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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1310

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Clarence Bucaro: Sweet Corn
by George Graham

(Burnside Records 46 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/29/2003)

It's interesting, and frequently encouraging when young musicians take up historical music styles, seemingly without much of a personal connection to them. And while the authenticity of such endeavors may not be perfect, the best of such young performers can bring a new twist to old styles.

This week we have a good example in Clarence Bucaro, whose debut nationally-released CD is called Sweet Corn. Bucaro takes up the region between folk, blues and early jazz, and brings a pleasantly informal, breezy sound to the mix, along with solid musicianship.

Clarence Bucaro was born in Northeastern, Ohio in 1980, and his time and place would seem an unlikely source for music steeped in the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans in the early part of the 20th Century. But when he was 16, which was only about six years ago, he was introduced to the blues, and quickly absorbed the influence of such pioneers as Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, and Mississippi John Hurt. Along the way, he was smitten by early New Orleans music, jug-band sounds, as well as folk-singers like Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt. In 2000, he put together a demo recording which caught the ear of the folks at the Portland, Oregon, based blues label Burnside Records, which eventually led to the making of this CD, after Bucaro's graduation from college, and a long, solo trek along the Appalachian Trail. Working with local, Ohio-based musicians, along with New Orleans stalwart performer Anders Osborne, serving as producer, who definitely brought a good helping of the Crescent City to Columbus, Ohio, Bucaro created this pleasing but quite eclectic album of almost all original material. The styles run the gamut of Bucaro's interests, including old-time country, blues, jug-band, early New Orleans jazz, and a little rock & roll, with primarily acoustic instruments, and a relaxed vocal style that is reminiscent of the currently popular John Mayer. One publicity blurb called him a male Norah Jones, which is not too far off the mark, though Bucaro's performances are decidedly more casual in sound.

Others joining Bucaro include Tom Beardslee on guitars and mandolin; Steve Fox on acoustic and washtub bass, Geoff Sullivan on percussion, ranging from washboard to regular drums; and Peter Harris on violin. Anders Osborne adds some backing vocals and percussion. And singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson also makes an appearance on backing vocals on one song. While the gathered players may not be the finest virtuosi -- there is a very informal and occasionally loose sound -- their playing fits the music nicely, giving a kind of back-porch ambience to the whole CD. Most of the lyrics are appropriate for the bluesy genre but interestingly, Bucaro does write some socially-conscious lyrics in the venerable folk tradition, reflecting Bucaro's admitted Woody Guthrie influence.

Sweet Corn opens with a song that typifies the laid-back nature of the CD. Gardens of Love is one of the jazzier songs on the record, thanks to the added trumpet of Brian Newman. <<>>

In a considerably different direction is I Am Just a Refugee, which features lyrics in the folk troubadour tradition, contrasting with surprising hints of African pop influence. The result is one of the CD's highlights. <<>>

Also taking up the subject of the downtrodden is Streets of Juarez, set in the Mexican border city filled with American factories looking for cheap labor, and the people who work there at low wages. <<>>

Sad Lament is an interesting song that hints at early New Orleans jazz, while the lyrics talk about looking for the blues, when you're not that badly off. <<>>

The folk music influence takes center stage on Preacher's Daughter, which is written from the standpoint of the principal character. The idyllic lyrics are given a relaxed old-timey treatment. <<>>

Down in New Orleans is a track whose arrangement lives up to its title. What the piece lacks in authenticity, it makes up in spirit. <<>>

While most of the CD is upbeat in mood, Bucaro includes one sad love song, These Tears, which seems influenced by the old rock & roll ballads of the 1950s and 1960s, though with an acoustic setting. <<>>

Probably the most traditional-sounding song is Ol' Gutbucket, the story of a good-for-nothing character who fancied himself as a travelling preacher man. Steve Fox gets out his washtub bass. <<>>

The CD ends with a fun track obviously written by someone who grew up in the snow belt of Ohio. Summer Here Inside inspires the use of one's imagination during the depths of winter. <<>>

Clarence Bucaro is another of those young musicians who specializes in styles much older than he is. His new CD Sweet Corn is an enjoyable and surprisingly eclectic recording that runs from old-time jazz, to folk, to blues. He and his group maintain a very relaxed sound, which adds to the appeal of the recording. The musical informality does lead to a few imperfections in the performance, but that can help underscore the unpretentious sound. His backing musicians are a good match for the music, or maybe it's the other way around. Bucaro's original songs often sound as if they are 60 years old, but with Bucaro being of the alternative rock era, he adds some interesting cross-generational hints.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." The acoustic instruments are treated well in the recording and the dynamic range is reasonable, though not at audiophile level.

A 22-year-old Ohioan playing old-time New Orleans jazz, folk and blues is obviously something of a novelty. But even if Clarence Bucaro were a 50-year-old Louisiana native, this CD of easy-going down-home music would still be just as appealing.

(c) Copyright 2003 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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