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Paul Burch & WPA Ballclub

Light Sensitive – 2020 (Plowboy)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Paul Burch & WPA Ballclub

The last time we heard Paul Burch, he was singing about a re-imagined Jimmie Rodgers on his extraordinary 2016 "Meridian Rising," easily one of the best, if not the best roots album of that year. So, with the bar set high, Burch returns with his 11th studio album "Light Sensitive." Not only does he have his long-time band, the WPA Ballclub aboard, but notable guests Luther Dickinson, Robyn Hitchcock, Amy Rigby and Aaron Lee Tasjan. And, he returns to the South he knows so well, this time penning character sketches of outsiders, big rollers, and misfits, inspired by a trip to his hometown of Oxford, Miss. Burch was commissioned to chronicle the life of Mobile bon vivant Eugene Walter.

Like its predecessor this one has that old timey feel, created by Burch's late '50s Harmony Hollywood archtop (a gift from Bobby Hebb, writer of the classic "Sunny") as well as instrumentation of the WPA Ballclub and guests. His terrific band features upright bassist and co-producer Dennis Crouch, multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, pianists Jen Gunderman and Heather Moulder, woodwind player Chloe Feoranzo and a few different drummers.

The bouncy "Fool About Me" is fueled by Luther Dickinson's slide guitar, and "The Tell" features Tasjan on harmonies. Fats Kaplin's viola steals the show on the standout ballad, "Marisol," following his sweet Hawaiian steel guitar spot on the instrumental "Glider' buttressed by Gunderman's harmonium and Burch on pedal steel. The latter server as a lovely interlude.

"You Must Love Someone" is a clear throwback to another era with Kaplin again on Hawaiian steel and Gunderman on piano while it's one of Burch's best guitar spots too. The most swinging tunes, "23rd Field Artillery Punch" and the closer, the infectious, danceable "Boogie Back" feature Feoranzo on tenor sax, putting some nice finishing touches on a delightful set of tunes.