Led Zeppelin legend John Paul Jones produced Waterloo, which, says the Rounder press release, "laces raucous fiddle tunes and jug band blues with ballads of loss and exile, affectionate love songs, and a profound longing that can only be echoed in the strains of fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and tender harmonies." Knowing Uncle Earl, having seen them in various configs over the past couple of years, I'd wager that's an accurate description.
"One True" (as of this writing, it was up on www.myspace.com/uncleearl) is signature Uncle Earl, born of a raucous late-night jam in a hotel somewhere on the road and slowly cooked over the next year or so till done. It's one of those zippy songs about loss that the band does so well. "Bonaparte on St. Helena" is a haunting picture of Napoleon in exile, perhaps an unexpected subject for a string band, but damn, it's cool. "Last Goodbye" is more traditional and achingly lovely. Groves's "I May Never" uses wistful, simple language as she encounters life's fleeting moments, gone before they get here.
An Uncle Earl concert is a charming thing, filled with giggles, harmony, exquisite music, and a shot or two of clogging for good measure. An Uncle Earl concert in Ann Arbor, like the one at the Ark on Sunday, March 4, is a certifiable homecoming and not to be missed.
[Review published March 2007]