How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The Tarbox Ramblers’ music so strongly evokes the rural South, it’s hard to believe these guys hail from Boston. The Ramblers are a primitive Americana outfit with deep blues roots. On this rustic-sounding debut, the Ramblers generate an aural trail mix consisting of old-time country blues, traditional obscurities, a jug band stomper, some spirituals, and two scruffy originals.
With fiddle, upright bass, crude drums and percussion, electric slide and various other guitars, the group takes elements from country blues, hillbilly music, gospel and alternative rock, and fuses them in interesting ways. The band’s approach is respectful of tradition, but with a raw contemporary feel. The glue that holds it all together is group namesake Michael Tarbox, whose direct, impassioned vocals sound like a cross between Dave Alvin and Bill Monroe.
Most of the tunes here are timeless treasures from the public domain. "Jack of Diamonds" and "Honey in the Rock" kick things off in rousing fashion. "Columbus Stockade" is given a knee-slapping, barn dance treatment, while "Third Jinx Blues" and "Oh Death" are mysterious and menacing. Rollicking blues numbers like "Down South Blues" and "Shake ‘Em Down" are interspersed with old-timey versions of "St. James Infirmary" and "Stewball." Expressive harmony vocals lend a bluegrass feel to some numbers.
Most of the songs here date back to the early 20th Century and have been covered by countless blues, bluegrass and hillbilly troupes. The Tarbox Ramblers play them with ragged reverence and plenty of spirit, blurring the line between black and white musical traditions. This is first-rate debut release should appeal equally to fans of the blues, roots rock and alternative country.