The cover of Kreg Viesselman's eponymous disc implores you to listen. It's vaguely reminiscent of those old Van Morrison albums, on which the soulful Irishman would sport a fisherman's sweater, brown corduroys and shaggy mutton chops while wistfully contemplating a drooping apple tree through a mist and clutching a timeworn six-string, finger-scuffed from many a night at the pub. The artwork set the tone for the artist's particular mood and tone, and so it is with Viesselman. His CD jacket includes a close-up of the strings, sound hole and pick guard of a simple acoustic guitar as seen through a blue filter, an image that matches the pared-down production and elemental songwriting captured on this release.
The collection features Viesselman's gravelly and emotive voice, which often evokes Cat Stevens and sometimes hints at other troubadours like John Hiatt. His songwriting and guitar playing are none too shabby, either -- again recalling Stevens (with prominent strumming carrying the tunes) and perhaps some of Dylan's folky gravitas. At various points, the songs are enhanced by female vocal harmonies, slide guitar, mandolin, harmonica and piano. From the album's punchy opening cut, "New Hampshire Snow," and the jig-like "Tom's Last Words" to some of its more somber and reflective moments, such as "Stone Mason's Waltz" and "Gone to Lewistown," it's clear that Viesselman knows how to craft moving acoustic music. Echoes of the Waterboys also reverberate, while the singing edges toward Randy Newman and/or Doctor John on the piano-driven "Stolen Fruit." The collection would work well as a soundtrack for a black comedy like Harold and Maude. But, hey, didn't Cat Stevens do the music for that? Or was it Van Morrison? Oh, well, you can never get enough good acoustic songwriting, even if it is a little derivative. (See www.kregviesselman.com.)