TOM CORBETT HEADS WEST WITH ‘TONIGHT I RIDE’
Acclaimed Picker’s 3rd CD is a Captivating Journey
Stories and snapshots. That’s the essence of widely respected mandolinist/guitarist Tom Corbett’s new album Tonight I Ride: open-hearted stories and fond snapshots of characters and scenes from the American West — some real, some imagined, all sensitively rendered by Corbett’s soulful fretwork and other sublimely musical players who number among the West Coast’s finest, including bluegrass legends Herb Pedersen and Bill Bryson, Los Lobos percussionist Victor Besetti, guitar goddess Nina Gerber, renowned singer-songwriter Claire Holley, and vocalist extraordinaire Jonathan McEuen.
Tonight I Ride is Corbett’s third album (following 2001’s Upstairs at Charlie’s and 2004’s Cloudless Blue Sky). It isn’t a concept project, but it came together after Corbett realized he was writing a number of songswith a Western bent to them. “To me, that’s where this record’s coming from,” he says. “Even though I was born in the Midwest, in Omaha, and grew up a college professor’s son in Ohio, I love the stories of the West and that physical place of the West — not just California, but also Wyoming, Colorado, places like that.”
The melodic “Tonight I Ride” was birthed in Berlin, of all places, after an illuminating trip to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which showed how East Germans once tried to escape from behind the Berlin Wall. An acquaintance there talked about a German writer who wrote hugely popular books about the American West — which he’d never once visited. The combination of the museum’s exhibits and the story of the German writer inspired Corbett to pen a key line: “I may never have touched the ground of freedom but tonight I ride.” The song started as an acoustic piece, until guitarist David West added Telecaster and drums. “That changed the whole feel of the tune,” Corbett recalls, “and it ended up being the title cut.”
Elsewhere, the sprightly cowboy-bluegrass romp “Here Comes the Border” segues into an accordion-driven cover of David Kirby and Glenn Martin’s “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone.” Claire Holley’s sweet soprano highlights the poignancy of “Still Hear Her Crying,” while pianist/trumpeter David Bourne gives “Middle of Nowhere” a ragtimey saloon feel. “Welcome to Tom’s Place” celebrates the simple pleasures of fishing and friendship with some gleeful picking by Corbett and a posse of fellow Toms: Ball (harmonica), Lackner (drums), Lee (bass), Rozum (electric mandolin) and Sauber (fiddle).
The entire album is a crisply produced showcase for the witty and multitalented Corbett, who’s been picking on bluegrass, newgrass and old-time tunes since picking up his father’s Vega banjo-mandolin at age 11. One tune in particular also brings Corbett full circle with his past. “Ease on Down the River,” previously heard on the 1994 album The Cat’s Meow by the Acousticats, the critically acclaimed folk-bluegrass-swing ensemble he joined after relocating to California, reunites Corbett with a pair of longtime friends and musical heroes. “To redo the song with Herb Pedersen and Bill Bryson singing harmony, felt really good,” he says. “I’m really happy with the whole album.”
Tonight I Ride shows Corbett really hitting his stride. For years he was a hired gun behind artists such as Robin & Linda Williams, The Dirt Band’s John McEuen, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness, and was even called upon to teach Tom Selleck how to play ukulele for a role. Now he steps into his own role of gunslinger – a front man with pioneer spirit, lightning fast fingers, and a heart of pure California gold.