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!