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Jud Conway - Southern Bound
CD Review by Dave SanSoucie on 2/16/2009   

Based in South Central Pennsylvania, Jud Conway is a singer-songwriter/guitarist whose debut album SOUTHERN BOUND will thrill fans of the alt-country genre. With a nod toward classic country-rock influences, including Gram Parsons, Neil Young, and The Grateful Dead, SOUTHERN BOUND blazes a path through territory inhabited by contemporary artists such as Ryan Adams, Robert Earle Keene, and Slaid Cleaves.

Conway’s plaintive tenor has just enough of "that high lonesome sound" to satisfy the folky in all of us. The thirteen songs on SOUTHERN BOUND cover the subject matter, complexity, and range of the human condition in a contemporary fashion, yet with all the depth of age-old classic country-rock ‘n’ roll.

Produced by Conway’s brother Dan, who also lent his bass-playing and vocals to the project, the album finds Jud backed by veterans of stage and studio from all across America. Given that the tracks were recorded using studio cats and a couple different recording studios, the album has a nice cohesive feel to it, both production and performance-wise.

SOUTHERN BOUND begins with "South Savannah Rain" and a perfect opening line for any album; "I was pissin’ away my weekly check on Jameson Whiskey and triple sec." Essentially, a snapshot of a life-altering one-night-stand, "South Savannah Rain" tells the tale of a single young man’s transformation into a happy proud husband. John Molo’s [Bruce Hornsby & the Range, Phil Lesh & Friends, John Fogerty] driving drum performance and the interplay between bass, pedal steel, and bottleneck guitar conjures up some mutant child of The Cardinals and Dicky Betts-era Allman Brothers Band.

"Jaded" follows with a more straight ahead rock feel, and finds Jud singing the blues of a fictitious aging rocker who could have been a contender.

"Rag Doll" offers a bouncy jaunt through the trials and tribulations of estranged family relationships laden with tasteful guitar and pedal-steel breaks. Following this catchy track, the album detours into the folk realm with a gem entitled "Gambler’s Regret." In contrast to previous cuts, listeners are treated to a dynamic finger-style guitar number performed by Jud with accompaniment from Dan, who contributes beautiful melodic fretless-bass counterpoint and harmony vocals.

The album’s centerpiece and title track opens with an acoustic guitar-driven melody reminiscent of early MY MORNING JACKET or Rust Never Sleeps-era Neil Young. By the time the chorus rolls around, "Southern Bound" blossoms into a classic country-rock murder ballad with a train theme and an immediately hummable melody. You have to love a song that covers loss, murder, gambling, forgiveness, and travel in one succinct story lyric.

Other album highpoints include the melancholy"Ties That Bind," a song that so effectively embodies a spirit of loss and loneliness that the only missing ingredient might be the sound of November rain pelting down upon a drafty windowpane. "Mr. Corian" finds Jud Conway in folk balladeer mode, lauding the redemptive powers of music for both comforting the dying and healing the living.

"The King of Country Music" paints a vivid portrait of the archetypal "Rhinestone Cowboy" in the vein of Darrell Statler’s "Honky-tonk Stardust Cowboy," popularized by Jonathan Edwards on his 1973 release of the same name. The song’s lyrical landscape is perfectly complimented by Dave Hadley’s nuanced pedal-steel, which harkens back to a much earlier time in twentieth century country music.

The upbeat closer "Bid Adieu Blues" wakes up any listeners lulled to sleep by the Rhodes-piano wisps and ethereal vocals of the melodic "Sleep Tight," and proves that Jud Conway can rock ‘n’ roll with the best of them when he desires.

Throughout the thirteen songs on SOUTHERN BOUND, Jud Conway conveys a heartfelt appreciation of the highs and lows of life in these United States. While this reviewer feels that the term "Americana" is often overused, in a large sense, Jud’s performance, lyrical content, and vocal style is just that; everything good about American country, country-rock, folk, and rock ‘n’ roll music. Much ground is covered, but then it is a big country that is America.

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