As has been noted in these pages before, my daughter is in the Air Force. I'm not too happy that right now she is on a six-month assignment in Qatar while her two-year-old daughter is in San Antonio. So her active duty certainly colors my opinions regarding the new discs Voices of a Grateful Nation Vol. 1 & 2.
Vol 1, identified as "Texas Rock, Blues & Folk," is easily the better disc, featuring some great pairings we aren't likely to see anywhere else: Malford Milligan (right), Carolyn Wonderland and Mike Cross on "Welcome Home"; Bill Carter and the Blame with Charlie and Will Sexton and Chris Layton tearing it up on "That's What I'm Doing Here"; W.C Clark with porterdavis on "Soldier's Plea"; Miss Lavelle White and Guitar Shortie on "We'll Have Peace Some Day"; and Marc Benno and Will Owen Gage on "Homesick Soldier."
But the standout track for me is Sally and Bukka Allen's quiet "Everyone Has Faded." Dustin Welch's "Sparrow" is another winner, as is dad Kevin's "Don't Try To Fight It," with compadres Fats Kaplan and Kieran Kane.
Vol. 2, "Texas Country and Americana," is a lot harder to swallow. Deryl Dodd and Jon Christopher Davis's opener, "The Boy I Left Behind," is pure Nashville saccharine and tired clichés. Ditto for Brandon Ryder's "Mr. Soldier," which with its cheesy prayer and his altar-boy presentation, is just plain lame.
But the 17 tracks do hold a few highlights: "Hey Soldier" by James Hand and Lisa Hayes will lift you up; Terri Hendrix Texas-izes "Motherless Children" beautifully; Will Callery's "The Great Divide" is one of the few tracks that actually seems to have any real feel for warfare and its effects; and Susan Gibson and Mark Jungers nail it on "Fences."
Beyond these, most of these tracks, though well meaning, never lift off due to heavy-handedness, schmaltz and obviousness - or all three combined. Certainly this is a noble project, but let's face it: Voices of a Grateful Nation is a pretty presumptuous title. And according to the liner notes, these are only the first two in a series that will be based on regional conglomerations of songs and musicians.
I wish the project luck, but based on what I've heard on these first two discs, I'd bet most of the people who are going to hand over cash for these discs and to this cause aren't really doing it for the music. And that's a shame, because this collection doesn't have to be weighed down artistically with a huge load of cheese. - William Michael Smith