It's appropriate that soul singer Barrence Whitfield has his mouth wide open and folkie Tom Russell has his closed in the cover photos of both this album and its follow-up, Cowboy Mambo. Throughout each disk, Whitfield holds the spotlight; Russell joins in the fun and also contributes some songs, but his main role seems to be as producer and fan: he clearly loves Whitfield's music and seems determined to help popularize it. And no wonder -- Whitfield's music is terrific stuff. If you had to slap a label on him, it would be country-soul singer, but he's soaked up far too many influences and turned them into something far too special for that tag to do him justice. The material -- alternately playful and emotional -- is uniformly first-rate, with highlights including Lucinda Williams' "I Just Want to See You So Bad," and Bob Dylan's "Blind Willie McTell," Van Morrison's "Cleaning Windows," Jesse Winchester's "Mississippi, You're On My Mind," and Russell's own "The Cuban Sandwich."
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