“I am a poor, wayfaring stranger… travelling through, this world of woe”. So goes the opening lyric to the American folk classic. Originally made popular by Burl Ives and covered by countless others – from Emmylou Harris, to Johnny Cash et al.
It’s so synonymous now with the explosion of American roots music that became almost anything we can think of today. But roots is what we have here. The looking for a better life. The tale of love and love lost. The landscape of the small town and the vast wilderness. And the twinkling bar lights of the city.
Even the cover mixes two strands of America – a neon rodeo horse being tamed by a neon cowboy. Welcome to America.
It’s one of the four Wayfaring Strangers records issued by vinyl collector favourites Numero Group. Carefully selected, from somewhere between 1968 and 1980, and released only as part of their Project Twelve club which is limited to only 1000 members.
There’s everything you’d expect on Wayfaring Strangers : Cosmic American Music. Hope, desperation, ups, downs. ‘Travellin’’, the album’s opening track sung by Jimmy Carter and Dallas Green County, has a rumbling bass that sounds like footsteps under the guitar picking. The theme of home lingers in the lyrics.
There’s subtle humour in the collection too, thanks to Ethel-Ann Powell – The appropriately name ‘Gentle One’ breezes around the lyric “and if you break my heart, ill just bandage both your knees”, while paralleled to Mistress Mary’s regretful, almost broken delivery of ‘And I Didn’t Want To’.
One of the more ‘cosmic’ moments comes from Kenny Knight with the late night, bar room stepper ‘Baby’s Back’. Pool hall guitar shooting in and out between the vocals.
You can hear how these roots have permeated into modern, and mainstream music. Plain Jane’s ‘You Can’t Make It Alone’ is reminiscent of a late White Stripes cut, and the opening lyric could actually be confused with Jack White himself on first listen.
As an album, it sounds a little more polished than the Wayfaring Stranger of Burl Ives; country tinged and electric; like a Saturday night drinking whisky chasers at the Grand Ole Opry. Made for TV specials with a beer. One for the purists, as they say.