Ryan Spearman, an open-mic night host, guitar instructor and fine folk singer, isn't kidding around when he talks about "going green." His latest album, Get Along Home, was recorded using instruments made from repurposed or recycled items — cigar boxes, wine bottles and pizza boxes are all manipulated and employed throughout the album. Spearman, alongside his wife and collaborator, Kelly Wells (who is the executive director of the Folk School of St. Louis), founded the Green Strum Project to "explore connections between art and sustainability in St. Louis." It's a project that's easy to love even before you hear a note. As it turns out, the album of suitably hand-hewn folk tunes stands on its own, even without the ideological trappings.
The breezy, sunny strums of Spearman's tunes mix well with his slight drawl and honeyed delivery. The whistling blues of album opener "Mutton Chops" tells the tale of a two-bit scammer in a familiar story-song style that shows Spearman an apt pupil of his forebears, but nothing on Get Along Home comes off as purposefully old-timey or affected. In fact, his best songs show a topical bend to his songwriting, as on the artfully plucked "Promised Land." In the song, Spearman takes aim at American values with neither vitriol nor paranoia but with a weathered, wearying sigh. A similar vein runs through "Land of the Free," though the slow fade of "Hometown" is a better display of what becomes of busted dreams. Amid these moments of heaviness and hard questions come plenty of front-porch picking and light, jazzy strums. Baseball fans will take special joy in "Willie McGee," wherein the great Cardinals outfielder is cast as a folktale hero who strides tall alongside giants like Bruce Sutter and Ozzie Smith. St. Louis always loves the hard-hustling underdog, and Spearman fits that mold with such an ambitious and thoughtful project.