The opening track on Richard Blair’s newest album begins with deftly fingerpicked acoustic guitar. His smooth, yet weathered, voice enters in harmony on “Pony Express,” recalling the dangers faced by young postal riders before the advent of the telegraph. The meandering groove of Craig Iverson’s piano helps to layer the upbeat tune with a rhythm reminiscent of a horse’s gallop.
With his third full-length record, “Trokay! It’s ok, everything is alright!” Blair adds a slew of memorable compositions to an ever-growing repertoire of original folk songs that bring to life the history of our region.
Brittany Iverson’s haunting cajón sets the rhythm of “Carrie Pryor,” the tale of a dangerous woman in a man’s world who was known best as the unscrupulous head of Truckee’s earliest brothels. A fitting guest appearance by Dead Winter Carpenters’ Jenni Charles keens on fiddle melodies that recall the sharp voice of the madame herself warning local politicians and lawmen never to cross her.
“Turkey Wreck 1955” tells the true story of a truck full of Thanksgiving birds that crashed on icy Donner Pass. Like most of Blair’s work, the best parts of the composition come when he goes off the historical script to delve into the feelings of the characters themselves, bringing the past alive in a modern context.
On “Lola Montez,” Sparky Kramer’s gentle mandolin weaves a beautiful melody about the woman whose Italian Spider Dance wooed men from around the world to the infamous bordellos of Virginia City, Nev. It is perhaps the finest song on the album due to the delicate, romantic sentiment it captures of an ambitious and outspoken woman who was simply before her time.
When Blair puts together a full reenactment of a live Streets of Truckee production complete with a cast of historical actors, “Trokay” usually serves as the centerpiece of the performance. On this lively tune, Blair proposes that the name of our town came not from a Paiute chief, but from a scout who was simply saying to early frontiersmen: “It’s okay, everything is alright. I know the way.”
The bass of Tahoe’s go-to utility musician Steve Kershisnik sets the tone for this funky jam that will have you greeting your neighbors with a friendly “Trokay!” next time you see them walking on Donner Pass Road.
The rest of the album continues to spin tall tales of the lives and times of early pioneers. “Hobart Mills” renders a folky, Cajun Taj Mahal groove in its re-imagination of mill workers who leave the woods every two months to “drink all the whiskey they could.” “Mighty Trail” offers a Neil Young-esque jam about the price early settlers paid to reach the promised land of California, the moody repetitiveness of its rhythm mimicking the plodding journey of the immigrants until a happy refrain of hope raises their weary spirits.
“Travel So Far” follows a similar theme, featuring the fine fiddling of Ellen Flanagan. It’s a prayer to the great unknown with an uncanny feel for phrasing that echoes The Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” as it builds to a strong climax.
The album is rounded out by stories about San Francisco’s fancy Glenbrook Train to Lake Tahoe, the ordeal of resilient teenager Moses Schallenberger, who spent a winter alone in a cabin on Donner Pass, and the travails of Buffalo Bill Cody’s dodgy friend, Poker Peter, which takes the album to a delightful close on a backbeat reminiscent of the Stray Cats’ “Stray Cat Strut.”
Sept. 15 | 12 p.m.
Mt. Judah Lodge | Norden
Sept. 29 | 6 p.m.
Ricochet Café | Clio