It’s safe to say that Dirk Powell is a connoisseur of all things roots-related, and all things Appalachian and Louisianan. On his Sugar Hill Records debut (his fourth solo album overall), Walking Through Clay, Powell takes his own banjo roots and matches them with drums, electric guitar, fiddles and accordions. Powell’s tribute to American roots music on the album is as immediate and charming as his other records, with his sound evolving and changing direction. Guests on the album include Jerry Douglas, Aoife O’Donovan, and Mike McGoldrick.
The album’s evocative style is obvious immediately, with the electric guitar intro of Rollin’ Round This Town. The electric feel, the use of drums and the bluesy construction and delivery all remind us that roots music comes in many different guises, and this particular guise is funky, rolling and resolute.
The music on Walking Through Clay is both redolent and emotive, building images of itself and the lands from which it originates. The title cut especially makes you feel good, with its touches of fiddle and soaring country vocals. Some Sweet Day has a wonderfully optimistic flavour and relaxing flow to it, whilst Abide With Me is treated initially to pianos and trumpets and latterly to tinges of jazz and a New Orleans-style serenade.
Walking…demonstrates a real and palpable mix of styles, and song types, showing that Powell is king of more than just unaccompanied banjo pieces. As I Went Out A-Walkin’, for instance starts with a backwoods feel, complete with strident fiddle and banjo accompaniment, but morphs into a southern rock stomper. The haunting backing vocals and military drum line of Goodbye Girls, meanwhile, back up the idea that Walking…is opening new ground and new areas for its performer – who is in control, and doing what he wants to.
Sweet Goes The Whistle leaves an impression of a completed work and a completed vision, and the perfect Golden Chain demonstrates that Powell has taken elements of his previous work into new and exciting areas.
Walking Through Clay is a delightful record, at one turn quiet and contemplative, another, rocking and rousing. Powell is a master of his craft, but is not afraid to mix that craft in different directions.