Dirk Powell | When I Wait for You | (Compass)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
There’s no need to wonder what an average evening at multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell’s home is like. It’s right here on his first album since 2014’s Walking Through Clay.
Although recorded in studios as far flung as Louisiana and Glasgow, the overall vibe on this near hour long, 13 track set is so comfortable and easygoing, but not loose or sloppy, it sounds as if he set up microphones in his living room to record the homey results. Only one tune is a cover yet the primarily acoustic recording seems as if Powell and his guests are digging back into a catalog of traditional bluegrass, old English, Cajun and Irish folk, finding the warmth and bliss in recreating music they might have known their whole lives. Even titles such as “Jack of Hearts,” “The Bright Light of Day,” “I Ain’t Playing Pretty Polly” and the French “Les Youx de Rosalie” seem like they have been around for centuries as opposed to being freshly written originals.
No one is in any rush playing these tunes, which adds to the lovely, laconic, laid back groove. There’s a heavy Cajun/bluegrass influence on “Ain’t Never Fell” with its banjo, flute and whistle and the rustic Americana of “The Bright Light of Day” sounds like it was an outtake from The Band’s second album. Even the promotional notes mention how Powell’s relaxed voice is similar to that of Levon Helm.
It’s no surprise to learn that Powell’s history is in Appalachian genre but it’s how he gently weaves those influences into songs like the Sara Watkins assisted, stripped down ballad “The Little Things” where she duets with him on the folksy gem, that pushes Powell into a slightly more contemporary field. The waltz time “Les Youx…” is straight ahead Cajun, showing just how adept he is at that style. But the lazy swamp folk of “You Will Live Love” is where his voice and the instrumentation join in a song that feels so natural, rootsy and genuine it’s like you’re hearing the track as he writes it. His friend Rhiannon Giddens (Powell co-produced some of her work) sits in on three selections, adding her organic touch to the frisky love song “Jack of Hearts” which closes with spontaneous laughter from the musicians.
It’s that sense of artistic camaraderie that makes the alluring When I Wait for You so enticing and inviting. Listening to it is like spying on Powell and his closest friends spending a long evening playing music together with no one else watching.