Dreams of the San Joaquin tells the stories of the immigrants from all over the world who came to the San Joaquin Valley, an area of around 250 miles stretching from Sierra Nevada to the California Coastal Range, to work the crops, and, in the song “Broken Arrow,” the sad story of the native people there as well.
The musicians may not be familiar names. Randy Sharp is a singer/songwriter whose songs have been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Marty Robbins, and Reba McEntire, among others. Jack Wesley Routh wrote songs for Johnny Cash, became his guitar player, married two of Cash’s daughters (not at the same time) and opened for The Outlaws (Waylon, Willie and the boys). Routh’s songs have also been recorded by Waylon Jennings and Emmylou Harris.
Sharon Bays is the wife of Randy Sharp and has played with him in bands for many years. Maia Sharp is their daughter and an up-and-coming country artist in her own right. She writes songs, too, which have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Cher, and Trisha Yearwood among others.
The style here harkens back to the days when it was country and western music rather than just “country.” It incorporates the smooth sound of Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, a bit of Western swing, and the wonderful storytelling of artists like Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson.
All 11 of these songs were either written or co-written by Routh or Randy Sharp. Routh sings lead on five, Randy sings lead on four, Maia sings lead on one, and Bays does one.
Every song is strong, but there are several which standouts even among this strong set. “Beyond the Great Divide,” written by Routh and J.C. Crowley and featuring Routh on vocals, with guest Marty Stuart providing mandolin, is unbelievably poignant and beautiful.
Routh’s “Broken Arrow,” with its amazing “thunder” provided by drummer Burleigh Drummond, its heartbreaking lyrics and vocal by Routh, and Stuart once again on mandolin, is just stunning and should touch even the hardest heart.
“Dreams of the San Joaquin,” written by Randy Sharp and Jack Routh, wraps everything up and captures perfectly what this CD is all about: the hopes and dreams, hard times, doubts, and fears of the immigrant. When guest artist Louie Ortega repeats each line of Randy Sharp’s vocal in Spanish in the chorus, it may move the listener to tears, as it did this reviewer.
Dreams of the San Joaquin is an amazing recording, one of the most extraordinary works of the year and certainly one of the most touching. It’s an important work and should be in the collection of every lover of western music and Americana in general.