The Flesh Eaters (from the album I Used to be Pretty available on Yep Roc Records)
Los Angeles band The Flesh Eaters have in their four-decade career been a musical vehicle to back the Avant-punk poetry of Chris Desjardins, aka Chris D. Labeled a punk-supergroup, their band line-up from 1981, featuring Dave Alvin (solo, The Blasters), John Doe (solo, X), D.J. Bonebrake (solo, X), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and Bill Batemen (The Blasters), have reconvened for the recent release,I Used To Be Pretty, The Flesh Eaters first proper full-length in fifteen years.
For any long-time practioners of punk, it may be a challenge to deliver angst and social questioning with the same heft as in Los Angeles circa 1977 yet Chris D still comes armed with plenty of vocal fodder, heavy with grit and boundless with hopeless honesty. The band can charge when necessary; Steve Berlin’s bluesy saxophone chugging along while Dave Alvin’s guitar, whether chopping out a rhythm or ripping through a solo, are quick and stabbing with the vibraphone of D. J. Bonebrake remaining a great and untraditional addition to a rock rhythm section. “Black Temptation” as opener for I Used to be Pretty sets a dark mood, delivered with a slightly weepy lyric reading. “My Life to Live” has a big anthemic introduction as well as a big horn-hook while “Miss Muerte” starts on a light note with the vibraphone, the melody soon taken over by another big Dave Alvin guitar riff, with Chris D questioning, criticizing and exclaiming that ‘he’s sick of all you angry people, killing each other for the sake of your god’. The original work of The Flesh Eaters keeps its uniqueness intact while the band also dips into covers with Jeffery Lee Pierce’s tune from The Gun Club, “She’s Like Heroin to Me”, and forgotten Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac cut, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)”. The Flesh Eaters wear the punk supergroup label thrust upon them well, and I Used to Be Pretty is indeed super. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Alice Wallace (from the album Into the Blue available on Rebelle Road Records/JTMMusic)
The latest release from Alice Wallace, Into the Blue, kicks off with a dirty acoustic guitar. Five seconds in the keyboards, crashing drums, and Alice share a lament about ‘two weeks of wasted time’ and despite the lost lover needing to stay lost, the feeling still hits ‘like a punch in the gut’. The lonely in the cut, “The Lonely Talking”, takes on a human form in the words and music of Alice Wallace. What follows this mournful opener Into the Blue is an album of dark folk and ambient alt-country driven by Alice Wallace’s deliberate voice, sultry and sweeping and at times its own symphonic instrumentation.
The pedal steel in “Elephants” is atmospheric and lives behind the strong words for the #metoo movement, calling out the true fragility of men high on a false power they shouldn’t hold. Lines like ‘boys will be boys why don’t you call him what he is’ are a call to arms and an inspiration to speak out. The song blows the lid off the myth that letting boys be boys is an reason for unacceptable behavior, a cowardly excuse and inane defense that shouldn’t work in anyone’s reasoning. “Desert Rose” and “Echo Canyon” are doses of desert noir and a soundtrack of the Southwest, while a cut like “The Same Old Song” come off with a laid-back dose of blues and booze punctuated with beautiful blues guitar. Alice Wallace is a writer unafraid to explore an array of subjects; historical narratives, perspectives on nature, current topics, self-questioning and personal reflection are all on the table. Into the Blue is a polished album, while at times instrumentally rough around the edges, a touch that supports the honest delivery of Alice Wallace’s writing. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Delines (from the album The Imperial available on El Cortez/The Delines)
Stunning, mournful and emotional are apt terms for the sad sonic greatness that is The Imperial, the long-awaited sophomore effort from The Delines. The songwriting of Willy Vlautin, and the aching and soulful vocals of Amy Boone, are backed by an exceptional band whose sparseness is a worthy ally; perfection in a country soul package.
Willy Vlautin is the writer behind the broke-down tales in every Richmond Fontaine album, Amy Boone one of the sisters that made up half of Austin cow-punk outfit The Damnations. The Delines were formed out Vlautin’s decision to write for Boone’s voice, the recording project shelved for years so Boone could recover from a vehicle accident.
The patience that the band and their fans exhibited for its completion of The Imperialproves well worth the wait. A lonely keyboard kicks The Imperialoff with “Cheer Up Charley,” a pep-talk of a song where the narrator gives a boost to a dock-worker.
The melodies creep along at their own pace while songs like “Where Are You Sonny?” and “Roll Back My Life” reference locations in any town U.S.A. “Eddie & Polly” may be the most up-tempo cut on the album, a tune about a couple out on the town accentuated by atmospheric pedal steel that reminds everyone ‘there ain’t no good place to be broke’. “He Don’t Burn For Me” is a soulful heartbreaker that finds the narrator accepting the demise of a relationship. Willy Vlautin has a knack for making champions out of average and run of the mill humans, and having Boone sing his stories with a beautiful vocal adds a dose of care and compassion to characters you will forever cheer on. The Delines make use of hushed guitar, pedal steel and keyboards to play a supporting role to the stories, creating songs for The Imperialthat are melodically memorable and elegantly beautiful. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Reverend Horton Heat (from the album Whole New Life available on Victory Records)
The Reverend Horton Heat plugs in Rock’n’Roll riffs to build album number twelve, the recently released Whole New Life. The force of the rockabilly raised up by Reverend Horton Heat is in place as Whole New Lifetakes him into a redesigned musical territory. Working on his vocals, the good Rev brought a fresh tone to his words as the musical backing of Whole New Lifetook steps into vintage studio sounds, Reverend Horton Heat recalling that ‘back in the 1950’s, reverb chambers were really hip and I always loved their warmth. I’m all about Sam Phillips and the things he did with tape machines and tape echo. I love that kind of production value, even if it is older than me! It really sent me to this whole other headspace where I worked with a lot of vintage gear on this album - some of which I built myself for a truly unique sound - ribbon, old tube microphones, pre-amps and stuff’. The vocal work was a match for the recording gear, the overall sound getting a bump from the band, the Reverend bringing in a new drummer (Arjuna (RJ) Contreras) and adding a piano (Matt Jordan) to the existing lineup of his guitar and long-time bass man, Jimbo Wallace.
A solid backbeat lays down a path for Reverend Horton Heat to shuffle into his Whole New Lifeas the title track opens the album with the hammer down. Thick notes warble and wobble as the pace slows when Reverend Horton Heat falls to his knees in supplication to make his plea in “Don’t Let Go of Me”. He sings of his troubles with a glint in his eye for “Hog Tyin’ Woman”, pounds out a beat to declare “Got It in My Pocket”, and sets rockabilly rhythms against a second line groove to head down “Tchoupitoulas Street”. Jubilation is the norm on Whole New Lifeas Reverend Horton Heat sketches a smile into words as the natural happy feet vibe of the music slaps and tickles the album tracks. The uplifting tone to the tales was intentional, Reverend Horton Heat feeling that Whole New Liferepresents ‘the most positive material I have ever written. It focuses heavily on rock and roll but there is a human interest parallel - songs about growing up poor, vices, marriage, having children and walking the rapturous streets of America’. Dawn breaks on a pounding beat as Reverend Horton Heat greets the day with “Sunrise Through the Powerlines” as wriggling riffs wrap around the boasts of “Perfect”. The rhythm twists and turns, teetering closer to the far borders of a beat as Whole New Lifebarrels through “Wonky” as the band breaks in a fast-clip trot on “Ride Before the Fall” and Reverend Horton Heat shakes, rattles, and rolls, nodding to The King as he roars into “Viva Las Vegas”.
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Balsam Range (from the album Aeonic available on Mountain Home Music)
Western North Carolina is the land that grows the Bluegrass of Balsam Range. The recent winners of the International Bluegrass Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award (the band’s second time taking home the trophy), Balsam Range release a new album, Aeonic, continuing to expand on their own catalog as well as giving the genre breathing room to grow.Aeonicopens with a Bluegrass blast, Balsam Range beginning the song cycle with a tale of a woman steering towards the exit ramp of love with “The Girl Who Invented the Wheel” while somber picking and deep breaths of sonic sorrow surround “Hobo Blues” and the band play a path for heavenly happiness, making a plan to help fellow humans “Let My Life Be Light”.
String band magic is alive on Aeonic, the playing of Balsam Range comforting as the storyline sends out a wish for assistance (“Help Me to Hold On”) and determined to support times of despair (“My Cross to Bear”) while notes rush and tumble as they wait for daylight to hit the highway (“Get Me Gone”). Lead vocals are passed between band members asAeonichushes the playing to comfort that road weary words of “The Rambler” and quickens the strumming to ward off the chill in “Graveyard Blues” as Balsam Range roll along with the prairie wind blowing through “Tumbleweed Town” and exit the album on the fast-paced take on The Beatles with “If I Needed Someone”.
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The Ebony Hillbillies (from the album 5 Miles from Town available on EH Music)
The recent album release, 5 Miles from Town, brands The Ebony Hillbillies as curators of tradition as well as ambassadors bringing string band music, and a variety-styled stage show, to 2019. 5 Miles from Townoffers spoken and instrumental skit snippets along with flashfire instrumentals, like album opener “Hog-Eyed Man”, and Blues-snarled vocals when The Ebony Hillbillies strut and shimmy into Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”. 5 Miles from Towncovers the distance between eras, mixing old-time string band sounds with contemporary hits, like The Ebony Hillbillies take on Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. The group’s own history begins with Henrique Prince and the sound he heard in 1930’s string bands such as The Mississippi Sheiks. Putting his formal symphony orchestra training aside, Henrique immersed himself in the sound….and then he met Norris Washington Bennett. Prior to partnering, Norris was a solo performer, busking across Europe and releasing two solo albums in Germany. The pair met and followed an instinct into Grand Central Station to busk, performing “Shenandoah”. The Ebony Hillbillies (aka the last African-American String Band in America) expanded on their lineup, adding Gloria Thomas Gassaway(vocals/bones), William “Salty Bill” Salter (upright bass), Allanah Salter(shaker percussion/vocals), Newman Taylor Baker(washboard percussion) and A.R.(“cowboy” percussion).
To accommodate the new players, The Ebony Hillbillies brought a variety of styles into the string band makeup, blending Bluegrass, Country, Rock, Soul, Folk, and Jazz while they took their busking from streetcorners to larger stages to match the additional members, performing at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center as well as television slots on BBC, NBC, CBS, and Good Morning America. If there is a particular pair of shoes for sliding into a cakewalk, haul ‘em out for “Carroll County Blues” as 5 Miles from Townjourneys back to its NYC-formative years with “I’m on My Way to Brooklyn” while The Ebony Hillbillies sway on a late-night noir R&B groove for “Fork in the Road” and address the out-of-balance relationship between police shootings and black neighborhoods in “Another Man Done Gone – Hands Up Don’t Shoot”.
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The Western Swing Authority (from the album Big Deal available as a self-release)
Bringing the music that has awarded them numerous accommodations in their native Canada and the United States, The Western Swing Authority juggle styles across decades as they make the world a safe place for swing band music in 2019. The dance floor set up by the songs of The Western Swing Authority pounds an inclusive beat when their recent release, Big Deal,slides into “Swingin’ from the Rafters”, offering to take a spin out of the sight of the sheriff and Sunday schooling. The Western Swing Authority welcomes fiddle legend Buddy Spicher on the Big Dealtitle track and gives a nod to the music they love, and the land they gave it birth, with “My Window Faces South”.
Friends stop be to make Big Deala little bigger with Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel) joining WSA to advise “Dance with Who Brung Ya” and Jane Monheit cruising with the band into “Mississippi” while Canadian Country singers Jason McCoy (“Extraordinary”) and George Canyon (“Big Balls in Cowtown”) lend a hand. Big Dealslows to a shuffle to tribute the past in “This Old Bar” while The Western Swing Authority twirl the spotlight to catch a solitary dancer spinning “In the Middle of the Song” and trot out a honky-tonk twang to color the exiting lovers of “After the Leavin’”.
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Yarn (from the vinyl album Lucky 13, Vol. 1 available on Yarn Music, LLC)
Lucky 13, Vol. 1, the latest release from North Carolina by way of New York City band Yarn, kicks off with a detailed and descriptive barroom scenario and a love-at-first-sight song, the story speaking up with ‘I saw you at the bar, looking like an angel, in a white tube top, tight jeans down to your ankles’. The tale revisits a setting that has been so done before in books and song, and yet the story works particularly well slight rock and twang with “One’s Man Trash” kicking off a record of Roots Rock and groove that nods to songwriters like Willie Nelson and alt-country rock like Old 97’s, where a strong lead guitar is paired with picturesque lyrics.
Guitar leads bounce all around the reflective musings of “Undone” where the singer is self-deprecating and honest in recognizing the world that is beating him down. “Promised Land” is an optimistic number, a hopeful and catchy road song, quickly followed by the woeful and painful reality of “American Dream Dying” and its words, ‘you and me, we can’t agree, and I’ve wasted too much precious time’. “American Dream Dying” works both as a break-up song and a hard look at the relationship between American citizens that share the need belief yet vote on different sides of the fence. “The Road Less Traveled” is a moving train-song brought to life by a bouncy harmonica. Lucky 13, Vol. 1wraps with the contemplative “Old Fool” as Yarn prove they live comfortably in a world of singer-songwriters and bar-room rock. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Lizanne Knott, Jesse Terry, Michael Logen (from the album Sunset Avenue Sessions on Transoceanic Records)
The trio of musicians that entered Sunset Avenue Studios brought along favorite tracks to cover as a well as a satchel full of originals from Lizanne Knott, Jesse Terry, and Micheal Logen. A reverential hush tells the story of “Ocean Floor” when Michael Logen whispers the vocals of his tune while Lizanne Knott takes the lead on her song “Caroline”, and Jesse Terry spins on his cut, “Dance in My Own Shoes”. The trio adds a member when Dar Williams joins Jesse Terry on “Stargazer”, the track a co-write for the pair as a rock rumble guides the steps into a corner bar as Lizanne Knott asks “Why You Wanna Break My Heart” and Michael Logen sings with satisfaction as he cherishes the things he already has in “Already Home”.
The choice to record as a trio is an extension of the threesomes long-standing working relationship as well as their friendships. The Americana community is a gathering of music fans as well as performers, and Sunset Avenue Sessionscasts a light into the personal collection of the artists involved in the recording. Lizanne Knott joins Michael Logen in tributing Pink on “Try” as Michael asks questions still fresh on the Buffalo Springfield tune “For What It’s Worth” and Jesse Terry takes the vocals on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. Lizanne Knott wanders through “Wildflowers” with Jesse Terry and Michael Logen singing harmony on the Tom Petty track while Sunset Avenue Sessionssticks by Tom with a tune from The Heartbreakers as the trio on the album cover take flight in “Learning to Fly”.
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The Dirty Rain Revelers (from the album Spark available as a self-release)
Formerly answering to Sweet Jones, New Orleans, Louisiana-based musical couple, Matthew and Melissa DeOrazio offer a new release, Spark, with a new band name calling card, The Dirty Rain Revelers. Sparksplashes liberal doses of electric Blues over the natural Roots of The Dirty Rain Revelers. Guitar ramblings kindle flames for Sparkas electric notes pester the dedicated acoustic strums of “Saint James Infirmary Blues” while slashes of electric distortion trace the steps of chiming chords picking out a rhythm for “Man in the Long Black Coat”. Sprinkling Sparkwith covers, The Dirty Rain Revelers stitching the set with versions and ten original tunes, slide guitar becoming a lonesome whistle blowing across “Something” and weary notes heavy with memories for “I’ve Seen” as rhythms race for the journey through “Hell and Back” and electric notes pick out a pattern for “Build Out Your Own Cloud”.
For the recording of Spark, The Dirty Rain Revelers chose to present the album as the songs would be heard on stage, the musical backing formed by two guitars, the vocals provided solely by two voices. The couple open the album on a breezy melody asking “Who Will Be Your Spark” as The Dirty Rain Revelers champion a “Wiser Cause” with determination in the vocal, caffeinated strums and cascading slide guitar leads. Sparkdials in weather on thick guitar notes and chords for “It’s Gonna Rain” while rock’n’roll strums percolate as they introduce “Evangeline” as The Dirty Rain Revelers drape Country Blue twang over “Long Black Veil” and let guitar notes twitch in the Americana heat of “Summertime”.
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