Linsey Alexander (from the album Live at Rosa’s available on Delmark Records)
The Chicago Blues scene found a keeper when Linsey Alexander came to town in 1962. His playing is true to Chicago Blues Roots, his words rising/falling on the heartbeat of love when Linsey Alexander strums a Blues shuffle underneath “Somethin’ ‘Bout You”, slowing the rhythm to cool, his guitar fiery as it spits and scatters notes across “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” while he coaxes the effervescent rhythms from “I Got a Woman” with chopped chords and a solid backbeat. Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Linsey Alexander picked up more than a new address when he moved to Memphis, learning the guitar in his new home by the age of twelve. Part plea, part threat, Linsey Alexander’s recent release, Live at Rosa’s, opens with the seduction of “Please Love Me”, picking up the pace for a stroll across “Goin’ Out Walkin”, and high-steeping the rhythm of “My Days are So Long”. Linsey Alexander slowly plucks notes from “Ships on the Ocean” and, taking on the role of weatherman. plows over “Snowin’ in Chicago” with guitar work for all seasons.
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The National Parks (from the album Wildflower available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Call it a 21st Century New Wave record influenced by electro Folk. Or call it a modern Electric Folk record with pulsing, Indie Rock leanings. With their fourth full length Wildflower, The National Parks experiment with tone, tempo and instrumentation, unafraid to throw a dash of what sounds like a banjo here and a handful of blip rhythms there, eager to hear what will come out on the other side; it’s a creation pleasant that tests an expansion of Electro Pop and Indie Folk. The title track is preceded by a short dose of ambient and Psychedelic desert Rock, morphing into a quick blast of power chords; it is a chugging album opener with infectious riffs and the repetitive line of ‘if you can be my open skies, I can be your wildflower’.
“Mother Nature” is an Earth Day anthem, the simple line ‘it’s a beautiful world’, backed by Folk instrumentation of banjo and harmonica, hidden underneath a programmed beat. “Horizon” is introduced with a prog-synth rhythm before the vocals kick in; those same vocals trading space with a violin as they state ‘a broken heart is the reason to start again’ before turning into a pulsing dance cut, similar to “Blue Moonlight” with its up-beat rhythms weaving throughout the melody. “Chance” is a soft duet, the vocals of Brady Parks and Sydney MacFarlane confessing ‘you’re a gamble and I’m all in’ while “Painted Sky” is a twangy, Psychedelic sing-a-long. Wildflower has animated tone, and an experimental nature, this is an album that has mated an electronic, dance club feel to a Folk festival. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Dixie Dirt (from the album Springtime is for the Hopeless and Other Ideas available on Small Batch Records / Nine Mile Records)
Nine Mile Records, along with Small Batch Records, are re-releasing albums that deserve a second launch as The Essential Records series. Originally recorded in Knoxville, Tennessee and released in fall 2002, Springtime is for the Hopeless and Other Ideas from Dixie Dirt is Roots Rock’n’Roll screening against a Garage Rock dreamscape. The raw guitar leads wander, the spit and snarl of the six-string work in “Kaleidoscope” is more plaintive than pissed-off, chord slashes conjure up demons in “Old Soul” as a two-note trance pulls you in like an undertow. The vocals on Dixie Dirt are blood kin to the guitar work; ethereal, basking in the glow of Mazzy Star, reading “A Letter Put to Music” with an open heart over a Rock’n’Roll symphonic suite. Springtime for the Hopeless and Other Ideas puts a heartbeat rhythm underneath “Fast Food Media” as Dixie Dirt slam the pedal to the floor, barreling into “Springtime” and plugging “Whiskeydrunk” into a guitar reverie that carries the melodies on the rising/falling surge of strums.
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Fretland (from the album Fretland available on Fretland / Tone Tree Music)
Coming out of Washington state, Fretland offer a hearty brand of Americana Roots. The Seattle-based band open their self-titled debut with “Long Haul”, stuttering notes flickering over a sturdy beat, Hillary Grace Fretland’s vocal guiding the cut like a beam of light cutting through fog, bringing sailors on the rugged Northwest coast safely to shore. Fretland is a spurned lover calling out to “Heaven” as it sorts out tangled emotions with “I Still Care”, toasts reverie in “Have Another Beer”, and drifts back to another time celebrating “Fourth of July”.
Offering an album listening, the songs of Fretland share an honest telling of their tales as the musical backdrops shifts. Soft Country sways when “Black & Gold” calls love back home while Fretland takes “Friendly Fire” on a Rock’n’Roots swing, fingerpicks acoustic notes that sparkle like a night sky over “Must’ve Been Wild”, and grow “Garden” from a quiet entry with guitar chords to a sonic blast of hammering rhythm and sky-seeking guitar riffs.
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Various Artists (from the album On the Road: A Tribute to John Hartford available on LoHi Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
John Hartford was to Bluegrass what Ween is to Rock radio; a respectable presence with stellar chops, existing outside the norm, music NPR-quirky enough to raise a questionable eyebrow while also nodding approvingly to a respected presence playing spectacularly throughout a vast musical legacy. One of the world’s great songwriters, many of the fifteen acts heard in On the Road: A Tribute to John Hartford have touted Hartford’s name for years, making this tribute is a gem. Sam Bush’s album opening title track for On the Road is textbook Nu-Grass. Fruitions take on “Back in the Goodle Days” is a delight and Travis Books vocals are stellar with The Infamous Stringdusters nailing Hartford’s famed “Gentle On My Mind.”
Keller Williams begins “Granny Woncha Smoke Some Marijuana” as a lazy and drunken back-porch singalong before turning it into a Bluegrass ripper and “Holding” a choice cannabis-friendly song without mentioning the word “marijuana” gets proper studio treatment after being in The Yonder Mountain String Bands repertoire for years. Leftover Salmon’s “The Category Stomp” is a funky pounder, Todd Snider’s “I Wish We Had Our Time Again” gets the sentimental Folk treatment and Leftover Salmon bass player Greg Garrison’s “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry”, featuring Denver’s Sydney Clapp on vocals, is a dreamy ballad. Other contributors include The Travelin’ McCoury’s, Railroad Earth, Band of Heathens, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, John Carter Cash and Jamie Hartford with Norman and Jerry Douglas. Danny Barnes closes On the Road: A Tribute to John Hartford as it began, with a banjo-only take on the title track, revealing Barnes’ similarity to Hartford, with his unique ability to add a delicious dose of quirkiness to the Folk and Bluegrass world. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Corb Lund (from the album Agricultural Tragic available on New West Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Corb Lund must have spent some formative musical years in the garage. The Canadian Country musician can pen a slow burner and bang out a track that will send up sawdust from a dance-floor in two-stepping frenzy, doing so with a Punk Rock lyrical bite within traditional Country backing, appealing to both the pressed jeans, starched snap-button shirt crowd with a slick country cut and put a hint of twang into a locomotive rhythmed Roots Rocker. Agricultural Tragic pushes Country and Punk closer together, showing no difference between his honest approach to Country music and honest approach to Roots and Rock; all grade-A genuine.
Corb Lund opens Agricultural Tragic with a catchy anti-murder ballad in “90 Seconds of Your Time,” and gives a hearty nod to the age 70 and older crowd on “Old Men”. It is a tender moment as he sings a want for ‘old men making my whiskey, old men singing my blues, old men teaching my horses’ as he nails the notion that age equals experience. “I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey” is a fun and bouncy duet with Jaida Dryer, “Oklahomans” and “Rat Patrol” are gritty rockers while “Raining Horses” and “Never Not Had Horses” are aching, romantic ballads. He is as funny as much as sentimental. “Ranchin’, Ridin’, Romance” and “Tattoo Blues” are both catchy and fun, the latter a tale all-too-true for those with permanent body regret. Corb Lund delivers a great musical combination, melodically swinging and swaying while his comedic, poignant memory inducing lyrics raise a smile as quick as provoke thought. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Andrea & Mud (from the album Bad News, Darlin’ available as a self-release)
Not really a call and response duet, Andrea & Mud choose sides and each take a corner (issue) on their recent release, Bad News, Darlin’. A plucky guitar riff and stuttering twang support Mud as he ponders “The Reason Why She Cries”, sitting at the local bar emptying his wallet as Andrea points out that even though ‘you can’t be true I still fold your clothes and bake your pies’. Bad News, Darlin’ needs to come complete with a score a card, Mud singing to an exiting Andrea ‘I saw right through the bullshit when I looked into your eyes’ in “Leave” while Andrea addresses a loveless letter to Mud passed-out on the floor with “Lines”, spelling out the heartache as you’re the reason I cry each night, you’re the reason I writhe in pain’.
Dusty, windswept, and sunbeaten Alt Country is the backtrack for Bad News, Darlin’. Housebound “Used Car Salesman” walks proud over a gnarly six-string burping out notes, the mood darkening like storm clouds as the sun dawns on bad decisions in “Birmingham, AL 8:30AM”. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Andrea & Mud make a splash with Bad News, Darlin’, paddling their homegrown honky tonk out to sea for a surf-western sound, the pair co-producing the album with Damon Moon at Standard Electric Records in Decatur, Georgia. Andrea & Mud busk down at the crossroads with “Hellhounds”, cruise across Georgia in “Little Blue Truck”, and exit Bad News, Darlin’ on a mash-up of Skeeter Davis and Saturday Morning cartoons with “End of the World/Bullwinkle Pt.3”.
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The Dead Tongues (from the album Transmigration Blues available on ) (by Bryant Liggett)
Ryan Gustafson dug into the Folk music grab-bag for his latest release. His fourth studio recording as The Dead Tongues, Transmigration Blues digs into the myriad sub-genres that get under around the Indie Folk banner. Transmigration Blues is a dose of lazy day, Laurel Canyon inspired Country Rock with hidden hints of Country Goth, a subtle meeting of Art Rock and Americana Folk that results in a swirling bath of cinematic psychedelicized Roots music.
The Dead Tongues’ opening claim ‘I’ve been a peaceful ambassador’, on album opener “Peaceful Ambassador”, is delivered with an honest ache, a beautiful admission that gives in to the song’s loose groove. Both the title track and “Deep Water, Strange Wind” open with tenderly plucked guitar, eventually giving way to bowed-string instruments and a classical tone. “Nothingness and Everything”, with its harmonica intro and call to ‘play me that song on the fiddle babe, I can play the guitar too’, has a front porch, loose Jam mentality, suited for a North Carolina picking party while the hobo Gospel cut “Road To Heaven” is a ramshackle road tune. Much of Transmigration Blues has a faint, female backing vocal that quietly lives under The Dead Tongues ache, poking its way through at all the right moments. It is that duet that aids the construction of a tone for Transmigration Blues that’s both thoughtful and passionate. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Victor Wainwright and The Train (from the album Memphis Loud available on Ruf Records)
Hanging on around the curves, the Memphis Loud title tune barrels down the tracks, Victor Wainwright the master-of-ceremonies conductor guiding the melody as the rhythm rails hum. All are welcome on board as Victor Wainwright steers his recent release, Memphis Loud, through an assortment of American sounds, soaking the Soul ballad “Disappear” in a Blue wash, navigating heartache with a boatload of hope gushing like flood waters through “Creek Don’t Rise”, strutting like a street parade in “Walk the Walk”, and searching for the right words to bring all sides to the table for “America”. Taking his cues from the soundtrack to the great American songbook, Victor Wainwright shuffles through styles on Memphis Loud, wrapping his words in a spinning wheel of Roots, Americana, Soul, Funk, Blues, and Jazz jams.
Happy with the man in the mirror, Victor Wainwright gives a shout out to better days in “Recovery”, peppering “Sing” with a Dixieland spices, calmly reminding of kindness over the triphammer percussion in “Golden Rule”, and hopping on a rumbling rhythm to ride “South End of a North Bound Mule”. Boogie and Blues leapfrog across Memphis Loud, Victor Wainwright the student as much as teacher for the sound styles, knowing that ‘I like to produce and write with immense musical curiosity, leaving no roots stone unturned, but pushing the art-form forward. I carry with me the lessons from my grandfather, who taught me piano, and countless hours studying the roots of blues, genuine rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, boogie-woogie and honky-tonk, all the while honestly developing that into something modern, fun, unique, emotional and powerful’. Notes playfully gather at the entry to Memphis Loud, coming together under the banner of the beat for opening cut “Mississippi”, Victor Wainwright exiting the album on the sweeping gospel-flecked salvational stomp of “Reconcile”.
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Blackberry Smoke (from the album Live from Capricorn Studios available on 3 Legged Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Blackberry Smoke may be the perfect band to properly lay down Southern Rock covers. Visually, they’ve stepped out of a time machine that took flight in 1974. Visuals are one-dimensional if you don’t have the musical chops to pull them off as believable, which Blackberry Smoke accomplish. The Atlanta, Georgia-based band has all the makings of Southern Rock forebearers, a land where boogie and groove meets aggressive guitar charges. Their E.P., Live from Capricorn Sound Studios, is a collection of covers recorded in a celebratory manner, where many of these songs were originally recorded, the first time the space had been used for recording in decades. With few liberties taken, Live from Capricorn Sound Studios serves as an homage to the bands and musicians that stamped the South on the musical map.
Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr got a hold of Duane Allman’s Goldtop Gibson Les Paul for their take on The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and the band nails The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Take The Highway” all the way down to the Rock’n’Roll flute. Wet Willie’s “Keep On Smiling” comes off like a gospel number with inspirational bounce, “Grits Ain’t Groceries” is driven by a ripping guitar riff, and in suitable service to Southern Rock, they toss in a second Allman Brothers cut with “Revival,” the dual guitars of Blackberry Smoke darkening the original leads of Duane and Dickie. Little Richard may not fit perfectly into the Southern Rock genre however he was Southern and he rocked, perhaps the original southern rocker, with his “Southern Child” closing Live from Capricorn Sound Studios and timely with his recent passing. Guests of Blackberry Smoke include Marcus Henderson who lays down the flute with The Black Betty’s adding the backing, Rhythm & Blues style. (by Bryant Liggett)
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