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By Eric Tingstad
Label: Cheshire Records
Released 4/21/2015
Mississippi tracks
1. Long Boats
2. The Cradle
3. Mississippi
4. Trail of Tears
5. Swamped
6. Tennessee Rain
7. Danny Boy
8. Skamania
9. Highway One
10. Durango
11. Chester
Eric Tingstad - Mississippi
Leaving the dusty ghost town streets of the Southwest and the mysterious haunting beauty of the Badlands far behind, guitarist Eric Tingstad continues to explore America's musical and cultural landscape, this time taking his listeners on a cruise down Old Man River on Mississippi. As on Badlands and Southwest, Tingstad continues to reinvent his musical persona. On Mississippi long-time fans will hear a more dramatic departure than on the artist's last two releases. In the end, Eric Tingstad has recorded what I believe to be his best solo effort and easily one of the top albums of 2015.

Tingstad began exploring the pedal steel guitar on the aforementioned Southwest as well as on Leap of Faith, his last recorded collaboration with his long-time duet partner, Nancy Rumbel. Here, he not only wields the pedal steel admirably, but adds an assortment of other guitars (including a resophonic) and banjo. He also moves his music into new influence territory, adding doses of delta blues, swamp rock, and even a dash of country here and there. The changes all go down like bourbon blended with sweet honey—smooth, easy, and oh so tasty.

Joining Tingstad is a crackerjack crew of guest players: Chris Leighton (drums and percussion), Eric Robert (organ and whirly), Garey Shelton (bass), James Clark (bass), Ben Smith (drums) and TJ Morris (percussion). Mixing was by Tom Hall and the disc was mastered by Rick Fisher and those two did a superb job – the album sounds fantastic! Tingstad and the other cats really get into it and it sure sounds like the recording sessions must have been a blast because the music sure is a lot of fun to listen to - infectious, propelled by catchy melodies, solid rhythm work, and excellent musicianship all around.

The album kicks off with the ferociously chugging rhythm section and funky organ riffing on "Long Boats" and anchored by Tingstad's pedal steel and other guitars. When he hits the power chords in the chorus, you are gonna want to turn the volume up, and you may as well leave it there because these guys are just getting warmed up. "Shakin' in the Cradle" dials the energy back a bit and replaces it with a mellow delta blues vibe, again highlighted by Eric Robert's delicious organ runs as a side dish to Tingstad's guitar playing. The lead refrain played on acoustic guitar is ultra-tasty. The title track goes downtempo as well, but the mood is haunting with a slow tempo rhythm and one can imagine floating down the river at dusk as the night creatures come out to serenade the travelers and a ghost moon plays peek-a-boo with the clouds. The bridge funks things up a bit with organ laying down a bedrock accompaniment over which Tingstad executes some testy fingering. Fans of Tingstad's many recordings with Nancy Rumbel will hear faint echoes of that duo's sound on both "Trail of Tears" (especially in the bridge) as well as on "Tennessee Rain" (where the lead melody reminded me of their album In The Garden at times), although minus Rumbel's oboe and ocarina, so the reference may not be readily apparent.

Other tracks include the midtempo acoustic blues number "Swamped" which starts off quietly but builds into a rockin' tune that will get your toes tapping, "Skamania" (can you guess what the sound aims for here?) and its shuffling beat and abundance of cheeriness, and "Highway One" which blends a subtly wistful lead melody with a mildly propulsive rhythm section, evoking a sunny day drive down a two lane blacktop. One of the more delightful tracks is Tingstad's countrified take on the Irish classic, "Danny Boy" which gets the full-on western treatment through Tingstad's mixture of resophonic and pedal steel guitar. I suppose purists may bristle at hearing the melancholic strains of the beloved standard dressed, as it were, in string tie, jeans, and cowboy boots, but I think it's delightful!

From the first playing of Mississippi, what struck me more than anything else is how immensely listenable and utterly entertaining the album is. I hit "Play" again right away after the last track ended. You just can't stay in a bad mood while listening to this excellent recording. Eric Tingstad and his pals grab you by the hand as if to say "Come on in, sit a spell and have some fun, maybe even get up and dance a bit." You'll be struck by the downhome friendliness of their playing and you'll feel your heart lighten as you join them in their river journey. Now, let's go cook us up some shrimp and grits. I've got the Jack Daniels right here!
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 9/23/2015
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