Paul Burch's "Meridian Rising" is a unique tribute album to the music and life of Jimmie Rodgers, affectionately known as the Singing Brakeman. Burch could have taken the easier way out by covering some of his favorite Rodgers songs. Instead, though, he's ambitiously written 20 songs that help tell Rodgers' fascinating life story, in Rodgers' voice.
These are not Rodgers originals, but they're so authentic, you'll swear they're obscurities you simply haven't heard before. Burch lets the music do as much talking as the lyrics, too. For example, "To Paris (With Regrets)" features fiddle and accordion that set a Parisian street scene putting the listener right there with Rodgers in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
"Cadillacin'" is a revved up, near-rockabilly rumble that sounds like Carl Perkins-meets-The Clash, and doesn't feel at all like an arrangement within which you could ever picture Rodgers. Instead, though, it's aurally picturesque way of imagining Rodgers going 'cadilacin,' a catch phrase used at the time to describe touring solo.
It's just striking the way so many of these songs find Burch ghostly inhabiting Rodgers' personality During "Back to the Honky Tonks," Rodgers (via Burch) announces he is going back to "the wild side of life," which is a determined trip toward the hard partying lifestyle. Burch sings it to a sprightly, jazzy rhythm, while backed by honky tonk piano, clarinet and other jazzy instrumentation. "Oh Didn't He Ramble" extends the album's eclectic sound with a Bourbon Street jazz snippet.
Listening to this Rodgers-inspired music, and realizing just how wide-ranging it truly was, may make you reconsider your feelings about the way so much contemporary country music has strayed from its "roots." Rodgers may be seen as a traditional music forbearer, but he was by no means any kind of strict musical fundamentalist. His sound incorporated much of what was popular at the time, including a lot of jazz and blues. Most importantly, Rodgers always sang his life, using whatever style fit his songs best. "Meridian Rising" will make you feel like you're walking in that important man's shoes, many times walking through the wild side of life.