The last outing from Joseph Allred, 2019’s O Meadowlark solidified Allred’s reputation as a consummate picker, one whose style moved with an effortless grace from slippery Fahey runs through the more buttoned up blisters of Kotke and the spiritual slants of Basho. Like the latter player in that triumvirate, Allred takes a swipe at vocal blues on his latest, Traveler. While the majority of the record still showcases his chameleonic stringwork, on the album opener and title track, he lends his voice to an emotionally fraught tale that proves out of the gate that he’s not just a master of the strings. Over the next few songs Allred works his way through brambles and rabbles of notes that, while certainly virtuosic, also serve to salve and calm. It’s a pastoral, primal record that’s knotted with tangled roots and torn soil. Allred wears the mantle of natural conduit well, lending Traveler a soiled grace that’s hard to shake.
When his blues pop through once more, they don’t break the spell, instead giving the earthen rambles an anchor of humanity that tills the topsoil of the instrumental odes. “The Crown” feels sung by moonlight – a barn song that rings through the rafters with a pang of sadness. Allred swaps between banjo and guitar with such admirable ease that the change in instruments doesn’t jar in the least, letting the two timbres weave together into a tapestry of sound, looping lustrous thread through the earth tones of his sonic fabric. He caps off the vocal offerings with “O Columbia” a song that snags a few loose Fahey ends (specifically “In Christ There Is No East or West,”) and ties them to a sighing track that slips beneath the horizon as the record lopes into the last lap. The record finally fads away with a touching tribute to Glen Jones that tips a hat to one of Allred’s more modern influences. This may very well be his finest, and hopefully opens the door for more vocal offerings from the songwriter.
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