Rory Block (from the album A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith available on Stony Plains Records)
Food and love are spread out like a buffet when Rory Block tells the tale of “Kitchen Man” on her recent release, A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith. Rory is cooking alongside Bessie on the album, the culinary became entangled with sensual on “Kitchen Man” as the story plays fast and lose with double entendre, the sauce brewing sliding into saucy with the added spice. Bessie Smith seemed to have been born singing and though her vocals became an influence, the topics of her stories past the borders of acceptable in her 1920’s/1930’s hit record cycle. The songs of Bessie Smith spoke of independence and sexual freedom, becoming the voice of working-class women who believed they did not need to change who they were to gain respect. Columbia Records signed Bessie Smith in 1923, dubbing her Queen of the Blues while the press reviews upgraded her crown to Empress of the Blues.
A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith pays homage to both the singer and her songs. For Rory Block, her latest series honoring the Blues originals has a female focus, A Woman’s Soul the first installment of her Power Women of the Blues series. The project was a long time in the making, Rory recalling that ‘Power Women of the Blues is a project that has been simmering in my imagination for 54 years. It has been my longstanding mission to identify, celebrate and honor the early founders—men and women—of the blues. This series is dedicated to the music of some of my all-time favorite iconic female blues artists, many of whom were shrouded in mystery during the sixties blues revival, while the recordings of others had simply disappeared’. With a confidence as powerful as the sassiness in her delivery, Rory Block walks up to the bar to place her order with “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer”, coloring a late-night loneliness with “Empty Bed Blues”, stepping high with the spirit for “On Revival Day”, and taking charge in the bedroom with “Do Your Duty”. Bessie Smith was a storyteller, her tales showing life on a different side of the street. A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith heads up to “Black Mountain” to sing of its people and fingerpicks notes that scatter before the story of “Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town” while Rory Block relives Bessie’s pain with “I’m Down in the Dumps” and lays out her desires with little left to the imagination for “Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl”.
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Romantica (from the album Outlaws)
Tenderness can be found repeatedly in the heart of Outlaws, the recent release from Romantica. A sweet goodbye eases the suffering and helps with the journey into the light, Romantica urging a grandparent “Do Go Gently” as tap-tap guitar notes make the rhythm that rides under “Love in the Winter” while a mighty thump directs attention to the message of “Listen to Your Soul”, and a jangly love letter is addressed “Dear Caroline”. Romantica bare their souls, dipping their pens in an emotional well for the stories on the album, taking Outlaws out of earthbound badlands to drift on the dreamy melody of “Lost in the Cosmos” and swoon on dizzying rhythms in the murder tale of “Baby Killed Bobby”.
Personal challenges have become a part of the day-to-day life of Romantica frontman/songwriter Ben Kyle. As he recovers from debilitating health issues, he found communicating in song difficult. Outlaws represents a decade of songs that never found a home on Romantica albums, living outside of the track collections. The band are joined on Outlaws by Ryan Adams for a live version of their tune “The Dark” while Romantica cover the words and music of others as they dive into The Beatles for “Something” and celebrate with a Country sway on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
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Tami Neilson (from the album Sassafrass!)
A tree found in eastern North America and eastern Asia, Sassafrass! is the totem for the recent release from New Zealander Tami Neilson. The Sassfrass! tree has properties that can be used as food, as medicine, and for its aromatic benefits. Tami Nielson matches the tracks on Sassfrass!, creating tunes for the album grown from honky tonk roots, branching out with a slinky, horn-fueled groove to introduce “Devil in a Dress”, giving notice to haters, spitting out warnings on a rumble with “Stay Outta My Business”, waking slowly on a dreamlike melody to face the day in “Manitoba Sunrise at Motel 6”, and whispers “One Thought of You” on moody Country-tinged Jazz.
A trinity of female singers can be heard in the songs of Tami Neilson as she takes a ballad and wrings every drop of emotion from “Good Man” ala Patsy Cline, scratches a rock’n’roll itch with rockabilly strums in the Wanda Jackson-inspired “Kitty Cat” while Sassfrass! shakes out a South American rhythm, channeling Peggy Lee in the beat of “Bananas”. Tami Neilson digs into the soul of the song as she describes a tough life with “A Woman’s Pain”, walks through a rhythmic fog in the Hollywood noir story of “Smoking Gun”, and polishes “Diamond Ring” with a staccato beat bounce.
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Jared Rabin (from the album Wondering About the Weather)
Music is a shifting landscape on Wondering About the Weather, the recent release from Jared Rabin. Styles stand in line, Wondering About the Weather turned by hard-edged rock’n’roll chords for “Ride the Wheel”, swaying with the rhythm of the road in the Country Rock of “Back to You” and dreamily tripping through psychedelic Soul for “In a Tiny Flash” as Jared Rabin rapid-fire his words as the title track rabbit-hole rushes through life’s changes. Wondering About the Weather is the second release for the Chicago, Illinois based songman, following the success of his debut, Something Left to Say, that gave Jared Rabin a seat at the Roots/Americana table.
Becoming a multi-instrumentalist was a natural step for Jared Rabin, beginning playing at age five, studying at home from his grandfather, first chair violinist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His musical education expanded, traveling the world soaking up a variety of instruments and studying Jazz composition. Wondering About the Weather tenderly touches hearts, overhearing a lovers conversation in the duet of “If I Told You” as it lazily rolls rhythms like the thoughts becoming the troubadour story in “Living for the Beginning” while Jared Rabin owns the same lifestyle on the jagged chords and rhythmic pound of “Road to No Regrets”.
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Bri Murphy (from the album Things We’d Rather Not Say)
Music and the south have played a big role in the life of Bri Murphy. Born in Wisconsin, Bri spent summers in Tennessee, growing in the ways of the southland and a diet of okra and sweet corn. Her musical training began at four years old with the violin, picking up piano, mandolin, guitar, French horn, and a little bit of banjo along the way. Her history comes alive on the recent release from Bri Murphy, Things We’d Rather Not Say. The story pulls Bri Murphy into love, matching the undercurrent tow of “Riptide” while “Never Been Loved” owns its shortcomings as it prepares for a change of heart as Things We’d Rather Not Say ponders “What Freedom Means” on Country Folk and hushes the instrumentation to fire-up “Tiny Little Sparks”.
After a move to Nashville, Bri Murphy embarked on road shows, touring with other artists as part of the band on fiddle and backing vocals. She returned to Wisconsin to record Things We’d Rather Not Say at Pine Hollow studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It is difficult to create art that assures a shift though with Things We’d Rather Not Say, Bri Murphy had some wishes with the recording, stating ‘I hope people take away a sense of hope and love from this record, regardless of what's going on in the world or in their life. I hope it also gives them courage to say things that are hard to say but need to be spoken. More than anything, I hope they find some pieces of the beauty, magic, and light we created up in the Northwoods when we were weaving these songs into a record, that they can carry with them through these strange and somewhat dark times’. A woman stands tall, shining with personal discovery in “Diamond” as Things We’d Rather Not Say dips with a Country sway through “Heart Like a Rock” and sinks in the rhythmic flow of “Deep Fever’ while Bri Murphy rattles and shakes as she lists the rules of the game with “Imperial Myths of Conquest and Masculinity (Step Back, Bro)”.
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Emmylou Harris (from the album The Ballad of Sally Rose (Expanded Edition) available from Rhino/Warner Brothers Records)
The Expanded Edition of The Ballad of Sally Rose gathers demo recordings to add to the original 1985 Emmylou Harris release. Recorded in Nashville between April 1983 and April 1984, deep harmonies and simple guitar strums back the demo side of the Rhino Records releases. The Ballad of Sally Rose was a major turning point, and risk, in the career of Emmylou Harris. On her previous eleven releases, she had gotten only three self-penned songs included on the track listing, becoming known for her interpretations of the work of other musicians rather than her songwriting. Emmylou, along with Paul Kennerly, can claim credits on all the tunes included on The Ballad of Sally Rose, Paul joining a pair of other influencers that inspired the recording. Flame-starter and carrier, Phil Kaufman, The Road Mangler, longtime friend and tour manager of Emmylou, gave her the name that became a muse for album, introducing her to a late night Rapid City bar patron as Sally Rose. Her decision to step away from her producer for previous releases and back the tracks with a different sound was supported by Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou hearing a like-mind in the characters of his release Nebraska.
The theme for the album was loosely based on Emmylou Harris and her short-time spent with Gram Parsons and long-range effect the chance meeting had on her life. The Ballad of Sally Rose introduces its lead character in the opening cut, the album title track, giving the backstory a first scene taking place in the ‘Black Hills of Dakota, washed in the blood of the dying Sioux nation’. A young girl picks up a guitar, playing gigs until she headlines the show in “Rhythm Guitar”, riding a career rocket trajectory, following “White Lines”, holding tight to love as fame grows in “Heart to Heart”, recalling a special night under Shenandoah moon in “Timberline”, coming in through radio waves of “K-S-O-S”, and wearing the crown of “Sweetheart of the Radio”. Time has treated the work of Emmylou Harris on The Ballad of Sally Rose well, the music an easy fit for an Americana and Roots music audience, delivering “Bad News” on a rock’n’roll country beat and making a clear mark in the sand for female empowerment as “Woman Walk the Line” heads out for a night on the town.
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Buffalo Gospel (from the album On the First Bell)
Broken blue-collar dreams were what Buffalo Gospel songwriter Ryan Necci saw growing up middle-class in a small Minnesota farming town. His stories found a friend in the music handed down in his dad’s record collection, artists such as John Prine and Townes Van Zandt. On the First Bell is the second album from Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Buffalo Gospel. The songs capture life in an audio photograph, the characters trying to lift their heads and hide their hearts are timeless, the headlines they read from today as “Sundays Never Smile Anymore” listens a conversation between the world’s oldest profession and exploding bombs. On the First Bell stages its title track in two acts, entering with slow yet determined strides, locking arms with a like-minded community as Buffalo Gospel answer “When the Lonesome Comes Calling” on dreamscape melodies to match the mood, wrap sad honky tonk Country around “High Time to Hang Fire” and send a love letter to a driving man in “18 Wheeler”.
Classic Country and Western music cuddles up close to Americana with On the First Bell, the soundtrack letting storyteller Ryan Necci stage his observations on life in America circa 2018. Buffalo Gospel wonder what freedom is worth in “Homeless” and rev up the rhythm to admit the sins of “Son of a Gun”. Whether in paparables, fables, or rock’n’roll songs, messages take hold better when mixed into a story, Buffalo Gospel defend decisions as they face mortality by listing personal choices in “Best Get Fitted” and tenderly pick out Country Folk to comfort the realities of “Can’t Afford to Die”.
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Soggy Po’Boys (from the album Smoke)
Music has been known to make magic, tapping into its natural ability to enchant and transform. Soggy Po’Boys create con conjuring with their latest release, Smoke, turning the crisp climes of their northern New Hampshire home into a steamy French Quarter night each Tuesday for their performance residency in Dover, NH. Though the sound of New Orleans makes its journey north, the music of Soggy Po’Boys does not wander far from Crescent City tradition. Smoke blasts brass-fueled funk, letting the horns have their way as they lead the Soggy Po from formal concert halls into the seductive sound of back alley Jazz. The percussion of album opener “So Simple”, leads the steps into a Caribbean bounce while Soggy Po’Boys make a home for wayward rhythms with the Latin flavor of “Pani Ti Moun”, wrap darkness around the in and out horn breaths of “Carmona a.D.”, and lay down a second line beat to brand “Meet Me at the Funeral” as Bourbon-Street friendly.
The music of New Orleans is curated and carried forward by Soggy Po’Boys as the band load-in for performances around their native New England and beyond. Smoke is all about the representation of the music, the Tom Waits-style to the vocals part of the playing as “Yeah Alright OK” marks modern love problems with old school Jazz riffs. The rhythms push the brass into marching form with “Birdseye” as Soggy Po’Boys slow the melody to take a hit of “Ether Rag”, shuffle up the rhythms to deal out “Answers for Sale”, make a confession on the sultry smooth groove of “I Hardly Know Her”, and hush to a reverence in the playing of “Nearer, My God, to Thee/Into the Gloaming” before picking up the beat to close out the song with a street parade.
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Wood & Wire (from the album North of Despair)
Bluegrass is the melting pot for the music of Austin, Texas string band Wood & Wire. The fourpiece, formed in 2011, features vocals from Tony Kamel (guitar/songwriter) backed with harmony and playing from Dom Fisher (bass), Billy Bright (mandolin), and Trevor Smith (banjo), who hears the sound of Wood & Wire as ‘rooted in traditional bluegrass but don't limit ourselves to any perceived notion of what that's supposed to be. We do our own thing, and we realize that vision collectively’.
The intuitive nature of the musicians creates a flow to the songs of North of Despair as the Wood & Wire find a constant current to set “Out with the Tide” on a determined course, roll around in ever-revolving notes for “Awake in the Wake”, stomp out a resume marked “Kingpin”, and hang on tight as “Summertime Rolls” flies by like the season in its song. North of Despair expands the borders and possibilities of Bluegrass, tripping lazily on the sway of the title track and percolating with rhythmic strums for “Wingding” as Wood & Wire slow the pace to tell the tale of a wanted man holed up in “Texas” staring across the border at freedom and looking to get right with reality in “As Good as It Gets”.
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Will Stewart (from the album County Seat)
Rather than hiding its past, the complexities of The South are on full display, comforted and guided by the ways of its people as they bring the darkness of their land into the light of a Modern South. That is the stage where Will Stewart found his muse waiting after ten years away from his childhood home in Alabama. Will answered the call of the South, relocating to Birmingham in 2016, after time in Nashville, writing and recording his recent release, County Seat. The band clicked in the studio with Will Stewart and his songs, County Seat taking only two days to record.
The first solo release from Will Stewart, County Seat checks out the rear view mirror as “Sipey” looks for a certain feeling left on the asphalt of Highway 9. Daily routines include making the right soundtrack, County Seat suggesting an instrumental with “Otis in the Morning” as Will Stewart doses “Rosalee” with Country twang, takes a dual pull from the bottle and the joint with “Equality AI”, tenderly plucks notes for “Brush Arbor”, walks “Dark Halls” fortified by a Rock’n’Roll beat, and looks for a familiar melody in the title track.
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