DUST BOWL HEART (Doc Fell & Co.): A CD Review by Bill McCloud
As I was leaving the house for a drive to Tulsa I checked the mail and there it was, Doc Fell & Co,'s new CD, "Dust Bowl Heart." I had a sense that it would play very well as a road-trip CD with the volume turned up. As usual, I was right!
The music starts off with a song delivered in a dream-like, Southern-gothic-tale, fashion that establishes a tone that would hold up throughout. Though the tone is immediately established there is more variety of musical styles on display on this CD than I have seen on any other in a long time.
There is clearly some underlying story being told that holds everything together. Sherman Alexie once said you need to read a book three times before you can really begin to understand it. It was on my third run-through here that some of the layers began to be unpeeled.
Some of the songs are flat-out rockers that would appeal to a late-night bar crowd. Others are beautifully melodic, playing as well as the best of pop (in the good sense of that word) that is grounded in the red dirt.
You have whiskey-drinking, door-slammin,' knuckle-busting songs playing alongside ones where you're sitting under a sycamore tree, contemplating a newly-broken heart and regretting doing all those things you swore you'd never do again.
One of my favorites is "Broken Heart," which has a real cool 60s-vibe to it. Obviously, one of Fell's more personal songs he has said he found it to be "an easy song to write" which is often true of the ones that come blasting their way out from somewhere deep inside you. I also couldn't help but note that an anagram for "Broken Heart" is 'Break her not.'
"Home on the Hill," with Fell's voice and arrangement, recalls some of the really cool, lesser-known Jimmy Buffett songs.
"Dandelions" contains my favorite image from the CD of "dandelions dancing in a hurricane."
"Dust Bowl Heart" has what I would call a hesitating line or moment of hesitation that at first seems like the singer forgot the words to finish a line. When it's done a second time you realize it's a specific songwriting technique for this song. It forces you to pay attention more, actually drawing you back into the song.
"Tumbling Dice" is a true duet (with Caitlin Cary) and is one of two songs here that Fell wrote with lead guitarist Kyle Brown who also co-produced the CD.
I have a personal theory that every song ever written is basically, one way or another, a love song. That's certainly true of what Doc has written for this CD.
I focused on Fell's songwriting ability but his words are really given life by a great group of musicians and backup singers. Bryan and Bernice Hembree also played various roles here.
This CD is short enough that you can take it all in in just one gulp. That also means that after you listen to it once you'll still have time to listen to it again. As you should.
BILL McCLOUD (3-18-17)
Longtime emcee of Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, Cherokee Creek Music Festival and Marble Falls Music Fest