Altan (from the album The Gap of Dreams available on Compass Records)
The music in The Gap of Dreams, the recent release from Altan, mirrors the world outside the recording studio. Altan returned home, the sound of The Gap of Dreams the sound of rural Donegal, the playing transporting the songs back to a time when community came together around music, storytelling, singing, and dancing well into the night to fend off the winter outside. Traditional Celtic music is the base for The Gap of Dreams, the Gaelic language on the tracks making the vocals another instrument to blend with the band.
While the sound of Altan still springs from their native hills of Donegal, the band name is taken from a mysterious lake behind Errigal Mountain in the surrounding countryside of their homebase. The Gap of Dreams tributes the musical heritage of Altan and its Irish home as the band pick and strum freshness into the Celtic sounds. Several sets of traditional Donegal reels are presented on the album with “Seán sa Cheo / Tuar / Oíche Fheidhmiúil (A Spirited Night)” and “The Templehouse Strathspey & Reel / John Mhosey McGinley's / The Mermaid of Mullaghmore”. Altan tenderly pluck notes as “The Month of January” tells its tale of winter and speak the story of “Dark Inishowen” with a backdrop of traditional Irish Folk music.
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Pharis and Jason Romero (from the album Sweet Old Religion)
Life had other plans for Pharis and Jason Romero, taking the musicians away from songwriting to deal with more immediate needs of caring for family and re-building. The Canadian musical duo and instrument makers lost their shop to fire and day-to-day became dealing with the loss while caring for a newborn son, their second child. Songwriting was out of reach for the couple, and when the songs once again began to tap Pharis and Jason Romero on the shoulder the emotions picked up the pen, the results collected on the recent release, Sweet Old Religion. Pharis remembers the time away from songwriting, and cherishes both the community that came together to help as well as the muses return recalling ‘music and songwriting were hovering at the edge but never came inside. There was no space to just sit and be and let thoughts, melodies, and ideas ferment. Just weeks after everyone left all the music, all of the songwriting, it just began to flow immediately as if a tap was opened. There was suddenly this space for all those months of really big feelings–having our son, dealing with loss and change, and receiving so much love and support–to be gathered into this big swirl of ideas, feelings, and melodies. It just all started coming out like crazy’.
The freedom of finding footing once again can be heard in Sweet Old Religion, in the sparkling picking and strums of the title track album opener. Pharis and Jason Romero deliver note-perfect harmonies and a gentle sway in “Old World Style”, tell the open-road-loving story with a rhythmic bounce in “Come on Love”, pour love into “You are the Best Thing”, and share details from their own past with “The Salesman”. Sweet Old Religion will take Pharis and Jason Romero back on tour, secure at home with a rebuilt workshop, a mostly finished house, and two happy kids. Lessons learned are etched into the stories on Sweet Old Religion, with warnings woven into “Stitch in Time” and in the experiential advice of “Salt and Powder” while Pharis and Jason Romero sing for the ramblers “Leave the Garden Gate Open” and “Age Old Dream”.
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Leon Bridges (from the album Good Thing available from Columbia Records)
Living breathing Soul music. To grow and expand, all styles need room to move. Leon Bridges not only breaths a 2018 life into Soul music with his latest release, Good Thing, he puts flesh and blood into its frame while giving it a groove to find its way into the world. While the new (Neo-, Modern) sounds of Soul have taken the music out of the hands of musicians with studio beats, Leon Bridges uses his time recording to buff up and polish his live, full band/real musicians, performances. Good Thing presents a wide world of Soul music, opening with an indecisive story floating on sparkling Soul in “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” while “Beyond” gives a Singer/Songwriter acoustic setting to its style, sexy Southern Soul says hello to “Mrs.”, and street beats guide the hesitant heart storyline in “Shy”.
Like a muscle relaxer for your mind and body, Leon Bridges is the doctor filling a prescription for the addicting rhythms he creates in “Bad Bad News” as well as the life coach hearing the words of haters as inspirational with the line ‘they tell me I was born to lose, but I made a good thing outta bad, bad news’. Vintage curates sounds as it recalls music in a best-of setting. Leon Bridges lives on the inside of the music he plays, he is a Soul music badass, showing the steps to dance the sound into the future. Good Thing bounces on the chopped-up funk chords of “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” and serves up a big fat bass line to keep “You Don’t Know” on the ground as the heart in its tale starts to fly. Leon Bridges looks for a safe space in “Lions” and cruises on a late-night jazz-noir rhythm in “Georgia to Texas”.
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Liz Brasher (from the E.P. Outcast available on Fat Possum Records)
Liz Brasher and Memphis, Tennessee are kindred spirits. After recording her debut E.P., Painted Image, in the city, Liz packed up her home in Atlanta, Georgia and made the move to Memphis. Growing up in North Carolina in a multi-ethnic family (Dominican and Italian) a younger Liz was exposed to diverse array of sounds though her love for the music of the South developed when she went north to Chicago for college. Soaking up southern sounds from Stephen Foster to Delta Blues, Memphis was the first spot that musically showed as many influences as Liz Brasher, who states ‘I don't like rules, and I don't like to be put into a box. I make music that's garage rock meets the Delta blues meets gospel meets soul. It's southern music — my version of southern music’.
Her recent E.P. release, Outcast, was conceived and recorded in her new homebase. Liz Brasher sinks into the branded Soul of the city, slowing the groove and amping up the audio drama with organ swells, guitar chops, and accenting strings for “Cold Baby” as Outcast swoons on the ebb and flow rhythms of “Feel Something”. With vocals that walk the line between Soul and Rock, Liz Brasher balances the passionate grip of her vocal with subtle guitar work. A snaggling riff sets the pace and maintains the mood throughout the title track as Liz Brasher coaxes notes from her electric guitar, foregoing flash for moody melodics as she distorts thick surf-tinged guitar lines for “Body of Mine” and plucks sharp riffs on the punk gospel drive of “Come My Way”.
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Jason Boland and the Stragglers (from the album Hard Times are Relative available on Thirty Tigers)
Conversations about just what Country music is are as plentiful as the diversity of the styles in the format that start the dialogue flowing in the first place. On Hard Times are Relative, Jason Boland and the Stragglers don’t try to explain the sound of their recent release, they provide an audio show-and-tell with hard-living and harder loving Country songs. The words have a conscience, playful playing has a good time, confident that the strong backbeat will do its job. Hard Times are Relative stretches out in “Grandfather’s Theme”, presenting family history as a testament of different times, the music guiding the course of the tale on a shifting sonic plate. A Rock’n’Roll Country beat addresses addiction with “Dee Dee O’d” and a caffeinated honky tonk rhythm traces “Tattoo of a Bruise” as Jason Boland and the Stragglers tell an American story, two souls making their way into an adult world while still in their teens on the title track.
A theme comes through in the stories of Hard Times are Relative as the album watches the constant changes in the human race, and the current times complicated relationship with the past. Sunny Sweeney joins Jason Boland and the Stragglers on the album opener, harmonizing on “I Don’t Deserve You” as the band spins a slow Country waltz as they warn of respecting the lessons learned with “Do You Remember When”. For two decades, Jason Boland and the Stragglers have brought their music from Stillwater Oklahoma to the planet. When not on their constant tour, Jason Boland and the Stragglers head into the local watering hole to visit with lost-weekend buds as they knock one back with Jack in “Right Where I Began”.
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Lake Street Dive (from the album Free Yourself Up available on Nonesuch Records)
Not content to simply point out the obvious, Lake Street Dive demonstrate the title of their recent release Free Yourself Up with the power of positive thinking penned into the songs. They lead by example, claiming “I Can Change” as they face fear, taking stock on a personal level to fix inner feelings. Free Yourself Up scats as it sings “You are Free” on a scampering groove as Lake Street Dive admit they are looking for companionship in “Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts” and encourage one particular heart to “Hang On”. Rather than mirroring sounds from the Jazz era through 1960’s Rock’n’Soul, Lake Street Dive put vintage into a blender to make music. A Pop sense to lyrics is surrounded by funky rhythms and jazz-textured vocal delivery as Free Yourself Up puts humor into a break-up tale with “Good Kisser” and wonders whether to be a friend or a lover in “Dude”.
The members of Lake Street Dive were attached to musical instruments by the third grade, the biggest influence the support they received to keep on playing. The four original members that formed in 2004 (Rachael Price-vocals, Mike Olson-trumpet, guitar, Bridget Kearney-upright bass, Mike Calabrese-drums) were joined on Free Yourself Up with tour keyboardist Akie Bermiss. Lake Street Dive keeps the wry humor brand they have cultivated in their storylines as they suggest ways to make life a little better in Free Yourself Up, Bridgett Kearney adding that ‘this album is based in the realities in our time which have inevitably become part of everyone's daily life. It's something you think about and obsess over—and write songs about. Free Yourself Up is about empowering yourself, emboldening yourself, no matter what's going wrong’. Lake Street Dive find that looks and conversations can head the heart in different directions with “Doesn’t Even Matter Now”, point the finger on a percolating rhythm for “Shame, Shame, Shame”, and quiet to a whisper to question decisions in “Musta Been Something”.
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Charley Crockett (from the album Lonesome as a Shadow)
Spinning Soul from a honky tonk jukebox full of tunes, Charley Crockett delivers his recent release, Lonesome as a Shadow. The distinct paths for the music are easily navigated by Charley Crockett, thanks to his formative musical years in San Benito, Texas where he learned to be a Blues singer in the hometown of Freddy Fender. Wrapping pain around his words like a blanket, Charley Crockett accepts the role of victim for “If Not the Fool” as the spotlight stays on losing in love with the moody melody of “How Long Will I Last”, wakes up to goodbye in “The Sky’d become Teardrops”, and calls out with one last plea on “Change Yo’ Mind”.
Learning to engage as a performer was tough love for Charley Crockett. He busked on the street from corners in New Orleans’ French Quarter to New York City subway tunnels. Returning to Texas in 2015 after a year living in Paris, and following the road through Spain, Morocco, and North Africa, Charley Crockett began a record/release cycle Lonesome as a Shadow was recorded at Sam Phillips studio in Memphis, Tennessee with Charley’s touring band, The Blue Drifters, backing him. The title track trots out a honky tonk rhythm on a tale of touring Texas as Lonesome as a Shadow cries out to Louisiana and sweet Ms. Brown with “Help Me, Georgia” as it drifts on a slow funk for “Ain’t Gotta Worry Child”. Charley Crockett finds the smooth center between Country and Soul, adding in a Tex Mex backbeat for “I Wanna Cry”, touching up “Sad & Blue” with a late-night Blues noir, and makes his way back home on a rock’roll country Cajun backroad with “Goin’ Back to Texas”.
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Ry Cooder (from the album The Prodigal Son available on Fantasy Records)
The songs of the spirit that inhabit The Prodigal Son, the latest release from Ry Cooder, reference influence from church gospel, paying homage to history from both black and white congregations with songs from Blind Willie Johnson (“Nobody’s Fault But Mine”), The Stanley Brothers (“Harbor of Love”), The Pilgrim Travelers (“Straight Street”), and traditional spirituals such as “I’ll Be Rested When the Roll is Called”. Musically, The Prodigal Son benefits from the fifty-plus years that Ry Cooder has been soaking up music style and delivery, the sound tracking the album mixes of Jug Band Blues for “In His Care”, swampy Blues grooves underneath choral harmony in the title tune, rattling Folk Blues showcasing “Shrinking Man”, and borrowing again from Blind Willie Johnson for the rumble of “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right”.
A voice for injustice, Ry Cooder chose to make a stand in the music with overviews on the direction of our moral compass in The Prodigal Son. Observations from Ry Cooder make their way into the song topics as the tale of “Gentrification” trips and scampers on percolating notes and beats while the story of “Jesus and Woody” hushes in almost reverential tones to talk of Oklahoma. Ry Cooder will embark on his first tour in a decade in support of The Prodigal Son, his first solo release in six years.
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Trampled by Turtles (from the album Life is Good on the Open Road)
After what became a four-year hiatus, Trampled by Turtles is back with a collective observataion by way of an album title with Life is Good on the Open Road. The fifteen years that Trampled by Turtles logged as a road band helped them grow as musicians. Time apart aided the process as they delved into their own sources of music as well as taking a moment to get to know themselves as indivudals ouside of the motion of a tour bus. Country and western breezes touch a string band sway as Trampled by Turtles use the story line of “I Went to Hollywood” as an explantion of the multiple settings they experienced in recent years. Life is Good on the Open Road meanders through its title track, memories flashing by like images passed on the highway as Trampled by Turtles slow the strums as a freeway jam triggers emotions in “I’m Not There Anymore”, raise a ruckus down at “Kelly’s Bar”, and nod “Thank You, John Steinbeck” to the pair of hazel eyes appearing on the blacktop ahead.
Community, the folks looking back from the end of the stage, have been a part of Trampled by Turtles since the formed in 2003. Musically, TBT have consistently presented their own version of Bluegrass, blending influences of punk, folk, country, and rock’n’roll. The Minnesota six-piece add-on musical landscapes with Life is Good on the Open Road, bearing their souls, and quieting to catch each word of the one-on-one conversation taking place in “I Learn the Hard Way”. A rattle of rhythm ushers Trambled by Turtles out of the city as they embrace country living in “Right Back Where We Started” while the band scratches out a groove to reach “The Middle”, and causes sparks as they view “Blood in the Water” from within a frenetic string attack. Life is Good on the Open Road lets the instruments create an image of a resting place when the wheels stop rolling in “Good Land”.
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Traveller (from the album Western Movies)
The three singers and songwriters for Traveller (Jonny Fritz, Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel)
debut Western Movies as the first album effort from the band. Traveller fit the skin of a supergroup, merging three solo careers as they blend their words and music into a united effort, soundtracking Western Movies with chase-scene guitar licks for “Happy in Hindsight”. The somber mood of the story line slows yet does not dampen the bright bounce of “Chia Pet Goatee” as Western Movies maps out a course on rock’n’roll surf beat, heading for the west coast sand and sun shouting “Get Me Out of the South”, scores the pain of “When You’re Away” with a solitary piano opening, and watches customers mellow as they cruise the aisles on a humming holiday standards with “Christmas Eve at Kroeger”.
The trio came together for a one-off spot on the Newport Folk Festival stage, circling the sun a year later to convene at Cory Chisel’s 57-bedroom monastery in Appleton, Wisconsin. The band recorded Western Movies over a ten-day chunk carved out of a bitter January winter. The title track moves Traveller as they follow Sundance and Butch Cassidy down to Bolivia, pulling their collective hats over their eyes to sleep under the stars, and dealing cards to Doc Holliday. Wry humor careens like the beat pounding away underneath “Hummingbird” as Western Movies matches the rhythm of the rain with the patter of percussion while drops of harmony accent “Lonely All My Life” and Traveller find dead ends down small town streets with “Nobody Makes It Out”.
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