Bluegrass Unlimited - Thomas PorterTHOMAS PORTER
No Label

Released to showcase the songwriting skills of Thomas Porter, this eponymous solo album is comprised of eleven songs and two tunes written and arranged by Porter. Even if Thomas Porter is a glorified songwriter demo, it proves a thoroughly enjoyable recording project. Good songs, carefully arranged, and performed by some of the best in the business today generally works well, as it does on this release.

The CD features noted musicians including, but not limited to, Ron Block, Adam Steffey, Sierra Hull, Clay Hess, Cody Kilby, Charlie Cushman, Jens Koch, and Eric Uglum. Recorded at no less than nine different studios, the baker’s dozen tracks offer nine different ensembles with only Porter appearing on all thirteen. Austin Ward handles the bass and Christian Ward the fiddle on all ten cuts that feature a full band.

Porter had already achieved composing success in 2010 when Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s gospel album Light On My Feet, Ready To Fly included his young-fellow-called-to-preach song, “Teddy Bear Revival,” which also appears on Thomas Porter. Porter indeed demonstrates the ability to write new sacred material that sounds not just traditional, but based in an old-time religion just as much as the call-response form of the chorus, as in “Touch My Scar.” The song is performed as a trio with Uglum and Jeff Farias: Have faith…believe…reach out…and see/Put your hands here upon my wounded side/Oh and blessed be all those who have not seen/Oh Thomas reach out and touch my scar.

Although Porter often turns to lost love and the wild side of life, he connects Saturday to Sunday morning in the lyrics of songs such as the lead-off “Cold, Drunk, And Lonesome”: Preacher said on Sunday, you reap just what you sow/Well I don’t know just what I did, to make these thorns to grow/But I asked the Lord to give me peace, that somethin’ I can’t find/I’m cold, drunk, and lonesome, with you on my mind. Although he can deliver a fine contemporary bluegrass composition such as “Don’t Know What I Have Done,” Porter mostly uses his ability to write new songs that sound old, but lack any hint of camp. Most of the time on Thomas Porter, this works brilliantly, as in the above pieces or “Thousand Acre Farm,” which takes a couple through their entire life together in just 16 lines. Occasionally, however, Porter’s roots show through too clearly. For example, “I May Not Be Your First Love,” with absolutely killer Reno-style picking from Cushman, works powerfully as a song on an album, but from the songwriting perspective, a bit too much Don Reno shows through. Bands should check out Thomas Porter for the songs, but I’d guess that most readers would enjoy the album simply for enjoyable listening. (Thomas Porter, 5154 N. 13th Pl., Phoenix, AZ 85014, AM