Chris Darrow’s Chris Darrow / Under My Own Disguise

cover artI have been reading Chris Darrow’s name on records from my collection for 40 years. Originally a part of the legendary Kaleidoscope (a favourite of Jimmy Page’s), Darrow has appeared on albums by James Taylor, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Hoyt Axton, John Stewart and more. Kaleidoscope was also the proving ground of mulit-instrumentalist David Lindley, and, well … all the members of Kaleidoscope were multi-instrumentalists. This is the first time I’ve listened to Chris Darrow’s solo albums, though. I have to say, it’s not a big surprise that he never achieved the level of success of some of the others. His voice is an acquired taste, but the music contained on this disc is extraordinary! Included on this CD are Darrow’s second and third solo releases.

There’s a real rootsy quality to this stuff, as if Mike Seeger was his mentor — all folky and string band-oriented. And that’s a good thing. It’s not as influenced by Middle Eastern music as Kaleidoscope was. It’s more Americana right from the start of “Albuquerque Rainbow.” Acoustic guitar strums and Darrow’s very southern California voice, then steel guitar and the rhythm section, and some harmonies lift Darrow right into the era of the Byrds and the Burritos. Everyone always gives Gram Parsons credit for inventing country-rock, but it’s clear to me that lots of people were responsible, including one Chris Darrow. And Darrow worked with the Dirt Band, Michael Nesmith, Leonard Cohen, all of whom had a hand in the development of that genre. The same vibe continues through “Take Good Care of Yourself” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” which replace the steel guitar with fiddles; mandolin takes front place on “Devil’s Dream” and a banjo appears on “We Don’t Talk of Lovin’ Anymore.” These tunes come from Darrow’s second album Chris Darrow.

Darrow doesn’t have the most commanding voice I’ve ever heard, but it’s completely suited to the material. The songs are interpretations of old tunes (two traditional, one by Hoagy Carmichael, and a Leonard Cohen song), or original songs that sound like old songs. The band is unlisted on the review copy I received but a quick hop to Darrow’s website shows that the backing musicians included members of Fairport Convention and pedal steel player B.J. Cole. The second half of this CD is Darrow’s third album Under My Own Disguise.

On this album Darrow took the music a little further than the traditional sound of the Chris Darrow album. It’s still guitars and fiddles, there’s still the spirit of Mike Seeger overseeing the project but it just seems a bit freer, more “out there.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe he was just more comfortable in his own skin, more confident. B.J. Cole plays a larger role (I’m guessing it’s still him) and the steel guitar sings out. The songs are all by Darrow except “Livin’ Like a Fool” and the old chestnut “Java Jive” which really swings even if it’s just for 1 minute 44 seconds.

Darrow is a contemporary of Geoff Muldaur, and this album reminds me of some of Muldaur’s solo recordings, but Darrow is definitely his own man. This set is available as a two-record (180gHQ) or two CD set, with a 48-page photo book. I think I might have to order it. I can’t stop playing it! And the bonuses sound too good to pass up!

(Everloving, 2009, originally released by United Artists in 1973, 1974)

David Kidney

David Kidney was born in the Marine Hospital on Staten Island in the middle of the last century, when the millenium seemed a very long way off. His family soon moved to Canada, because the air was fresher. He has written songs and stories, played guitar, painted, sculpted, and coached soccer and baseball. He edits and publishes the Rylander, the Ry Cooder Quarterly, which has subscribers around the world. He says life in the Great White North is grand. He lives in Dundas in the province of Ontario, with his wife.

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