Damien Jurado from the album In the Shape of a Storm available on Mama Bird Recording Co. (by Bryant Liggett)
Damien Jurado’s In the Shape Of a Storm is a stripped-down album of somber guitars and hushed vocals. With backing from just an acoustic guitar, Damien Jurado plays it straight in the songs, the tales arriving as either questions or confessional answers by way of a laid back and quiet, aching and honest delivery. In the Shape of a Storm presents every character, in every song, on the verge of taking a life-changing chance. Album opener, “Lincoln”, is a tale of an outsider laying it all out on the line, jilted and bummed-out, admitting repeatedly that ‘there is nothing left to hide’ and ‘heaven is full of people who belong’.
“Newspaper Gown” is heavy, a lonely and sad love song sung like the narrator carries a dense and worldly burden, while “South” puts our own problems in perspective with a tale of two men ‘both so insane and pushing our luck’ as they question if marriage or moving will be the heavier demise. Damien Jurado sings of life’s brutal realities on “Silver Ball,” expressing that in fact ‘time does not heal’ and ‘everything ends’ while “Anchors” echoes those realities in a love song where the backdrop reminds of a lost love in our own that lives that was never meant to be. There is a weight when the stories show themselves as personal, the tales are plucked out of a universal human reality. Damien Jurado’s drifters, broken lovers and people at the end of their rope become familiar, mirrors of ourselves as their ambiguous and easily relatable tales leave their fate adrift in to an open sea of imagination with In the Shape of a Storm. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Ted Russell Kamp from the album Walkin’ Shoes available as a self-release (by Bryant Liggett)
Labeled a Country Roots Americana guy, Ted Russell Kamp excels at creating music reflective of the various genre labels that casually get thrown his way. His latest release, Walkin’ Shoes, has an overall Blues vibe, Ted Russell Kamp touching the tracks with Alt Country and Classic Country. If Ted hasn’t been namechecked in a style, he will likely cut a tune to fit a genre he hasn’t found time to get around to….yet. “Home Away from Home” kicks Walkin’ Shoes off as a smoking opener of Country Blues followed by a dose of modern Outlaw Country in “Paid By The Mile.”
Ted Russell Kamp channels a 1980’s Indie Rock vibe in “We Don’t Have To Be Alone” while “Tail Light Shine” carries a big electric Blues riff in its wake. Instruments are all but left behind on the late-night drive in “Highway Whisper”, there is a soulful love song with “Written In Stone” and a huge nod to Conway Twitty via the grooving Country of “Just About Time for a Heartache”. Big New Orleans horns rear their bouncy heads on “Less Thinkin’, More Drinkin” and the album closer, “Roll On Through The Night”, is a Southern Rock jam. Ted Russell Kamp’s record collection must be chock-full of 1970’s Country alongside Paul Westerberg, ZZ Top and Dr. John, because all see, and hear, their musical footprint on Walkin’ Shoes. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Rod Melancon (from the album Pinkville available on Blue Elan Records)
Rod Melancon chooses a state of mind to erect a town hosting the cast of characters he gives life in the songs on Pinkville. Over the course of four albums, Rod Melancon has used his knack of infusing memories of growing up in South Louisiana with flesh and blood heroes and villains. Pinkville plays home to a Texas tale when thick, rubbery guitar notes trace a line through “Corpus Christi Carwash” as Rod Melancon crosses the tracks to cruise into “Westgate” while its title track materializes when the dust clears on a backroad shack revealing the story of a Viet Nam vet, a ‘man with boots on American soil and his mind in the burning villages of Pinkville’. The fictious Pinkville in the memory namechecks a military nickname for locations in Viet Nam that included the site of the infamous U.S. soldier’s massacre of more than 500 civilians in My Lai.
Lightly picked electric guitar notes greet the dawn as the storyline rises up to hitch a ride on a snaking rhythm for “Rehabilitation” while Pinkville pounds a getaway route into “Cobra” and Rod Melancon hops on board a Tulsa-groove to find a way out of Silver Lake and “Manic Depression”. Staying true to his branded singing storyteller image, Rod Melancon gives a nod to the Petty-ness still sounding loud in his rock’n’roll with “The Heartbreakers” as Pinkville welcomes imports with tunes from Tom Waits (“Goin’ Out West”) and Bruce Springsteen (“57 Channels”).
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The Budos Band (from the album The Budos Band V available on Daptone Records)
Analog recording and vintage sounds have become sonic goals as musicians attempt to re-create the past by using similar equipment and stripped-back studio techniques. The Budos Band V succeeds in the same ambitions by stacking the album with audio how-to examples when The Budos Band mirror the musical experimentations and forays of late 1960’s/early 1970’s that blended rock, funk, jazz, and soul, giving the results a beat you can dance to. The Budos Band gets pulled into a swirling groove, the rhythm section creating an undertow edge for “Ghost Talk” as Vputs a rhythmic patter below “Maelstrom” to carry majestic horn riffs and the feral crawl of an electric guitar lead.
The magic of The Budos Band V is its ability to shape shift within styles as the group seduce with the rhythm line trance of “The Enchanter” while haunted melodies drift over “Valley of the Damned” and Latin textures play a lonely trumpet in “Veil of Shadows” and Space Rock soundtracks the journey of “Arcane Rambler”. The album title serves double duty with The Budos Band V marking album number five in the group’s career and putting a Vfor victory in achieving sonic uniqueness and independence, wearing influences as accessories rather than mimicking past Rock/Funk/Soul powerhouses. The Budos Band make use of psychedelic lessons without dosing themselves in long jams or freefall musical expeditions, the songs on The Budos Band V concise and to the point whether collecting musical notes that poke out like sharp needles in “Spider Web, Pt. 1”, cutting a path across the rhythmic flooding of “Old Engine Oil” with slashing chords, or giving a cinematic flourish to “Peak of Eternal Night”.
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The Infamous Stringdusters (from the album Rise Sun available on Tape Time Records)
Bluegrass as a genre has been on the move for a few years, honoring tradition and cultivating a change in style. The Infamous Stringdusters have been in the lead with a handful of other string bands pushing the enveloping and developing a different sound from plucks, picks, and strums on their instruments. Rise Sun, the recent release from The Infamous Stringdusters, harnesses the same sonic force that band has used as a fifth member on previous recordings and in their live set. In addition to challenging their own abilities, The Infamous Stringdusters present Rise Sun as a unique experience, its collection of songs finding a positive outlook and good feelings to be their common thread. The title track opens the recording with handclaps, frenetic banjo notes, and a rapid-fire lyric flow that calls the dawn into action as Rise Sunstiches a musical groove line to form “Planets” and raises a twang-filled ruckus to “Wake the Dead” while The Infamous Stringdusters become one as the heartbeat in “Truth and Love”.
Optimism shines in the light of Rise Sun, The Infamous Stringdusters fueling the atmosphere of the album with joy and hopeful aspirations. The intention of the band going in to record matches the outcome, The Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall recalling ‘Rise Sun was sparked by the feeling of wanting something better for the world—more love, more awareness, and more compassion. It’s a message of taking care of each other, our planet, and our selves. We all shared this feeling as evidenced by the songs we brought to the project. It’s the feeling of a rising sun as opposed to a dark night. Sometimes a message of hope is less popular than one of despair, but it’s much-needed nevertheless’. Rise Sun picks up the pace to make through “Another Night” and slows to offer solace to souls “Somewhere in Between” while The Infamous Stringdusters embrace nature and use its lessons as a DIY-guide to our own lives in “Thunder”, viewing life as a glass half-full in “Last of the Lucky Ones”.
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Matt Andersen from the album Halfway Home by Morning available on True North Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Halfway Home by Morning, the recent release from Matt Andersen, is like a good walk, the destination a second thought to the experiences encountered along the way. The album shifts through Country, Folk and funky Blues sounds, featuring the big voice of Matt Andersen along with additional touches provide by the beauty in backing vocals that range from simple Doo Wop harmonies to a gospel choir effect in the verses. “What Would Your Mama Say” is a groovy stroll into the album as opener, keyboard heavy riffs accentuated by the ladies backing with vocals.
“Something to Lose” features Amy Helm, her voice a choice pairing to that of Andersen. The tune is a soulful ballad, carefully crafted stimulation from guitar and pedal steel, alternately fill-in with tasty horns. “Gasoline” grooves with punching horn blasts, the storyline telling of a thoughtful, better the world around you suggesting ‘before we change the world, we’re gonna have to change our minds. Let’s start living and forgiving like we’re running out of time, stop fighting fire with gasoline’. “Help Yours Elf” is a pep-talk of a song with personal reflections and human suggestions; the horns playing under Matt Andersen’s vocals while short guitar solos tie each verse together as he sings that ‘if no one comes to bring you to the light, you’ve got to help yourself’. Halfway Home by Morning ends with a double-dose of heart-wrenching ballads when Matt Andersen uses words to paint personal images in “Been My Last” and “Quarter on the Ground”. Halfway Home by Morning is an album of strong instrumentation and even stronger vocals; completely devoid of theatrics, its strength lying in a solid beginning to a final end consistency. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Robin Lane and the Chartbusters (from the album Many Years Ago: The Complete Collection of Robin Lane and the Chartbusters available on Blixa Sounds)
The 1970’s music community began to reconstruct sound by stripping back the bloated fat that big Rock used to take over radio and concert stages, bringing bands back to the raw Roots of Rock’n’Roll. Robin Lane began her career in 1960’s Los Angeles in the Folk/Rock circuit, having an album credit as backing vocalist for Neil Young on his Everybody Knows This is Nowhere when she lent her voice to his “Round and Round” cut. Robin left the west coast and landed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The music she had been creating in Los Angeles was still with her and Robin Lane began putting together songs for an album staying in the Country Rock model beginning to take shape in California….and then she heard the Ramones.
Partnering with Boston musicians Asa Brebner, Leroy Radcliffe (The Modern lovers), Tim Jackson, and Scott Baerenwald, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters released two albums and a live E.P. before Robin began focusing on solo work and raising a family. Many Years Ago: The Complete Collection of Robin Lane and the Chartbusters collects the two stellar studio efforts of the Boston, Massachusetts-based band. A single (“When Things Go Wrong”) produced by Steve Sharf helped The Chartbusters catch air(waves) on Boston career-maker radio station WBCN, which led to a Warner Brothers record deal, the video number fourteen in line for airing on the first day (August 1, 1981) of fledgling television station, MTV. Many Years Ago remembers the beginnings of a new sound, The Chartbusters guitars playing tag, dueling with bright jangle and feral riffs and forming sharp angles in the beat the lyrics that tear away pretense for niceties to deliver opinions and desires. Robin Lane and the Chartbusters created music that filled two albums, the studio sound capturing the excitement of a live setting and the glory of a rock’n’roll band falling in love with the sounds they are making.
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Shovels & Rope from the album By Blood available on New West Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Shovels & Rope have always played it kind of punky and kind of country. The duo’s rough around the edges sound that surrounds the song like a candy shell, giving way to sweetness on the inside. Keeping to their established tradition, Shovels & Rope feature jug-band sing a-longs that bounce down the road alongside not-so-tender ballads, where the harmonies are shouted as much as they are sung. By Blood opens with “I’m Comin’ Out,” perhaps a nod to the growing family of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, making one of their offspring the narrator in the opener singing ‘I’ll show up to battle in my best suit’.
Indie rock drums come and go quick to make room for the same shout/sung harmonies on “Mississippi Nuthin’”, the cut giving way to a twangy guitar lead in on “The Wire.” By Blood presents “C’Mon Utah!” as an old-school folk ballad, simple in its instrumentation with guitar and harmonica while Shovels & Rope deliver “Twisted Sisters” as a call and response R&B tune with a slight hint of twang, the band following the rave-up with the reflective and somber “Good Old Days.” The fiddle in “Hammer” paired with the chain-gang rhythm becomes an old-school work song with aggravated complaints yelling ‘they shut my water off, I got a nasty cough, I’m out here every day with my hammer’. Peel back the layers and you will find Shovels and Rope cram a lot into their album production package on By Blood. Beyond the rootsy and playful bounce, along with a raw sound, Shovels & Rope have a reverence for their doses of lyrical honesty. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Carson McHone (from the album Carousel available on Nine Mile Records)
It is tough to take notes with a guitar in your hand and a microphone attached to your lips. Luckily for her songs, Carson McHone has a good memory. She recalls dancers swinging by the front of the stage and from her perch can see clear to the back of the dancehall, collecting tales from the shadows and stories basking in the glow of neon. Much like Carson McHone, who spent formative years playing one-night stands, unwraps the songs given birth in the same bars. Carson McHone opens her recent release, Carousel, with “Sad” sharing secrets of time spent pulling the darkness in closer as the album taps out a rhythm for “Dram Shop Gal” and follows solo piano notes that decide the beat for “How ‘Bout It”.
Musically,Carousel spins with swirls of Folk, Classic Country, and blue-eyed Soul, Carson McHone carrying the torch of Country music forward by giving the genre breathing room remembering that ‘there was a time when I wanted to champion traditional country, mostly because I wasn’t hearing it in what was being called ‘Country’. I think a lot of roots influenced artists feel the need to defend tradition in this way. Today though, I want to do more with the form, push myself past where I understand it to be’. Drama unfolds on a honky tonk rhythm when Carson McHone crosses her fingers and hopes “Maybe There Just Close Friends”, puts a triphammer beat and caffeinated twang underneath “Good Time Daddy Blues”, and turns a hurdy gurdy handle to cradle the promises of “Spider Song”. The night time breeze brings back a familiar sway as the past rushes in when Carousel tries to extinguish the still-burning flame in “Gentle” as Carson McHone makes a desperate plea for “Drugs”.
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Over the Rhine from the album Love & Revelation available on Great Speckled Dog Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Love & Revelation begins on a break-up ballad and a get out of town tune with “Los Lunas,” the opening cut on the latest from Over the Rhine. The track paints those two scenarios, situations that have been captured in song countless times; your relationship ends, and the one place you want to be is anywhere but here…. ‘I cried all the way from Los Lunas to Santa Fe, and on to Raton. None of us wanted things to end this way, but one of us had to be wrong’. That is the setting for the Love & Revelation’s overall mood; quiet and contemplative, sad but hopeful. Backed by a band who lay a solid and soulful foundation, singer-songwriters Karin Berquist and partner/husband Linford Detweiler deliver honest ache, handing it to you with soft care.
The title track of Love & Revelation is a beautiful dose of AM Gold, tuning into radio of the 1970’s. The guitar work that kicks off the following cut, “Making Pictures”, gracefully leads into a beautiful ballad. “Rocking Chair” is another highway song, an acceptance of life on the road while missing things that stay back at home where you lay your head, ‘goodbye rocking chair, the long road beckons and you’ll find us out there, lookin’ for the song in a traveler’s prayer, who’ll watching over our rocking chair?’ The Love & Revelation finisher in “An American in Belfast” stays mostly in instrumental territory; Karin Berquist providing a subtle hum over a plucked guitar, quickly joined by an ambient pedal steel. It’s an apt closer for an album that drips emotion. (by Bryant Liggett)
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