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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

CD Reviews

KEN LEHNIG: Dr. Daniels Miracle Cure and Medicine Show

by Frank KocherNovember 2018

Ken Lehnig’s last two solo albums have been eclectic projects, including 2016’s Holding a Rose. He writes and sings Americana songs that resonate, often capturing quirky characters with lyrical stories built around them. He has doubled down on this genre with his newest release, Dr. Daniels Miracle Cure and Medicine Show. The 15 originals were written 40 years ago as part of a proposed Western musical play titled Sivercreek; it was never produced but Lehnig and co-producer John Hildebrand dusted off and recorded the tunes with a backing crew that includes Ed Kornhauser, Robert Cowan, Alicia Previn, Chris Lehnig, J.T. Moring, and others.

The song cycle here is about a small Old West mining town loaded with characters, archetypes all, that include the pastor and his damaged wife, the prostitute, the gambler, the former gunman/ sheriff hero and villain out to kill him, and the flim-flam snake oil salesman Dr Daniels. The recording is bare-bones country-folk, a restrained series of character sketches that leaves the listener with the task of connecting the plot points not specified in the many songs. Dylan’s John Wesley Harding had a similar rustic and laid-back groove.

“Singerman” leads off, sort of an intro to the proceedings, Lehnig’s vocal adapting to the time and place of the story with a Harry Chapin-intoned affectation, singing about the con-man Doctor visiting town, and the singing minstrel telling the story. It’s a good start and a good song, and “Joya” follows with the story of the hero of the piece, a miner who has a gun and “a dead man’s ring.” Flawed, like the others in the story, he anticipates being shot down himself. Several of the tunes are anchored by a chorus of backing voices, carrying the musical concept a step further. “Gonna Save Me” is a catchy expression of love, expressed by the gambler Austin McCade about his new lover, young prostitute Penny Pierce (who is otherwise the subject of “Woman and the Night Time.”

The “bad man” is introduced in “Domino,” a quirky song that tells about the contract killer who is “The worst, so the story’s told/ Hot and l brutal, just mean and cold/ Live your life out on the road/ You reap just what you sow.” It paints a picture of a hunter who is himself hunted. “I’m One Skinner” is a finger-picked folk tune that catches the ear, about a mule skinner wagon driver, lonely and tired, who works hard till the liquor knocks him out each day.

Another soft ballad, “Why Can’t I Hear You Now” also works well, as the singer asks the Lord what has gone wrong in a dark moment. Lehnig takes the Gospel approach again on “Get in the Water,” as a sinful singer is skeptical about getting redeemed by a preacher’s baptism. “All the Words Unspoken” is a piano ballad that serves as a heartfelt message of devotion to a lover.

Dr Daniels Miracle Cure and Medicine Show is a themed collection of Americana music from Ken Lehnig, which is challenging and different.

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