Sitting in the middle of Rusty Bladen's new album, Homegrown Treaures, is a tune called "Molly's Song". It's a four-minute piece of music that tells the story of the disappearance of Molly Datillo, sung from the perspective of those who still live in her hometown: her mom, her friends, and people like Rusty, who simply knew of her because they are from the same small town - in this case, a historic piece of Indiana called Madison. If you have been there, you already know - it's a place full of buildings erected in the 1800's and still in use. There's a slower pace than someone from the city is used to, and residents (and their parents and grandparents) have lived there forever, or have moved and stayed because whatever magical reach to the past that exists in the southern Indiana town has pulled them in.
Kind of how Homegrown Treasures unfolds: It draws you in and reveals lyrical surprises slowly.
An acoustic guitar-driven live album of a show recorded at former John Mellencamp bass player Toby Myers' studio in Nashville, Indiana, Rusty invited 100 fans and friends to fill the space. But the crowd isn't what keeps you listening; It's the songs that reflect and embellish on what it is like to live someplace for a long time, and develop deep connections. Not just "Molly's Song", which is a 12-string masterwork of capturing a heartbreaking situation, but also the summertime romp that is "Cumberland Lake", telling the story of a boat trip where a bunch of friends end up drinking extra-strong margarita's, Woody throws on a red bikini top, and a girl ends the night by jumping naked into the water. You can feel their connection - these are people who have become close through years of growing up as neighbors and friends.
The record is divided almost equally between fun tunes and the more serious stuff. The "Grass Mowing Song" is a double-entendre cut that is hardly about the joys of mowing grass, and the aforementioned "Cumberland Lake" is a blast. There's a couple close-to-throwaway party songs ("Kingpin's Barbeque" and O'Shea's Irish Pub" ) that succeed because they don't pretend to be about anything more than a peek at what it's like to be out on any given Saturday night.
"Warm Cup of Coffee" which leads off the album, captures the essence of the ten songs that will come after. The perspective is a weary, emphathetic guy. He's not really given up; instead more likely still has questions that maybe no one ever finds answers to.
"Not Gonna Be Me" is buried as the next-to-last song, yet delivers with a taste of the anger and disappointment that exists when two people get divorced. Lines like "...who's gonna stick around and listen to you bitch? It's not gonna be me" resonate as something we really would think.
The music is Rusty's bright, slightly (or more) southern-accented voice, a forceful rhythm guitar, ample harmonica and even a kazoo used effectively on a pair of songs, including the final cut, "Diggin' Folk Music", on which he runs through a list of his favorite folk singers, from Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Steve Goodman, Pete Seeger, to Neil Young, John Prine and Todd Snider.
If you've seen Rusty's live shows over the past 20 years, this album reminds you why he's one of the best at what he does: rock and roll folk music from the Indiana guy. I've known Rusty ever since I was a morning DJ down in that Ohio River town. Rusty was just starting to play his own shows, under his own name. He's never been a musician who was headed to LA to take a shot at the music biz that way. He hasn't even moved to Bloomington or Indy. He's in Madison, Indiana, and ain't ever leaving. That perspective - and a collection of songs that feel like they are from someplace real, make this album essential for a listener who calls themselves an Americana music fan.
Rusty Bladen plays an album release show at Whiskey Business (on Pendleton Pike) April 30 and opens for Jennie Devoe at the Rathskeller on May 7
"Not Gonna Be Me"
"Warm Cup of Coffee"