TO The Record Shelf #3 – “Universal Blues” by Keith Pray

Some see the blues as a confining category, a system of fences, borders or limitations. To Keith Pray, the fences touch what’s on the other side, and imports freely cross borders.

The Rotterdam resident took his musical training at three schools here and another in the Swiss Alps; he teaches music on two campuses, plus the Japanese martial art Aikodo. He’s a highly hyphenated cat: saxophonist-bandleader-organist-teacher; not always in that order. So the variety of sounds and songs, of motions and moods on his new (sixth) “Universal Blues” album comes as no surprise but instead as an unfolding, like a big map.

In non-plague times, he leads the 17-piece precision-power modernist Big Soul Ensemble monthly at the Van Dyck, plus the UAlbany Jazz Ensemble; also the straight-ahead Keith Pray Quartet and the Ortet. He plays saxophones in all his bands, except organ in the Ortet.

Pandemic isolation changed his recording method on “Universal Blues.” He said, “Due to the pandemic though, with no gigs, it was the most budget friendly way I could make it happen.” He worked with drummer Bobby Previte, bassist Bobby Kendall (Heard) and keyboardist Dave Gleason (Sensemaya, Art D’echo Trio, and Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble), plus guest guitarist Justin Hendricks this way. “I made ‘mockup’ versions of the basic skeleton (form) of each composition then shared that electronically with Bobby Previte,” said Pray. “He then imagined how we would play it live and recorded his tracks. I then mixed the drums a bit and sent it to the other Bobby (Kendall) to lay down bass parts,” Pray explained. “He sent it back, and then I sent it to David Gleason for keys.”

Joking a bit, Pray explained, “Finally (not really) I put the sax parts on and began mixing.” Then came a border-busting change.

“As I mixed it I liked it a lot and almost released it like that (basically an acoustic record) but when I composed the tunes, I had ideas for electronics but never liked the sounds that I had access to.” Expanding his sonic landscape, “I invested in some new sounds and was in pretty good shape, again almost releasing – but still felt there was a dimension missing.” 

To push past this border, to jump the fence, “I began exploring sound design and created a whole pallete of new electronic sounds based off some very simple acoustic sounds that were in my music room.” He used such found sounds as Chinese medicine balls, udu drum, “even the air moving from my Leslie speaker (used with the organ) and even myself doing some throat singing!” When he added some synthesizer sounds and effects, “It was ready for final mix and master! What a learning experience!”

Pray said, “I have always enjoyed the role of producer but never had aspirations of being a recording engineer.”

In particular, the siren sounds in “Inyo” reflect a new sonic open-ness. “I thought of all of the sounds as colors,” he explained. “My cousin who did the cover painting started with a much simpler image and over time it morphed with layers of things that were not in the original vision. In my case, it was similar. I originally wanted electronics as part of the sound scape but couldn’t get the ‘colors’ right.” 

Then he began to hear-see a new kind of “right.”

“Part of the use of the disparate sounds is similar to visual artists using a slash of red where it doesn’t seem to belong and how with purpose it can become an integral part of the image,” Pray said.” He continued, explaining, “This is also similar to hip-hop and how they use samples that shouldn’t work together but become part of the new sound.” It also echoes how Asian philosophies (and martial arts) reconcile unexpected elements – “the struggle for balance between conflicting things.” He said, “I wanted to give the listener a sonic journey, things that might challenge the listener and things that may unfold over repeated listenings.”

Unfold, you know, like a map to someplace new.

“Inyo” maps a conventional 12-bar blues groove, but trouble soon shows up; picture a raid on a nightclub.

“Mongol Blues” calms things with a serene long-line melody that goes to the gym and gets buffed, but guest guitarist Justin Hendricks manages more than just muscling up the tune. Like adding guitarist Greg Tuohey to Aaron Parks’ trio on “Little Big,” the six string brings in color as well as clout.

“Grounding” follows a similar path, layering linked saxes, orbiting keyboards and bell-like guitar tones over off-center toms-heavy drumming and a bass line whose spaciousness translates as momentum. Then the saxes rule, though everybody gets a taste.

The rhythm section trio intro’s “South Sphere,” an easy amble at first. Right soon comes sax time, over a discreet percussion clatter and a cool bass line linking to synthesized swoops and swirls. The sax returns and it all swings sweet and strong under Pray’s most Coltrane-riffing of the whole album. Kendall’s bass muses thoughtfully before a cozy coda.

“Mourning Eagle” has a martial taiko fierceness in Previte’s aggressive drumming; a sax issues sparse calls, goes both bigger and outside while echoing bursts orbit the rhythm. Like the beginning, the end is all big beats, hypnotic and resonant, before a wild-card whirl.

“Three Layers” opens like a blossom in slow motion, growing in force as instruments join, including the guitar, featured only here and on “Mongol Blues” and “Grounding.” The piece detours, too, alternating moods of energetic agitation with serenity that eases into silence.


Pray played the Cock ‘n’ Bull in Galway on November 7, 2019. Tenor sax great Jerry Weldon guested with Pray’s quartet. Weldon played to the crowd in a flamboyant fun way; Pray played the songs, workmanlike, solid, and without borders.

As in live shows with his big band, sax-powered quintet and Ortet organ trio, Pray steps back for his band-mates to shine. I’ve seen Big Soul Ensemble gigs where he doesn’t solo at all. But he also leads with his horn, a confident and fluent player whose technique follows fast on his ideas in a powerful flow. For all the strength of his compadres, this is clearly Pray’s play, his show, his map.

He said, “I did my first session as a leader when I was 19 at Mountain Lake Public Radio” in Plattsburgh, though the session was never released. “I co-led my first big band around that time too,” Pray said. “I never wanted to be a leader, it just always seemed to happen!”

His training and experience as player and bandleader run deep and wide. “I moved to the Capital Region from Keeseville (in the Adirondacks) to attend Schenectady County Community College (SCCC, now SUNY Schenectady) for music, then went to (Crane School of Music in) Potsdam to finish my music ed degree,” said Pray. “Then I moved back around here and played full time for a few years until I moved to New York City for eight years.” There he earned a masters in jazz performance at Queens College. 

Moving back here in 2006, he started teaching in Schenectady public schools, where he remains. He also taught at SCCC and SUNY Oneonta, and now at UAlbany. “In 2014 I went to the European Graduate School in Saas Fee, Switzerland (up in the alps) to start my doctorate in Expressive Arts: Therapy, Conflict Transformation and Peace Building,” said Pray. He finished the course work but not his dissertation. “I would rather leave the writing to writers!”

Pray maintains creative momentum despite the pandemic. 

“I get up and do some stretching and meditation, eat, get my 14-year old up for school, then I log into my virtual world where I teach high school band (all online) for the Schenectady school district,” he said. The photos he shoots on several nature walks a day around his home in the Rotterdam hills, then posts to Facebook, show a musical eye. Cooking family dinners, “I have really delved into cooking new things since Covid,” he said. “It helps clear my mind and keeps the creative side moving in new ways.” He practices sax and organ, trains and teaches Aikido and runs the UAlbany Jazz Ensemble. Before the pandemic, he also played regularly with his three groups. So, now he feels, “I’ve never had all this free time!” 

The ever-busy hyper-productive Pray explained, “I feel like I’m on vacation!”

Pray’s six releases are available digitally and on CD at http://www.keithpray.bandcamp.com.

SIDEBAR

The siren sounds threw me in “Inyo,” first track on Pray’s “Universal Blues.” 

They took me back to Japan. Yeah, I’ll explain. 

Living between Tokyo and Yokohama, I had a fine stereo and collected American rock, folk and jazz records. The first time I put on a Tom Rush album, the song “Driving Wheel” had a strange but compelling trilling treble riff. Interesting I thought; a bird-song-sounding accent that repeated in the same place whenever I played the album.

When I played that same album back here, that distinctive part of the arrangement was missing. 

How did that happen? Did the shipping process effect the vinyl? Did moving almost 7,000 miles from Japan to Schenectady somehow change the music?

I played it again, and again: The sound I’d heard in my Minami- Rinkan living room wasn’t there in my fourth floor walkup on the State Street hill. 

A bird in my bamboo yard there had “played” that part.

Decades later, the Eighth Step presented Tom Rush in Proctors GE Theater, a black box where 400 seats – all full that night – sloped up from stage level. Impresario Margie Rosenkranz, who has heroically kept the place running through venue moves plus the usual challenges of running a non-profit arts program, came to me at my seat to ask: “Would you carry Tom Rush’s guitars to the stage?” I said, “Sure,” and she led me backstage into Rush’s dressing room where he sat quietly reading. She pointed to his two Martins. I took one in each hand, nodded to the star and headed for the stage. A few fans applauded as I placed the guitars carefully onto stands. Friends clapping ironically, knowing I’m no star, or singer of any kind? Folks kindly welcoming an unannounced intermission act?

I realized, as I took a quick bow, that I’d forgotten to tell Tom Rush how Japanese birds sang along with him, there between Tokyo and Yokohama.

TO the Record Shelf #2 – “Loste” by Alex Goldberg

Once a precocious Niskayuna kid, Alex Goldberg built his mostly instrumental album “Loste” in bits and parts, fits and starts – unlike the all-together-now live process of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic on “The Ivan Variations” (TO the Record Shelf #1).

Alex Goldberg, composer, arranger, producer, percussionist, keyboardist, singer, on “Loste”

“‘Loste’ took a long time to make,” said the Brooklyn resident.

“The fastest part was writing, then I spent awhile on the arrangements,” he said. “Recording the parts, and then finagling everything on my computer took the most time,” he explained. “For some of the songs with strings and horns, I had one instrumentalist come in at a time and layer each part multiple times, to slowly build a simulated orchestra. On the one hand, it gave me a lot of control over the editing, but it was also quite laborious.”

Goldberg noted, “A few of the shorter songs on the record (“Introe,” “Transitione,” “This Feeling”) were created after the longer songs were finished, as I started to hear gaps in the album’s arc that I wanted to fill.”

The result is inventive, at times intense – a smart, sweet suite. The seamless eight-song work has melody and heft, smooth grooves and rambunctious outbursts.

It’s ambitious because it’s deeply rooted, in a family of players and listeners. Both grandfathers were professional musicians; so is the uncle who taught him to read drum charts at age seven. The youngest of three sons (his brothers are fraternal twins) of hand-drummer father Steve and guitarist-for-fun mother Laurey, Goldberg grew up in a houseful of sound supplied by records of jazz, psychedelic rock, classical minimalism and singer-songwriters.

Full disclosure, Steve and Laurey are friends I see at many shows, but I only ever met Alex once.

“I saw Steve Reich’s ‘Music For 18 Musicians’ when I was in college and knew I had to try to work toward something,” he said. Deerhoof albums also made him made him want to make music.


He played in all the Niskayuna High School ensembles, studied with Albany percussion master Mark Foster from eight to 18, then with NYC percussionist Frank Cassara (of the Steve Reich and Philip Glass Ensembles) at Vassar College, improvising on vibraphone and starting to write music.

A high school band called Blunt Trauma only played two shows; “and I’m not sure it counts,” he said.

“In New York, I’ve played in dozens of bands, often as ‘just the drummer,’ but have also been more of a full member, writing parts and arranging songs, in a few projects,” he said, listing the now-defunct avant-rock/soul project Throw Vision (which spawned four solo projects) and the currently-on-hiatus rock band Double King. “I also currently play in my good friend Dan Kleederman’s band, Grand Kid,” said Goldberg. “He’s heavily featured on guitar and some bass throughout ‘Loste.’”

So is Schenectady-born jazz trombonist Alex Slomka, a childhood friend who now lives in Westchester and plays in New York City big bands. As kids, Goldberg and Slomka played as the Alex Brothers.


“Additionally, I’ve done a bunch of shows and touring with performance-prog project WSABI Fox,” said Goldberg, “ as well as playing with and recording drums for experimental soul artist L’Rain.”

In 2014, Goldberg released a solo album as Flordingblast, an electronic-digital project whose fusion/minimalism-inspired pieces show the influence of Flying Lotus.  

Then Goldberg aggressively swung the pendulum in the other direction. 

“This time I wanted to make something with real people, real instruments,” he said; “a very expansive, and lush soundscape ended up coming together…a very involved recording project.”

The credits include Schenectadians Slomka and mixing engineer Dane Orr, plus guitarist-bassist Kleederman, with strings, bassists, a singer, brass and reeds players. Goldberg wrote, arranged and produced, sang and played drums and keyboards. Chris Connors played guitar and helped mix and master the album.

Goldberg’s organic approach still left room for high-tech tinkering. 

For the guitar solo in “Introe,” he and Kleederman “composed it, phrase by phrase,” he said, “then further edited it to create its final shape. By the end, the guitar is the most prominent voice on the song.”


He wrote out parts for his players, “but I left certain moments open for soloing,” he explained, “like Jared Yee’s tenor saxophone soloing on ‘Not Sure,’ which was better and more perfect for the song than I could have imagined.”

He set aside Anna Webber’s flute solo from “Typical” but “I ended up taking that solo, slowing it down, and using it…in ‘Transitione,’” he said. “I also grabbed some of the percussion parts from ‘Typical,’ slowed those down as well, and then drummed and added more sounds to the groove, and eventually cobbled that piece together. So yes, definitely a song that was born from collaboration, even if not in real-time!”


For all its studio craft, “Loste” feels smooth to the ear.

“Introe” swells into view gently, then more insistently as instruments join in a wave of welcome, until a final chord signals a stately baroque courtship dance of strings and wordless voice in “I Know You,” taking wing as an ethereal chorus.

“Typical” cruises through urban contemporary streetscapes on the biggest drumbeat heard so far, under filigrees of voices and guitar; the guitar takes the wheel late and steers a bold course.

Snare rimshots and reed swirls curl around massed voices in “This Feeling” – a song of exaltation.

More meditative is “Not Sure,” also more complex, with whistles and voices setting up a brooding transition that resolves onto sailing on sunnier seas, dotted with islands of dissonance.

“Transitione” grooves with flutes over an off-center beat clatter, a cheerful intro for “Stay the Same” that sets up a restless cello ostinato before singers and flutes stroll in and make themselves very much at home in its cozy melody.

“(King)” takes us in stately grace along a regal procession that draws in more and more musical marchers to achieve real majesty before a solo saxophone sings the suite to a close.

Goldberg is donating half of the proceeds from sales of “Loste” via Bandcamp and http://www.alexdgoldberg.com to the Black Trans Health Initiative & other funds. 

“These days, I teach some drum students virtually, work on percussion and recording projects for friends, and work on my next album and live set,” said Goldberg.


He said, “Before the plague (my term, in an interview by email) I did all those things, but taught more lessons and worked at a music rehearsal studio, and played in a bunch of bands, in addition to my project.”

TO the Record Shelf: “The Ivan Variations” by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic

OK, now, From the Record Shelf looks back, at music from the past that has endured. TO the Record Shelf looks ahead, at new music.

Frighteningly prolific, wildly witty, relentlessly clever and fiercely fun-loving, Chandler Travis made his album “The Ivan Variations” the old-fashioned way. In a method unavailable in these plague years, he piled all 14 musicians of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic onstage to play together. You remember: live, with happy people listening.

Check the cover art of this live-onstage CD: Over a black and white photo, a mustard yellow rectangle bill-boards words in the venerable Teutonic this-is-serious style of Deutsche Grammaphon Gesellschaft classical recordings.

When some friends of mine were hired as the record buyers for the (now long-vanished) E.J. Korvette’s department store in Northway Mall, they knew rock, jazz and folk pretty well but realized their classical music knowledge was scanty. So they simply ordered EVERY Deutsche Grammaphon release. It worked. But I digress. Oh, the DDG catalog lists 4,939 releases; 14 hit this month alone, including “The New Stravinsky Complete Edition” – 30 CDs. Even Chandler Travis isn’t THAT prolific…

“The Ivan Variations” collects 13 versions of the same song. Cheerfully Spikey (Jones, that is), zippy and Zappa-esque, it sounds like a music store taken over by conservatory kids who ensured a good time by imbibing laughing gas and peyote, a-plenty. Then they donned Mardi Gras masks and marched in Second Line glee past Tin Pan Alley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, some smoky jazz basements, Carnegie Hall and a comedy club.

My favorites: “Headstand Ivan” in which they simply turned their charts upside down, “Ivan Backwards” – you know, other versions turn the melody inside out. “Ivan Can’t Take It” is a brassy rocker; “Ivan Ska” swings like a tropical breeze; and the encore of “Ivan in Worcester” is an a cappella reprise.

That cover photo shows Travis conducting the ensemble, ringmaster of this sound-circus; but it’s just one of several circuses he typically leads in 80 shows a year.

The Harwich, Mass. (Cape Cod) resident (who celebrated his birthday Monday, March 15) recently said by email he’s busy recording “Great dollops of new stuff from the Philharmonic the Three-O, and the Catbirds,” all bands that he leads and for which he writes and arranges nearly everything. This hyper-activity follows a highly productive 2020 when “we put out quite a bit of new stuff…by the Incredible Casuals, myself, Travis & Shook, Paulette Humanbeing, Pete Labonne, and the afore-mentioned Catbirds, Three-O, and CTP.” Travis said most of this new music is available for free on the merchandise page of his website. Like “The Ivan Variations” by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic (there’s also a smaller Philharmonette, but I digress), this music is available directly at www.chandlertravis.com, also at iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and band camp.

Looking forward, he said, “As things are starting to look better about the Covid situation, we’re starting to book some jobs around where we live on Cape Cod for the summer tentatively.” Travis explained, “We anticipate doing more outdoor jobs than usual, but we’ll see what happens when! We also hope to get back to Caffé Lena and the Hangar in Troy and some of our usual faves up in your area as soon as the coast is clear-ish!” 

Travis has played almost everywhere hereabouts including opening shows for the late great comic George Carlin with Travis Shook and the Club Wow and headlining in Albany’s Washington Park, the Union College Old Chapel and, as noted, Caffe Lena and the Hangar. 

For now, for a fun blast of Travis’s playful ingenuity at big-band scale, there’s “The Ivan Variations.”

From the Record Shelf: The O’Kanes “Tired of the Runnin'”

And Kieran Kane rolls on, with partner Rayna Gellert

Early in the plague time, she-plays-everything singer-songwriter Rayna Gellert emailed about a Caffe Lena live-stream gig with partner Kieran Kane. I didn’t know their duo music, but this caught my attention since Kane is the real goods. His Nashville major label duo with Jamie O’Hara called the O’Kanes was very damn good.

Wikipedia tells us:

The O’Kanes was an American country music duo, composed of Jamie O’Hara and Kieran Kane. Active between 1986 and 1990, the duo recorded three albums for Columbia Records and charted seven singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles (now Hot Country Songs) charts, including “Can’t Stop My Heart from Loving You”. Kane charted seven singles of his own in the early 1980s, and O’Hara won a Grammy Award for co-writing “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Ol’ Days)”, a hit for The Judds. After they disbanded in 1990, both members pursued solo careers, and Kane founded a record label named Dead Reckoning Records. 

O’Hara died of cancer on January 7, 2021 at age 70.

Wikipedia

The O’Kanes’ 1988 album “Tired of the Runnin’” had stuck in my mind mainly for just one song. So when Kane’s partner Gellert reached out, the synapses clicked, kinda obliquely.

Looking back I found a Gazette column (March 9, 2017), mentioning them as openers on a Sarah Jarosz show at The Egg. “Singer-songwriter-fiddler Rayna Gellert and Kieran Kane open. Indiana-born, former member of the Freight Hoppers and Uncle Earl, Gellert wrote and sings terrific tunes on her solo debut ‘Working’s Too Hard,’ co-produced with Kane. Once a member of under-rated Nashville supergroup the O’Kanes with Jamie O’Hara, and a summer Sacandaga-area resident, Kane opened, really well, for Jesse Winchester at The Egg in early 2002.”

I saw Kane do that show with the late, great Jesse Winchester (whom I first saw in Montreal in 1971 during his draft-dodging days) and met and liked him. 

So, I went to the CD shelves and looked in the Record Room/Temple of Music cabinets for that O’Kanes’ album. Nope.

Then I checked upstairs in the deeper (attic) archives. Again, nope.

So, then I hit the working library shelves in my office where Best Of’s and Greatest Hits stuff goes. Once again, nope.

By now, I really wanted that music again, as I recalled listening to it with the guys on an early gathering of now-long-running Adirondack music meet-up. Chas Hinckley of Cape Cod and Central New York wrote me about that O’Kanes album when I asked him about it recently. “I heard a little Dick Dale but also some Don & Phil (Everly), New Riders of the Purple Sage, and a few other bits of nostalgia.”

So I scratched around on-line, found and ordered it, not from Amazon. When it arrived, I anxiously opened and put it on right away and listened; you, know, the way we used to do.

And it hit me just as I’d hoped it would, both confirming my memory of how cool that half-remembered extra-fine song was. “Rocky Road” has that great lift-off instrumental break. But another tune that I hadn’t remembered at all hit me just as sweet: a cover of “Isn’t That So” by Jesse Winchester from his 1972 album. It’s a winner in almost anybody’s hands, as many covers attest.

By the way, for a positively overwhelming Jesse Winchester hit, try this video. I just KNEW that I loved Neko Case even before this, but I truly wanted to have her babies after I saw her tears as Jesse sang… But I digress.

Before loving up the O’Kanes’ “Tired of Runnin’” here, let me tell you about digging around online, like in my CD and vinyl shelves, for more recent Kane music. 

Kieran Kane and Rayna Gellert’s album “When the Sun Goes Down” released May 2019. Cover art by Kieran Kane

The Gellert and Kane website offers their two most recent albums; BandCamp and the Dead Reckoning Records site (the label Kane founded after the O’Kanes split) serves up Kane’s solo albums and collaborations with Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin (Both Kane and Kaplin were born in NYC.). 

The Kane and Gellert site also displays Kane’s paintings, moody works that share a subdued palette, as quiet as most of his music, with New Orleans artist (and my wife Ellie’s friend) Jan Keels. Keels tells stories by showing places and things as often as figures and faces while Kane paints people mostly. But I digress.

All Kane’s music shares a confident economy of expression and gesture. If you believe fully in every word and note, you can play and sing simply. This makes Kane both a compelling solo artist and an ideal collaborator. Instead of hot licks, his cool music gives space, a remarkable restraint considering his crew on “Dead Rekoning,” his 1995 solo debut and first release on his label, includes fiddler Tammy Rogers, bassists Roy Huskey Jr. and Glenn Worf, drummer Harry Stinson, guitarists Dan Dugmore and Mike Henderson, accordionist Fats Kaplin, percussionist Don Heffington – oh, yeah, and singers Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and “Somebody’s Darling.” These folks could burn down the barn, but Kane banks their flame and cooks on the embers.

His duets with Gellert – “Old Light,”  “When the Sun Goes Down,” “The Ledges” – portray a relationship, so solid it shows them looking together out at the world rather than at each other. This gives a quiet wide-screen view, tasty as any sound movie in recent memory.

Wandering through this more recent music brought me back to my first listen to Kane, and one that holds up very well indeed. This subtle master of understatement draws you in, every time.

Kane’s albums with fellow singer-songwriter Kevin Welch and he-plays-everything instrumental master Fats Kaplin – “You Can’t Save Everybody,” “Lost John Dean” and his solo album “Somewhere Beyond the Roses” are also about a shared vision, a deep connection among equals.

Drop the needle onto “Tired of the Runnin’” and you first think “Everly Brothers,” so tightly do Kane’s and O’Hara’s voices curl and twine on the opening track “One True Love.” Its gently insistent groove echoes the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One,” a cute and melodious pun.

“All Because of You” and “If I Could Be There” both reach further back, like how The Band distilled Appalachian folk ballads into new journeys over old roads. We know the folds of the land but not what’s around the next bend.

“Blue Love” may be the album’s most Everly song, and it’s deeper than just the harmony sound, a delicious constant through the album. It uses repetition and variation like main Everlys writers Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.

“Rocky Road,” the song whose memory spurred my quest to re-find this album, has a country-rock glide. It cruises into view next with a mid-tempo ease that makes me want to drive slower when I hear it, even though its cozy “Little Martha” Allman Brothers warmth has a delicious momentum. Jay Spell’s accordion, then Richard Kane’s electric guitar, gently rise in the cool dark, like a moon over a bayou and its reflection. For all the expert stringed-thing sounds on the album, Spell’s squeeze-box is its beating heart. Giving credit where it’s very much earned, the rest of the band is Roy Yeager, drums; and Henry Strzelecki, bass; with Kane playing mandolin and O’Hara, acoustic guitar.

“Highway 55” updates “Long Black Veil” to eerie, sad, mysterious effect, and here comes Spell again, swirling up high but framing a mood of stark tragedy that takes on a nightmarish clarity in “Tired of the Runnin’” – a beautifully apt pairing, a mini-suite of tears.

“In My Heart” also mourns a loss, another Bryant-like structure and sound; Is there any higher praise? 

“”I’m Lonely” rocks string-band blues style, with a “Rocky Road”-like lift-off, but feels more contained; a fine set-up for the album’s only cover: Jesse Winchester’s slow-burn blues “Isn’t That So,” a Gospel shuffle.

Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara made “Tired of the Runnin’” in that pre-Americana age when Nashville pickers slipped out of the Grand Ole Opry countrypolitan lock-step to play bluegrass and jazz, as if for just themselves and therefore with consummate skill and joy. That’s why it’s lasted better than commercial country of that time.

It goes deeper, it goes further, and it gets there easy, with no fuss.

It’s perfect without feeling stuffy or pristine, so even messy feelings come in elegant packaging, without ironic distance. 

And we can hear Kane and Gellert in the here-and-now (hear and now?) when they play live Friday, March 12 from the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph, Vermont. 7 p.m. Tune in here.