Attention home studio musicians: The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers' self-released fourth effort, Someone to Talk With, so impressed HighTone Records that the label picked it up, affording it a much-deserved wider distribution. Renamed My Own Jo Ellen, this album, by any other name, would be just as sweet. Former frontman for proto alt-country faves The Jayhawks, guitarist/singer Mark Olson is joined by singer-songwriter-wife Victoria Williams (aka "Mabel Albright") on guitar and harmony vocals, Mike "Razz" Russell on violin and mandolin, and a trio of special guests. Springing for an engineer and a pair of drummers this time around--a luxury not afforded their earlier efforts--seems to have paid off: Olson and company get a lot of mileage out of 10 deceptively simple, rootsy tunes, eschewing slickness for the occasionally nerdy but always endearing human touch.
Playing Gram Parsons to Williams' Emmylou Harris, Olson traffics in a homespun blend of country, rock, gospel and folk, uncannily evoking the plaintive vocals and spare arrangements of an early Neil Young ("Diamond Davey" and "Rainbow of Your Heart") and the Americana anthems of The Band ("Linda Lee"). You've got to love these guys for their optimism--Olson's day job includes teaching special ed, and Williams is valiantly dealing with the early stages of multiple sclerosis. Maybe that's why they can sing, "Don't I love my summer sunshine!" ("Letter From Africa") and "Honeybees, honeybees, in every tree there's honeybees" ("Walking Through Nevada") without the trace of a smirk.
Like the Joshua trees within view of their desert home studio--so named for their silhouetted resemblance to the prophet with upraised arms--the Dippers stand as supplicants to God, nature, and mankind's best intentions. How can we let them down?
Mark Olson and the OHRCD appear at The Brewery in Raleigh on Feb. 8.