What with their Nashville record label and conspicuous fiddle and steel guitar, the Mary Janes are generally considered to be a part of the alt-country phenomenon. But the group’s actual sound, which is slow, gently jangly, and swooningly tuneful, is about as far from country tradition as you can get and still feature fiddle and steel guitar. In fact, “Shooting Star,” which opens the album with a seven-minute stretch of dreamy vocals, plodding drums, and incredibly affecting melody, evinces no other group as much as This Mortal Coil. “Wish I Could Fly” is more clearly rooted in country-rock, or at least folk-rock. Built on a foundation of guitar arpeggio and fiddle ostinato, it’s an irresistible piece of sweet, yearning guitar pop. Singer and guitarist Janas Hoyt tends to whisper, and she shies away from liquid consonants unnecessarily (á la Natalie Merchant and Eddie Reader), but her delivery never seems less than perfect in the context of the song. This is a rare gem of a debut from a band that already deserves far wider recognition.
In 2013 rock singer and guitarist extraordinaire Mick Rogers manoeuvres his musical omnibus „Sharabang“ unerringly on to the RockNRoll-Highway. On his „Sharabang“ his current solo effort, Mick still favors some of the best musical company on his journey. This time around the front-seats of this vehicle are not occupied by his long-time band-members in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, but by the brilliant and exceptionally professional Bissonette brothers on drums and bass, as well as Matt Rollings on the black and white keys.
Ventana Son was born and raised on the central coast of California. This is where he continues to reside and write songs. Ventana Son’s debut LP is 11 original tunes featuring musicians Nico Georis, Rushad Eggleston, and Shaun Elley. The album was produced by Nico Georis and recorded to tape at Pepper Tree Studio in Carmel Valley,Ca.
Twelve-song solo record, Right Here Now , gives about as pure a statement of the people and sounds in Todd’s life that he could possibly offer. It’s a sonic guidebook for an Americana-style ramble around the deep indie music backstreets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a side tour of sonic shimmer territory that only a former staff writer/producer for Peer Music (the largest independent music publisher) could show you right.
The album is equal parts rock, roots, pop, Americana and alt country with chiming guitars, soaring melodies, heartfelt lyrics and a warm, harmony-laden sound that will give your home a new coat of paint and your lady an idea. California power pop fans will recognize old friend Rich McCulley in many songs, both as co-writer and guitarist.
If any single line on Guy Clark’s new album My Favorite Picture of You could sum up the common theme of all eleven tracks, that’s it. It comes about halfway into “Hell Bent on a Heartache”, where the storied songwriter explores his unending yearning for newness. It’s not a song about seeking love so much as it is an admittance of the inevitability of disappointment. Indeed, the coexistence of love and heartbreak – and the various ways the two feed off each other – is at the core of each song on the album. It’s this balance Clark strikes which says the most about what he means by a love song.
There are enough songs in the world about all the easy and obvious ways of love – the first storied glance, the romance and lust, the longing and all the other schmaltz. But, when you get to the raw truth of it all, the stuff that lasts doesn’t do so devoid of heartbreak, but rather in spite of it.
The title track tells the story behind the Polaroid Clark holds on the cover of the disc. It’s a shot of his wife Susanna in the 1970s, when she had just come home to find Guy and his friend Townes Van Zandt drunk again. She was angry and hurt, storming off, full of fire. “You never left but your bags were packed just in case,” he sings, describing her as “nobody’s fool … smarter than me.” It’s not an easy song to hear, but neither is lasting love an easy task. Telling the story in simple terms that are emotional and provocative – and rhyme – is another feat altogether. But, Clark is one of the best.
The disc isn’t all romantic love, though. There’s “Heroes” – a smart, emotional song about soldiers living with PTSD. He flexes his epic story-song muscles on “The Death of Sis Draper” (set to the tune of “Shady Grove”) and turns to commentary on “Good Advice”. The latter seems more a reaction to others trying to offer good advice than it is an attempt to provide some. Though, he does manage a few words of wisdom: “If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and that you can count on.”
But, it’s “I’ll Show Me” – the self-effacing tune which closes the disc – where Clark finally shrugs the downside of his running theme. With wonder and pride, he credits the love: “How’d I get this far, you ask. I’m here today it was no small task.”
Pete Donnelly, who was a member of the legendary band NRBQ, is also a founding member of The Figgs, which has a world-wide fan base, a hearty discography, and has toured and recorded several times with Graham Parker. As the ever active bass player and song writer in The Figgs, founded in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in 1987, Donnelly has spent the better part of the past 25 years touring with the band, as well as a number of other artists such as Soul Asylum, Mike Viola & The Candy Butchers and Tommy Stinson, Living in the Philadelphia area for the past decade, when not on the road, Pete Donnelly has been performing, engineering and/or producing for a variety of artists, including G. Love, Death Vessel, Carsie Blanton, John Legend, The Capitol Years and Amos Lee.
His latest record “Face the Bird” 2013, is a return to the exploratory side of “home” recording. The result is a wide ranging exposition of songs, unabashedly displaying some far reaching influences. Pete’s Music is built upon sturdy pop melodies, and played with a genuine sense of care, Donnelly’s songs are testaments to his artistry.
Travis Tritt released an album called The Storm on Category 5 Records in 2007 and, not long afterward, the label sank under the murk of scandal, leaving Tritt with no choice but to launch a prolonged legal battle. He eventually won and secured the rights to the Randy Jackson-produced The Storm, which he then retitled The Calm After… (the joke is clear) and added two new songs — covers both, the first being a duet with his daughter Tyler Reese on the Don Henley/Patty Smyth song “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” the second being the Faces’ “Stay with Me” — for good measure. These additions don’t greatly change what is essentially an excellent excursion in soul-injected modern country, one that demonstrates Tritt’s considerable range as a vocalist. As The Storm, it got unjustly buried. Hopefully, as The Calm After… this album will finally find the audience it deserves.
There’s nothing nostalgic about Ottawa’s The Cooper Brothers or their new opus, “Southbound”. Yes they were under wraps for about 20 years following the death of lead vocalist Terry King, but the Coopers made a tentative step forward in 2010 with the release of “In From The Cold” and now plan a fully-fledged return to the spotlight with an excellent new release “Southbound”. Led by Dick and Brian Cooper, the band have delivered an 11-song set which combines solid country rock the early Eagles would be proud of with a dash of humour, as featured in `Southbound’ – their ode to Snowbirds and Five Point Five, the nonchalance of the media dealing with earthquakes. Brian Cooper is a top notch singer, brother Richard is a prolific songwriter who is equally adept at penning emotional compositions like `Hammer To Fall’ and `Bridges’ as well solid autobiographical rockers like `Club Shangri-La’. Unlike rock music, Canada has not been kind nostalgically to country rock bands yet The Coopers should be taken at face value. They are all top notch musicians, excellent singers and in Dick Cooper, they have a creative songwriter. Recorded at The Tragically Hip’s Bath Studios by Blue Rodeo producer Colin Cripps, `Southbound’ is a top notch release deserved of serious consumer and media attention.
Committed Anglophiles Wiretree have been plying their trade since 2005. They originally began as solo project for Austin native Kevin Peroni but have since developed into a full band. Now “guided by the power pop light of Big Star”, their new album sets the expectation for tune-encrusted songs from a different time.
Yet as much as ‘Get Up’s outlook could be described as having a sunny disposition, several songs stand out for their melancholy. ‘Out Of My Mind’ adds a welcome shot of urgency, courtesy of its intense percussion and widescreen rock production. Two of the longest tracks (four minutes for them is lengthy), ‘Doctor’ and ‘To The Moon’, reveal a depth of songwriting that stretches beyond their usual easy on the ear material and full marks too for the introspective, atmospheric closer ‘When You Were Young’.
As much as one can criticise this kind of music for shamelessly reviving scenes which have been so well-trodden, these are undoubtedly well-crafted songs, professionally produced and performed with a real love for melody. More importanly, there’s more going on under the surface than initially appears, making ‘Get Up’ possibly their most fully-formed album yet.
01. Morning Has Broken
02. A Change Is Gonna Come
03. Let It Be
04. Oh Happy Day
05. What A Friend We Have In Jesus
06. I Know I’ve Been Changed
07. Steer Me Right
08. Jesus Love Me (Devotion Album)
09. Ave Maria (Believe Album)
10. Touch The Hem Of His Garment
11. Amazing Grace
It’s funny how so much of the ‘country music’ born in Texas differs from the rest of the U.S. maybe because it shares a border with a latin American country, Mexico, and so has absorbed part of that nations excellent, but different, culture, as a consequence of which we have ‘Tex Mex’ and the diversity of artists such as the late great Doug Sahm amongst many others. It was also the birthplace of ‘western swing’back in the 1930s, which was a blend of elements as apparently disparate as‘country and western’ and ‘jazz,’ so there is a varied musical history.
Amanda possesses a lovely rich vocal style that is full of character and believability, with a maturity that avoids the cloying sweetness of many of her peers, (not the Texas ones!) even at times having an appealing bluesiness. She creates a hugely evocative atmosphere on every song thanks to her ability to modulate her voice to each songs individual needs and what tremendous songs they are, with some gorgeous melodies that stay in the memory and lyrics that are beautiful poetic reflections on life as if summing up the events that have taken the subjects to their current status and what further needs to be done in the future. The songs range from slow moody ballads to excellent mid tempo country rockers, with Amanda on lead vocals, and excellent support from George Bradfute on guitars, Ron de la Vega, bass, Mickey Grimm, drums and percussion and Tim Lorsch playing violin, baritone violin, cello and mandolin. These are supplemented by steel guitar, accordion and organ, with all of the named instrumentation being used carefully to bring a little variataion to each song.
Twelve of the fourteen songs were written by Amanda with the two covers being an excellent version of the Jagger/Richards penned No Expectations and the atmospheric, traditional blues Wish I’s In Heavan Settin’ Down (including the unnecessary but not detracting crackles and pops!). There is a beautiful steel guitar on Barking Dogs, a lyrically expressive song that depicts someone with nothing left to stay for, running away to Mexico from a lost love, with the fiddle and steel giving a strong evocation of the Tex Mex setting in which the story is set. The Story Of My Heart is another strongly poetic tale with gorgeous steel guitar supplemented by the accordion to enhance the beauty of the lyrics, followed by the title song, the slow moodily reflective love story Royal Street, with acoustic guitar and violin supported by the dramatic, mournful cello playing around the melody. Better On My Own contains an atmospheric dobro on a broken love story that is poetic and highly descriptive of the characters emotions with a nice twanging guitar solo and Amanda’s aching vocals dredging every drop of feeling out of a very good song. Despite being a sad song Unbind has a more upbeat musicality on a lovely twangy mid tempo country song with nice fiddle and lovely accordion on another sad story tale of a girl leaving a small town behind following the loss of her love. Many of these excellent songs are lyrically downbeat but such is the stylistic variation and the just as varied music and vocals that the album never descends into self pity or gloom.
It is an album that, more than most, repays repeated listening sessions with it’s poeticism, sense of drama and varied tempos and moods. Not so much challenging as rewardingly mature.
New folk revival bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers reimagine old-time music as uniformly fervent and life-affirming and white, but there’s some fucked-up shit in the American songbook: odes to deviant sex that would make E.L. James blush, descriptions of crimes so brutal they make Grand Theft Auto look like Super Mario Brothers and existential crises so bleak they give new meaning to the term “Great Depression.” To their credit, the DC-via-Kentucky folk act Vandaveer understand how dark this old, weird America can be; their new album, Oh Willie Please…, is a collection of “traditional murder ballads and songs of self ruin” that have more in common with that new Evil Dead remake than with “I Will Wait.
”Oh Willie Please… is almost too pretty, with Duane Lundy’s crisp production making room for dulcimer, fiddle, cello and the gorgeously textured vocals of Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin. Yet, the album succeeds because the prettiness of the music only heightens the ugliness of the actions. There’s a matter-of-factness that makes the slicings, stabbings, stranglings, suffocatings, drownings, hangings and shootings all the more grim. Heidinger doesn’t shy away from the horror of “The Banks of the Ohio” or “Down in the Willow Garden” nor does he wallow in their gruesomeness. Singing about stabbing his lover and drowning her in the river—on both songs even—he trusts the material to deliver its shock.
By the time Eileen Rose’s debut album, Shine Like It Does, came out in 2001, the female singer/songwriter boom of the ’90s was unofficially over. Major labels were no longer going out of their way to find the next Alanis Morissette, the next Fiona Apple, or the next Sarah McLachlan. But talented female singer/songwriters had not disappeared — they were still doing their thing even though they weren’t being hyped to death by major labels. And one of the more promising ones was Eileen Rose, whose second album, Long Shot Novena, is an enjoyably bluesy collection of roots rock and folk-rock. One hears a variety of influences on this release; Rose’s singing and writing have been influenced by everyone from Stevie Nicks and Marianne Faithfull to Bob Dylan. But Rose never sounds like she is emulating any of her influences; ultimately, the Boston native (now living in England) sounds like herself on “White Dove’s Awake,” “See How I Need You,” and other melodic yet gritty originals. Rose (who wrote all of the songs herself and plays guitar on all of them) is obviously well aware of the power of the blues; Long Shot Novena isn’t a blues album, but the singer/songwriter brings a lot of blues feeling to her roots rock and folk-rock. One of the CD’s best tracks is the poignant “For Marlene,” which she wrote for the mother of a young Boston woman who was murdered in 1997. Five years after Rose wrote “For Marlene,” the killer had yet to be caught — and Rose’s song explains that time had not healed the mother’s wounds. Meanwhile, Rose brings a strong country influence to “Big Dog,” but for the most part, she isn’t a country singer. Roots rock and folk-rock are the styles that usually prevail on this memorable sophomore outing.
01. Devon Allman’s Honeytribe – Mercy Mercy
02. Leslie West – Third Degree
03. Europe – Bag of Bones
04. Walter Trout – Lonely
05. Don Airey – People in Your Head
06. Gov’t Mule – Railroad Boy
07. Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa – I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
08. Healing Sixes – Fine Time
09. Warren Haynes – Hattiesburg Hustle
10. Steve Lukather – Transition
11. JJ Grey & Mofro – 99 Shades of Crazy
12. Robert Cray – Won’t Be Coming Home
13. Danny Bryant – Prisoner of the Blues
Bonnie Whitmore‘s second disc is crammed full of soulful, insistent Americana, with sharp-edged songs sometimes reminiscent of Tom Petty, delivered in a sure voice that’s both powerful and plaintive and throws in a touch of twang just when it feels most called for, as in the rootsy “Cryin’ Out for Me” and the elemental “The Gavel,” a pounding soured-love song that’s one of my favorites. In “Heartbreaker” (speaking of Tom Petty), she displays an ability to elevate lyrics that border on cliché (“You ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker/You ain’t nothin’ but a reason to cry”) with a compelling melody.
Yet while the songs and arrangements follow familiar patterns, tired cliché isn’t what Whitmore is about; it’s hooks. The more energetic songs, like “High in the Sky” and “There I Go Again,” shine with rock-and-roll joy that bring to mind Mary-Chapin Carpenter, while the more contemplative numbers, like “Colored Kisses” and “Heartbreaker,” get their strength from plainspoken, hummable melodies and precision arrangements often dressed up in organs and strings and mandolins. Harmony vocals are another strength on display in many of these songs, sweetness and raw emotion hanging together in the air in thrilling tension as she holds out those long notes.
Picketts singer Christy McWilson has one of those voices that, when you hear it, it matters little what she’s singing; the sound of her voice alone makes the experience worthwhile–think a throaty Kelly Willis. Producer Dave Alvin may describe her as a “roots-rock Sylvia Plath,” but between the warmth of her warble and the perkiness of the production, all thoughts of suicide are held at bay. True, she sings of sober subjects such as growing older (“Apple Doll”) and the business end of the music biz (“Fly Away”), but the energy of the performances and the out-and-out gorgeousness of her instrument make The Lucky One a cathartic rather than a depressing experience. Unfortunately, Alvin’s L.A. alternative sound tends to obscure rather than highlight McWilson (say what you will about Nashville productions, they do know how to record great voices). Enjoyable as the Spectorish “Someday” is, one wishes her powerful vocal were set off rather than just another element in the wall of sound; elsewhere, her lowest notes are often nearly lost. Still, Alvin is to be lauded for rescuing a real talent from potential obscurity, and those who experiences McWilson’s womanly wail can consider themselves among the lucky ones. –Michael Ross
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