“Five Horses, Four Riders” review by Dan Forte

Vintage Guitar Magazine  April 2010

If you’ve been lucky enough to see gospel queen Mavis Staples in the past couple of years, you couldn’t help but notice her soulful and versatile rhythm section. Los Angeles guitarist Rick Holmstrom, drummer Stephen Hodges, and bassist Jeff Turmes were brought onboard after Ry Cooder produced her spare, haunting collection of “freedom songs, “We’ll Never Turn Back, in ’07.¬† It’s a testament to their individual and collective abilities that she chose to feature them on a live follow-up, Live: Hope At The Hideout — as of this writing, nominated for a Grammy.
Turmes’ other diverse recording credits include Holmstrom’s solo albums, Richard Thompson, James Harman, Peter Case, R.L. Burnside, Kid Ramos, Nora Jones, Junior Watson, and Jeff’s wife, blues singer Janiva Magness.
On the 13 originals that comprise his third solo project, the 52-year-old gets some help from Magness, Holmstrom, Hodges, and other L.A. notables (like drummer Don Heffington and saxophonist Steve Marsh), but handles more than his fair share — singing and playing guitar, banjo, bass, baritone sax, and bass clarinet.
The program begins with a swinging shuffle, but the repertoire is far from restricted to blues — or anything else. One can imagine the droning “Honey Man” in the hands of someone like Junior Kimbrough, but the title track finds an unlikely common ground where Clarence Ashley meets Skip James and Bert Jansch.
The equally spooky “Give Satan A Chance” features Turmes on banjo and ghostly, reverbed slide. And he croons “Turn Your Heart In My Direction” over tremoloed guitar,punctuated by Steve Huffsteter’s trumpet.
Banjo provides the main backup for “weeds Like Us”, with Tania Magadin’s cello as complimentary as it is unlikely, while Turmes adds percussion while pounding on a dumpster.
The impressive collection takes another turn, closing with a Robbie Basho-esque steel-string instrumental, “Iron City”. Too eclectic? Not when the quality is this high.


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