Kreg Viesselman’s Kreg Viesselman

cover, Kreg ViesselmanChristopher White wrote this review.

From the opening lines of “New Hampshire Snow” to the last notes of “Jordan’s Shore” Kreg Viesselman’s eponymous CD is revelatory, yet comfortably familiar. The reviews quoted on his Web site hint at reasons for the familiarity. Viesselman has been compared to a laundry list of bluesy singer songwriters including Guy Davis, Keb’ Mo’, Corey Haris, Shane McGowan, David Olney, Greg Brown and Taj Mahal. (Taj is himself quoted on the site as saying, “This guy is goood…he is writing some great stuff.”) Among names not on the list, but which make equal sense, are Dave Van Ronk, Chris Smithers, Tom Waits and (wait for it…) Dylan. In short, Kreg Viesselman is a somewhat gruff voiced singer whose great strength is the ability to craft story songs that combine honest emotions with poetic yet accessible language. He’s a damn fine guitarist and harmonica player, too.

One of the things I most like about Viesselman’s CD is his thoughtful use of guest musicians, 17 in all. Viesselman’s voice, guitar and occasional harmonica remain front and center throughout the disk, but each song gets an appropriate arrangement that varies nicely from cut to cut without ever seeming forced or out of character. Nor does he ever overdo the overdubs and clutter a song with extra tracks just because he can. As there is no specific list illuminating exactly who does what on which tune, it takes a bit of sleuthing and conjecture to assign credits.

The CD opens with a mid tempo “New Hampshire Snow” to which Viesselman adds mandolin, slide guitar, bass and drums. Viesselman does a wonderful harmonica break and the track borders on being AAA radio friendly in the vein of bands like Blues Traveler. “The Return” makes compelling use of Eric Moon’s accordion along with a lovely duet vocal by Rebecca Beacher. It also has an tasty violin part by Laura Wade. “Stone Mason’s Waltz” is slow and evocative with the mandolin giving it an old timey feel. “Tom’s Last Words” introduces banjo and penny whistle, taking the listener to an Appalachian back porch session.

With “Raccoon Song” we’re back to a pared down number that feels like a rediscovered folk song. “Gone to Lewiston” has a full arrangement that includes some nice piano and harmony vocals. I hear an echo of Dylan’s “Memphis Blues, Again” on this one. “Stolen Fruit” goes country honky tonkin’ with the violin, piano and brushes on the drums setting the mood. “Rain Clouds & Burns Bros.” is the piece that reminds me of early Tom Waits in his world weary troubadour mode.

Pam Nation’s cello adds depth to lyrics like: “So you search for friends / on the am fm dial / but a man can stand / so much Ray Stevens / and bright light truckers / trying to get even / I can’t think of one good joke / to make me smile…”

“Krumkake Blues” is a simple, laid back romp with Viesselman’s guitar and voice nicely augmented, especially by Eric Thorin’s upright bass which gets a bit more prominence on this track, along with some nice banjo lines. “Jordan’s Shore” is the closer with flavor supplied by slide guitar and organ (although there is no organ listed on the credits.) I again hear a touch of Dylan on this one, in particular “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

If you’re a fan of any of those whisky steeped, gravel voiced, denizens of imaginary back road juke joints listed by way of comparison, you should check out this CD. Viesselman’s is a talent that can stand up to the comparisons. The only negative comment I have is that Kreg Viesselman clocks in at just over 38 minutes, which is barely more than half a CD’s worth of music.

(Kreg Viesselman, 2002)

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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