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Vermonter and Vietnam vet Gary Sisco had been playing his own brand of countrified rock’n blues fronting the band Hundred Proof before he meet his two musical mentors, the late Jeffrey Frederick—“the best barroom rocker and crooner ever”— and the off-center genius, cult folksinger Michael Hurley. Sisco played with and rambled with these two for a fair number of years through the West and in Vermont, in that delicate era of the 70’s when flower power met sour mash bourbon. This band was a great vehicle for his songwriting and gravely baritone voice, but this CD showcases Sisco himself, showings that underneath it all he had a busker’s sensibility from his many years as a musician hobo before and after a four year stint in Vietnam, which provides the backdrop for some of his most tender material. The opener “Gypsy Bill” is just such a story song, featuring the hard realities and sweet poetry of the road and the amazing, dancing mandolin licks of Will Patton. “If You’re Ridin’ Next to Me” is another road ballad with “country radio” lyrics, a slow driving piano part, and a cacophony of three fiddles. It works.
The album takes a turn for the bluegrass side with the outspoken banjo of Gordon Stone and Patton’s mandolin in a Robert Wilkin’s song “Jim Cannan’s.” “Settle For a Rambler” is another road piece, played with that classic country-rock rhythm acoustic guitar, but now introduces the slinky electric guitar riffs so vital for getting’ over in the bars. “The End of the Trail” is just such a song that has that infectious, rockin’ ‘throw life to the wind’ approach showing that-with drums, bass and a belly full of rum-you could dance your cares away in whatever honky tonk Sisco was playing: “So won’t ya take me back to the End of the Trail/ I’m tired of this Rollin Rock n’ Molson’s Ale/ I want to sit and drink with Tex ‘til I fall on my ass/ and my eyes glaze over like a small mouth bass.”
“Missoula” captures the longing of the road with a love song to the Montana city that provided a respite for the young old rambler: “You know Missoula was the first place comin’ back from the war/ where I found some peace/ now I need some more.” I’m gonna leave this ‘ole cowtown / leave the key in the door / and go back to Missoula once more.” Sisco covers Hurley’s great “Whiskey Willey” and a forlorn homage to his other musical mentor in “Talkin’ About the Clamtones” (Jeffrey Frederick’s band)—which sounds like it was recorded in a western bar. The CD closes with the gem, “I Don’t know” that reveals the hard earned wisdom of life’s changes and in it final verse offers a hard farewell to a friend killed in Vietnam.
“These songs are the legacy of one human soul’s musical life that made his mark on several corners of the world when these folk country-rock hippies were young and livin’- hard-playin’ for a livin’, the love of the music and each other, and a passion for the times they were livin’ in.” Spencer Lewis