Like the snake oil bottle of “jaundice bitters” on the cover of their CD, Rich Adlin and Mark Appleford concoct a gritty brew of acoustic music that is wonderfully out of step with the century just begun.
Although it was released in 2002, Jaundice Bitters’ intentions seem to come from another era, a time before corporate slickness, self-conscious emulation of the past, or contemporary angst and irony ruled the day. The duo’s solid, controlled songwriting and performances are refreshing and rare–both sincere and mature, joyful and carefree, catchy and deeply affecting.
Appleford’s virtuoso harmonica riffs and Adlin’s slide guitar are signature sounds throughout, mixing perfectly with the duo’s beer and whiskey-chaser vocals. “House Just off the Highway” opens the proceedings like a rusty pickup truck rolling down a gravel road, stopping long enough to extol the virtues of chicken frying, Mr. Clean-swilling chicks on the track “Bittersweet Blues.”
But these guys aren’t beyond taking some detours into melody-rich territories, like the warmhearted waltz, “Can You Blame Her?” and “A Moment of Your Time,” which could pass as an easygoing Tom Petty tune.
“Fire in Your Belly,” an optimistic ode to keeping an eye on your dreams, ranks with the best acoustic anthems ever written, providing the CD’s finest (and catchiest) tune. “You got to find it in the corners of your mind, and mine it from the bottom of your soul,” they sing. “Don’t get stuck in any ruts when they start to check your guts, keep the fire in your belly, child.”
Producer Joel Fairstein’s piano lays down even more texture, whether on the bouncy “Shakespeare’s Shuffle” or the contemplative “Idlewood,” which with the help of some congas shapes up like an exquisite mood piece worthy of Nick Drake.
“Not warranted to cure every disease,” reads the label on Adlin and Appleford’s bottle of jaundice bitters, “but will invariably relieve the bilious class, embracing two-thirds of the people, suffering from dizziness and dullness of the head.” It’s a guarantee they make good on.