STEVIE TOMBSTONE – GREENWOOD
2012 – Cloverdale Music
Stevie Tombstone has been making some great music for the better part of three decades without ever getting the huge success his tremendous blend of edgy country and blues deserves. Back in the 1980s through to the mid 90s he was front man of the excellent Tombstones’ who played a fiery punked up brand of roots music and released a couple of albums that are at best difficult to find! He has made six solo albums including this one and I know for sure the previous three are all of a high quality, although I have yet to hear the impossible to track down first two. Stylistically he is probably difficult to compare to anyone else although John Prine and Peter Case do come to mind at times, with
Stevie’s vocals, despite having a dark edginess being much warmer and more melodic than that esteemed pair!
All of the songs on this outstanding album were written by Stevie except for an evocative version of Leadbelly’s Goodnite Irene on which he is accompanied on vocals by wife, Melissa. To quote Stevie ‘This is a collection of autobiographical selections with the exception of the folk standard Goodnight Irene. Straight ahead lyrically and as open as I could be at this point as a writer for the tunes that call for it.’ And what a stunning collection of stories they are, thematically varied, but always underpinned by some quality playing and with Stevie’s tremendous vocals to the fore. There are not too many tempo changes but such is the variety of styles, from folksy country to blues, and the sparse but varied instrumentation that the only real complaint is that at not much over half an hour the album is too short, although if it was twice the length I would probably still be saying the same thing, such is it’s quality! Every song has a slightly eerie haunting feel that somehow seems to
make the stories more realistic, all added to by the beautiful melodicism in each song, obviously helped by Stevie’s warm expressive, character laden vocals. His production of the album deserves credit as well for most of the songs having an almost lonely feel to them thanks in part to the generally sparse instrumentation, giving a lovely spacy front porch feel.
The album kicks off with Lucky, a haunting song with nice acoustic guitar, mandolin and accordion on a story in which Stevie voices how lucky he feels, in spite of himself! This is followed by the Greenwood, the tremendous title track that perfectly blends country and blues into a fascinating tale about delivering a gravestone to (one of) Robert Johnsons graves. It is a terrific true story with his excellent vocals, slide guitar and nice smooth drum sound that really seems to sum up the mood of indifference that many feel towards the blues legend. He was someone who whilst not the father or
king of the blues was certainly one of the princes and without any doubt popularized the blues in Britain so that we could then transport it back to the U.S and show them what they were missing! Just Ain’t Right has the feel of a Peter Case blues and includes some nice melodic guitar and harmonica sounds, followed by I’d Lose It All, with more of his melodic guitar playing on a strong love song that tells that he would give up everything for his love. Every song that follows is of just as high a quality including a tremendous cover of the old Leadbelly song, Goodnight Irene, even including a gorgeous acoustic guitar instrumental Wonderland.
A short album by today’s standards that contains straight forward easy to understand songs that really do blend blues and country, often in the same song, but when the album contains an artist and songs of this quality it is easy to listen to over and over again and still find extra little nuances. An example that confirms sometimes less really can be more! Terrific album.