(Frederick Productions, CD)
How do you review a CD by an artist who hasn't picked up a guitar since 1984? Well, it helps to remember that Gary Sisco played some incredible sets of music back in the late '70s and early '80s. And he kept good company: The late barroom crooner Jeffrey Frederick and cult folksinger Michael Hurley served as both musical mentors and drinkin' buddies. The three rambled together in that delicate era when flower power met sour mash bourbon. Rescued from under car seats and shoeboxes, and impeccably re-mastered, The End of the Trail documents some of the magic.
I first heard Sisco when he was folk-rockin' with Hundred Proof, a band that played regularly in the Waterville-Jeffersonville area. That group was a fine vehicle for his keen songwriting and gravely baritone. But as this disc proves, Sisco's true identity was that of a busker. His many years as a musical hobo inspire the sentimental backdrop for some of his most tender material.
Opener "Gypsy Bill" features reflective road poetry and the dancing mandolin licks of Will Patton. Subsequent cut "Missoula" captures the longing of the road with soulful precision: "You know Missoula was the first place comin' back from the war / Where I found some peace / now I need some more," he sings.
Banjo and steel-guitar man Gordon Stone kicks up some dust on "Jim Canaans." The title track boasts the slinky electric guitar riffs that helped Sisco's folk music go over in bars. The tune's infectious, throw-life-to-the-wind vitality is still plenty potent.
The only thing lacking on The End is the absence of a full band on some the studio takes. Still, Sisco's signature song, "Release Me," sounds perfectly fine with a bare-bones guitar and bass arrangement.
The disc's final track, "I Don't Know," offers some hard-earned wisdom about life's changes. "Autumn follows the drifters around," Sisco sings in a farewell to a friend killed in Vietnam.
Catch him with Michael Hurley & the Fabulous Sensitivos -- which also features Dave Reisch -- on Thursday, May 25, at Montpelier's Langdon Street Cafe; Friday, May 26, at Chow! Bella in St. Albans; and Sunday evening at Bradford's Middle Earth Music Hall.