Listening to “California Is Burning,” “That Old Familiar,” “Fifth Third,” “Windy City,” and, particularly, “My Way Of Saying Goodbye” from vocalist and guitarist David Thom’s new CD, it is easy to see why he was able to land a spot with David Grisman’s Bluegrass Experience. Each of those tracks, each of them highlights, underscores one of his musical talents.
If you want to know if Thom can handle the gritty and the raw, you need wait no longer than the opener “California Is Burning,” a fast, apocalyptic blues written by former Blasters member Dave Alvin. From the opening scratch rhythm of Tom Rozum’s mandolin, the song crackles with intensity, an intensity which Thom matches vocally volt for volt. A few tracks later, “That Old Familiar” makes plain his ability as a songwriter with a tune that shows a nice turn of phrase, a melodic feel, and a swinging country setting pushed along by fine tandem archtop and bass rhythm. “Fifth Third” and “Windy City” are instrumentals, the former by Thom, the latter from Kenny Baker. Of them, the nifty melodic hesitations and the banjo work of Bill Evans on “Fifth Third” makes it the more memorable, but “Windy City” shows best Thom’s skill on the guitar.
The album then ends on a song of exceptional quality, “My Way Of Saying Goodbye.” For four and a half minutes, Thom, through his weary vocals, and songwriter Richard Brandenburg, through his beautiful word-painting and plaintive, parloresque/cowboy-like melody, grip the attention and leave you in suspense until the very last line. It is as fine a piece of melancholia and emotion currently out there.
Throw in several other good tracks, including “Home Is Where The Heart Is” and the standard “Little White Church,” and give it the talented support of, among others, Patrick Sauber, Todd Phillips, and Laurie Lewis, and you come away with a good recording that rises here and there to exceptional levels. (David Thom, 1590 E. Bonness Rd., Sonoma, CA 95476, www.thedtb.com.)BW