The Upshot: Phil Ochs protégé and Dylanesque stylist has early demos belatedly released by an admiring NC label. Very sweet on vinyl, too!
BY FRED MILLS
Georgia-born folksinger Sammy Walker resurfaced in 2008 via the Ramseur label (famous for its flagship act, the Avett Brothers). The songwriter previously cut a handful of Dylan-inspired LPs in the late ‘70s (he had caught the ear of Phil Ochs, who produced Walker’s first LP, essentially opening the industry door for him) before going on extended hiatus for more than a decade, eventually resurfacing for the first time during the ‘90s with a pair of European-only albums. A subsequent move to NC proved fortuitous, though, ultimately leading to the Ramseur record, Misfit Scarecrow. Now comes Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin’, but rather than a proper followup, it comprises unreleased demos from the ‘70s that helped land him a recording contract with Warner Bros., who thought they’d snagged the latest “new Dylan” for their roster.
Which is more than merely understandable. The 10 songs here are so Dylanesque—what with Walker’s nasally croon, frequent lapses into B.D.’s signature talking-blues singing style, and spartan acoustic guitar/harmonica arrangements—that it’s amazing the general public didn’t embrace him the way they did Prine, Springsteen, Buckley and Wainwright III.
Perhaps the problem was that Walker channeled the Bard so effortlessly as to come across at times as a blatant copyist. The title track, for example, bears more than a passing resemblance to “Tomorrow’s Such a Long Time” in both melody and vocal phrasing; while the wordy “The East Colorado Dam” could be mistaken for a Woody Guthrie outtake, and as we all know, Guthrie was more than just a tiny influence upon Dylan. And on several songs you find yourself literally preparing yourself for the inevitable harmonica verse, so familiar-feeling are the arrangements.
In 2016, of course, none of this is problematic; Ramseur has even made the Dylan connection visually explicit, with sleeve art and text fonts designed to give the album the look of an early Dylan LP. The label art even mimics the old Columbia Records “two eye” design, Ramseur here opting for powder blue rather than orangey red. Ultimately, it’s a fine, illuminating archival collection.
DOWNLOAD: “The East Colorado Dam,”