I’ve known Stillhouse Junkie bassist Cody Tinnin for a long time, he and his whole extended family. Cody’s father, Glenn, and Uncle Bruce were high school friends and are still friends. My first official musical public performance experiences were as a duo with Bruce Tinnin, and later in bands together where we learned a lot about harmony singing, influenced by the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which is still a harmonious hard sound to beat.
Cody sent me a copy of the Stillhouse Junkies new CD, Over the Pass.
I’m not sure what I expected: bluegrassy-old-time-esque, with covers of songs covered so much they have been covered up when juxtaposed to a listener’s potential enjoyment of something new. Don’t we all want something fresh and new? I sure do.
What I also want is to get more than I expected. I don’t just want my money’s worth, I want something extra. I want lagniappe in generous portions. I am satisfied getting what I expected, but when I get the extra, it puts a big smile on my face. I started smiling at Over the Pass during the first track. Eventually, I was transformed into a caricature of the Cheshire Cat, just one big, fat satisfied smile.
In addition to Tinnin and his admirably solid bass work, the other Junkies in the Stillhouse are Alissa Wolf on fiddle and vocals; Bruce Allsopp on resonator guitar, vocals, and a tastefully subdued harmonica; and Fred Kosak on guitar, mandolin, vocals and a bit of hamboning.
Every song on this CD is original, the bulk of contributions by Kosak and a song each penned by Wolf and Allsopp. If a band is looking for its own sound, the sound that might allow them to stand out among the hundreds of thousands in an already crowded field, then let them take all the risks of composing, arranging, and performing their own music. It is risky because when one plays “Wagon Wheel”, one is regurgitating something that they know their audience already mostly likes. Have a big pair and do your own music…then get the thrill of ultimately having the audience sing along to songs you wrote yourself. Not everyone has this desire or talent, but the Stillhouse Junkies are endowed with a plethora of both. I salute them.
I truly love a resonator guitar. My own Jang-a-Lang String Band had TWO: a roundneck and a dobro. One can get downright swampy on the metallic/hubcaps with strings, but they lend themselves to something that resonates in us humans. I was so beside myself enjoying Allsopp’s resonator guitar work that I was nearly able to reach over and shake my own hand a time or two.
Wolf’s fiddling had a sweetness not often heard in old-time fiddlers. Her background must have been in the symphonic world. At times she actively channels Stephan Grapelli/Joe Venuti (as on the tune “Do What You Can”) and actually gets them to show up and puts them to work. Her backup fiddling on all songs punctuates with a beautiful, reserved urgency.
Kosak? His guitar and mandolin work, as well as his songwriting, are all impeccable. “On the House” had me off my feet and dancing. This song was the band’s best performance. Every song was well performed, but some inclined more towards execution than others, but those were excellently executed. The pulled all the stops “On the House” and I felt I was at a live performance. This is hard to achieve on a recording, but they pulled it off. I suppose the crowd voices and cheering at the end helped. It may have actually been a live performance. Guest artist Ted Hockenbury’s pedal steel work on this song was refreshing.
Cody Tinnin and his double bass, and his clawhammer banjo on “On My Dying Day”, were delightful. He got a double portion of musical talent from his dad and uncle.
The song list is:
- Over the Pass (Kosak)
- Meet Me Halfway (Allsopp)
- A Hundred Days (Kosak)
- No Ambition (Kosak)
- Farmer in a Ferrari (Wolf)
- You Would Know Better (Kosak)
- Do What You Can (Kosak)
- West Virginia (Kosak)
- Honest Man (Kosak)
- 1963 (Kosak)
- On the House (Kosak)
- On My Dying Day (Kosak)
Well, they all can’t be favorites, now can they? I am forced to choose between better and best. Perhaps we shall phrase things thus: the songs that best spoke to me were 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12. “On the House” had my butt shaking, but “No Ambition” made me want to get out my fly rod and go down to the pond and catch a large mouth bass, which I may yet do (ever bass fished with a fly-rod? I have. You’ll think you’ve got Jonah’s whale on the line).
The jazzy “Do What You Can” was lots of fun, and “On My Dying Day” with Tinnin’s clawhammer, it’s Irish overtones, and hints of “Lost Indian” (which goes by a different name in Celtic circles) put me in my own element. “West Virginia” in particular got my attention with its soft, haunting sound, Kosak’s fabulous guitar work, Tinnin’s swelling bowed bass, Allsopp’s well-put-in-there resonator, and the delightful harmonies.
“A Hundred Days” didn’t make my favorites list, but its acoustic Led Zepplin-esque mojo did get my attention every time I listened. This was helped by Tinnin’s work on the bass and Wolf’s excellent fiddle contributions. Maybe I’ll go back and put that one on the favorite’s list, too. It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite. That’s about the best recommendation I can think of.
This whole CD is refreshing, new, unexpectedly good, well produced. The band apparently has enough time together that they sound like a real band in that the overall sound resounds with synergy. The instrumental phrasing, unison or harmonic, is delightful. If I were the recording engineer or had mastered the CD, this is what have changed: nothing. The production values are pretty high on this recording.
I salute the musicians, the sound engineers, the producer, and everyone involved.
OVER THE PASS is available from CD Baby at:
Or better yet, order your copy directly from them at: https://stillhousejunkies.com/
No, this ain’t bluegrass, and it ain’t quite old-time, but it is good music: original, fresh, acoustic music. It is enjoyable over and over. If I had paid for it rather than got it as a gift, I’d be just as happy. I’ll make up for that by buying Cody and the band a beer when they come close by on their national tour, or perhaps, even better, a sip of something from the stillhouse. If they can keep this band together, they are headed places.
I know Cody’s Dad, Glenn, and his mother, Maxine, are proud of his work. No doubt, so is his Uncle Bruce, his Aunt Kim, his Aunt Tia, his Grandfather Jack and Grandmother Daye. I told you I know and love them all. I wasn’t making that up. Blessings on all the Tinnins. Their love and friendship have been a big part of my life.
Best wishes Stillhouse Junkies, coming soon, to a stillhouse near you.
If I went back and listened one more time, I’d add the rest of the songs to my favorites list, especially “1963”. Oh hell, what’s the difference? I failed at picking a favorite.
Do you think I like it? Well, there’s lots of lagniappe here. Go out and get you some.
©2018 Mississippi Chris Sharp