By Joseph Scott
Charlie Haden’s place in music history is secure. As the bassist with Ornette Coleman on the avant-garde masterpiece The Shape of Jazz to Come, Mr. Haden’s “harmelodic” style of bass playing broke new ground and shed new light on just what could be done on an upright bass. Charlie’s work on the seminal album propelled him around the world over the ensuing fifty years, playing with the best musicians jazz had to offer in front of aficionados all over the globe.
Now Charlie Haden has come home. Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, into a family of country music lovers and performers, Charlie has returned to his roots. And he has brought his family with him. On the new Decca release Rambling Boy: Charlie Haden With Family and Friends, Charlie brings us the music of his childhood, and shows us he hasn’t forgotten.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a jazz record pretending to be country. This record is traditional acoustic country to the core. Aside from the appealing harmelodic version of Jimmy Martin’s “20/20 Vision”, with haunting vocals provided by Bruce Hornsby, Rambling Boy is as straight and pure as it gets. Elvis Costello renders a laid back reading of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again”, and Vince Gill chimes in on the title track, an obscure Carter Family gem. Rosanne Cash offers us a Carter Family staple, “Wildwood Flower”, and Ricky Skaggs digs deep into country’s past with the Carl Butler number “Road of Broken Hearts”.
Star power may abound here, but the heart and soul of this offering are the performances featuring Charlie and his children. Son Josh Haden gives us a stoic reading of the hearbreaking “Spiritual”. And triplet daughters Petra, Tanya, and Rachel steal the show with their three-part harmonies, be it on the playful “Single Girl, Married Girl” (another number from the songbook of A.P. Carter) or on Bill Monroe’s sacred song “A Voice From On High”. Their take on Mollie O’ Day’s “Tramp on the Street” is the highlight of the album.
It took Charlie Haden 50 years to make it back to country music. While he will surely wander away again from time to time, with an album like this, he and his will always be welcome home.