This collection brings together Happy Traum's second Kicking Mule album in an enhanced CD along with a separate DVD of Happy in a solo concert from 1981.
Here's what Eric Andersen said about American Stranger: “Haunted and ancient. That's how Golden Bird sounded the first time Happy sang it to me. Catskill Rip Van Winkle poetry. And true. Nothing strange there. A wizard's hand appeared from the dark wood. Diamonds that glitter and gold that shines. Catskill magic. The strings weave through the trees and out again into our ears. Remember when neighbors lived far away and people were seldom seen? Our ancestors in Appalachia and the Smokies? Dulcimers, fiddles, and psalteries were our only telephones then. They made us less lonely, for the mountains possessed us in the dark. No other music quite ever retrieved like mountain music the irretrievable like love or life lost forever. The strings and wood were rubbed with rue as well as joy. So be it. Happy is a hero. He had me singing gospel songs one crazy night. He took my head over the Blue Ridge on another. He had me dreaming to the strains of his concertina and when I woke up I was lying somewhere on a shore in England. He's a walking campfire. He's got the Instincts of a rock and roller; he's a master of the groove. And these songs were made to travel. There's one about a stranger sailing toward his string of broken hearts and another trail churning in his wake. There are buckets of moonbeams and a dark road East Texas blues, Irish melodies and a Bahamian murder ballad. A lot of these songs could have written themselves. And maybe they did. Some call it the greatest irony of all and some call It folk music. Remember the cowboy's love for his horse? Can you hear the wind whistling through the rigging of a 3-masted ship heading out of Liverpool to someplace distant and mysterious? Nothing strange there except that the singer Is an American. So tune your ears through the murmurings of the soil and the waterfalls of mountains and hear those fiddles play! I'm sure his music will strike a chord In your ancient soul.”
Track Listing: (click on tracks for mp3 sound samples)
1. The American Stranger
2. The Eighth of January
3. Buckets of Rain
4. When I Was a Cowboy
5. I Am a Pilgrim
6. Doney Gal
7. Golden Bird
8. Sheebeg and Sheemore
9. Dark Road Blues
10. Delia's Gone
11. I'll Fly Away
(All tunes have been transcribed and included in a pdf tab/music booklet on the CD)
Review: In a BBC radio broadcast spotlighting Happy Traum, Grossman remarked: "The sign of a truly great guitar player is not how complex he can play but, rather, that the sounds he produces are music… the forte of Happy Traum is that he can take a blues and arrange it in a rather simple fashion to produce a very lyrical and moving and very musical performance."
The tunes on American Stranger bear out Grossman's sentiments… clear and deliberate folk and blues guitar playing highlights the collection, and elevates Happy's unaffected if somewhat plain-sounding vocal delivery. A variety of contributors, including John Sebastian on harmonica, lend accompaniments throughout, subtly building on Traum's performances. The album opens with its moving title track, "The American Stranger (Plains of Amerikee)." From the liner notes: "Versions of The Plains of Amerikee date back to before the American Revolution, yet the person in the story seems very contemporary to me. I can identify with his restless spirit and am moved by his conflict… Many of the songs on this album reflect the spirit of the seeker, the wanderer, the stranger." These themes reemerge in a number of selections, from the 19th century southern hymn, "I am a Pilgrim," made popular by Merle Travis and The Byrds, to a redux of Traum's own fable, "Golden Bird," which originally appeared on Happy & Artie Traum (1969).
A Bronx native, Traum participated in the sixties Greenwich Village folk scene before relocating to Woodstock near the end of the decade. It comes as no surprise that he befriended Bob Dylan along the way, and on American Stranger, tries his hand at interpreting Dylan's blues, "Buckets of Rain." The result is charming. Traum's guitar pulsates, giving the tune a dimension that barely registered on the original, relatively straightforward arrangement from Blood on the Tracks. He wisely avoids mimicking Dylan's signature vocal inflections, and while his own, slightly wooden delivery lacks Dylan's urgency, it does not detract from an effective rendition that is one of the album's best tracks: "Dark Road Blues" mines similar territory. It is an interpretation of Charlie Patton's "Down the Dirt Road Blues" that also incorporates the "don't the moon look good mama?" ? line from Patton's "Poor Me," famously borrowed by Dylan for "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry." – Work&Worry.com
Review: Happy Traum studied guitar with Brownie McGhee. Recorded a bunch with longtime pal Bob Dylan. Actively began folking around Greenwich Village during its Sixties' boom. And first gained prominence by folk-rocking with brother Artie on such signatures as his richly allegorical "Golden Bird." All these facets left traceable imprints throughout American Stranger, his second solo record from '77. There's that bright, crisp pop in his fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Those chops, tied to a warm voice, ease down "Dark Road Blues," whisk Dylan's"Buckets Of Rain," pluck Celtic splendor from "Sheebeg And Sheemore," and, ultimately, reload "Golden Bird" with John Sebastian's homey harmonica. This new reissue significantly bulks up by adding a live DVD concert from 1981, which gives a faster, unaccompanied stage-life to much of the album, along with "Monday Morning Blues" and the Grateful Dead's "Friend Of The Devil." – Dennis Rozanski/BluesRag