The Motet (from the album Death or Devotion available as a self-release)
Drawing the curtain back on Death or Devotion, The Motet open their recent release “Highly Compatible” with dance-floor friendly theatrics; sweeping strings, take-no-prisoners rhythm section, supportive harmonies, and a lead vocal tease delivering promises as seduction. The Motet position Death or Devotion as a challenge….if your not moving, check your pulse and go see a doctor. Horns pop accents as a keyboard swoons when The Motet “Get It Right” while slow-churned rhythms ask “Watcha Gonna Bring” and a funky space jam blasts off in “Contagious”.
The Soul of Death and Devotionshows in its commitment to involve anyone in hearing range, foregoing the mind and diving down deep into natural rhythms, pumping blood current grooves (“Speed of Light”) and rubberizing joints (“Kneebone”) as The Motet snap and pop out caffeinated R&B (“That Dream”) and write celestial starshine love letters (“Supernova”). Death or Devotionreads from a personal diary page when The Motet march through the options of the title track.
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Jamestown Revival (from the album San Isabel available on Thirty Tigers)
Recording their latest release at Ward Lodge Studios in Buena Vista, Colorado, Jamestown Revival named the album San Isabelin gratitude for the location view that looked out over the San Isabel National Forest. The sound of Jamestown Revival mirrors the environment, the deep echoes rising from “Winter’s Lament” shuddering as is feels summer breezes call while “This Too Shall Pass” taps out a front porch singalong with scratchy chords and mountain wisdom. Jamestown Revival had set goals heading into the studio for San Isabel, sharing that ‘we wrote this record with sort of an overarching theme, which is cutting out the noise for a minute and maybe stepping away from social media, from the internet and from the complicated, busy nature of most of our lives—and focusing on existing for a minute. If this record inspires people to do a little bit of that, then we would be really happy with that result’.
Sonically,San Isabel wraps raggedy Folk rhythm around “Crazy World (Judgment Day)”, opening the album with a story that features humans and their nature. Jamestown Revival pick out dusty chords to ask “Who Hung the Moon”, introducing “Mayday Man” on a traintrack beat as they create a symphonic moment for their cover of “California Dreamin’” with sweeping string flourishes and choral vocals. Core members Jonathan Clay (vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica, banjo, steel guitar, bass) and Zach Chance (vocals, acoustic guitar) are joined on San Isabel with a band that features co-producer Jamie Mefford (juno, acoustic guitar, banjo, background vocals) along with Nick Bearden (bass, Ed Benrock (drums, percussion, background vocals), Psyche Dunkhase (cello), John Gringsby (bass), Dan Reckard (wurlitzer, organ, piano, accordion) and Rachel Sliker (violin, viola). The additional instrumentation organically blends with the natural acoustics of Jamestown Revival, the music cradling a daughter of California in “Something That You Know” as voices rise above whispered fingerpicking for “Harder Way” and coax the rhythms from “Killing You, Killing Me” with a quilt pattern of notes and percussion.
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Calexico and Iron & Wine (from the album Years to Burn available on Sub Pop Records)
Fourteen years have passed between the last collaboration of Calexico and Iron & Wine releases. That does not constitute calling their latest album Years to Burnfor a follow title but more of a new recording from like-minded musicians circling around the same Indie music scene. Years to Burn, however, is worth the wait; a concise effort that reveals the assembled players can easily blend the neo-Folk of Iron & Wine with the desert-noir of Calexico into a pleasing package, loaded with vocal mystery and classic Calexico instrumentation, a melody territory where lonesome pedal steel riffs saddle up and ride beside mariachi horns and flamenco guitar.
“What Heavens Left” opens Years to Burn with atmospheric Calexico arrangements, Joey Burns harmonizing with Sam Beam via a whisper. “Father Mountain” is an acoustic Gospel number with references to a ‘mansion on a mountain’, the harmonies giving the tune a tripped-out Everly Brothers vibe. Desert psychedelia abounds in the instrumental bridge of “Outside El Paso” and “The Bitter Suite (Pajaro/Evil Eye/Tennessee Train)” is believable as a score for a modern spaghetti western. Whispered harmonies return in the title track, a solemn and beautiful ballad where Sam Beam’s hushed vocals back up Joey Burns. Album closer, “In Your Own Time”, is a warm love song where the narrator states ‘don’t be scared if I walk with the devil, run down the mountain and ask for your hand’, the beauty of the song occurring lyrically underscored by a meandering piano rambles.
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Sun House (from the E.P. Rosedale available as a self-release)
Three humans comprise Sun House, a London, UK-based trio delivering unapologetic Blues served up as four fresh-kill raw cuts on their recent E.P. release, Rosedale. The uncredited members heard in Rosedale are graveyard grit and psychedelic dosed swamp grooves as Sun House find lineage with the Blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Electric Blues, addicted to volume and a slave to the rhythm course underneath Rosedale travels to “Crossroads” on wheel humming with highway vengeance and makes a choice for “Whatever It Takes” standing on British-Steel Blues Rock traditions as Sun House strut in, clear their throat, and head for the ozone with “Runnin’”.
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Shane Hall (from the E.P. River available on LAW Records)
In a Shane Hall song the common ground lies his delivery. The depth of Shane’s voice amplifies complete immersion into the soul of the story and the unique ability to have each note dig deep to the core of the character. Shane Hall uses his words as weapons in “Revolver”, letting the music create the mood as he admits guilt on hard-edged guitar slashes that cut through any remorse in “Father, Father”. Over the course of consistent releases, Shane Hall follows two 2018 single releases, and a previous 2019 E.P. (West) with his recent E.P., River.
Alongside his voice, the Blues in the guitar are constants throughout Riveras the E.P. finds the morning sun pounding out a Tex-Mex rhythm in “Ride” while tattered chord strums and frenetic fiddling are the fuel for “Fancy Car”. Shane Hall provides the human condition in a song, soulfully stating the worldwide experiences of men and women, opening Riverwith an accounting of their ways in “Grand Pursuit” laying the story on a train track rhythm accented and poked by a barely-restrained fiddle riffs.
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I See Hawks in L.A. (from the album Hawks with Good Intentions available on Western Seeds Records)
When I See Hawks in LA titled their 2006 release California Country, the SoCal based band put the style and the sound into worldwide conversation. Using harmonies, electric and acoustic instrumentation, literary verses, and choruses big as the west coast shoreline, I See Hawks in LA gave the genre a soundtrack. The Hawks met Liverpool, England-based duo, The Good Intentions, playing Pappy & Harriet’s in the California high desert, continuing to play and co-write with the band both in the UK and the US. The results of vocal and writing collaborations is the recently released, Hawks with Good Intentions, the album continuing a sonic lineage of a Country music unique to the cosmic air of the Southern California mountains, deserts, and ocean.
The Good Intentions, R. Peter Davies and Gabrielle Monk, join voices with The Hawks lead singer Rob Waller adding to the harmonies of Paul Lacques (guitar) and Paul Marshall (bass). The rhythm of the rails sway in waltz time as Peter and Rob trade lead vocals, making their way home in “Rolling the Boxcars” while the ¾ time stays in place as Hawks with Good Intentions gazes down into an L.A. River homeless encampment for “Flying Now”. The bands carpool to the back streets of Memphis with “White Cross” and view the devastation of CA wildfires from a distance in “Hills of Fire”. The stories of I See Hawks in LA and The Good Intentions are as rich as the harmonies they create. Hawks with Good Intentions introduces “Rambling Girl” as its story champions an independent woman while the guitars stir sonic clouds for the noir tale featured in the murder ballad “Things Like These” and build a rhythm out of the scratchy chords for “Steel Rails”.
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Black Pumas (from the album Black Pumas available on ATO Records)
Black Pumas self-titled debut digs into an old-school vibe while being firmly planted in the here and now of 2019. With nods to the sweet Soul of Sam Cooke, Black Pumas keep the sound gritty with a dose of dirty groove. This is a band set on Rock’n’Roll and R&B influences, blaxploitation films, and a 1970s city street-life soundtrack, all stacked up into a very listenable package. Album opener, “Black Moon Rising”, is a dirty love song, winking at someone who wants to croon ‘everytime you’re dressed in black, you give a grown man a heart attack, I pray that good lord will bring you back, you’re my sunshine.”
“Colors” may be the R&B hit of the album, a tune dosed with gospel flair while a cut like “Fire” opens with horns and punchy surf guitar. “Stay Gold” strays into some of the Funkadelic ballad territory, a place where psychedelic underpinnings live comfortably amongst the groove, and a track like “Old Man” has a home in the Bill Withers neighborhood. “Touch the Sky” is driven by horns while also having some delicately placed acoustic guitar and a big solo that points to Eddie Hazel (Parliament/Funkadelic), and “Sweet Conversation” closes Black Pumaswith a beautiful ballad. It is easy to namedrop who the band sound like though the obvious only proves that Black Pumas have obviously done some musical history homework.
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Andy Thorn (from the album Frontiers Like These available on Thornpipe Music)
Andy Thorn, banjoman for Leftover Salmon, offers a solo release with Frontiers Like These. An overachiever, Andy Thorn finds his place on the stage outside of his main band gig and solo work, joining a Carolina outfit of players with “Five-String Picker in a Second String Band”. Frontiers Like Thesefeatures Andy’s name on the cover though the star of the album is his banjo. Andy Thorn hops aboard a dreamscape melody for “A Banjo Oddity” while he holds on tight as “Thornado” spins and twirls while a slight Celtic breeze steers “Star of St. Elmo” and plays a reel for “Isabelle’s Wake”.
Tributing the growing cannabis industry, “Blazing New Frontiers” champions the women and men on the front lines, using the successes of Andy’s homestate of Colorado as the storyline. Frontiers Like Thesefocuses on other topical subjects when Andy Thorn sings of the environment (“Standing Still”), hope (“Coming Round Again”), freedom (“Above It All”), and advises to listen for the sound of coming change (“Warning Call”).
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Back alley jazz, Ragtime, and Old Time Music are the settings that The Lark and The Loon dial in for 2, the recent release from the Eureka Springs, Arkansas duo. There is a bounce to the ragged rhythm that propels The Lark and The Loon down the road in “Pack the Suitcase” as the pair make a groove of rattle and strum for “Wishing Well”, follow an accordion through street cafes for “Scenes of Midnight”, and weather “Eye of the Storm” buoyed by blasts from harmonica and kazoo. Husband and wife songwriting team of Jeff Rolfzen and Rocky Steen- Rolfzen are The Lark and The Loon, the duo finding a Vaudeville stage for the vocal gymnastics of “Follies of Love” as they offer advice on the melodic breeze blowing through “Shine What You Got”. 2tosses off winter, embracing spring by heading to the rooftop in “Take the Stairs” and attaches a shadow of trouble to “Ms. Fortune” as The Lark and The Loon make their woes into a song with “Change Our Tune”.
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Thom Chacon (from the E.P. American Way available on Pie Records)
Heartbreak, reflection and political questioning are the themes for American Way, Thom Chacon’s EP follow up to 2018’s Blood in the USA.His gritty, road weary voice remains the perfect vehicle to deliver equally gritty, road weary tales accentuated by the subtle touches of Tommy Mandel’s Hammond B-3. American Wayis an EP that proves Thom Chacon has meandered around the block a time or two; eyes wide open and pen in hand. Think back to that first time your heart was broken, your mind locked on the person doing the breaking. Lines like ‘see you holding his hand, he pulls you in close. Look into his eyes, it’s like an overdose. My darling, you making me a fool, can’t think of nothing, nothing but you’ from EP opener, “Nothin’ But You”, pour heartache from a bottomless pitcher.
“The American Way” looks at America and its current states of division, a song loaded with heavy hitting lyrics that examine ‘some pushing hate, some preaching love’ to those who don’t want to be told who to love or how to pray. With the line ‘you can’t hear me, I can’t hear you, over the deafening sounds of the counterfeit news’. Thom Chacon captures a hopelessness due to an unwillingness to listen, claiming we may all be doomed to ‘live free or die the American way’. Closing with a cover of Joan Osbornes “One of Us,” Thom Chacon exits American Waya tune that hypothetically evens out a spiritual playing field.
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