In most regards, The Way of A Wanderer sounds comfortingly traditional. The eleven cuts are originals by Keith Sewell (four co-composed with Niall Toner), who plays most of the instruments (mandolin, guitars, banjo, fiddle, bass and Wurlitzer organ) with a pristine beauty that never sounds too careful or clinical. Perfectly matched is his accurate and expressive low-tenor voice, with a strong southern inflection. The songs cover traditional themes, while the percussion, played by Fred Eltringham, is subtle and never up-front.
Then again, Sewell, a veteran songwriter (covered by artists ranging from Ricky Skaggs to BR-549) and musician (his sideman work includes stints with Skaggs, Sam Bush, Dixie Chicks, and Jerry Douglas), obviously is not untouched by modern influences, so the second cut, “Abigail,” chugs in an insistent 5/4 time signature, reminiscent of John Hartford’s classic newgrass tune, “On the Road.” Some of the disc’s solos teeter on the edge of jamgrass, yet never quite roll into that camp.
Rob Ickes, the lone guest string player, also lends some modern touches, his spirit fully engaged particularly in the slower, introspective numbers, evoking distant vistas that have become the domain of modern dobro players.
Less appealing is the Sewell’s use of fade-outs on a few cuts, with “Imogene,” for example, leaving us on a high note of simmering solos that deserve an exciting ending more than a gentle drift into silence.
But that is a minor point. Sewell, whose previous CD, Love Is a Journey, was released on Skaggs Family, has created a disc that should appeal to a range of listeners--bluegrass fans as well as country and acoustic-music lovers of all stripes. (Rubber Dog Records, [no street address] <www.keithsewell.com>) DR