Justin Townes Earle from the album Saint of Lost Causes on New West Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Justin Townes Earle kicks off his latest release with a dark dose of reality. Aside from owning the fact that he is “a bad dream,” the title track comes off with plenty of warnings as Justin Townes Earle delivers prose about a cruel world for both the sheep and the shepherd. “The Saint of Lost Causes” is a bluesy album opener where the darkness is accentuated by spooky, psychedelic guitar.
“Ain’t Got No Money” is a straight ahead narrative of a universal problem, a tune that locks into a blues chug from the get-go, followed by the somber reflections of “Mornings in Memphis.”
“Flint City Shake It” grooves along (a song companion to the film “Roger & Me”) with a Blues bounce following in “Pacific Northwestern Blues” and “Say Baby”, the trio of tracks calling for a let-loose twirl on the dance floor. “Appalachian Nightmare” is a road tale about a drug dealer, cop killer and overall bad-choice maker where JTE’s voice becomes the confessor. The Saint of Lost Causesis an album of gothic ballads and rootsy shuffles where Justin Townes Earle sings of hope and despair, even tosses around some historical touchstones. Solo instruments like pedal steel, guitar and harmonica are sound affects accentuating the storyline, the notes and riffs coming in bursts and fills. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Joanne Shaw Taylor (from the album Reckless Heart available on Silvertone Records)
Scratchy chords, strummed as almost an after-thought, prod the rhythm along in “I’m Only Lonely” and a gnarly riff spits and chews up the melody bubbling underneath “Creepin’” while guitar strings are chopped and diced on the funky groove of “All My Love”. Joanne Shaw Taylor ties all the instrumental pieces together with smoky shouts on Reckless Heart, the latest release from the Blues-slinging guitarist. The subtle touches she applies to her songs color the tracks of Reckless Heart with wide-splashes of the Blues, Joanne Shaw Taylor tenderly awakening to stark reality over the slowly percolating rhythms in “I’m Only Lonely” as an anxious beat channels the tension born of indecision in “Break My Heart Anyway” and an echoed thump defines defiance for the heart walking through the title track with authority.
British Blues Rock tradition are continued on Reckless Heart, album number four for the UK-based musician. Joanne Shaw Taylor advances the potential of the Blues as she stretches past genre borders, slashing guitar chords poking at the condemning facts of “Bad Love” and pounding out an exit plan in “New 89”. Joanne Shaw Taylor came to the US for the studio work on Reckless Heart, recording in her adopted hometown of Detroit, Michigan with Al Sutton producing, capturing the tracks with a live performance vibe. The feral sound of the recording support the natural grit of Joanne Shaw Taylor as she kicks open the doors of the album, setting the pace on the first cut “In the Mood”.
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Lucette from the album Deluxe Hotel Room available on Rock Creek Music (by Bryant Liggett)
The saxophone solos on Lucette’s Deluxe Hotel Roomare one of the many reasons the album gets a gold star. The sax pushes Deluxe Hotel Room into an undefinable realm; it is electro Roots that at times dives back to 1980’s movie soundtracks and even some AM Gold. Produced by Sturgill Simpson, his band backing Lucette, the saxophone work and placement in the songs moves Deluxe Hotel Roominto multiple directions. The horn riffs drift into “Out of the Rain,” an emotional cut where Lucette sings ‘I know what I’d wish for if I had a well and a penny, and the sax solo is a perfect touch for credits rolling over a rain slicked, New York City street to close out a film. “Angel” has late 1960’s psychedelic elements in its tone where the saxophone goes from smooth to squonk, the smooth gliding in to follow Lucette’s voice on the dreamy “Fly to Heaven.”
“California” is two minutes of beauty, a lazy ballad like a sunny California day while “Crazy Bird” finds the singer pushing into Mazzy Star territory with a dreamy serenade. Piano-driven tracks sandwich Deluxe Hotel Room, the title track a tale of someone wanting to be elsewhere while the album closer, “Lover Don’t Give Up on Me”, weeps openly with only a voice and piano soundtrack. Deluxe Hotel Roomfinds Lucette introducing ambient soul and R&B into the ever-moving boundaries of Americana, and Deluxe Hotel Roomshows them to be a quite welcome addition. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Southern Avenue (from the album Keep On available on Concord Records)
Lines are drawn in Keep On when Southern Avenue use the songs of their second album release to stand firm for self-worth in “Too Good for You” with the simplified statement ‘you ain’t shit without me’. The Memphis, Tennessee-based five-piece grant access to heaven urging to ‘put it all in my hands’ as they promise salvation from “Savior” as they stomp out the separation line to create a one-world in “We Are Not So Different”, and open Keep On with a hand-clap rhythm march that leads feet into a better day on the first cut title track. Southern Avenue let the sound of the band be their audio calling card, sidestepping genre borders by appealing to multiple sounds as they deliver Rock’n’Roll (“She Gets Me High”), Bluesy grooves (“Whiskey Love”), smooth Southern Soul with a message (“We’re Gonna Make It”), and a stew that collects styles as spices for its gumbo (“The Tea I Sip”).
Southern Avenue plays host to musical diversity within its line-up, the members channeling personal influences into a one-band sound. Sisters Tierinii Jackson (vocals) and Tikyra Jackson (drums) are joined in the band by players that tribute hometown Memphis music with Stax Records albumni, keyboardist Jeremy Powell while Southern Avenue welcome musicians from around the world in their ranks with Israel-born guitarist Ori Naftaly. Snapping notes like fingers, “Jive” spits out an expresso-shot cadence as Keep On‘pleads the fifth’ on the triphammer groove of “Switchup” and Southern Avenue carve out a safe spot for humanity to stand together as one in “We’ve Got the Music”.
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Dervish (from the album The Great Irish Songbook available on Rounder Records)
The musical traditions of Northern Ireland can be heard in the songs of Dervish, particularly counties Sligo and Leitrim. Formed in the pubs of Sligo in 1989 during informal jam sessions, the four original members of Dervish, Shane Mitchell (accordion),Liam Kelly (flute/whistle), Brian McDonagh (mandola/mandolin) and Michael Holmes (bouzouki), were joined by Cathy Jordan (vocals/bodhran drum) and Irish fiddle champion, Tom Morrow. The six members of Dervish bring the traditions of their homeland with them when they deliver their debut for Rounder Records with The Great Irish Songbook.
While Dervish curate the sound of their homeland, homegrown is not a requirement to feel the magical pull of the players in an Irish tune. The Great Irish Songbookwelcomes musicians/fans from outside the shores of Ireland when Steve Earle (“The Galway Shawl”), Rhiannon Giddons (“The May Morning Dew”), David Gray (“The West Coast of Clare”), Abigail Washburn (“The Parting Glass”), and Vince Gill (“On Raglan Road”) join the band on tradition’s tunes. The pure natural twang of a Country singer plays against traditional Irish acoustics when Jamey Johnson is backed by Dervish on “The Fields of Athenry”. Native singers join homeland heroes as Imelda May, former Corrs lead singer, Andrea Corr, and Harry Potter alumni, Brendan Gleeson (Professor Moody) take to the microphones alongside Dervish. The band’s lead singer, Cathy Jordan, opens The Great Irish Songbookwith the tale of “The Rambling Man” while Nashville and the hills of Ireland find a common toast when Dervish raise a glass with Tennessee’s The SteelDrivers for “There’s Whiskey in the Jar”.
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Anders Osborne (from the album Buddha and the Blues available on Back on Dumaine Records)
Optimism pushes the pen on Buddha and the Blues, the recent release from New Orleans, Louisiana-based songman, Anders Osborne. The album title deals in duality, erasing the space between simple joys (“Traveling with Friends”) and out-of-reach goals (“Aching for Your Love”) as Buddha and the Blues backs its stories with the branded Blues of Anders Osborne’s guitar. Producer Chad Cromwell used Anders Osborne as an export from the Crescent City, bringing the man, his guitar, and his songs to the West Coast, recording Buddha and the Blues at Brethren Studio. A-List SoCal players such as Waddy Watchel-guitar (Stevie Nicks, The X-pensive Winos with Keith Richards, Warren Zevon) and Benmont Tench-keyboards (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) takes seats in with a stellar cast backed by the beat of producer Cromwell (Mark Knopfler, Bod Dylan, Neil Young) on drums.
The breezy texture of California Country touches the tunes, particularly when Anders Osborne tags the environment with “Fields of Honey” and strums easy chords to gently tap tenderness into the mental movie screening of “The One I Love”. While the mighty Pacific pulls on the guitar of Anders Osborne, the thick current of the Mississippi River guides the currents on Buddha and the Blues as he scribes snippets of texts to scatter on the constant rhythmic motion of the title track. Anders Osborne has trouble with translation when guitar chords crunch loudly like pork cracklins in “Smoke and Mirrors” while he searches for “Escape” on a frenetic beat and revolves in the circular rotation of the melody as it sets the pace for “Running”.
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J.S. Ondara (from the album Tales of America available on Verve/Forecast)
The thumping bass line is the beat that soundtracks an “American Dream”, the cut that J.S. Ondara picks as the first journal entry on Tales of America, the recent release from the musician. Originally from Nairobi, Kenya, J.S. Ondara moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota to begin his U.S. musical career in the same spot as the songwriting hero he found at a young age, Bob Dylan. Built by acoustic instrumentation, Tales of America mirrors early Dylan releases with the stripped-down guitar/voice delivery of “Master O’Connor” while front porch Folk strums match the reverie channeled on “Television Girl” and rhythm causes a spark as “Torch Song” watches its melody catch fire.
Recorded in Los Angeles at Boulevard Recording and East West Studios, Tales of Americabrings in U.S. native sons to help with the album when J.S. Ondara is joined by Andrew Bird, Taylorand Griffin Goldsmith (Dawes) andJoey Ryan (The Milk Carton Kids). An easy sway guides the shuffle of “Lebanon” as J.S.Ondara asks “Good Question” on whispered guitar chords, puts a heartbeat groove under the farewell in “Saying Goodbye”, and relies solely on his voice to tell the story of “Turkish Bandana” as Tales of Americaknocks on the doors of US borders as the album exits on a refugee’s prayer with “God Bless America”.
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Glen Hansard (from the album This Wild Wilding on Plateau Records/Anti- Records)
Tapping into his past sonic successes, Glen Hansard uses his recent release, This Wild Wilding, as an audio spinning wheel, the tracks landing on ethereal Folk dreamscapes (“Fool’s Game”), as fragile notes strewn on delicate acoustics (“Threading Water”), stern marches (“Don’t Settle”), slowly unfurling clouds of Celtic-tinted melodies (“Good Life of Song”), and dark, anxious rhythms (“The Closing Door”). Garnering an Oscar over a decade ago for the song he performed (and wrote) for the film, Once, Glen Hansard make music as part of bands before the trophy and entering a solo career, forming The Frames in his native Dublin, Ireland in the early 1990’s and the duo, The Swell Season, which led to his movie work. All the facets of past musical endeavors make their influence felt in the sonic inventiveness of This Wild Wilding.
A Jazz noir in the style of a Tim Buckley song hosts the musical contemplations the carry “Weight of the World” as an effervescent rumble frolics underneath the hopes in “Brother’s Keeper” and a heavy-hearted beat prods and pokes the whispered threats of “I’ll Be You, Be Me”. Glen Hansard makes a musical pastiche of This Wild Wilding, stitching snippets of song together, stating that ‘this collection of songs is mainly made up of those that came through while improvising and following the melodic lines and threads. Sometimes when you take a small musical fragment and you care for it, follow it and build it up slowly, it can become a thing of wonder’. A revolving rhythm turns the groove in the vaguely mid-eastern tones of “Race to the Bottom” and a flurry of notes sparkle as “Mary” enters This Wild Wilding as Glen Hansard scatters his vision of the future over the free-floating soundscape of “Who’s Gonna Be Your Baby Now” and exits the album on gently plucked notes and breaths of sound for the tender request in “Leave a Light”.
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Dawn Landes (from the E.P. My Tiny Twilight available on Yep Roc Records)
Sepia tones and subtle touches of instrumentation are wisps curling around the vocals of Dawn Landes on her recent E.P. release, My Tiny Twilight. The songs drift in a musical mist across My Tiny Twilight soundscape, Dawn Landes following a two-note defined rhythm, promising ‘anything to ease your pain’ as she makes an appeal in “Baby Please” as she sends a kiss into the night sky on “I’m Wishing on a Star” and traipses behind a toy piano’s clarion call into sleep with “Hushabye”.
Country wisdom is behind the words for “Everybody Dream” when Dawn Landes makes the chorus a singalong as she lists facts such as ‘you can’t have a pony in the city’ while she opens My Tiny Twilight with a whispered “Hello”. Strutting into Mother’s Day week with a handclapped beat, Dawn Landes makes the power of voice all that is needed for both the rhythms and the proclamations of “I’m Your Mama”.
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Hacienda Brothers (from the album Western Soul available on Lux Records)
Serving as a reminder, Western Soul collects unreleased tracks from Hacienda Brothers, the sixteen cuts recalling the near-perfection of the band in their beginnings. A Hacienda Brothers song is a pop-up honky tonk, the music spilling like cosmic country honey from Western Soul when timid guitar notes pick out a path for the claims in “I’ve Got a Secret” while a Cajun rhythm adds some twang for the celebration as a story of “Bayou Bum”. Hacienda Brothers toss out some rock’n’roll jangle to head for the exit in “Leavin’ Town as well as offering an acoustic version of Bobby Bare cut.
Studio tracks, demos, alternate takes, and rough mixes make up the song listing for Western Soul. With only four albums released, Hacienda Brothers passed with the death of co-founder, Chris Gaffney.Western Soul, produced by founding member Dave Gonzalez when Dave, along with Chris Gaffney entered the studio to record tracks by band favorite singers, reconditioning the Tammy Wynette hit “Don’t Touch Me”, Johnny Paycheck’s “Or Is It Love”, Lynn Anderson’s “Hey Virginia”, and The Intruders “Cowboys to Girls”. The Hacienda Brothers debut album was recorded by legendary producer/songwriter Dan Penn, the songs on Western Soul the hooks that caught Penn’s ear for the band sound. Joined by the crew that had backed them on the road for a year, Dave Gonzalez and Chris Gaffney entered the studio with songs, worked out by touring bandmates Dave Berzansky on steel, Hank Maninger on bass and Dale Daniel on drums. Western Soul leaves voice mail messages and studio snippets of conversation in the final mix that add to the charm of the album as the music spins memories of songs as well as a band to be remembered. Hacienda Brothers count time passing on a classic country beat in “A Lot of Days are Gone” and offer a tune for “Tucson”, singing a tribute backed a by a Tex Mex border sway.
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