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Session Americana with Jefferson Hamer Session Americana with Jefferson Hamer
Album: Great Shakes
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10

Session Americana began as more or less just that, literally. Back in the day - around a decade ago, just a loose bunch of musicians jamming together for the hell of it in a small bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the years, its sessions attracted a wide range of guest musos dropping in, and the whole thing grew, necessitating a move to a larger bar! And the original collective has even become a touring act in its own right, now getting to the point of releasing their seventh album (yes, honestly) under the umbrella name including and separately crediting Jefferson Hamer. The guy who'd collaborated on an award-winning album of Child ballads with Anaïs Mitchell a few years back is now enlisted as producer and arranger for the Session Americana collective. For whom he also contributes guitar and authentic, idiomatic, laid-back but caring and yet also slightly edgy vocals.

Hamer sure has the knack of turning what might have been a rambling, aimless adventure into a focused, well-balanced album that keeps the quality up through a succession of rootsy original compositions from collective members in various permutations. The album's ten songs are mostly in tune with that rootsy early-to-mid-70s country-rock vibe beloved of CSNY, Eagles, Poco and suchlike, with the occasional excursion into late-Beatles-style pop (Bumbershoot), soulful swamp-strut (Big Mill In Bogalusa) or west-coast psych (Tired Blue Shirt). The other members of the collective are Ry Cavanaugh, Billy Beard, Jim Fitting, Kimon Kirk and Dinty Child - not exactly household names, but all of good pedigree on the wider roots scene and they turn in a good solid act with some tasty solo and ensemble playing.

While the songs themselves are reliable and well listenable without being "great shakes" in terms of groundbreaking in any significant way, there's no track that lets the side down either, and some (like Hamer's Great Western Rail and Helena) are actually quite earworm-memorable. Even so, it's the engaging, symbiotic playing of musos who've gotten well used to each other over time that's likely to be the biggest attraction of this disc for many listeners.

David Kidman