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”.
Listen and buy the music of Jason Boland and the Stragglers from his website