News & Reviews - Archive

Old Wood Barn

By John Calling
SLAMM Magazine
May 15, 1996

Old Wood Barn posseses all of the warmth and timbre of Bob Dylan's, without the frequently annoying nasal whine.

We're talking about the rich essence of Joel Rafael's voice here, only one of the many fine elements that comprise his band's pleasant folk on their new CD.

The familiarity of this North County singer/songwriter's lyric subject matter is equally refreshing as well - avoiding the hippy-dippy, fake nostalgia-ridden, flowers-in-your-hair stance, Rafael sings of places and situations anyone can relate to. In fact, the opening track, " Ballad Of Bellingham ", brought back this writer's own fond recollections of time spent as a child in that picturesque little town in Washington State.

Jamaica Rafael's soulful violin breaks on "Never Not Enough" certainly do Papa Joel proud, as does all the instrumental work on the CD. With Carl Johnson's harmonics and fine picking, Jeff Berkley's spare, precise percussion and the contributions of a quartet of supporting musicians, there's an air of immediacy and tuneful restraint on Old Wood Barn that soothes the psyche much like a fresh cup of joe on a clear spring morning. "Survivor Song", a paean to life's overlooked essentials, is as good an example of Rafael's sense of wonder and appreciation for simple pleasures as any.

In an interview five years ago, the esteemed Mr. Dylan said, "The world don't need any more songs. If nobody wrote any more songs from this day on, the world ain't gonna suffer for it." Sure it's Dylan, but be thankful storytellers like Rafael beg to differ with an air of artistic resignation. And, if such quality is cause for suffering, then hurt me some more, please.

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