Cornmeal Slow Street: An Exercise in Giving Pause
Words & Photo By Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)
Cornmeal has always been the little band that could. Hailing from Chicago, Cornmeal has been a working ensemble for fifteen years. Most fans are aware of the exodus of long time fiddler Allie Kral, but the real story is how this band has evolved in the intervening years. Personally I’ve been a fan going all the way back to the second Summer Camp Music Festival. Through lineup changes and a relentless touring schedule, this band has persevered and emerged from uncertainty with a new album that details the journey quite elegantly.
While Drew Littel on drums and Scott Tipping on guitar have had some time to settle in, Phil Roach has only been a full time member of Cornmeal since January. Wavy Dave on banjo and Chris Gangi on bass are the stalwart veterans that have continued to carry this musical torch since the beginning. Slow Street is the band’s first studio album in 9 years. The album features ten original tracks with several guest musicians including Anders Beck from Greensky Bluegrass.
The songs are utterly familiar because several have been road tested since before the Nowaks left. The difference is there are some apparent tempo changes and a polish that only a full production can create. “Goodnight, My Darling” features some beautiful harmonies for some high-energy bluegrass with just a taste of melancholy. “Coming Back Home” takes on an almost gospel feel, while “Lay Me Down” features some impeccable picking from Wavy Dave on the banjo. “Oh Leah Lea” has become a fan favorite sing along in recent years; it was recorded with an emphasis on the twang. “Long Hard Road” almost feels like a cowpunk tune in this version with Phil Roach really earning his keep on the violin. “All Things Must Change” could have easily been the title track. This song exemplifies everything the band has gone through since Kral’s departure and more.
“Can you hear those highway blues calling out your name?” –Lyric from “All Things Must Change”
This song is exquisitely recorded with crystal clear tracking. “I’ll Be Looking At You” is another crowd-pleasing love song with a lot of history being played in a live setting. “Old Virginia” takes a more delicate approach with some beautiful slide guitar work. This song is just masterful in every way. Another tune that references Cornmeal’s struggle to find firm footing is “Rise Above.” This is really a song about redemption. The album closing “Trouble Gonna Find Me” is a high-energy throw down that almost feels like Porky Pig ending a cartoon. "That’s all folks!"
So what we have is an incredibly intelligent and referential album from Cornmeal. There is no question that the last few years have been turbulent for this jamgrass band from Chicago. It seems that with this release and the addition of Roach on fiddle that Cornmeal is poised once again to dominate the Midwest music scene. Go check out Slow Street. It’s everything we’ve been waiting for.