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Jeff Wasserman Jeff Wasserman
Album: The Meeting Of The Waters
Label: Headwind
Tracks: 13

Jeff's an American ex-pat songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (and exponent of, and expert on, traditional American folk musics) who lives in Norway. Although his 30-year-so-far career has involved contributions to many other artists' records, it was not until autumn 2009 that he released a solo album in his own right, which by all accounts signalled the arrival of a major talent (although it escaped my own radar). Luckily, the promotion for his second solo album, The Meeting Of The Waters, is more effective, purely by virtue of the disc having reached the Fatea office. I'm glad for the chance of making Jeff's acquaintance, for on this evidence he proves a significant force in American folk-flavoured acoustic music.

The presence of Jeff's mentor from his formative teens, master old-time-and-more-besides fiddler/banjoist and collector Jeff Davis (at whose house in Woodstock, CT the bulk of this album's "source material" was recorded) would in itself be sufficient recommendation to seek this disc out, and his generous contributions sit perfectly with Jeff W's own music-making. Back home in Norway, Jeff W took these basic tracks and, utilising his multi-instrumental creativity, embellished them to form a rich aural tapestry. Jeff also enlisted the aid of other musical comrades based in his adopted homeland, in addition to his 18-year-old daughter Ella (who makes her lead vocal debut on the comforting, Guthrie-referenced Down From Where and sings a nice harmony part on Everyone Needs A Friend Sometimes) and long-term collaborator Claudia Scott (who adds sublime vocals to four of the tracks). There's also a vocal from Paul Brady (on Hymn To Her), and Andy Irvine plays harmonica or mandola on a couple of tracks; Cindy Cashdollar plays dobro on two songs (including the album's title track) and Jonas Fjeld sings lead on The Call Of The Wild.

But the binding thread of The Meeting Of The Waters is always Jeff W's own special musicianship and writing, which is never less than highly accomplished and naturally impressive in a craftsmanlike, "vintage" manner that's mirrored in the recording's "vintage" acoustics and equipment used, which impart a warm immediacy to the whole. The songs themselves, all Jeff W originals, are of unstinting high standard, and stylistically range from heartfelt love song to jaunty gospel, sanctified a cappella, social and environmental commentary to pride in one's heritage. Hangman Jack is a jolly ragtimey political hoedown taking its cue from W.C. Handy, and the disc's bonus cut is a rollicking, gleefully-jugband performance of Hesitation Blues by "Easy On The Tuba" opening for Lester Flatt (we're told) in either 1978 or 1979 (very much "live"!). The disc also contains a couple of spirited fiddle instrumentals composed in the style of traditional dance tunes - one (Hempen Widow) was written by Jeff Davis back in 1978, and had been all but forgotten by its author! This is a very satisfying disc. And by the way, its accompanying booklet is beautifully produced and printed too, while it contains full lyrics and personnel credits and plenty of "action photos" of Jeff's comrades (who variously rejoice in ensemble names such as The Expatriates and Gone At Last).

David Kidman