Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (from the album Orange Crate Art available on Omnivore Recordings)(by Bryant Liggett)
Brian Wilson has a sound. It doesn’t matter if a song if from The Beach Boys, his vast solo work, or if in 2021, he re-issues a record with an Indie Rock flavor, his work will always remain an identifiable and pleasured audio experience of layered harmonies and laid back melodies that even the most drive-by music fan should be able to identify as Brian Wilson. Brian Wilson brought in multi-instrumentalist, producer, and lyricist Van Dyke Parks to assist on the Beach Boys unfinished (unreleased) Smile, Parks changing roles and bringing Wilson in as vocalist on 1995’s Orange Crate Art, currently celebrating 25-year anniversary with the reissue. Orange Crate Art is a lush, layered offering, giving the listener everything from R&B to easy Rock, and although much of album is penned by Van Dyke Parks, it features that trademark Wilson sonic touch.
The title track album opener sets a dreamy, classically-trained tone, where stringed instruments more at home in a symphony play out a delicate melody underneath a familiar vocal, followed by a timeless dose of AM Gold with “Sail Away” and a carefree, ride the rails cut in “My Hobo Heart”.
“Summer in Monterey” is a cut offering a slow bounce that is reminiscent of lazy summer days where ‘feet were bare, our shorts were all we’d ever wear’ while “San Francisco” has playful bouts of psychedelic ramblings, the two cuts partaking in an underlying theme, giving love to the state of California. “My Jeanine” hints at doo-wop, “Movies Is Magic” could be staged for opening a musical, and “Lullaby” is a sleepy, classical instrumental. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Love is Here to Stay” are included as outtakes, Orange Crate Art closing with a stirring “What A Wonderful World.” (by Bryant Liggett)
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Michael McDermott (from the album What in the World… available on Pauper Sky Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Michael McDermott’s What In The World… is a call it as you see it, play it as it lays, Rock’n’Roll record. Musically, What in the World… is stark and ballad heavy, with some ramshackle Rock grooves that lyrically play out as unapologetic confessions, admissions and observations. It is easy music to digest, aided by Michael McDermott’s straightforward verbiage, devoid of ambiguity and mystery, his what you see is what you get approach is repurposed as a dose of reality coming at a time when finding a drop of the stuff is tough. The title track album opener is a banger with no minced words. ‘It’s a new world order, walls along the border, kids in cages, executive orders’, Michael McDermott hits on current issues, Coronavirus and George Floyd not included due release and writing schedules. Michael McDermott does, however, add a statement outside the borders of time, ‘it’s not too hard to see, the Presidents a criminal’.
Michael McDermott isn’t afraid to add personal confessions, admitting he is ‘two-fisted tough’ while taking secrets to the grave in “Die with Me”, while ‘counting all the way’s he screwed up again’ on “No Matter What”. “The Things You Want” has slight jangle, and “Contender” is a saxophone driven R&B bouncer that looks back on Michael McDermott’s youth, an optimistic young Rock’n’Roller who saw himself as ‘Moses, with rock star poses’… a dream we have all shared. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Aloud (from the album Sprezzatura available on Lemon Merchant Records)
The sound swirls on Sprezzatura, the recent release from Aloud. Organ swells haunt “Twenty-Third Fresh Start” using a Rock backbeat while Aloud offer some advice, the band checking into “Lovers of the Last Resort” with a stomp, Jen de la Osa spitting out a sermon for the heart handing Henry Beguiristain the microphone to surf the sunshine, top-down pop of “Cresting Waves. Sprezzatura is a spinning wheel of style, Soul horns supporting Aloud in the political message of “Hungry Land” as the album calls a spotlight dance for the Doo-Wop seduction in “In Spite of Language”, hammers out a welcome with opening cut “Loving U’s a Beautiful Thing” and heads towards the exit on the revolving rhythms of “Been So Long Since We’ve Seen the Sun”.
Forming in Miami, Florida in their teenage years, the core of Aloud, Henry Beguiristain and Jen de la Osa, found a mutual love of the big rock of Oasis and The Who, a sound separating them from the rest of the working-class Cuban neighborhood where they grew up. The music of Aloud served a dual purpose, allowing the pair to create their own musical imprint and carve out a space for themselves, Jen recalling that ‘from the beginning, music has been a way to express ourselves, and to grapple with the major issues in our lives. Back then, we didn’t always feel like we fit in, but music set us apart. It gave us an identity’. A pounding Rock’n’Soul rhythm spreads out like a smile when Aloud cruise a highway song with “Waiting (Scenes from a Lonely Planet)” and trade in security for convenience in “Renters for Life” as Sprezzatura channels 80’s new wave for “Oh Danny”.
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John Craigie (from the album Asterisk the Universe available on Zabriskie Point Records)
Standing firmly with his feet planted in 2020, John Craigie comes to the realization that an array of infinite possibilities is not a direct path to infinite understanding. His words wrestle and chew on the imbalance with Asterisk the Universe, his latest release. An ambient hum creates an edge underneath “Vallecito” while its wintery tale of darkness slowly unravels, John Craigie cruising on late-night noir rhythms as he works through what makes a man in “Part Wolf” as he walks on a sluggish beat, providing a DIY-guide for life in “Climb Up”. Asterisk the Universe explains its album title with “Don’t Deny” while showing off a ‘brand new’ persona.
The album opens on a superfly-groove, John Craigie wearing shifting skin while “Hustlin” on Asterisk the Universe’s opening cut. Recorded at in the Bodega, California home of Rainbow Girls, the trio sing over a sweet slide guitar, harmonizing on “Used It All Up”, popping up throughout the recording. Quieting the melody to a hush, John Craigie begins the tale of “Nomads”, the story seeking the blessing of a fellow traveler on a persistent shuffle as Asterisk the Universe borrows a song from J.J, Cale to give a shout out for the welcomed arrival of “Crazy Mama”.
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The Harmed Brothers (from the album Across the Waves available on Fluff and Gravy Records)
The guy in “Skyline Over…” may seem familiar. The track opens Across the Waves, the latest release from The Harmed Brothers, the song seeking a sense optimism and a dash of normal as the world gets pulled out to sea in an undertow. The soundtrack for the tune is bright and buoyant, a theme on Across the Waves when The Harmed Brothers offer a travelogue (“All the Same”), sing of heavy hearts (“In a Staring Contest”), repurpose challenges into coast road dreams (“Picture Show”), and suggest a tough skin for a near-constant nonstop barrage of bad news (“Ride It Out”). Benefitting from the work of two songwriters (Alex Salcido, Ray Vietti), Across the Waves backs the words sonically with variations on Rock’n’Roll Roots music, The Harmed Brothers dabbing Country licks and harmonies on “Time” and sending a letter to an old friend for “Born a Rotten Egg”.
After ten years on the road, The Harmed Brothers have unpacked the tour bus in the artistic community of Ludlow, Kentucky. The band made their way from a new homebase to record Across the Waves(their fifth release) in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio’s Herzog Studios, home to recordings from Hank Williams and Flatts & Scruggs. Across the Waves offers the rock’n’roll philosophies of The Harmed Brothers, three-minute plus bursts of tough love and hard-earned wisdom, wearing the skin of an old man aching for freedom, settling for his daily routine in “Funnies” and whispering a twang-tinged goodbye in “Where You’re Going”.
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Larkin Poe (from the album Self Made Man available on Tricki-Woo Records)
The concept of self-made man is an American tradition, if not written directly into the Constitution, certainly signed by way of one of its promoters, the man credited with the term, Benjamin Franklin. Larkin Poe are here to claim, more correctly demand, their piece of the American pie with their recent release, Self Made Man. The sisters, Rebecca and Megan Lovell, conjure up a Blues roar in “Holy Ghost Fire”, the electrical current on the cut feral as the pair give a shout out to Tupelo Rock’n’Roll in “Tears of Blue Turn to Gold”, pummel a handclap groove into submission for “Deep Diggin’”, and rattle chains for the rhythms in “Ex-Con”. Multi-instrumentalists, Larkin Poe decorate Self Made Man with the Blues, big, badass, take-no-prisoners Blues in the vein of Rock titans such as The Rolling Stones and ZZ Top. Never wandering far from the Roots world, Larkin Poe plug in, turn up the volume, and give Rock’n’Roll a second wind with Self Made Man.
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Larkin Poe call Nashville homebase. As the pair grab the golden ring of American promise with Self Made Man they add to a family heritage that spans generations, includes Edgar Allan Poe as a direct relation. Larkin Poe border Self Made Man with firm commitment to their goals, stomping into the album on opening track “I’m a Self Made Man”, turning the Blues Rock blast of the recording into a Country ramble as they exit the album on “Easy Street”. Tyler Bryant joins the band for a homeland shout out in “Back Down South” while Self Made Man creates a rumble for “Every Bird That Flies” to catch air and warns of “Danger Angel” on a percussive duet as Larkin Poe caffeinate the rhythms, extolling ‘mighty woman and mighty man’ to come together in “God Moves on the Water”.
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King Ropes (from the album Go Back Where They Came From available as a self-release)
Bozeman, Montana’s King Ropes has taken inspirational influence into songwriting since the 2016 debut for the band (Dirt). On their recent release, Go Back Where They Came From, King Ropes offer versions of the songs from other artists, reimagined variations of the band’s touring playlist. The rhythm of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” slows the space flight to a zero gravity glide while Go Back Where They Came From puts a solid backbeat underneath Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”. King Ropes flies wobbly airwaves of distortion into Willie’s “Bloody Mary Morning” and takes ”Drugs” into a mirror-image audio version of the Talking Heads original track.
Frontman Dave Hollier felt that ‘most of what I know about songwriting I’ve learned by covering other people’s songs but I’ve never been interested in copying the original version of a song. The covers I love to hear are when someone takes a great song, and makes it into something new. We’ve tried to strip the songs down to the bare bones, and then build them back up again and take them pretty far from their original context. I’ve been thinking about cover songs for a long time, and I thought it would be fun to try a covers album with a bunch of songs from all over the map, and take those songs in a bunch of directions’. King Ropes achieve their goals with Go Back Where They Came From the songs echoing the originals, reformatting the full color deadbeat in Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” with a sepia-toned show while King Ropes present a dreamscape takes on Beastie Boys “Song for the Man” and transform Steve Earle’s “Transcendental Blues” into a rock’n’roll melody mantra. The original release dates span decades on Go Back Where They Came From when King Ropes tribute Indie artist Matt Mays with his “Tall Trees” reaching back for the B-side of Ray Charles “Hit the Road, Jack” with a take on “The Danger Zone” bringing the band back into the Modern Rock for Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood 4 (7 Kettles)”.
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Blanco White (from the album On the Other Side available on Yucatan Records) (Bryant Liggett)
The latest from Blanco White, aka Josh Edwards, is one of those records that bring forth a not-sure shrug when that friend asks ‘what’s this all about?’. With elements of Psychedelic Folk, World Music and laidback Rock, On the Other Side is an album that carries a constant, ever-present ambient tone from beginning to end. With sad, longing vocals from Blanco White, at times delivered in hushed, dim textures, the instrumentation backing delicate and soft and it is the quietness of On the Other Side that speaks loudest. Album opener, and title track, references the long night in us all, a consuming loneliness where the ‘sun hides on the other side until you feel it….so for now, it’s only a long night’, the bottom-seeking vocal adding to the isolated feeling.
Subtle and faint, the hint of a flamenco guitar open “I Belong to You” with the international accents flowing into “All That Matters”. “Samara” has a Jazz Fusion groove while “Desert Days” features a slight Spanish guitar rhythm before it expands into U.S. Southwest desert-noir inspired Indie Rock. “Kauai O’o” with its fine drum beat playing out like dreamy Psychedelic dreamscape. On the Other Side exits on the Spanish language “Mano a Mano” where a lazy groove, accentuated with clapping rhythms, hints at electro-lounge. This is a comfy Sunday morning record, the warm vocals of On the Other Sideencouraging a lazy awakening while the dreamy melodies pulling you back to sleep hint at modern lounge and exotica. (by Bryant Liggett)
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James Hyland (from the album Western available as a self-release)
The characters that James Hyland has collected on Western, his recent release, are living, breathing reminders of the wilderness where the tales unfold. On Western, James Hyland is the engineer for the maiden voyage, The Great Iron Horse making a mighty racket barreling towards the Pacific Ocean in “First Westbound Train”. He is the man behind the star with a peace maker by his side with “Texas Ranger” and the bowler hat piano player competing for tips with the lovely ladies upstairs in “Top Floor”. Western introduces the people and places that braved the American West, then and now. His songs welcome a wild land and its inhabitants, men and women already in residence as ‘new people flood this land’, the native population reminding the immigrants that ‘if it wasn’t for us this would all be Spain” in “The Edge of Comancheria”. Western sees blood cover the land in ““Today’s a Good Day to Die (Battle of the Greasy Grass)” as drums warn of broken treaties on the mighty rumble coursing underneath “White Men in the Black Hills” while James Hyland becomes the voice of the spirits roaming the land as “Ghosts”.
The theme of Western comes as a history lesson, James Hyland using his pen to describe how the transcontinental railroad changed the American West. The movie screening times for Western drifts between time zones, the calendar changing like clocks as modern times dial in a Country station as it heads up Highway 101 in “Dark and Weary World” while James Hyland offers a political announcement for the suffragette movement with “Swing It Your Way”. Co-founder and frontman for South Austin Jug Band, James Hyland spent seven years polishing the tales for Western, recalling that ‘I wanted to write something between Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger with a touch of the South Park guys’ Book of Mormon and Tom Waits’ Big Time, so I ultimately wrote a play about a musician driving through the night, switching between two satellite radio stations. On one, a DJ is hosting a western-novella-themed show, and on another, the DJ is playing more modern Americana. This album is the music from that play’. A dark groove wiggles like mescaline-laid railroad lines when big money connects the coasts in “They’ve Come to the Right Place” as Western softly picks a swaying tune for “Full Moon” and pens a sweet song for a guitar in “Weather on the Wood”. James Hyland sets a career goal with “Nashville Song”, looks back on “Hill Country Nights” with a smile, and wears the skin of a “Ramblin’ Man” heading to Tennessee circa 1881.
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John Baumann (from the album Country Shade available on The Next Waltz) (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest from Texas singer/songwriter John Baumann taps into all the Country music themes: family and sense of place to belong, love and other emotions taking up space in the lost and found department. Country Shade is a recording in a new Country motif, John Baumann keeping a hint of Country Folk in his back pocket, wrapping the record in sentimental, Singer/Songwriter territory. Country Shade has studio polish, the polishing and clean production coupled with John Baumann’s ability to have his pen dig into your heart gives the album broad appeal. John Baumann yearns for steel guitar and fiddles in the nostalgic “Country Doesn’t Sound the Same”, exploring a shared belief that the music of yesterday beats the current crop of contenders. “Next Time Around the Sun” is a tender ballad that reminds us that our time is now and ‘as you age, time is gathering speed’ while “Homesick for the Heartland” searches for home on a loose-limbed 70’s Rock rhythm with slick riffs from a Jazz guitar.
“Sunday Morning Going Up” changes direction as a play on Kris Kristofferson’s classic song with the similar title that, John Baumann playing it out with a jam-band groove. “Flight Anxiety” becomes an upbeat country rocker, and the star of the album, a sing-along cut with John Baumann namedropping anything that comes to mind that will take the edge off your flight nerves, hoping to not be the next “Stevie Ray or Buddy Holly.” The album closer is musically gritty and lyrically heavy, a ballad detailing family pride and loyalty. It is those values that resonate throughout the record when Country Shadeexplores American values and human troubles over a updated bed of Classic Country melodies. (by Bryant Liggett)
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