Barbara Jo Kammer - One Song at a Time
This collection of covers includes one original from Barbara Jo Kammer, but these covers aren’t your ordinary garden variety riffs on other songwriter’s material. One Song at a Time feels patiently curated to best represent Kammer’s experiences as a recovering addict and it’s accompanied by lights out playing that shows great command over the material as well as superb instincts for entertaining its target audience. This is certainly a retro themed collection, in some respects, but it’s presented in the best possible modern light and listeners will never get the sense that its invocation of old tyme music is some sort of empty vehicle for Kammer to claim musical authenticity. Instead, her musical partners on this trip are every bit as key to realizing the potential of the material as Kammer’s vocals are and they come together with great energy and imagination.
The energy and imagination is evident from the beginning. “I Can See Clearly” is a song many listeners are going to be familiar with, but Kammer rebuilds it in a way much more sympathetic to her designs for One Song at a Time. It’s a solid bluegrass number in this incarnation and she puts it over with all the exuberance that an opener demands. “Choices” requires a different sort of energy, one that behooves Kammer to dig deeper, and she plumbs deep into her personal experience to give this lyric about addiction the gravitas it deserves. Fiddle player Jake Simpson acquits himself quite well here as he does throughout the entirety of the release. “Hard Promises to Keep”, like “Choices”, comes from the traditional country school of song craft and makes a strong impression thanks to the merits of a duet between Kammer and second vocalist Greg Blake. Blake contributes backing vocals elsewhere on the album, but he’s particularly effective as an equal partner for Kammer and they recall past glories in the genre with their turn here.
“Medicine Wheel” and “The Winning Side” are a little different fare than the album’s other tracks, more grounded in a singer/songwriter folk tradition than outright country, but many of the same instruments appear and the musicians bring every bit of their talent to full use on both performances. We go back to the deep south for the performance of “New Shoes” and the instrumental breaks alone are worth the price of purchase. “Bluegrass Melodies”, the album’s penultimate tune, comes from the musical imagination of one of The Statler Brothers and hits its mark from the outset. Kammer does a remarkable job of making listeners see every line of the song and the musicians complement what she’s doing quite nicely. One Song at a Time concludes with “Mule Skinner Blues”, a Jimmie Rodgers cover, but if Kammer has any butterflies tackling a song from one of the Kings of country music, she doesn’t show it. This uptempo final curtain for the album puts a definite end to one of the best Americana themed releases of 2017.