Lydia Luce (from the album Dark River available on Lydia Luce/Tone Tree Music) (by Bryant Liggett)
One can hear the diverse musical background and all-about-the-music ethos in the output of Nashville’s Lydia Luce. From her mother’s classical music influences and Lydia’s own education via Berklee School of Music to time spent in Music City as a session player. On her latest, Dark River, Lydia Lude digs into heavy and heady Folk, adding touches of Indie Rock while also showcasing a voical delivered with an old school vibe, crooning like she stand in the spotlight of a pre-WWII Paris night club. The album kicks with a dramatic film score, the “Occasionally,” and Luce adds a chamber music feel with heavy string instrumentation casually mixing with Rock on the Dark River title track where she sings ‘there are those in your life who will see you as a light with an ever-glowing flame to share’.
“Tangled Love” is ripe for a dark lounge number, “Something to Say” featuring softly picked guitar, and “Never Been Good” pulled right from the Indie Rock playbook. “Leave Me Empty” kicks off with a Rock’n’Roll rhythm followed by slight punches of surf guitar. It is a time traveling cut, a glorious dose of New Wave that missed being included in a John Hughes movie by about 25 years. “Stones” is a beautiful, ambient ballad, and album closer in “Just the Same” is stripped-down and sentimental, Lydia Luce uttering a lonely vocal backed by piano and a string section, the track of many cuts on Dark Riverthat connects the dots between Indie Folk and Classical Music. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians (from the album Hunter and the Dog Star available on Shuffle Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians first record in three years pushes beyond a hippie past. While there are some jam leanings, Hunter and the Dog Star is a dose of hip, multi-genre songs, hinting of electro and Funk, Soul, Rhythm & Blues, and dream Pop all come with a vision informed by the experimental. “Sleeve” opens Hunter and the Dog Star with a slick, Indie Psychedelic Prog rhythm as the soothing Edie Brickell vocal counts off the number of tattoos on her character arm.
“Don’t Get in the Bed Dirty” is a funky club cut, “I Don’t Know” pulls from the modern, jam band playbook, and “Stubborn Love” is a soulful groover of 21st Century R&B. Edie Brickell’s vocal and vocal ability is highlighted in the fun “Tripwire” as she scats to a New Wave beat as the festival-friendly and Rootsy “Horses Mouth” features The New Bohemians ripping keyboards and guitar backing Brickell’s wisdom of ‘if you don’t hear it from the horse’s mouth, you’ll hear it from the horse’s ass’. “I Found You”, “Miracles”, and “Evidence” are a package of psychedelic Folk that sets up the dramatic album closer of “My Power.” Brickell is aging with grace and Hunter and the Dog Star proves Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians aren’t afraid to stretch out. While there are some nods to their groovy nineties, Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians are not relying on past success as the band embraces and experiments with the right now. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Andrew Delaney (from the album The Villain is Right! available on Space Accident Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Andrew Delaney’s The Villain Is Right! is a punchy blast of clever lyrics delivered as storytelling reality and 21st Century beat poetry, a record where acoustic picking can change to charged Rock in an electric heartbeat. “…meanwhile” opens The Villain is Right! with Andrew Delaney speak/singing a story that meanders from the tale of Adam and Eve as he questions modern religion and a hard-to-believe-in afterlife.
Andrew Delaney quips ‘this world has never made much sense to me’ in “Napoleon (3000 Measly Dollars)”, using true or false tales from the life of Napoleon in a love song. “Giallo” is a blast of Indie Classical while the Funk Rock rhythm of “Godzilla vs. King Kong (1962) hears Delaney scatting about Hiroshima, internment camps, and the Trail of Tears as he sings ‘it’s the sound of the reckoning’ hoping America can acknowledge the unmemorable moments of her past. Andrew Delaney is a master of lyrics, throwing out clever lines like ‘some of our best laid plans are best laid to rest’ from “In There Somewhere” as he closes The Villain is Right! with the bouncy and inspirational “Nonsense”, the most dance-friendly cut of the record where he sings ‘fall into a funk you have to dance your way out’. Lyrically, Andrew Delaney leaves a lot to dig into, his stream of conscious words moving from personal thought to stark observation. He gives a solid punch to the chatty Folksinger scene, his narrative delivered over music that goes from quite picking to booming Rock that features a steady bowed bass building a rhythmic wall. Andrew Delaney, and The Villain is Right!, is music filed under the new genre of Power Folk. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Reed Turchi (from the album Creosote Flats available on Nine Mile Records)
The guitar work, spoken/sung vocals, mystical phrases, and magical melodies create the soundtrack for Creosote Flats, the recent release from Reed Turchi. The stage is set for the meditative tones and textures of Creosote Flats in opening cut “Serpentine” when Redd Turchi creates a trance on the echoey rattle of percussion and a repetitive musical hook. The mood becomes a model for the album, the songs ambling, floating on dreamscape sonics in “South Kaibab”, the guitar notes forming a foundation as the musical accompaniment in the songs spins and twirls. The title track tentatively finds its footing before finding a heartbeat in a percussive thump as Creosote Flats plays a somber stomp that carries Reed Turchi across “When Yer Away” like the sea and shore in the track’s storyline.
Gnarled chord chops announce “Coyote” as Reed Turchi tells a desert tale over ragged rhythms while Creosote Flats follows meandering guitar noodlings across “Chiawa”. Hopping on a dusky noir groove with the hope of “Peace”, Reed Turchi spits out a Bluesy ramble as his guitar slides over “Sotol”.
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Rick Holmstrom (from the album See That Light available on Luellie Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
As a solo guitar player and bandleader for Mavis Staples, Rick Holmstrom gets tossed into the Blues realm. Yet scratch the surface and you will find a well-versed and versatile player, a musician whose sound can dance to Rockabilly and the jangly subtleties of LA’s Paisley Underground. A singular classification of Blues does a disservice to Rick Holmstrom. Blues is an anchor for a lot of players, including Holmstrom, with his latest See That Light using Blues as a key ingredient in a musical recipe that’s cooked up for a number of diverse dancehalls.
“Take My Hand” opens See That Light with a slow, Funky groove with “Look Me in the Eye” being the best in Blues Rock. Cuts like “Losing My Shit” and “Keep It Hid” are slow burners and “Got yo Go” is a hip, riff heavy cut that reveals Holmstrom’s keeping good company by name-dropping his Roots Rock pal Chuck Prophet. Rick Holmstrom lays out classic R&B with “Don’t Wake Me”, “Lonesome Sound” is a blast of Country Soul, and album closer, “Joyful Eye”, is a Bluesy ballad that shuffles you around a dance floor. Rick Holmstrom has his own sound while playing a diverse hand, where Blues and Blue-eyed Soul all have a Roots Rock push. What is on display on See That Light are Rick Holmstrom’s guitar chops: rough, ready, and dirty as they set a gritty mood for a solid Rock steady record. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Valley Maker (from the album When the Day Leaves available on Frenchkiss Records)
Delicate musical soundscapes surround the words of Valley Maker as the musician touches on the mishmash of feelings and emotions that drifted like dust motes through the air of 2020. The collection of stories moves between extremes, stretching from aspiration to exasperation as When the Day Leaveslistens to a man and woman speak/sing in tandem on the title track. On a lyrical flow that marches step by step with a repetitive guitar note pattern, Valley Maker trudges across When the Day Leaves on “Voice Inside the Well”, chasing a caffeinated beat to tell the tale of “Pine Trees”, and trying to trace lines from a beginning to an end of his thoughts of the past and future with “Mockingbird”. The man behind the Valley Maker moniker brought an already established uncertainty into the fractured days, weeks, and months of 2020 when Austin Crane (aka Valley Maker) prepared to leave a decade long home in Seattle, Washington. While in the Northwest, Austin Crane pursued a doctorate in human geography, returning to his own Roots in Columbia, South Carolina.
Adding to the intricate soundscapes created by Valley Maker and producer Trevor Spencer on When the Day Leaves are the harmonies of Amy Godwin. Vocals that accent the words and expand on the drifting musical dreams. Amy Godwin is an integral part of the kaleidoscopic sound of When the Day Leaves. The rhythm walks with heavy footsteps on “No One is Missing” and offers brightly picked notes that sparkle while surrounding the storyline in “Freedom”. In the Valley Maker press release, When the Day Leaves is described as ‘an uninterrupted sequence of reflections about the generational limbo of being awed by and worried for this world’. Valley Maker is the guide, his reflections precise as he opens the album on gentle acoustics with “Branch I Bend”, his judgments and hopes carried on the confident beat of “Instrument” while “On a Revelation” uses electric guitar chords to give the harmonies jabs as they tell the story of their collective Blues.
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Veronica Lewis (from the album You Ain’t Unlucky available on Blue Heart Records) (by Joe Burcaw)
I always hold fondness and admiration for my fellow New England musicians, but in this instance I hold an ‘extreme’ amount of admiration for Boogie-Woogie Blues ace Veronica Lewis. Hailing from the Live-Free-or-Die state of New Hampshire, this seventeen-year-old anomaly plays the barrelhouse piano like no other pianist I have ever heard, for real! The fire and passion emanating out of this young woman’s fingertips is frighteningly impressive, move over Jerry Lee ‘cos a new Lewis is in town. Veronica Lewis’ bombastic command of the keyboard, and exemplary Blues licks, are executed seamlessly on her latest release You Ain’t Unlucky. The Jerry Lee Lewis comparison is obvious, and not because they share the same surname or that she paid tribute to him in the song “Ode to Jerry”. Other influences can be found in the familiar inflections of Dr. John and Low Cut Connie weaving in and out of her musical web. What has struck me the most is her high level of confidence and trial-by-fire performances, which can be viewed all over YouTube.
Veronica just won Blues Artist of the Year at the 2020 Boston Music Awards, and trust me, there will more accolades to come by years end if she keeps plowing through the music industry with this type of conviction! The title track, paying tribute to the late great Dr. John, is a perfect lead-off to get the listeners up and out of their seats; hips swaying and heads bopping to the up-tempo rhythms.
I kept thinking about Tori Amos watching her live performances, Veronica Lewis practically standing on the piano as she bashes away with complete focus. “Whoo Whee Daddy” features the sax playing talents of Joel Edinberg crooning away to a hip call response interplay followed by a strong twelve-bar solo to the coda. If sock-hops were still in vogue, you could count on me attending with shoes prepped and shined, primed for a dance-til-you-drop marathon. Every song on You Ain’t Unlucky gets better than the next as we progress from track one to track eight. A key to a successful album is the ingredients and Veronica Lewis added all of the right herbs and spices on this one! Hopefully situations in the world begin to normalize so artists such as Lewis can get out there and hit the road doing what they do best, gig.
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Kathleen Edwards (from the album Total Freedom available on Dualtone Music)
Any musical offering from Kathleen Edwards in the past six years may have been heard on rare days when she hummed along to a song from behind the counter of her combination coffee shop/bar/café in Stittsville, Ottawa. In 2014, Kathleen Edwards walked away from a career in motion, opening a successful business, aptly called Quitters, outside of the industry she had been a part of during four album releases. Playing and songwriting held no interest, nor did being part of the machine that a musician must willingly commit to in order to get their songs heard. The pressures were gone; building a fanbase, touring, merchandising, promoting. As the wheel turned Kathleen Edwards simply stepped off, allowing her time to listen to music and experience life as a single day. The decision proved a positive point for the artist, refreshing her desire to create and revisit her past for the words to apply to her music. The result is Total Freedom, the most recent release from Kathleen Edwards.
The opening cut “Glenfern” celebrates the love/hate relationship we have with the times in our life that form our future, Kathleen Edwards taking a look around, wondering how she arrived in the space she stands, and recalling the ride she took on the rock’n’roller coaster. The weight she carried that led her to take a break has been lessened by a lightening of the load as Kathleen Edwards’ perspective sees those times that broke her resolve as gifts. The spark from a chance meeting fans the flames for “Options Open” as Total Freedom opens its heart to talk of two-legged and four-legged friends in “Who Rescued Who”. The musical backing wraps around the stories revealed in the words, gently curling around the ending of love in “Feelings Fade”, its pace quickening once the truth is spoken. Total Freedom (co-produced by Ian Fithchuk and longtime Edwards collaborator/guitarist Jim Bryson) gets namechecked in “Birds on a Feeder”, Kathleen Edwards capturing the joy she has attained in the storyline.
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Katie Mae & The Lubrication (from the album Hazy Angel available as a self-release)
With cry like wind blowing through the canyons and dry river beds of the Southwest desert, Phoenix, Arizona’s Katie Mae howls and whispers with a mighty voice. Backed by The Lubrication, the recent E.P. release Hazy Angel support her vocals with a sparse soundscape, the percussion rumbling like a distant train as a thick guitar lead wriggle like a snake over hot sand in “Sweet Talkin’”. Slow ragged strums announce the title track as “Hazy Angel” has a tough-love conversation while Katie Mae and the Lubrication dare ‘to call me if you ever find a backbone’ promising “Shivers” if courage punches in the numbers on the phone.
Using vocal gymnastics to tell the story of “Life So Small”, Katie Mae yodel/sings the story as The Lubrication construct the musical framework of “High & Dry” slowly from a stuttered strumming to a full-on percussive rumble as the tune leads towards an exit for Hazy Angel.
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Firefall (from the album Comet available on Sunset Boulevard Records)
The harmonies of Firefall have become a vintage blend in a band that has logged four decades of touring and recording. Their recent release, Comet, showcases the curated sound of Firefall, the stories mirroring the band’s age as they daydream and make promises for “Younger”, trace memories in “Ghost Town”, and recall times when the radio held the message on “Way Back When”. Sunshine and clear skies are the backdrop for the songs of Firefall, Comet bringing a smile in the strums of “A Real Fine Day”, feeling freedom in “A New Mexico”, and penning a love letter in “There She Is”.
Formed 1974 in Boulder, Colorado by former members of The Flying Burrito Brothers, Zephyr, and Spirit, Firefall’s easy blend of styles was perfect for a time when Country Rock was moving towards mainstream and soft Rock formats populated the radio dial. Comet has three original members in the lineup (Jock Bartley, Mark Andes, and David Muse) the sound curated by the group in its origins still alive and well on record. Comet dips in the sound of lonely for “Never Be the Same” and shows how tough times lead to even tougher choices in “Hardest Chain”. Firefall borrow a tune from band member Mark Andes former group, Spirit, when they cover “Nature’s Way” as a comment on the environment for Comet.
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