Till the Light Comes

Once crowned “Prince of Americana” by the New York Times, and after repeated comparisons to Bob Dylan, Jackie Greene must have felt the pressure to perform up to the expectations set by the press; Then again, maybe not. Greene seems an unassuming kind of guy who sloths off lofty titles and gimmicky comparisons. After all, he’s been touring with Phil Lesh and friends long enough to know how to relax and let the music dictate his course.

Till the Light Comes, Greene’s 6th album, was produced in his adopted home, San Francisco and produced by Greene and his good buddy Tim Bluhm. The players are long time associates of the pair so one can imagine a stress-free environment as the basis of this album. Greene doesn’t set out to break new ground with this crop of songs but rather spends more time working out arrangement that offer new perspectives on Greene’s songs. Although the album sounds lusher than his past releases, Greene claims that there is less instrumentation than usual, although the presence of cello and strings suggest otherwise.

Greene’s songs spring from roots, folk, blues and rock, but Till the Light Comes is loaded with shining coats of pop luster. “Stranger In the Sand” features dreamy layered vocals and catchy guitar chords that are easy to hum. That infectious sound has always been the hallmark of Greene’s music. The guy has an ear for hooks and has never been shy about loading his melodies down with jumpy chord changes and toe-tapping tempos. What feels different about this album is a lack of grit that always seemed to be an integral part of Greene’s albums. Even songs like “Medicine” and “The Holy Land” which deal with addiction and war, lack that grandular quality that crept up in Greene’s grittier blues tracks.

Greene, is only 29, has logged road time with B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Levon Helm, and, currently, with Gov’t Mule. Certainly he’s learning a lot from these guys and from time to time one hear’s a riff that resembles a Grateful Dead track, or guitar phrase that’s been learned from King’s legendary guitar, Lucille. But I get the feeling this is Greene’s attempt at playing with what might become his sound. He certainly has plenty of options open to him as he plays acoustic and electric guitar, Wurlitzer, Glockenspiel, and electric sitar. I can’t help but wonder where he might go next.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)