The Howlin’ Brothers (from the album Still Howlin’ available as a self-release)
The Howlin’ Brothers adopt old time string band music and bluegrass as a soundtrack for their live shows and their recent release, Still Howlin’. In the hands of the Nashville trio, the playing of upright bass, slide banjo, harmonica, and fiddle becomes a clenched fist grabbing you by the lapels to sing of the down side to a “Quiet Town”. The Howlin’ Brothers blast harmonica Blues and raw rhythm into the album opener, “Lucky Enough”, as they chew on a Folk ramble to tell the tale of “Hard Luck and Troubles”, and make tough choices on the ragged strums of “Back Home”. Still Howlin’spins an Americana wheel of musical possibilities, The Howlin’ Brothers scrathing out some skiffle when they take the stage as “Watermelon Bucket Band”. Still Howlin’lays out a thick beat for the Folk Blues of “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and opens up the guitar case for some Country street corner busking in “Harmonica Song”.
The rhythm trudges with careful steps through back alley Jazz as The Howlin’ Brothers become the “Broken-Hearted Man” while they slap out a beat to match the pace of the “Go Getter” and turn Still Howlin’into a hoedown with the traditional tune “Ride Old Buck to Water” and play one for the dancers with Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Penn”. A hush leads the harmonies on album closer “Sing It Up High”, The Howlin’ exiting Still Howlin’on a slow march towards salvation.
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Will Kimbrough from the album I Like It Down Here available on Daphne Records (by Bryant Liggett)
His solo career took a back seat to production and side-player duties for the last five years but Will Kimbrough has picked up his brand of blues and country folk, gospel with laid-back rock and roll, finding his own music right where he left it. I Like it Down Here is loose and light, a nod to his native South and all of its musical offerings. Yet perhaps ‘down here’, less a Southern state than a state of mind, as Will sings in “Hey Trouble”…. ‘heaven knows I’ve been forsaken, I’ve got trouble by my side, hey trouble, let’s go for a ride’, inviting trouble into his life with open arms. That notion continues with a laid-back groove of the title track, Will Kimbrough claiming ‘I like it down here’, singing drunken train engineers, catching trash fish and ‘sawdust in my beer’.
“Alabama (For Michael Donald)” is a somber, emotional, and necessary, history lesson about the 1981 lynching of a young African American, the tale spoken in first person, and featuring Shemekia Copeland on backing vocals. The pace switches to 1970’s inspired Country Rock with “I’m Not Running Away” and “When I Get to Memphis”. “It’s a Sin” is a gospel number with big, slow horns, and “Salt Water & Sand” has a Jimmy Buffett vibe. I Like It Down Here ends with “Star,” a Laurel Canyon-referenced ballad with refined steel guitar. I Like It Down Here is an efficient album, Will Kimbrough keeping each song to between three and four minutes, plenty of time to tell a tale over instrumentation that hits the mark it in all the right spots. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Merry Airbrakes (from the album Merry Airbrakes available on Scissor Tail Records)
Referred to as Psychedelic Blues by Merry Airbrakes frontman, Bill Homan, the self-titled debut, and only release from the short-lived band, presents forward thinking ideas about war as he presents a futuristic take on the Blues. Merry Airbrakes has become a coveted find in the years since its 1973, though the groups’ frontman, Bill Homan, has adopted a new moniker as Watermelon Slim and continued to take Blues into the future in his own career. Picking up the harmonica early in life, Bill Homan eventually found the guitar when he was hospitalized, purchasing a $5 guitar from the commissary as he recuperated from an extended illness while serving a tour of duty in Viet Nam. Merry Airbrakes is a protest album recorded by Bill Homan along with his brother Peter and a group of friends when he returned from Viet Nam. Of the album, Bill Homan said ‘It is 1973... in three years it will be 1976. This album of music, conceived and recorded during the months between the 1972 Presidential election and the full-flowering of the Watergate disclosures, is an anti-capitalistic, anti-imperialistic album, and is the distillation of the best four years of my life, in the Vietnam War, and as one of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.’
Ragged chaos makes a beautiful noise to begin the song cycle for Merry Airbrakes with “Vigilante Man”, a tune borrowed from the Woody Guthrie catalog and re-worked as gut bucket Blues. “The Bearded Man” is introduced on a rock heavy Folk Blues as Merry Airbrakes put some funk in their Rock’n’Roll with “Draft Board Blues” and lightly touch the acoustic chords and percussion of “Preacher Song” with a psychedelic kaleidoscope that spins Jazz, Country, and Electric Blues. Musically, Merry Airbrakes is a mirror of the times it was created, the studio work of the band taking a cue from Psychedelia’s ability to make any sound its own. The original recording of the album resonates with musical choices of the 1960’s as much as the stories reflect the anti-war climate in the United States during the period. While all the pieces lead towards nostalgia, Merry Airbrakes make music that sonically fits our times. Country slide Blues is the only backing when Merry Airbrakes count “Three Hearts” and let a marching beat lead “Quang Tricity”.
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J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls (from the album Black Moon available on Hoodoo Records)
While the hills of Surrey, England boast the beauty of nature, local true believers J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls sonically transform the rolling green into backwater swamps. Their recent release, Black Moon, shines a light on deep bayou juke joints as J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls pound the melody into the shape of a heart for “Woman”. J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls promise “Love” on a raw, rolling rhythm and fortify the resolves of “Take Me Higher” with needle-sharp guitar notes as they bathe the beat in the stealthy swagger of “Electric Blue”.
The groove is thick on Black Moon, J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls trimming the fat away from the rhythms, building a no-bullshit beat on sinewy riffs with zero tolerance for fluff. Ten songs delivered in just over a half hour, J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls package Black Moon with three-minute threats, the band hammering dance steps into the title track and surfing audio waves of distortion into “Guilty Pleasure”. Black Moon leads a conga line constructed of gnarly guitar reverb and handclap beats as it follows “2 Bit Lovers” down to The Crossroads Bar & Grill. J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls create an undertow that snags “Down” in a trance groove as Black Moon shouts out “Save Me” on rhythmic stomps and haunted harmonies.
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Tedeschi-Trucks Band from the album Signs available on Fantasy Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The Tedeschi-Trucks Band kept it analog and straight to tape for the production of Signs, an apt recording method for a band who at times make it difficult to time stamp their sound. Susan Tedeschi’s soaring and soulful vocals along with the 70’s era, blues-soaked rock guitar from husband Derek Trucks scream old school, even knowing TTB as a band solid in the here and now, feet planted firmly in the present yet influenced by great musician mentors of the past. Signs kicks off big, with three voices, including Tedeschi, trading vocals on “Signs, High Times”, the singing accentuated by big guitar and kickass horns. “I’m Gonna Be There” surprises with some orchestral strings and a gospel flair that that is a sonic reminder of Muscle Shoals, a texture ever-present throughout Signs.
“Strengthen What Remains” is a ballad, the Rock and Soul band parts replaced by a small symphony, jumping into the melody with strings and wind instruments for a tender ending. “Hard Case,” with its testimony of ‘you’re a hard case to refuse’, has big hooks and equally big guitar fills that live behind the keyboards and horns. “Shame” kicks off with dirty guitar that raises the bar with an extra-dirtier riff when joined by the rest of the big band. Susan Tedeschi is a vocal powerhouse, made more potent via TTB when they lay the groove on thick. Signs closes with “The Ending;” the big band taking a break as a single spotlight hits the acoustic guitar of Derek Trucks, his fret work the only sound remaining as the cut ends with Tedeschi’s sincere vocal touch. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Lee Fields & The Expressions (from the album It Rains Love available on Big Crown Records)
Lee Fields & The Expressions set the Wayback machine for 1965-ish, transporting listeners through a sonic slipstream to the 60’s sound of Soul. The latest release from the band, It Rains Love, is a time capsule, setting the songs free from a deep sleep, the songs of It Rains Loveawaken as fresh as the day the mix of rhythms, guitar chord chops, girl-group harmonies, and a solid backbeat were minted. Lee Fields & The Expressions add touches of studio magic that see “Two Faces” materialize on anxious street beats and a wandering flute melody that follow a trumpet call towards a percussive exit. In the time that Lee Fields & The Expressions reference the sound of Soul music was a welcoming environment that challenged all instruments to experiment. It Rains Lovetakes the same exit, backing street corner Doo-Wop with a sad story and a faint echo of lush strings for “Will I Get Off Easy”, layering “Love is the Answer” with a jazzy psychedelia, and creating a sonic dreamscape for the story/song telling of the title track.
Currently based in Brooklyn, New York, the sixty-something Lee Fields has spent several decades in the sound of Soul. His musical life has been up and down as Lee mentored Soul musicians while he wondered what he would do with his own music and career. Fully embracing the power of music as salvation,It Rains Lovedeclares itself by giving its worldview a beat that channels hotbeds of Soul as it soundtracks styles from Memphis (“You’re What I Needed in My Life”). Lee Fields & The Expressions bounce on a funky rhythmic goodbye (“A Promise Is a Promise”), slap sharp angles in their groove (“Love Prisoner”), and vow forever on a thick backbeat of Rhythm & Blues (“Blessed with the Beat”).
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Bernard Fowler from the album Inside Out available Rhyme and Reason Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Bernard Fowler has logged long on-the-road hours with The Rolling Stones, earning the backing vocalist the right to mess with their songs. As a man who has spent three decades standing behind Mick Jagger and company as a back-up singer, Bernard Fowler is likely well versed in a chunk of the band’s catalog. On his latest solo effort, Inside Out, Bernard Folwer reinvents some Stones classics, digging deep into the group’s catalog to find forgotten if not completely ignored gems, performing a spoken word breath of fresh air for the songs, providing drama when “Tie You Up” becomes the percussive heavy album opener on a Beat Poet cadence that finds Fowler questioning ‘the pain of love’.
“Dancing with Mr. D” is introduced with a funky riff snagged from the memory of 1970’s cop film. The sax solo in “Undercover of the Night” wades knee-deep through street grit while “Sister Morphine” is played loose as Bernard Fowler becomes the narrator conveying a junkie’s desperation and “All The Way Down” is driven by a subtle guitar riff. “Sympathy for the Devil” has all the mystery as the original Stones version, the spoken word delivery of the lyrics upping the ante on perception, the “hoo hoo’s” still present however that familiar guitar solo beautifully replaced by a grand piano. Purists may disapprove of the Gil Scott-Heron influenced liberties taken by Bernard Fowler but straight-up tribute was not the intent. Inside Outhas put the grit of the lyrics in the forefront, celebrating the re-imagining of these songs with a new street life. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Terry Klein (from the album Tex available as a self-release)
A Cape Cod vacation is the opening scene for Terry Klein when his recent release Tex joins the family in their car crossing “Sagamore Bridge” while the song judges their fellow humans on the highway rushing headfirst into fun. Terry Klein slaps pages from past like travel stickers on Tex,memory revealing a scene from Moscow, June 1993 with “Steady Rain” as the album follows I-40 into the coming sunset in “Oklahoma” and waltzes across Texas into Terlingua with “When the Ocotillo Bloom as “Andalusia” becomes the needed fix for bad news.
Austin, Texas watched the transition of Terry Klein from recovering lawyer to songwriter though the man with the guitar still likes to look his best when he dons a “Straw Hat” and listens to the cameras snap the ‘well-heeled fella dressed to kill’. Tex tells the tales as Terry Klein captures mental images of life around him, translating into words and music, matching the rhythm to the feet trudging through “Too Blue to Get That Far”, heals the hurt of love with the tender accordion melodies for “Anika”, and sweeps dust from memories in “Daddy’s Store”.
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Girls on Grass (from the album Dirty Power available as a self-release)
Who wants to dance? Girls on Grass give up a beat on the opening cut from their recent release, Dirty Power, looking to hang where the real fun happens “Down at the Bottom”. Dirty Powerkeeps the rhythm section busy while Girls on Grass multi-task their tunes, taking a cue from the Punk Rock playbook when “Because Capitalism” slaps down a rhythmic political message as the band soundtrack a front-of-stage love scene on “Friday Night” and run with the pack to make a break “Into the Sun”. Girls on Grass stick to the Roots of a Rock’n’Roll formula that packs guitar jangle and an indestructible backbeat into three minutes of glory, the double guitars of GoG adding in touches of twang (“Thoughts are Free”) and feral riffs (“Street Fight”).
Produced by Eric Ambel (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Del Lords, Blood Oranges, Steve Earle & The Dukes, The Yayhoos), Dirty Powershowcases the diversity of a four-piece rock’n’roll band. The Brooklyn-based crew strum a sad front porch Country ramble that finds support in the garage rock rhythm of “Got to Laugh to Keep from Cryin’” as Girls on Grass head to a basement bar for a performance of “John Doe” and take the subway out to the beach for the surf-infused instrumental in “Asesino”.
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Tokyo Tramps (from the album If I Die Tomorrow available as a self-release)
There is a story to Tokyo Tramps. It is a familiar tale of searchers, youth succumbing to the seduction of a guitar (piano, drum, etc.) and following the sound to find their calling. The spin that Tokyo Tramps put on the roles takes the members back to their native Japan. Band history watches Satoru Nakagawa (guitar) graduate high school and leave Japan in 1990 to discover the origins of Rock’n’Roll, landing in New Orleans and moving to Boston in 1996 to deepen his studies in music. Piano was the first instrument for Yukiko Fujii as age six before she picked up the bass guitar and formed her own band at fourteen, focusing on Rock from the 1970’s and 1980’s. She left a lucrative job in Tokyo when her heart began to beat loud for American music and relocated to Boston, MA. In 1999, the pair of the Japanese born American Roots fanatics formed Tokyo Tramps, snagging the moniker from Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. The backstory leads into If I Die Tomorrow, the recent release from Tokyo Tramps, an album that fits all the musical puzzle pieces the band has collected to form a sound that matches the psychedelia of Blues Rock forefathers Blue Cheer circa 1969.
Tokyo Tramps get seduced with a come-on-in groove when they take a seat in “Betty’s Kitchen” as If I Die Tomorrowmeets a “Mystery Man” on a mighty backbeat, creates a current of funk for “Flowing Water”, makes a plea over a smoldering rhythm to “Woman”, and spits out a triphammer beat to ask “Why”. There is a satisfaction in living your dreams and the joy that Tokyo Tramps feel can be heard in every note of If I Die Tomorrow. Highway 61 road signs flash by when Tokyo Tramps add a touch of twang to their Blues in “Blues in My Blood”, trail swamp mist around the snaking hammer-pound beat from “Talkin’ to Someone”, and tap a toe for the front porch Folk optimism of “Winter Always Turns to Spring” as If I Die Tomorrowties mortality to a simmering groove in the title track.
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