The second solo album from former Old Crow Medicine Show member, currently with David Rawlings' band, is less of a purely solo effort, although Willie himself defiantly continues to take centre stage. In every respect, though, Volume 2 is a true sequel to 2014's bare-bones success Volume 1. Once again, the tracklist may seem deceptively unpromising, containing many well-travelled titles. But, as Willie himself is keen to point out, "there's so much beauty in this old music, and it affects me on a deep level".
Ample proof is to be found in his abundantly fresh takes on this material, wherein his own distinctive vocal style and uncluttered self-accompaniment really do draw you into the world of the songs. You'd be hard put to imagine a more straight-to-the-soul version of Furry Lewis' When My Baby Left Me, for instance, or a more passionate Leavin' Blues, or a more urgent, energetic take on John Henry. On the latter and The Cuckoo Bird, Willie's own banjo backing chuckles along in true Appalachian mode, while Willie's intensely wearied and stark rendition of Gallows Pole is one of two tracks to benefit from a plaintive woodwind ensemble (oboes, bassoon and clarinet) that imparts an eerie timbre to the lyric.
Three tracks are given an authentic "sanctified" feel by the presence of legendary gospel quartet The Fairfield Four on backing vocals - these are tremendous fun (inspired by hearing the Grateful Dead's recording of On The Road Again, Willie intended his version to sound like a 1926 dance party, while his version of Take This Hammer intentionally recalls Leadbelly's own version with the Golden Gate Quartet). But, aforementioned augmentations aside, and a very occasional bass and/or drums, the album represents a further compelling instalment of no-frills Willie at his finest. Now for Volume 3 please!
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