For the uninitiated, placing an album like Nashville City Blues in the CD player will be a pleasant surprise. Pleasant because it is a country album that, despite its title, has nothing to do with Nashville, and pleasant because James Talley's approach to country is shot through with the blues. There are no retro-honky tonk songs in sight, and while Talley does wear a hat on the CD cover, it isn't a cowboy hat. The album kicks off with the title cut, a rocking kiss-off to Nashville and all it's cookie-cutter sameness. "I've Seen the Bear" is a long-running narrative with a late-night feel and insightful observations, while "Workin' for Wages" lays down a few honest words about the blue-collar life. "You Can't Get There From Here" and "House Right Down the Road" are fun rockers that give Talley a chance to cut loose with some nice guitar work. A number of songs like "Don't You Feel Low Down" and "If It Wasn't for the Blues" emphasize the "blues" in the album's title. The arrangements throughout Nashville City Blues are pure country, meaning guitar, mandolin, steel, Dobro, and an occasional piano. The instruments blend well together, and the overall production is spare. Talley, who has penned all of the songs, writes intelligent lyrics and has a pleasant singing voice. He remembers and celebrates country music's working-class roots. For fans of "real" country music, Nashville City Blues will be an ear-opening experience, leaving them anxious for upcoming reissues of Talley's earlier work.
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This is Nashville City Blues: That laconic voice, speaking with the warmth and directness of a close friend delivering tidings both glad and unsettling; that acerbic wit; those unadorned, beautifully crafted lyrics about common folk getting through one more day with their souls and sense of humor intact; the spare, engrossing instrumental arrangements. And most significantly, there are the songs. Vibrantly lived-in compositions such as "If It Wasn't for the Blues," "Don't You Feel Low Down," "Rough Edge," and "Workin' for Wages" resonate like the chapters of an autobiography, while the bittersweet love songs "Baby Needs Some Good Times" and "When I Need Some Love" could only have been written by someone who's been touched to the core by the faith of his significant other, even as his dreams come crashing down around them. There's also the title track, which joins Larry Cordle's "Murder on Music Row" as an eloquent indictment of the mainstream disemboweling of the music's traditional virtues, and the stifling of artists with a distinctive point of view and singular way of expressing it. This is James Talley, a genuine American original, revealed in multiple dimensions on an album rich in emotional truth and musical vision. This is what it's all about. Or should be.