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The Night the Cumberland Came Alive
Artist: Mike Farris and the Cumberland Saints
Label: Entertainment One Music
Time: 6 Tracks / 26 minutes

It may only be a small release, but to those of us who have been thrilled by Farris’s two previous solo efforts Mike Farris - Shout! Live! and Mike Farris - Salvation in Lights. This EP, where each track is distinctly different from the others, is a highly welcome bonus. It was motivated by helping those suffering from the Tennessee floods, and a portion of each sale goes to the Community Foundation.

Whether live or in the studio (and it has largely been the same set of songs in either case) Farris has been pretty intense in his gospel hollering. This time, the pace has definitely slowed down, even though the general style is largely unchanged. The gospel element remains – regular guests, the McCrary sisters add their backing this time as well – and the bluesy spirit is just as present, but it’s like a loose, stripped-back jam session, rather than one of his sweaty shows.

Two of the tracks would fit very well with the gospel timbre of Salvation in Lights, apart from their extra bluegrass layer. Once the two-minute vocal introduction is over, “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up” is an unhurried piece that compares a struggling, freshly-hooked fish with Farris’s own conversion experience: “I’m wrapped up, tangled up in Jesus, and I don’t want to get loose.” Its closing vocal hook is just one of the little details that make this EP so appealing. “Dear Lazarus” has gospel words and tune, but fiddle introduces it, solos and adds some colour on the way. It’s a smart combination, like adding chilli to chocolate.

The resurrection call of “Dear Lazarus” counters the way that Farris underlines the sense of mortality threaded through other tracks. The refrain, “It should remind you that we were born to die,” calls out from the country blues of the title track, one of his best and something that it is hard to tire of. “Mother Earth” is a song that does this so blatantly that it is with almost comic effect, using some labored piano bass notes and mournful brass: “Don’t care how great you are, don’t care what you’re worth, when it all ends up, you gotta go back to Mother Earth.” The other blues highlight is the deliciously-arranged “Down on Me,” one that mixes the piano up higher, giving it a taste of New Orleans that is fully realized on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down,” where a horn section blows away.

There is plenty of time for solos from piano, guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and blues harp throughout this EP, recorded in one day at the Downtown Presbyterian Church with help from the likes of Sam Bush, Kenny Vaughan, Ketch Secor and Gill Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show and Byron House on bass.

Less intense and with a wider palette to paint with, it may be short, but this is just as enjoyable as his other solo works. Like them, it goes straight to the gut and the spirit.

Derek Walker


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