Cowboy Junkies – (from the album The Caution Horses)
The warning label on The Caution Horses by Cowboy Junkies may be attached directly to the songs on the Canadian band’s third album release. The track list runs through a neighborhood of boarded up love nests, the stories reflecting a local-bar glow of neon hitting shadows where the promise of a new day has long ago faded. If the scepter is a wine glass and the bar stool a throne, the reigning queen holding court uses “Cheap it How I Feel” as her theme song. The Caution Horses peaks into the window of an empty life with “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning” as Cowboy Junkies leave only a kiss after a kiss-off closes the door on love for “Escape is So Simple”.
Following the success of their break-through second release, The Trinity Sessions, Cowboy Junkies followed with an album primarily stocked with band originals, reserving room for like-minded sad Country songs with Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” and Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “You Will Be Lived Again”. A mournful harmonica echoes off the four walls collecting checkmarks for “Thirty Summers” as The Caution Horses tethers “Rock and Bird” with a potent rhythm to carry the tale aloft and trots out a steady rhythm for “Where Are You Tonight” as Cowboy Junkies launch “Mariner’s Song” on mandolin strums, quietly relating the tale of “Witches” on lightly touched strings and hushed whispers.
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Linda Ronstadt (from the album Linda Ronstadt)
Looking back at success is positive reinforcement to let go and simply follow your feet. Linda Ronstadt was still finding her own solo footing on her third album. The 1972 self-titled release was the first studio work where the singer seemed to have a clear intention with recording process and her own sound. On her first two solo records, Linda Ronstadt took steps away from the Folk Rock of her band The Stone Poneys. Her debut, Hand Sown…Home Grown (1969), put Linda Ronstadt in songs that leaned more towards a Country and Rock hybrid. A commercial failure, the album had sold less than 10,000 copies before her next release, 1970’s Silk Purse. Linda Ronstadt traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to record her second release, the only album she recorded in Music City. A battle began on album number two with Capital Records, her label balking at the track “Long, Long Time”, a tune that would prove to be the first charted cut from Linda’s solo work. Of her time in Nashville, Linda Ronstadt pointed out that ‘Nashville Country is very different from California Country’. Her release of Linda Ronstadt would be the last album for Capital Records. While relations with the label were shaky, the singer found the sound/style skin that would transport her to super-stardom throughout the next few decades.
The music scene revolving around Hollywood’s music venue The Troubadour had become a fertile breeding ground for a hybrid sound that was both Rock and Country friendly. Three tracks on Linda Ronstadt were recorded live at The Troubadour, a cover of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces”, Neil Young’s “Birds”, and countrified funk take on the R&B hit from Fontella Bass “Rescue Me”. Two of the live tracks included male vocals from Randy Meisner, who was a member of her touring band. On Linda Ronstadt, the singer brought in members of her touring band, the players assembled by Glenn Frey, whom Linda had hired for the group. Besides, Randy Meisner, Glenn added fellow local scene musicians Don Henley and Bernie Leadon to the backing band. The recording of the album would be the genesis of the Eagles, the four original members receiving Linda Ronstadt’s approval and help with the fledgling band. The recording equally deserves credit for aligning the California Country that Linda Ronstadt heard in her music and taking solid steps on a path that led to Country Rock.
Classic Country tunes sit side by side with tracks from up-and-coming musicians such as Jackson Browne, whose “Rock Me on the Water” opens the album, and more Folk-leaning artists such as Livingston Taylor (“In My Reply”). The power and purity in Linda Ronstadt’s vocal is on full display on the album, the resonance in her voice drifting over the soft Country playing backing Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”, comfortable in the Classic Country structure of the Ray Price hit “Crazy Arms”, and strength in the part-time honesty confessions of Eric Anderson’s “I Ain’t Always Been Faithful”.
Fame caught up quickly to Linda Ronstadt, her next release, Don’t Cry Now, her first release on upstart LA-label Asylum Records, founded in 1971 by David Geffen and Eliot Roberts, signing musicians from the California Country scene and jettisoning its artists into commercial success.
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6 String Drag (from the album High Hat on Schoolkids Records)
When 6 String Drag recorded the Twangtrust-produced (Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy) High Hat in 1997, the band was getting a lot of attention in their homebase North Carolina music scene and beyond. While contemporaries in the scene such as Whiskeytown (Ryan Adams) continued to cling on rising stars, 6 String Drag disbanded in the late 1990’s. The re-issue of High Hat (the album’s first time wearing vinyl) shares the secret of times when Roots and Americana were poor relations in both the Rock and Country markets, prior to the Roots music community needing neither format to exist and flourish. The High Hat release forms a bridge for the Raleigh, North Carolina band as they partner the album with the release of Top of the World, a collection of 2018 studio recordings from 6 String Drag.
Hitting the Alt Country target on the High Hat opening cut, 6 String Drag rattle and roll out “Bottle of Blues”, the mood of the tune plugging into the 1990’s abandon and near feral approach to Alt Country delivered by peer bands such as The Bottle Rockets, The Old 97’s, Wilco, and Son Volt. A rock’n’roll strut carries an option to heat things up with “Gasoline Maybelline” while a swamp-thick groove percolates underneath Country vocals for “Red”, a mean stomp addresses “From Me to Clayton”, and sharp-angled guitar chords give structured to the pleas of “Guilty”. The mission statement for 6 String Drag rings loud and clear on High Hat, the band following the beat of a Rock’n’Roll heart into various Roots music styles. 6 String Drag lay out a sonic rumble for “Cold Steel Brace” and nod to Brit Pop from The Kinks to Elvis Costello in “Driven Man”. High Hat glues the beat to the gas pedal in “85 on 85” and pushes “Top of the Mountain” with a Rockabilly shove as 6 String Drag use harmonies and rhythm to tag the Louvin-Brothers era sound onto “I Can’t Remember”, adding a bonus track to High Hat borrowed from The Louvin’s catalog of song with “Lorene”.
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Chris Hillman (from the album The Asylum Years available on Omnivore Recordings)
The 1976 recording for Chris Hillman’s solo debut, Slippin’ Away, packed the recording studio with heavy hitters that included members of Booker T & The M.G.;s, Poco, Buffalo Springfield, and The Turtles along with A-List LA studio musicians. Chris Hillman carried credentials into his solo outing as a founding member and crucial ingredient in the careers of groups such as The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Omnivore Records puts Slippin’ Away (1976) with the 1977 release Clear Sailin’ into one package with the album The Asylum Years. Sonically, Chris Hillman plays along with 1970’s California Country, a style he equally influenced and sources on Slippin’ Away. Of his previous musical encounters, Slippin’ Away resembles Chris’ time in Souther-Hillman-Furay Band as the album mixes era-defining Country Rock and call/response harmonies. Country-slide guitars (“Take It on the Run”), delicate Folk-Rock ballads (“Love is the Sweetest Amnesty”), Caribbean Island rhythms (“Down in the Churchyard”), and a shaky west coast rumble steers for “Midnight Again” as Chris Hillman strums his way into Slippin’ Away with “Step on Out” and lets the plea match the pace asking “(Take Me in Your) Lifeboat”.
A little more Country tempers the tones of Clear Sailin’, the songs tender front porch Folk as Chris Hillman rips a relationship down the middle in “Quits” while he puts a soulful backbeat underneath “Paying the Fool”, adds in horns for the honky tonk Saturday night of “Lucky in Love”, and shares a piano bench with lonely in “Heartbreaker”. The music of Clear Sailin’ sets a course towards a full-on Country future with west coast players in Desert Rose Band, co-founded by Chris Hillman in 1985. The rhythms of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” lap like waves against the track as Clear Sailin’ shimmies on a Bluesy country sway in “Nothing Gets Through” and drifts on a smooth sea for the title track as Chris Hillman shrugs off blame in “Fallen Favorite” and asks a memory of old lovers to hop on board the western Country breeze of “Hot Dusty Roads”.
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Doug Sahm (from the album Doug Sahm and His Band on Atlantic Records)
A group of musicians gathered in October 1972 in New York City to back Doug Sahm for his first solo record. Atlantic Records had bought Doug’s contract after his band Sir Douglas Quintet folded in 1972, with the Oct 72recordings released early the next year in January 1973 as Doug Sahm and His Band. The limited knowledge of critics for anything outside of the Rock world at the time had trouble translating Roots music into a language they could understand. For the marketplace, Doug Sahm and His Band seemingly collected multiple styles on the recording as its tracks were backed with Country, Blues, Rock’n’Roll, and R&B. Looking back, the album served a larger purpose, taking a Lone Star state secret and spreading the word with Doug Sahm putting a Texas stamp on the sound. Texas Blues gives the album a smooth groove in “Your Friends” while “Don’t Turn Around” dials in a late-night radio station from New Orleans and an audio weather warning brings Doug Sahm together with future Texas Tornadoes bandmates Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers with the Tex-Mex style in “Poison Love”.
The recording of Doug Sahm and His Band took two weeks, seasoned players filling in group ranks that included David Bromberg, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, and Dr. John. Two fiddles open the album as Doug Sahm is joined by Kenny Kosek on first cut “(Is Anybody Going to) to San Antone?” as the pair tribute the twin fiddles backing Bob Wills on his tune “Faded Love”. His Band mate Bob Dylan lends his tune “Wallflower”, harmonizing on the cut as well as lending vocals to “Dealer’s Blues” along with a lead guitar solo. Doug Sahm and His Band tributes The Delmore Brothers with slinking Country Blues on “Blues Stay Away from Me”, puts some funky guitar chops underneath the horn blasts of “I Get Off”, and head uptown for a rhythm Saturday night on T-Bone Walker’s “Papa Ain’t Salty” while Doug borrows a tune from fellow Texan with Willie Nelson’s with “Me and Paul”.
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Being in the right place at the right time is a building block for career success. The unspoken parts of the advice are that when you are standing in the correct spot at the perfect time, you had better have everything you need to within arms reach so you don’t have to move. After hitting the Top Ten in early 1968 with “Dance to the Music”, Sly and the Family Stone consumer interest sink with their first three albums. For Sly Stone, everything lined up perfectly with the release of Stand!, and its semi-greatest hits package with the tracks on its April 1969 release. Two successful two-sided hit singles came from Stand! with the title track release offering B-side of “I Want to Take You Higher” following a 1968 release of “Everyday People” backed with “Sing a Simple Song”. Stand! hit the ground running, its songs and mood mirroring the cultural moments in which it was released. The career of Sly and the Family Stone entered the mainstream at an accelerated pace with the release of Stand!, the band and tracks achieving worldwide success with tour stop for the album including a performance at Woodstock within six months of its release and an infamous appearance on the Dick Cavett Show around the same time with the band becoming a live marching band in parade formation for “I Want to Take You Higher”.
Sly and the Family Stone counseled both the left and right on Stand!. After the #1 success of “Everyday People”, Sly Stone became a counterculture figure who looked at himself as an equal part of a global population. Once the band had everyone’s attention, they let go with the admonition “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” which took aim at both sides of the race divide. Stand! encouraged active participation in changing the world on its title track, and once it had people on their feet, nurtured them with the mantra “You Can Make It If You Try”.
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Los Lobos have never been a one-trick musical pony anymore than they are Just Another Band from East L.A., the compilation title that collects tracks the band’s releases as a package. The early output of Los Lobos added touches to traditional Mexican music with Rock’n’Roll, R&B, Rockabilly, and Blues as well as Tejano/Mariachi Folk music. Kiko arrived in 1992, almost a decade since their E.P. release, …And A Time to Dance since gave Los Lobos the ability to tour, and their mid-1980 releases, How Will the Wolf Survive? (1984) and By the Light of the Moon (1987) sealed the band’s fame on a worldwide level. While all of the 1980’s releases showcased diversity, it was Kiko that gave a glimpse into the depth of musical possibilities from Los Lobos. When main songwriters David Hidalgo (guitar) and Louie Perez (drummer) met in high school, the bonded of the more obscure talents of Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, and Fairport Convention. Kiko shows love for many styles as it exhibits the ability of Los Lobos to cross multiple musical soundscapes and never miss a step in their groove.
The Blues carves a path through the Cesar Rosas (guitar) co-write “That Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore” and colors the snaking swamp edge of “Wicked Rain” with Blue Experimental Rock. Second line drumming opens the album as “Dream in Blue” shuffles in while a ghostly big band plays tag back alley Jazz backs “Kiko and the Lavender Moon”, covers “Arizona Sky” a percussive Tex-Mex desert wind, and taps a toe for mountain music for “Two Janes”. Los Lobos stretch the boundaries of their own music as they push against the existing confines of rock and roots. Kiko delicately picks flurried notes for “Saint Behind the Glass”, kicks out street beats on “Angels with Dirty Faces”, and heads down “Whiskey Trail” on a Southern Rock road as Los Lobos shake out “Wake Up Dolores” on a snaggle of strings and rhythms and strum out a welcome “When the Circus Some to Town”.
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Hayes Carll – (from the album Trouble in Mind)
Album number three for Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind, was his first album to be released through Lost Highway Records. Trouble in Mind fully stepped into the brand persona that Hayes Carll had been developing in touring and his initial album releases. His characters fully stretched into their collective skins, wearing the hard luck and good times found in questionable decisions and late-night rambles. Trouble in Mind wakes up with a co-write with Ray Wylie Hubbard on the first cut, “Drunken Poet’s Dream”. Katey sashays into “Girl Downtown” with goals set high for her future as a local musician plugs in and makes a wish on “I Got a Gig” and a young man goes to sleep armed with a ready-made dream in the Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan tune “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”.
As the men and women in the tales walk the story halls of Trouble in Mind a cast of players joined Hayes Carll to instrumentally back the tracks as Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin, Dan Baird, Al Perkins, Darryl Scott, George Bradfute, and a steady stream of talent unpacked gear in Nashville and Austin recording studios. Trouble in Mind pulls into “Beaumont” with Houston memories, sighs “It’s a Shame” on a Country shuffle, and makes promises to both angels and devils with “Wild as a Turkey” and “Willing to Love Again”. Hayes Carll received a nod from the Americana Music Association in 2008 when it made “She Left Me for Jesus” Song of the Year. The tracks joins the batch of tracks on Trouble in Mind that have made themselves a soundtrack for lives as “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” doubles down in a stormy romance while “A Lover Like You” sees trouble walking its way.
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Various Artists (from the album Swampland Jewels available on Yep Roc Records)
An audio makeover presents Swampland Jewels as a new listen for 2017. Yep Roc Records offers the compilation as the first full-length of their partnership with the Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Southern Folklife Collection, with the re-issue produced by Steven Weiss, curator at the Southern Folklife Collection. The recording represents music from East Texas and Louisiana, taken primarily from studio work of the 1950’s and 1960’s, with some material recorded in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The collection features twelve cuts from the original 1991 release as well as seven newly discovered tracks with updated liner notes on Goldband Records label, who originally put out Swampland Jewels and label founder Eddie Shuler. Marquee names such as Boozoo Chavis, Sidney Brown, and Jo-El Sonnier appear alongside regional superstars mixing Zydeco, Cajun, Rock’n’Roll and Rhythm & Blues into the music.
Eddie Shuler built the studio that housed the hits next to his radio shop in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the music recorded in a space that measured eight feet wide but eighteen feet long and twelve feet high. In that room, he put to tape the soaring vocals of Leroy Broussard on “La Valse de Bo Sparkle”, the Cajun accordion of Jo-El Sonnier alongside Sidney Brown on “Fee Fee Poncho”, mixed Cajun with Delta in “Good Morning Blues” from Cleveland Crochet and Jay Stutes, covered a Louisiana anthem with “Bon Ton Roulet” by Herman Goulee, and let traditional fiddles and accordion vie with rock’n’roll guitar licks in Joe Bonsall’s “Creole Song”. History is showcased on Swampland Jewels in both the songs and studio environment, producer Steve Weiss filling in each portion, stating that ‘I researched the Goldband collection to find the original single or session masters for all the songs. It was a thrill hearing the raw recordings with studio talk, count-ins, and unissued takes that captured the way Eddie worked and the immediacy of studio recordings in the 1950s and ‘60s. The original tapes also captured a strong sense of place’. Boozoo Chavis opens Swampland Jewels with his tune “Paper in My Shoe” as Jo-El Sonnier puts a little Country into his reading of “My Blue Letter” and Latin rhythms dance with an Acadian twist for Joe Bonsall’s take on “La Cucaracha” with his version, “La Cuca Rochman”.
Joy of Cooking (from the album Joy of Cooking)
Joy of Cooking choose to expand music over a Folk-base of sound that added elements of Jazz, Scat Singing, Blues, gospel shaking the mix as a rock’n’roll concoction served up on a self-released album in 1970, followed with a few early 1970 recordings and still releasing music under the band’s name. The Berkley-based California band benefitted from the free love of all forms of music that was in the San Francisco Bay air in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Coming out of a Folk revival bands were using acoustics as a sponge for electric instruments to bleed into, and a jumping board for stretching campfire jams into a full-on blaze of danceable beats.Jam bands were a future term, the phrase was a hold over from the ‘let’s jam’ Jazz days. Joy of Cooking certainly were forerunners of jamming though on album, and in live performance, they didn’t get bogged down in the jam, they cooked.
The group married two tunes on Joy of Cooking. The Berkeley California band put the Blues of Furry Lewis (Brownsville) with the traditional Folk (Mockingbird). The song, and the vocals, for Joy of Cooking were locked harmonies backed with a three-piece rhythm section. The band wasfronted by two women, Terry Garthwaite (guitar), Toni Brown (piano). A river rhythm leads “Too Late But Not Forgotten” on a solid support beat for the tale of a woman left with young baby and old memories. One voice sets the stage as two vocals play tag to find out a little more about what is happening in the bright lights with “Did You Go Downtown”. Terry and Toni stretch their vocals out on the tunes in a combination of salvation (“Children’s House”), and call and response Folk jamborees (“Hush”).
Toni Brown’s piano leads into the Jazz inflected territory in “Down My Dream”, who share arrangement as well as composer credits on the album, adding in turn on the steel guitar, kalimba, with vocal mate Terry Garthwaite taking the lead on her tune that toasts with “Red Wine at Noon”. Joy of Cooking have released their early album, including Joy of Cooking. The songs came out in a time when women voices were rising up those of being the victim. Toni Brown goes beyond surface scruff in her songs, teeling the story of a time when sexes shared emotions, as well as being equal decision makers in the comings and goings of a relationship.