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Fine Contemporary Tribute to Old Time Music


Steve Erickson's fourth album "Crooked Road" is influenced by his study of Appalachian music

It is 20 years since the Virginia Assembly designed what was known as The Crooked Road as Virginia’s Music Trail, a 333-mile drive that winds through Southwest Virginia, connecting 10 major venues and 50 affiliate sites to promote traditional Appalachian old-time music.


And what better way to mark the anniversary than have Steve Erickson - an artist as dedicated to the true Americana sound as anyone – release a new album titled Crooked Road and with an opening title track which reflects a contemporary perspective on Appalachian and bluegrass music.


It is Erickson’s fourth studio album and, as co-producer, he again recruits acclaimed studio engineer and two-time Grammy winner Jim Robeson. The pair worked on two of Erickson’s earlier releases, Music Tonight and Moving On, and Crooked Road was recorded in Robeson’s Northern Virginia studios. Add more than a dozen talented musicians, also dedicated to the genre, and the result is an album which can best be described as refreshingly pure!


And there is no better example than on “Crooked Road” which opens with a wonderful lyrical perspective on the bringing-it-all-back-home tradition of Appalachian music:

Sounds of the British Isles and the coast of Africa

Echo down through the Blue Ridge Hills

And in the refrain, Erickson gets appropriate support from Cathy Fink on banjo, fiddler

Ron Stewart and mandolinist Danny Knicely as he acclaims:

Music plays down The Crooked Road

Where the banjo picks and a fiddle bows

Old time song on the radio

Music plays down The Crooked Road

He also cleverly integrates the trail’s attractions, such as the Carter Family memorial center.

Road goes round the mountain up to the Carter Fold

Where the circle is unbroken by and by

At the birth of country music the generations sing

Always going to stay on the sunny side


Erickson was inspired to write about the famous music trail when he moved to neighbouring state North Carolina. “For the past three years, I have lived part of the year in Asheville, NC, and have had much more access to The Crooked Road, including trips to the Carter Fold in Hiltons, VA, and the birthplace of country music in Bristol, VA, both on The Crooked Road,” he said.


“Asheville also provides many opportunities to see and play old time, bluegrass and Americana music,” Erickson added.


And these three genres are well embedded into all ten tracks on Crooked Road – eight of which are original compositions by Erickson. The remaining two, the Appalachian standard “Fair and Tender Ladies” and the hymn “In the Sweet By and By,” are popular originals to which he has added some lyrics. And both these covers are made stylish and contemporary by some beautiful harmonies.


Erickson lists some of the biggest names in Americana music – The Ozak Mountain Daredevils, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, John Prine and Nanci Griffith, among them – as his biggest musical influences. And many of Erickson’s originals are very Americana, especially the fiddle-enhanced “Lay Me Down Beside My Love” which fits snugly amongst many of the old-timey classics:

Lost her just a year ago It was in the month of June

 I told her not to worry so for I would be there soon

So lay me down in the old churchyard with her beside me

And they will know of our true love down through eternity


As the clever title suggests, “We Don’t Love Us Anymore” is a less happy-ever-after love song, with Erickson’s smooth vocals pushed to their agonizing best- nicely aided and abetted by some of the best musical arrangement on the album. “Blue Horizon” looks at life as somewhat of a sea shanty and, like “Sweeter on the Vine,” allows drummer Miles Leider to nicely dictate the beat. 


Erickson returns to his acoustic comfort zone on the penultimate track “Flip Side,“ which provides a perfect lead-in to the album closer, the beautifully instrument-fused version “In the Sweet By and By.” Interestingly, on Erickson’s last album Moving On, he also chose to end with a gospel standard “Wayfaring Stranger.”


There is no better way to remind one where his heart - and talent - lies: Deep in the roots of Americana music.


Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation




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