American music has taken on such a broad definition in recent years that it’s nearly impossible to define it within the context of any single form. Blues, folk, roots rock and country all figure in the mix, leaving the possibility open for all those so inclined to take on its trappings. However, should anyone need a benchmark, they’d be well advised to check out the duo that refers to itself as Sugarcane Jane, and whose fourth album, appropriately named Dirt Road’s End provides the perfect example of how to incorporate all the necessary trappings. Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford, the husband-wife pair that operate under the aegis of Sugarcane Jane, describe their sound as “organic music at its finest”, and given its down home, back porch embrace, it has to be said that the label they’ve pinned is apt indeed.
The Crawfords arrive at this crucible with ample credits tacked on to their combined resume. He’s a highly respected guitarist and sideman who’s served alongside Neil Young, Vince Gill, Sonny James, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Winwood, and Rosanne Cash, a few among the many. She’s a multi-instrumentalist who opts to fill in the melodies as often as necessary. Buzz Cason, a founder member of the Americana elite, produced the album and chose to release it on his own custom label. Will Kimbrough contributes fiddle. And given the fact the couple reside on the Alabama Gulf Coast, the pair have plenty of inspiration from which to draw.
All that accounts for the authenticity that’s strummed into each of these songs. Indeed, any of these ten tunes could easily be mistaken for an age old folk standard, what with the influx of string picking, harmonic playing, fiddle and mandolin that mesh in the make-up of these unassuming originals. Opening track “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane”, sets up the premise, a lyrical narrative that traces the couple’s journey from their meeting in Nashville, to the evolution of their relationship, both personal and professional. From that point on, they manage to maintain their homegrown delivery and demeanor, whether basking in the stunning evocative aura of “San Andreas” (“If God had a home, it would be there…”) or the rustic ramble of “Pedigree” and “Heartbreak Road”. Even in the midst of their serendipitous stride — as illuminated in the rockabilly boogie of “Louisiana” or the creaky circumspect of “Glory Bound” — the pair never lose focus, and certainly never abandon neither their authenticity nor intent. And when their rumination is injected with humor, as filtered through The Cason-penned “Not Just Another Truck Song”, it also becomes clear that even while replicating traditional tomes, they’re not adverse to lightening up the proceedings when opportunity is presented.
Ultimately, Dirt Road’s End is actually akin to a beginning, an album that declares the duo’s birthright and claim to the role of actual Americana practitioners. It’s a guidebook that simulates a fusion of past and present, as interpreted by two musicians blessed with a clear-eyed perspective and the ability to bring it all about. It’s an album that will, in the future, encourage repeat encounters while pointing the way from those back trails forward.