By Al Kaufman
While he may currently call Roswell, Ga. home, Jeff Talmadge’s heart and head reside in the small towns of Texas where he grew up. In that time, Talmadge served as a janitor, a lawyer, a press secretary to Congressman Bob Krueger, a seminary student, and a poet. And he sure as hell listened to a lot of West Texas troubadours Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. So it’s safe to say that he has a few stories to tell and the ability to tell them well.
Kind of Everything is Talmadge’s third release, and he’s pulled out some big guns for it. It is produced by Thomm Jutz, who has worked with Nanci Griffith and Mary Gautier, and includes such musicians as Grammy-winning mandolin player Tim O’Brien, drummer Pat McKinerney (John Prine, Nanci Griffith), and bassist Mark Fain (Ricky Skaggs, Kentucky Headhunters), among others. They enhance the warm and nourishing tales that Talmadge tells about everyday people who do not do especially extraordinary things, but sure so seem special by the time their three or four minutes are up.
Look at “It’ll Sure Be Cold Tonight,” a story of a homeless man. Talmadge is quick to avoid the pedantic pratfalls that usually mar such songs. This character is a whole person, with a daughter in Kansas and a son he has lost track of. He’s not sure how he found himself in this situation, but he’s not some Hollywood-created dreamer who knows he’s going to get out of it, either. But he does what he needs to do to get by. “I’ll pull my hat down tight/And I’ll dream that I’m in Texas/’Cause it’ll sure be cold tonight.” The character doesn’t want your sympathy, and the writer is not after your guilt. They are just both telling you the way it is. It is sparse and perfect.
The poet and seminary student side of Talmadge surfaces much more than the legal side, understandably. There are many references to the sheer beauty of nature, and this beauty is almost always compared to a woman. None is done as effortlessly as simply as on “One Spectacular Moon,” in which he sings, “That’s one spectacular moon/And that was one hell of a kiss.” The grandeur of both leaving him in utter awe.
In that old West Texas tradition, Talmadge talks his way through many of his songs, such as the title track, “Kind of Everything.” He speaks of a small town girl who wanted everything, put her trust in a man, and ended up with nothing. Yet when she meets the man again, she is a cheap gin drinking, karaoke singing woman almost at peace with herself. Everything got shattered, but somehow there was something left.
Talmade’s small town stories also evoke the talents of New England folkie, Bill Morrissey, most notably on cuts such as “Hamburg Violin,” about seeing a street musician in Germany. While Talmadge has not imbibed enough bourbon and gin to give his voice the depth and quality of a Morrissey or a Guy Clark, he possesses a certain lilt and playfulness that gives a spark to “Hamburg Violin.” Fats Kaplin’s fiddle playing on the track doesn’t hurt either.
Talmadge includes many styles on Kind of Everything. There is the country finger-picking on “Sometimes You Choose Love,” and the dark overtones on “Molly,” a murder ballad in which Tim O’Brien lends a powerful mandolin. But mostly these are simple observations and stories made exquisite by Talmadge’s skills.