While Richard Shindell is rightly considered one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation, he's always had an ear for great songs by other writers and has included these songs in his live shows, placed the occasional cover on his albums, and recorded the Cry Cry Cry disc with Lucy Kaplansky and Dar Williams; a project that celebrated the songs of contemporary writers.
South of Delia's twelve songs are drawn from a wide variety of sources including bona-fide legends (Dylan & Guthrie) and excellent contemporary writers (Josh Ritter & Jeffrey Foucault). Also included are a couple of traditional songs to complete a thoughtful selection of tracks.
Shindell's smooth and effortless guitar obviously dominates the disc, but there's a wide variety of instrumentation including electric guitar, strings, bass and percussion, plus there are some memorable backing vocals on many tracks. The list of musicians and guests is full of exceptional talent and includes Richard Thompson, Eliza Gilkyson, Larry Campbell, Lucy Kaplansky, Viktor Krauss and Tony Trischka. The choice of material is superb, with a mix of well known and more obscure songs. There are many memorable tracks, including A.P. Carter's beautifully simple melody on "The Storms are on the Ocean," and his reading of Springsteen's "Born in the USA," which is anything but anthemic, and really highlights the bitter and stinging hardship contained in the lyrics. The Band's "Acadian Driftwood" is an account of the Great Expulsion of Acadia by the British Army in 1755, and Shindell's reading is moving and full of feeling. "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" is a Guthrie protest poem dealing with the crash of a plane carrying 28 illegal immigrant who were being deported back to Mexico, and the subsequent media coverage that referred to the dead workers only as "deportees."
His own songs may be missing, but his superb guitar playing, strong vocals and musicality are very much present--his ear for an arrangement has always been very strong but Delia represents a high watermark. The construction of the songs feels natural but it's obvious that much love, time and effort has been put into the arrangements and production to achieve this balance.
South of Delia is a superb disc; great songs and musicians and some of the classiest, most restrained and appropriate production you could wish for. Essential and not to be missed.