Jaime Michaels (from the album If You Fall available on Appaloosa Records)
For many years, Jaime Michaels set list was filled with the songs of other writers. Rather than simply playing covers, Jaime worked his way into the music, finding the path the words take to the story and developing an understanding how the players can accent and help the tale along. A move west to New Mexico was the spark for Jaime Michaels own songwriting, his nine-album output since relocating to the Southwest steadily showcasing his originals tunes. The If You Fall title track jumps in finding inspiration with the simple wisdom of ‘if you fall, you fall’. The accordion rattles “Bag O’Bones” with its persistent musical breaths while the rhythms of “Red Buddha Laughs” meditate on a rolling percussive mantra as Jaime Michaels pedals through a midway memory in “Carnival Town” and tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim with “So It Goes”.
Returning to the producer’s seat, Jono Manson guides the recording of If You Fall for Jaime Michaels. The album offers the songs of fellow musicians when Jaime Michaels travels with Townes Van Zandt’s “Snowing on Raton” and revisits a small town story in Greg Trooper’s “They Call Me Hank”. If You Fallquietly ponders the randomness of the universe with “Any Given Moment” and offers council on finding comfort in “You Think You Know” as Jaime Michaels surrounds a personal accounting of the man behind the music with notes flickering like starlight across “I Am Only – What I Am”.
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Albert Cummings (from the album Believe available on Provogue Records)
Capping off an album packed with songs to inspire, Albert Cummings shares what works for him as he exits his latest album release, Believe, with the cut “Me and My Guitar”, reminding that he is never alone with his six-string within arms-length. The tracks sits alongside similar words of observation and opinion from Albert Cummings, the songman soundtracking his stories with the Blues overseeing ventures into Soul and Rock’n’Roll. Pointing fingers, Albert Cummings introduces “Queen of Mean” over a chugging boogie, wades into “Going My Way” on a confident Blues stride, warns “Do What Mama Says” with Southern Soul, and tries to warm a chilly Sunday afternoon with a round of memories in “Get Out of Here”.
The Sound of the South can be heard in the melodies of Believe, Albert Cummings taking his collections of tunes into FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record with producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sanatana) behind the board. Albert Cummings spoke of original intentions with Believe, recalling ‘this album was meant to mostly be recreations of some of my favorite classics but once I started working with Jim in FAME and the musicians he booked, the album took a whole new turn. I knew I had to take advantage of the unique sound that Muscle Shoals was bringing to the table’. The sound of Van Morrison gets Muscle Shoals mojo with a version of his cut “Crazy Love” on Believewhile Albert Cummings slow churns the rhythms of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”. Stepping into “Call Me Crazy” armed with maniacal guitar riffs Albert Cummings breaks it down with the Blues wisdom found in the line ‘you think I was born yesterday but I stayed up late last night’ as Believe walks into the room with its tail held high for the Blues stroll of “Red Rooster”.
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Sonny Landreth from the album Blacktop Run available on Provogue Records)
Mastering a guitar tends to leave a creative hole for the player, with many six-string slingers taking their leads into Jazzy atmospherics with flash fire riffs to expand the learning. For slide guitar master, Sonny Landreth, as the understanding of his instruments advanced, the playing went further into his passions; Blues and Roots music. Never a stranger to experimentation, Sonny Landreth takes his slide work for a road trip through Roots styles with Blacktop Run, his latest release. Venturing far into the raw side of electric slide guitar for the “Beyond Borders” instrumental, Sonny Landreth spits out notes, his riffs speaking with a slight Latin accent as he plucks notes under the warnings of “Don’t Make a Move” as Blacktop Run travels to “Wilds of Wonder” on a chopped-up boogie and dips its toes in the Cajun roux of “Mule”.
Sonny Landreth welcomed the energy boast that previous producer, RS Field, brought in to Dockside Studios south of Lafayette, Louisiana to consult with Sonny and co-producer Tony Daigleto. Backed by a powerhouse of musicians, David Ranson (bass), Brian Brignac (drums), and Steve Conn (keyboards), who authored a trio of tracks for the album. Blacktop Run colors its songs with a wide variety of sounds, moving from front porch Folk in the title track to the fusion Rock of “Groovy Goddess” and the funky Zydeco strut in “Lover Dance with Me”. Sounds shape only to shift as Sonny Landreth circles the cosmos within the space of a song for “Many Worlds” drifting lazily into the multi-layered story and melodies of album closer “Something Grand”.
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Billy Strings (from the album Home available on Rounder Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Billy Strings has quickly become royalty among the festival crowd. The man is an ace of guitar wiz prowess. Throw Billy Strings alongside heavy hitters such as Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass, and time-honored nu-grass veterans Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, he is a peer, a nimble picker throwing out commanding leads while also exhibiting the patience to lay back and make space so his bandmates and their instruments can shine.
Home is a release comfortable in the world of progressive Bluegrass, an album that blurs the lines between traditions and experimentation. Home is hypnotic and head bobbing, a jaw dropping dose of instrumental theatrics along with good-ol’ Bluegrass melodies. Classic storylines should convey some ache since prior to influx of jam bands Bluegrass was loaded with gut punch tales. ‘There’s an empty spot in me, where my hometown used to be’ is a line from album the opener in “Taking Water”, proving Billy Strings knows that not all of his songs need to yield happiness. “Running”, with its duel banjo and guitar intro, is a charger, “Away From the Mire” and “Watch It Fall” are beautiful Mid-tempo ballads, and “Highway Hypnosis” as well as “Hollow Heart” offers the classic banjo into mandolin intros found in a lineage that stretches from Bill Monroe to Old & In the Way to Town Mountain. Home a staple of classic American bluegrass. “Guitar Peace” is an experimental piece that finds Billy Strings exploring some guitar darkness, while “Freedom” is Bluegrass Gospel featuring layered harmonies, giving way to the 29-second closer of animated guitar that is “Big Sandy.” (by Bryant Liggett)
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Chicago Farmer (from the album Flyover Country available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Taking a well-worn musical path, Chicago Farmer, aka Cody Diekhoff, walked the walk from punk rock and like-minded angst guitar heroes before learning about Hank Williams. Realizing the heartache expressed by Hank the First was the same kind of pain as expressed by Kurt Cobain. The door that opened for Cody Diekhoff by Hank Williams led to a party soundtrack for Chicago Farmer filled with music from John Prine, Emmylou Harris, and Waylon Jennings among others.
The latest from Chicago Farmer, Flyover Country, is a catchy collection of subtle twang. Chicago Farmer has his finger on the modern Roots pulse with a display of gritty Country Rock and Folk from the gut amid a Folksingers mesh of lyrical humor and problems with a groove. Road tunes open Flyover Country. “Indiana Line” is a heart-driven nod to getting home, while the Flyover Country title track finds itself behind the wheel for a weeper about old friends, new friends, and lost loves, where the narrator has a ‘lifetime to go, a lifetime behind, eyes on the road and you on my mind…drive all night’. “$13 Beers” is a familiar narrative for anyone that has attended a professional sporting event or a stadium concert, reminding us fans that a smaller venue for a Midwest bill of Bloodshot artists will always outweigh an arena flavor of the week. “All in One Place” is rowdy Cowpunk, “Ramblin’ Man” a haunting country-noir, and “Dirtiest Uniforms,” with its sing-along bounce, an autobiographical reflection. “The Village Revisited”, with its R&B vibe, wraps Flyover Country by adding to the whole collection of Indie Singer/Songwriter and aggro-Americana. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Darling West (from the album We’ll Never Know Unless We Try available on Jansen Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Norway’s Darling West made a time travel record. If you’re lucky enough to be of an age that remembers listening to the static from the crackling AM radio in an American-made, mid-1960’s gas guzzler (like a Ford Fairlane 500, for instance) then you likely remember the sweet static. The songs of the AM dial were Gold, the music polish and perfection with a smooth voice crooning Pop music, a sometimes genre-less product with broad influences; bouncy and fun, sad and slow, every one of the bunch of tunes were flat out catchy.
We’ll Never Know Unless We Try, the recent release from Darling West, is a trip in that time machine from the back-seat of a Ford Fairlane 500. “Hey There” comes on like a late-night hush, the lyrical sound of ‘I hear a humming, the sweetest humming in my ear’ soft and soothing. “Make It Last” follows quickly along with “Cant’ Help It,” a mid-tempo groove with punches of bright, jammy guitar that live comfortably right next to the harmonies. “True Friends”, with its harmonica and washboard, have a front-porch, jug band feel while “The Calling” is ambient and subtle, anchored by a mysterious chant. The album closer, “When Mountains Fall”, with carefully plucked banjo and sad fiddle, is a Norwegian nod to Appalachia. ‘He lost his youngest he told me through his tears. We were already deep into a jug of wine and suddenly I stopped feeling fine’ is timeless lyrical territory. While far from the bright Indie Folk of the beginnings of We Never Know Unless We Try, it is an important cut to document the Darling West’s diverse musical output. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Sweet Lizzy Project (from the album Technicolor available on Mono Mundo Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
A band like Havana, Cuba's Sweet Lizzy Project makes you wonder if there are an endless army of Indie Rock’n’Roll bands kicking around nations circling the globe. We can thank Raul Malo (The Mavericks) for their American presence of Sweet Lizzy Project when he accepted the role of musical diplomat to help the band gain a foothold here in the United States. Raul put up some of the band members in his Nashville home and eventually signed the band to The Mavericks imprint, Mono Mundo Recordings. With the release of their sophomore effort Technicolor, Sweet Lizzy Project is proving to be players worthy of a listen in the Indie Pop scene, injecting slight traces of traditional Cuban music into punchy doses of Pop. The title track kicks Technicolor off with a groovy pulse, lead vocalist Lisset Diaz singing ‘I’m colorblind, I wish that I could shine’, the soundtrack to the lyrics featuring Psychedelic guitar against big Rock breaks.
“Ain’t Nobody to Call” has a bratty Punk beat that proves American New Wave of the 1980’s made it into Castro’s Cuba decades ago. “Tu Libertad” has a lounge vibe while “The Flowers in the Seed”, which has Sweet Lizzy Project joined by The Mavericks, is a big duet with beautiful jangly guitar riffs. “Vuelta Atras” has a fun bounce with another quick shot of psychedelic guitar aching to take off into extended jam territory, acid-dripping guitar sonics mellowing into the dreamy album closer, “December 31st”. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Rose Cousins (from the album Waiting on You available on Outside Music)
Missing connections is the centerpoint for Bravado, the recent release from Rose Cousins. Loneliness is the target when Bravado sings for both those who feel the burden of being alone and fellow humans needing more solo time in their lives. As a backdrop for creating the songs on Bravado, Rose Cousins shared ‘I think about how we’re so disconnected. I get sucked into my phone and forget to go for a walk because of this sense of obligation I have that convinces me to get as much work done as possible. We are missing what’s actually happening. I’ve been thinking about how we must be getting close to a breaking point’. Kicking things off with a DIY guide for making your own table for one is provided with step-by-step instructions from Rose Cousins in “The Benefits of Being Alone”. The cut begins the song cycle for Bravado, its theme continued on the album, each track listed as chapters, “The Agreement” setting boundaries for its characters while “The Swimmer (To Be an Old Man)” addresses the fear of losing a partner as “The Time Being (Impending Mortality Appreciation Society)” faces death head on.
Offering an explanation for the title track, Rose Cousins speaks of her stamina in “The Expert” as Bravado looks to matters of the heart for “The Return (Love Comes Back)”, airs hopes and fears with “The Fraud”, and makes promises on the studied marching rhythm of “The Benediction (A Good Woman)”. Throughout the song cycle on Bravado, a non-stop inner-committee juggles the myriad of emotions that course through our minds, Bravado repetitively making a mantra to get through “The Din”. The album exits as the repeated message tries to be heard amid chaotic sonics while Rose Cousins wearily repeats the verse/chorus of her album’s opening cut, quietly reminiscing within her own words against a piano reverie in “The Reprise (The Benefits of Being Alone)”.
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Possessed by Paul James (from the album Nobody Told Me on PPJ Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
It is a record that goes for the gut and when the target is reached, it hits hard. As We Go Wandering, the latest from Possessed By Paul James, the musical aka for Konrad Wert, explores Folk music behind a variety of lead instruments. With his guitar, banjo or fiddle, the Punky Blues punch of As We Go Wandering multi-tasks as it encourages you to think with stories while charming your socks off with ballads. A precise snare drum drives album opener “Come Back in My Mind”, a tale about the desire for family memories while “Your White Stained Dress” finds Possessed by Paul James capturing the angst of a failing relationship.
“I’m So Good at Absolutely Nothing” is a pessimistic love song in a banjo ballad, ‘hand in hand we’ll fail together, that’s just the way it should be’ is as honest an admission as the song title, leaving loving feelings for a downtrodden couple hell-bent on sticking together, while “Be At Rest” is a protest tune. ‘Battle in these classrooms, battle in these hearts, and if we don’t start to work together man this whole damn thing will fall apart’ is an obvious and honest claim, beautiful in its lyrical simplicity with Possessed by Paul James convincing in his plea. “I Didn’t Know When” is a break-up tune with a hopeful ending, the narrator stating “I’m still standing darling’ while “Asleep With Both Eyes Open” is a crying in your beer ballad driven by a lonely fiddle. The As We Go Wandering title track closes the record, a softly plucked guitar helping Possessed by Paul James make an exit in a hit the road tune. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Tami Neilson (from the album Chickaboom! available on Outside Music)
The spirit comes alive when Tami Neilson shares her personal beliefs, giving a shout out to the trinity that she bows down to ‘Mahalia, Rosetta, and Mavis’ in “Sister Mavis”….can I get a hallelujah! The spiritual testification can be found on the recent release from Tami Neilson, Chickaboom!, not only honoring the work of the mighty Ms. Staples but proving that Tami was raised on the right path. Chickaboom! is a collection of two and three-minute tunes that sizzle, moving from heartfelt Country ballads echoing a long gone era with “Sleep” as Tami Neilson trots across the album’s landscape on the Country and Western breeze of “Any Fool with a Heart” and she flags a ride to make an exit in “Hey, Bus Driver”.
Good things come in small packages, and for Tami Neilson that was the model she carried as a goal into the studio to record Chickaboom!, the New Zealand-based singer standing proudly behind her decision, ‘I wanted to write an album of punchy little songs, popping firecrackers that, when stripped back to nothing but a guitar, percussion and two voices, would still go boom’. The vocal power of Tami Neilson drives Chickaboom!, the music a percussive rattle underneath Tami in “16 Miles of Chain” as she sinks deep into a pool of sultry Soul with “You Were Mine”, raises a ruckus with the rockabilly of “Tell Me That You Love Me”, and sends a lover packing in “Call Your Mama”. Tami Neilson grew up touring the United States with her mom, dad, and two brothers as part of The Nielson Family Band before falling in love with a New Zealander and moving to the bottom of the world. Supported by a choir of handclaps and a rugged rhythm, Tami Neilson puts her young dreams into “Ten Tonne Truck” as she steers Chickaboom! with every hair of her beehive in place and each note guided by heart and soul.
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