The sun is always ready to sing with Joseph Allred. Few artists imbue their music with such glowing elegance and enchantment, and on the instrumental wake of The Rambles and Rags of Shiloh, the light is palpable. Shiloh is a town in the Upper Cumberland in Tennessee, a place where Allred’s ancestors have inhabited and haunted for over 200 years. This is music built from and around that spirit.
From the opening inquisitions of “Sweetcorn Ramble” until the slide-laden closer “Blues for Terry Turtle,” Shiloh becomes the center of the universe. Excitement builds in the opener’s quick picking, and a smile spreads across Allred’s face as the familiar hollows glow in the crisp night air. The places we come from never entirely leave us, even if we leave them, but our blood flows a little quicker in the times we return. “Sweetcorn Ramble” translates this feeling into a steel-string reverie from the days and nights to come.
Allred describes Shiloh as “a place where the distinction between past and present isn’t always clearly defined. It’s a kind of ‘mandorla,’ a place where the spheres of past and present, dead and living, immanent and transcendent, overlap.” Those blurred dimensions permeate the aural narratives of The Rambles and Rags of Shiloh. A twisting, melodic banjo wander through shiftings fogs on “Overture for Lodge No. 637” is an elegy and a vision, remembering places as they were while seeing what they can still be.
On an album filled with sonic delights, the sweetest treats come when Allred pulls out the 12-string. Wistful pageantry flows through the gorgeous swells of “Dance of the Fair Folk.” Timeless melodies deliver us from existential heartache into the gossamer folds of an illusory aural world. Each chord progression captures the beauty and anticipation of letting our vulnerability go. We find the ashes in the confines of “March of the True Bugs” and hold them close, fiercely guarding the shadows of past lives and future dalliances like a vault of gold. Ascending arrangements celebrate the fragility of it all and the thousands of tenuous threads that have not only taken us to the place we’re at now but hold us together despite it all.
It’s impossible to ignore Allred’s technical prowess on stringed instruments, but, and I’m sure I’ve said this a hundred times, it’s the way they use those gifts to share narratives and emotions that speak loudest. The Rambles and Rags of Shiloh is exquisite.