Chris Scruggs – Anthem

Album Review | Cogent | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

It must be difficult for an artist to come from a musical dynasty of some considerable merit and constantly strive to avoid nostalgia trips, but at the same time maintain the integrity of the family name. Chris grew up having little to do with the Scruggs family, his mother choosing not to marry his dad Gary Scruggs, Earl’s son, and therefore making his own manoeuvres through the Nashville music scene and gaining a reputation on his own terms. Anthem shows a versatile singer-songwriter at work, wending his way through a variety of styles from gospel, blues and honky-tonkin’ foot tappers to outright rockers. Line dancing sessions would have no trouble coming up with a routine for “Running From the Graveyard”, whilst the early Dylan-esque “The Open Road the Open Sky”, written by his late uncle, Ron Davies, shows a more sensitive Scruggs in action, the title of this song also echoed in “Troubled Times”, both of which reveal an apparent yearning for the Road. There’s nothing mannered about the former BR549’s frontman’s vocal delivery, each song is presented with a clear and distinctly articulate performance, yet with some measure of vulnerability. Scruggs makes no secret of his love for the Beatles as an early influence and “A Victim’s Song” really wouldn’t be out of place on something like Revolver, but maybe that’s because it reminds me so much of “I’m Only Sleeping”. Whilst “Windows” provides a radio friendly contemporary pop feel, “Change Your Made Up Mind” echoes Leon Redbone’s laid back approach to Depression era jazz with a clear endeavour to take from the past and add something individual and new to the mix. Neither seems out of place on the album even though the styles are completely polarised. Helping out on Anthem and presumably giving Scrugg’s a relat’vely easy time on production duties, are Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb and Calexico’s Nick Luca sharing keyboard duties, Paul Niehaus also of Calexico on pedal steel, Don Herron and Harvey Brooks both stalwarts of Dylan’s stable on fiddle and drums respectively, together with various BR549 bandmates and an exquisite duet with Kelly Hogan on “Old Souls Like You and Me”, proving that good old fashioned country gospel is far from dead and gone. All in all, Scruggs makes a bold attempt to avoid both nostalgia and pastiche and succeeds in presenting an eclectic brew of country and alt.rock, peppered with a pinch of gospel and blues, to brighten your musical palette; if that’s not mixing too many metaphors.