16 songs – 55 minutes
Andy Cohen is one of those national treasures whom it is all too easy to take for granted and thus to overlook. Growing up in a home with a piano and a lot of Dixieland Jazz records, he was one of many who discovered the blues through the Folk revival of the 1960s. He has spent his adult years playing, studying, teaching, writing about and promoting early 20th century American music, from the acoustic blues of Mississippi, the Piedmont and Memphis, through to gospel and ragtime. He is a virtuoso acoustic guitar player with an encyclopedic knowledge and love of American music and he is blessed with a voice that sounds as old as dirt.
Road Be Kind is an all-acoustic solo album primarily focusing on contemporary folk music, with some blues and related traditional material as well. There is the classic instrumental, “Windy and Warm”, Sonny Terry’s “Spread The News Around” and even a raucous version of Walter Weems Doyle’s early 30s “Mysterious Mose”. Cohen combines his own “The Jig McCoy” with the traditional “Blarney Pilgrim”, as well contributing “Fort Sumner Dance”, which he wrote with his friend, Steve Cormier, and “Five and Ten Cent Blues”, a song that he wrote in the mid-1960s and one that beautifully sets the tone for Cohen’s entire life. There is even “Talkin’ Hard Luck,” a hilarious combination of ancient bad luck jokes, puns and witticisms, half-spoken over a ragtime backing.
But it is the “contemporary” songs that are the heartbeat of Road Be Kind. The witty and amusing lyrics of Dillon Bustin’s “More Wood” are matched by Cohen’s playful guitar backing. Scott Alarik’s title track allows Cohen to dig deeply into the melancholia behind the ostensibly hopeful lyrics. The album even ends with a version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, but the genius of each track on Road Be Kind is in reminding the listener how every “modern” song is really only a heartbeat away from the early classics, originally written and played well over 100 years ago.
Cohen is adept at playing a variety of finger styles, in particular when using his thumb to play alternating bass notes a la Rev Gary Davis. It’s an oft over-looked technique both for adding depth to a single acoustic guitar accompaniment but also in creating a drive and a groove to push a song forwards.
As an added bonus, Cohen’s album notes for each song are wry, intelligent and educational, and offer an illuminating look into how and why he chose these songs for this album.
Road Be Kind is a fine album of acoustic folk-roots-blues. If your tastes extend to the likes Chris Smither or Peter Mulvey, you will find a lot to enjoy here.