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.