Sometimes less is better. Sometimes it is better to return to the most base fundamentals in order to refresh the world and interject some clarity through the convolution. With See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, singer Ed Randazzo and producer/multi-instrumentalist Bret Alexander do just that.
A collection of ten songs that straddle the line between traditional folk and modern age Americana, the album contains four originals by Randazzo along with six, mostly traditional folk ballads which are many decades, or even centuries old. Most songs were recorded “live” in the studio with some sparse overdubbing of acoustic instruments by Alexander. The arrangements are simple and authentic – music which could’ve been performed on any porch in America in our great-grandparent’s day – with no bass or drums or electronic instruments of any kind. This minimalist approach to instrumentation, really draws focus to Randazzo’s voice and the lyrics he is singing, which range from dark spiritual to populist entertainment to odes to the working man.
The album’s title and corresponding cover song was coined by Blind Willie Jefferson in the 1920s and later covered by many folk singers including Bob Dylan on his 1961 debut. Of the covers, the most recent is the 1971 hit “Grandma’s Hands” by Bill Withers, while the oldest is a Celtic ballad that may date back to the 14th century called the “Unquiet Grave”. There is one song, “Only a Miner”, of which its origins and authorship are a complete mystery, and was even the subject of a recent book by Archie Green. So basically, these are not songs that you’ve heard on the radio much.
Still, Randazzo’s quartet of originals are the real highlight of this album, adding some modern energy while not clashing with the traditional songs. “Devil Gonna Come” contains a riff pattern that is almost fifties-style rockabilly, while “Three Ravens” contains a complex, lyrical plot. “Graveyard Boogie” comes complete with LP scratching sounds and feature background vocals by Janet Rains, while the mandolin-fuel closer “Ring Them Bells” contains some excellent harmonica and background vocals by Alexander and has the overall feel of a traditional spiritual.
For rock and pop fans, a radical album like See That My Grave Is Kept Clean may at first seem alien or out-of-place in the modern day. But for serious music listeners, this is a rare treat that should be listened to.