Dan Rivers is a good old-fashioned, unrepentant, unreconstructed hippie, a fact which might once again be culturally relevant in a Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders world.
Except his debut album doesn’t cast him as a modern social justice warrior—as the title implies, these ten originals (written with Michael Groetsch) are a fond look back at his Woodstock years, a portrait of an aging Gulf Coast freaker who finds that his memories are still there to support him. It’s not particularly poetic or insightful, but it is honest, and for musicians with a folkie bent, that’s most important. Spending forty minutes with this music is like a random late-afternoon conversation with a neighbor you thought you knew. The good kind, that is.
Though he name-checks the godfathers and superstars of the early-’70s singer-songwriter movement in the liner notes, Rivers has instead followed the muses of his hippie brethren and gotten back to the country—fiddle, mandolin, gently-picked guitar and all. The stately piano of “Whisper Goodbye” and “Within Me” recall some of Jackson Browne’s confessionals, but otherwise these originals bypass the whole soft-rock thing; they sound as timeless as nature—specifically, the Bay St. Louis seascape Dan has always called home.
In fact, he pointedly stands in front of the new post-Katrina bridge on the cover, as if to identify with it, and while the very personal, apolitical title track deals with the tragedy, most of this album sticks with vignettes anyone can relate to. “Who Rescued Who” is about bonding with a fellow survivor who happens to be a dog, while “Sunset Village” is about leaving a pet behind at the front door of the retirement village. Likewise, there’s the romantic yin-yang of “You Danced With Me,” about an instant lifelong connection, and the crippling spousal abuse cycle of “Your Pretty Face is Blue.” (Again, not too artful, but plenty real.)
Only “Hippie Heaven,” which is more or less about dying and going to Woodstock, skirts cheese; for most of I Can Still Hear the Music, Rivers’ memories call up a shared humanity.