Acoustic guitar players often like to tailor a whimsical image in their album art. Tennessee strummer Bill Mize’s latest, Joyful Noise, has got a cat playing the guitar on its cover (Mize painted it himself—it’s called “Hillbilly Cat”). If you think for a minute, I’m sure you can recall a local release with a dancing dog, too. Apparently, after you spend enough time playing music around your pets, they start developing musical preferences to go with their personalities. Or pets and people alike just want to be playful. I recoil from whimsical album art like some people recoil from fingernails screeching on chalkboards, but I will concede that there’s nothing wrong with playfulness.
An acoustic cover of The James Gang’s “Funk 49.” That’s playful. The old soul chestnut “Everlasting Love” gussied up as an acoustic ballad. That’s playful, too, but neither song really goes begging for laughs in a way that might jolt the listener out of the sleepy mood that seeps out of Joyful Noise like the smell of tea on a rainy day. Mize is an acrobatically gifted guitarist (he effectively accompanies himself, playing arpeggios, melody and bass line at the same time—no overdubs here!), but more importantly, he’s a very restrained performer who sensibly knows not to crowd his crystalline tone with a lot of flourish. For all Mize’s gifts, the wide-open feel of Joyful Noise comes off more like Hawaiian slack-key afternoon dreaming than dogged technical bravura.
Mize will be using Missoula as base camp for some upcoming western performances with accordionist Beth Bramhall (who also plays on the new album and contributed the mildly startling wah-pedal-riffic “Tango for Gnats.” His last performance for the Missoula Folklore Society was at the Front Street Theater—the last show before it closed its doors—and this time he’ll be playing at a venue that is steadily showing signs of coming back to life. Tell your friends you’ll see them (and Bill Mize, of course) at the Crystal. Just like old times.