Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Nick Luca at New Monkey Studio, Van Nuys, California
While it's a difficult to separate the actor from the man with the guitar around his neck and a mouth at the microphone, you're able to do it here with John C. Reilly. One of America's great contemporary actors, Reilly is just as skilled as a musician. Not only does he select some choice old standards, but he also plays around with some of the most interesting people. He's released a 7-inch on his buddy Jack White's Third Man label and here he performs with Becky Stark (of Lavender Diamond), Tom Brosseau (of Les Shelleys and his own brilliant solo material) and Willie Watson (formerly of the Old Crow Medicine Show), on an afternoon prior to playing a show with Sara Watkins in Los Angeles. Taped at Elliott Smith's old New Monkey Studio in Van Nuys, California, the session was recorded much like many of Reilly's favorite bluegrass and gospel records were recorded - in the round, with the players all sharing one microphone. The down and dirty manner allowed for a natural blending of voices and forced the players to react to one another, pulling off these songs of the old-timers in beautiful ways.
They choose to do "There Ain't No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)," written by Claude Ely, a Pentecostal Holiness preacher from Pucketts Creek, Virginia, who was called the Gospel Ranger of the Appalachian Mountains as the lead-off track. It's a song that speaks to the buoyancy of the soul - that the goodness of a heart and the pureness of a man won't stay buried in the ground for longer than the interment. It's a song that seems uplifting, hinting that there's going to be, or is supposed to be a second act when the body decides to call it quits.
The Delmore Brothers song "Blues Stay Away From Me" is a song that focuses on the downtrodden markings of a man - those that he feels, even if their bloated or exaggerated. It deals in great woe - with the person in question being undeserving of true love, dream fulfillment and happiness and only able to receive heartbreak and blinding rounds of tears. The final song was one that achieved its greatest acclaim when it was recorded by Gogi Grant in the United States and Tex Ritter in the United Kingdom. Written from the point of view of a scorned woman, it attaches itself to a summery wind that a straying and wandering man gets caught upon. It takes him away from the one that he's promised himself to, like a carnie following the circus train to the next town, and she's left hanging around, lost and damning the wayward wind that was born unto him, a trait that she should have, but didn't see coming. Reilly, Brosseau, Stark and Watson play these songs with reverence and sweet ease.