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Dirk Powell

Walking Through Clay – 2014 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Dirk Powell

"Americana" is sometimes used as a catch-all description for music that doesn't fit any other genre. It is supposed to describe music that is a fusion of American styles including blues, country, bluegrass, R&B and others with American roots. Americana - the intended definition - is a good description of Dirk Powell's music.

The title song is a dedication to his great-great-grandmother who escaped Confederate soldiers, bore a son by a man who "took advantage of her," and crossed the mountains to Clay County, Ky. to build herself and her son a life. It's a tale of hard work and hard times, met with stubborness and perserverance. It's as American as the baying bluetick hound the song mentions. Going on a different tack, the 1847 hymn "Abide With Me" is offered in New Orleans style, featuring the late Levon Helm on drums and his daughter Amy singing harmony. It's complete with horns and will remind you of a New Orleans funeral procession.

Powell takes you on a journey from Cajun/Zydeco influences ("Spoonbread," a Louisiana story, and "As I Went Out A' Walkin'," a matchup between a Cajun-influenced fiddle and electric instruments, trading musical interludes with short snatches of lyrics), to the slow, deliberate measures of "Sweet Goes The Whistle," yet another fiddle-led celebration of recollections of life, to a blues-driven "Rollin' Round This Town," kicked off by Jerry Douglas on slide guitar. "That Ain't Right" could have been a '60's rock number, complete with improvised guitar licks and an easy, rocking sound (though not many rock songs featured an accordion).

You can't pigeonhole this music into one genre slot, but isn't that what Americana is supposed to be? It's a welcome relief from music that sounds alike, song after song, until you can't remember what you've heard. Excellent musicians (Douglas, Helm, Powell, ex-wife Christine Balfa, ...) playing a wide variety of instruments (fiddle, multiple types of banjos, harmonica, percussion, cello, saxophone) means a musical experience you won't soon forget. If you can cut the bonds of genre worship, this will be a treat.