Various Artists (from the album Memphis Rent Party available on Fat Possum Records)
Memphis, Tennessee and music have a long-standing relationship. Connected by the Music Highway with Middle Tennessee and Nashville, Memphis has been a boiling pot curator of Rock’n’Soul for several decades. Celebrating the musicians who have called the city home, Memphis Rent Party plays a soundtrack that pays homage to the home of the Blues, the birthplace of Rock’n’Roll, and a flashpoint for Soul music. The soundtrack is a companion piece to the sixth Robert Gordon book, Memphis Rent Party. With many of the tracks unreleased, Fat Possum Records spans time with tracks from a vast musical history, connecting the sounds as well as bloodlines with music from father and son Dickinson. Memphis Rent Party premiers “Chevrolet”, a pairing of Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) and Sharde Thomas (granddaughter of Otha Turner) alongside Jim Dickinson with “I’d Love to Be a Hippie”, a rare track that, according to the label’s website, was recorded live at a mescaline-fueled blue moon hippie ceremony.
Two tracks on Memphis Rent Party come from cassette recordings that Robert Gordon made live on location. The album offers a listen to Junior Kimbrough (“All Night Long”), recorded in the Bluesman’s living room in the middle of a Mississippi cotton field and “Little Bluebird” by The Fieldstones, captured at the band’s longtime gig at Green’s Lounge, directly across from the Memphis Junkyard. Another living room session is on the album with a 1960 recording of Furry Lewis with “Why Don’t You Come Home” as Memphis Rent Party turns around the sadness of “Harbor Lights” in a rousing footstomper from Jerry Lee Lewis. Sun Records artist Jerry McGill opens Memphis Rent Party, recording outside the famed studio while on the run from the law, acquiring over 97 arrests from the Memphis P.D., and offering Guy Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting on a Train”, backed by Mud Boy and the Neutrons. Calvin Newborn builds a Jazz melody line for “Frame for the Blues”, Tav Falco moans as The Panther Burns tango on a tune from their second gig with “Drop Your Mask”, and Alex Chilton (The Box Tops, Big Star, solo) delivers his take on “Johnny Too Bad”, bringing the soundtrack from The Harder They Come and a tune from Jimmy Cliff to Memphis Rent Party.
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Famously gifted by a how-to guide for the joys of both Saturday night and Sunday morning, Paul Thorn cherishes lessons learned from both preacher (his father) and pimp (his uncle). Claiming the title of son-of-a-preacher-man by birth, Paul Thorn returns to his first musical steps on his recent release, Don’t Let the Devil Ride. Taking the studio time back to church, Paul Thorn walked holy ground, recording Don’t Let the Devil Ride in Memphis at Sam C. Phillips Recording, in Muscle Shoals at FAME Studios, and for a touch of New Orleans, added in players from Preservation Hall. Paul takes pride in the recording, and is on board with its mission, feeling that ‘this is the culmination of my whole life in music, coming back to my gospel roots. My message on this record is 'let's get together' - I want to help lighten your load and make you smile’.
Paul Thorn slowly rolls the wheels and the tempo as he hops on board “Love Train” with vocal assistance from The McCrary Sisters. Blind Boys of Alabama step up to the message microphone to help out with backing vocals on “He’ll Make a Way” and Bonnie Bishop joins in on the slow processional groove of “Something on My Mind”. Don’t Let the Devil Ride chooses a persistent percussive beat to underline the advice in the title track, opening the album doors on a high step with first cut “Come on Let’s Go”, following a snaking lead guitar into “One More River”, and questioning the future, fortified by faith and an almighty commitment in its rhythm, for “What Should I Do”. Paul Thorn channels sweet southern Soul as he and The McCrary Sisters put glory into a shuffle with “You Got to Move” while they stand tall and offer the inspiration of experience and a Memphis groove of “Keep Holdin’ On”.
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The Tillers (from the album The Tillers available on Sofaburn Records)
Validation is important. While self-belief gets us up in the morning, physical acknowledgment keeps one foot in front of the other. In the case of Cincinnati, Ohio-based The Tillers, it was the coins and burritos they received in exchange for the songs they played on banjos, guitars, and an upright bass. For the members of The Tillers, their string band music was filtered through punk rock and a decade into a career, the recent self-titled release showcases a musical diversity honed in ten years of playing as a band. The Tillers tackles tales of family, history, travel, and politics.
For the fifth studio album The Tillers entered Candyland Studios in Dayton, Kentucky with Mike Montgomery (Jeremy Pinnell, The Breeders) as producers, recording the album live to 2” tape. Walking paths far from their Ohio home, The Tillers open the album in South East England, sending an audio post-dated postcard to “The Weald and the Wild”. Addressing man’s levelling of the land, The Tillers direct an apology to our earth in “Dear Mother” and beckon ‘come on children get your heads out of the clouds’, encouraging a tech generation to lock arms and walk together down “Revolution Row”. Songwriter Sean Geil (guitar/vocals) feels The Tillers is ‘definitely more aggressive than past efforts. At our core we are still a traditionally rooted string band, but I’d say our punk rock roots are more visible on this album’. Mike Oberst, Aaron Geil, and Joe Macheret back Sean’s words as the band present a united mood and melody setting limits in “Like a Hole in My Head” and drawing lines in Woody Guthrie’s “All You Facists Bound to Lose”. The Tillers sing the plight of worldwide workers seeking work in “Migrant’s Lament”, put a powerful current in the rhythm of “Riverboat Dishwashing Song”, watch small town life go up in smoke for “The Old General Store is Burning Down”, and quietly close the album door exiting on coming home tenderness of “Another Postcard”.
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Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (from the album Tearing at the Seams available on Stax Records)
There is never a straight line between goal points in life. Nathaniel Rateliff and Night Sweat bassist Joseph Pope III walked dusty back roads in their Hermann, Missouri hometown talking about music. The pair moved to Denver, circling the Soul and R&B of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats that seems such a natural fit. After interest in band projects, Nathaniel Rateliff found success in his Folkier Rounder Records releases though once Soul music tapped him on the shoulder and asked for a dance, musical chemistry dosed the songs. Joseph Pope III recalls ‘that old soul stuff meant a lot to him when we were young. Of all the projects we had done and all the different genres we had played, this was the most natural thing I’d heard him do. It sounded like it came from a really deep place in him, but it took this really meandering path to come through’.
Tearing at the Seams, the recent release from Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, shows its love for classic sounds. Tearing at the Seams, a full band recording project, gladly shares record collection influences as Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats provide a Rock’n’Soul backbeat for 2018 (“A Little Honey”), smooth out grooves with an edge of electricity (“Intro”), lay country guitar riffs over southern folk rock (“Say It Louder”), and cruising on modern-day R&B through chrome and polish Bladerunner city streets (“Shoe Boot”). Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats sequestered themselves in sand and solitude when they took a week to write songs for Tearing at the Seams in Rodeo, New Mexico. The band are joined in two tracks on the album by Brooklyn Folk-Pop group, Lucius, the combo percolating on a rolling rhythm with “Coolin’ Out” and in the sweeping Soul march of “Baby I Know”. Tearing at the Seams stomps and hollers on the handclap rhythm of “Be There” and confesses “Your Worry Me” on a bassline rumble while Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats preach history to fingerpoint at a dicey future against the pattering piano of “I’ll Be Damned” and snake dance on a wiggling melody promising “Baby I Lost My Way (But I’m Going Home)”.
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Sue Foley (from the album The Ice Queen available on Stony Plains Records)
The landscape ruled is both geographical and emotional for The Ice Queen, the latest release from Canadian Blues guitarist, Sue Foley. Taking on the role in the title track, Sue Foley is ‘cool and detached’ as “The Ice Queen”, pointing out the Great White North earth beneath her feet ‘stays frozen for more than half the year’. Though she wears a tough shell in her words, Sue Foley’s guitar work comes from hot-blooded fingers pulling heart and soul from the strings. The Ice Queen strips down to a three-piece for two tracks, Sue’s guitar backed by bass and drums as she gazes into a misty melody memory in “Death of a Dream” and lays down a rock’n’roll backbeat for “Run” to rip a hole in the night.
South of the border for Sue Foley while in Ottawa, Canada was Texas. The singer/songwriter returned to Austin, recording The Ice Queen at The Firestation in San Marcos, Texas, and is joined on the album with three Texas Bluesmen. Billy F. Gibbons (solo, ZZ Top) helps Sue Foley mine “Fool’s Gold” with a steady Blues groove, Jimmie Vaughan (solo, The Fabulous Thunderbirds) helps count musical blessings in “The Lucky Ones”, and Charlie Sexton opens the album door with Sue on first cut “Come to Me”. Sue Foley borrows a Bessie Smith Blues hit from 1927 with “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair” and slinks across horn-fueled shakey love ground on “Gaslight” as The Ice Queen exits the album with solo guitar and vocal work creating the calypso rhythm for “The Dance” and finger-picking to guide A.P. Carter’s “Cannonball Blues” down the rail lines.
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If album releases were outdoor adventures, Olds Sleeper would be Survivor Man as the Lancaster, Pennsylvania musician takes self-sufficiency to Olympic standards. Olds Sleeper write the songs, creates the album artwork, records, produces, and promotes all of his own music. Heart Like a Guitar, the latest release from Olds Sleeper, was recorded in various spots around the musician’s house, the recordings still-warm raw, the honesty of the songs maintaining their origin’s integrity and the stories as facts of life passed across a kitchen table.
A near whispered vocal floats over the quiet picking of opening cut “Railroad Tracks” as a weak winter light pales next the flame of memory Olds Sleeper holds out as the tales history. Heart Like a Guitar slides around the strings, bending the notes to host the questions and answers of “Like a Star”, seeks a way home through clouds of audio-distortion with “Please Help Me”, counts the rhythm for “Minstrel One” on soft taps, and hushes the sound reverently to speak “Elegy”. Olds Sleeper has a plan to create quiet music. Heart Like a Guitar achieves those goals with the random notes and carefully orchestrated strums of “Soul on Fire” while it walks desert trails measuring distance both physical and emotional with “Thunder and Lightning” while Olds Sleeper scratches out a groove before handing over the rhythm to a percussive heartbeat for “Not Giving Up”.
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Soulful Twang (from the album Country Soulful Jazzy)
Musically, there is a lot going on inside Soulful Twang. The title to their recent release, Country Soulful Jazzy, turns the wheel a sampling of the musical styles found on the album. Musical genres are a moving target for the recording, the common ground being the dance floor as Soulful Twang switch up mood and melody like light refracting off the mirrored ball spinning above Country Soulful Jazzy. The album heads south of the border on a Mexicali horn and percussion in “The Soul of Country (The Soulful Groove Mix)”, kicks open honky tonk doors with “Back Porch Swing (Fiddle Mix)”, mellows in low-light rhythms for “Wrapped in Your Arms”, and lets a church piano lead the way into “I’ll See You Again in Heaven”.
Saxophone, trumpet, fiddle, mandolin, guitars, and piano are part of the backing band for Soulful Twang, creatively led by founder Misz (The Groove Producer). It was a mission that propelled Misz, who felt that ‘I wanted to do something musically, where I could introduce the world to music that was country, soulful and jazzy all on the same project. I wanted the name of the band to represent the music and the performances of what we do, which is a little country, a little soul and a little jazz. And when you put all those things together, you have a country soulful jazzy vibe. I call it soulful twang’. Country Soulful Jazzy fulfills all the musical wishes the band had going in to the studio. The album steps high, moving uptown for a “Saturday Night Stroll” and tenderly offers its hand as sax riffs turn slowly for “May I Have This Dance for a Lifetime” as Soulful Twang spice up “Good Times on the Bayou” with a hint of Zydeco, pound out a beat that translates into “I’m Ready for Anything”, and fire up the fiddle to announce “Welcome to the Party”.
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Kenny Owens (from the album Colored by the Blue)
Soft strums match the easy time set by Kenny Owens as the Tennessee songman grabs a guitar and a pole, opening his latest release, Colored by the Blue, with “Gone Fishing”. The track marks the pace for Colored by the Blue with gentle rhythms while Kenny Owens offers his words and music as a healing balm as the album looks deep into a mirror, letting the gentle sway of rhythm transform the “Weight of the World” into a drop in the bucket as it makes use of horn blasts to ward off the rising water in “Fourteen Days of Rain”, sinks into self-pity as a message from the past stokes resolve in “The Small Stuff”, and follows a fiddle call into “Hours Before Dawn”.
With a nod to Gram Parsons, Kenny Owens dubs his music Cosmic American, letting the depth of his Roots dig down below the surface of the simple stories and the wealth of emotion the characters wear on full display. Classic Country backs Kenny Owens as he tips his musical hat to offer “Good Luck to You” and welcomes the sunshine feeling rising from being “Back in L.O.V.E. Again”. Colored by the Blue points to “Missy Brown” as it follows a traditional lifestyle down a rabbit hole of questionable choices and swallows a spoonful of bitter “Sugar” on a rock’n’roll rhythm as Kenny Owens closes out the album by singing his resume with “Troubadour Travelin’ Man”.
John Mayall (from the album Three for the Road available on Forty Below Records)
A wide range of musicians have their music re-worked and re-imagined by John Mayall and backing band Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums) as the trio set up to record a tour dates with Three for the Road. The threesome had their live set captured on a 2017 European tour while performing in Stuttgart and Dresden, Germany. John Mayall went to his extensive library of tracks from musical peers for Three for the Road, selecting songs ranging across decades of recorded music with tracks from Lionel Hampton (“Ridin’ on the L&N”), Lightning Hopkins (“I Feel So Bad”), and Sonny Landreth (“Congo Square”).
The band stretches out on Three for the Road, following the music as it winds, curves, and smooths out in the arrangements, with John Mayall citing that ‘naturally, my playing is featured quite a lot more than usual in this format, and I hope listeners will enjoy the performances that capture a new chapter in my live shows’. Dubbed the ‘Godfather of British Blues’, John Mayall fronts the rhythm section with guitar and keyboards, sitting behind on the organ bench for the rounded-note riffs in “Streamline” and “Don’t Deny Me” before shifting to piano for the rhythmic patter backing his vocal in Curtis Salgado’s The Sum of Something”. After an introduction, the trio stride into Three for the Road with “Big Town Playboy” while John Mayall slows the pace to steamy on “Tears Came Rollin’ Down” and lets loss sink deep into a Blue groove in “Lonely Feelings”.
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