Steve Earle & The Dukes (from the album Guy available on new West Records)
There are undoubtably a number of reasons Steve Earle decided to honor his friend Guy Clark with the recently release tribute, GUY. For Steve, recalled motive that made the most sense as ‘no way I could get out of doing this record. When I get to the other side, I didn’t want to run into Guy having made the TOWNES record and not one about him’. Steve Earle holds both Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt as mentors. Steve met Guy Clark in Nashville 1974 after hitchhiking to Music City from San Antonio, replacing Rodney Crowell as bass player in Guy’s band. Steve Earle & The Dukes gather a healthy dose of Guy Clark songs, filling GUY with sixteen cuts from the songman’s lengthy catalog.
Beginning the song cycle, GUY opens with first cut “Dublin Blues”, its story written both for, and about, the Roots and Americana music community that has embraced Guy Clark along with Steve Earle & The Dukes. Tunes such “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” have become part of the fabric of the American Songbook, GUY reminding the knack of Guy Clark to write a song that sticks. For Steve Earle & The Dukes, the project was an easy one, Steve sharing ‘we did it fast, five or six days with almost no overdubbing, I wanted it to sound live….when you’ve got a catalog like Guy’s and you’re only doing sixteen tracks, you know is each one is going to be strong’. A mad reel fills the air as Steve Earle & The Dukes sing a song for “Sis Draper”, tell the tale of “Texas 1947”, find a spot where the party never stops “Out in the Parking Lot”, and bring a sea coast sway into “The Ballad of Laverne and Captain Flint”. Other close companions of Guy Clark and Steve Earle join in on the recording of GUY, with Shawn Camp, Mickey Raphael, and Gary Nicholson lending musical accompaniment to the voices harmonizing on “Old Friends” as Emmylou Harris, Jerry Jeff Walker, Terry Allen, Rodney Crowell, and Jo Harvey Allen take a line from the story. GUY nods to the man, a tribute from a band that benefitted from his wisdom while Steve Earle The Dukes remind of a craftmanship of Guy Clark as they travel down the songwriter’s “New Cut Road”, remember “That Old Time Feeling”, and make a present of their homage like the treasures handed down in “The Randall Knife”.
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Jane Kramer (from the album Valley of the Bones available as a self-release)
A song of troubadour life sets up on a small college town stage when Jane Kramer opens her guitar case and unlocks her ‘sequin-covered heart’ and competes with the TV station blaring a ball game. The scene is familiar to anyone that has traveled blacktop admitting ‘this sure is lonely but the highway loves you, honey’ and wondering ‘am I crying or am I singing?’ as Jane Kramer opens diary pages on “Singin’s Enough” and the other stories she has collected on Valley of the Bones, her recent release. The road takes her back home to “Macon County” while Valley of the Bonesserves a list of demands when Jane Kramer cautions ‘I ain’t wasting time in no scratchy Sunday dress’ in “Hymn” and concedes that the kiss that hasn’t stopped for ’23 miserable years’ has had serious repercussions in “I’ll See Your Crazy and Raise You Mine”.
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Arnold Mitchem (from the album Drive available as a self-release)
A stream of consciousness tells the tales on Drive, the latest release from Arnold Mitchem. Drive stages its stories in real time as talking Blues flows from the man behind the wheel in “Memphis” and Arnold Mitchem takes control of his life in “Chains”. A prayer is offered up to “My Dark Angel” while Arnold Mitchem slowly steers the rhythm past sad L.A. stories looking for “Grace”. Arnold Mitchem modernizes the influence of field Blues origins as he speaks his mind with a lyrical flow in “Face the Devil” while Drive pushes past personal boundaries in the title track. Laying rhythm under his Blues, Arnold Mitchem cruises into Drive with “Shout” as the album chews on both the beat and bad decisions in “Right Amount of Wrong”.
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The Mekons from the album Deserted available from Bloodshot Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The Mekons have clung to an undefinable ethos for their whole career. Punks on paper and part of that first wave of British punk in the late 1980’s but far to the left/right of anything their contemporaries in the movement were creating. Then and now with the recent release, Deserted, The Mekons remain a curveball coming out of your speakers. On Deserted, The Mekons explore Art Rocked electric Roots music, avant-garde and progressive on a record is a perpetual motion machine that chugs and rocks. ‘I will be the king, I will be the king’ is the proclamation in album opener, “Lawrence of California,” an out-of-the-gate singalong charger.
“In the Sun/The Galaxy Explodes” kicks off with stabbing guitars and chanting vocals, followed by the slowed-down, dreamlike “How Many Stars?” that serves as both sea shanty and laidback ballad. “In the Desert,” with hushed, childlike vocals, could be a lullaby or weird soundtrack for Psychedelic times in said desert. The tune is quickly followed by the return of the stabbing guitars in “Mirage” while “Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?” could be a cut out of the Frank Zappa catalog with its high-pitched, Doo-Wop ‘na-na’ harmonies reminiscent of something off Joe’s Garage while “Andromeda” moves along with a playful new-wave bounce. There is Punk Rock violin/fiddle throughout the album, kicking off the closer “After the Rain.” A subtle ballad with its line of ‘come-back later, come back again, you should see us after the rain’ is perhaps a note that The Mekons, after twenty-two full length album releases and forty-plus years of truly being punk on their very own terms, will never go away. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Le Vent du Nord (from the album Territoires available on Borealis Records)
The five members of Le Vent du Nord are proud of their accomplishments. The Canadian band post impressive statistics on the splash page of their website, stating that in the seventeen years as a group, Le vent du Nord have released ten albums, toured four continents and played over 1900 shows. Success has been a result of following the rhythms of their music, an exercise that has led Le Vent du Nord to the forefront of the Quebec’s progressive Folk movement. Translated into the English language as The North Wind, Le Vent du Nord (the band) need no decoding as an explanation of their music.
The is a joy on Territoires, the recent release from Le Vent du Nord. The music created by Le Vent du Nord shows origins in Celtic traditions while the band infuse the sound with touches of acoustic music from around the globe. Folk traditions ground “Le Soir Arrive” while a Folk future can be heard in the hurried beats of “Evolution Tranquille” as choral voices rise and fall in the harmonies of “Louisbourg” and an edge is carved into “Adieu du Village” by a sharply defined melody. Le Vent du Nord play with a passion that is infectious, the sound of the band translating to get-up-off-your-feet-and-dance. Territoires opens on a rushed rhythm when Le Vent du Nord fly into “Le Pays de Samuel” while they play a reel for “Cotillion du Capitaine” and create a undertow with the frenetic jazz-influenced scrambling pulse of “Au Regiment”.
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Townes Van Zandt (from the album Sky Blue available on Fat Possum Records)
March 7, 2019 would have been Townes Van Zandt’s 75thbirthday. To mark the event, the world received a gift of unreleased music from the songwriter with the album Sky Blue. While Townes was spending time between Texas, Colorado, and Tennessee in the early 1970’s he would pass in Atlanta, Georgia, stopping at the home, and studio, of friend Bill Hedgepeth (musician, journalist). Sky Blue contains eleven Townes Van Zandt recordings put to tape while passing through and visiting a friend. No crackle of age or dust can be found, the songs on Sky Blue simply turning the next page on past recordings, New songs and early versions of familiar tunes make up the track listing for Sky Blue with a raw “Pancho and Lefty” as well as “Rex’s Blues”.
Two new songs appear on the release as stuttered strums open Sky Blue with “All I Need” while sad notes and hushed string picking cradle the wishes in the title track. Travels are listed with a wandering yodel when Townes Van Zandt performs a Smoky version of “Blue Ridge Mountains” as he delves into the past, delivering “Hills of Roane County”, an 1880’s East Tennessee murder ballad. Sky Blue is a perfect fit into the collected musical works of a master, Townes Van Zandt reminding of his dark humor with the cuts “Dream Spider” and Snake Song” as he exits the album with a cover of Tom Paxton (“Last Thing on My Mind”).
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Sugaray Rayford (from the album Somebody Save Me available on Forty Below Records)
A simple plea becomes the album title on the recent release from Sugaray Rayford. The soul of the man asks “Somebody Save Me” in the title track, Sugaray Rayford pouring it all in for the request as a solid rhythm keeps his feet moving forward despite the pain while lush strings comfort him and the sweet sound of California Soul fills the air. Somebody Save Me stands tall with equal blasts of rhythm and of Blues. Sugaray Rayford struts in to offer the advice of experience in “Sometimes You Get the Bear (and Sometimes the Bear Gets You)” while Somebody Save Me shows tenderness when fronting is replaced by frankness in “My Cards are On the Table” as us against them gets real when “Angels and Devils” face off.
We all do what we can to power past troubles both personal and political. Sugaray Rayford uses the clarion call of a mighty voice to form a line as he points fingers and shows steps to take for change in “Time to Get Movin’”. Produced by Forty Below Records head honcho Eric Corne, Somebody Save Me collects songs from the pen of its producer with Sugaray Rayford putting a heartbeat into the stories as he vows “I’d Kill for You, Honey”, takes on the role of “The Revelator” on a threatening groove, and shines a light into shadowy decisions with “Dark Night of the Soul”.
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Renee Wahl and the Sworn Secrets (from the album Cut to the Bone available on Double R Records)
Wasting no time, Renee Wahl and the Sworn Secrets fulfill on the album title promise of their latest release, Cut to the Bone, gnawing at a beat on the opening track. Renee Wahl sees the smolder behind the sweet eyes in front of her and with a seductive tease guarantees she will ‘string you up, strip you down’, making the choices sound like the best, and only, options in first cut, “To the Bone”. Snapping an audio selfie, Renee Wahl follows a rhythmic rumble into “Me Before You” while Cut to the Bone wanders around in a guitar-distorted, drug-induced haze with “Meds” and pounds a path towards the danger zone for “Temptation”.
Songwriting began early for Renee Wahl and she followed the natural progression of her passion into college as a theatre major. One year in, Renee left, circling back to school without music as a goal, finishing studies with a physics degree that she took into a twelve-year career in the Air Force. The songs of Cut to the Bone bear the precision Renee Wahl learned in scientific training when she takes the wheel in “From Here to There”, drawing a line on a map that stretches from Texas to Ireland. An icy edge to the groove sets the stage for drama of “Cold Day in Memphis” while a funereal march brings heroes home for “In the Field” as Renee Wahl and the Sworn Secrets count “Six Days to Sunday” as they sit at a Monday morning breakfast table sipping/sniffing coffee and cocaine to begin the week.
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The Long Ryders from the album Psychedelic Country Soul available on Omnivore Recordings (by Bryant Liggett)
It has been 33 years since The Long Ryders last released new music as a band but the Paisley Underground era outfit make it seem like 33 minutes has passed since they began an Alt Country fire. With all original Long Ryders members and producer Ed Stasium on board, Psychedelic Country Soul captures the band’s jangle and twang in a country rock package that is as new as next week while honoring The Long Ryders buzz band times while making 2019 sound like their heyday.
From the studio banter left in sporadically between the tracks, a ‘here we go’ is muttered and things moving on Psychedelic Country Soul. A plea of ‘get me out of Greenville, and I will be alright’ opens “Greenville”, an ever-hopeful, get-out-of-this-town tune that ends with a loose, 45-second jam that is a mash-up between The Byrds and The Band. “Let it Fly” is introduced with twangy guitar backed by mandolin and fiddle, “If You Want to See My Cry” once again stars the fiddle, both tunes showing The Long Ryders ability to slow it down though the stars of Psychedelic Country Soul are the rockers. “Molly Somebody” is a mysterious, sweeping mid-tempo love song, “All Aboard” a lyrical rally for friends to have some fun as it sings ‘goin’ for a ride, higher than the mountains with my best friends at my side’, the story a buddy flick with a gritty guitar solo. The one cover from The Long Ryders is a knock-it-out-of-the-park version of Tom Petty’s “Walls”. The title track closer in “Psychedelic Country Soul” proves The Long Ryders could live in the same Petty/Heartbreakers jam world while also writing catchy hooks and exercising their apt ability to stretch things out. Thirty-three years have zipped by and The Long Ryders, and their music, remain great. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Quaker City Night Hawks (from the album QCNH available on Lightning Rod Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest release from Quaker City Night Hawks finds the band exploring an identity crisis in the best possible way. The Texas-based band has a new rhythm section and this record, simply titled QCNH, has their patented brand of straight-up Roots Rock albeit heavier with a mind set on musical exploration. The idea of putting your best foot forward in the morning may be a foreign concept for a rock and roll band, but the QCNH opener in “Better in the Morning” puts that best foot forward, kicking the album into high gear with a guitar riffs. “Suit in the Back” comes out of an R&B playbook with an admirable croon before it dives into full funk mode and “Colorado” comes off like a ballad with a Laurel Canyon feel.
“Pay to Play” moves into a psychedelic ballad neighborhood, “Fox in the Henhouse” is ripe for jam-band territory, and “Hunters Moon” walks a line directly into heavy Southern Stoner Rock. There is some real sensitive storytelling in “Elijah Ramsey,” and the song’s segueway into the near 5½ minute “Grackle King,” with its perhaps ambiguous nods to 1970’s experimental guitar, puts a dose of electric Roots music into a world of Prog Rock. Quaker City Night Hawks move back into R&B rhythms for “Tired of You Leaving” and album closer, “Freedom”, goes high for Indie Rock glory via guitar fuzz. QCNH is the best of all worlds; hippies from the heyday meet hippies from today, Garage Rockers and fans of electro-Blues grooves can find something worthy of their time.
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