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Ben Bowen King

Sidewalk Saints

Roots Gospel Guitar

(Talking Taco Music; US: 20 Aug 2006; UK: Unavailable)

My resident layman is American, and this is unmistakably an American album, so I turned to him for advice. “What do you think?” I asked as he thundered past with a coffee mug. “Sounds like someone’s pickin’ an’ grinnin’,” he said. “It sounds like a banjo.” Actually, it’s a resonator guitar, but you get the idea. This is an album that twangs and boings and lists “kitchen spoons” and “one-string fiddle” and “Coke bottle” along with “harmonica” and “jaw bow” as instruments. ‘Sidewalk Saints’ is their nickname for the gospel musicians who busked on street corners during the 1920s and ‘30s, and Sidewalk Saints’ sound comes straight from that era, although the dreamlike zing of Ben Bowen King’s slide-style playing and the low hum of Covita Moroney’s “Baptist moan” suggest that it might have grown sleepy along the way. The music has the nostalgic quality of a summer afternoon after a heavy Sunday dinner. They cover tunes from the Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, but the highlight of the album might be the sound of King on “Preacher’s Hell Bound Train” showing us how neatly a guitar can imitate a steam locomotive.

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