in the heart of this town
As I listen to Meridian Green's songs on in the heart of this town, I can't help but think of this as country music. Green's sweet voice and the instrumental treatment on many of her songs take me back to a time when country and folk were pretty well synonymous in American music. Meridian Green skilfully rides that fine line between folk and country, rendering it invisible.
Green's particular approach to folk music comes to her naturally and organically. Her father is folk legend Bob Gibson, best known for his song "Abilene," which became a hit on the country charts in the Sixties. Her longtime musical partner is one-time Byrd Gene Parsons, who brings a similar sensibility to the music.
What appeals instantly is Green's sweet voice. It's a very American voice, like Emmy-Lou without the twang, and it's ideally suited to the music she sings. That lovely voice opens the door and one is drawn into the music itself, not so much folk as a refined blend of country, pop, and jazz with a solid folk centre. The music shows restraint, never covering the voice but allowing it to sail across the top so that the listener hears the words and realizes that Green is also a fine lyricist.
There are only two songs on this release that Meridian Green did not either write or co-write.
The first song in the set, Jane Gillman's "Listen to the Thunder" has an Eagles-like feel to it, established by Gene Parsons' guitar intro and carried throughout by the loping rhythm track and Seventies guitar lines. The words and Green's interpretation of the melody only add to the Seventies California sound of this song.
The other song not written by Green is her father's classic. "Abilene" is a classic folk-country song about the longing of a homesick heart for home. Green's interpretation brings to "Abilene" a pathos that brings it about as close to country blues as a song can get before slipping over that line. [Have I ever mentioned how silly I think narrow genre definitions are?] This is about as beautiful as a song can get.
"Birds Fly South" takes on a much more distinctively folk sound, with Green singing in a more traditional style that again takes me back to Appalachia or perhaps even England.
"The Lorax (in Laytonville)" is a fun song based on a true story of a timber baron who tried to ban the Dr. Seuss book from local schools because of its ecological message. It's always a special treat to find a song with a message that is also fun to hear.
"Just Away" has a definite "Leaving on a Jet Plane" feel to it. The story line is very similar, and the last line of the chorus is melodically similar enough to bring the other song to mind. This is not a complaint. What Green has achieved is a rather lovely allusion to another song which only serves to enhance and deepen her own. The result is beautiful and effective.
One example of why I think Meridian Green is an above average lyricist, "Sarah Lou" raises this material above the maudlin tearjerker most writers would make of it and makes it instead a heartfelt song of familial love, of longing for that love when it is not present.
The final song, "Hometown" brings the listener back to that hillbilly sound with an Eagles-style city edge to it. The sound is bright and cheerful, the story perhaps not so much so after all. This song carries with it all the edginess and genre-tension which seems so much a hallmark of this release. The final song, it makes the listener want to come back for more.
Meridian Green's in the heart of this town will make an interesting addition to anyone's collection of folk music.
Those who are interested can find more information on Meridian Green at stringbender.com.
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Review written: June 25, 2002
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