It’s not often that I get to write about a musician who’s talented and also loves jug bands. (See my bio below for why this matters.) So, immediately, chalk up a win for Oregon-based Dave Plaehn and his new full-length album, Radio Sister. Fortunately for Plaehn, his music has many more redeeming qualities to supplement his love of the jug.
A multi-instrumentalist, Plaehn also combines a plethora of musical stylings to create an overall package that’s eclectic and exciting. Take the opening track, “I Want Love,” for example. It mixes gospel with reggae and jazz and successfully achieves a cohesive and catchy melody. Plaehn fancies himself a blues/adult contemporary artist and there’s plenty in that vein on the album as well: “Nothing’s Got a Hold on You,” “Is Anybody Listening?” and “Stranger Blues” (which showcases Plaehn’s signature harmonica). Among other notable sounds is the ’80s-influenced pop on the title track, and folk/country-twinged “Hello, Melinda.”
For me, however, no track compares to the Lead Belly medley at the end of the album, in which Plaehn covers “Looky, Looky Yonder/Linin’ Track/Black Betty.” Though the album as a whole is listenable enough and even probably fulfills what Plaehn was trying to achieve, if the sum were equal to this one small part, it would have been outstanding. Though almost embarrassingly simple in arrangement (hand claps only, folks), Plaehn’s voice ably carries the material in a way that would surely make Huddie proud. Here’s hoping Dave Plaehn’s next album goes the classic blues route, because it’s obvious he has a gift envied by many and bestowed upon few. (And maybe he could toss in “K.C. Moan” — for good measure, y’know.)