Monday, April 14, 2014

Album Review: Goin' In Hot by Moot Davis

Moot Davis' new album is Goin' In Hot - literally. His Nashville studio burned to the ground just days after the final mixing was done. Luckily, engineer Joe McMahan was able to salvage the music from his melted and water logged computer. Lucky for us he did because this album smokes - literally!

The leadoff title song grabs you by the ear from the first notes. With a little more rock and roll influence than his first three albums, this song sounds a lot more like The Waco Brothers than Buck Owens - complete with a smokin' guitar solo in the middle. Moot keeps up the pace on "Food Stamps," with some nice steel guitar work to punctuate this rollicking, poor man blues. Moot gets further in touch with his rockin' side on "Midnight Train," "Ragman's Roll," and the Little Feat inspired, "Made For Blood."

But this album isn't all rock riffs and guitar solos. Nearly half the songs are more traditional Country Blues. Which is only fitting, because Moot recorded this collection in the aftermath of a broken long term relationship. In "Used to Call it Love," he sings, "Said she wanted a semiprecious stone set in a band of pure gold... But I soon found out that all she desired I could never come to acquire." Moot grapples with his loss in "Hurtin For Real," and "Wanna Go Back." And surprisingly, he even manages to combine his heartache with his rock and roll energy in "Love Hangover."

They say whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Moot Davis proves that by facing his two trials by fire and coming out stronger than ever. The result is an album that comes in hot and sizzles all the way through!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Album Review: Gone Places by Scott Hrabko

I hate to admit it but I'm a little late to the party with this album. Released in December of 2013, I'm just now catching up with it. But that's probably as it should be. In many ways Scott Hrabko is late for his own party as well. He's been making music and touring the great Midwest for over twenty years, but this is his first album. The time touring and honing his craft has paid off though, because Gone Places is a fantastic Americana "debut."

With a well seasoned baritone voice, these songs pour out of Scott like a vintage, robust, red wine. Starting with the laid back, barrel house sound of "Black Penny," Scott Hrabko tells stories of his travels across America and some of the "gone places" that have faded from the landscape but not from memory. Singing, "pursued by the blues and skeleton crews through the lowlands of my soul," Scott paints a lyrical picture of chasing dreams that never seem to come true.

On "Blue Period," Scott picks up the pace a bit with a Dwight Yokam inspired investigation into his wife's talking in her sleep. He sings, "When you talk in your sleep and keep me awake, the least you can do is enunciate. Your train of thought just passed my stop. Somewhere down the line, honey, you must get off."

"Baby You Know Me" is a straight Country Blues with the great lyric: "I used to be a king bee, a collector of nectar, everywhere I roamed... But somebody's wife is lonesome tonight. I'll make a beeline home." Blake Shelton needs to take notes from this guy.

The instrumental, "How's Your Toe," follows with great jazz inspired guitar work. Then Scott goes back to working his lyrical magic with another barrel house blues number, "Lost As  You." He sings, "I'm scrapping for a dollar and a quarter out on Dead Dog Boulevard. Two left shoes and eleven bar blues on that old gold tooth guitar. It's old man sweat and a cigarette in tears in Tennessee. Singing 'goddamn, I love women, especially when they don't love me."

Scott turns his wit on the naysayers around us in the chooglin' "The Ugly Ever After:" "They've been talkin' 'bout the end of the world since the beginning of time. But it's only real in the ugly ever after in you mind."

Scott's wit and insight shine through in every song on this collection. He brings a perspective that can only come from a lifetime of (sometimes painful) observation. His lyrical sketches are effortlessly 'matter-of-fact,' yet so poetic in their phrasing. Just to give one more example from "The Woman Upstairs:" "She was chaste as a racetrack rabbit. I was holy as a hobo's shoe. We were broke as the Ten Commandments. There was nothing much else to do." Can you imagine a more poetic way to say "we were poor?"

But luckily Scott's talent goes beyond his words. The music on the album is every bit as expressive as the lyrics. Ranging from Jazz to Blues to Rockabilly to Texas Swing, Gone Places virtually defines the subgenre of Americana that has come to be known as "Porch Music." You put this album on, grab a pitcher of your favorite beverage and sit back on you porch and let the world go by - and maybe even daydream about the gone places in your own memories.







Friday, March 7, 2014

Album Review: Remember This by Nudie

Remember This is the new album by Canada's Nudie. The name is an homage to Nashville's legendary outfitter Nudie Cohn (I will warn you in advance, any Google search for this album may result in embarrassment, consternation or titillation - depending on your world view. Please proceed with caution!) The music is also an homage to the Country musical greats who came before.

With a relaxed vocal style somewhere between Corb Lund and Marty Stuart, Nudie brings the twelve songs on this album to life with a "matter of fact" storytelling cadence. And his sharp wit shines fresh light on many familiar topics. In the lead track, "If a Heart Could Tell," for instance, Nudie ponders what relationships would be like if hearts could tell the truth from a lie and avert heartbreaks before they happened. But he realizes that "if we merely played it safe, we could tell it what to do. Then a heart would be a stone. There'd be no more me and you. Guess it's lucky for me that a heart can't tell." The sparse musical arrangement of this song rides on just an undulating guitar riff and a steady drum back beat. The song has a cool groove that plays like a syncopated heartbeat which permeates the rest of the album.

The next song, "Sex Kisses," opens up with some great jangling guitar work. (Once again I must caution you that talking about Nudie Sex Kisses could get you locked up in several states - but it might just be worth it!) Again, Nudie finds a creative way to say that his woman is upset that the relationship is more physical than emotional, but of course, sex kisses is a much cooler way to tell the story.

The title song, "Remember This," is a classic troubadour style ballad that really brings out his Marty Stuart influences. "My Sweet Ache" follows with a surprising "Gloria" (the Van Morrison/Them version) inspired riff that adds a nice musical texture, complete with some nice organ playing. On its heels, Nudie goes full Country roadhouse with "You Try To Be Right." Again, Nudie takes the common theme of cheating and turns it on its head, saying in essence, "You try to be right with your actions and I'll try to be wrong with my accusations."

Nudie's impeccable sense of rhythm and unique style of storytelling continue throughout the rest of the album. From the Bakersfield inspired "Walking the Streets" to the blistering "The Pain In You" and beyond, Nudie constantly delights and surprises the ear and the mind. "Remember This" is truly a memorable album.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Album Review: Any Day Now by The Far West

The Far West has just released the eagerly awaited follow up to their critically acclaimed, self titled debut. The new album, Any Day Now, is well worth the wait and should easily be an early contender for Americana album of the year. Led by Lee Briante's haunting, haggard, and heartfelt vocals, The Far West lays down a baker's dozen of modern Americana classics. Continuing the trend from their first album, the band plays songs about heartaches and hard times: straight, with no chaser. With songs like, "Walk Light On This Poor Heart," "These Arms Will Be Empty," and "She's Gonna Leave Him Too," you know you're not going to find many happy endings here. Even songs like, "Bright Side" and "Oh, Love" are deceptively titled as Lee sings, "I just can't see the bright side anymore," and "Oh love, I'm giving up on you."
But taking a cue from Johnny Cash, The Far West add a little rhythm to their blues on this album. With nearly half the songs played in mid to uptempo, the songs don't bog down in despair. Instead, they give the impression of someone who has overcome the pains of their past, and can pause to reflect on them even as they're moving forward. In "Words From A Letter," for instance, they sing "I'm sorry I'm asking your forgiveness. You were right and I was wrong all along." But despite the sadness implied by the lyrics, the song is played Western Swing style. And in the end we find that the apology and the plea for forgiveness are all just "words from a letter I'll never send." Again, in "Oh, Love!" they sing "love is like a deal that just went bad." even as they play barrel house piano and sing backup vocal harmonies to soften the sting of love's poison arrows. The song "Leonard" tells the story of a hard luck hustler following his dreams. With a Squirrel Nut Zipper "jazz-grass" sound, they make lyrics like "Have you ever felt like you just can't win? Someone calls your bluff when your chips are all in," sound downright cheery.
And it's that musical diversity that makes this band and this album stand out. Americana is largely a lyric dominated musical form. It is the poetry more than the passion. But too many current Americana artists end up sounding the same, song after song. They get so caught up finding the perfect rhyme for "malaise" that they forget to vary their chords or tempos. But not The Far West. From the chooglin' freight train rhythm of the opening track, "On The Road" to the "Dylan meets R.E.M" sound of "Wichita," The Far West keep surprising the ear with new rhythms and musical arrangements. Each song is new, fresh and memorable (Take a listen to the otherworldly percussion arrangement on "Forged In Iron" if you need more proof.) And of course, the rock steady rhythm section and expert guitar work are capped off by Lee Briante's distinctive vocals. (For my money, the best Americana vocalist this side of John Howie of Two Dollar Pistols.) Lee's voice is especially showcased in the sparse lament, "Post and Beam."
With masterful songwriting, musicianship, and vocals, Any Day Now is an album I'll be listening to for many days now.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best of 2013

BEST OF 2013
With 2013 winding down, it's time to take a look back on some of our favorite albums of the past year. For your consideration, here are our picks for Best Albums of 2013:
Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash: New Old Story
     Makes you feel like you're in the coolest roadhouse on Route 66
The Carper Family: Old Fashion Gal
     Authentic old school Country without feeling dated
Casey Donahew Band: Standoff
     Good ole Texas alt-Country attitude
Connor Christian & Southern Gothic: New Hometown
     Toby Keith meets Sister Hazel; catchy, hook-laden modern Country
     Infectious and uptempo, drives the blues away like a spring breeze
Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark: Blind, Cirppled and Crazy
     Brilliant, bluesy and better with age
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon
    Two gifted songwriters give us a gift with this collaboration
Florida Georgia Line: Here's To The Good Times
    Polished, Nashville-approved, modern Country to jump start any party
Holly Renee Allen: Big Love
    Beautiful, poetic and poignant songs delivered with a big voice
Jeremy Calley: Nearly Nowhere
    Despite his Texas roots, he could be Nashville's next star
J.R. Shore: State Theatre
     Everything that's right with Americana; brilliant storytelling, singing, and arrangements
Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park
    An amazing songbird voice delivering witty stories; another rising star
Ryan Racine and Gas for Less: Low Life (Vol 1&2)
    Bakersfield Country Blues that makes even the bad times feel good
So there's our 13 for '13. Do yourself a favor and give a listen or two to these great artists and ring out 2013 with a bang!
Happy New Year everyone, we'll see you in 2014 after a much needed winter's nap.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Album Review: New Old Story by Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash

New Old Story by Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash is a story you don't want to miss. As the title implies it's a beautiful melding of old school Country (with lots of Bakersfield tendencies) and modern Americana arrangements. The brainchild of lead singer and songwriter Mark Stuart, The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash may be a bit of a misnomer as Mark's voice sounds more like Merle Haggard than the man in black, and also because these guys are definitely legitimate.

The set kicks off with the rollicking road song, "Highway Bound." With melodic guitar and touches of steel, they sing, "It's a beautiful sound where the road meets the rubber, the wheels turn round. Don't try to stop me, I can't slow down. I'm a wild one baby, I'm highway bound." Like a cross between early Steve Earle and Dwight Yokam the song is an open invitation to jump onboard for a roadtrip through some beautiful Americana musical landscape.

The other uptempo numbers on this album: "No Honky Tonks," "Leave a Light On," "Into the Blue," and the title song, "New Old Story," make you feel like you just walked into the coolest roadside honky tonk on Route 66. "No Honky Tonks" especially captures the spirit of a Texas ice house on a Saturday night so well you can almost picture ol' Hag sitting in with the band.

And when Mark and the Bastard Sons turn their talents to ballads the effect is just as authentic. Mark's leathery voice is perfectly suited for crying the blues to the strains of some well placed fiddle and slide guitar. "Well Worn Heart," is a great example. Mark sings, "I've got a well worn heart and a restless soul. I gave my life to the open road. But there's still a few good miles on this well worn heart." And if his heart is well worn, his voice is equally well honed to moan the blues.

Other highlights are the anthemic, "Poor Man's Son," and the flamenco flavored "El Troubador." The mood and tone of these two songs help add an extra layer of texture to an already masterful collection of tunes. With so many versions of the same old story on the radio these days, it's refreshing to come across a New Old Story. Thanks to The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, this is one story I'll be listening to over and over again.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Album Review: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt by The Deadfields

It's an early Christmas present for music fans! The Deadfields' second album, Often Wrong, Never in Doubt is now available for your enjoyment. And these guys definitely put the JOY in enjoyment. For such a somber sounding band name, The Deadfields play an infectious, joyful brand of Americana. Or as they call it, "Foot Stompin' Hand Clappin' Knee Slappin' Ruckus Rowsin' Americana Rock!"

Often Wrong But Never In Doubt picks up where their 2012 release Dance In The Sun left off. Back are the beautiful "Seven Bridges Road" - type harmonies, the tight musical arrangements, and the catchy, "can't stop singing along even if you try" hooks. But it doesn't take long to notice a difference in the lyrical tone on this album. No longer content to "Be Your Fool," The Deadfields begin this album with "Cuttin' Ties," where they sing, "You're never satisfied, you don't care how hard I try. So you can find yourself another fool whose pockets you can dip into. Girl with you, I'm cuttin' ties."

They continue their more assertive attitude on "Often Wrong, Never  In Doubt," singing "I don't need no darn directions, I'm the man behind the wheel." And in "This Night (Never Ends)" they tell their lover to leave them alone so they can party all night. But even as they demand independence, they do it with a smile, and the uptempo rhythms play counterpoint to the defiance of the lyrics.

Finally, in "Let It Rain" the music catches up with the lyrics. With a bluesier, grittier sound, they sing "I'm turning this corner with you. I'm turning this corner. Don't be there when I do." Although not quite ominous, the music definitely underscores the seriousness of the lyrics.

But the Deadfields haven't given up on love entirely. In "The Spark" they give up their wild ways to settle down, singing "the spark of my heart is all yours." In the touching ballad, "Good Enough" they try to reconcile their need for love and independence ("I'll never be anyone else but me... I pray it's good enough for you." And finally, in "Keep Me Clean" they celebrate love's power to redeem and transform, singing "For 30 years he had no reason to keep the poison from his veins... but she painted blue from the sky and wiped the mud from his eyes. How the broken man cries: 'hold me up, I'm sinkin', I'm so damn weak. Without you - just a dirty fool is all I'll ever be. But you keep me clean.'"

There are a couple good rockers on the album as well - the rollicking road song "The Road Beckons,"  the anti-small talk "If It Don't Matter," and the do-your-own-thing anthem, "The Joneses."  And if you've ever wondered what Nirvana would sound like as a bluegrass band, you're in luck because their cover of "No Apologies" answers that question (and the combination works surprisingly well!)

The Deadfields bring enthusiasm and artistry to every track on the album. Not as shallow as Nashville nor as cynical as Austin, The Deadfields don't make music to make a buck or to tell somebody off; they make music for the best reason of all - they love it, and it shows! And if even if they're "Often Wrong," you can bet it wasn't when they were in the studio!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone (remember to dispose of your leftovers properly!)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Album Review: Dig This by Southern Culture On The Skids

Southern Culture on the Skids defies easy classification. More rural than Country, more raucous than Rock, Southern Culture on the Skids (SCoTS for all you texters and tweeters) are quite simply one of a kind. Imagine Roger Miller singing lead for the B52s at a Surf Rock Festival and you might come close to describing the band. But why describe them, when you can just pick up a copy of Dig This and check out the real thing?

The album starts off with the band's trademark love of food and double entendres on full display in "Too Much Pork" ("I've got too much pork for just one fork, too much ham for just one jam...) Lead singer/guitarist, Rick Miller, lays down some great psycho-billy riffs, while rhythm section Mary Huff (bass) and Dave Hartman (drums) keep the song chooglin' along. Like most SCoTS songs, this one has lyrics that will put a smile on your face and music that will put a tap in your toe.

The next two numbers, "The Little Things" and "Ditch Diggin'" show off the band's "swampy" bluesy sound. "The Little Things" tells the sad tale of a jilted lover who drove away his love, not with boozing and running around, but with his fondness for raw onions and smoked oysters. "Ditch Diggin'" is an open invitation to get out your tool and work up a sweat (I warned you they like double entrendres!) Both songs simmer and cook with a deep Louisiana bayou flavor.

"My House Has Wheels" and "Chicken S**t Farmer" celebrate the side of Southern Culture that most folks in Nashville work so hard to avoid. Singing loud and proud, they boast, "My house has wheels, it rolls with me, from the lakes down to the sea.. It's got a fridge, it's got a stove. It cooks my eggs, keeps my beer cold (wherever I go my beer is cold.") Both songs as well as the "side two" cuts, "Put Your Teeth Up On The Windowsill" and "The Fly That Rode From Buffalo" showcase the band's ability to find the humor in simple living without mocking or condescending.

True to their name, Southern Culture On The Skids celebrates the side of the American South that doesn't make it to the pages of Southern Living magazine. And that's part of their charm. After all, who would you rather party with, Martha Stuart or a guy that makes his own moonshine and roasts a pig in his back yard? So if you're looking for some authentic deep fried, southern flavor, you'll definitely "Dig This!"

(For the record, Dig This is actually a 20th anniversary remake of their classic Ditch Diggin' (1993) album. Not just remastered, but re-recorded from scratch and updated to reflect the band's musical growth over years of touring and recording.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Album Review: Nearly Nowhere by Jeremy Calley

Jeremy Calley is a preacher's son from "nearly nowhere" in Midland Texas. Like many preacher's kids, he rebelled against his father's rules. Unlike most of them, Jeremy tells his tales of excess and lessons learned through song. Nearly Nowhere is Jeremy's first release. Independent, in every sense of the word, Jeremy blazes his own trail on this self published title. Although not yet with a label, Jeremy shows a lot of polish and modern Country sensibilities. His voice is a breathier version of Luke Bryan or Keith Urban with just a touch of Casey Donahew attitude to prove he's from Texas.

The music sounds like it came straight from Music Row (with maybe a side trip to Austin.) With lots of catchy hooks and guitar riffs Jeremy seems to burst on the scene tailor made for CMT. His lead off song, "Barditch," is a perfect summary of his style. It's a little rowdy with a great sing-a-long chorus (Now I'm standing in a barditch, sun beatin' down. Two lane road to a one horse town. Sit around thinkin' 'bout all the fun I never had. Lookin' back, Luckenbach wasn't that bad."
"Come to Find Out" keeps the party going with another uptempo Country rocker with another memorable chorus. Like "Barditch," this song reveals another personal lesson learned the hard way: "come to find out maybe she was crazy, come to find out, should have seen it all along." "Thinkin' Bout You," "Whiskey or Beer," and "Kick Rocks" keep the pedal to the metal and keep the good times rolling along.

Jeremy takes a more introspective turn on the album's "second side." Beginning with "Songs About Love," Jeremy slows the pace a bit and digs a little deeper lyrically. Sounding like fellow alt-Country Texans Pat Green and Casey Donahew, he sings, "he misses his family and most of his friends, he let the whiskey cost him both in the end. He speaks of a river and a dying man's words. He stood up delivered and survived every verse of these songs about love and songs about pain." "She Ain't Lonely" and "Throwin' Smoke" continue the Southern Rock Ballad style songs about love and loss. Jeremy ends with his most personal, confessional song, "Break Me Down." After running on the wild side and learning love's hard lessons, he turns his attention inward and ponders, " have all the lines I hide behind all been self imposed?" Maybe sometimes it takes some hard living to realize some hard truths. But Jeremy seems to have found some answers both personally and musically. And with music this good, it won't be long before this boy from nearly nowhere ends up somewhere big!