BY JAMES MOORE
STEVE MCLAIN AND THE Jefferson County Green Band have justmade their first CD, Where’s Bo Hensley, and it’s a dandy. (Ican’t tell you why there is no question mark in the title, but I haveseen his sister lately.) McLain is a fourth-generation Fairfielder with agreen thumb when it comes to growing songs and singing the heart and soulout of them.
Accessible and present, I liked this guy the first time I saw him. Heis imbued with the old hippie ethos wrapped in a small town openness anda worldwide-eyed view. His voice is a rocking chair and train ride thatis comfortable and comforting but also a liquid and soaring thing. Heis hardcore community in a completely relaxed way, a kind of gifted Everymanwho paints houses by day and sows musical seeds by night, without theleast hint of dichotomy.
Simply put, McLain is good people, a limelighter who shines on stage,a great combination of natural talent, chutzpa, reach and humility. Heclearly enjoys performing and that joy is contagious for anyone attendinghis shows. A dead-eye on rhythm guitar, mostly acoustic, the bearded McLainhas also toured in Hawaii and Oregon. He has assembled a hip-pocket rockin’ bandthat is anything but green.
Kevin Riley mans the harmonica with acumen and zeal, giving the JCGBits effusive and righteous heartland quality. It gives the band a jammin’ blues,open country feel perfectly suited to McLain’s homegrown songwritingstyle. Riley’s sound is the frosting on a cake that should neverbe left out in the rain—unless of course Mother Nature insists onhaving her way at the upcoming outdoor Keosauqua Biker Rally in Septemberthat the band will be playing.
The rhythm section consists of heating specialist Tim Carey, who toldme he’s having the time of his life playing bass with this group.You may have seen Tim in several metal bands like Pornivore over the years.He is featured on the new CD singing a cover of “Once Had a Romance.” Asolid anchor, the former National Guardsman melds seamlessly with drummerEric Winheim, who rules the roost with a firm hand and a steady kick completewith explosive fireworks. Sitting in with these guys, I noticed how responsiveWinheim is to emotional swells and improvisational turns. On the recordyou can hear the full-bodied beatifics for yourself.
Aaron Shier did a great job with the recording. It was done quickly butonly because it went so well. The lyrics have a soul-to-soul directnessthat are endearing and cleansing, completely accessible yet still funand quirky. I do wish the lyrics were included in the CD, but they areeasy to understand.
“Coffee Guy” celebrates eccentrics in a small burg. “Youknow, he’s got all kind of theories. People ask me did you hearthese words from a man from the sky? I say no, I say no, I get my informationfrom the coffee guy. . . .”
From “That’ll Be Cool”: “And I had a notion totry and save the world but then I started to save myself and not worryso much about everybody else.”
From “River Song”: “Got to the water and my heart turnedblue. There were more dead fish—there were more than a few. Swirlsin the water, pink, purple, and blue. Won’t you pick up your trashand take it home with you.”
The music is a bit like Bob Seeger in a willow tree. McLain’s voicehints of Hootie, of Michael Stipe, of the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson,but is completely his own, luxuriating in the pitch and accompanied bya disarming personality that reaches out and lifts your spirits no matterhow you’re feeling.
I spot him midweek sitting in a canoe fishing the reservoir as darknesscloses in.
“Don’t they bite better at dusk?” my walking companionasks.
“No, they bite anytime—all night long if you’re willingto stay up,” McLain replies, happy as the heron we had seen zoomingover the water, perfect metaphors for the man’s approach to bothlife and music.
I barely know what to say about Jimmy Dalton. An enigma wrapped in aconundrum? The unassuming musical assailant is equal parts Daddy, musicologist,recording magician, blown cowboy. A man of many voices and styles, hislatest incarnation is Lonesome Jim and the Broken Hearted Brakemen.
The boy’s got game, that’s for sure, and range. He was ina rockabilly surf band called Salty Kings for a while that kicked somepretty serious sand in the face of girly-man apathy and proto-mock reticence.On lead guitar Jimmy does a single-note sort of tremulous, quavering,hanging thing that just flips me out. He has a great sense for creepylittle spidery melodies that insinuate themselves into your consciousness,and just like poison oak, the more you scratch, the more they itch, thebetter it feels, the harder it is to stop.
It is in Jimmy’s cellar where the creativity oozes. A shrine toElvis, foosball, ’50s art, a black bag Jimmy swears once belongedto Johnny Cash, and a vast array of assorted musicalia all vie for eyecontact amid the amps and drums stuffed into one corner. This is basement-bandmusic, the crack in the cellar wall notwithstanding, an archeologicaldig. In the evolution chain, it is pre-garage, post-bedroom.
The sounds Dalton captures on his little four-track cassette recorderastonish me. It takes some deft cajones and peaches en regalia to recordsolo and make it sit up and bark. Drum machine just so, John Lennon gnarly-styleguitar lead, skinny organ ringing like a Boris Karloff birdy num-num,bass holding down the fort. His sense of aural architecture is Frank Lloydmeets the Wright Brothers at the corner of Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart.I mean, this is stuff David Lynch might serve for dessert, or Frank Zappafor breakfast.
His output spans the gamut from fermented disco to trapezoidal rock ’n’ rollto rusted metal to squirrel-gut gospel to straight-ahead blues-a-billythat lists askew. Call me “comfortably numbskull” but I likethe exotic non-commercial flavors on parade, the carefully-coifed disembodiednotes that float by like sea horses in an oil spill.
This is a guy who loves his family, son Simon, wife Stacy (who paintedthe house in bright arty colors), field hockey, all things music. Sometimeshe’ll write like 20 songs in a day or two. He can wail on the drums,guitar, bass, vocals. Ah yes, vocals. Like some of his skinny-fingeredlead guitar voicings, his vocals are inflected with a mean Jose quaver,a slithery warble that evokes old-time delta singers yet manages to transcendcaricature.
Suffice it to say, Lonesome Jim is passionate about music—recording,playing, performing, talking, or reading about it, listening to it, eating,sleeping, and drinking it. I have jammed in his basement many times forlong, long stretches with local iconoclast and metal Marshall artist ScottPuffer.
The Broken Hearted Brakemen consist of Rob Hibbs on bass, Steve Jeffrieson drums and the aforementioned Kevin Riley on lonesome harmonica.