Going Down to the River is country singer and songwriter Doug Seegers' debut album. The weathered face quietly smiling off into the distance is no mere pose. His story is as dramatic as it is heartbreaking, almost nearly unbelievable in the 21st century. (His bio tells it in depth.) Seegers was a homeless, addicted street singer in Nashville for nearly two decades before he got his first break thanks to Stacy Downey of the charity the Little Pantry That Could and Swedish country star Jill Johnson, who was in Music City filming a documentary on down-and-out musicians. Cut in three days at Cowboy Jack Clement's Sound Emporium, the album was produced by Will Kimbrough, who also played guitar and led an all-star cast including Barbara Lamb, Al Perkins, and Phil Madeira. Others include Buddy Miller, an old friend during the 1970s (who plays guitar on a cover of Hank Williams' "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight"), and Emmylou Harris (who reprises her role on Gram Parsons' "She"). All of Seegers' vocals are live scratch takes. As brilliant as the two covers are, they are merely icing on the cake. The ten originals are mostly spectacular, in no small part due to Seegers' deeply expressive voice; its simplicity and raw country soul are delivered in a reedy, utterly musical low tenor. The gentle yet harrowing opener "Angie's Song" offers selfless love and acceptance, because that's what the subject requires. The shadowy folkish country blues in the title track is the other side of Townes Van Zandt's detached resignation. In Seegers' desperation, he'll commit to whatever it takes for redemption from the soul-eating darkness. The swaggering honky tonk in "Hard Working Man" could have been recorded in the early '60s, but Seegers isn't "retro"; traditional country music is all he knows. In the barroom tearjerker "Pour Me," the protagonist's misery comes from seeing his lover walk in with another -- you can feel his need for liquid reinforcement in your bones. The whining pedal steel, shuffling drums, and fiddle in "Gotta Catch That Train" underscore a voice that is hell-bent on freedom. Kimbrough wisely adds saxophones on "Burning a Hole in My Pocket" (Angie is the tragic muse in this song, too) and the closer, "Baby Lost Her Way Home Again," both of which are swinging, vintage R&B-tinged honky tonk blues, no less poignant for their good-time music. Going Down to the River displays Seegers as not just the real deal, but an artist who has earned every minute of this record with years of his life. He doesn't just write and sing traditional country music, he embodies the thing itself. ~ Thom Jurek
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- In Tandem (Jill Johnson (Sweden))