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Reviewed April 2009

Chris Darrow / Under My Own Disguise
Chris Darrow / Under My Own Disguise
By Chris Darrow

Everloving: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Country-rock musician Chris Darrow isn't a household name, but his resume is impressive. The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist was an original member of Kaleidoscope with fellow fiddle and slide guitar wizard David Lindley, an early member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, played on James Taylor's biggest early disc and was in Linda Ronstadt's band for years. He recorded several solo discs, and two of the best are being reissued as a four-LP, two-CD package with a 48-page booklet under the title "Chris Darrow / Under My Own Disguise."

These were originally released in 1973 and 1974, respectively, in the heyday of California country rock. The best thing about the discs, however, is the fact that they do not at all sound like such bands as the Eagles, Poco or the Flying Burrito Brothers. Darrow plays guitar, mandolin, fiddle and slide guitar, and has guest players including Caleb Quaye, Roger Pope and Dave Pegg – along with B J Cole on steel guitar (the preview disc contains no roster of who is contributing what on the songs).

The big distinction between Darrow's music and that of other smooth, country-rockers of the period is his bluesy approach and deep, southern-twanged vocals. The 22 cuts start off with a rousing "Albuquerque Rainbow," which turns what in other hands would be a standard soft country rocker into a hybrid that brings to mind an Allman Brothers anthem, with layers of acoustic guitars melding into steel and lead guitar figures beneath Darrow's down-home delivery.

Darrow's fiddle prowess is evident on many of the cuts, like "Don't Let the Deal Go Down," and the mandolin is the star of "Devil's Dream." The dark, rootsy "Whipping Boy" has been covered by other country artists and is a standout on the first disc, a simple but catchy blues that proves that sometimes less can be more – just a slide guitar lick and a hook. For "Faded Love," there is an oriental motif that a listener would never hear on another '73 tight-harmony group, as Darrow is playing a Japanese dulcimer as an oriental woodwind plays fills in the background. "Miss Pauline" is a square dance-style hoedown that gives Darrow another chance to show his fiddle chops. On "Java Jive," he tackles swing jazz, with a few Stephane Grappelli phrases on the fiddle, only missing a good guitar solo. "Wherever You Are" is the hardest-edged tune on the disc, putting reverbed vocal over a heavy blues-based beat that could be lifted from a Bo Diddley record. "Old Scratch" closes and is the highlight of the second disc, a charging tune that builds energy and features his best fiddle work on either album.

Chris Darrow is still making music, and this re-release is an opportunity to hear perhaps his best music all in one place – a boxed set that includes the music both albums in high grade vinyl and on CD, plus plenty of photos. It should be considered good listening for fans of this type of music and a must for fans of Darrow.

Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.

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