Too Slim and the Taildraggers (from the album The Remedy available on Vizztone Records)
The Blues is powerful medicine, and offering their professional opinion, Too Slim and the Taildraggers preach a cure-all in The Remedy. The Blues of the band stomps, hammers, and obliterates ills of the body and the soul, Too Slim and the Taildraggers drawing a musical line in the sand with album opener “Last Last Chance”, chasing the rapid fire percussion duet of banjo and drumbeat across “Snake Eyes”, and take aim on the high-noon sunbaked sway of “Sure Shot”. Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at Wild Feather Recording studios and produced by the band, The Remedy welcomes the harmonica of Jason Ricci in for “Platinum Junkie” while Too Slim and the Taildraggers namecheck the album title in the distorted Blues crawl of “She’s Got the Remedy”.
Borrowing a tune from Elmore James, Too Slim and the Taildraggers board “Sunnyland Train” as they wrap “Devil’s Hostage” with thick, swamp Blues, ramp up the boogie to “Keep the Party Rollin’” and warn powermongers beware with “Think About It” as The Remedy pounds out a path to follow a gnarly riff through “Reckless”.
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Starpainter (from the album Bury Me by My Family available as a self-release)
Channeling the spaciousness of their prairie surroundings in western Canada, the music of Alberta’s Starpainter is inclusive in its reach, combining Rock’n’Roll, Roots, and Country in an Indie DIY musical model for their recent release, Bury Me by My Family. Stuttering notes and beats open Bury Me by My Family when “Mark of Cain” brands its regrets while Starpainter strip down Folk Rock to bare bones for “Tap Me on the Shoulder”, spin a waltz for the steel-toed boots of a lumberjack in the structured sway of “Windowsill”, and head into “Grocery Store” for a Country Rock romp.
Wearing musical influences in the melodies, Starpainter put a brand on the songs of Bury Me by My Family by dosing the natural tone in the styles with a touch of psychedelia. Country and western trots with high steps through “Cemetary” as Starpainter walk “Strange Corridors” on chord-slash strums, cross “Country Line” with Cosmic Country, and tumble in the revolving rhythms of “Slammin’ on the Brakes”.
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The Jayhawks (from the album XOXO available on SHAM Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The Jayhawks remain godfathers of the Alternative Country scene while being so much more than Alt Country. Audio-influence plays more Beatles and Big Star than Uncle Tupelo. The Jayhawks have kept wonderful company within the mid-90’s music scene when Indie Rockers made Country Rock cooler sounding than Poco or the Eagles, while stretching the (then) infant term and genre of Alt Country with harmonies and melody. The Jayhawks eleventh studio release in XOXO proves they remain laidback and cool with the intuition and ear for exploration.
Slight guitar jangle and soaring harmonies are in full swing on album opener “This Forgotten Town,” a laidback gem that slams into a wall of stabbing guitar that slowly fades and “Dogtown Days”, a cut both teenage anthem and get-me- out-of-this-town goodbye. Keyboardist Karen Grotberg takes the vocals on the soft piano ballad “Ruby” followed by the vocally heavy “Homecoming”. The story is a sullen dose of reality that could apply to wearing masks or the refusal to leave sinking ships as ‘the writings on the wall, yet we refuse to read it, heads buried in the sand’. With an ability and an earned right to be diverse, “Little Victories” digs into an R&B groove while “Down to the Farm” is speaks softly with a hint of quiet psychedelia. The Jayhawks deserve to stretch. Soft ballads can give way to mid-tempo Indie Pop to slight jangle Rockers, still filing XOXO under Roots Music. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Nocona (from the album Los Dos available on Mule Kick Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Los Angeles, California-based Nocona has found that sweet spot. It is centered where Roots and Garage Rock, Cosmic Country and Punk find an older siblings stash of dark Psychedelia with their latest release Los Dos while also managing to explore Country Rock and bar band boogie. Los Dos is a dark Folk, Rock’n’Roll earful, part grievous-angel Graham Parsons, part devil-in-the-woods Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Album opener “Stabby Mike” features a single guitar and vocal for 47 seconds before the band kicks in with a lazy, laidback melody which includes a skip down the sidewalk whistle.
“Free Throw” rolls on a jam band groove and “Chester” is a charger, with its woe-me lyrics of ‘can’t get up too late anymore’ it is a quick bit of lyrical self-pity in a punky Blues ripper with Nocona firing on every cylinder. Clinking beer bottles amid pre-musical direction mutters open “Post-Apocalyptic Blues”. A lyric like ‘walking round town with my head hung down’ coupled with the barroom piano begging a drunken singalong and the band channeling 70’s era Rolling Stones on the rocker of “Too Much To Lose.” Six minutes of “Ace in the Hole” closes Los Dos, Nocona kicking it off with acoustic guitar and pedal steel, playing it patient as they build the song into a big ballad and epic closer. Los Dos is a keeper times two. (by Bryant Liggett)
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S.G. Goodman (from the album Old Time Feeling available on VerveForecast Records)
According to S.G. Goodman, ‘the southern state is a condition’. The daughter of a western Kentucky farmer, S.G. Goodman puts the line into the title track from her recent release, Old Time Feeling, her words speaking directly to neighbors, friends who leave the home she loves in search of greener pastures and modern sentiments. Directness is a writing tool for S.G. Goodman, the stories on Old Time Feeling take aim and fire, her topics difficult to hear, even tougher to say. The album opens with a brave retelling of a personal experience. “Space and Time” beautifully sharing chapters of a coming-out tale. S.G. Goodman baring buried truths when the reaction from the small town she lived in took her to thoughts of suicide, the struggle inside sharing ‘I never wanna leave this world, without saying I love you’. Raised on the Mississippi River Delta in a strict church-going family, S.G. Goodman grew from singing in choir three times a week into the Indie music scene of Murray, Kentucky. Produced by Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Good Time Feeling steps on rural stereotypes as the songs of S.G. Goodman present mountain music circa 2020, its stories fresh as morning dew while its truths are instilled in sepia-toned mountain traditions.
Thick, guitar notes spin in a wheel around the dreamy voice of S.G. Goodman as she buries meaning in a fantasy tale, the rhythms rising to explode over “Burn Down the City” while Old Time Feeling displays southern heritage in “The Way I Talk”, softly strums strings for the lazy sway for “Tender Kind”, and caffeinates the beat for “Supertramp”. S.G. Goodman shows the way for both sides of discussions to come together, Old Time Feeling believing that the human race can co-exist peacefully, or at least respectfully. Choices are questioned over the raggedy rhythm of “If It Ain’t Me Babe” and a world-weary storyteller faces a “Red Bird Morning” as S.G. Goodman exits the album on a heartbeat groove wondering where she fits in “Big Girl Now”.
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Samantha Crain (from the album A Small Death available on Ramseur Records)
Musically Samantha Crain is living somewhere between traditional folkie and experimental indie songwriter. Ambient pedal steel floats like a humid haze, passing by a horn section or fleeting harmonica, it is the instrumental surprises that give Samantha Crain’s latest release, A Small Death, some fun unpredictability that is alive on a recording both personal and serious. The two-time Native American Music Award winner knows how, where and when to fill in the gaps, adding some textures to an album that is experimental and full of exploration, proving Samantha Crain more than girl and guitar.
A Small Death opens with “The Echo”, a cut high on lonely as the narrator craves a visual connection begging ‘could someone look me in the eye?’.
A sullen accordion lays a perfect foundation for the melancholic and soft “Joey” and the vocals on “Constructive Eviction” are innocent, warm whispers even as Samantha Crain defends herself against a claim she took a $20 bill. Her vocal tone makes you vote not guilty as Samantha Crain claims ‘I didn’t steal your money’, the lab coat on as the song transitions from Indie Folk to a second line street parade minus the bounce. “Garden Dove” opens with a jagged rhythm from the Indie Rock handbook before experimental Jazz jumps in as rhythmic, electronic blips live next to the wavy pedal steel in “Little Bits” ending A Small Death on an animated, upbeat high-note.
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Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards (from the album Bitter Better available on Compass Records)
While all albums releases take pre-planning, for Bitter Better, Laura Cortese looked at the song collection from a different direction. Musicians seek to provide service to the listeners, and for Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, the goal was simple, movement, Laura feeling that ‘when you dance, you let it all go’. For Bitter Better there were no rules, no restrictions just the desire to create music that encourages dancing. Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards are a string band. Bitter Better is the sound of strings and their players expanding and developing the sound of the instruments in a studio environment, deconstructing the songs and embellishing the music with a percussive heft. Outside of strumming and picking, Bitter Better producer Sam Kassirer (Lula Wiles, Lake Street Dive) had the musicians beat on the backs of their instruments, fashioning loops and bass lines that weave throughout the recording.
Plucked notes fall like thick raindrops when Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards open Bitter Better with “Treat You Better”, the storyline mapping out the course of long-term relationships. Regimented rhythms form a framework for “Corduroy Jacket” as notes and rhythms play tag throughout “Dreaming”, sway on the ebb and flow groove of “When We Rocked”, and promise late night comfort on the dreamy melodies of “Talk to Me”. A move to Belgium set up a musical base for Laura Cortese overseas. Bitter Bettertributes friends from her time in San Francisco with “From the Ashes”, the story describing the devastation of wildfires as Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards exit the album with a goodbye to her Boston home in “Daylight”.
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Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings (from the album All the Good Times available on Acony Records)
Isolation is not easy on anyone BUT if you have a home studio and the confinement includes two folks that could find a melody in a windstorm, there is always something to do. Long-term musical partners Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings provide audio snapshots taken during quarantine with a collection of ten tracks recorded at home on the couple’s reel-to-reel tape deck, the recent release All the Good Times. A double win for Mr. Dylan when Dave Rawlings takes the lead vocals on Bob’s track “Senor”, from his Street Legal album, and “Abandoned Love”, from the release Biograph. Traditional tunes are offered on All the Good Times with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings unearthing mountain music standards with the murder ballad in “Poor Ellen Smith” as they strum a reel with “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss”.
Music is a mission for Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, the musical output of the pair continually showing a dedication to their art as they cultivate and curate old time music for a modern era. Legendary Country songwriters get credits on All the Good Times, the album opening with Elizabeth Cotton’s “Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie”, re-introducing Norman Blake’s “Ginseng Sullivan”, and tenderly remembering John Prine with “Hello in There”. Musical mates Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings step into the shoes of another singing couple with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s “Jackson” as irony shows All the Good Times an exit when Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings kindly offer “Y’All Come” during the isolation.
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Ray Wylie Hubbard (from the album Co-Starring available on Big Machine Records)
As happens, Ringo Starr became a fan of Ray Wylie’s tune “Snake Farm”, inviting him to Ringo’s show at the Greek Theatre the night after Ray played Santa Monica, California. The former Beatle opens the recent Ray Wylie Hubbard release, Co-Starring, as part of a band that includes Ringo’s brother-in-law Joe Walsh, Don Was, and Black Crowe Chris Robinson on the rumbling groove of “Bad Trick”. A lot of love is given to guitars when Ray Wylie Hubbard is joined by Peter Rowan on “Hummingbird” and The Cadillac Three for “Free Left Hand” in the story of a six-string slinger. Pam Tillis is part the Blues tribute to “Mississippi John Hurt”, coming back for vocals alongside Ronnie Dunn on “The Messenger”.
As with all Ray Wylie Hubbard songs, the author and the main character could be the same fellow as much as the two may live worlds apart. Honky tonk troubles get a Rock’n’Roll Country soundtrack as Ray Wylie Hubbard shares the microphone with Paula Nelson and Elizabeth Cook in “Drink ‘Til I See Double”, staying on track for the male/female spit and snarl as Co-Starring welcomes Ashley McBryde in for “Outlaw Blood” and sister act Larkin Poe for “Rattlesnake Shakin’ Woman”. Contrary Country gets a double bill when Aaron Lee Tasjan ascends the altar with Ray Wylie Hubbard for “Rock Gods” while Ray Wylie spells out his intentions as “R.O.C.K” backed by Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown.
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Greyhounds (from the album Primates available on Nine Mile Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Austin, Texas’ Greyhounds continue to keep one foot in next week’s future music and another stretching four-decades back in musical history. Part old-school R&B, part Blaxploitation soundtrack, part beats and needle-drops, Greyhounds are a band comfortable exploring every era of Soul, Funk and its offshoots full of street beat rhythms. The latest Greyhounds release, Primates, is a laidback soundtrack inspiring head-bobbable grooves from beginning to end. The soulful “Tune In” kicks off Primates, musically a dose of Psychedelic Soul with groovy keyboard work. “Nobody’s Judging” sways along with a guitar solo that dabbles in hushed twang and “Pick Up the Phone” is a chill rhythm pulled from a gritty 1970’s cop-film soundtrack.
Primates not just all about the groove. “People in the Park” addresses homelessness, and the title track takes a look at big picture humanity. ‘We’re all just primates, floating on a rock in space’ is a line that evens the playing field; we are all people and we have all got the same problems. Greyhounds are a thinking breed of band. “Bet It All” is a nod to the great soul crooners with wonderful stabbing guitar, “This I Know” is a beautiful dose of make-out music, and “Omani” is a peyote dosed cut with a Ennio Morricone, spaghetti-western influence. This contender for record of the year is nothing but cool. Funky and trippy, Greyhounds can cut it with an old-school suit and tie Funk crowd just as much as they can roll with the hipsters and even the jam-bands boogieing into the groove world. (by Bryant Liggett)
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