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CD Review: Richie Stearns

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Richie Stearns
Missing
(2010, Independent)

There won’t be a better autumn record this year than Richie Stearns’s Missing. Stearns, the tenor guitar and banjo mastermind behind northern New York’s trad-bending Horseflies, may live where it’s grey, but he’s made a record of rustic browns, muted oranges, and dissipated yellows. Missing sounds like dusk. The guest list here is top notch, with contributions from multi-instrumentalists Dirk Powell and Carrie Rodriguez, among others. It’s illegal in most municipalities to review a Stearns project without using the word “eclectic,” but Missing makes it easy, bouncing from the twangy reggae of Peter Tosh’s “Downpressor Man” to the floating “banjo feedback” of the traditional “Train on the Island.” The opening “Oh My Little Darlin’,” with Rodriguez’s gorgeously spooky harmonies and Stearns’s keening fiddle, demands repeat play for the entire length of long night rides on lonely roads.

Where Missing stumbles, late in its length, is with the pairing of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” and Jim Reeves’s “He’ll Have to Go.” Both have already been performed so iconically, by Johnny Cash and the similarly venturesome Ry Cooder, as to be rendered moot here.

But Stearns’s dark, weird “You Are My Sunshine” and the sheer ache (not to mention the meteorological counterpoint) of “Cold Cold Rain” more than make up for the latter.

The oddball covers—including “I’m So Depressed” by the ultimate outsider one-man band, Abner Jay—will attract music geeks to Missing, but it is originals like “Fire Burning” and the gentle “More Than the Wind” that will hook them. www.richiestearns.com.
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