Mile Twelve (from the album City on a Hill available on Delores the Taurus Records)
A variety of topics tell the stories on City on a Hill,the recent release from Mile Twelve. Telling tales is a tradition in song, Mile Twelve up the ante on customized collections with City on a Hill as they tackle tougher-than-most subjects, wearing the skin of a soldier returning to real life as they fall backwards into the nighttime dreams of “Jericho”. A criminal on the run hops on board a runaway rhythm with “Innocent Again” while a somber melody sees beneath the lies in “Good Times Every Night” as Mile Twelve strum a groove into the traveling rhythms of “Where We Started”.
Maintaining a balance between the past and future of string bands, Mile Twelve erase any distinct lines that mark differences as City on a Hill stands tall for future rhythms in Bluegrass (“City That Drowned”) as a flurry of notes create moods in music instrumentally (“Rialto”), and recalls the magic of street corner busking (“Journey’s End”). A flurry of ragtag notes opens City on a Hill, Mile Twelve pulling the sound together when they stride into Richard Thompson’s “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” as the band follows the song to its natural progression with “Barefoot in Jail”.
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Tony Campanella (from the album Taking It to the Streets available on Gulf Coast Records)
The title track leads the charge when Tony Campanella kicks down the doors and plows into his recent release Taking It to the Streets. The Blues drives the sound of Taking It to the Streets, purring like a big cat on the prowl when the album hits the highway in “Got My Motor Running” as Tony Campanella shifts into overdrive on the caffeinated rhythms of Otis Rush’s “Checking on My Baby”, tips his hat to “Mr. Cleanhead” in a version of the Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson cut, and slows the pace to crawl for the confessions of “One Foot in the Blues”.
When co-founding his new record label, Mike Zito turned to longtime buddy, St. Louis, Missouri bluesman, Tony Campanella as a model musician for the Gulf Coast Records imprint. The success of the decision can be heard in the feral come-on of Sonny Boy Williamson III’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” as Tony Campanella chews on the Blues in “Texas Chainsaw”, accuses with “You Don’t Know”, and makes his point on a chopped-up funk rhythms on “Finger on the Trigger” while Taking It to the Streetsexits with a Sunday morning Blues prayer in “Those are the Times”.
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Pearl Harbor & The Explosions (from the album Pearl Harbor & The Explosions available on Blixa Sound)
The fact that this 1980 gem has remained under the radar its entire life is a mystery. Then again, the music business and the listeners ability to consume so much junk that lies beyond the good stuff is also a mystery. The remastered and reissued self-titled debut from San Francisco’s Pearl Harbor & The Explosions may finally have its day some 29 years after its initial release, a day well deserved. Pearl Harbor & The Explosions,led by front-woman Pearl E. Gates (aka Pearl Harbor) hits on the musical innovation of 1980’s Indie Rock, from the snappy Joe Jackson-style precision to the spikey energy of SoCal punks, X. This is an album loaded with songs that will take squatter rights in your head with no intention of leaving, and you find yourself just fine with your new tenants.
The opener in the cut “Drivin’” sets the pace of hook after hook, with things really kicking into high gear on “Don’t Come Back”, a tune with highlights such as a ripping guitar solo that comes in a flurry of quick punches. “Shut Up and Dance” is a spastic single, begging for a crowded club singing along to the chorus of ‘shut up, shut up, shut up and dance’. “So Much for Love” moves into ballad territory with clever word-play, where Pearl Harbor knocks songs about Ipanema, trying tenderness, and those people whose aims may or may not be true. The remastered and reissued treatment comes complete with B-Sides and live cuts, odd covers and a throwback radio spot from 1979. Any punk or new-wave collection that features The Jam or Devo needs this record.
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Orville Peck (from the album Pony on Sub Pop Records)
The melodies drift in a dream through Pony, the recent release from Orville Peck. Sonically, Pony is a Roots/Americana variation on the moods and musical themes of a David Lynch soundtrack, Orville Peck comfortable in a twin Peaks ambiance. Big clouds of chords form its musical backing before “Kansas (Remembers Me Now)” loses its signal and dissolves into static as the track makes an exit. Pony parks in Carson City to tell its story on album opener, “Dead of Night” while the sparkle of the notes in “Nothing Fades Like the Light” dim into a quiet musical reverie and the guitar joins with the banjo to toss out big fat audio raindrops from “Big Sky”.
The stage setting for Pony is a long desert highway stretching through the windshield into forever, the sound of the album joining a cast of fringe dwellers captured in the sweeping stories presented as sagas on the recording. Orville Peck is the guide for words and music, producing the tunes and fronting the album as masked crooner unpacking a suitcase full of cowboy tales of love and loss. As the sound melts around Orville Peck, “Roses Are Falling” speaks its condemnation against a stark backing of a drifting lead guitar, harmonica, and persistent rhythm. Pony lets its guitar strings fly free when “Winds Change” pulls the curtain on a spaghetti western soundtrack underneath a tale born in the legends of the old west. Orville Peck leads haunted choral vocals over the ghostly melody of “Old River” and scatters out a shuffling rhythm to welcome “Queen of the Rodeo” as he walks tall on the dark trudges defining the beat in “Hope to Die”. Pony hops a train-track groove for the fractured Country and Western memories of “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” while Orville Peck encourages “Buffalo Run” to pick up speed over runaway downhill rhythms.
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The Rayo Brothers (from the album Victim and Villain available on Nouveau Electric Records)
The Reaux brothers, Daniel and Jesse, began life as The Rayo Brothers to join a songwriter competition in their native Lafayette, Louisiana. Words and music are still front and center when The Rayo Brothers open Victim & Villain(their recent release) with guitar chords and the reading of a lost love letter in “Colorado” while the beat gives “Hard to Tell” marching orders and a banjo percolates over the Rock friendly groove of “Darkroom”.
A rhythmic sway guides the title track, the gentle motion cradling the confessions and hopes of The Rayo Brothers as their tale creates the link between “Victim and Villain”. Rock’n’Roll Pop bursts like a confetti shot to bid farewell in “Goodbye Jane” while Victim & Villain holds back trials and tribulations with “One Good Day”, sticks sharp-picked notes on the sibling-harmony of “The House I Hate”, and walks through “The Dream” amid cascading clouds of sonics while The Rayo Brothers toast on the traditional tune “Rye Whiskey”, joined by Andre Michot and album producer Louis Michot.
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Spiral Stairs (from the album We Wanna Be Hyp-No-tized available on Nine Mile Records)
Finding success early in his career with Pavement, the band he co-founded, Scott Kannberg has discovered gems over the course of time that his younger-self musical arrogance had buried deep under his own idea of art. The music made its way through, however, and under the moniker of Spiral Stairs, the recent release We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tizedtranslates sounds from the past into song. The tracks on the album are backed by a Rock’n’Roll band, Spiral Stairs fleshing out “The Fool” with a solid backbeat and guitar jangle as We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized lays down a marching rhythm for “Borderline”, chews up the beat with quick chord chops behind the story in “Them Cold Eyes”, and pens a letter in “Dear Husband”, dotted by tapped out notes and crossed with thick reverbed riffs.
Spiral Stairs tributes the new sounds that came into his record collection, barely containing the joy of his discovery when he described the process, saying ‘I’m talking things like the first two Nick Lowe records – I’m fucking obsessed by that shit, they’re beautiful, beautiful songs on those records. Then he led me to this guy Jim Ford who’s like a weird country-soul singer, he’s so good. And I’ve really got into Van Morrison way deeper than I’ve ever got into Van Morrison before. YouTube is the greatest thing ever because you can find everything that you want – I can read about a Van Morrison bootleg from 1982 or something that’s supposed to be the greatest thing ever and you can find it on YouTube! So I got into that 1973 album Veedon Fleece, and then of course Roxy Music stuff and Brian Ferry. But I think the influences on this are definitely Nick Lowe and Van Morrison – I even tried to sing like Van Morrison on a lot of the songs, like how he repeats himself a lot. Those are the kind of bands I would never have liked in 1984… or 1994… or 2004 really’. Bare bones build the framework for “Hold On (‘til I figure It out)”, the pounding beat forming a hefty foundation for its ‘communicate with love’ mantra. Horns, a weaving guitar lead, and sturdy rhythm open the album, referencing We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized in the community chorus of “Hypnotized”. Soul stirs the melody when “Diario” tells its story with a slight twang while Spiral Stairs crawls on a thick back bayou beat over “Swampland”.
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Vintage Trouble (from the album Chapter II EP II available on McGhee Entertainment)
Vintage Trouble is doing some studio exploration. Live they may be the same retro R&B outfit they have always been but on their recent release, Chapter II EP II, the southern California-based band present cleaner, more-modernized R&B sounds produced to perfection. Despite the throwback vibe of the band, they very much have their collective feet planted in today; chasing a 2019 sound in a 21stCentury studio with an outside producer was an effort to take a subtler approach when redefining the band.
‘We came from a late 50’s rock and roll inspiration when we started this band. I think there was a desire within parts of the band who wanted to touch on a more modern production’ said guitar player Nalle Colt. ‘So yeah, it’s a very different record from what a lot of fans would expect of Vintage Trouble’. “Everyone is Everyone” is a big opener with big hooky chorus, followed with the slowed down, smooth groove of “How It Is”. The best was saved for last in the final two cuts. “So Sorry” starts with a slow groove and even slower build-up of instrumentation. The horns start to punch in as Vintage Trouble turns up the volume, and Colt’s guitar solo comes in to wrap up the song. “One More Last Goodbye” begins with a gospel organ, the horns and guitar left behind for symphonic strings. It is an ending ripe for a slow-dance.
Despite the leanings into Pop and polished R&B territory, Vintage Trouble remains a live band. Call Chapter II EP II the best of both worlds, with the second CD of this release being a live offering. “’Vintage Trouble is a live band. We’ve always been. and when people see us play and hear us in a live setting, they see we do that well. We’ve been playing these songs for over a year. Taking more modern production, but then we break it down to what we usually do” said Colt. ‘That’s been really fun; in a way it’s like we’re covering ourselves. So, live I’d say it sounds more and more what people and our fans think Vintage Trouble should sound like’.
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Andrew Adkins (from the album Who I Am available on Mountain Soul Records)
Urbanizing cowboys was never a consideration when Country music began its journey in stores that mirrored the lives of folks living outside big city limitations. Those are the tales that Andrew Adkins gathers on his recent solo release, Who I Am. The former frontman for West Virginia’s The Wild Rumpus turns those stories into song as he wears the skin of his characters when calendar pages fall like the self-worth of the guy in the title track. A shuffle greets the beat if not the day when the weekend meets a dead end in “Every Monday Morning” while Andrew Adkins comes of age behind the wheel of a memory in “Burning the Tires Off”, sits in the rumble seat with the rhythms of “Henry Ford Blues”, and makes a wish on a passing dark cloud for “Praying for Rain”.
His days with The Wild Rumpus were spent with the band developing, and defining, their brand of Stompgrass. The sound shifts and reforms with touches of Folk, Mountain rhythms, Soul, and Old Time Music on Who I Am, the fourth solo release from Andrew Adkins. “Worries Behind” seeks its salvation on a mountain spiritual while Who I Am relives lessons learned in the beat of a “Fragile Heart” and looks for a small-town exit to find a highway home in “Southbound”.
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Jimbo Mathus (from the album Incinerator available Big Legal Mess Records)
Spirits live in the songs of Jimbo Mathus, rising up from Incinerator, his recent release. The souls gathered on album opener “You are Like a Song” sway in call and response harmonies while guitar and rhythms slowly reveal the wrong way down “Sunken Road” and a marching cadence guides the simmering Soul of “Sunk a Little Loa”. The inspiration for Jimbo Mathus in every aspect of his career is the Deep South he calls his home, evidenced in the audio cape Incinerator dons when haunted hoodoo lyrics and a back bayou ‘Acadian rhythm’ crawl through the swamp mists melodies of the title track.
The common link for Jimbo Mathus over his infamous musical journey is his dedication to craftsmanship, a trait noticed by peers such as Lilly Hiatt, Andrew Bird, and Shinyribs who a guest chair on Incinerator. The studio had two chairs sitting behind the board, with production credits shared by Bronson Trew and Matt Patton (Drive-By Truckers). This allowed Jimbo Mathus to focus on his performance, feeling that ‘I wanted to get to the soul of these songs, without distractions. So, I decided to play piano and record my singing live in the studio. It’s instinctual for me to plug in an electric guitar and rock. But I was seeking the kind of perfection you find in Romantic poetry. I wanted to hear the lyrics surrounded by space, and then add colors after I considered what was needed’. Shuffling feet walk by the side of Jimbo Mathus on the Country Blues of “Jack Told the Devil” as legs become rhythmic weights as he drags feelings across “Really Loved Someone” while Pony sets up a revival band to busk for salvation in “Give Me the Roses”
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The Yawpers from the album Human Question available on Bloodshot Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The Yawpers have always packed a wallop; a trio that can assault and offend you with Rock’n’Roll charm from both stage or studio. Frenetic live shows, hooks and anthems have been the norm for The Yawpers’ last few albums, and with Human Question, their third release on Bloodshot Records, they deliver all you would expect and do so like they're out for blood, a foot on the gas, a foot on the pedal and no-hands on the wheel, all packaged on Human Question in under a raucous thirty-eight minutes. “Child of Mercy” gallops out of the gate, the drums leading the song’s charge, giving you get two big blasts of industrial doom distinct points (1:41 and 2:22) in the song.
Guitar player/vocalist, Nate Cook, is a soulful, animated front-man, at times taking cues from Elvis and James Brown, particularly on what may be the dance number of Human Question, “Earn Your Heroes”. Kicking off “Forgiveness Through Pain” with dirty guitar fronting a wall of sound, Nate Cook scats the vocals. “Can’t Wait” has some Paul Westerberg (The Replacements, solo) flair, and cuts such as “Man as Ghost, “Carry Me,” and “When the Winters End” prove The Yawpers capable of a rough and tumble ballad. This band is everything great about Rock’n’Roll, because they are well aware of the necessary ingredients. Human Question is all dirty Rhythm and Blues birthed in a garage by The Stooges, with The Yawpers handling the sequence between upbeat recklessness and songs that dare show a tender side played out perfectly. (by Bryant Liggett)
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