Lama Atisha (982-1054 CE) Death is as much a part of life as music.

From the opening Three Deaths to the closing Elegy for the Misinformed you will find yourself on a wood box and steel strings meditative sailing trip floating along the masterful finger stylings and true-to-the-source songwriting of an amazing solo player. It's a selection of songs, covers and rags that swing, wind and pine through the fingers of someone who's done a careful study of his self-professed mentors, Mississippi John Hurt (he covers Let the Mermaids Fly With Me) and the Reverend Gary Davis for starters. His songwriting in music and song reference good old tunes such as in Three Deaths, "And my life has shown me, the burdens of men, they will be/So Lord, show me where to lay them burdens down." He's put the tunes together to tell a story. I'm partial to the rags Death and Taxes Rag and Cholla Rag. Not only do I like the way they swing, but they provide that respite and joy you need. They'll just make you smile, like ice cream. Only in Your Head follows his interpretation of the classic John Hardy almost as rumination that the whole tale of his life was just a nightmare instead of real myth. Reassuring the troubled mind of his love. Sweet. One Step Down Below is my least favorite. It chucks too modern and feels out of place here. Rhythm in the Tall Grass takes it back again to the gentle summer breeze implied in the title with such lyrics as,

Old friend, just tell me how my dreams go

I can't remember what I've seen

Kids dance and gather in that sunshine

The summer's almost gone

and the well written words are reinforced by Cromwell's inventive key change here and stops and starts there, (a method he employs in a lot of his playing.) He busts out the slide on Hope Grace Finds Us (By and By) with the intimacy of the one mic really picking up the creaking of the wood in the guitar's body or the chair he's sitting on, no matter it's just another layer that showcases his nimble fingers and chords. So It Goes is the perfect way to name the lilt and drift of its namesake, a lament and hang for the pop of days. It reveals the way his playing and voice does hang on a turnaround just a second too long but perfect, the phrasing reminding you that the resolve in those old songs depended on the mood and personality of the person playing them, not on a musical rule of perfect measures.

The album ends with Elegy for the Misinformed, which finds a line from which the title of the album comes and in the listening I am reminded suddenly of John Fahey, another flat picking blues soloist who did his own tribute to Death and as the final notes and chords ring and these closing lines

I've seen men die for any flag you'd fly

It's just a matter how the lines they get drawn

I've seen men kill for the brevet and the thrill

Thanks to faith in the absolutes of man.

I think "That's not bad company to keep." Just as everybody needs a little Fahey, you're gonna need a little Cromwell to help you along.

Kelly Marie Martin plays guitar and sings in Los Angeles' old-time string band Triple Chicken Foot." She came to old-time when the drummer in her indie/punk/folk rock band quit and while at a bbq at Walter Spencer's house he offered her the upright bass. Three weeks later she was jamming in a living room with Foghorn along with her soon-to-be husband, Ben Guzman on mandolin, Walter and fiddler Barb Hansen.She hasn't looked back since". Blame it on the strawberry margaritas?
http://www.triplechickenfoot.com,
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