Mike McCollum's self-produced debut CD, the aptly titled Simple and Clear neatly
straddles the borders of country, bluegrass, gospel and folk music. It's one
of the most satisfying all-acoustic country music albums I've heard in a long
time and it's great for singing along. McCollum sings lead on 12 of his original
songs and plays finger-style guitar. His phrasing and tone bear an uncanny resemblance
to the relaxed, East Texas tenor of his uncle, folksinger Sam Hinton. Mike's
elegant lyrics and singable melodies are given wing by a truly stellar trio
of back-up singers: Cheryl White (daughter of Buck White), Charles Whitstein
(of the Whitstein Brothers) and Jeff White (formerly with Alison Krause and
Union Station). Their pure harmonies are nothing short of gorgeous.
McCollum and his musical director, Hoot Hester, have hand-picked a supporting cast of Nashville heavy-hitters, whose collective contributions make this album the gem that it is. Hester plays some mighty tasty fiddle, Bobby Clark picks mandolin, and Jeff White is featured on lead and rhythm guitar. Terry Eldredge plays stand-up bass and Catherine Styron, one of Nashville's most creative and inspired pianists, propels the thoughtful arrangements with her wonderful playing.
The CD begins with an updated version of Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas 's Fishing Blues. McCollum has written impressive Hinton-esque, double-time lyrics and turned this old folk warhorse into a catchy patter song. After dozens of listenings, my favorite cut on the album is There's an Angel Standing Behind You. This gospel/harmony number is, by itself, worth the price of the CD.