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Cindy Cashdollar: Waltz for Abilene
by George Graham
(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/8/2020)
While some musicians crave the spotlight either as a solo artist or as the leader of a group, there are thousands of others who usually work as backing musicians, in everything from a symphony orchestra to a strip club. And there are the supporting musicians who rise to develop a reputation as the first-call people, in both the studio and on tour, often with well-known music stars. Every so often, one of these in-demand studio musicians will put out a record on his or her own. They often tend to be exercises in showing the versatility of said player. With the studio business still being as male dominated it is, it’s not often that a female studio musician steps forward to release an album. In fact, outside of backing vocalists, there are still not a lot of women studio players who become the in-demand players.
This week, we have the exception: a new album by steel and resonator guitarist Cindy Cashdollar. It’s called Waltz for Abilene.
Cindy Cashdollar – that’s her family name where there have been Cashdollars around Woodstock, New York, for generations – grew up in Woodstock and took up the Dobro and pedal and lap steel guitar, and by the 1970s and 1980s, she was playing with many of the notable musicians on the Woodstock scene, including Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band, bluesman Paul Butterfield, and folksingers Happy and Artie Traum. In 1992, she moved to Nashville to further her career, and became a member of the long-running Western Swing outfit Asleep at the Wheel. Later, she became a busy studio musician, playing on albums by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, BeauSoleil, and Leon Rodbone, to name a few. Several of the recordings on which she played became Grammy award winners.
In 2004, she released her first solo album Slide Show, which featured guest appearances by some of the people on whose records she appeared, including Marcia Ball and Sonny Landreth. Now almost 16 years later, she has released Waltz for Abilene, only the second album under her own name. And like its predecessor, there are numerous guests, including Landreth and Ball again, plus blueswoman Rory Block. Other guests include another Nashville studio musician stalwart Albert Lee, plus Amy Helm, John Sebastian and Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. The new album is mostly instrumental, and covers a notably wide range stylistically, from twangy country to jazz ballad to electric blues. Waltz for Abilene’s focus is on rearranging existing songs, from traditional pieces to a Bob Dylan composition, though there are two original instrumentals. Ms. Cashdollar recorded the album in several studios, to connect with her guests and the people she had collaborated with previously, so the personnel varies quite a bit in keeping with the stylistic directions. She said that the recording started in Austin Texas, and then picked up in California, Louisiana and ended up around her hometown of Woodstock.
Opening the generous 13-track album is an instrumental piece called Foggy Mountain Rock, featuring guitarist Albert Lee. Ms. Cashdollar is heard on lap steel, while the band lays down a kind of twangy country hoedown sound. Both Lee and Ms. Cashdollar put in excellent performances. <<>>
Following is an acoustic Delta-style blues done with veteran folk blueswoman Rory Block That Ain;t No Way for Me to Get Along. Ms. Cashdollar and Ms. Block have performed together occasionally as the Sisters of Slide. They nicely supplement each other, with Ms. Block providing the vocals. <<>>
Ms. Cashdollar does another collaboration with Louisiana guitar maven Sonny Landreth on a tune on called Sey Seychelles which she originally played on a recording by the Cajun band BeauSoleil. It’s a mellow waltz. Ms. Cashdollar’s playing on baritone National resonator guitar is particularly appealing. <<>>
The album includes Hoagy Carmichael’s jazz standard Skylark with Jake Longley playing the jazz rhythm guitar with Ms. Cashdollar on lap steel. <<>>
Austin blues-rocker Omar Kent Dykes of Omar and the Howlers, make an appearance on a Howlin’ Wolf tune called How Many More Years. Despite the energy level of the Texas-style blues, it’s not the strongest track. <<>>
Another artist who appeared on Ms. Cashdollar’s last album in 2004, Marcia Ball, appears on piano on a slow original instrumental by Cashdollar called Salvation which she said evolved into a Gospel feel as they started playing it. Ms. Cashdollar’s instrument on the track is again lap steel, and it’s another tasteful performance. <<>>
The album includes a version of Bob Dylan’s Ring Them Bells with Amy Helm, of the band Ollabelle and daughter of Levon Helm, doing the vocals. The song takes on a gentler sound that works quite well. <<>>
The album ends with its title track, Waltz for Abilene which Ms. Cashdollar said was written while she was on a tour with Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion. Abilene, Texas was one of the stops. The guest on this track is Larry Campbell, who is heard on fiddle and mandolin. The track makes a nice contemplative-sounding finale for the album.
Cindy Cashdollar’s new release Waltz for Abilene is an enjoyable and musically varied recording by a veteran studio musician and side person on dozens of albums, including several Grammy Award winners. She is joined by a compatible group of guests and the musical interaction with them is what gives the album some strength beyond being just another studio musician’s solo record. It’s also a reminder of how tasteful a player of slide, steel, and resonator guitars she is, where it’s easy to get carried away.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” While the dynamic range is not great, there is good clarity and it’s also impressive how coherent the sound is from these recordings made at different times in different cities with different recording and mix engineers.
The field of first-call non-singing studio instrumentalists unfortunately does not include many women. Cindy Cashdollar is a great exception, and her new release is a reminder of what a great player she is.
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