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!