That freedom in the sound makes Traveling Roots an ever-changing and evolving work-of-art. A bass run is the starting pistol for “150 Banjos” to head out of the gate to lead string-driven riffs as they leapfrog through the arrangement. Mandolin notes flicker on the surface of “Shiny Blue” as the bass and plucked guitar notes place footsteps of rhythm to follow while “Blueberry Blue” reverses roles as the mandolin keeps time while the guitar and bass take a lead. The playing on Traveling Roots sparks a note of joy like an audio pheromone. Matt Flinner explained that ‘I feel that our goal as musicians should be to add some bit of beauty to the world’. Traveling Roots does a fine job of making melody into art as Matt Flinner Trio weave notes into form for “The Basketmakers”, slowly heat the notes, letting them rise to the surface of “Pioneer Coffey” with light touches, and set the playing on stun as fingers fly through “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump”.
Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons were honored by Dom Flemons (solo, Carolina Chocolate Drops) when the music master asked the pair to back him as a band on tour, and behind him for his most recent album release, Prospect Hill. The opportunity gave Ben and Joe an even deeper understanding of acoustic Blues which they added to their own five-year experiences performing as a duo. North Wind and the Sun travels with its song selections as it strums up a “Kansas City Moan” on slowly rolling chords and harmonic hums, follows hoarse notes as they cough out a rhythm for a “Beale St. Mess Around”, and uses the slight tinge of gypsy jazz to row on “River of Jordan”.
Above the Prairie lets the music rise up from the album unobstructed by height limitations. Taking a cue from the album title, The Pines play with celestial overtones in both songs and performance. The peace within the sound of the album gives the narrator a role of benevolent teacher, a wise elder. That feel and form is given a spotlight as The Pines back Native American Indian activist, John Trudell, whose poetry is center stage in “Time Dreams”. More Iowa friends and family join The Pines on “Here” with Greg Brown and daughter, Pieta Brown lending vocals alongside Iris Dement. Above the Prairie picks up its step, following a military march heartbeat as The Pines walk on confident pace searching for “Where Something Wild Still Grows” as “Hanging from the Earth” wonders if its airborne story is a dream or reality, and “There in Spirit” looks inward for personal understanding.
The professional pairings of the group is a perfect fit for the friendship and mutual respect of No Fuss and Feathers that shines as clear as their harmonies on the album. Musically, the midway of Traveling Circus offers sideshow diversity, ringing in the stories under a big top with seasonal dreams of holiday cheer (“Quiet Christmas”) as the rattle of percussion draws attention to fallen heroes (“Superman”), and nurturing by bright notes and confident strums surrounds the friends and family gathered to make special an “Ordinary August Day”. No Fuss and Feathers are part of the pride that Folk music takes in its performers as their simple singer and guitar shadows rise larger-than-life to challenge the world with words and music. The quartet set up Traveling Circus as a storyteller’s show, the album opening with “How Much Time” and finding moments to gauges distance from home with a rattle of rhythm that measure miles as a “Motherless Child” while “Union Pacific” leaves town, tracking a journey west.
In the Blues tradition, Jason Vivone’s first lady is his cigar-box guitar, who goes by the name Nicotina. The Avenue claims multiple love in its heart, laying out its favorite folks and places on the album as they say “Hello Mrs. Radzinsky” from a payphone along the street cement path, feel the rumble under the east side rail bridge on “Train Musta Jumped the Track”, and break it down with the true story of sister cities, KCK and KC MO, in “Kansas City Blues”.
Ian McFeron puts heart and soul into his words, giving the emotional confessions, tender moments, and walks in the sunshine found on Radio the flesh and blood to walk into the world. An audio wind gives the needed push of a breeze to bring “Uninvited” into its humble requests for love as the story of “Moses” looks toward a promised land, and “Feelin’ Good” slides in on a Folk Funk ray of sunshine.
The Blues can be found in each and every note on Anyone Listening, Part 2 as it walks stuttered steps in the title track, shrugs and shuffles as “Pure Entertainment”, slowly sips “Bloodstained Vodka”, and tickles “Sweet Talkin’ Devil” with a little temptation.
The story of The Westies plays out like the lives on the edge of a chance or tumble in their songs. Main conspirators for the band, Michael McDermott and wife Heather Horton, met in a bar, putting the wheel in motion that would take them into The Westies debut, West Side Stories. For Michael McDermott, it was another step towards a calling that he sums up as ‘all I ever wanted to do was write songs and tell stories, like my grandparents and parents did from a long Irish lineage. With that lineage came a proclivity for drink, for mayhem, and a wee bit of crime. I write what I know and what I know is, much of the time, ugly’.
The characters in the songs of The Westies are not barflies standing on the last rung of a downward climb. The men and women that walk the halls of Six on the Out live hard lives with no interest in changing what they hear, see, and experience on city streets. The “Sirens” heard signal a life that slowly erodes, institutionally taking away pieces from a man with nothing left to lose. Grim reality rides the waves of rhythm as The Westies ground the songs with foundations sturdy enough to hold on tight to the freight train rhythms riding under “Pauper’s Sky”, counts time on percolating notes claiming “This I Know”, and raises a glass to the security of old friends singing along to “The Gang’s All Here”.
If each album presents a new magic trick from its artist, on Yesterday’s Sun, the sleight of hand from Zak Trojano is how he deals heavy songs with such a light touch. His guitar strums dark memories of heroes in “Sun Don’t Set”, slides on the rubbery rhythms in “Overcome”, and gently delivers intricate finger-style picking set amid other string players swooping and slicing “Another Morning Rose”. Zak Trojano offers a performance on Yesterday’s Sun showcases all the hooks in a singer-songwriter’s tackle box. Zak is a New Hampshire-born fly fisherman and casts out the tunes, his fingers flying over the strings to match the passion in his request to “Get Me Right” and cradling the heartfelt promises on “Away”.
Kris Kristofferson brought his own tune on board, and joins Buddy with a slowly rumbling “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. The album re-visits classic Country pairings as Buddy Miller shares the microphone with Nikki Lane (“Just Someone I Used to Know”), Kacey Musgraves (“Love’s Gonna Live Here Again”), and Elizabeth Cook (“If Teardrops Were Pennies”). The spirit of Gram Parsons puts the air in the sails as Lucinda Williams duets on his Byrds autobiography with “Hickory Wind”, and with Shawn Colvin legacy as myth mystery with The Rolling Stones “Wild Horses”. Buddy Miller exits this installment of Cayamo Sessions at Sea with Brandi Carlile and The Lone Bellow as they join together on John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”.
Beyond the theme of C&O Canal, the album signals a sturdier foundation Eric Brace and Peter Cooper as a duo. Their last effort, The Comeback Album, showcased songwriting talents offering thought-provoking humor and well-placed asides. On C&O Canalthe performance is one of graceful country love songs; sadness born with heads held high, deeds seen a badge of pride, and desires as rooted as firmly as the end of love laid out on the tracks. John Starling of the Seldom Scene sees two credits on the album, lending a track for the title and on the beautiful border sway of “He Rode All the Way to Texas”. History repeats with a version of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “John Wilkes Booth” and trades a long trek in return for one more minute in Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham”. Eric Brace starts off the weather forecast as the clouds gather on Karl Straub’s “Rainy Night in Texas” while “Blue Ridge” rises up on mandolin strings as Peter Cooper becomes the tour guide introduction over a banjo beat.
Cicada Ball greets revelers by inviting them out on the floor for its first dance on track number one with “Hindustan” as the band tunes up on a mission that meets in a march to lead the way onto the album. The Boxcar Boys stroll along a ragtime avenue, strutting for “Shakin’ Off the Cobwebs”, squeeze out a melody on accordion pumps that beats with “Old Fashioned Love”, strums under a crooners request of “Baby Don’t Tear My Clothes”, and syncopate a rhythm that bears the musical message “Take Your Fingers Off It”. The Canadian sextet recorded Cicada Ball (their third release) in Ken Whiteley’s studio in Toronto. The Boxcar Boys borrow “That’s a Plenty” from The New Orleans Rhythm Kings while Cicada Ball rolls and scurries on a chaotic tumble of notes instrumentally shouting out “Wah Dat Dah”.
Empire strikes chords mostly played from the hand of Brad Armstrong, with Maria Taylor (Azure Ray, solo) backing on harmonies, and Jason Lucia (13Ghosts, Deadstring Brothers) on drums. Empire brings Jason back together with former bandmate in 13Ghosts, Brad Armstrong. Brad produced and was principal songwriter for 13Ghosts (2000 – 2012), becoming a fulltime member of The Dexateens in 2008. He performs the majority of musical parts on the album, with Jason Taylor (double bass), and Sue Nuckols (fiddle) adding parts. Empire builds “Citadels” on simple guitar picking as age finds its footing in the rhythms of growing older. A muted toe-tap welcomes Brad Armstrong as he offers “No Vain Apology” on a brutally ordered beat as swashes of sound zoom by while a persistent guitar scratch stiches the outline for “Shrines”, a whistler calls to “School Bus” on twangy riffs, and “Born Haunted” drifts across Empire shedding the story from a confession a decade in the making.
A fast track strum and runaway banjo/fiddle combo propel “Marijuana” into life as Mountain Sprout tell the sad tale of “Dry Counties”, swear off the stuff in “Hangover” as “Habits to Feed” laundry lists life’s little helpers. Refried, Best O the Beans takes a shot at “Turkey Buzzard” with a high-speed beat, stops to “Smell the Daisies” on a sunny afternoon, and tightly pulls the strings on “It Don't Matter” until it explodes in rhythm. Mountain Sprout take a moment to offer some of the salvation they found in their back pockets as the band welcomes you into the “Whiskey Church of Green Bud”.
Kate Campbell introduces a few of the tunes on The K.O.A. Tapes, Vol. 1, warning that she might cry for her rendition of Richard Thompson’s “Galway to Graceland”, inviting listeners into the first song she learned on guitar with “Me and Bobby McGee”, and sharing a track of her own, penned for a project involving one of her favorite Southern writers, Eudora Welty, with “Seven Miles Home”. Kate offers intimate takes on her tunes as she re-visits “The Locust Years” from her debut, as well as the cut used to audition for the Bluebird Café She shares a song she wrote, and rarely performed, in “Strangeness of the Day” the story telling her response to 9/11, offers personal experience for life’s journey on “Hope’s Too Hard”, and brings in Spooner Oldham on double duty, backing “Porcelain Blue” on Hammond B-3 and Glockenspiel. The K.O.A. Tapes, Vol. 1 stops in civil rights-era “Greensboro” and hits the road again on Paul Simon’s “America”. Kate Campbell closes out by backing herself on guitar with the Southern anthem, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”.
Though Reid Jamieson claims apathy about the light of day, his frenetic delivery of “I Don't Care If the Sun Shine” tells another story as the rhythms try to keep pace underneath his need to get into the night. The harmonies of “Only You” forego the original arrangements by The Platters and primes a memory of The Jordanaires as “In Dreams” becomes a hushed lullaby that makes room for The Sandman to slip into nighttime rambles. Reid has the kind of voice that makes you stop and turn around, searching for the source like an oasis in the desert. The Presley Sessions Revisited offers favorites from an era of perfectly-framed tunes to tug at the heart, paying close attention to the early recordings of The King with the rail scratch beat of “Mystery Train”, the fingerpicking shuffle of “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, and a slowly unraveling love story that meticulously stills the moment as hidden fears become harsh reality in “That's When Your Heartaches Begin”. Reid Jamieson shares his love for the music he sings on The Presley Sessions Revisited as he joins with the sassy vocals of songwriting partner, and wife, Carolyn Victoria Mill for the original track, “When I Hear It Now”.
Kathy Kallick was a founding member of Good Ol’ Persons, becoming one of the first professional women in Bluegrass through her work with the band. Foxhounds looks west as it dreamily drifts “My Montana Home” over strict rhythm guidelines from the banjo while “Snowflakes” fall on a melody that walks winter fields as “Longest Day of the Year” signals lots of light. The Kathy Kallick Band fire up the fiddle to ward off the chill of “So Danged Lonesome”, spin the message of “I'm Not Your Honey- Baby Now” tightly before letting it fly, and sway on a Country rhythm with a suitcase full of memories “In Texas”. Foxhounds is on a fast track trail as it hurries to warn “Don't let Your Deal Go Down”, and opens Richard Thompson’s “Tear Stained Letter” with persistent picking.
Magic Sam Blues Band (from the album Black Magic) - Delmark Records has re-issued the second album from Magic Sam Blues Band with their 1968 release, Black Magic. The recording gained Magic Sam entry to the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 for a set that became his breakthrough performance. Magic Sam (Sam Maghett) died tragically of a heart attack at age thirty-two in 1969, about to sign with Stax Records, and Black Magic is his last studio recording. Many claim that Magic Sam was at the front of the pack for modern Chicago Bluesmen, and Black Magic crackles with the energy of Soul and Blues music being refined by a Jazz sophistication and bringing a more rock’n’roll heft and playfulness to stage the songs for the crossover Pop market.
Magic Sam was a Bluesman, claiming “I am a Bluesman, but not the dated Blues – the modern type of Blues. I’m the modern type of bluesman’. The Vintage Blues and Soul sound and recording still is not dated in the Delmark re-issue. The Magic Sam Blues Band swerve into Otis Rush’s “Keep Loving Me, Baby”, Lowell Fulsom’s “It’s All Your Fault”, and Willie Dixon’s “Easy, Baby”. Black Magic conjures up an electric blues that was taking its first breaths for the 1968 recording of the album, demanding an answer as it stomps into “What Have I Done Wrong”, swaggers in on Blue Funk for “Stop! You’re Hurting Me”, and percolates with Surf Soul on “San-Ho-Zay”.
The character’s that walk through Julie Christensen’s stories are supported in their decisions and missteps with the richness of her vocals, aged in fronting her band Divine Horsemen, and providing background harmony for Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. As the rhythms of “No Mercy” become a whirling froth, they are stirred with snarling guitars as the six string x2 continues to take leads, creating a current for “Girl in the Sky” to float on a river of sparse riffs and airy chord swells. The double guitars on The Cardinal subtly give the album a structured border as they chop chords, nipping at the beat with snaking licks in “Live and Not Die Trying”, gently cradling “Anthem” as it searches for signs, lightly touching “Broken as I Am” with textured guitar tones, cutting deep rows through “Riverside”, and pulling their six strings tighter to give wings to the title track.
Magic Sam Blues Band (from the album Black Magic) - Delmark Records has re-issued the second album from Magic Sam Blues Band with their 1968 release, Black Magic . The recording gained Magic Sam entry to the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 for a set that became his breakthrough performance. Magic Sam (Sam Maghett) died tragically of a heart attack at age thirty-two in 1969, about to sign with Stax Records, and Black Magic is his last studio recording. Many claim that Magic Sam was at the front of th...
Ride is album number eight for Wayne Hancock, his fifth release for Bloodshot Records. The album sticks to the sound that Wayne eats, sleeps and wears when he gets up each morning. As Wayne has said, hi...
19. The Neville Brothers - Fiyo on the Bayou (1981) - The follow up to the dbut album, The Neville Brothers, Fiyo on the Bayou incorporated more elements of funk, reggae and New Orleans, cajun flavored R&B than it's predecessor. The result resonated with critics and the public and The Neville Brothers have become synomymous with American R&B world wide as a result. It contains the monumental songs, 'Hey Pocky Way,' 'Sitting in Limbo,' and 'The Ten Commandments of Love' that have become 'standards' of the standards.
36. Nanci Griffith - Once in a Very Blue Moon (1983) - Nanci Griffith brought in musical backing for her third album release, Once in a Very Blue Moon. The folk-fed sparseness of her earlier releases was replaced by a fuller sound that contained a little more Country. Guest musicians Bela Fleck (banjo) and Mark O’Connor (fiddle) bring in musical magic as support for the dream texture of “Year Down in New Orleans” and the nod to favorite venues “Spin Around the Red Brick Floor”.
37. Joan Armatrading - Walk Under Ladders (1981) - Joan Armatrading came further into the full-on rock world with the Steve Lillywhite produced Walk Under Ladders. The mix of studio personnel was all over the map with new wave representation from Thomas Dolby and Andy Partridge (XTC), Elton John percussionist Ray Cooper, reggae rhythm man Robbie Shakespeare and Orleans’ Peter Gabriel and Hall & Oates alumni, Jerry Marotta.
38. John Mellencamp - Scarecrow (1985) - Pre-production for Rain on the Scarecrow was simple, and sounds like a lot of fun. John Mellencamp and his band spent a month playing about a hundred Rock’n’Roll songs from the 60’s before heading into the studio to record. The album took a stand in and for the heartland. Without changing the Roots/Rock sound, John Mellencamp brought lyrics that had meaning, talking about good lovin’ in Middle America (“Lonely Ole’ Night”) and touring ala Motown caravans (“R.OC.K. in the U.S.A.”). Rain on the Scarecrow would be the first volley heard for the plight of America’s farmers and for Farm Aid.
39. Chris Isaak - Silvertone (1985) - Chris Isaak had the snarl and the chops to be the next in line for Elvis Presley comparisons. His band was equally stripped down but the resulting sound was more ethereal and dream like. The tone of the music was a good match for filmmaker David Lynch, whose work in films had the same dreamscape attached. The director’s use of the tune “Gone Ridin’” from Silvertone jettisoned the album to much deserved recognition.