Personnel: Ben Hall (vocals, guitar); Sammy Merendino (drums).
Audio Mixer: Tim Hatfield.
Recording information: Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig, Williamsburg,.
Photographer: Joshua Black Wilkins.
Guitarist Ben Hall hails from Okolona, Mississippi. He is a thumbstyle guitarist who won numerous competitions before he hit 20, and has played with Charlie Louvin, Candi Staton, and Kurt Wagner and Cortney Tidwell of KORT. On his debut for New York's Tompkins Square imprint, Hall showcases his thumbstyle picking (also known as "Travis style," named for Merle Travis, a fingerpicking style where the thumb plucks the bass strings that alternate with the remaining fingers that focus on harmony and melody) backed by Sammy Merendino on drums and Skip Ward on bass. This 11-song, 30-minute set articulates country standards, folk songs, and even "Lover, Come Back to Me" by Oscar Hammerstein. Hall unapologetically reflects Travis and Chet Atkins as his primary influences. Produced by Eric "Roscoe" Ambel and recorded on vintage analog gear, Hall's approach is limpid and infectiously musical. The set opens with two of the three Travis numbers here, the instantly recognizable "Cannonball Rag" and "Guitar Rag" (Hall sings in a pure, open baritone with no vibrato on the latter). It's his playing and the symbiotic work of his rhythm section that draw attention; their fluidity, infectious optimism, and expert sense of rhythm and tight harmony are unassailable. His spooky instrumental reading of J.D. Loudermilk's "Windy & Warm" walks the blues out with slippery interludes and fills. On a primarily country program, "Lover Come Back to Me" would be regarded as a novelty were it not for his canny harmonic sensibilities. Even though the band shifts the tempo up a couple of notches, it is grounded in classic Americana and comes off beautifully. The record's final three cuts are among its finest. The reading of Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills" keeps the folk song's melody firmly entrenched even as Hall extrapolates it through his Travis-style picking and single-string runs. The breezy, devil-may-care attitude in Roger Miller's classic "King of the Road" works just as well without words. Finally, the Louvin Brothers' ballad "Every Time You Leave" is played solo by Hall with grace and elegance; it's a fitting tribute to his old boss and mentor Charlie (who passed away mere weeks before this album's release). While the music Hall plays comes from another era, his playing is soulful, playful, and expert enough that it all sounds timeless. ~ Thom Jurek