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!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Album Review: Memories And Moments by Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott

On their new CD, Memories And Monents, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott are taking Country music where it’s always been before. With two voices, two stringed instruments, and nothing else, these two songmasters distill the essence of Country music. Visualize a corner store in a small Appalachian town on a Friday night in a time before TV. Picture a crowd of townspeople gathered around two bearded troubadours on the porch of the store as they begin to play. Now imagine the songs of love and loss, hopes and dreams, quilts and plows, coal mines and churches being played back to the people whose lives inspired them. That is what Memories And Moments sounds like.

Although O’Brien and Scott alternated songwriting duties, the songs and voices flow together as if from a common experience. With heavy bluegrass influences, the lyrics and music take you back to a simpler, but perhaps more profound time. On the lead track, “Time To Talk To Joseph”, they sing, “There’s too many trails to follow, and it seems the only way is to dive into the darkness that leaves me in the day. But don’t you worry ‘bout me darlin’ I’m coming back again. My spirit will be stronger from a power deep within.” Clearly they’re seeking a level of feeling and understanding that runs deeper than today’s reality TV culture. Like their music, their lyrics distill simple, yet profound truths. In “It All Comes Down To Love,” they note that “the thing about a broken heart - the remedy’s the same as the breakin’.  Tell us all what we already know: It all comes down to love.” Simple but true.

And so the album plays on, each song conjuring up another image from our collective past. Like a pair of Bob Dylans in coveralls, they evoke a mood that transcends the notes and words on the page. As they sing in “Fiddler Jones,” “The earth gives us music. It’s there in your heart. If you’re lucky you feel it coming in from the start. You hear it, it hears you. You trust and obey. Wherever it leads you, you won’t go astray.” And in this quest to revisit the roots of Country music, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott definitely do not go astray.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Album Review: Possumdiva by Heather Luttrell

There are many divas in the world of pop music, maybe even too many. But there is only one Possumdiva, and that’s Heather Luttrell. While the divas smile for the camera and wait for someone else to write their next hit song, Heather Luttrell is busy writing her own lyrics, arranging the music, playing guitar and bringing it all to life with a killer southern fried voice (and did I mention she also designs the album covers!) All of Heather’s talents are on full display on her latest album, Possumdiva. Backed by her sparse, but talented Possum Den band, Heather creates a sonic American Southern Gothic. Dancing a little on the dark side, Heather is not afraid to do things her way; but unlike other “outlaw” acts, she’s not afraid to admit that she might be wrong in doing it. Maybe that’s why she bills her music as “Outlaw Americana for the Thinking Drunk.”

She brings her drinking and thinking to the forefront on the album’s first song, “Road Home to Hell.”  Like the old Drivin’ N Cryin’ song, “I’m Going Straight to Hell,” Heather gives up on trying to please her mama and decides to live life on her terms no matter what the outcome. She sings, “you can lead this horse to water, it don’t mean it’s still not wild,” That “don’t give a damn” attitude plays throughout the entire album, but her voice and lyrics are so compelling you just can’t stop listening, even if it might be you that she’s telling off. She swaggers unrepentantly through songs like “Perfect Day,” (“Then the sidewalk punched my face when I got back to my place. And somehow my drinking still ainʼt done.”) “More Fun To Sin,” and “He’ll Do Till He Quits Doin.”

Her voice brims with confidence showing influences from Bonnie Raitt, Patty Griffin, Marcia Ball and even a touch of Aretha Franklin, whom she does justice to with her cover of Dr. Feelgood. There are also a few moments of tenderness here. “Broken Covnersation” and “What is Wanting” are both touching love songs. But with Heather being Heather, these love songs do not have happy endings. Perhaps the most intense moment of the album is the song “Redemption.” Like a gospel song for the damned, “Redemption” tells a burning bed type story of a woman pushed too far; and now “Hell’s coming home in a gingham dress.” Unwilling to play dead, this Possum Diva stands and fights by her own rules. I could go on all day about this album, but as Heather rightly sings on the album’s last song, “Well Done Is Better Than Well Said,” so go listen for yourself and you’ll see how well done this album really is!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Album Review: Old Fashion Gal by The Carper Family

Believe it or not, there was a time when Country artists didn't feel the need to open their live shows with a Guns 'n Roses cover. They didn't feel the need to try to be a rock star or a movie star or a reality TV star. They were comfortable to just be themselves and to let their music do the talking. The Carper Family is a nice reminder that there are still a few Country artists who care more about the music than the image.

Their first album, 2011's Back When received tons of critical praise and I'm happy to say they pick up right where they left off with this year's Old Fashion Gal. With beautiful three part harmonies and an abundance of fiddle and mandolin, The Carper Family continues to deliver vibrant Country music that sounds authentic, but not dated. "Box Car Blues" is a fun footstomper that rates with the best of the Dixie Chicks in their prime. "Bad Attitude" is a sassy Texas swing that packs as much attitude as any of today's "outlaws." With tongue in cheek, they sing, "When I pack a bag, I've gotta pack two: one for me and one for my bad attitude."

Of course there's also great stories of love, loss and lament like "Precious Jewel," "Foolish Ramblin' Man," "Dollar Bill," and "I've Tried;" all of which combine Emmylou Harris - depth lyrics with Pistol Annies harmonies. In "Dollar Bill" for example they lament, "I'm outside on the road so far from home wishin I could be there again. But your love disappeared, strangled by fear and a broken heart you couldn't mend. The Carpers even add a few slow burning jazz songs in "Gotta Have My Baby Back," and "Ooh Baby."

But for me the theme of the album (and perhaps the era) crystallizes in the song, "City Folks." Singing, "Honeysuckle smells just like sweet perfume, hound dogs lying over by the door, watermelon rind mama puts up in a jar - and city folks call us poor." Taking joy in life's simple pleasures, The Carper Family reminds us that we don't need big city advertisers or executives to tell us what's important. Family, good friends and good music are about all any of us really need to be truly happy. And these old fashion gals deliver all three!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Album Review: Dos Divas by Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis

Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan (aka Grits & Glamour) have teamed up for a Thelma & Louise style musical road trip entitled Dos Divas. Although the album begins with the reflective "I Am Woman," which is a litany of the different personas a woman takes on as she faces life's challenges (and a song I felt might be better served at the end of the album as a sort of coda to the adventures described in the other 13 songs;) it soon cranks into high gear with the raucous drinking song, "I Know What You Did Last Night." Trading vocals as they trade accusations, Pam & Lorrie sing "I know what you did, I was there when you did it. No matter what you do you're never gonna live it down." In the end, they realize they can't really accuse each other without incriminating themselves. From there the Divas take their party South of the Border for a little Latina spice on the title track, "one was as hot as a jalapeno, one was as sweet as sweet sopapilla." Then it's a little Texas two step up the road to "I'm Tired," a song that recalls Country's Lone Star roots (complete with fiddle and steel guitar,) and one of the musical stand outs on the album.
They then take a moment to reflect on the modern Country ballad "Last Night's Makeup," with Lorrie singing, "If I could wash you off like last night's makeup, looking in the mirror wouldn't be so hard." While Lorrie looks back, Pam looks forward in the bluesy "Ain't Enough Roses." This is a fun, uptempo piano and harmonica driven song that lets someone know in no uncertain terms that they've messed up one time too many and they've been officially kicked to the curb no matter what peace offering they bring. But our heroines are able to move past their emotional road bumps as the next two songs capture a snapshot of love in harmony.  Lorrie's "Another Chance to" and Pam's "Even the Stars" are touching, romantic ballads perfect for slow dancing under the summer stars. From there, it's back to walking on the wild side as Lorrie sings "That's So Cool," a tale of a post-divorce reunion with an old high school flame - complete with a morning after Waffle House visit for old time's sake. From there Pam takes a trip to Cougar Town for "Old Enough to Be Your Lover." Pam roars into town with motor revving and hormones blazing, singing, "Boy you're barely a man, then again I'm hardly a girl." With a funky, driving beat and lots of clever word play, this is the most deliciously decadent song on the album.
After a cold shower, the girls come back with the more somber "Next Time It Rains" by Lorrie and "I Envy the Sun" by Pam. Both are lyrically moving songs about yearning for what you once had. But as the CD winds down, the Divas crank it back up as if they're driving down the home stretch, eager to reach their destination. "Bless Their Hearts" is a soulful social commentary on those who think they can "say anything they want as long as they say it nice." After it's all said and done Lorrie and Pam take a look back on their musical (and lifetime) journey with the song, "What Was I Thinkin'." Realizing that it's easier to laugh at your mistakes in 3/4 time, they recall the romantic and fashion missteps of their past against a Texas road house backbeat. Luckily for us, whatever mistakes these two may have made were not made in the creation of this fine album. With witty lyrics and beautiful vocals, Pam and Lorrie prove they're still Divas.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Album (sort of) Review: Low Life vol 1 &2 by Ryan Racine & Gas for Less

Dwight Yokam has a new disciple! Ryan Racine and Gas for Less carry the torch of the Bakersfield sound to a new generation of Country fans. Based (oddly enough) out of Detroit, Ryan Racine & Gas for Less deliver a beautiful blend of Country and Rockabilly that's never in fashion, yet never out of style. Featuring an abundance of jangling guitars with touches of fiddle, slide guitar, (and some beautiful Hammond organ on Sad Songs) Ryan and company follow the musical template laid down by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Dwight Yokam. And lyrically, Ryan spins new tales of heartache and loss that play counterpoint to the band's catchy riffs and rhythms. With lyrics like, "I'll be living the low life, I've got nothing to live up to when you're gone." (Low Life) "I've had more abuse than I can blame myself on" (The Last Time I'm Gone) and "Now I walk out knowing I'm ahead of the game. Darling even the best times ain't worth the pain" (Best Times); Ryan and friends might even be able to teach Dwight a few new ways to be cruel.
Although Low Life vol 1 & 2 are technically two separate EPs, they are available only in mp3 format and when played back to back merge seamlessly as one solid, cohesive album. From the opening jangle of Low Life to the final chord of Mama Tried, the eleven songs on these EPs plumb the lows and lowers of whiskey soaked dysfunctional love. But with music this catchy, even the lows feel pretty darn good, in fact the whole set is a gas!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Album Review: Ashes & Angels by Fifth on the Floor

For anyone who's ever wanted to make their own Outlaw Country album, check out Ashes & Angels by Fifth on the Floor. This is Outlaw Country 101. First they make sure to include a few drinking songs (the full tilt "Whiskey" and the bluesy "Wine.") Second, they add the obligatory smackdown to Nashville in "Burnin' Nashville Down." Third, they sprinkle in some rock and roll guitar (especially on "Wild Child" and "The Last Opry." Fourth, they enlist the help of a certified Country outlaw (Shooter Jennings produced this album.) Finally (and not coincidentally, fifth) they sing, write and play with Attitude!
Now that you know the 5 steps to making Outlaw Country, the only step left is to try to live up to the standard set on Ashes & Angels. From the opening drum and fiddle of "Whiskey" to the closing fuzz guitar of "One Big Holiday," Fifth on the Floor is good to the last drop. Their uptempo tunes ("Whiskey," "January in Louisiana," "Burnin' Nashville Down," and "Wild Child") smoke and swagger and make it impossible to not move your feet. Even when the tone it down (especially on "Wine" and the existential "What For") they still capture your attention with their thoughtful lyrics and earnest voices. For me, however, the standout song is "Angels in the Snow." It's their most straight up Country song, complete with steel guitar. It's a nice break from the cynicism and nihilism that by definition infuse the rest of this Outlaw Country album. It's a yearning look back and remembrance of a happier time. It's also an indictment of the limitations of the Outlaw lifestyle; as it points out that when it's all said and done and you look back on life's conquests and adventures, the only moments that truly matter are the ones touched by love.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Good News from the Indie Bible

The folks over at The Indie Bible contacted us recently and asked if we would take some time to look at their resource guides for independent artists and share our thoughts. After thumbing through the four guides in their collection, all I can say is, Wow! I wish we would have known about this before we released our first album! The four guides (Indie Bible, Indie Bible Online, Venue Guide [divided into six geographical regions] and Media Guide) give valuable and detailed, genre specific contacts to help promote your band and music. The Indie Bible features sixteen sections from "Music Reviewers" to "Radio Stations That Play Independent Music" to "Online Music Vendors" and more. Each section is divided by genre so you can quickly locate the specific leads you need. Each listing features at least a current website address and most also include a current email address and contact.
The Indie Bible Online offers the same features with a searchable database and features automatic updates throughout the year. The Venue Guide is an incredible resource if your band is starting to branch out beyond your hometown. If you're booking gigs out of town or out of state, you can easily find bars, clubs, coffeehouses, theatres, etc. that book your style of music, making it easier to fund your road trip with more paying gigs. The Media Guide lists magazines, radio stations, professional and nonprofit organizations, etc. broken down by state (and Canada too.) In addition, the Indie Bible also features 66 topic specific articles to guide you through the process of approaching and submitting to their resources. The only shortcoming we can think of for this series is that they don't have any listings for awards and contests, but we'll share that feedback with them!
The Indie Bible promotes itself as a great monetary value for bands (they're currently offering their entire bundle of resources for $60,) but the thing we like best about this service is its value in TIME. To be honest, most of the contacts in these four resources can be found for free online or in area phone directories. However, the time it takes to weed through hundreds of sites to get one good lead is absurd. Once you find a good site, it can still take you ten to fifteen minutes just to find the contact information for it. To give a personal example, we spent weeks trying to find 20 solid leads for possible review sites for our album. In less than two minutes we were able to find 37 leads using the Indie Bible. If you'd rather spend your time making music than searching for ways to promote it, we wholeheartedly recommend Indie Bible.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Album Review: Big Love by Holly Renee Allen

Holly Renee Allen sings with a voice that’s older than her years. Lifetimes older. How else can you explain the emotion, texture, and soul that pour out of her petite frame? She used that incredible voice to garner tons of praise for her debut album Red Dirt Soul. She follows that success with her new album, Big Love. As the name implies, Holly focuses her attention on affairs of the heart. She explores the love of a woman for a man, the love of a mother for her child, the love of God for all God’s children, and even the love of a woman for her guitar. In a relaxed, “unplugged” session, Holly’s voice and lyrics take center stage on this album.
On the opener, “Back Home,” Holly sings a fond remembrance of her parents and the love that inspires good people to work themselves beyond the point of exhaustion just to build a better life for their children. She follows up with the album’s theme song, “Big Love.” Sharing intimate glimpses into the lives of two broken souls (as if she’s lived them both) Holly reminds us that even broken hearts can be mended if you surrender to BIG LOVE. Holly’s is the voice of experience that keeps telling us that there is a love that transcends romance. Singing, “Even on the verge of madness spinning out of control, when you get lost in life and run out of hope; you’re gonna find your healing in BIG LOVE.”
Holly explores the transcendent power of love on some of the albums other cuts like “Bigger Than Both of Us,” “Faith,” “Love is the Healer,” and the touching, “Pop Bottle Arney.” Showing her understanding of the depth and complexity of love, she tells the story of a mentally challenged child abandoned by his father. Teased by lesser hearts, Arney still finds his redemption in the power of his mother’s love: “Now the folks around here say he ain’t got no sense. I reckon everyone’s had a laugh at Arney’s expense. Just the other day at Gray’s grocery store, somebody asked Arney, ‘what’s the biggest word you know?’ Arney stammered and stuttered and broke out with a smile, and he said ‘LOVE stretches here on up to Heaven’s eyes’.”
Holly’s lyrical depth combined with her intimate, honest vocals resonate more like hymns than mere songs. Each song is a prayer and a meditation that washes over you like a musical baptism. These hymns to love remind me of the times in my own life when I was touched by BIG LOVE: when I felt the kindness of a stranger or when I was lifted from despair by the actions of a friend. And like those moments, BIG LOVE inspires me to be more loving in my own actions. I know that’s not a typical reaction to an album, but this is not a typical album. This album needs to be felt as much as listened to, and you’ll feel better for having listened.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Introducing Jesse Brewster

Meet Jesse Brewster. He has a cool new concept, called "March of Tracks," which he is using for the release of his new album. He is releasing one new song each month for twelve months leading up to his album debut. The best part is that he's sharing the songs for free for a limited time!
This month's single is World Closing In. It's a story of hopes and dreams crashing down ("If it's lonely at the top, there's no doubt it's lonelier at the bottom looking up.") But luckily for Jesse, he's found a love to help support him when his world comes closing in. Musically, Jesse drives the song on his acoustic guitar, but there are flashes of world rhythms and what I can only classify as "gypsy stings." The overall effect is a song that's comforting and exotic at the same time. Check it out and keep checking back as Jesse reveals his next songs!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Standoff by Casey Donahew Band

Casey Donahew Band's new album, Standoff, is a musical stand-out. Like Reckless Kelly, and fellow Texans Mickey & The Motorcars and Pat Green, Casey Donahew is not afraid to punctuate his down home storytelling with a little loud and proud electric guitar. After all, you don't put "10 Years of Ass Kickin' Country Music" on your official band t-shirts unless you're willing to back it up in your music. The set begins with thunderous, crunchy guitar licks on "Lovin Out of Control." Later, "Small Town Love" picks up where the band's critically acclaimed Double Wide Dream left off, both musically and lyrically. Reminding those who dream of big city lights that, ''What you want ain't always what you need." Casey points out the many joys of small town living. On "Whiskey Baby" Casey compares his love to another kind of Southern comfort. Singing, "My heart is just like a shot glass - empty and alone; only as good as the spirit in it, uselss on its own" Casey distills his love for his woman into 3 and half minutes of 100 proof rockin' Country. He keeps the tempo up on "Loser" and "Go to Hell." These two songs rock out with attitude and humor. In "Loser" Casey sings, "It's better to lose on love than love a loser like me." Apparently someone didn't get the message, because in "Go to Hell" he tells the story of the bitterest of breakups. Where most Country singers drown their breakups in alcohol, Casey drowns his in alcohol and then sets it on fire! While drinking his ex of his mind he sings, "When I wake up in the mornin', I'm sure I'll be in jail. And I'll be using my one phone call to remind you to go to hell."
But not everything on the album is amps and attitude. "Not Ready To Say Goodnight" is a sweet ronantic song about not wanting a date to end. "Homecoming Queen" is a look into the faded dreams and beauty of a former high school beauty queen. In trying to figure out what could've caused her fall from grace Casey sings, "When I see her now I just wonder why. I guess when things come easy you don't have to try." Casey digs even deeper into social issues on "Put The Bottle Down," which is an unflinching portrait of the ravages of alcoholism: "Too young to know this pain, but there's nowhere to hide. I probably could have run, but I stayed by my Momma's side." Casey sings of the scars and continued chain of pain caused by drinking "the devil's blood."
Behind Casey's great voice and lyrics, the band impresses throughout. With tight guitar and fiddle work and a driving rhythm section, the band, like the album itself, hits all the right notes.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Album Review: New Hometown by Connor Christian & Southern Gothic

Connor Christian & Southern Gothic (CCSG to their fans) are an amazingly talented band. Three of the five band members play three or more instruments; and they play them with energy and a palpable sense of joy. Despite being from places as diverse as Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and even Siberia, the band comes together with a seamless synergy that is greater than the sum of its parts. Their new album, New Hometown, is a showcase for their many talents. With tight vocal harmonies, insightful lyrics and brilliant arrangements (especially the fiddle which absolutely dazzles throughout), New Hometown is the perfect marriage of modern Country and Americana. Like Zac Brown Band singing Darrell Scott with a Black Crowes' attitude, CCSG serves up the best of both sides of Country Music's great divide. On "That Ol' Jukebox" they show their Americana loyalties singing, "Ain't no way in hell I'm giving them a dime, 'cause I still got Hank Williams on my mind." Complete with foot stomping fiddle and Pop/County bashing lyrics, the song would be at home in the most radical Austin dive bar. Then just five songs later they turn around and do a cover of Guns & Roses' "November Rain." The fiddle is now replaced by violin and three part vocal harmonies back up the lead vocal. Yet, oddly enough, these two songs (and two worlds) coexist harmoniously on this album. As a radical neutral in this musical war, I salute their willingness to embrace the full spectrum of today's Country.

The lead song, "Sheets Down" would fit right in on Zac Brown's latest album. It's an uptempo celebration of life's simple joys, like dancing in the rain. "16 Bars" is another upbeat number. It's a tribute to every singer who's ever picked up a guitar and set out on the bar circuit to find their fame: "She said why aren't you on the radio, or even MTV. Your voice makes makes my heart jump from my chest." I said "I wish it was that easy." For some artists that might be bragging, but Connor Christian does in fact have a great voice. With neither Nashville's polished "twang" or Austin's drunken, sneering drawl; Connor belts out his songs with a controlled confidence that doesn't need to rely on gimmics. He uses that voice to great affect on the ballads, "Only Need You," "Stella Please" and "She's My Salvation." But the album doesn't get mired down with too many slow numbers. There is a great mix of foot stompers thrown in with the slow dancers. "When I'm Gone," for example, starts off with a "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" vibe then adds a nice bluesy touch; singing, "Your dirty little tricks, they don't mean a thing. Well you got what you want now you don't need me. But you're gonna miss me when I'm gone." The title song, "New Hometown" has a "Boondocks" feel to it, but instead of celebrating one hometown it celebrates each new hometown that each new day brings. Singing, "Growing up I never had a hometown. My daddy gave his life to Uncle Sam," CCSG sing about how their nomadic life began even before they loaded up their guitars for the road. "Hotel Bar" continues the life on the road theme with a rollicking honky tonk look at both hotel bars and the bands who play them, both of whom are "open for business when the sun goes down."
The rest of the songs capture the ups and downs of living and loving on the road. With such great songs for a soundtrack, you'll wish you could come along for the ride!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Album Review: State Theatre by J.R. Shore

Pack your bags for a tour across the wide expanse of the Americana musical spectrum with J.R. Shore. On his new album, State Theatre, you’ll hear echoes of current favorites like Darrell Scott and Ray Wylie Hubbard back through Bob Dylan and Joe Ely, with touches of Randy Newman, Taj Mahal, Doctor John and Lowell George sprinkled in. J.R. Shore digs even deeper into America’s musical past incorporating touches of Jazz, Dixieland and Ragtime as well. There is virtually no corner of America’s grand Country/Blues/Americana tradition that goes unexplored on this album, which is ironic, because J.R. Shore is Canadian. Like the Rolling Stones reminding America of its forgotten Blues roots, J.R. Shore holds a sonic mirror up to us reflecting back the tones and textures that define Americana.

State Theatre is a shining example of everything that’s right with Americana: brilliant storytelling, three dimensional characters you’d meet in real life, expert musicianship, creative arrangements, and a rootsy, earthy voice to bring it all together. The album starts off with the lo-fi, bluesy “Holler Like Hell”, which sounds like it bubbled up murky and uninvited from the Louisiana Bayou. “Addie Polk” follows with a funky take on a serious subject – the housing crisis. The lyrical depth of the subject is balanced by the uptempo rhythm and punctuated with a mean Hammond organ, as if the will of the music transforms a tragic story into one of triumph. Then the album really kicks into high gear on the next four songs. “Poundmaker,” “Charlie Grant,” “Dash Snow,” and “Jackie’s Odds” are as fine a murderer’s row of songs as I’ve ever heard on a single album. “Poundmaker” is a Marty Stuart style tribute to yet another Native American caught between two worlds and prosecuted by one of them. Beginning and ending with the refrain, “On account of my grandfather, they did not cut my hair;” the story gives a snapshot of a cycle that has repeated for generations. The slide guitar and piano give the perfect yearning, almost reverent backdrop to this tragic story. “Charlie Grant” follows with the tale of the Negro League star who almost broke through baseball’s color line twenty years before Jackie Robinson by passing himself off as a Native American. Again, Shore plays counterpoint to the tragedy of the story with an uptempo, almost Dixieland rhythm and ends on a poetic note of optimism about his burial, singing, “He’s just two doors down from Miller Huggins. They’re finally playing on the same damn field.” “Dash Snow” follows with a “Memo From Turner” sounding eulogy for a junkie. “Jackie’s Odds” finishes off this amazing run with a Dr. John/Little Feat fusion about a gambler who just can’t win (“the deeper you go, the harder you fall.”)

The rest of the album is a sumptuous feast of Blues, Folk and straight up Country. Quite frankly, there’s not a bad song on the album, but other standouts are the Dylan inspired “Ballad of Dreyfus,” the Randy Newmanesque, “146” and the gospel/blues tribute to the Underground Railroad, “Dayton Free,” where Shore sings, “Freedom’s streets are shinier than Tennessee gold.” (And if that’s not enough, J.R. includes a bonus disc of eight cover songs of some of his favorite songwriters including Robbie Robertson and Neil Young.) J.R. Shore packs so much emotion, empathy and pathos into these stories that you feel he’s lived each of them himself. Such is the power of music in the hands of a master. And if there are any masters of this form we call Americans, J.R. Shore is sure one of them.