Nature’s vibrant colors scarcely register on the cover of Rick Reiley’s new record, Mud & Bone, before the realization sets in that the musician’s ghostly visage sits among the headstones of a cemetery. Early assumptions abound, suggesting an album that might serve as the regretful pining of a man morose and resigned to the confines of the grave.
But the album’s inaugural track, Gulf Breeze, fans away any reservations with island energy layered atop a folky backdrop. What follows is a rustic stew of offerings seasoned with fifteen songs of hope and regret, spiritual revelation and skepticism, life and death.
Lay Your Body Down is good enough to cause a physical dependency, brought to exuberant life by Reiley's banjo and the comely background vocals of Chris Calhoun.The title track, Mud & Bone, invites the listener to dance a jig with the grim reaper. Its lyrics laugh in the face of our common fate, “Graveyard hums a steady tune, mud and bone in the afternoon”. Reiley sings of old love lost and new love found. At times with a quiet urgency, as in It Aint No Secret, and then with a celebratory gratitude for unassuming love in Dancin’ in the Kitchen With You, which features folk virtuoso John Fullbright on piano. Fullbright also plays slide and joins Bryon White and Gabriel Marshall on back up vocals in Dead and Gone. Dim the Lights is a swinger of a groove that could make any girl yearn for a whirl around the dance hall. The influence of old gospel hymns is plain in Lift Me Up and a fair share of roots country music anchors throughout, particularly in It’s a Good Day, featuring Gene Collier (author of Oklahoma Boys), on mandolin.
Rick Reiley’s voice is a difficult one to nail down. It has been described as a mixture of Frank Zappa and Gordon Lightfoot - a fair assessment. If anything the only true justice is to say Reiley sounds unique but familiar; warmth at a distance; confidence undermined by vulnerability. A study in contrasts.
In the end, one only need turn to the artwork on the album’s back cover to find that Mr. Reiley has risen into the trees - beyond the confines of mud and bone. It is a representation of the theme of ascendancy resounding time and again in this record. An acoustic articulation of love and life discovered, lost, then found once again. Mud & Bone won’t satisfy listeners searching for high energy or instant gratification. But the album will certainly hold its own in the collections of folk music lovers and aficionados of fine, original Oklahoma art.