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VI – 2019 (Knot Reel)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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The sixth collaboration of the Atlanta-based duo ESOEBO - Eclectic Selections of Everything but Opera - is a diverse mix of country, blues, jazz and rock lives up to the acronymic moniker. Chuck McDowell is the driving force behind the music having written or co-written all 11 tracks with Gail Burnett contributing harmony vocals and cello.

The moody ballad "Hurricane" uses the approach of a tropical cyclone as a metaphor for McDowell's real life battle with cancer ("I'm leaning into the eye/And I'm praying I don't die") with vocals that recall Townes Van Zandt, as does "A Woman's Touch" which is also evocative of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" with biblical references to Samson and David. The bouncy Jimmy Buffett-flavored "I Don't Trust Her" is deceptively romantic as the infatuated hero of the song elects to not take advantage of the situation ("The more she drinks the better I look/She could be mine tonight").

McDowell uses dark humor in the jazzy "Airplane," which confronts the hazards not only of flying ("We're going on an airplane/Way up in the sky/We're going on an airplane/Hoping we won't die") but also of trains and elevators. Burnett duets on the Leon Redbone inspired "Expressions" in which the couple proclaims their relationship to be fully satisfying ("Don't need to travel to the great Wall of China/I'm happy here just sitting right beside you").

The rockabilly track "I Love Your Shoes" with traces of The Blasters and X, the bluesy funk of "Far Away Tale" and the country ballad "Longtime" co-written with producer and multi-instrumentalist Phil Madeira are among other highlights. With the duo's solid performances, strong compositions and stellar backing from Madeira and guests including Will Kimbrough, this is an entertaining collection.