I interviewed Victoria Williams once; she washed dishes while she talked to me on the phone. It wasn’t meant as an insult, and the interview certainly didn’t suffer for it. It was just that important things like chores had to be done, press schedule or not. It was a very down home moment; her life with husband Marc Olson seems to be full of such moments.
The couple homesteads in Joshua Tree, California. They pretty much renovated their entire house on their own. They dug their own well. Indeed, these are not people who are out of touch with normal life, although they’ve certainly had their brushes with the limelight. Olson was a central member of the Jayhawks, and Williams’ struggle with multiple sclerosis was much publicized when A-list names like Lou Reed, Victoria Williams, and Pearl Jam convened in her honor for the first Sweet Relief benefit record.
Those days have passed, though, and the couple go about making music that, while it doesn’t set any charts on fire, is genuinely appreciated by a fair number of people. The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers (known merely as The Creekdippers for this album) is a very loose, lo-fi way for Olson, Williams, and their friends to create music without the burden of studio expectations or balance sheets. Pacific Coast Rambler feels like it was performed on a front porch over the course of a friendly night. It’s not nearly as clean as any of Williams’ solo work or Olson’s work with the Jayhawks, but there’s a ramshackle purity that’s hard to argue with. This is music that’s about as far away from studio gloss as you can get.
The record opens with a simple sentiment: “I give my heart to you / Just ‘cause you’re sweet and true”. Olson and Williams sing it as a duet, and you really get the sense that they’re singing it to each other. That’s a feeling that you get over and over on this record, the feeling that you’re hearing very private moments. The music is so unadorned that you almost feel like you’re eavesdropping. Pacific Coast Rambler isn’t an overtly romantic record, but it is extremely intimate. Its quiet and hushed, and even Williams’ adaptation of Tennessee Williams into “Prayer of the Changing Leaf” sounds intensely private.
Olson and Williams, along with longtime Creekdipper Mike Russell, handle the lion’s share of musical duties, playing everything from guitars and congas to fiddle, dulcimer, and banjo. The results are rustic, and in the case of several songs, very waltz-like. Former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford chips in guitar duties, as well, but he completely defers to the record’s homegrown feel. If the names weren’t so familiar, you’d swear in a blind listening test that these were old field recordings. Olson cites early Holy Modal Rounder recordings and Lucinda Williams’ early Folkways work as seminal influences on the Creekdippers sounds, and it really comes across.
Two bonus tracks (Pacific Coast Rambler was originally released in 1999, before Olson’s relatively high profile My Own Jo Ellen) come in the form of “Louisiana Black Dog Moses” and “Sunny Western Winter”. Even by the standard set by the rest of the album, these are of lo-fi demo quality. The strange thing is, they fit right in because if nothing else, Pacific Coast Rambler is an album of substance over appearances. Williams and Olson are professionals—they know how to make a professional sounding record if they want to. The Creekdippers, though, exist outside of such concerns. You get the feeling that if these songs were never recorded the Creekdippers would be satisfied merely with the fact that they got to play together.