#104 February/March 2002
Rick Shea and
Trouble and Me
Tres Pescadores TPCD-3 2002
Shea and Kearns have been playing together since the late 80s. Kearns is well known for his fiddling on Dwight Yoakums first three albums and has played on Shea's two acclaimed albums. Both Kearns and Shea (guitar, mandolin) are part of Dave Alvin's band, the Guilty Men, but this is the duo's first actual album together. Trouble and Me, which was produced by Shea and Alvin, is a collection of traditionals and old favorites mixed in with a few originals. The album begins and closes with wonderfull instrumentals, the closer being "Byrons Iron/Bakers Acre," a tribute to Kearns fiddling influences.
Shea and Kearns are both enthralling singers and equally exciting instrumentalists. There is something quintessentially Californian in Shea's bittersweet voice. He is very effective on material from that most talented of folk couple, notably Mary McCaslin ("San Bernardino Waltz") and her late husband Jim Ringer ("Rachel"). When Kearns sings the Carter Family's "Loafers Glory" (made popular by Flatt & Scruggs) and the traditional "Sail Away Ladies" his Appalachian roots come to the fore, not only in his choice of material but also in his fiddling and the subtle drawl in his voice. The originals hold their own solidly next to those songs. Dave Alvin plays the National steel guitar on a Cajun-inflected version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan" that is also an unbridled acoustic rocker. Most of Trouble and Me is stunningly good.
- Paul E. Comeau
(Comeauville NS, Canada)
#68/157 SEPTEMBER 2002
Vital cogs in Dave Alvin and The Guilty Men, one of the most potent live shows in the business, Rick Shea is Alvins jack of all trades, playing steel guitar, electric guitar and mandolin, Kearns sticks to the fiddle. In between his duties for Alvin Shea has also carved out a solo career that has yielded three fine releases to date, including this collaboration with Kearns, who accompanied Shea on previous solo affairs, but now his name makes it to the marquee. Some may remember Kearns as the fiddle man in the first incarnation of Dwight Yoakuns band, wearing his ever present overalls. For all intents and purposes this is closer to a bluegrass album than anything else. Mixing favorites from the catalogues of Mary McCaslin (San Benardino Waltz), Jim Ringer (Rachel), Harlan Howard (Trouble and Me) and Blind Lemon Jefferson (Black Snake Moan) with some solid originals, the stripped-down, all acoustic setting provides the fellows with plenty of elbow room to show their respective musician chops, which they do in spades, while also putting their own creative stamp on things in the process. It is that laid-back, lived in quality that makesTrouble and Me the pleasurable listen that it is. Other than a few instrumentals the two take turns on lead vocals throughout the entirety of the record with Shea's creamy baritone providing a nice counter to Kearns Carolina twang. Consider this one of them small gems of an album.
Rick Shea and Brantley Kearns have stepped away from their duties as members of Dave Alvins Guilty Men long enough to record this intimate and gorgeous half originals/half covers all authentic country blues/bluegrass album.
They show they are no mere "O Brother " come latelies as the songs that they've written are woven to perfection in among the traditional compositions by everyone from E.J. and Maybelle Carter to Harlan Howard. Its no surprise that Shea and Kearns have a unique chemistry between them; Shea's solo albums have been wonderfull representations of his California country and folk heritage and Kearns North Carolina bluegrass roots are the perfect complement to them.
The blending of the two talents barely shows the stitches between the Carters "Loafers Glory" and Shea's own "Parish Road" or the traditional "Sail Away Ladies" and Kearns old timey "Aint It Almost Like The Old Times" Production by Shea and bossman Alvin is sypathetically stripped down and unadorned, allowing the purity of the music to shine through.
Friday July 12. 2002
Rick Shea is the second guitarist and harmony singer and Brantley Kearns the fiddler in Dave Alvins band The Guilty Men, and Alvin returns the favor here, co producing with Shea and adding steel guitar to a string band version of Blind Lemon Jeffersons "Black Snake Moan" to their new duet album.
"Carolina Ca.," "Aint It Almost Like The Old Times" and "Let My Horses Run Free" offer smart contemporary takes on country when its heart was still in the hills of Tennesee and the Brazos of Texas. Whether reviving classics like the Carter Family's "Loafers Glory" and Harlan Howards "Trouble and Me," spotlighting forgotten gems likeMary McCaslin's "San Bernardino Waltz" or evoking ancient string band jubilance on "Byrons Iron/Bakers Acre," Shea and Brantley celebrate their musical roots with verdant branches.
- Geoffrey Himes
COUNTRY PICK OF THE WEEK
RICK SHEA & BRANTLEY KEARNS
As career choces go, few pack more heartache and frustration than country music. The very fact that these two paragons of honky-tonk expression have gamely soldiered on through the years makes it clear they take their calling pretty damn seriously. Shea's been at it since his 1970s start at Inland Empire truckstops, and Kearns was performing every weekend in his home town of High Point, North Carolina, by age 11. With the mortality rate for country nightclubs at an all time high and pay scale at a shocking low, the title of their new CD come as no surprise: Trouble and Me. But you won't catch either one griping, and the disc itself is an often dazzling collection of trad. old-timey and brand-new original songs, a beguiling mix of instrumentals offset by Shea's deceptively understated interpretive vocals and Kearns' own singular version of the classic Southern style. When he gets to singing "There ain't no more cane on the Brazos," its a transportive moment, one that emphasizes an ability to hearken back to the 19th century while delivering an intense of-the-moment reality. A rare gift, yet one common to each, and it rates Trouble and Me as one of the most important doses of indie California country in ages.
Aug 2, 2002
RICK SHEA AND BRANTLEY KEARNS "Trouble and Me"
(Tres Pescadores) ****
Both stalwart members of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men, Calfornia countrypolitan Shea and Carolina fiddler Kearns operate on vastly different musical wavelengths, but somehow complement each others sounds on this collection of slickly told song stories and backwoods stomps. Highlights include Shea's sap-drained nostalgic pause on J.Ringers "Rachel" and Kearns' randy geezer reading of the traditional "Sail Away Ladies."
Rick Shea and Brantley Kearns
Trouble and Me
by William Michael Smith
Rick Shea and Brantley Kearns are multi-instrumentalist mainstays of the Los Angeles roots and traditional music scene. While they've often performed together as a duo over the years, this is their first official "Rick and Brantley" recording. Folky, traditional, and acoustic, it is an absolutely straightforward, honest, unpretentious record. And it's no accident that they begin the album with a picker's delight Shea instrumental composition titled "Carolina California" that is a complex, layered acoustic romp in the Appalachian tradition but with an undeniable modernity. Doc and Vassar comparisons should leap to mind.
While Shea is an established figure in the Southern California roots scene who has released four albums of his own work, including Sawbones in 2000, his most recognized work has been as a hot-picking, multi-instrumental (steel, acoustic, and electric guitar and mandolin) sideman in Dave Alvin's Guilty Men. Shea has also recorded or appeared with Chris Gaffney, Heather Myles, Christy McWilson, Katy Moffatt, Phil Tagliere, and Mark Insley.
Kearns is currently part of Alvin's touring band, but his most high profile work was with Dwight Yoakam. Kearns played fiddle and sang those distinctive harmonies on Yoakam's breakout album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc . , Etc. as well as on Hillbilly Deluxe, Just Lookin' for a Hit, and Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room. Kearns has also played and sung harmony on innumerable recording sessions in about any genre one cares to name. His credits include Billy Joe Shaver's Highway of Life , Jesse Dayton's Hey Nashvegas!, Supersuckers' Must've Been High , and multiple records for Heather Myles and David Bromberg. He even recorded with punk legend Mike Ness onUnder the Influences .
It only seems natural that Shea and Kearns enlisted Alvin to co-produce. Alvin has a Grammy on his shelf for Best Folk Album ( Public Domain ) and has several notable production credits including Tom Russell's Rose of the San Joaquin and albums for Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, rockabilly legend Sonny Burgess, Red Meat, Katy Moffatt, Candye Kane, and the latest by Christy McWilson. Greg Liesz, a longtime Alvin musical fellow traveler, lends his considerable dobro skills to the project.
The album actually assumes two distinct personalities depending on who is taking the vocal lead. In a blurb for Shea's Sawbones release, Alvin said Shea has a voice he'd kill for. Shea has a clear, distinctive Western timbre that is easily identifiable to anyone familiar with his other work. I've heard it compared to Kevin Welch. Shea's vocal tracks, like Jim Ringer's well drawn folky love song "Rachel" or Shea's own Southern flavored "Parish Road," would fit seamlessly on Sawbones with a bit of electrification. But there is no electrification, so what we get is lively playing and singing that wrings plenty of emotional content and meaning from the rhymes. Shea grew up in San Bernardino, giving his plaintive but catchy cover of Mary McCaslin's "San Bernardino Waltz" an extra dimension. And Shea actually gets a young Merle Haggard vocal vibe on the title track, which features the brilliant lyrics of the recently deceased Harlan Howard and Kearns spot-on trademark country-soul harmonies.
Trouble and me, we're old buddies you see
I've stuck by him, he's stickin' by me
Goodbye, honey, be thankful you're free
That you're not stuck with ol' trouble and me
--Harlan Howard, "Trouble and Me"
Shea also sings on the sentimental and delicate country-folk Shea-Alvin song, "Let My Horses Run Free." Both Alvin and Shea have a considerable jones for "Western" or "cowboy" music, the music of the ranches and campfires, and this is an excellent example of what happens when two seasoned songwriters collaborate in an old form. They draw some wonderful rural images that capture the spirit of a man not only facing the end of his days but of the rural Western way of life. My grandfather was an old cattleman who didn't quit riding until he was 77. I wish he could have heard this song before he died.
The days have grown shorter, there's a chill on the wind
These old bones have grown tired, my blood's running thin
My friends and my family are just memories
Time to take off my saddle, let my horses run free
While I was already familiar with Shea's singing voice, I had never heard Kearns as a lead singer before listening to Trouble and Me and I was simply stunned. Kearns has a delightful, authentic, old-time hillbilly voice that works well for standards like the Carter Family's "Loafer's Glory" or Alvin and Shea's arrangement of the traditional folk romp sing-along, "Sail Away Ladies." With his Jimmy Martin-channeling-Doc-Watson voice, Mr. Kearns could front any bluegrass band on the planet. His "Ain't It Almost Like the Old Times" certainly catches the authentic old-time, front-porch mountain music feel.
Kearns has two showstoppers here. One is the innovative country-blues Dave-Alvin-touch arrangement of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan" featuring Kearns' dry vocal and some electrifying Cajun fiddling. With Alvin on National steel guitar and Chris Gaffney's gently rocking accordion, this track is straight from the bayous south of I-10. Kearns' voice has both a wonderful loose flexibility and a hard snap that makes it perfect for a double entendre blues. It is this voice that makes his version of the Texas traditional "No More Cane on the Brazos" so numbingly pleasurable. The fact that he can do it within the structure of a bluegrass waltz beat makes it all the more effective. And his world-weary aching-back Del McCoury vocal treatment is as real as the brutal cotton-picking labor in the Brazos River valley that spawned the original field-holler.
Should've been on that old river in Nineteen-and-five
There is hardly a man that is left alive
Should've been on that old river in Nineteen-and-ten
They was workin' the women just like they was men
With Alvin's deft handling, Trouble and Me is intimate in the extreme. Aesthetically, it alternates between what sounds like playing in the living room on the tracks Shea sings and playing on the back porch when Kearns takes the microphone. Little touches like the wacky jaw harp on "Loafer's Glory" and "Sail Away Ladies" and occasional harmonies that sound like a cross between a backwoods church and a prison choir set the album apart from other "traditional" albums, giving it a deep, unhurried, organic feel. Shea credits Alvin's ears and vision along with careful pre-production rehearsals and a common vision with Kearns for the album turning out to be the honest, intimate jewel that it is.
"We just wanted to do our best to capture the sounds of the acoustic instruments," Shea said, "since that is so much of what Brantley and these songs are about."
Equal parts craft-conscious roots musicians and students of the music and its history, there can be little doubt that this project is a labor of love for Shea, Kearns, and Alvin, more a question of their personal musical integrity than of hit records, commercial possibilities, and financial rewards, more about self-respect and keeping the faith than about fame and fortune. With the flood of "traditional" music washing over the record buying public in the wake of the sales success of O Brother , we can only hope that something this exceptional doesn't get lost in the crowd. Whatever happens commercially with Trouble and Me , I don't believe Kearns or Shea will have any trouble looking in the mirror each morning.
Rick Shea and Brantley Kearns
Trouble and Me
By Jackson Griffith
If “country music” to you means fiddles and flat-picked guitars and songs that reside closer to country’s folk-music roots than they do to the clever artifice that is Nashville’s stock in trade, have I got a record for you. Shea and Kearns are veterans of L.A.’s upstart country scene; currently they’re members of the Guilty Men, whose leader, Dave Alvin, co-produced this set with Shea. Kearns is a fiddler, originally from North Carolina, with a keening voice; Shea plays a mean guitar and sings in a resonant baritone; they’re backed by an elite squad of L.A.’s hot-shit country players, including Alvin on one track. Tunes range from the Carter Family and Blind Lemon Jefferson to more modern numbers by Jim Ringer and Mary McCaslin (along with the title cut, a song Harlan Howard wrote for Buck Owens), plus five originals. This one makes a nice companion to Alvin’s 2000 album, Public Domain.
RICK SHEA & BRANTLEY KEARNS
TROUBLE AND ME
Every now and then an album comes along where a few people pair up and the results are magic. This is the latest album to do that. Shea and violinist Kearns (Dwight Yoakam, Dave Alvin, Katy Moffatt and many more) team up with Dave Alvin (who co-produces with Shea) and come up with an acoustic gem that we've been spinning non stop in the office. It's a mix of covers and traditional tunes with a couple of originals. Shea and Brantley have played on tons of other people's albums over the years so it's really nice to see them get to step out on their own. If you need a Saturday afternoon album after Prairie Home Companion ends then this is the one.