Jerry Maulin is an interesting guy. He’s tall, and strong. When you first meet him, you get a can’t-miss sense of calm that radiates from somewhere inside him. Maybe that’s his super power—a stable center from which to see things. When he talks he uses only a few words at a time but always has something interesting entwined in them. Perhaps his demeanor comes from being around kids so much, or maybe he’s around kids so much because he’s got that way he does with those few words he uses. Or maybe it’s because those words are delivered in that steady tone of his that’s infused with the same power that comes from inside him.
He was playing with a group called The Clodhoppers back then. These days he‘s with a few other guys (Shane Del Bianco, Bill Blake, Jr., and Dave Clingan) who, together, are calling themselves J. D. Maulin & the Stone Cold Dog. Today I put his new CD Sometimes the Light into the player as I sat down to write. This turned out to be good for my ears, but not so good for the writing production.
You see, the other thing that I find interesting about Jerry is that for such a strong and powerful guy, he’s an interesting song writer who touches on a wide array of ideas and feelings in ways that are quite sensitive. Sometimes the Light shines with this delicacy in several places.
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It’s a traditionally folksie mix of Appalachian blues, the Cowboy Junkies, and a little Townes Van Zandt, sung with a nod toward Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Oddly, though, it starts with a bit of a rock-ish remix of “Whiskey and Lightning.” This was on one of his other discs, but I liked the harder edge to this update, and Shane Del Bianco’s guitar was a welcomed addition. Being a guitar kind of guy, I’ll say that I thought Del Bianco’s work throughout this disc was really refreshing. I like his style, and found the use of his guitar behind Maulin’s voice brought out the best in both. That said, “Whiskey and Lightning” is a little harder-edged than a lot of the first half of the disc.
I found “The Hour” to be more interesting as a poem than as a piece of music. This is interesting to me because “The Hour” has a religious context, which isn’t my area of expertise. Looking at the song in contrast to the rest of the album, perhaps my sense of its understated musicality is partially due to the mix. The sound behind the lyrics is just kind of there until the very end, and even then there’s a sense of constraint to it the leaves me feeling the song is looking inward rather than making statements on the world.
“Such Careless Love” bounces us back into the “now,” though. It’s a touching little piece that makes you happy just to hear it. It makes me think even more of the effect of the mix on “The Hour” because here the guitar lead steps up underneath the vocal and the sharp rhythm backing to infuse the whole piece with the feeling of an early evening on the porch step with the one you love.
As with Jerry’s other discs, he gets touches of supporting help on vocals from Hanna Guy Maulin (his wife), which often adds a power to his phrasing. This is most notable in the little duet that appears as a coda to “Careless Love,” which plays behind a gentle bass line and the sound of river water. It’s all very sweet, but sweet in a good way.
We get pretty steep change of pace with “Ulysses Relapsed,” which leans toward the dramatic in both its frame and in the haunting guitar that Del Bianco lays down. The sound of “Ulysses Relapsed” is contemporary, and it’s a song that touches on the bone wearying aspect of a life where entropy is always on the increase and jobs are never really finished. Definitely an excellent piece of work.
“Sedona” is a love song to Sedona, Arizona, which given Jerry’s propensity to strap on a motor cycle and ride across the country, I assume was written in or around the city. In truth, I think you could call it just about any town in the country and make it work, though.
Darkness runs deep in “Mostly,” a song that does more than suggest what kind of trouble can come about when relationships go sour. Some interesting interplay between Del Bianco’s guitar and Carolyn Dutton’s violin give the piece a slightly Celtic feel. It’s a powerful mix that I’ll remember for a bit.
I’m not sure what song should have followed “Mostly,” but in this case it’s “Sante Fe,” an old west-style piece of country music that reminds me of something Marty Robbins might have done—though it also has a weird David Lynch-y feeling to its more modern message, which is built around faith and its purpose. I just read Mary Doria Russell’s Epitaph, and I figure (with a little juggling of a few lyrics) this would fit right in at a Tombstone bar. It’s a nice enough little song as it stands. Probably more to my mom’s preference than mine, but interesting enough. My biggest issue on the whole is that I struggled with its placement—it kind of sticks out right there between “Mostly” and …
“Trouble Bound” is a gritty folks-blues piece with an interesting little story to it, but its sound rides as much the interplay between the lucid dream wanderings of Del Bianco’s guitar and the base tone of Maulin’s vocals as anything else. It’s one of my faves.
“Away” is a tough song. It’s a look at the ramifications of war on everyday life throughout the ages.
I’ve seen him play “Sinking” before, but I think this is the first time he’s recorded it beyond the demo stage. It’s a well-done old school folk-blues story steeped in blood, vengeance, and redemption, which is a genre I happen to like quite a bit. Another favorite.
If you’re looking for the origin of today’s political strife, it’s right there in “Barricade,” a piece that asks how one can look in the eyes of the kids around us and tell them that the system is working just great. Given Jerry’s other occupation, I find that to be a pretty interesting question. The song itself sounds like a mix of modern advertisement jingo, and 1960s protest song. I could hear Joan Baez or Pete Seeger singing it.
On the whole, I loved Sometimes the Light. It’s an easy listen, and if you like contemporary folksie music with a bit of flavor, I suspect you will, too. Piece by piece, it’s a good listen. The album it fits together well enough on the whole, too , though “The Hour” and “Santa Fe” don’t really sound the same as the rest to my uneducated ear. In addition, I find it interesting that both of those pieces touch on faith, so perhaps this says more about me than it does the work itself. But when I take these two songs out of the mix, I’m left with a collection of music that drills a core down to the individual, exposes our raw struggles with the relationships and the physical world around us.