“Old McDonald,” the opening track to the debut recording from veteran performers Mark Newton and Steve Thomas, is one of those songs that seem so obvious that you scratch your head wondering why it took so long to be written or why you didn’t think of it yourself. Over a melody that blends snatches of both “Turkey In the Straw” and “Old McDonald Had A Farm” comes a tale in which Old McDonald sells his farm to developers for …financial security, leaving his neighbors no longer to hear him singing E-I-E-I-O. You can take it humorously or pointedly, but either way it’s a clever and compelling piece of writing and performing and one that sets this enjoyable album in motion.
From there, Newton and Thomas sing us through a touch of gentle gospel (“The Key”) and seven covers, some of them classics (“Blue Railroad Train,” “Are You Missing Me,” “The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee,” and “Kentucky Waltz”), a couple of them not as well-known (the tuneful and semi-rocking “Painted Lady,” once a hit for Knoxville Grass, and “Pineywood Hills,” a slow ode from Buffy St. Marie), but all of them are good songs, nicely arranged. Thomas also contributes his own tongue-in-cheek look at the problems getting over a lost love, “Far, Far Cry.”
As pairings go, Newton and Thomas are well-matched, particularly vocally. It is Thomas, however, who most catches the attention on the recording. That’s no slap at Newton, a fine singer, as shown on his seven leads here. But Thomas has the benefit of not only singing well, but adding mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and fretted reso-guitar to the mix. His long career as a session and sideman, his lead on “Blue Railroad Train,” and his twin fiddling on “Kentucky Waltz,” to highlight just two of his many solos, make his case. (Pinecastle Records, 2881 NC 108 Hwy. E, Columbus, NC 28722, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)BW