John Lowell | I Am Going to the West

New Albums

Livingston songwriter/guitarist John Lowell, a Montana legend, has created a terrific solo project with his umpteenth album. He’s resided here for oodles of years and played in lots of bands, most recently with the Two Bit Franks and Growling Old Men, a duo with mandolin player Ben Winship.

He’s performed on “A Prairie Home Companion” and been featured on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. Lowell says, “I’ve been compared to some of the finest guitarists around, and I’ve been compared to a ham sandwich.” C’mon John, blow your horn a little! It’s worth it.

Lowell has a flare for tight storytelling in his soft, slightly nasal baritone. His melodic ideas seem familiar, yet they come from somewhere new. His trademark guitar style is evident on this collection of his and others’ pieces and traditional material, spanning the bluegrass-folk realm. His only accompaniment is his smooth and spectacular fretwork, except on the title song.

The first tune, “Waterbound,” is a quick bluegrasser; it features a slurry of bent notes, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and delayed tags that are right out of the Lowell playbook. The guy breathes the lexicon!

There are wistful waltzes and tunes about girls, “Sarah Hogan” and “Laura Foster.” The latter “sweetheart murder ballad” retells the Tom Dooley saga, replete with mesmerizing guitar breaks.

“Buffalo Skinners” finds Lowell doing his usual – incorporating the coolest licks into a melody instrumental. Here he walks up the fretboard in dissonant and spooky fashion. Ooh, I like it! His “Rhythm of the Wheels” has a man leaving a dead-end town on the train; it’s a folk tune, but, by golly, you can jitterbug to it.

Lowell gets bluesy on “Mama Don’t Like It,” a song about a moonshine runner. “It don’t matter about my alibi, she’s got a pan in her fist, blood in her eye,” he sings.

The title tune comes last. It’s the only one with other musicians, featuring Chris Cundy on piano, Leo McCann on the low whistle, and harmony vocals by Tom Murphy and Julie Elkins. One of a few pensive pieces here, it’s the tale of a man leaving his homeland and loved ones behind for the vast frontier, echoing the loneliness many faced moving westward a century or so ago.

Sporting excellent production values, this CD will appeal to fans and the uninitiated alike. Lowell is in demand in national music meccas but chooses to live and ply his craft in Big Sky Country. And we are so very fortunate for that.

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– Mariss McTucker