At first listen, Doug Wamble’s debut CD, “Country Libations,” sounds like a compilation. At different points, Wamble flatpicks country swing, booms out heartfelt gospel, plays slide Delta blues, swings hard on pre-bop jazz and intersperses moments of free jazz. This range and choice of styles is initially a little confusing, but reflects Wamble’s varied past. Born in Muddy Waters’ hometown of Clarksville, Miss., raised amid the soul music of Memphis, he once sang in a Southern Baptist choir and now resides in New York City where he has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Wamble has heard a lot of music firsthand and blends these experiences into a beautiful acoustic melange, melded together by the strength of his unique delivery.
Wamble’s music is a “country libation” distinct from the bottled cocktail of commercial country music. Like Marsalis and Wilson, who have often tapped into country wellsprings for inspiration, Wamble is fluent in many kinds of roots music without overspecializing, and mixes them naturally. The rambling, easy-going pace of “Baby If You’re Lyin’ ” dances to the country swing of Bob Wills with a deep blues feeling, while “Dim Tangy Tennessee Twang” drops in Ornette Coleman-like modal jazz. It’s a unique good-time blend that moves easily between music fit for a union hall dance, a juke joint booze-up, an early morning jam session or a Wednesday night prayer meeting.
The sincerity of Wamble’s robust singing and the tastefulness of his nimble acoustic guitar make every song work, even though he’s spanning a wide range of sounds. “Ranura del Campo” starts with an ambling bass line that kicks over into the deep humming of Wamble’s honey-toned voice. The melody is picked up by catgut violin (brought in by Charles Burnham from James Blood Ulmer’s band) that caroms off into Wamble’s guitar solo, New Orleans rhythm and a little stride piano. Wamble’s voice has a calming touch and his guitar-picking a delicate geniality that unifies it all.
The only tune seemingly out of place is The Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” Wamble drains the lush pop sensibility of the original to leave the song’s inner core of eerie existential weightlessness. This free-form take is unusually haunting. Wamble’s deep feeling for all these musical traditions creates an appealing mix that is quirky as a whole, but committed to his own singular vision of authentic music. The passionate bear hug he gives to the catalog of down-home styles reveals their ongoing vitality, as well as their commonality. The only problem is where to file it in the CD racks.
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