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Don Rich and the Buckaroos (from the album Guitar Pickin’ Man on Omnivore Recordings)

Don Rich (Don Ulrich) was born in Olympia, Washington in 1941. He began playing the fiddle around age three and was in local bands while still in high school. Don’s group opened for Elvis Presley at the Tacoma Bowl in 1957 and he met Buck Owens while performing at a local venue in Tacoma, Washington where Buck was working in radio. The two became fast friends with Don Rich backing Buck on fiddle. Buck Owens returned to Bakersfield, California to continue recording for Capitol Records, finally succeeding in encouraging Don Rich to quit college and join him in 1960 as part of his band for a salary of $75 a week. The pair continued recording, developing their ‘freight train sound’ into a brand that became the Bakersfield sound to the world, and adopting the name The Buckaroos for their band at the suggestion of Merle Haggard. Don Rich became bandleader for The Buckaroos, continuing recording and performing with Buck Owens on tour and as part of Hee-Haw until his death in 1974.

Omnivore Records has collected tracks featuring Don Rich on vocals and guitar, backed by The Buckaroos on the recently released, Guitar Pickin’ Man. The tunes are picked from recordings found on albums of Buck Owens as well as unreleased material. Guitar Pickin’ Man showcases the talents of Don Rich, featuring the Bakersfield sound as Don requests “Take Care of You for Me in Kansas City”, introduces “Sally was a Good Old Girl”, admits to being “Number One Heel”, bids goodbye in “Wham Bam” and greets home in “Hello California”. Don Rich and the Buckaroos spend time letting the music talk for them in album instrumentals such as the melodic “Ensenada” as Don’s guitar weaves its way among “Chaparral”, does some “Chicken Pickin’ and string gymnastics with “Aw Heck”.

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Little Feat (from the album Sailin’ Shoes)

It was three little words that Lowell George claimed was the reason for Frank Zappa asking Lowell to leave The Mothers of Invention. While the lyrical hook, ‘weed, whites, and wine’ has become part of history as expressed in the truck driver anthem “Willin’”, it has also been floated that Frank believed Lowell George was too talented to be a backing guitarist. The reasons are in the past, and what is left is a song forever attached to Little Feat, the group that Lowell George formed with Bill Payne in 1969 Los Angeles, California. Like peers The Band and the Grateful Dead, Little Feat were a melting pot of American musical sounds as evidenced on their second album release, Sailin’ Shoes (1972). The group’s self-titled debut hinted at what Sailin’ Shoes, and subsequent Little Feat releases, embraced. In the days of pre-Americana, hybrids were encouraged as was experimentation. Born in Hollywood, California, Lowell George played Blues, Soul, Folk, and Rock’n’Roll like a son of the south.

Keyboardist Bill Payne returned boogie to rock’n’roll in Little Feat, trading riffs with Lowell George’s slide guitar on the Sailin’ Shoes track “Tripe Face Boogie” while his accordion pumps up “Trouble” and his electric piano puts a funk into “Got No Shadow”. Bill Payne leads the charge into the Blues of “Cat Fever”, which features Bill on vocals. Sailin’ Shoes kicks off with slashed chords and advice as Lowell George warns that it is “Easy to Slip”. “Willin” enters quietly on acoustic chords as Richie Hayward’s bass drum hits a heartbeat, the track building with Bill Payne’s piano sparkling and Flying Burrito Brother, Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel giving the song wings. Sailin’ Shoes introduces a ‘lady in a turban and a cocaine tree’ in its title track, finger pointing at love leaving when the TV breaks down in “Cold Cold Cold”, and chops up a groove with drum and guitar to profess “A Apolitical Blues”. Little Feat give big love for rock’n’roll by laundry listing the reasons that the music that took over the world is nothing by bad for ya’ as they barrel roll through “Teenage Nervous Breakdown”.

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Carolyn Wonderland - Peace Meal - Carolyn Wonderland has a confidence in her playing that gives her a foot up on the blues ladder. Yes, Carolyn is a good songwriter with vocals that can roar in a whisper, and she is one A list guitarist. Listening to Carolyn on her latest release, Peace Meal, I get the feeling that the first fan she needs to please is the one behind the guitar and voice, Carolyn Wonderland. The daughter of a band singer, Carolyn picked up her Mom’s Martin at an early age. She mastered guitar, trumpet, accordion, piano, mandolin, lap steel and along the way discovering a talent for whistling. Peace Meal gives Blues as a prime influence while Carolyn guides the songs through psychedelic landscapes (“Usurper”), electric fire starters (“Victory of Flying”) and dirt road country folk (“Shine On”).

Peace Meal shows an artist taking chances with sound without moving away from her core. Carolyn Wonderland presents fine examples of all that she can do on the album. “Only God Knows When” is gospel harmonies catching the wave of a second line rhythm and “St. Mark’s” steps lightly as it creeps along under a confessional booth re-telling of what was amid hopes for the future. Carolyn’s music has been likened to Stevie Ray Vaughan on the guitar side and Janis Joplin references for her vocals. That description fits as influences and in some of the way the sounds manifest but Carolyn Wonderland is an artist that needs no RIYL’s attached. She nods to her Janis influences with a cover of Ms. Joplin’s “What Good Can Drinkin' Do”. Peace Meal hosts a few other covers alongside Carolyn Wonderland originals, offering versions of Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom”.

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jesse winchester in the alternate root

 

 

Living with choices. For many of us, making a decision requires us to weigh the options first. At other times, circumstances put their fingers on the scale to tip the direction. In the 1960's, military service was the “trickle down” theory. If you were an inner city kid or from a low income family, with no chance of college money, you were on a fast track to Southeast Asia. For college kids, you stayed in school.

Jesse Winchester graduated college in 1966, which made him eligible to be another body counted. To avoid the draft, Jesse moved to Canada in 1967, becoming a citizen in 1973. His status therefore precluded him from touring the US. The advent of FM in the early 1970's snuck his music across the border, but there were no south-of-the-Canadian-border gigs for Jesse until 1977, when President Jimmy Carter granted draft resisters unconditional amnesty. Jesse Winchester loved his country enough to leave it. His solo career did not take off until after his relocation to Montreal. With the support of Robbie Robertson, Jesse took the tunes he had been writing and performing in coffee houses throughout Eastern Canada, releasing his debut in 1970. The music is as haunting as the album cover, with a stark visage staring back. This is a vinyl release, so the head was close to being life size and if you held it right, you could see eye- to-eye. Very little was known about the musician. The self-titled release contains some Jesse Winchester gems, such as "Yankee Lady", "Biloxi" and "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz". The singer had a pained delivery, even while describing the beauty of his past. The aching was almost physical. The narrators come across like prisoners, locked into a sentence that will never allow them to see home again. "Yankee Lady" sees the birds heading south, bringing thoughts of leaving the decent folks of Vermont "with a hitch to Mexico", while an echo-y church basement piano pounds out a winter’s tale full of memories of warmer days in "Biloxi", watching as the sun sets and the "sky turns red from off towards New Orleans". He re-visits the past in both song name checking and seasonal cotillions in "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz". The south and the loss of homeland pour heavily from Jesse Winchester's pen , though the subject matter is a movable feast of emotions and situations. He gets his gospel on in "Looking For A Miracle" from 1978's 'A Touch on the Rainy Side', offering up a fair trade, his soul for their show. From the same album, on the traveling musician side of the fence, Jesse Winchester crafts a tune direct from road diaries, citing "no one told me about this part. They told me all about the pretty girls and the money and the good times. No mention of the wear and tear on an old honky-tonker’s heart" in "A Showman's Life".

His output continued strong throughout the 1970's, with seven studio and one live album released up until 1981. The themes and longing followed his debut with tracks like "Bowling Green" from 1974's 'Nothing But A Breeze" and "Mississippi, You're on My Mind" from 1971's “Learn to Love It". The 1971 release included "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt", a track that takes the listener inside Jesse Winchester's life, citing his reasons for leaving. Though his release schedule has slowed, Jesse Winchester still puts out fine work, paring things down to some live releases and studio albums as they are ready.

Jesse Winchester's words and music are a thing of beauty. Exile made him more of a songwriter than a performer in the US. His songs have been covered by Buddy Miller, Patti Page, Wilson Pickett, Reba McEntire, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Costello, Jerry Jeff Walker, Anne Murray, The Indigo Girls, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Wynona Judd, The Weather Girls, Ronnie Hawkins, Nicolette Larsen and many others. The songs are worth hearing, no matter whose voice propels the words. What is missing is the perspective, the origins of the tales. Montreal winters in a new country written by a southern boy. What Jesse puts into his songs is the ability to see through his eyes. He provides a story so real that you can feel what was then and what is now. It takes a master songwriter to make you think about things that are missing while listening to descriptions of its beauty, its innocence. The early work of Jesse Winchester tells his story, and the tales of hundreds, maybe thousands of others. Their beliefs, their integrity was more important than what was expected. The 1960's were turbulent and triumphant times. Jesse Winchester stood by his beliefs, trading in the spotlight for a border sign that read Do Not Enter, You Are Not Welcome Here.

In 2002, Winchester moved back to the United States, settling in Virginia. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007. Accolades aside, there should be an award for standing up for what is right and doing it quietly, not using press or protests, soapboxes or stadiums. Luckily, we have the songs. Sound bites about what happens when you bite back.             Danny McCloskey/RA

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The Del-Lords (from the album Frontier Days) - They took their name from Del Lord, director of early Three Stooges short films, and the plan was to create a band with four singers, like an east coast Beach Boys. That model was filtered through lower East Side grit, and backed by a foursome that included The Dictators’ rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner (guitar), Joan Jett and the Blackhearts lead guitar Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel (guitar) , Frank Funaro (drums) and Manny Caiati (bass). The Del-Lords may have been aiming for west coast harmony but the sound of Frontier Days, the band’s debut on was pure lower East Side rock’n’toll. There are no garages in Manhattan, at least none to rehearse in. The Del-Lords are the sound of the streets in 1984, the release date for Frontier Days.

The Lou Whitney production for Frontier Days shows the man behind the boards (Lou) heard a reverse Americana echo from the future and gave it to the songs, tenderly creating a hazy sheen as “Feel Like Going Home” trudges back to bed on heavy rock beats, crackles “Shame on You” like it is blaring its jangle through tinny AM radio speakers, and shimmies through a vintage spy-beat riff wriggling through a “Double Life”. Rock walks its Roots proudly on Frontier Days. The Del-Lords walk onto the album talking tough and letting their NYC hearts bleed all over brothers and sisters hunkering down in the Big Apple with “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”. Frank Funaro can’t decide on a tom-tom, so he just beats a path into “Livin on Love”,  and Roscoe’s guitar is a siren call as band offers some personal advice on DIY getting-through-a-day with “I Play the Drums”. For more DIY glory, The Del-Lords use Frontier Days for the manifesto that is “Get Tough”. The track is a timeless tome that rings its bells as a warning to ‘get tough’ showing tenderness for city streets with the aside of ‘it don’t mean I don’t hate it’, as it calls around the world above Beirut bombs on back to the lower east side turf wars.

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