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Saved by Steel Guitar (Kevin Macneil Brown)

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Dusted's Kevin Macneil Brown finds balm and inspiration on the steel guitar highway to wide open spaces.

Saved by Steel Guitar (Kevin Macneil Brown)

In this past strange year of gathering war-clouds and patriotic madness, I found inspiration, sanctuary, and balm in, of all places, the steel guitar and Dobro: composing for and playing those instruments; listening to recordings by some masterful players. To that end, I got plenty of shivers and satisfaction from the Arhoolie compilation Recorded Live at the Second Sacred Steel Convention. It’s a true celebration by impassioned gospel players, speaking in tongues through strings and steel, going deep into the well and bringing back joyful, healing, and powerful expressions of community and soul and dignity.

I also found myself transported by the unique sound-world of pedal steel virtuoso and true American original Susan Alcorn. Hers is a music that defies category. It simply explores – with heart, integrity, and impeccable technique – many new possibilities for that liquid and sometimes heart-rending instrument.

The steel guitar highway led me back to rediscover the amazing 1950’s recordings of Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper. Deep Dobro playing by Josh Graves is just part of what makes these wide-open performances so appealing: Wilma Lee sings from a time and place when commercial country stayed true to its mountain roots; it’s a breath of fresh air to listen, and sometimes even get lost in this stuff.

Mountain music roots are at the heart of one of the best music books I’ve read in a while, Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg’s biography of the Carter Family, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone. It’s a great read and a great story.

There were a couple of new albums that caught the particular blend of dread and transcendence that seemed appropriate to me this year. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and, especially, Neko Case’s Blacklisted were in my CD player a lot; both were strangely comforting in their essential humanity and honesty, their satisfying –and sometimes dark – textural nuances.

I end 2002 and begin 2003 with a loose wrist from all that sliding, along with a heart full of fervent hope that peace and love will win the day and show the way.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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