Painting a portrait in song of the City of Trees is a daunting task. In Our Town, the new Boise 150 compilation sets out to do exactly that. For the most part, it succeeds admirably.
The music is all by local musicians, including Curtis Stigers, Ned Evett and Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats. There's the jazzy swing, sultry vocals and ragged-glory guitar of a.k.a. Belle's "Flyin' Song" and the smooth djembe and yearning tenor harmonies of Steve Fulton and Shon Sanders' "Almost Home." Tracy Morrison's Cajun-flavored travelogue "Boise Girl," Hillfolk Noir's rowdy, sepia-toned "Social Dance," and James Coberly Smith's lovingly detailed, unabashedly corny "Back to Boise" are also excellent. Equally so are Thomas Paul's ominous, string-heavy "Martha Street" and Grandma Kelsey's soothing, radiant "Autumn," but three tunes on In Our Town are standouts.
One is "Whisper in the Wind" by John Pisano, aka Johnny Shoes, who owned Old Boise Guitar Company for more than 20 years. Sung in a well-worn croon, the song meditates gratefully but unromantically on the miners, dancehall girls and others who "left behind the footprints that we walk in."
If "Whisper" conjures up Boise's past, Finn Riggins' "Wake (Keep This Town Alive)" conveys hope for its future. Between the galloping beat, the clarion guitar and the raucous "Oh-oh-oh" vocal hook, the song sounds at once like a wicked party and a rallying cry. "Keep this town alive / keep us all alive," chants keyboardist Eric Gilbert during the outro, appropriate words from Treefort Music Fest's artistic director.
The third must-listen tune is Lee Penn Sky's "The Trees," which celebrates the people who have chosen to set down roots and call this town home. Penn Sky's lyrics are at once plainspoken and courtly, and his gritty baritone vocals sound as strong as the trees of which he sings. The jangling guitar, the Dylanesque harmonica and the sounds of rushing water and chirping birds help give the song an earthy, expansive feel.
The track selection of In Our Town doesn't venture beyond what could be heard at Pengilly's or Tom Grainey's, and someone unfamiliar with Boise might think there are no punk, pop, metal, electronica or hip-hop acts adding variety to the local music scene. Still, In Our Town is thoughtful and enjoyable.