Brad Vickers and the Vestapolitans' previous release, 2011's Traveling Fool, was an exuberant romp through America's musical roots, touching on everything from blues to ragtime to flat-out rock 'n' roll.
This time out the feel leans more to the old-timey, with Vickers' musical foil, Margey Peters, taking a more prominent role as fiddler and vocalist. The results are engaging enough, but a casual approach to vocals that occasionally borders on lackluster - Peters' isn't a terribly strong singer - robs the project of vitality.
Things kick off nicely enough with "Little Gem," honking horns and handclaps driving things along, but the fiddle seems somewhat incongruous. "Train Goin' Westward Bound" fares better, powered by Vickers' bottleneck as well as mandolin and banjolele for a nice string band feel. "Saving String Rag" is an old-timey throwback, with extra fiddle from Charles Burnham to add period authenticity, but again, composer Peters' vocals don't quite measure up to the task. "Sit Down And Talk" is as simple and unprepossessing as its title suggests, but the exuberant title track and the two that follow, all Peters' compositions (she contributes six of the collection's fifteen tracks) are all back to string band territory, and her lead vocal on "Saturday Blues" is a little shaky. (To be fair, Vickers isn't a strong singer either, but his laconic, unforced delivery comes across as much more warm and inviting).
Horns return for the jumping "It's A Good Life," and are sprinkled here and there throughout the remainder. There's a nice cover of Tampa Red's "Anna Lou Blues," "Together For Good" is a stirring gospel tune with gutsy guest vocals from Gina Sicilia, and things wrap up with "Dallas Blues," the first published blues song, written in 1912 and recorded to celebrate the song's 100th anniversary.
With even the blues tunes given primarily string-dominated acoustic arrangements that employ mandolin, stand-up bass, fiddles and that banjolele, the occasional horns add welcome variety (though Jim Davis' clarinet is more in keeping with the old-timey approach to things). It's music that begs for a loose, casual approach, and the Vestapolitans have just the right feel.
"Great Day In The Morning" is fun - with a title like that, how could it not be a collection with heart and soul? - and in general there's a likeably laid-back exuberance that makes up for any 'technical difficulties.' There are times, though, when Peters' fiddle approaches obtrusive, and her vocals are downright distracting.
Enjoyable, but not quite essential ...