Gretchen Peters (from the album Dancing with the Beast)
Multiple images reflect in the facets of the gem that is woman on Dancing with the Beast, the recent release from Gretchen Peters. Age varies, as do the situations and settings that surround the characters. Diversity is the common ground for the women who walk through Dancing with the Beast playing tug of war with extremes. The female leads in the stories stand at different intersections as life cruises down streets lined with sorrow and sadness as the wheels try to find traction in better days. The title track names the shadow that crosses a day as male, “Dancing with the Beast” circling with an imaginary lover that takes a little piece of soul with each turn. Gretchen Peters opens the album walking down a hometown street, getting lost in familiar settings and in the face looking back from the other side of the mirror in “Arguing with Ghosts” as Dancing with the Beast looks back through the eyes of a senior citizen watching life become a “Disappearing Act” and stares down a dark hallway into the future with the confessions of a twelve-year-old in “Wichita”.
A bittersweet beauty shines through the tarnish of the lives in Dancing with the Beast, the music playing melody against melancholy. It becomes personal for Gretchen Peters as she prepares once again for “The Show”, guiding visitors through her museum collection of the ways of the heart in “Love That Makes a Cup of Tea”. A rhythm marches steadfastly across “Lowlands” as Dancing with the Beast points towards forgiveness in “Say Grace” while Gretchen Peters introduces a cast of characters to join in the chorus of “Truckstop Angel” and paints a picture of “The Boy from Rye” with words and music.
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Luke Winslow-King (from the album Blue Mesa available from Bloodshot Records)
Playing “Born to Roam” like he owns its story, Luke Winslow-King lays claim to the highway in the track from his recent release, Blue Mesa. His personal traveling tale put him on the road from Cadillac in northern Michigan when he was nineteen years old. His journey took him to New Orleans, Lousiana where Luke has spent the last fifteen years soaking up the sounds of the city, immersing in the music. Blue Mesa shows Luke Winslow-King wearing the styles like a second skin, setting the pace with precussion tapping out a cha-cha beat for “Chicken Dinner”, throbbing on the chaotic rhythms of furturistic Blues pulsating under “Leghorn Women”, marching out “Break Down the Walls” on a Gospel stomp, and whispering on a runaway swamp rock groove for “Thought I Heard You”.
The mixing of the styles shapes Blue Mesa, driving acoustic Blues with a fiddle and guitar string bends into “Farwell Blues” and thumping out a Country ramble for “After the Rain”. As a music traditionalist, Luke Winslow-King describes the playing of his influences as ‘people’s music’ playing a mixture New Orleans Jazz, Delta Blues, ragtime, and pre-war American Folk music. Soundtracking opening cut “You Got Mine” with a healthy mash-up of sounds as Blue Mesa follows Luke Winslow-King on a thick bass line into the title track.
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Joshua Hedley (from the album Mr. Jukebox available on Third Man Records)
Produly standing on the Stagecoach Festival stage Joshua Hedley announced ‘I play Country music’. Joshua went on to explain that he did not want to see any partying in the audience, only tears. His crown for King of Broken Hearts shines as brightly on his recent release, Mr. Jukebox, as the Cowboy suits he wears in performance. The title track is a neon-lit singalong, Joshua Hedley promising to select the right song for the right mood in his role as “Mr. Jukebox”. Soft strums and hums surround the smooth delivery as Joshua Hedley looks for some breathing room to begin again inhis arrival “Let’s Take a Vacation”, matches rattling rhythm with rattling lips in “Let Them Talk”, slowly unravels a goodbye in “Counting All My Tears”, and leads a version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” around the dance floor.
Joshua Hedley spent time playing in Robert’s Western World from his arrival in Nashville at nineteen years old, bringing the fiddle he had played since age eight as he made the move north from Florida. Lower Broadway in Nashville has been his home turf prior to spreading out to tour his Mr. Jukebox debut recording to a wider audience. Joshua Hedley is a modern day Country crooner, whispering his message in “Don’t Waste Your Tears”, stacking excuses higher and higher for “I Never (Shed a Tear)”, and setting a honky tonk trot in a circle around “Four Walls” as Mr. Jukebox draws the line in leaving with “This Time”.
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The California Honeydrops (from the album Call It Home, Vol 1 & 2)
And the answer is Call It Home, Vol 1 & 2. The question for The California Honeydrops was how to title their healthy double-disc recent release in a way that represents the stories inside. Memories take the lead as The California Honeydrops recall “Those Days” on cascading rhtyhms, depend on beating the weather by staying safe inside with “Good, Good Lovin’, look back and listen to the lessons of the past in “Live Learn”, and future-trip a fantasy as they dream of a “Silicon World”. Honeydrops frontman Lech Wierzynski (guitar, trumpet, vocals) had the album theme of home rolling around his mind, and he provides the back story as ‘I was born in Warsaw, Poland. My parents brought me here as a kid and we moved around a lot. They were always talking about missing where they were from and I was always wondering who I was in that way, whether I was Polish or Amercan or both. I didn’t set out to make an album about that, but these songs just started coming out that way’. Filling out the lineup for The Calfornia Honeydrops are Johnny Bones (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Lorenzo Loera (keys, melodica), Beau Bradbury (bass, percussion) and co-founder, Ben Malamet (drums, washboard, percussion), who sees band history, past and future, in the theme of Call It Home, Vol 1 & 2, adding that ‘we’ve always been a (San Francisco) Bay Area band and the Bay Area has been such a hotbed of change the last 10 years. It’s been interesting for us to see and live in, and it’s affected the way the band works’.
The streets of San Francisco is where The California Honeydrops lived formative years, busking and gaining a following that took them from street corner to stages. While the venue for the music of The California Honeydrops has changed, the music they bring to the world stay true to origins. The California Honeydrops exist inside the sound of the soul, presenting Vintage as a living art form for modern day music. They haul out the tambourine to back church choir organ and harmonies (“Tell Me, I Wanna Know)”, sink into a lowdown groove (“Still Standin’ Blues”), saddle up for a slow ride on a Country & Western rhythm (“Drop by Drop”), and drift on Carribean beats and Soca horns (“Your Sweet Love”). Call It Home, Vol 1 & 2 pays tribute to a classic sound, shuffling styles from the second line shout out in “Cry for Me”, the Jazz rhythm rush of “Starr Child”, the slithering groove of “Things We Used to Do”, and the rambling twang of “In My Baby’s Arms”). The California Honeydrops underline the theme of Call It Home, Vol 1 & 2, beginning each disc side with tunes that mirror the name as the title track opens side one on a smooth Southern Soul rhythm and “Only Home I’ve Ever Known” nods to Stephen Foster as it gives kudos to the third stone from the sun.
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Tom Rush (from the album Voices available on Appleseed Recordings)
In his role as a Folk Singer, Tom Rush has provided words and music to the world since the early 1960’s, keeping the momentum going with his recent release, Voices. While a student at Harvard, Tom Rush found a spot in the local Boston music scene, establishing himself with a residency at The Club 47, ground zero for the coffee house circuit, releasing two album before graduation. Voices echoes with the sounds Folk music has cultivated. Tom Rush leading a Country jug band into the decisions of “Heaven Knows (But It Ain’t Tellin’)” as Voices offers a footstomper with album opener, the story of “Elder Green” while it strums up some Folk Rock for the tale of “My Best Girl”, saddles up a western ramble for “Life is Fine”, and tributes the words of others as the title track listens to the lessons floating around us all.
Storytelling is the thread the has linked the years and songs in the career of Tom Rush. Styles circulate around the stories as Tom Rush becomes the traveler, revisting the past in “Going Down to Nashville” and crossing out spots on the maps as a no-go zone with “If I Never Get Back to Hackensack”. Voices spots a pair of feet that tell a different story than the woman they are leading around the floor in “How Can She Dance Like That” and softly sings out for “Corina, Corina”. Tenderness tugs at the guitar strings on Voices as Tom Rush entices with “Come See About Me” and wraps himself in the arms of love as he hangs up “Far Away” as a sign to keep the world out. Both a player and a curator of the traditions of Folk Music, Tom Rush continues his Club 47 tour to bring fellow Folkies voices familiar and new to the world.
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Leftover Salmon (from the album Something Higher)
The Something Higher title for the recent Leftover Salmon release could easily apply to the sound targets the band hits on the album. Based in a string band love of Cajun music and jamming, Leftover Salmon have made a career of pushing against perceptions of how Americana should sound for several decades. Something Higher keeps band-honed traditions in place, expanding on the Leftover Salmon soundscape. Mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo notes play tag, the strings scurrying across the instrumental “Game of Thorns”. The rhythm orders a marching beat as “Southern Belle” faces realities in the morning sun while political problems shuffle “House of Cards” as the story seals the deal with love.
The melody slowly revolves as “Burdened Heart” turns the page on memories, Something Higher rising up on percolated beats and agitated strums as “Foreign Fields” pays the toll for love while a front porch jam spreads advice for better days over “Let in a Little Light”. From beginnings in 1989 Boulder, Colorado, Leftover Salmon became a traveling minstrel show, following the path of pioneering bands such as Little Feat, Grateful Dead, New Grass Revival, and The Band. For over a quarter century Leftover Salmon have continued to perfect their recipe for Jamgrass, passing on a sound concocted in the LoS kitchen to groups such Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass. Elephant Revival, Railroad Earth, and Infamous Stringdusters. Rhythms tumble and roll over “Show Me Something Higher”, Leftover Salmon backed by a horn section for the funky romp as the album shows audio home movies from decades of touring when “Evermore” shares stories of the road, balancing with happiness of home in the Colorado mountains while “Places” namedrops the beauty of North American highways.
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Don Gallardo (from the album Still Here available on Rock Ridge Music)
A snare shot is the starting blast for Still Here, the recent release from Don Gallardo as the East Nashville-based musician begins the album journey with the personal reflections of “Something I Gotta Learn”. A storyteller that pens part-fact, part- fiction stories with both hopes and heartaches, Don Gallardo continues to deliver a contemporary take on familiar sounds with his band. Country music taps “Oh Jane” on the shoulder to tell its tale as Still Here takes a spin on the back-alley jazz for “Stay Awhile” and trudges with determination, mustering a steadfast conviction to both the beat and goals for “Kicking Up the Pavement”.
Stepping away from solo writing, Don Gallardo lists numerous co-writes for Still Here, welcoming A-list session players in addition to his band into the studio and sailing the seas of a better life with Erin Rae on vocals in “A Boat Named Harmony”. Echoes of California Country drift across Still Here, audio keepsakes Don Gallardo took on the trek from his northern CA upbringing to Nashville, Tennessee in 2008. A west coast ease backs the Americana and Country tones of Music City as the album tips its hat to offer a goodbye with “Ballad of a Stranger’s Heart” while Don Gallardo sways on gentle far-from-home Country Folk to match the rhythms of his non-stop troubadour travels knowing “I’ll Never Be Alone”. Still Here comforts the sad tale of “The Losing Kind” in a warm honky tonk waltz and shares a drunk-on-Dylan dream with “Same Ol’ Alley Talkin’ Blues #12”.
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Birds of Chicago (from the album Love in Wartime available from Signature Sounds)
The weight of the world as it carries cultural upheaval while equally burdened by a lack of leadership was the backdrop for Birds of Chicago when the entered the studio to record Love in Wartime. Repairing the deep divides that stretch between us and them is a monumental task and while Birds of Chicago are not seeking to take on the whole planet, they offer solace on a personal level, spreading good news from house to house with Love in Wartime. To supplement their efforts, Birds oh Chicago point to the seismic strides made in the 1960’s and 1970’s for equality and human rights, band member Alison Russell feeling that ‘any act of love is an act of bravery. These songs are snapshots of covenants, big and small, of trust and understanding. We want to give people some good news, and we want them to be able to dance when they hear it’. Love in Wartime searches the skies for “Superlover” amid guitar notes that sparkle like stars and words that encourage to find a hero within. The title track parades purposefully on a persistent rumble of percussion as Love in Wartime uses handclaps to applaud the awakening and lead the rhythms of “Roll Away” and introduce “Roisin Starchild” on the funky strums of classic soul.
Husband and wife Alison Russell and JT Nero formed Birds of Chicago in 2012 after the pair had spent time in other musical projects (Po’ Girl, JT and the Clouds). They entered Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, Illinois to record Love in Wartime on election day January 2017. Co-produced by JT Nero and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), the album marks the moment when drama replaced dignity in the oval office, the event serving as a springboard for their urgency in the songs to catch air and fly. Chords chops create the funk for the affirmations of “Never Go Back” while the slow addition of instrumentation builds “Lodestar” as the arrangement unfolds like audio flowers seeking light. Birds of Chicago point fingers over the gently rolling acoustics of “Try” and put the happiness of home into the effervescent groove of “Travelers”.
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Jeff Plankenhorn (from the album Sleeping Dogs)
On the recent release Sleeping Dogs, Jeff Plankenhorn picks up guitars outside of the instrument he created, The Plank, to back his words. Jeff gave the musical back story explaining that ‘The Plank guitar came from me wanting to mix together the two worlds of bluegrass dobro and the sacred steel tradition, and my whole last album was dedicated to that one instrument — to get it out there. SoulSlide also really helped put me on the map as a solo artist, which is why I’ve moved on to focusing more on doing my own thing and only doing a side gig once in a while when I really want to, with people that I really respect. But now, with Sleeping Dogs, I wanted to take a bigger look at how the whole world of music is available to me; it’s not about just one guitar or sound, but rather about using all of the instruments I play and bringing all of my influences together — and about really wanting to bring my songwriting to the forefront’.
Offering a seat at the table, Jeff Plankenhorn scribes an invitation with the mantra “Love is Love” repeated as it puts matters of heart on the menu. Sleeping Dogs lights up a 1980’s Rock/Pop rock’n’roll beat proclaiming “I Don’t Know Anything” as it uses slide guitar to cut up “Piece of Cake”, lazily drifting on the rolling rhythms of lessons in “Heaven on Earth” and shaking as it uses flashing white lines under the wheels of “Homecoming” for its groove. Carving his name into A-list sideman status during his seventeen years in Austin (The Flatlanders, Ray Wylie Hubbard) Jeff Plankenhorn finds friends returning the favor on Sleeping Dogs as Ray Wylie (“Tooth and Nail”) and Patty Griffin (“Holy Lightning”) join in the creation of the album. Opening the album with the first cut advice of the title track, Sleeping Dogs quiets after a storm, gathering losses in the gentle string plucks of “Further to Fall” while Jeff Plankenhorn plays proud papa to the friend that he has brought to the world with “This Guitar”.
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Eric Corne (from the album Happy Songs for the Apocalypse available on Forty Below Records)
Blues stokes the backbeat as Eric Corne introduces Happy Songs for the Apocalypse, his latest release. Eric Corne packs a suitcase full of Roots and Americana for his trip down the tracks of Happy Songs for the Apocalypse, making sure to include touches of Folk, Alt Country, and Rock’n’Roll as accessories. Regional sounds drift as “Short Wave Preachers” dials in Cajun and Celtic Folk while heavy steps move in time to the sad beat of “Ashen Heart” and southern rock strides across “Pull String to Inflate” as Eric Corne takes a stand on a Little-Feat inspired, horn-fueled groove for “Locomotion”.
Having his name on the front of the album cover brings the songwriting and vocals of Eric Corne to center stage. The founder and president of Forty Below Records Eric Corne has produced artists for the label releases (John Mayall, Sam Morrow) as well as working on recordings from a diverse group of artists including Lucinda Williams, C.J. Chenier, Kim Deal (The Pixies), Edgar Winter, Joe Walsh, Nancy Wilson (Heart), and Joe Bonnamassa among others. Walter Trout claims a shotgun spot for his guitar as he and Eric Corne hop into the front seat to drive “Ridin’ with Lady Luck”. Happy Songs for the Apocalypse walks the “Trail Full of Tears” dirge on slow footfalls, wraps Country Folk around “Mad World”, stringing notes and beats together to light “Forbidden Town” while Eric Corne picks out acoustic guitar notes to accent “The Gilded Age” and uses thick reverb to cushion the lessons of “History Repeats”.
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