The Steel Wheels (from the album Over the Trees available on Big Ring Records)
The sound immediately signals a change in the sonic weather when The Steel Wheels open Over the Treeswith “Rains Come”. The players remain the same as The Steel Wheels subtlety reshape the sound on their recent release, the group admitting that ‘we are a string band from Virginia, but we are evolving with this album, and we are embracing the future’. Starting with the initial percussive breaths of Over the Trees, The Steel Wheels add a wide array of instrumentation, accenting the stories with sound waves lapping against eastern rhythms and thick saxophone blasts. Over the Treesrattles the beat like a chain dragging across “Get to Work” and cradles “Time to Rest” with safe-at-home Folk warmth as The Steel Wheels put an urgency to the tone with ghostly harmonies and the haunted rumble of rhythm echoes in “Something New”.
By pushing against the borders of Bluegrass and string band potential, The Steel Wheels weave sonic magic all around Over the Trees. Rolling clouds of sound freefall over the push/pull relationship that lovers live in “I’ll Be Ready” while the beat channels rock’n’roll ancestry for the anthemic inspiration of “Keep On’ and chases the slap of wheels for the groove of “Road Never Ends”. Moods are as much a part ofOver the Treesas music when The Steel Wheels create an edge to match the tension of the character in “Waiting in the Dark”, spark joy with the second line rhythms of “Under”, and let the beauty of their joined voices sing a family farewell as they close the album with the acapella “This Year”.
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Tif Ginn (from the album Moving Day available as a self-release)
Cool jazz is the calling card for Tif Ginn when the Canadian-based, Texas-born performer opens her recent release, Moving Day, with the slinky, late night noir of “Gone” while a Blue-tinge cradles the confession of “Pay for It” and rock’n’roll frames “Stones” in a backbeat to match the shifting musical tastes of the storyline. Tif Ginn whispers into the shuttle’s communication device as she guides “Rocketship” and lets her vocals glide like a leaf on water lazily drifting on the dreamscape currents of “Said It Before” as Moving Day puts effervescence in the bubbly Pop of the notes and harmony of “True & Kind”.
Life has placed Tif Ginn on the north shore of Lake Erie, the Ontario, Canada address shared with husband/musical partner, Fred Eaglesmith, and their family. The cool climes have had an effect on Tif Ginn with a northern exposure putting a slow freeze on an upbringing spent in Lone Star sunshine. Making lemons into anything liquid would just be another ice cube to contend with so Tif Ginn brightens her surroundings from the inside of a song. Moving Day picks up a Caribbean breeze in the island rhythms of “Saw You Again”, structures the marching movement of “Stay” with rigid drama, and heads out of “Houston” on a the pied-piper draw of a wandering tambourine while Tif Ginn fuels “Getaway Car” with Peggy Lee-laced vocals and a simmering groove.
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Have Gun, Will Travel (from the album Strange Chemistry available on Mile Wide Records)
A shared-dream fuels the resolve of Bradenton, Florida’s Have Gun, Will Travel as the band return with Strange Chemistry, their first studio release in four years. Following a time-out to deal with life outside of music brings back HGWT with a Rock’n’Roll bite to the melodies as guitar gymnastics circle the demons dancing in “The Dark & The Light” while the fire in the beat causes sparks to fly from “Any Place But Here”. Strange Chemistry provides a demanding pound to hammer a path through “Tidal Wave” while HGWT deliver a bright jangle as they once again plug in and play for “Blood on the Stage”.
For the band, the songs of Strange Chemistry are a concoction for catharsis, the Roots Rock’n’Roll of Have Gun, Will Travel unfolding “Mysteries of Mine” on a rolling rhythm, hitting mortality like breaking through a wall in “Justified”, and making rebellion a group effort for “Against the Grain”. A ragged rhythm hops a traintrack beat with “Infinite Traveler” as Strange Chemistry teaches a class in “American History” and Have Gun, Will Travel head into the future with “Born in the 1970’s”.
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Mark Cline Bates (from the album King of the Crows available as a self-release)
Studio recordings have gotten the cold shoulder in the Indie world of Americana, a pent-up resistance to music getting mechanized by gimmicks and kno-twirling wizardry. King of the Crows, the recent release from Mark Cline Bates, is an example of how to use the studio experience to enhance the singer and the song. King of the Crows, the fifth album from the West Virginia native was produced by Don Dixon (R.E.M., Chris Stamey, Tommy Keene), the sound a marriage of moods and meaning, the grit of a Folksinger spitting out the words, the music accenting a Rock’n’Roll Roots beat with echoey thunder. A hushed tempo crawls underneath the confessions of “Caged Bull” as a lazy groove moves like molasses with “Ginger” and “Highway Signs” are read over slow-paced yet constantly rolling rhythms.
Listing shortcomings, Mark Cline Bates gives full disclosure marching orders on the military pace of “I Don’t Know Why” as King of the Crows exercises “Self- Control” on drifting chords while the album travels “Mississippi” on a steadily circling beat. King of the Crows is a three-part musical effort, the songs of Mark Cline Bates backed by piano, bass, and drums. A waltz turns slowly under the small-town lights of “Apathetic Moon” and a deep rumble carries the memories of “Devil” as Mark Cline Bates high-steps on the optimistic dreams of “Don’t Worry”.
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The Truehearts (from the album Songs for Spike available as a self-release)
Space travel are among the vacation plans for The Truehearts as they seek a spaceship exit in “Milky Way” and find a parking spot in no-man’s land with “32ndStreet”. Songs for Spike, the recent release from The Truehearts, collects travelogues alongside tales of love and life, opening the album on an optimistic first step with “Won’t It Be Something”, stomping out reggae-dosed rock in “Hey Hey”, hand-jiving a beat for “Mamzelle Marie”, and standing proud by a personal resume on “Sunshine and Violets”.
Calling East Nashville home, The Truehearts tapped local sound guru Dave Coleman to produce, backing Songs for Spikewith Pete Pulkrabek (drums) and Brian Hinchliffe (bass) with cameos from banjoman Richard Bailey (The Steeldrivers) and Paul Niehaus (Calexico). The Truehearts slowly unravel rhythms from the dream textures of “Let It Sing” and let guitar notes sparkle like fireflies for “Late July” as Songs for Spikeexits with the dramatic musical mood swings of “Goodbye”.
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Chris Stamey with the ModRec Orchestra from the album New Songs for the 20thCentury available on Omnivore Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest from Chris Stamey is a trip back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s America (1953 – 1961). Nodding to George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and other songwriters that have filled the pages of the great American songbook with heart leaps and heartbreakers, the new release from Chris Stamey, New Songs for the 20thCentury, taps into the specific musical period in a post-War II America, a time when songs routinely honored their homeland, cherished the courting of a special love and recounted tales of hearts both lost and found love. New Songs for the 20thCenturyswings like a Rat Pack Vegas romp, delivered vintage, with little irony or retro kitsch. Chris Stamey also loads the double album loaded with a wide array of guests.
Branford Marsalis and Django Haskins help kick New Songs of the 20thCentury off with a groovy, storybook homage to New York City on “Manhattan Melody”, the cut an opener establishes itself with a swinging bassline. Caitlin Cary is backed by strings on “I Don’t Believe in Romance”, her return vocals on “Your Last Forever After” are lonely and beautiful. “There’s Not a Cloud in the Sky” has cocktail lounge jazz bounce, and “Beneath The Underdog”, featuring Marshall Crenshaw, is the only cut that sounds like a recent recording while “I Lost Track of Time” is a mid-tempo number about lamenting lost love. Chris Stamey may be throwing his fans a curveball, especially longtime listeners that have followed his lengthy career, built from the ground up on the Rock’n’Roll he made with The dB’s. But Chris Staney is a songwriter, and New Songs of the 20thCentury is Stamey honoring the importance of crafting a great song, cuts similar to the recordings from previous decades, those songs that continue to beat the clock in the test of time.
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The HawtThorns from the album Morning Sun available on Forty Below Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Morning Sun is an album about hitting the road…..specifically hitting the road for new adventures or because you’re pissed off, bummed out, escaping a broken heart or because you have nothing else to do but cruise. The duo of KP and Johnny Hawthorn, aka The HawtThorns, have painted a picture of humans in motion, full of emotion, and wanting to be anyplace but the place they are standing. Morning Sun does so via Roots, Rock, and Folky ballads that teeter between commercial friendly country and cool-kid indie-Americana dosed with a heaping handful of Southern California charm.
A tune like “Shaking” needs to ‘put this place in the rear view’ while “Rebel Road” tells the tale of a strong gal ready to move on, a woman that has ‘a storm within her eyes, and a fever in her soul, everywhere she goes she takes the rebel road’. “Give Me a Sign” is a rock’n’roll duet, a tale about a ‘footloose traveling man’ trying to keep his partner from bailing on the relationship due to the need to ramble and “The 405” tells the story of a couple itching to start something new somewhere else, a slow and hopeful dreamer that claims ‘we’ve got time, we’ve got space, we’ve got music, we’ve got grace, if we make it out of this city alive I’m going to scratch our names into a highway sign’. “All I Know” is punchy power pop, “Nobody Give a Damn About Songs Anymore” has crying in your beer appeal, and the closer in “Lucky Charm” has the great traits of a John Prine duet. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Neil Young + Stray Gators from the album Tuscaloosa available on Reprise Records (by Steve Matteo)
Neil Young continues to issue previously unreleased material from his massive Neil Young Archives. Tuscaloosais the twelfth release from his archives and the fourth in what’s called the Performance Series. The music for the album was recorded in February of 1973 and is very much a companion piece to his 1973 album Time Fades Away. The performances that eventually made it to that release came later in the Time Fades Awaytour and unlike this new release didn’t feature drummer Kenny Buttrey. Buttrey was eventually replaced by Johnny Barbata. The rest of the group consisted of bassist Tim Drummond, pedal and slide guitarist Ben Keith and legendary arranger and producer Jack Nitsche on piano. The Stray Gators also included pianist Spooner Oldham in a later incarnation of the group. It’s sad to note that other than Young and Oldham, the other members of the group have passed on.
Tuscaloosa (Live) came amidst a rapidly changing musical evolution for Young. Before Time Fades Awaythere was Neil Young’s most accessible and popular album Harvest(1972) and the more obscure soundtrack album Journey Through the Past(1972). After Times Fades Away were the more straightforwardOn the Beach(1974) and one of his more edgy, idiosyncratic and critically acclaimed albums, Tonight’s the Night(1975). Tuscaloosa (Live) oddly features the more stripped-down approach of Harvest,while subtly pre-figuring what was to come on Tonight’s the Night.The album includes five songs from Harvest. From Time Fades Awayare the title cut and “Don’t Be Denied.” “Lookout Joe” and “New Mama” are from Tonight’s the Night. The album opens with “Here We Are in the Years” from his debut solo album and also includes the title track from After the Gold Rush(1970),which both fit nicely with this material.
It is interesting to note that only three of the 12 releases in the archive series weren’t originally recorded in the 60’s or 70’s, with the most recent release originally recorded in 1992 and the other two from the 1980’s. While some have wondered why Young didn’t include all the material from this concert (some recordings had technical issues and some Young didn’t like), this is another welcome archive release. It also adds further context to another key phase in his watershed 70’s evolution.
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Milagro Saints (from the album Signs on the Road available on Moon Caravan Records)
Nurturing the early sounds of Roots music and Americana in the classic rock era of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Milagro Saints honor the style on their recent release, Signs on the Road.Milagro Saints equally stand proud with the ideals of the peace/love generation in “Hummingbird” and discovering simliar dividing lines in 2019 with “Deliver Me” as they dose “Fugitive” with psychedelia in words and music. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Milagro Saints sidestep genre tags by adopting the varied avenues of Roots sounds into their songs, layering trombone, fiddle, accordion, organ, harmonica, mandolin, and lap steel guitar on a classic band backing of guitar, bass, and drums, blending Blues, Folk, Rock’n’Roll, and Americana into the melodies.
Funky chord chops propel “Love = Fact” as got-your-back-harmonies and crisp horn lines guide the track along a summer sunshine bounce in its beat as Signs on the Roadspins “Wheel of Fortune” on lazy jangles while Milagro Saints follow a wobbly rhythm for “The Holy Ghost of Memphis” and hit a highway groove as they cruise “Harmony Road”.
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The Allman Betts Band (from the album Down to the River available on BMG)
After touring with each other’s band, Devon Allman (son of Gregg Allman) and Duane Betts (son of Dickey Betts) saw the future as a co-joined band. The pair called up old friend Berry Duane Oakley (son of Allman Brother original bassist Berry Oakley) forming The Allman Betts Band with a stellar pack of backing musicians, featuring keyboard wizard John Ginty. Bloodlines show in the music that courses through generations of Allman Brothers band players, Down to the Rivermatching the southern vibe in the groove of the title track, trading guitar licks and vocals for “Shinin’”, finding inspiration in a sad memory with the slow burn rock’n’roll glory of “Long Gone” and the unapologetic strut of album opener “All Night”.
As they honor their forebearers, The Allman Betts Band claim their spot on the stage, knocking back haters with honest admissions as they wear attitude on their collective sleeves with “Try” and sinking into the sway of “Good Ol’ Days” as Down to the Rivertenderly tributes Tom Petty with a version of “Southern Accents”.
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