Karyn Oliver from the album A List of Names available as a self-release
Growing up in Beltsville, Maryland, Karyn Oliver benefitted from the diverse musical culture of the Washington, D.C. music scene, her own influences including the sounds of local heroes from DC natives such as Duke Ellington, Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eva Cassidy, Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, and more. Her recent release, A List of Names,calls out for “Cordelia” on a Bluesy Rock rhythm, wraps “Edwina” in Country twang, coils a snarling guitar riff around “Clara”, and greets “Dawn” on sparkling Folk. A List of Names shifts sounds, blending diverse styles guided by the vocal drive of Karyn Oliver.
The fire of a Folk musician is at the heart of the stories on A List of Names, the album finding its characters in a community’s history with “I Was a Town” as it requests another dance in “Write Me a Letter”. Drawing a line with a groove that locks in to support the spite of “About Enough”, A List of Names hammers a beat into the secrets and treasures of “No One Asks” while Karyn Oliver exits the album letting piano notes surround the encouragement of “Beautiful” as the story champions finding our personal powers.
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Vandoliers from the album Forever available on Bloodshot Records
Vandoliers latest release Forever drives the band well beyond the ‘cowpunk’ label that is pinned on Rock’n’Roll bands that add charging twang to their brand of roots rock. However, on Forever, the six-piece Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas Rock band also proves there’s some upbeat Freddy Fender influences in their record collection, filed alongside The Beat Farmers. The fantastic fiddle that opens Forever on lead cut “Miles and Miles” is the kind of tune that inspires travel….‘never seen the rocky mountains, they were just as I had dreamt’. It’s a Vandoliers road tune, optimistic and with a theme of exploration. “Troublemaker” has that cow-punk drum shuffle with big Tejano horns and more ripping fiddle. The horns take on a regal feel in “All On Black”, remaining pleasant addition that adds a New Orleans boogie vibe throughout Forever.
Guitar player and vocalist Joshua Fleming has a slightly worn voice that conveys a sense of urgency within the lyrics, especially on “Falling Again,” a tune that rings out like a confession. “Bottom Dollar Boy” is an amped-up sing-along driven by satisfying guitar lead, and just as the Vandoliers can pick it up, they can slow it down on a cut like “Cigarettes in the Rain.” The ballad closer to the album, “Tumbleweed”, with its repeated line of ‘one of these days you’ll settle down’ speaks to people always running away from or toward something; it’s a closer complete with subtle Telecaster twang trading off licks with that ever-present Rock’n’Roll fiddle.
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Boo Ray from the album Alabama Tennessee Fireworks available on BRRB Music
A true southern gentleman, Boo Ray comes bearing gifts, unwrapping “A Tune You Can Whistle” as the opening cut for his recent release, Alabama Tennessee Fireworks. Album number five for Boo Ray gathers free range stories of daily scenes, real-life fairytales that carry the demons of past love (“She Wrote the Songs”) while a mystical light surrounds angels in a neon glow (“Honky Tonk Dream”). Childhood fantasies grow up on a highway adventure (“”Don’t Look Back”) as maturity tries to balance an emotional debt (“We Ain’t Got the Good”). Boo Ray speaks Country wisdom that pays heed to Rock’n’Roll rules in the rhythms of Alabama Tennessee Fireworks, his flesh and blood characters carrying desires that seek precise wants and needs.
A troubadour son of the south, Boo Ray fills the album with audio images, words and music honed over years playing back road honky tonks, gulf coast juke joints, and west coast California Country clubs. A guitar lead teases the twosome ready to share hidden secrets in “Skin and Ink” as Boo Ray stomps out some Soul asking “20 Questions” while Alabama Tennessee Fireworks walks a funky strut as it loses love in “Gone Back Down to Georgia” and maps out better days on 3/4 time with “Outrun the Wind”.
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Joey McGee from the album El Camino Real available om Mosaic Sun Music
The songs of Joey McGee are musical chameleons, the stories claiming the same diversity. The songwriter introduces tales and characters that he collected on his travels after leaving his native New Orleans, Louisiana on his latest release, El Camino Real. The songman fuels “Old Beat Up Car” with a Tex Mex rhythm, shuffles an assured groove to give air to “The Cape”, slides guitar notes in to cheer the beat-up man in “Sunday Blues”, and lets a solid backbeat light a fire for “Deep in the Heart”.
El Camino Real’s blend of Blues, Rock, Soul, and Country find a home under an Americana umbrella, Joey McGee feeling that the album ‘taps into the rootedness of who I am — a Southern, Creole-Cajun musician working through my hang-ups and trying to make the world a better place along the way. These songs are a good reflection of where I am in life. They feel like rich, warm, black earth in your hands’. The beat and the lady both hold on to a sharp-edge throughout “Hurricane” as Joey McGee shows the time of our lives as “The Journey” and lets honky tonk tears flow with the sway of “Pining” while El Camino Real stages “The War You Wanted” on a Rock righteousness.
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JP Ruggieri from the album Waiting on You available on Benafue Records
JP Ruggieri tamed a childhood stutter by singing, recalling that ‘while speaking was a constant struggle, I learned at an early age that we stutterers have this wonderful ability to sing in perfect fluency. As a result, the only way I felt like I could truly say what I wanted to was through writing songs and singing them’. Singing took JP Ruggieri into Berklee School of Music, heading south after graduation to NYC and working as a sideman on guitar and pedal steel as he crafted on his own songs. He landed in Nashville, Tennessee, gathering the results of his songwriting on the recent EP release, Waiting on You. The title track opens the album on a slowly revolving rhythm. JP Ruggieri stretching his heartstrings tight, pleading over steamy Soul “Don’t Break My Heart” while he finds “The Meaning” in a flurry of percussion and admits “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” on a dreamy soundscape of scattered sonics. Notes poking at a chugging groove, Waiting on You reads fortunes with “Bumble Bee” while JP Ruggieri lets an island breeze tickle the rhythm supporting him as he wonders “How Can A Man Live His Life without a Broken Heart”.
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John Mayall from the album Nobody Told Me on Forty Below Records (by Bryant Liggett)
A guitar great making a guitar album that features half a dozen of other guitar greats comes complete with six-string theatrics. It’s fun to ponder who legendary blues players thinks are great guitar players Bluesman John Mayall has compiled some of his favorites players on Nobody Told Me,a ten-song album that features six certified guitar-rippers from the Blues and Rock world. John Mayall has never needed the recruitment of additional musicians to achieve recording greatness but having Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray, Alex Lifeson, Todd Rundgren, Carolyn Wonderland and Steven Van Zandt pick up the guitar while he handles key duties is like having a nitro booster on a hot-rod. It may not be needed but it sure adds some awesome.
“What Have I Done Wrong” features Joe Bonamassa playing a repeated fills over the horn section adding a driving guitar solo that shows up again on “Delta Hurricane.”
“The Moon is Full” kicks off with a smoking lead from Larry McCray, Larry returning later in Nobody Told Me for “The Hurt Inside.” “Evil and Here to Stay” is driven by piano and harmonica with Rush’s Alex Lifeson playing It tastefully straight. “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” features Todd Rundgren opening with a big guitar lead over the horn section and “It’s So Tough” showcases Steven Van Zandt in a track that makes a political statement about ‘the crazy guy in charge’. Carolyn Wonderland shines on three cuts including a slow burner of a final cut in the title track for Nobody Told Me.
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Mandolin Orange from the album Tides of a Teardrop available on Yep Roc Records
With their recent release, Tides of a Teardrop, Mandolin Orange log their fourth release on Yep Roc Records, continuing to gracefully become a destination on the musical wheel. In 2018, the Durham, North Carolina band’s tour route best described how Mandolin Orange has become a cherished addition to the lives of listeners with the band selling out every US performance and counting over 50 million streams for their music. The admiration is deserved, the duo of Mandolin Orange (Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz) crafting beautiful music, their album sound warm, tenderness delivered with an honesty as authentic as it is deep. Tides of a Teardrop arrives with the same dignity and elegance, the career successes of Mandolin Orange kept outside studio walls, the band still sounding as if they are playing for each other and for the sake of the song.
Self-producing Tides of a Teardrop, Mandolin Orange capture emotion along with the notes and chords, the album a delicately drawn picture of the world where songwriter Andrew Marlin found his eighteen-year-old self when his mother passed away. Multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz colors the stories with carefully placed musical moods when Mandolin Orange sink into the dreamscape sonics of “Time We Made Time”, wrap reality in a lovers embrace with the Jazzy Blues of “When She’s Feeling Blue”, trot out despair with a bounce to the clip-clop beat of “Lonely All the Time”, and catch “Mother Deer” in the beauty of her environment, enveloping the story in music that whispers like falling snow. Mandolin Orange magically change moods with melody, creating Tides of a Teardrop as curated moments for the mind and heart to let words and music take the wheel, if only for the space of a song. Digging deep into inner resources, Emily Frantz follows her hopes “Into the Sun” as Andrew Marlin finds a heat in memories still glowing like “Golden Embers” while Tides of a Teardrop puts a Country stride under the rhythms and confessions of “Like We Used To”, frames the sepia-toned strums of “Suspended in Heaven”, and shrugs off bad times to howl at the moon in “Wolves”.
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Ted Drozdowski from the album Coyote Motel available on Dolly Sez Woof Records
Music drifts into Coyote Motel like swamp fog, thick beats, a snaking guitar riff that flickers before erupting into a hungry buzzing, the sound coming together to form “Still Among the Living”, the opening cut on the recent release from Ted Drozdowski. Over the course of the album Ted Drozdowski tames feral Blues, shaping sounds into songs. Coyote Motel calms the screams of guitar strings with a trance groove (“Tin Pan Alley”), curves the tickle of percussion around the formidable march of six notes (“57 Flavors”) watches tendrils of guitar leads rise from a slowly beating heart of rhythm (“My Friend”), and spits out sonics that swarm like bees, landing to sting a stomping rhythm (“Trouble”).
Psychedelia can find family bloodlines in the Blues of Ted Drozdowski, the sound of Coyote Motel a raw sonic attack unafraid to be vulnerable, proud to wear its Soul on its sleeve. Fronting a band that borrows its name from the album title, Ted Drozdowski leads Coyote Motel on a tour, slapping a fat riff on “Los Alamos” like a suitcase sticker, pounding a path “Down to Chulaoma”, and wiggling into the drug-dream of “Frog Alley” as the album introduces “Jimmy Brown” with Rock’n’Roll rage and tells the tale of “Josh Gibson” on a confident beat to match the determination of the baseball legend.
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Jason Ringenberg from the album Stand Tall available on Courageous Chicken Entertainment
Stand Tall has everything you should love about music. Amped up angst-driven rowdiness, historical references delivered in the lyrics, and touches of tender rowdiness. Stand Tall kicks off with a spaghetti western score; reverb drenched twang placed gently under an acoustic guitar and a trumpet ring accompanying a shape materializing from the dark. It’s a great opener, with Jason Ringenberg playing that emerging figure ready to deliver classic cow-punk. “Lookin’ Back Blues” follows, charging out of the gate with Ringenberg remaining in scorcher and scorching form.
The autobiographical bent to “God Bless the Ramones” is a music and lyrical nod to when his band, Jason & The Scorchers, toured with the legendary punk band, helping connect the dots between country and punk. “Hobo Bill’s Last Ride” is a yodelin’ dose of western folk. “I’m Walking Home” is a Pogues-influenced civil war ballad and “Almost Enough” is a bouncy, tongue in cheek anti-gospel number. Jason Ringenberg moves out west with “Here in the Sequoias,” the story written during his time as an artist in residence in the Sierra Nevadas, the memory followed by a historical nod wrapped in a rock song with “John Muir Stood Here.” “Many Happy Hangovers to You” comes across as a bar-hopping warning cry, and the album closes with a dose of Dylan and a beautiful version of “Farewell Angelina.” Jason Ringenberg and his band, which features some of the Nashville’s best, give Americana a nice kick in the tail while reminding us that the marriage of country and rock and roll flirting with humor is a fruitful relationship. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Dan Wolff & The Muddy Crows from the E.P. Straight Crazy available as a self-release (Randy Radic)
Americana roots outfit Dan Wolff & the Muddy Crows recently released the E.P. Straight Crazy. Voted the Best D.C. original band in Washington, D.C.’s Readers Poll three years in a row, taking home trophies from 2015 through 2017. The Muddy Crows are made up of Dan Wolff (vocals, guitar), Eric Grabow (bass), Steve Mead (keyboards), Dan Perriello (drums), and Tom O’Donnell (guitar). Their sound is Modern Folk with radiant harmonies, classic rock energy, and narrative lyricism that twists into contagious concoctions. The band’s distinctive moniker, The Muddy Crows, has given rise to entertaining mispronunciations, like a friend’s grandmother, who called them “The Moldy Crows,” or when they were introduced as “The Muddy Cows” prior to performing at a festival. During their European tour, the translation of their name came across as “The Muddy Birds.” In each case, the band didn’t protest, they just carried on. (‘as long as lips are moving’ ed.)
Straight Crazycomprises four tunes, starting off with the title track, an upbeat roots rock number riding a bouncy groove supplemented by a potent bass line and tight drums. A bright piano drives the melody as drawling vocals tell the tale of a girl who has crossed over to crazy with the lines, ‘Cause your eyes tell me you are crazy / The windows to your soul tell me all I need to know / Cause you’re straight crazy, yea you’re crazy about me’. “Quarter Past Four” features an oozing, bluesy savor, crawling with a darkly wicked flow. The rolling rhythm adds to the ominous feel of the tune. Brimming harmonies infuse the melody with depth, as Dan Wolff’s portentous tones imbue the lyrics with menace…‘the vultures fly circles, to see what’s in store / as the time ticks down to a quarter past four / so board up your windows and lock up your doors / because today's the day, I'm going to even the score’. “Jezebel” is another dark tune, full of heavy guitar riffs and urgent textures. The closing track, “Anywhere but Here”, showcases a pounding piano laden with honky-tonk flavors juxtaposed against Wolff’s imperturbable timbres. The cool tones of a trumpet and keening guitars infuse the harmonics with insistent energy, as Wolff intones his desire to be ‘anywhere but here’. With Straight Crazy, Dan Wolff & the Muddy Crows deliver compelling vibes and catchy lyrics. (by Randy Radic)
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