Livingston physician and guitar-player Ben Bullington has released his fourth CD of “vintage” Americana music – what he describes as “string band music with a modern feel.”
The pieces sound like they’ve been around a long time. The songwriter wanted to record songs centered on Montana and the West, and the atmosphere is perfect.
Bullington has plenty of help on this well-produced album. The group includes noted pickers John Lowell on flat-top and resonator guitars and Tom Murphy on mandolin, with a host of other instrumentalists, and back-up vocalists Tracy Nelson and Joanne Gardner.
The title song, “Lazy Moon,” is a gentle bluegrass loper, with banjo nuances from Bruce Stanger. Nice harmony vocals add to the western feel of the moody, ethereal “Candle in the Window.” It’s dirge-like and atmospheric, a tale of loneliness.
The waltz, “Montana Girl,” is a paean to a loved one (“a smile at the ready, like the first day of summer” ). “I Didn’t See You, Maggie” features a soft cello accompaniment by Molly Glaser, and “Lone Pine” is a slow, bluesy waltz, wherein Bullington makes good use of descriptions (“W H. Auden is lying open face-down; a Miles Davis solo is floatin’ around” ).
“Cup of Strong Black Coffee” finds Bullington’s paternal side coming to the fore. The toe-tapper offers an admonishment to his son to tread carefully with the woman he’s with, and be sure of what he wants. It sports a nice mandolin break by Tom Murphy.
Bullington’s penchant for setting the scene is further apparent in “Sage After Rain,” the story of a beer-drinking buddy with a sad tale of a lost love (“an old Royal typewriter on a desk by a window …” and “… the smell of her skin, like sage after rain” ). The mesmerizing refrain is repeated twice, with back-up vocals. Cool!
The hilarious “I Despise Flies” has a spooky tinge, underpinned by reverb-heavy resonator guitar from Lowell. In the song, Bullington recounts his hatred for the housefly (“…But I have no admiration as the maddenin’ buzz I hear, meets with sudden silence when it drops into my beer” ). Bullington has a lazy, scratchy sustained wail in his voice when he says “despise.” I love it! That’s a western gem if I ever heard one – something we can all relate to.
The final cut is a love song to his adopted hometown. “Livingston” pays homage to beer halls, fishin’ and hangin’ out with friends, helping them through their trials. It’s what Bullington calls “a stomper final track,” and features extra musicians, “the Livingston Misfits.”
Bullington is thankful for them all, and for his ability to entertain while he battles declining health. It’s obvious he’s inspired.
– Mariss McTucker