Casey Driessen: 3-D

This record changes everything. Witness a free-wheeling Americana near masterpiece.

Casey Driessen


Label: Sugar Hill
US Release Date: 2006-05-09
UK Release Date: Unavailable

It is so fashionable these days to slam Americana music as kind of boring and obsessed with sepia-toned traditionalism more than being interested in actually entertaining people outside its own neighborhood. This view is overly simplistic, but there is a lot of truth to it. Sam Bush and Tim O'Brien and all those guys are fine, but would you walk a mile to hear them play for free? I thought so.

But this record changes everything.

Casey Driessen is 27 years old. He is from Chicago and earned his degree from Berklee. He composes and arranges and plays fiddle and sometimes sings, and is one of the rising stars of the Americana/bluegrass scene. He has toured with Bela Fleck and O'Brien, who both play on this record, and his trio for this record includes Jamey Haddad on drums and percussion and Viktor Krauss, who has a famous sister but is kind of a star in his own right, on bass.

Driessen is also interested in a hell of a lot of different music. There are tracks here from old-timey American folk music sources, but he also covers Irish jigs and Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance", and does some very innovative things with his arrangements, like his duet with Haddad on "Snowflake Reel/Done Gone/Cheyenne", which is just a violin and some slamming jazz-rock drums. And to hear him chug his way through the old murder ballad "Footsteps So Near", playing his violin like a train and singing through lonesome filters, is to hear a man redeeming his entire genre.

The best thing about this record is Driessen's sense of freedom. In a scene where jamming is counted more important than rocking out, he frees up Jerry Douglass to play some stinging lap steel lines on "Lady Bowmore" that call Lynyrd Skynyrd and Robert Randolph to mind more than the Grand Ole Opry. Pulling electronics and drony Indian sounds into "Sally in the Garden" is a bold touch that is too busy kicking ass to sound gimmicky.

I love how he uses the weathered jazzy voice of my new hero, Darrell Scott, on two tracks here, especially on the swamp-folk-funk of "Country Blues", where Scott also gets the chance to wail on some country-fusion riffs. But Driessen's choice of duet partner on hidden track "Good Boy Blues" -- his Staffordshire terrier, Linus -- is the best guest star on the record.

It might be a little early to use words like "masterpiece", as the Slough of Despond that seems to have infected the whole Americana genre could whip back up on Casey Driessen and make him all beiged-out and bland and boring. But for now I'll just say that I have been listening to this record more than a lot of other so-called "masterpieces" in my collection, and that's not going to change any time soon.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.