Mark Olson & the Creekdippers – Creekdippin’ for the First Time

Mark Olson & the Creekdippers
Creekdippin’ for the First Time

Having quit The Jayhawks in 1995, citing creative frustration in the face of the band’s then increasing commercialism, Mark Olson couldn’t really have forged a more authentic backwards country career move unless he’d bought a Stetson shop in Nashville or set up a moonshining racket next to a deserted railroad track. Recruiting his wife Victoria Williams (herself a much-loved country-slated singer/songwriter and Giant Sand affiliate) and a host of multi-instrumentalists (including members of Calexico, Son Volt, and moonlighting ex-colleagues from The Jayhawks), Olson has since released a set of new/old country originals written/recorded at the very hearth of his desert-dwellings in Joshua Tree, California, under a series of “Creekdipper’ monikers. But given his recent aversion to conforming to regular release schedules on established labels, much of Olson’s post-Jayhawks material has become stubbornly hard-to-find, leaving this French import compilation to mix and match previously released (and unreleased) Creekdipper tracks to present a “story-so-far’ selection.
From initial spins, it seems staggering and occasionally stupefying that these songs have stayed so well hid from alt-country converts. Olson’s weary but warm tones are made to measure for the twangy, strummy, and harmony-fuelled beddings laid down by his fluid ensemble. There are plenty of classic reference points here: Johnny Cash (“Louisiana Black Dog Moses”), Bob Dylan (“Mr. Parker”), The Carter Family (“Be on My Way”), Harvest-era Neil Young (every other track), and bluegrass survivor Ralph Stanley (“Cedric Harper”). It’s all reassuringly “nice’ and “traditional,’ which is both the strength and downfall of Olson’s refocused craft.
Whilst it’s doubtful that you’ll hear many more loveable Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris homages than the gorgeous “Give My Heart to You,” it is also unlikely that you’ll find enough here that hasn’t already been done to death by others over recent years. Moreover, Olson is sometimes so besotted with his beloved authenticity that he forgets to put himself (or any of his companions for that matter) into his songs to leave a lasting personal imprint. It’s not all Olson’s fault, and music scene synchronicity certainly must be to blame for some of the over-familiar flavours that this collection makes you taste. Put simply, if you’ve not yet overdosed on The Handsome Family, Will Oldham, et al. then this séance with the ghosts of country past might just surprise you in the right rustic places, but for the rest of us, sadly, this collection is too little and too late to be held too close to our hearts.