Willie Nile (from the album Children of Paradise available on River House Records)
The relationship between a human and a guitar takes many paths, six strings and five fingers can bring comfort and ease troubled souls as well as leading a sing-a-long. The words attached to the song provide options, the guitar supporting with a rhythmic drive to match action with thought. Willie Nile is part of a long-standing tradition of NYC Folk singers, words and music that make difference as the message becomes a mission. On his recent release, Children of Paradise, Willie Nile once again clearly shows he is not your grandma’s Folk singer as he plugs his six strings into an amplifier and turns it up loud. Children of Paradise plants “Seeds of a Revolution” as an album opener, chiming guitars leading a worldwide community of the men and women into the streets. Willie Nile has a spit and snarl delivery that checkmarks the abuses to our planet in “Earth Blues”, underlines “I Defy” in blood red beats, sways on a Folk Rock Country rhythm to remind that it is “Getting’ Ugly Out There”, and opens his heart to show a “Secret Weapon” of love.
Saving the world starts at home, and for Willie Nile, the catalyst for the songs on Children of Paradise was to fill personal needs, stating that ‘I made this album because I needed a pick-me-up from the blues that’s all around us. The music always lifts my spirits, and that’s what these songs do for me and it’s why I wrote them. Hopefully they can lift others’ spirits as well’. While politics pushes the pen of Willie Nile, Children of Paradise carves out some fun for its characters when the revolution for the lady in “Rock’n’Roll Sister” comes from the purr of the engine pushing her down the highway as a motley crew heads out for a night on the town in “All Dressed Up and No Place to Go”. Subtlety gets stomped under the pound of drums as Willie Nile leads the faithful into a chorus of “don’t let the fuckers kill your buzz’ in “Don’t” and keeps the beat going to shout-out a prayer for the Children of Paradise title track.
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Coco O’Connor (from the album This Ol’ War available from Satarah LLC)
Dreams take Coco O’Connor around the world in song as she carefully puts flesh and blood into her words on her recent release, This Ol’ War. The woman stitching soles on shoes traveling far from “Crenshaw County” as she sits on the line at an Alabama shoe factory. Hope is at an exit further down the road as This Ol’ War makes plans for a future found “South of Santa Fe” and relates family history held in “Daddy’s Arms”. Voices are heard in the rhythmic rumble of the title track as “This Ol’ War” questions a relationship in turmoil.
Finding lessons to be learned though no place to plant her own Roots, Coco O’Connor moved from Nashville, Tennessee to a home in New Mexico, feeling that ‘Santa Fe is more reflective because of the landscape. It makes you introspective because you feel, by default, small. You’ve got the majestic mountains and you’ve got the big sky. You’ve got all this glorious bigness around you, so it makes you look inward to yourself to do some soul searching’. Returning to Nashville to record, Coco O’Connor and producer captured the tracks for This Ol’ War, the five-month process allowing the tunes to breath and grow organically like the southwest stories in her songs. Drifting desert melodies float over “Abilene” as This Ol’ War slashes guitar chords to frame “Free State of Winston” while Coco O’Connor tells the tale of “The Devil, A Wounded Man, and Me”.
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John Batdorf (from the album Me and My Guitar )
Summer forest fires and smoke kept singer/songwriter John Batdorf indoors where his creativity gave him room to move by taking the solo performer back to his time as a duo (Batdorf and Rodney) and band member (Silver). The success of a Silver track that found itself featured in Guardians of the Galaxy II softened John Batdorf to a song he never embraced (“Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang”). John recalled that ‘as I have been touring as a solo act for fourteen years, I never played songs from Batdorf and Rodney or Silver days that I didn’t write mainly because I was forced to do them by the record company. I started messing around in the studio and came up with an acoustic version of “Wham Bam”’. The results of heading back to previous material is collected on the recent release, Me and My Guitar, John Batdorf re-working music from past recordings as well as two new songs “Thanks to Me” and “Time to Say Goodnight”.
Opening with the acoustic doo-wop of “Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang”, John Batdorf sings a song for his longtime companion on the Me and My Guitar title track, listens as thoughts of ‘what-if’ play tag in “Never See His Face Again”, finds resolve in “Life is You”, comforts with the laidback sway of “It’s Gonna Be Alright”, and promises devotion with “You are the One”. Taking songs from his past, John Batdorf stitches a sonic tapestry that reflects that man he is in present time. Me and My Guitar is guided by the vocal hold that John Batdorf puts into every song, his voice seductive as he draws a line in the sand with The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”, rolling with the rhythms underneath the hopes and memories in “Poor Man’s Dream”, crawling into the soul of another for the multiple skins worn on “Working Man, Blind Man”, and picking out notes as tender as the sentiment of “You are a Song”.
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Cowboy Junkies (from the album All That Reckoning)
The discoveries unfold along with the constant sonic rise of instrumentation in “All That Reckoning, Pt. 1”, the title track from the recent release from Cowboy Junkies. The constant throb of the rhythm undulates throughout the opening segment of the track in “Part One”, the companion piece presenting the same thoughts as more anxious, the tension felt in the sound of distorted guitars flashing like lightning around a dialogue and delivery perfectly matched to its first part for “All That Reckoning, Part 2”. Throughout a career that began in the late 1980’s, Cowboy Junkies have stayed true to the musical intentions heard on their breakthrough second album release, The Trinity Sessions. Moody melodies that wrap around conversational vocals delivered in an intimate near-hushed whisper.
Siblings Margo Timmins (vocals), Michael Timmins (guitar), Peter Timmins (drums) along with bassist Alan Anton formed Cowboy Junkies in 1985. The band has kept active over the course of sixteen albums, branding their own style of Alt Country that showcases influences of Country, Blues, Rock’n’Roll, and Folk. All That Reckoning drifts on “Mountain Streams”, the memories in its storyline meandering like the cascading rolls of rhythm on the track. Cowboy Junkies read the headlines of hate in daily newspapers, offering opinions of our ways in “Things We Do to Each Other” as they crunch chords to take a bite out of current times in “Sing Me a Song”. All That Reckoning climbs “Wooden Stairs” on slow traveling clouds of sonics, frames “Missing Children” in sharp-angled chord borders, and floats on rotating rhythms for “When We Arrive” while Cowboy Junkies look for the flaws that exist behind “Shining Teeth”.
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Hawks and Doves (from the album From a White Hotel available on Jullian Records)
The exact location of the building Hawks and Doves us to house their recent release, From a White Hotel, is not clear though the rock’n’roll that backs each story makes the men and women walking through the tales connected by bloodlines. Staged on city streets, there is grit in the words, bite in the guitars as From a White Hotel speaks of personal experience as Hawks and Doves own their mistakes in the title track, the journey led by a solid backbeat and billowing sonics. No punches were pulled in the telling of these tales as From a White Hotel gets a birdseye view from the passenger seat of a car ‘burning through the bible belt’ in “Bulletproof Hearts (for Laura Jane)”, rips off the rearview mirror and hits the highway for “Chasing the Sky”, and slogs across a molasses thick groove to describe “Lithium Blues”.
Hearts beating loud in defiant chests create the beat for “The Dangerous Ones”, Hawks and Doves taking a stand, the realization that ‘white boys with money make the whole world run’ the needed straw to take to the streets. Hawks and Doves have an endorsement from three-chords-and-the-truth, utilizing the gift to full benefit of the songs on From a White Hotel. A hesitant beat shuffles underneath the carnival story of “Geek Love” while From a White Hotel squeezes out keyboard breaths that circle “Lover’s Waltz”. Hawks and Doves put a little funk in the tour-stop strut of “Every Once in a While”, punch out a pulp fiction tale for “Get Low”, and tenderly offer “Clothes Off My Back” as a message of love.
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Kevin Gordon (from the album Tilt and Shine available on Crowville Media)
The guitar on Tilt and Shine is early morning swamp fog, skimming across the surface of the songs, thick tendrils of weaving musical patterns clinging to the melody as wisps of riffs break free and wander. Chords that reverberate like waves of heat rising in the still of a southern summer and bright notes that sparkle like stars shining above the darkness of open water. In the hands of Kevin Gordon, six strings seemingly gain options, investigating more possibilities as his playing moves from background support to an integral part of the story. A history seen through the eyes of a child, viewing the world at the end of your fingertips with wonder, the tales witnessed in the memory of an older mind. Kevin Gordon peals notes from his guitar to open Till and Shine with “Fire at the End of the World” as he recalls a search that began in school and followed its characters into later life. Tavern lights land on the bar stool stage for “Drunkest Man in Town” while stark strums and beats echo off the walls of “DeValls Bluff” as rolling chords and rhythms churn underneath “Saint on a Chain”, billowing out like the small-town tale it tells.
If the music on Tilt and Shine is the sound of the southlands, the stories are reflections of the life passing by. Growing up in Louisiana, Kevin Gordon never needed to learn acceptance, his experiences were the only normal, which he remembers stating ‘one of the things I like about it, and am mystified by, is that what passes for normal in Louisiana would not make the grade elsewhere’. Guitar and stories, words and music, are one, Kevin Gordon steering the message to a friend in “Get It Together” down a rumbling road of guitar strums as he confidently strides into “Right on Time” with chords slashes picking up the excitement of heading home found in his heart while Tilt and Shine shares an audio snapshot of prisoner rodeo stars on clouds of distorted sonics in “One Road Out (Angola Rodeo Blues”).
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Rick Shea & The Losin’ End (from the album The Town Where I Live available on Tres Pescadores Records)
As the world population increases at a rapid rate, cities around the globe push at their seams while great patches of unwanted land lie just beyond the borders of urban life. Rick Shea & The Losin’ End set up camp somewhere between the two territories in The Town Where I Live, the recent release from the Southern California-based band. Wandering through the stories are characters with city smarts and a need to live out on the edges of civilized land as off-the-grid heroes and villains. Jangling guitar notes pop like the exploding bubbles of reality in the story of “Guess Things Happen That Way” as the tune bounces on a Buddy Holly beat while the rhythm of “Trouble Like This” slowly unfolds, rolling like the clouds hanging over the storyline. The music travelling alongside the songs on The Town Where I Live shows bloodlines long blended in the traditions of Folk, Country, and Rock’n’Roll, The Losin’ End ranging from the raucous honky tonk train track beats coursing through “(You’re Gonna Miss Me) When I’m Gone” while they spit out a groove for “Hold on Jake” and use acoustic strums to wave a farewell in “Goodbye Alberta”
A storyteller’s voice carefully guides the songs on The Town Where I Live, the warble in Rick Shea’s vocal comforting as he fondly recalls the men and women he has passed on the road, relating a folk tale of highway living in “The Angel Mary and the Rounder Jim”. The Town Where I Live pulls “The Starkville Blues” out of a tangle of guitar notes, follows a rhythm as constant as the steady turn of wagon wheels heading down “The Road to Jericho”, and lovingly cradles “Sweet Little Mama” on a warm shuffle. Desert communities and don’t-blink towns spreading off the endless freeway chain as well as sleepy mountain outposts can all claim a place in the storyline of the title track as Rick Shea & The Losin’ End cover “The Town Where I Love” with Country rhythms.
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The Mulligan Brothers (from the album Songs for the Living and Otherwise, self-released)
Simple pleasures stretch to make “The Deal”, the opening cut on Songs for the Living and Otherwise, The Mulligan Brothers picking moments from the past to frame a picture of what is in their heart in the present. The ability to capture audio snapshots of daily life turns the tunes on Songs for the Living and Otherwise like diary pages. A personal relationship expands into a worldview for “Divine Design”, the story admitting
‘it’s not okay and that’s alright, whatever gets you through the night’ while The Mulligan Brothers call out for “Roseanne” on a rhythmic rumble for a front-of-the-stage lip sync chick, confess “Loving You is Easy” with heartfelt gratitude and ruminate on a dreamy soundscape with “Possession in G Minor”.
The album is number two for The Mulligan Brothers, the group finding no need to cash in the second chance promised in the Mobile, Alabama-based band’s moniker. The Mulligan Brothers found the freedom to express themselves as a band in the converted second floor of songwriter Ross Newell’s (vocals) downtown Mobile home, recording Songs for the Living and Otherwise at in the makeshift studio with Trina Shoemaker mixing at Dauphin Street Sound. An upbringing with an addict father is addressed in “I Know That Man”, the story clearly describing the abuse and the tough decisions made to handle the problem as the issues of the southern family as a community battle in “Great Grandaddy’s War” and small-town life trips on a jazz-inflected groove as it wanders through “Ghost Town”. An echoed beat matches the ‘ambient glow of the dashboard light’ as Songs for the Living and Otherwise makes a break, hitting the open road as The Mulligan Brothers join in the chorus of “I Need to Get Out”.
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Paul Cauthen (from the E.P. Have Mercy on Lightning Rod Records)
A mighty roar cries out “Have Mercy”, Paul Cauthen guiding the title track for his recent E.P. release with a firm hand on the vocal reins and the beat stomps its feet. The resonance in Paul’s voice is as wide as an open sky, deep as the Roots and Americana riffs that takes line-up for Have Mercy E.P. “Tumbleweed” blows across a cinematic musical landscape, Paul Cauthen calling out on a western wind for love to return while Have Mercy E.P. takes a request for self-improvement with “Resignation” on a slinky shuffle as it takes a ‘seat at the Last Call Tavern tonight’ and puts a honky tonk rhythm underneath the thick, swirling twang of “Lil Son”.
A mission and a message become one on Have Mercy E.P., the power of truth and love wrapping securely around each storyline. Paul Cauthen accepts his role as sage with a song, realizing ‘I'm a singer not a preacher, but these songs are my sermon. We're ripping each other apart out there, and forgiveness and mercy are what's going to get us through. I want to use my voice the best I can to spread that message while I'm here on this Earth’. Paul Cauthen throws open the doors to Have Mercy E.P., welcoming a procession of the faithful on a marching rhythm, pointing a finger at oppression and locking arms as a united front on the opening track “Everybody Walking This Land”. A car pulls to the curb, Paul Cauthen smiling as he offers the world a lift in “My Cadillac”, and while his humanity is on full display with Have Mercy E.P., Paul saves his heart over for a single soul as he exits the E.P. with “In Love with a Fool”.
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Eliza Gilkyson (from the album Secularia available on Red House Records)
Providing options to traditional religious beliefs, Eliza GIlkyson spins tales of the spirit on Secularia, her recent release. Eliza embraces the unseen truths that we intuitively know rather than see, supporting our unspoken dreams in song. The delivery shifts as the message remains clear, Secularia confidently striding into the dark, relying only on faith and sparkling guitar notes in “Lifelines” and comforted by the purity of the devotional voices when Sam Butler (Blind Boys of Alabama) joins in harmony for “Sanctuary”. While her subjects seem to take sides, the stage set has more depth, Eliza Gilkyson explaining that ‘the fall from grace and redemption of the soul in these songs are less about a deity or afterlife, or a heaven and hell than they are about the very human story of losing and finding oneself within the span of a lifetime, which is all I know for certain that I've got. Woody Guthrie said, 'my religion is so big no matter what you do you're in it and no matter what you do you can't get out of it’. He also said, 'Earth is God's everything.' He conveyed all that depth in just 29 little words’.
Musically, Secularia has a quiet majesty, the instrumental backing whispered piano rambles and tender strings (“Reunion”) as it assuredly plucks guitars as a structure to hold a tale of the earth (“Conservation”), strums chords offering encouragement to aim for personal improvement (“Through the Looking Glass”), and stretches notes that rise like bubbles while burdens drop off (“Down by the Riverside”). Giving thanks in the semi-title track, Eliza Gilkyson lets her voice drift in the gratitude of “Seculare”, strumming off to sleep as a day’s decisions seek a guiding light in “Dreamtime” while Secularia lets a spotlight of somber melody fall on “Solitary Singer”.
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