Banditos (from the E.P. Right On available on Egghunt Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
There’s a little jangle and a few banjos. There’s horns and hipness. Nashville by the way of Alabama’s Banditos nail melody and hooks, and they could be an Alt-Country band if they wanted to. They could also be a Southern Rock band, if they wanted to. But they’re much more, because they want to and can. While they toss some twang about from a country-corner, they prove on their latest Right On that they can drop Indie-Pop with an old-school flair with the best of them; it’s a record of Roots that’s old and new school cool.
Chunky rhythms open the record with “Time Wasted” and a faint banjo introduces “The Waves” before Mary Beth Richardson’s gentle vocals drop in; she’s a vocalist that eases you in as she leads a band that will scoop you up for the ride.
“On My Way” has single plucked, reverb heavy surf guitar that gives way to a jangly melody and pop-gold, “Said and Done” has a funky R&B riff, and “Easy” is a slow and soulful. (by Bryant Liggett)
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49 Winchester (from the album Fortune Favors the Bold available on New West Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest from 49 Winchester finds the Virginia-based band living comfortably as both a hardcore twang band and a soulful-Americana act. It’s a sweet spot to be. With Fortune Favors the Bold a record that proves they can kick around honky-tonk with the two-stepping best while showing they can also slow it down for the sit-it-out set. The heart of 49 Winchester resides lives happily as a twang-ridden Country band. Every genre is about feeling, and 49 Winchester exude it when frontman Isaac Gibson’s scratchy voice drips with emotion.
49 Winchester lay down ballads for “Russell County Line” and “Second Chance” both taking on some gospel airs via church organ, “Damn Darlin’” as well the Fortune Favors the Bold title track.
But in the hands of 49 Winchester Country Rock’n’Roll and Rocked-out Country is where it’s at. Gibson explores the Saturday Satan/Sunday Saint idea on “Man’s Best Friend” singing ‘the best friend a man can have is Jesus, and the worst one he can have is named Jim Beam’. It is a classic battle of booze verse bible. They drop a Southern Rock ripper with “All I Need”, bang out a bouncer in “Hillbilly Daydream”, and close with a bar-room roof-raiser drinking-tune for “Last Call”.
49 Winchester is a fun, punchy, and ripping band. They put heartache in the ballads and hangover headache in the drinking songs, all coming in through lyrics that make can make you sad and make you smile while you’re crying in your beer and ordering another.
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Andrew Leahey & the Homestead (from the album American Static Vol. 2 on Mule Kick Records) (by Lee Zimmerman)
Andrew Leahey could be considered a dedicated multi-tasker, given that he serves an essential role as the leader of his backing band, The Homestead, while also maintaining a day job as lead guitarist for Elizabeth Cook. Nevertheless, despite his multiple responsibilities, Leahey still manages to juggle his efforts well. His last album, American Static Vol. 1, won a wealth of critical kudos, and recently spawned a sequel, American Static Vol. 2, an album that relays songs spun from more of a personal perspective even as retains the grit and determination that’s become his stock in trade.
Although he’s frequently been compared to Tom Petty in terms of his drive and delivery, those references don’t necessarily do him justice. Granted, he does ply a striking sound that mines a classic roots rock firmament. “Caught Like a Fire”, “Stay Awake”, “Mercury”, and “Hot House” are flush with a relentless revelry, stirring up a sound that drives the music forward with a decisive edge and exhilaration. Closing track “Carry A Weight” brings it to culmination on the strength of some soaring refrains and an emotional engagement that takes the entire album to a cascading conclusion.
That said, it’s clear Andrew Leahey & The Homestead also owe a debt to mainstream Pop, having mined archival influences and harnessing hooks that easily engage. “Sign of the Times”, “Dial Tone”, and “Until There’s Nothing But Ear” are compelling enough to grab listeners on first hearing and keep attention primed to the final refrain. They maintain a degree of skill and savvy that’s fully in line with a knowing approach, one that suggests Andew Leahey’s both a skilled songwriter and an artist clearly ready for primetime.
In a sense, the ‘static’ referred to in the album title is a bit of a misnomer. There’s a clarity and confidence that echoes throughout this set of songs, leaving no doubt as to both the ability and intent. As a result, American Static Vol. 2 adds another indelible imprint to ensure Leahey’s legacy. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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Left Arm Tan (from the album Undefeated available as a self-release) (by Brian Rock)
Fort Worth Americana stalwarts, Left Arm Tan, keep their winning streak alive with their sixth release, Undefeated. Maintaining their affinity for Southern California rhythms, Left Arm Tan jump forward in time from the 70’s Eagles and Poco melodies of their earlier work to more recent Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Neal Casal cosmic cowboy arrangements.
The first track, “Pamplona”, comes charging at you like a bull stampeding down a narrow cobblestone street. With world beat percussive elements and mariachi horns, the song bursts forth with exotic energy. Catchy guitar hooks move the song along as vocalist Brian Lee sings ‘Hemingway always knew the world would end, but getting old is the real mortal sin’. The blaring horns and Alt Rock guitar urge the listener to heed the lyrics and seize the day. The song reminds us to make the most of life while we still have the vigor to do so.
“Cannonball” also celebrates that ‘carpe diem’ motto. Introducing more techno, ambient sounds, the band salutes the reckless energy of youth, singing ‘taking the turns to fast, always running in the hall. I knew it couldn’t last, but I wanted it all’. “76 Trans Am” takes a look back on where that youthful recklessness leads. With mellow, cosmic rhythms, the band returns to the town of their youth and lets the memories flood over them. “Born to Break Your Heart,” combines cosmic soundscapes and mariachi horns to create an otherworldly tale of an unrepentant rambler. “Cocaine Skinny,” captures the Latino, Alt Rock sound of Havana 3AM to warn of the dangers of drugs - and those who deal in them. The band slows down for the ballads, “Angels Anyway”, “The Old Man and the Sea”, and the title track, “Undefeated”. The latter of which wraps up the Hemmingway inspired themes of self-identity, self-worth, and mortality that they have wrestled with throughout the album. Despite the bruises acquired along the way; if you’re still standing, and still participating in life, you have not been defeated.
Acknowledging that ‘life is just a battle between us and time’, Left Arm Tan again reminds us to keep swinging until the final bell. With introspective lyrics and modern, West Coast rhythms, Left Arm Tan puts another album in the win column with Undefeated.
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Seth Walker (from the album I Hope I Know available on Royal Potato Family) (by Lee Zimmerman)
With ten previous albums to his credit, one would think that by now Seth Walker would have achieved a level of awareness befitting his ample talents. So, if justice is served, his new album, I Hope I Know, ought to bring that promise to fruition. Of course, nothing can be taken for granted these days, but with Walker’s ability to tap into tradition and put his own spin it as well, that overdue recognition may finally be fulfilled.
Happily, he has the help he needed here. With production by Jano Rix — known for his work behind the boards, and band member, with The Wood Brothers — and several co-writes with Oliver Wood, Gary Nicholson, and Jarrod Dickenson, Seth Walker achieves the kind of results that ought to ensure even newcomers to the fold sit up and take notice. The combination of soul, sensitivity, and sophistication he shows is genuinely impressed, whether it comes through the rambling blues of “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be”, the soothing strains of “Hope I Know”, or the meandering melodies that characterize “Remember Me” or Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues”. Walker effectively takes on the role of the erstwhile troubadour, unhurried if not unburdened, conveying his thoughts with an easy, seemingly effortless stride.
Indeed, the sentiments shared here often bely what sometimes appears to be a lack of care or concern. A closer listen reveals Seth Walker grappling with the future and the uncertainty of what fate may have in store. A pair of seemingly unrelated covers, Van Morrison’s ever-so-soothing “Warm Love” and Bob Dylan’s unassuming standard “Buckets of Rain” (‘life is sad, life is a bust, all you do what ya must’) help etch the mellow mood, but don’t detract from the sense of ambiguity that resides within Walker’s seemingly diminished sense of expectation. Pessimism prevails, but the absence of doom and gloom manages to keep the mood afloat.
If nothing else, the attitude and approach are well worth relishing. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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Aaron Raitiere (from the album Single Wide Dreamer available on Dinner Time Records)
Kentucky-born songwriter Aaron Raitiere had a career penning tunes prior to Single Wide Dreamer, his recent release. The process for the long-held dream for Aaron Raitiere began when he handed over twelve potential cuts to Miranda Lambert and Anderson East, giving them creative control for curating the track list, suggesting arrangements, and guest players. Single Wide Dreamer, produced by Miranda Lambert and Anderson East, welcomes collaborators such as Bob Weir, Natalie Hemby, Robert Randolph and Waylon Payne to name a few. Raitiere takes the recording in stride, sharing that ‘I think the record kind of made itself, and that was the vibe I was going with. It was just a bunch of friends getting together trying to help me create something, because they thought I needed a record’.
The observations of Aaron Raitiere find their way into a storyline, setting the tone for a lost-love letter, “Hello Darlin’’, promises to spell out the message with ‘cussin’ you in cursive’. Single Wide Dreamer details a night at the local watering hole with friends on board in “Everybody Else”, confirming ‘I won’t be lonely when I go to hell, you can find me with everybody else’ as Aaron Ratiere bounces into “You’re Crazy” and deals out harsh truths, pouring a half-full glass with an opening line of ‘I got your name tattooed on my hip bone’, covering up the mistake with the state of Kentucky’ admitting in the song title “At Least We Didn’t Have Any Kids”. Aaron Raitiere introduces an independent thinker in the title track as Single Wide Dreamer provides a DIY guide for a happy life in “For the Birds” and exits on the meaningful message of “Time Will Fly”.
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Abbie Gardner (from the album DobroSinger available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Abbie Gardner (Red Molly) takes a big leap and stands on her own on DobroSinger. She proves she has all the chops of a Folkie, and does so in the untraditional way by using a dobro over a guitar. It’s rare that a dobro is the sole instrument on a Folk effort however Abbie Gardner proves she can be a standout vocalist and instrumentalist, doing so with the dobro, where the instrument handles rhythm and melody, beefing up the singer/songwriter approach. There is also, of course, a little twang.
DobroSinger opens with a gutsy Blues number in “Down the Mountain” before Abbie Gardner drops love songs with “Only All the Time” and “See You Again.” She drops a down home, animated, sit around the table, cut in “Born in the City”, tosses out a death ballad with “Cypress Tree”, and offers a two-stepper for “Honky Tonk Song”. The dobro also proves to be fitting accompaniment on ballads like “Too Many Kisses” and “You Belong to Me”, providing solid support to Abbie Gardner’s even more confident vocals. It’s a great and perhaps underused instrument in the singer-songwriter realm, as the slide of the dobro always adds a bit of Country shuffle and bounce, while also giving some gutsy support. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Builders and The Butchers (from the album Hell & High Water available on Badman Recording Co.)
The Builders and The Butchers flow smoothly into their recent release, Hell & High Water, floating in on opening cut “The River”, crying out for home over acoustic guitar chords before erupting in a demand on sharp-angled rhythms. The soft/hard arrangement is not a new song structure, though in the hands of The Builders and The Butchers the technique becomes less a gimmick, more a natural extension of the fury and force found in the band’s playing. Formed in Portland, Oregon in 2005, The Builders and The Butchers began life as buskers, playing house concerts and on the floor of venues, slowly adding a microphone, an amp, making their way up to the stage to one of the most dynamic live acts in the Pacific Northwest. The band does make every effort during performances to take themselves from the stage back to the floor. In a previous time, circa 2019,
The Builders and The Butchers came together for shows, writing, and tours whenever schedules allowed. The band members, all originally from Alaska. Making a living in Colorado brewing gin and whiskey for a living, and captaining a Malta-based ship based in Malta for some of the band members while the remaining members lived in Washington state and Portland, Oregon. Then the calendar turned its pages to 202. a pandemic, wild fires and massive rioting Portland, Hell & High Water was a challenging, yet cathartic record to make. The Builders and The Butchers wrote Hell & High Water together as a band in a boat house in a marina.
The recent release, Hell & High Water is a musical travelogue when jangling guitars sound a start for “West Virginia”, the storyline giving an edge to the simple rhythms of the song, electric guitars adding bite. The pounding of the players opens “Montana” like the lightning strikes hitting ground in the tale as soft falls trod home in the tender melodies of “Nebraska”, the natural bombast of The Builders urging the song towards an exit. Hell & High Water close out on “Sonoran Highway Song”, the band quietly structuring the rise of the instrumentation towards for powerful exit from the album. Places on a map share topics on Hell & High Water as The Builders and The Butchers sing a song for the Northwest in “Stop the Rain”, walk dark streets for “Strangers Blood”, offer afterlife suggestions on “Name in the Sky”, and provide a Northwest sea shanty backing for the gripping storyline of “Hand in the Grave”.
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The Americans (from the album Stand True on Loose Music) (by Bryant Liggett)
Los Angeles based band The Americans are taking the musical ingredients of Roots and Americana and giving them a hard yet encouraging kick in the rear and (hopefully) high gear. Their sophomore effort, Stand True, is power-Roots Rock, where earthy and stripped-down melodies pack a little punch, crunch, and feedback, and teases of the Jam band world get reeled back in as they keep things to a succinct package.
Acoustic picking introduces the opener “Stand True” with the cut dropping into a harder jangle while also throwing in hints of a yodel. That’s the closest The Americans ever get to any world of twang. Crying in your beer music isn’t only for a Country ballad when “Born With a Broken Heart” becomes a heavy weeper with riffs and Rock groove. The Americans keep it heavy with a goodbye ballad in “Farewell” while they rehash Shakespeare’s classic love-story by adding some observation in “Romeo”. “Sore Bones” is glorious gust of power-chords, crusty vocals, and Punk Rock, and The Americans keep the Hard Rock vibe going with the cow-punk touch of Southern rock in “Orion”.
This is a solid stew of Roots Rock. Stand True is a psychedelic, reverb-heavy jam with straight to the heart songwriting. Like My Morning Jacket and The Blasters dropped an album that was written by a The Boss of New Jersey. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Delbert McClinton (from Outdated Emotion on Hotshot Records/Thirty Tigers) (by Lee Zimmerman)
It seems rather redundant to claim that Delbert McClinton is returning to his roots. After all, McClinton himself personifies a sound that goes back to the very roots of Rock’n’Roll concurrent with the Bluesy bluster that informed that sound from the very beginning. Consequently, the title Outdated Emotion seems something of an oxymoron, because, in fact, McClinton has held true to his seminal style throughout his career.
The fact that he remains as vital and informed now as he did in the very beginning is certainly noteworthy. Given the transience that defines most popular music today, Delbert McClinton’s ability to stay as relevant and respected now as he was some 60 years ago when his harp provided the hook on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby” and propelled it to the top of the charts and, in turn, turned John Lennon into one of devoted disciples.
Flash forward to the present and the new album, a fine summation of Delbert McClinton’s cumulative career, thanks in large part to a selection of songs that represent the formative foundation on which he built his base. Many are seminal standards — “Stagger Lee”, “Long Tall Sally“, “Jambalaya”, “I Ain’t Got You”, and “Move It On Over” chief among them — while others find McClinton sharing the songwriting credits and ensuring a lingering imprint.
Not surprisingly then, none of these covers noticeably veer from the original renditions. McClinton is a sturdy Bluesman to be sure, but he’s also got the savvy needed to adapt to most any music of a similarly vintage variety, whether it’s the hardcore honky-tonk shuffle of “The Sun Is Shining”, a bluesy ballad like “I Want a Little Girl”, or the slow burning blues of “Connecticut Blues”. It all comes together cohesively, but there is enough verve and variety to allow McClinton to effectively spin into the deeper depths of his own singular style.
As a result, Outdated Emotion is, as its title implies, of an old school pedigree, even as it allows Delbert McClinton to reassert his presence and remind those who may have forgotten of the contributions that still impact modern music. Outdated? Hardly. It’s still essential to be sure. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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