Yarn (from the album Lucky 13, Vol. 2 available on Ardsley Music) (by Bryant Liggett)
Yarn is a band on the edge. A genre edge, as Yarn find themselves living on the edge of Jam, the edge of Cow Punk, new Folk and Country. These are genres where Yarn circles the neighborhood, looking for that comfortable place to call home but for the band, the edge is that comfortable place as they pull a chameleon act that should offer up fans of all the aforementioned genres. Or forget the genres and revel in the fact Lucky 13 Vol. 2reveals great playing, great lyrics and an all-around great sound. “I Like It” and “Now is Our Time” open the album with on-the-quiet side ballads, reflective, and “What For” pulls on the album in with a subtle R&B groove.
“Weary” kicks in with an eighteen-second intro of a guitar churning, where the jam disguises the crying-in-your-beer ballad where the narrator is revealing he has ‘been tired and alone ever since you gave me hope’. Like the Jam Band world, the lyrics give way to a big guitar break that unlike the extended riffing, gets reeled back in to the song quickly. A click-clack, chug-a-long train track rhythm drives “All Shines Through,” and “Stranger in This Town,” where the narrator callously brags ‘all the girls they want to know me, guys just to run me out’ and “Hard Times” with its down on the luck lyrics has a great wandering groove. “Lucky Man” is big and bouncy, loaded with Country twang, as Yarn close things out with a drifting lullaby in “Dreamtown.” (by Bryant Liggett)
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Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (from the album Turn Off the News (Build a Garden) available on Fantasy Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Turn off the News (Build a Garden),the latest from Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real plays it heavy on a Countrified brand of soulful Rhythm and Blues. It is a style that suits Turn off the News (Build a Garden)just fine. Light on the Rock and even lighter on hints of twang where Lukas Nelson’s voice sounds more and more like his father Willie, it is an exploration of Roots music with clean playing and reflective lyrics. “Bad Case” opens Turn off the News (Build a Garden)with slight jangle pop followed by the title track, where Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real state ‘hatred is a symptom of the times, lost in these uneducated blues’. Backed on vocals by Sheryl Crow, “Turn Off the News” provides some of the best suggestion of this year, 2018, or the last three years, with the simple advice of ‘turn off the news and build a garden with me’.
“Save a Little Heartache” kicks off with guitar that is slightly Psychedelic and a hint of Funk giving way to more Rootsy funky riffs in “Lotta Fun” where Lukas Nelson claims ‘life is heaven, life is hell, I don’t trust computers anymore, gonna buy a little weed in the marijuana store’. A sage slice of wisdom from an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. “Out in LA” is beautiful in its lazy delivery, a song where the narrator laments being ‘out on the road’ while his girl is ‘out on the town’. The charm of Turn off the News (Build a Garden)is its subtle groove, where as a growing rock band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real provides you with what essentially is a laid-back listen.
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Los Coast (from the album Samsara available on New West Records)
The Pop heard from Los Coast is a direct result of the effervescent psychedelic Soul that Austin, Texas band uses to build the grooves on Samsara, their recent debut release. The sounds of Samsarahave a Vintage texture, Los Coast channeling a rhythmic lineage that weaves through the sounds of Soul, Funk, and Rock. The freedom found in the beat of early rock’n’roll was in due in large part to the danger found in the chaos of a band let out of their cage. Los Coast head to the garage finding that same sense of freedom in the 4/4 force of “Masquerade” as they hammer a disco funk framework to hold the lyrical flow of “(Everything But) The Kitchen Sink” and dial in outta space signals to ward off the snakes slithering with the groove through “Monsters”.
Paying attention to their local scene, Los Coast are hearing the changes occurring in Roots and Americana music when they describe the diverse sonics of Samsaraas ‘we love pop music, but we also love to experiment. We try to avoid letting the listener know what's coming, and we like playing with people's expectations and catching the listener off guard. It becomes stale if it's too familiar, so we like to come up with music that's familiar and surprising at the same time’, guitarist/keyboardist John Courtney feeling that ‘I think this album captures a moment in time for the band, and a moment of time in Austin too, with certain things that were in the air at the time, and certain tides turning’. Samsaraspins its song wheel, the hammering beat of “Battles” demanding attention, giving the running rhythms of “Testify” a hint of Ska, carrying “The Morning Weight” on heavy Blues footsteps, and soundtracking “Cymatics” with sonics blurring on an audio screen. Los Coast strut out on a Neville Brothers born swampadelic boogie urging “Simplify” and exit Samsarawith a campfire strum lapping at “Chesapeake”.
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Ellis Paul (from the album The Songwriter’s Suitcase available on Rosella Records)
If we chose our singers and their songs as we select wine, Ellis Paul would be a fine blend of heart and soul, a full-bodied voice, rich with an emotional texture that can add spice and heat as needed. Ellis Paul bottles up all of his natural ingredients, lays out an audio blanket of melody and uncorks a case of tunes as The Songwriter’s Suitcase, his recent release. Tenderness opens the curtains on The Songwriter’s Suitcasefirst cut, Ellis Paul admitting “I Ain’t No Jesus”, adding other spiritual icons such as Buddha while he finds his true religion in a heart that is given to him in love. The Songwriter’s Suitcase shows Ellis Paul is holding a full house of topics as he reads today’s headlines (“The Battle Of Charlottesville”), takes a step beyond mortality (“The Innocence and the Afterlife”), holds a placard for politics (“Election Day”), and provides a front row seat for family holiday celebrations (“Five Alarm Fire on the 4thof July”).
Ellis Paul is a writer, The Songwriter’s Suitcasecollecting his words with music as he takes time away from authoring children’s books and sitting at the front of a class of similar searchers with a pen when leading songwriter workshops. Delicate notes flicker like dust motes in the heartbeat thump of “Mammoth” while The Songwriter’s Suitcasewatches the baseball sail over the backfield wall in “How You Say Goodbye” as a crime scene materializes in “Scarecrows in a Corn Maze” and the title track falls into an open satchel amid the whiskey bottle, characters, ink, and paper tools of its trade. Ellis Paul has the touch of a master painter when his pen fleshes out the humans in his songs, the storyteller becoming the teacher advising “You’ll Never Be This Young Again” and relating his personal journey in “Kiss Me ‘Cause I’m Gone”.
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Various Artists (from the album Jazz Fest, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
As a journalist, it is always nice to get an easy pitch, one that writes itself by simply championing the high points of its artists. The Various Artists collected on Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivalmake the use of word descriptions, the multiple-disc set putting marquee names on the tracks with music from Professor Longhair, The Neville Brothers, The Dixie Cups, Buckwheat Zydeco, Marcia Ball, Dr. John, BeauSoleil, The Subdudes, Anders Osborne, Wild Magnolias as a sampling. The natural sound of New Orleans claims many bloodlines, Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivalrepresenting Crescent City music with Brass Bands and Gospel choirs, Jump Jazz, Zydeco, Blues, Funk, R&B, and a heavy mojo of swamp grooves and voodoo rhythms.
The material collected on Jazz Fest: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivalgathers unreleased performances from 1974 to 2016, the songs and artists highlights from the fifty years of the festival. Walter Wolfman Washington recalls the title track from his Blue Moon Rising album while Allen Toussaint is joined by Bonnie Raitt on “What is Success”. Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown hops Duke Ellington ride with “Take the ‘A’ Train” while Preservation Hall Jazz Band blow their Blues for “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” and Trombone Shorty leads The March in “One Night Only”. The music is accompanied in the box set with history and photographs of the festival. Like its yearly line-up, Jazz Fest: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivalpresents the many musical sides of the city on a revolving kaleidoscope sound stage.
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Sunday Wilde & 1 Eyed Jacks (from the album Sunday Wilde & 1 Eyed Jacks available as a self-release)
No one can argue that The Blues is a universal soundtrack and Sunday Wilde puts it on the map of Northern Ontario (Canada). Backed by 1 Eyed Jacks, the music of Sunday Wilde brings delta heat to the Arctic Circle on the recent self-titled release, Sunday Wilde & 1 Eyed Jacks. The spit and snarl of Blues founders such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Memphis Minnie find lineage in the music of Sunday Wilde & 1 Eyed Jacks, the band sparking fire with roadhouse Blues to raise “Dead Presidents”, crawling on a swamp groove with “Evil”, walking with heavy footfalls through the somber graveyard pace of “Spirits Up My Friend”, and setting the mood to steamy for “I Guess I Didn’t Hear You Right”.
Her words dig deep into soul shadows to expose raw pain (“Show Me Mercy”), full hearts (“Love Is”), grief (“Dead Man’s Clothes”), and harsh reality (“Swear You’re Cheatin’”). Sunday Wilde & 1 Eyed Jacksgives the Blues a home at the edge of the world, putting a rock’n’roll groove into a juke joint love story with “Captured Me” and welcoming the music of Elmore James to the great white north in a slow-cooked version of “It Hurts Me Too”.
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Ordinary Elephant (from the album Honest available on Berkalin Records)
The easy way Ordinary Elephant share memories in “Rust Right Through” and the way the duo hear Montana magpies tell secrets as they peel scabs from sins of the past with “Scars We Keep” is a world away from the decisions that led couple into a musical career. Crystal (guitar) and Pete (clawhammer banjo) Damore had job security as a veterinary cardiologist (Crystal) and computer programmer (Pete). After some coaxing, Pete pulled Crystal out of her comfort zone as she realized that a fuller life exists beyond the borders of conformity, and she recalls that ‘I had a safe job and was on a safe life trajectory, financially but those things were like a safety rail you reach for — a habit, a comfortable familiarity... something you’re expected to reach for. I was letting those things hold me up instead of learning to stand on my own. And one day, down the road, I would retire, and that job and those people who I thought I needed to please, would fall away, and I’d be left with me, not having lived the life I truly wanted or felt called to. That is not safe to my well-being’.
The experiences of “Jenny and James” are used as life lessons when Ordinary Elephant pay attention to the education the pair in the story received. The camera rolls into a scene to home setting, zeroing in on the thoughts we keep inside in “Worth the Weight” as a spotlight shines on the wall portraits telling the story of a lifetime in “Hope to Be That Happy” while weary harmonies feel a heaviness in their bones for “I’m Alright”.
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Dylan LeBlanc (from the album Renegade available on ATO Records)
The vibe of Dylan Leblanc’s latest release, Renegadeis one of subtle Psychedelic Rock swirling around the many moods of a Singer/Songwriter. Heavy is the story that lies beneath the lyrics, the tales coming complete with big guitar sonics buried in spacey reverb. It is like the first four or five songs could be outtakes from the It Still Moves sessions of My Morning Jacket, the captured sound playing as if recorded in a silo. The tone is a warm and welcome additive to an album that has the natural ability to grow on the listener after repeated listens.
The Renegadetitle track kicks the album off with a chorus of off-beat characters, from the ‘rhinestone kings of L.A.’ to ‘bad motherfuckers that look a lot like me.’ Renegadeis an album loaded with picturesque characters, many of them chasing or avoiding pain. Dylan LeBlanc makes “Born Again” a reflective tale of self that cries ‘at the edge of eighteen when I knew I wasn’t coming back, with an old leather jacket and a heart that was hurting bad, but now it makes me laugh’.
“Bang Bang Bang” has a big, albeit short, intro that reveals the infectious, repetitive hook of ‘bang bang bang’ while the pace drastically slows down for the beautiful murder ballad of “Sand and Stone.” The mood is the perfect segueway for the slower tunes “Lone Rider” and album closer “Honor Among Thieves,” the latter wrapping the album with a moving string section and gently plucked acoustic guitar. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Shootouts (from the album Quick Draw available on MRI)
Procrastination and depression are put away when The Shootouts tidy up on the opening cut for the recent release, Quick Draw, with a clear plan in “Cleaning House”. Foregoing the claim on the album title, The Shootouts might be fast but they can’t outgun a sad Country song as Quick Drawdrops audio coins in a honky tonk jukebox. Things may be bleak yet The Shootouts count one friend beside them in “Lonely Never Let Me Down”, spend a few moments with the weekly paycheck before court appointed payments take it away on “Alimony”, and give their wishes wings with country rock’n’roll chicken-picking guitar riffs of “If I Could”.
Musically, the Akron, Ohio based band become honky tonk wranglers corralling traditional Country, Americana, and Western Swing as a brand for the songs. Not every bright light is a train barreling down on The Shootouts and the band feels happiness matching the rhythm of their wheels slapping asphalt as they head home to love in “California to Ohio” and peak over present hurdles to see forever in a slow dance with “If We Quit Now”.
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Gary Nicholson (from the album The Great Divide available on Blue Corn Music)
Gary Nicholson and his guitar stand firmly planted in current events as he sings of The Great Divide, the recent release that collect stories for our times. The pen of Gary Nicholson can see clearly in the now, making hard luck and trouble an easily surmountable obstacle on the rock’n’roll honky tonk of “Hallelujah Anyhow” as he tenderly offers a balm for strife with simple notions in “Choose Love”. The modern world offers lot of material for stories and while Gary Nicholson chronicles the present he looks towards moments in the not-too-distant past, turning the pages on times when helping others mattered with “Soft Spot” while the racism of ignorance gets a voice in “Blues in Black and White”.
Faith is strong when Gary Nicholson opens The Great Dividealongside guest vocalist Ruthie Foster in “God Help America”. A percussive thump is the groove when Gary Nicholson introduces “Immigrant Nation” and erases the lines touched on with The Great Dividealbum title by linking humanity by a shared walls in “The Troubles”. How we got here it not as important as where we land and Gary Nicholson becomes the pied piper leading a Country Blues conga line through “Trickle Down”, uses real life stories as a bridge over The Great Dividetitle track, and solemnly finds the answer within reach, feeling the power of a world united in “We are One”.
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