Liner Note Author: Bill Straw.
Photographers: Jack Wesley Routh; John Routh; Candy Bull.
Even if the listener didn't know the thematic backdrop tying these pop/folk/country tunes together, they could still enjoy them as throwbacks to the California country vibe of the '70s embodied by groups like the Eagles and artists like J.D. Souther, Gram Parsons, and Linda Ronstadt. But the theme is what matters most to the musical Sharp family (singer/songwriters Randy Sharp, his wife Sharon Bays, and daughter Maia Sharp) and their friend Jack Wesley Routh. In honoring the stories, both told and sung, of the California valley that welcomed Dust Bowl refugees during the Great Depression, they tap into concepts that are still relevant in light of the economy in the 2000s and the terrible droughts that remind many of the Dust Bowl. Drawing from some previous albums by Routh and Jack Sharp and adding a handful of newer recordings, these artists are not just musical conduits for these stories but descendants of families who migrated to the San Joaquin during the '30s -- which lends a rich authenticity. With the exception of Routh's "Riding the Night Train," a rollicking story song about an outlaw seeking a "running start at a better life," most of the pieces explore personal emotions that can then be metaphorically applied to the more universal themes of struggle and hope. Randy's gentle heartbreaker "Burn Day," for instance, chronicles the sadness of the end of a relationship and the need to let go -- an opening into the theme of hitting rock bottom in life and starting over. Routh's dramatic, orchestrally enhanced ballad "Shores of White Sand" takes him from the "muddy bottom" to the hope of landing on better shores. The collection also includes Maia Sharp's demo of "A Home," a co-write with her dad that was the title track to the Dixie Chicks' 2005 album. Father and daughter's luscious harmonies chronicle the regret of what was left behind. While a mournfulness haunts many of these tunes, on Routh's easy loping "Beyond the Great Divide," he assures us that "there'll be greener pastures `cross that borderline." The collection wraps with its showcase title track, a dobro mandolin, and accordion-laced reflection by Sharp (with the others on backing vocals) that wonders where the dream has gone while offering hope that things may work out for everyone in the end. Dreams of the San Joaquin is a truly engaging, enjoyable journey that offers a crack of light in the darkness -- perfect for these times as well as the times it literally chronicles. ~ Jonathan Widran