Compilation records can be notoriously uneven because the unifying force between the songs is often more thematic than instrumental. Dave Sanger, veteran drummer for Asleep at the Wheel, has found a remedy: play on most of the songs yourself. Sanger also heads up production duties, inviting friends from many generations and genres over to his Austin studios to jam. It's a simple, and generally winning, idea.
This is the third volume of Americana songs inspired or evoking "The Mother Road." Most of the names of the participants may not be household, but they're worth discovering. Tim Curry might be the most well-known, and deservedly so. But he isn't equal to the machine-gun delivery of Hit the Road Jack. It's a merciful blip on an otherwise good collection. White Line Fever receives a sacred homage from Dale Watson. The Merle Haggard line "I ain't found one single place where I ain't been before" just grows more haunting with time.
Other songs cover places in the heart more than geography. If you remember the early Jackson Browne records, you'll probably recognize The Road. Matt the Electrician covers Danny O'Keefe's like the roadmaster that many of these artists are. Another highlight, the wonderful Pickin' California by Slaid Cleaves, gives a modern folkie turn concerning robber barons who exploit grape field workers.
Even with the presence of more reflective pieces, the sequencing on the record could have been reshuffled to work better as a road trip's mix tape. The slow R&B opener, a Jill Scott-flavored Be Thankful for What You Got by Emily Gimble, wouldn't inspire anyone to pull the car out of the driveway. But these unearthed songs in danger of being forgotten do matter. They sing about an America that's been lost, found, and may one day be found again.