In January 2002, Los Angeles area roots and country stalwart Rick Shea and the "phenomenally talented" fiddler and singer Brantley Kearns started work on a project they had discussed between themselves for three or four years. They decided to record a collection of older songs, some reworked traditional melodies, songs by California folk icons Jim Ringer and Mary McCaslin and a few of Rick and Brantley's own understated originals. The album is based loosely on the connection between the music and traditions of North Carolina where Brantley grew up and the more contemporary folk and country music of California that they both have spent the better part of their lives playing. The result is a great new disk entitled "Trouble and Me". It is named after the Buck Owens classic written by Harlan Howard and given a new interpretation by Rick and Brantley. The combination of Brantley 's eclectic fiddle playing and superb singing and Rick's rock solid guitar work and deep expressive vocals is a sure winner for upstart Tres Pescadores Records.
Rick and Brantley first met at the legendary LA honky-tonk, Nashville West, in the late 80's. They later teamed up for shows there and at the more famous Palomino Club in North Hollywood. Brantley is featured prominently on Rick's highly acclaimed solo albums and the two have toured and played together extensively. Most recently, they can be seen nationwide as members of LA roots kingpin and Grammy winner Dave Alvin's backing band, The Guilty Men. Dave Alvin co-produced "Trouble and Me" with Rick.
Brantley Kearns grew up in High Point, North Carolina, where Appalachian and rural country music styles converge. He started playing fiddle in his father's square dance band at age 11. He recalls, " We would play the same tune for 10 or 12 minutes at a time, for the dancers, it was a great way to learn... to really get the songs under your fingers".
After spending time in the seminal San Francisco folk scene and a few years in David Bromberg's band, Brantley headed to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He appeared in McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Beverly Hillbillies. He then signed on with Dwight Yoakum's band and appeared on Dwight's first three albums. His performing and recording credits are a who's who of country music and beyond and include everyone from staunch folk revivalist Hazel Dickens and country renegade Billy Joe Shaver to rap stars Dr. Dre and Eminem with whom he recently worked with on a movie soundtrack.
"Trouble and Me" includes a medley of two of Brantley's fiddle tunes, which he called "Byron's Iron/Baker's Acre". He named the medley after two of his fiddle heroes, Kenny Baker and Byron Berline. Brantley's fiddle style could be described as a cross between Kenny Baker's lonesome Appalachian wail and Byron Berline's more uptown blend of western swing and Texas fiddle music with a pinch of Ornette Coleman's free jazz thrown in for added spice.
Rick Shea was born in Maryland but started playing music in San Bernardino, California, where he grew up while the remnants of California's golden age of country music still drifted through like the hot winds, "I started playing folk and coffeehouse gigs after high school but after awhile I sort of fell into the country music scene. I used to play the truck stop bars 6 and 7 nights a week, where they loved a lot of Merle Haggard and a lot of George Jones".
Rick's resume is impressive too. He's played and or recorded with most of Southern California's notable country and roots artists from Rosie Flores and Katy Moffatt to Chris Gaffney. He's also been included on the bill with everyone from Peter Rowan and Tim O'Brien to Doc Watson. His previous solo albums have gotten stellar reviews.
The combination of Rick Shea and Brantley Kearns is an impressive force and "Trouble and Me" is testament to that. It opens with a driving instrumental, Rick's "Carolina, California" which features burning solos by both Rick and Brantley. It rolls easily into "Rachel", Jim Ringer's tale of a bittersweet first love set in the San Joaquin Valley. "Loafer's Glory" is a remake of the old Flatt and Scruggs' tale of a crooked storeowner in North Carolina. Brantley captures his sly drawl and backwoods glee perfectly. This gem is followed by Rick's heartbreaking rendition of Mary McCaslin's "San Bernardino Waltz." Brantley follows with "Cane on the Brazos", a convict's lament from the 1880's. He fills it with all the pain and despair it recalls, complementing himself masterfully on fiddle. "Parish Road" is Rick's tale of illicit love and its consequences, set in a rural southern community. Brantley's turn again with a lively Bob Wills take on the traditional "Sail Away, Ladies". Rick's version of the aforementioned Buck Owens gem, "Trouble and Me" follows as the title track. A Brantley original, "Ain't It Almost Like the Old Times" and a Cajun romp version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan" round out Brantley's vocal contributions. Rick's mournful waltz, "Let My Horses Run Free", the title of which was inspired by Larry McMurtry, is his final vocal effort. The disk wraps up with Brantley's fiddle medley, "Byron's Iron/Baker's Acre".