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There was a time when family entertainment often consisted of coming together to sing and play; when music was not just an oral tradition but a means of engendering familial closeness. A time long past, it contrasts with the contemporary reality of disenfranchised children, in no small part the result of a society where double incomes and relinquishing responsibility for raising a family has become the norm. Bassist Charlie Haden knows the value of family. Before he was the groundbreaking bassist with Ornette Coleman, leader of the politically motivated Liberation Music Orchestra and noir-centric Quartet West, and intimate duettist with Pat Metheny, Hank Jones, and Egberto Gismonti, he was part of the Old Haden Family, who played country music on the radio during Haden's formative years in the 1940s. Rambling Boy not only pays homage to his country roots but, with the participation of wife Ruth Cameron, children Josh, Petra, Tanya and Rachel, and a wealth of friends, is proof of the inestimable value of music and kin, joined together to create the kind of close bond that sadly no longer exists for so many.
A mix of traditional and originals tunes, and songs made iconic by the Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family and Hank Williams, it's an album that might appear distanced from Haden's jazz career. But his style has always favored simple melody, even in the most oblique of contexts, and a spare approach to accompaniment that doesn't negate virtuosity, but focuses on his ever-present concern for the essence of song. Rambling Boy isn't a jazz album, but it's a clear window into the music that shaped Haden into what he is today. Haden's deep lyricism is heard on his solo intro to "20/20 Vision," featuring singer Bruce Hornsby alongside dobroist Jerry Douglas and fiddler Stuart DuncanHaden's two constant companions on sixteen of the album's nineteen tracks. Hornsby's piano is heard with Methenyguesting on seven trackson the soft Irish ballad "Down By the Salley Gardens," sung by Ruth Cameron, the poignant traditional "He's Gone Away," with Tanya Haden singing, and the equally touching instrumental original, "Is This America," where Metheny's baritone acoustic is front and center.
Haden's daughters are featured vocalists throughout; but it's when they come together on "Single Girl Married Girl" that an empathy only possible through familial bond is heard. Guests including Elvis Costello, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Dan Tyminski and Roseanne Cash give Rambling Boy its good natured feeling of friendship, becoming even deeper with Josh Haden's vocal delivery of his profoundly evocative "Spiritual."
Rambling Boy's most touching moments come with a two-minute clip from the Old Haden Family Showfeaturing two year-old yodeling Charlieand his fragile, vulnerable vocal on the closing "Oh Shenandoah," another Metheny feature. More than a tribute to his late parents, "Oh Shenandoah" is Haden's gentle paean to a more innocent time, when family and friends were valued in ways now largely lost. An unexpected but moving addition to Haden's discography, Rambling Boy may be the bassist's most deeply personal album to date.
Track Listing: Single Girl Married Girl; Ramblin' Boy; 20/20 Vision; Wildwood Flower; Spiritual; Oh, Take Me Back; You Win Again; Fields of Athenry; Ocean of Diamonds; He's Gone Away; A Voice From On High; Down By the Salley Gardens; Road of Broken Hearts; Is This America?; Tramp on the Street; Old Joe Clark; Seven Year Blues; Old Haden Family Show; Oh Shenandoah.
Personnel: Charlie Haden : bass, backup vocals (2); Petra Haden: vocal (1, 8, 11, 17), backup vocal (9, 13, 15); Rachel Haden: vocal (1, 6, 11, 13, 15, 17), backup vocal (9); Tanya Haden: vocal (1, 6, 10, 11, 17), backup vocal (15); Jerry Douglas: dobro (1-3, 5, 6, 8-17, 19); Sam Bush: mandolin (1, 6, 11, 15-17); Stuart Duncan: fiddle (1-3, 5, 6, 8-17, 19); Bryan Sutton: guitar (1, 3, 6, 11, 13, 15-17); Vince Gill: vocal (2); Dan Tyminski: backup vocals (2), mandolin (2), vocal (9); Russ Barenberg: guitar (2, 5, 8, 10, 12, 14, 19); Bruce Hornsby: vocal (3), piano (10, 12, 14); Ricky Skaggs: fretless banjo (3), mandolin (9), vocal (13); Rosanne Cash: vocal (4); Josh Haden: vocal (5); Elvis Costello: vocal (7); John Leventhal: guitar (4, 7); Pat Metheny: guitar (4, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 19); Bryan Stuart: guitar (9); Ruth Cameron: vocal (12); Jack Black: vocal (16); Bela Fleck: banjo (16); Buddy Green: harmonica (16); Old Haden Family Show (18).