A Hand Full Of Songs
Chris Lunn, Victory Music
You need to buy this CD just for the liner note part where Page ties all these songs together in today’s reality with Trump as President and what this run of events has done to our lives. It moves us forward in a very, very dangerous time.
We get the disconnect, the fight back, the damages, the love, the taking away of housing and general public wealth. You will wonder what the collateral damage is in this era and where our own remembrance of love moves us forward. He has taken some top quality musicians into the studio with him, which allows him to look at the songs from a different angle, like loosening the gait of the old classic Page, “Landlord.” I found myself hearing new moods, meaning, and artistry as the musicians gave room for Page to work, and they added a mood, tonality, accent and meaning to the songs.
Orville Johnson’s fingerprint is all over this recording, not only as a player but as a sound shaper. He has the ability to make the very tone of an instrument and vocal convey a deeper meaning. Johnson and Page have played often as a duo so he fits there. Same with Grant Dermody’s harmonica work and how it contributes from the many shows they have done together. There are a couple places where the acoustic bass of Mark Ettinger moves thoughts deeper into the song. The fiddle of Jon Parry is on fire in a couple places and barely touches other places, always helping the mood. The backup helps deliver even a wider Page writing and musical experience. They add not just additional music but deeper feeling.
“Questions and Answers” is a blazing high-speed rhythmic punch with Parry’s fiddle driving each lyric and the breaks. The bass comes in with a punch, and the Page vocal is tight, narrow, biting with his look at all the questions for answers. Blazing vocals put Page in the element that most of us know from his street singing but with great backing. “Put It Down” is a slow walk with Ettinger’s bass and the lonely dobro. Page is exact and in a lazy pace as he wants in all this scurry of life just to “Put It Down.” Page is soft, an adjective not often used in describing his street work.
“Landlord” is another of those fast, scrappy street-type songs that Page has recorded before and done in clubs and streets. All the street scrappiness is still there but taken just a little slower, with a fine back-beat bass and the dobro sailing in and then the driving, icy cool list of how big money, the around-the-block renters, and the landlords put “A mortgage on my body and lien on my soul.” This has a dynamic soul. Listen to the tight guitar work of Johnson as biting as the words of Page. And Dermody’s harmonica talks and cries out with those two. Page takes this more like a snappy talk then a heavy-handed protest, and it is amazingly effective, a super redo of the song that could by itself open new doors for Page internationally.
“338 Dollars Behind” a quiet, touching, but just as devastating picture of life and death features Dermody, so blue and lonely and never in the way. This is picture painting, soft and whittling into your soul, as we meet the “End of the line.” “Jim’s Song” is an upbeat talking blues about his long-time friend Jim Hinde and his life. As Page talks the story, Johnson touches the vocal and backup. Page sings, talks quiet style as the story unfolds about a fixture of Page’s life and Seattle and the Pike Market era. He brings a soft touch to a big story of war, moving, singing, songwriting, and living a life.
Back to high-speed snappy guitar for “As the Wheel Spins” with superb bass touching here and there as Page describes landscape of a lifetime, a world perspective on his own Big Wheel. The dislocation of everyone and everything by Trump through the Steve Bannon philosophy of disruption is the picture in “Nothing Rhymes With Orange.” Page spins off these little lines, glimpses, comments of the whirling movie coating our lives. Dermondy squawks and darts through the lines. How far down the drain we’ve gone. “Collateral Damage” has been a theme in many of Page’s songs and is brought to new focus as the damage from war now becomes the damage from politics affecting every aspect of our lives. Bowed bass starts a quiet intro to the searing vocal of time, life, and bombs. We go back to “Flying the Big Airplane” as we go beyond deportees. We are all collateral damage from these ever-evolving poli- cies in every aspect of immigration, environment, finances, and more. The clear picture is painted of many families; these people are human, not statistics. But he makes this song universal in the context of collateral damage to everything today.
He roars in his high-speed strummed guitar, street style in “Master of Lies,” with a litany of life and the manipulations of folks in power. Page takes the lie masters from street attackers to corporate bullies. We all become part of the landscape. “Shadow in the Room” comes in on guitar quietly in a loping picking. Page quietly sing-talks the loping line. Each phrase draws you neatly in while Johnson’s dobro accents. No rush, just a beautifully crafted meld of dreams and reality. “My Old Home Town” has soft guitar picking and a warm touch of bass anchoring, and you get a good idea of Page’s ability to suspend with his guitar work. The bass is gorgeous on this instrumental intro, and then a third way through, Page reflects on how the world went around in his old home town, sketching the mood and the people. Lead guitar carries the mood.
“Same Train, Different Tracks” moves slowly with country fiddle and dobro touches as Page talks and paints the pictures of hard times, the dust bowl, and how these pictures keep coming back around in different ways and how our stories and songs may be different but all fit. “Shady Grove” is part of the folk tradition that Page has been performing a long time, sometimes just while warming up before a show. He has his own touch on the finger- picking and a kind of quick relaxation of the lyric line that quietly draws you into this intricate rendition.
This is a super song collection, beautifully arranged and produced. All song lyrics are on Page’s website jimpage.net, along with a hundred others. Page has been writing since I met him as a teenager, and we are fortunate to have his song legacy repertoire on line. The body of lyrics on Page’s website makes great reading, tracing the past fifty-year history that Page has lived with insights into many generations. Packaging is my favorite, a six-panel fold-over with a clear jewel case holder in the middle protecting the CD and gives additional picture space and allows lots of area for information. There are four pictures of Page: one around a campfire, two in the studio, and a performing shot. Song list and times, contact info, players, recording data, and the explanation of the weaving of this song history are in the liner notes. The CD itself has song list and name/title; would have liked playing times and contact info here too. Super, major folk project standing with anything in the country. He is headed for Folk Alliance as I write this. I hope some folks back there realize who is among them, not just another pretty face and songwriter. This is exactly the spot-on, informative and illuminating performer national folks should want on their stages, for their CD and DVD productions, for major festivals. No one is better positioned to focus on this particular 2017-2020 era than Page. He is the heart of the people.