Dave Mason (from the album Alone Together Again available on BMG)
Fledgling Rock radio began in earnest in the late 1960’s. The available records featuring album cuts for the format becoming champions of the FM underground. British band Traffic was one of the artists whose music became a staple on early Rock radio and when guitarist Dave Mason left the band to go solo, his debut Alone Together, was well-received by the format. The album was stacked with A-list players, featuring Leon Russell on keyboards, Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, future Derek’s Domino’s, and Delaney & Bonnie alumni, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, as well as backing vocals that included Bonnie Bramlett, Rita Coolidge, and Claudia Lennear. Full disclosure, the Alone Together album was a staple for this writer when he and teenage bud Drew Goss cruised late night streets. The same can be said for the album’s author, with Dave Mason citing ‘I’ve played these songs for the better part of 50 years because I love them. I re-recorded the whole album because I still feel inspired by the music. This makes Alone Together Again a true labor of love. Some things I know for sure; music is relationship and love is best when shared. That is the whole conceptual play of Alone Together’.
For Alone Together Again, Dave Mason does not mimic the cuts from the original. His understanding of the songs has grown over the five decades and Alone Together Again mirrors the emotions that have affected the musician, and by extension, his songs. “As Sad and As Deep as You” is a painful memory, Spanish-flavored guitar lines peppering the Folk Rock of the tune. The organ huffing in the opening of “Look at You, Look at Me” extolls deeper breaths as the groove of the song goes low and rough, taking the feel of the original 1970 storyline from a tender request to a desperate cry. There is a familiarity to opening cut “Only You Know and I Know” heard in the chord strums with Dave Mason’s vocal slightly more accusatory while “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” keeps its beat as the melody drifts through hazy psychedelia. The original 1970 release needed no polishing or primping, and Dave Mason has made no attempt to better the record as he introduces Alone Together Again with maturity in words and music due from a vintage age. “Waitin’ on You” stays true to both its hurried beat and original delivery as “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” layers a dreamy flow over the swaying groove while “Just a Song” backs the story with prominent banjo picking and “World in Changes” steps to island rhythms. For the 1970 release, 30% of the albums were released on marble vinyl. To mirror and celebrate the process, Alone Together Again features CD discs in the same marble pattern.
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The Suitcase Junket (from the album The End is New available on BMG) (by Bryant Liggett)
2020 is a perfect year for the genre of Doom Folk to take hold. It’s how Northeast-based musician The Suitcase Junket (aka Matt Lorenz) along with pal and co-producer Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos), categorize his latest; a musical mix of Avant-garde Blues and Pop Psychedelia where electric Folk does a socially-distanced dance with gritty Garage Rock. But the latest release from The Suitcase Junket, The End is New, digs in deeper, a lyrical examination of self and scene, where emotion is high and laid on heavy. The End is New is rough around the edges sound with widespread appeal from Emo punks to sentimental Folkies.
The Suitcase Junket toys with noise for the 33-second intro opener that gives way to a finger-picking Blues groove where he sings of the an outer, unattainable, cold reality in “Black Holes and Overdoses”. The End is New sings about ‘just another human disaster’ and the inability to avert eyes on “Cant’ Look Away” while “Jesus, King of the Dinosaurs” starts as a sentimental Folk ballad before kicking into a Pop-gem. “Breathe Forever” is an anthemic Rocker aiming for stadium-seating back rows, the line ‘I don’t mind dying but I’d really like to breathe forever’ set for lighter-raised singalong, and “Rock Bottom” is laid-back, lazy and cool. The Suitcase Junket dishes out a big, catchy, easily digestible buffet of Rock music. There are a few curveballs, DIY and rough in all the right places while also slick in production to deliver a polished product. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Flat Five (from the album Another World available on Pravda Records / Augiedisc) (by Bryant Liggett)
Sugary sweet, big and catchy, the latest release from The Flat Five furthers the band’s pursuit of Indie Pop perfection. The Flat Five resume is stacked in favor of the home team. Vocalists Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor have both done time backing Neko Case in her solo work while the rest of the band have made music with NRBQ, Mavis Staples, Iron & Wine, and Jakob Dylan among others. Call them an Indie supergroup via the lineup because that’s what The Flat Five are, and Another World, the recent release from the Chicago, Illinois-based group, is superb.
The record opens with “Drip A Drop”, a subtle groove bouncing the listener along, its guitar solo dark and fun with The Flat Five calling for some nationwide unity as they state ‘America, we’re giving you a warning, we’re making love not no stinking Civil War’. “Look at the Birdy” has a Schoolhouse Rock influenced, cool Jazz vibe and “The Great State of Texas” is a sad, cowboy song that turns into a woeful death-row confession as the narrator runs down a list of her last wishes…a murder ballad where the killer is the state of Texas. “Butterflies Don’t Bite” with its vibraphone and piano keeps a slick pace, “Oh What A Day” is a playing hooky and skipping school soundtrack, and album closer, “Over and Out”, is a fast-paced blast of fun. The Flat Five bang out lines like ‘split the scene’ exhibiting a cool hipness without becoming hipster. Trumpets turn a bunch of tunes into bouncing, party-fun, and there’s an animated flavor that makes it a swinging kids record for everyone. It’s a good-time record that’s flat out and Flat Five fun. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Oh Hellos (from the album Zephyrus available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
The Oh Hellos fourth release in their four-EP series is a wonderful notch of melodic weirdness. Like the preceding 3 EP’s, Zephyrus is a musical curveball coming in as a wild pitch, where unpredictable instrumentation are the building blocks of layered melodies and the lyrics come in hushed, whispered thick harmonies. Zephyrus is a bunch of experimental Pop coming from the Indie-Psychedelic laboratory, truly fitting the descriptor of ‘hard to define’.
“Rio Grande” begins like the soundtrack to a colonial film, the 46-second transitional “Holding on Where I Am Able” giving way to the big, dramatic “Theseus”. It’s a cut with subtle Folk leanings and harmony vocals, where blips and bleeps push it into Psychedelic Electro territory. “Murmurations – Reading the Augury” is another under a minute psych-blast that rolls into the 80’s new-wave influenced “Soap”, where a dance riff and subtle break beat defines the tune. The first minute and a half of the closer in “Rounds” is a score for a nature program before the Heath harmonies once again kick in as gentle vocals that Zephyrus. The harmonies are fabulous, vocal anchors that drive odd melodies and weird walls of sound on a record that defines gentle Folk with hints of psychedelia. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche (from the album I Can Still Hear You available on StorySound Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest from the mother-daughter duo of Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche comes delivered with a hush and a whisper. File I Can Still Hear You under Folk with a soft dreaminess where floating, airy harmonies drift along with the instrumentation, giving the record an air of a easy lullaby. Personal loss, Covid-19, and turbulent political times may be surrounding, influential factors in most dens of creativity but they didn’t derail these musicians from making something easy-going and life-affirming. Title track “I Can Still Hear You” is a sentimental opener of remembrance, the guitar solo brushed with a light coat of reverb, a texture that lays on light touches of reverb throughout the rest of the record. “Ruins” is stunning when beautiful harmonies innocently ask ‘why’s a human heart so mean to do the things like we do’ before admitting ‘I don’t wanna ruin anything’.
Playful vocals define “Talking Like You (Two Tall Mountains)”, “Swan (Duck) Song” is a soft tune of change, and “Little”, with its opening line of ‘try for a day, being a mouse, go get lost in the family house’ encourages a lofty imagination. Soft and playful melodies, imaginative lyrics make I Can Still Hear You a kids-of-all-ages record, tossing in Joe Raposo’s/Kermit the Frogs “Bein’ Green” is the perfect way to exit. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Call Me Spinster (from the album Call Me Spinster available on Strolling Bones Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
They’re an Indie Rock Andrews Sisters armed with more instruments and grit. Amelia Jacobs alongside Rachel and Rosalie Graber are Call Me Spinster. The trio come loaded with the traditional guitar and bass, adding banjo, mandolin, ukulele, glockenspiel, harmonica, and “trash percussion” to zip through clever Pop, the instrumentation on their self-titled EP an exclamation point on the bright, airy, and at times Doo Wop vocals. “Here You Are” opens the record with a catchy bounce, gentle background ‘woo-woo’s’ eventually turning into call and response vocals as a twangy guitar solo introduces angelic harmonies.
“Stop, Wait” is a modern dose of soul/R&B with subtle jangle guitar that hints at Funk, the keyboards offering a slight groove and different layers of vocals flying in from all directions. The phrase ‘I’m coming home to you’ is repeated over ambient instrumentation for “Long Hard Day”, an accordion coming in mid-song giving the tune the vibe of a movie-version canal ride in a Venice-gliding gondola. “Two Hearts” begins with those gentle vocals and lightly picked guitar, a throwback dash of AM Gold where drifting pedal steel floats with the vocals. Album closer, “Morning”, features gentle keyboard touched by xylophone chimes, the melody acting as both a lullaby and gentle wake-up tune. Call Me Spinster have dipped into different decades for influence; a dash of 60’s Soul here and a dish of 70’s sunshine Pop there, all translated with soft, gentle vocal delight. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Golden Bear (from the album Dear Texas available on C-Side Recording Company)
Warm lazy breezes drift across Dear Texas like the thick scent of sea air in opening track, “Port Aransas”. Dear Texas is release number five from Texas-based band Golden Bear. Formed in 2002, Golden Bear sing of rolling on highways blasting Classic Rock (“Roadtrippin’”), driving under a moonlit dome (“Fort Davis Sky”), chipping ice from a cold heart (“Let My Love Come Down”), and transferring love from a human to a motorcycle (“Two-Wheeled Horse”).
Like the heat hanging on to a desert sand, Dear Texas wraps its stories in Southwest Americana and Roots rhythms. Country licks and Rock’n’Roll beats join forces as Golden Bear range across the blacktop tales of the album. A guitar riff snarls over airy pedal steel sighs for “Bastrop Pines” as Golden Bear step to a lowkey groove across “Gulf of Mexico” and make plans heading for “Mustang Island Mile” in their love letter to the Lone Star State with Dear Texas.
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Forest Sun (from the album Stubborn Beating Heart available on Painted Sun Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest from Folkie Forest Sun is a smorgasbord sound of a record. When you’re hungry but can’t decide on an entrée, hit the buffet for a little bit of everything. That is what Forest Sun lays out on Stubborn Breathing Heart is an album were straight ahead Folk tunes kick it with a few reggae-tinged cuts while laidback, soulful Blues numbers round out the menu. It is an offering that’s satisfying and balanced, diverse but non-committal in genre exploration that keeps Stubborn Beating Heart from being scattered. “Keep on Rollin’” opens the record with old-school Reggae groove while an organ swells give “Where Is My Home” a Folkie Gospel feel. Forest Sun can also pen a ponderable, slacker-Gospel statement singing ‘just because you want it, doesn’t mean you need it, just because you have it, doesn’t make it yours’ on “Just Because You Want It”.
“Something You Got” is a stylish cut pulled from a swinging Blues lounge that finds Forest Sun out in front of a grooving horn section, the Reggae returning for “Let Your Love Shine” while “This Old Heart”, is a Todd Snider inspired Folk singalong. Album closer, “On My Way to You” is a coming-home ballad with soft plucked guitar notes, an apt closer for a record that digs into the tender Folk, easy going Blues, and classic reggae, all of it an appetizing spread. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Scott H Biram (from the album Fever Dreams available on Bloodshot Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest from Scott H. Biram finds the at times ‘one-man band’ adding some instrumentation to a handful of cuts, beefing up already meaty cuts of angst and attitude. Fever Dreams is the Texan’s 12thfull-length release, another sonic blast of Country Blues, Punk, Metal, and Screamo Folk that places Biram in the Texas music canon right alongside Lightnin’ Hopkins or Pantera. The opening Fever Dream title track is subdued with solo guitar, Scott H Biram’s vocal delivered through a CB-radio sound. “Hobo Jungle” slowly picks up the pace, and “Can’t Stay Long” switches gears into Outlaw Country territory.
Feedback and noise are something Biram uses as a reliable tool not something he needs to hide behind for cover. He can deliver a sad weeper or a hook that sticks as heard in the drunken, sad singalong of “Single Again”, featuring Jese Dayton. “Whatcha Gonna Do” is driven by gritty riffage and shows off Biram’s metal guitar chops while “Chickens” features classic chicken-pickin’ guitar in a novel, downright humorous food-themed story showcasing the best of Boogie Blues. Scott H Biram dips into gospel territory on “Hallelu” (featuring Jonas Wilson) and the closer “Hallelu (Remix)”, the rawness exhibiting a true fear of god, “Everything Just Slips Away” is a sad ballad and “Can’t Stay Gone (Good Night From the Highway)” another Outlaw Country-cut loaded with Waylon’s country groove. Gospel, Country, Metal, and Punk; it all is born with a base in the Blues, and that’s what Scott H. Biram reminds us know every step of the way in Fever Dream. (by Bryant Liggett)
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