T. Hardy Morris (from the album Dude, The Obscure available on New West Records) by Bryan Liggett
The subtle, atmospheric snare drum heard on the cut “Be” that opens Dude, the Obscure, the latest from Athens Georgia based T. Hardy Morris reveals the musician is certainly moving into a more sophisticated direction in both lyric and melody, away from the grunge influenced Southern-rock sounds of his former band Dead Confederate, and even the rowdier tracks on his fantastic 2015 record Drowning on a Mountaintop. If in fact slowing things down is ‘sophisticated’. It’s an album loaded with lyrical questioning of self; ‘I trust you and not myself’ from “Cheating Life while Living Death” reveals an honest motif, heard also in “Homemade Bliss” and “The Night Everything Changed” that shows Morris may be offering a melancholic confession.
The cut “No Reason” with lines like ‘there’s a reason for fighting, and there’s a reason for retreat; there’s a reason for crying, but there’s no reason for me’ may come like a cry for help, but don’t let whatever admissions that may be happening in the narrator’s head drive the record. It’s a great album of psych-influenced folk made by someone who can make emotional music without the need to always rock-out, unique through Morris’, at times, dead-pan delivery and even greater use of laid back melody and instrumentation.
There’s obvious similarities to indie-rock contemporary Kurt Vile, and even someone like Neil Young. The aforementioned company, like Morris, know how to be as loud as they can when they want to, yet can still be both raw and soft when it comes to songwriting. (review by Bryan Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of T. Hardy Morris from AMAZON
The Jayhawks (from the album Back Roads and Abandoned Motels available on Sony Legacy)
Over the course of three decades, The Jayhawks have molded Folk, Country, and Rock like clay, creating small statuettes of songs, the common stamp on each finished piece the lush harmony and bright jangle on the tracks. Their recent release, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, finds The Jayhawks keeping the model in place as they collect past co-writes, and a couple of self-penned tunes, from frontman Gary Louris. Back Roads and Abandoned Motels borrows from shared credits with the Dixie Chicks, including album opener “Come Cryin’ to Me”, The Jayhawks’ Karen Grotberg taking lead on the cut as the band fill “Bitter End” with the camaraderie of the rousing bar room sing-a-long. The Jayhawks head to “El Dorado” with a tune written by Gary and Carrie Rodriguez and turn a moody melody wheel to spin a track penned with Jakob Dylan for the HBO series True Blood (“Gonna Be a Darkness”).
The Jayhawks have varied members enough to give their album’s specific current incarnation listings, with Gary Louris (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars) and Karen Grotberg (vocals, piano, keyboards) joined in the band by Marc Perlman (bass), Tim O'Reagan (vocals, drums, percussion), and John Jackson (mandolin, violin, acoustic guitar). Lead vocals are shared on Back Road and Abandoned Motels as guitar jangle and warm harmonies wrap sunshine around the lifeless existence in “Everybody Knows”, stay true to Folk in the admission of “Need You Tonight”, and scatters notes in the empty air surrounding “Bird Never Flies”. Country touches the chords backing drummer Tim O’Reagan as he takes lead vocals on “Long Time Ago” while The Jayhawks pound out a rock’n’roll beat for the tribute to “Backwards Women” and drift in the dreamy reverie exiting the album as Back Roads and Abandoned Motels watches and listens to the story, and the music, unfold in “Leaving Detroit”.
Listen and buy the music of The Jayhawks from AMAZON
Jeffrey Foucault (from the album Blood Brothers available on Tone Tree Music)
The pen of Jeffrey Foucault often takes his characters right to the edge on his recent release Blood Brothers. The meditative repetition of the daily tasks in “Dishes” slowly revolve around the rhythms as the guiding vocal of Jeffrey Foucault carries the story firmly over meandering melodies. A defined musical template to match each tale is draped over Blood Brothers, the soundtrack to the songs supporting the stories from soft Country twang (“War on the Radio”), dry breaths of percussion under the sparkle of guitar notes (“Dying Just a Little”), hushed finger-picked Folk (“Cheap Suit”), and gusts of rhythm and chords bleeding into one another over harmonic admissions delivered alongside guest vocalist Tift Merritt (“Blown”).
Heading to rural Minnesota, Jeffrey Foucault and his band (Billy Conway (Morphine) - drums, Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams) - electric guitar, Jeremy Moses Curtis (Booker T) - bass, Eric Heywood (Pretenders) – pedal steel) recorded Blood Brothers live to tape in three days at Pachyderm Studios. The sway of “Rio” courses on a easy groove as Blood Brothers untangles its title track from intricate riffs and note patterns while Jeffrey Foucault is joined by Kenneth Pattengale (The Milk Carton Kids) on acoustic guitar for the delicate Folk of “Pretty Hands”.
Listen and buy the music of Jeffrey Foucault from AMAZON
David Haerle (from the album Garden of Edendale available on Edendale Records)
The early formative influences that west coast songman David Haerle turns channels as a muse for his recent debut, Garden of Edendale, came from his family. His music business dad provided a background in Country, introducing his son to both the style and the players, Roy Acuff escorting a nine-year-old David onstage at the Grand Ole’ Opry. Finding his own tastes, David Haerle combined the Country music he heard at home with the David Bowie songs that captured his attention on the radio. He pays homage in words to the Fender Stratocaster he picked up at age thirteen on Garden of Edendale’s “Shining Star”, showcasing what he learned from the six-string with the fast-paced strums backing his own history in “Finding Natalie”. A music gig took a backseat to a gig in music when David Haerle put aside his own guitar to promote the six-string dreams of other musicians, picking up the family business and taking over CMH Records when his founder father passed away.
David Haerle found inspiration in the artist enclave of his Los Angeles hometown, tributing his personal territory in the album title, Edendale the original name for the LA neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Los Feliz. California sounds play a role on Garden of Edendale as the album asks “Do You Know Surrender” on a soundtrack of psychedelic Folk Rock and lists desires on the caffeinated rhythmic foundation of “Everything I Ever Wanted”. The music that helped define his life contributes to the storylines as “The Tone That Got Away” tells its tale on a somber march while “Play It Like the Record” shakes out rhythms for fan shout-outs and David Haerle points to what guided his own pen for Garden of Edendale in the jangle of “Tell Your Story”. What is in his heart finds a way into his songs as David Haerle rolls down the window and takes to the endless freeways circling the City of Angels with “I Have a Crush” and is joined by Bess Harrison on vocals for “Women Make the World Go Around”.
Listen and buy the music of David Haerle from AMAZON
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”.
Listen and buy the music of Rory Block from AMAZON
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”.
Listen and buy the music of Romantica from AMAZON
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.
Listen and buy the music of Tami Neilson from AMAZON
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”.
Listen and buy the music of Jared Rabin from AMAZON
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)”.
Listen and buy the music of Bri Murphy from AMAZON
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.
Listen and buy the music of Emmylou Harris from AMAZON