It’s maybe a little too easy to toss around words like “revolutionary,” but that word certainly applied to the early Ornette Coleman Quartet. There was nothing like it at the time, and the music became ground zero for the free jazz movement.
Bassist Charlie Haden was a member of that quartet, though his musical career has encompassed so much more than free jazz. Leaning more to the dissonant side, there’s the Liberation Music Orchestra. Haden’s romantic side was displayed by his Quartet West. Along the way, there have been a number of small ensemble works as Charlie has played with the likes of Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny (80/81 is a must have), Geri Allen, Egberto Gismonti, Ginger Baker, Paul Motian, and Jim Hall. As an example of Haden’s versatility, consider that he has also appeared on Rickie Lee Jones’ Pop Pop, Beck’s Odelay, and Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band.
So when a record goes back to Charlie Haden’s roots, where did we end up? That’s right, country music. Haden’s parents, “Uncle Carl” and “Mary Jane” (Carl and Virginia), had a country music radio show on station KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa. They performed some Carl Haden original songs as well as the day’s popular tunes. Charlie even appeared on the show when he was not quite two years old. Obviously, country music is in Charlie Haden’s blood.
All of which brought us to Rambling Boy. Somehow, this release snuck in under my radar. I was alerted to it by an interview piece on NRP. Apparently, people had been after him for years to put out a country record. This album, to use a stereotype, was truly a labor of love.
Haden features his triplet daughters (Petra, Rachel, and Tanya — and my goodness, can they sing), son Josh, and a host of other stellar musicians including Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Dan Tyminski, Sam Bush, Rosanne Cash, Bruce Hornsby, and Elvis Costello. There’s even a surprise (to me!) appearance by Jack Black (husband of Tanya Haden), who actually does the bluegrass standard “Old Joe Clark” proud.
We even get to hear a little bit of the Old Haden Family Show, which does indeed feature “2-yr-old Cowboy Charlie.” It’s a truly endearing moment and drives home just how much this music is a part of Haden’s musical persona. Rambling Boy ends with a vocal appearance by Haden himself. Charlie had stopped singing at the age of 15 after contracting polio.
Well, all of these years later, he puts his love of this music on display with a heartfelt rendition of “Oh Shenandoah.” It gave me chills.