Joshua Ray Walker (from the album Glad You Made It available on State Fair Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
On the surface they are toe-tappers and two-steppers. Dig a bit deeper into the songs of Joshua Ray Walker, peeling back layers of waltzes and rowdy stompers and you will find a nether world of brokedown dudes ready to fake their own death, relationships on the verge of blossoming or breakdowns, and a host of spicy characters living in a sad reality while making the best of a life that may go nowhere but a dead end. Joshua Ray Walker’s sophomore effort in Glad You Made It has plenty of crying in your beer sadness and shit-kicking flair, all played out as a good time.
Album openers are a double dose of broken love. “Voices” a slow burner with the narrator ready to dump his car off the cliff with his empty bottle taking the fall, “True Love” a Country-Garage Rocker stating ‘true love was meant to fade’.
“Bronco Billy’s” is a chugging romp about a dude who conquers a mechanical bull while the sad “Boat Show Girl” gets you inside the head of a woman on display. “User” is punchy horns backing a story of falling hard off the wagon as Joshua Ray Walker dabbles in the Bluegrass world with “Play You A Song”, where flatpicking guitar and whipping dobro become the stars of the song.
A Psychedelic yodel drives “Loving County” and twang is all but forgotten on the album closer as Glad You Made It delivers a big Rock gutiar riff for “D.B. Cooper.” There is plenty of Roots and plenty of Rock on Glad You Made It, Joshua Ray Walker the musical magician pulling ambiguity and plenty of reality out of an audio hat. It is a perfect combination for a record that is fantastic. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Spanking Charlene (from the album Find Me Out available on Rum Bar Records)
New York City bands never need a garage to rock. Spanking Charlene ramps up a riff and follows the snarling guitar as it leads across the title track of Find Me Out, the recent release from the Brooklyn, NY-based band. Three-minute plus blasts of love, loss, and living in the city come together to create an audio image of life in NYC. Find Me Out keeps the backbeat running like an industrial machine, slowly snaking through back alleys (“Can’t Let You Go”), guitar chords stomping and stuttering (“Circles”), thickening the groove (“Sugar Love”), feral finger-pointing (“Burn It Down”), and Rock’n’Soul seduction (“Liar Liar”).
Produced by Eric Ambel (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Del Lords, Steve Earle and The Dukes, solo) at his Cowboy Technical Services in Brooklyn, NY, Find Me Out welcomes the man in the control room out on the main floor when Eric picks up his guitar and joins the band. Fronted by prowling city-street shout of Charlene MacPherson, Find Me Out shares love stories as it pounds out its position in “I Don’t Want to Go There” and slashes up an R&B rhythm with guitar chords for “I Got Me a Runner” while Spanking Charlene hammer out a bar band anthem with “Too Broke to Go Out”.
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Daniel de Vita (from the album Lost in Translation available as a self-release)
The Blues gonna get ya! Proving that point, Daniel de Vita found his calling outside of the traditional delta juke joints and Chicago Blues clubs, learning the Blues in his native Buenos Aires, Argentina. Carving out a place for his songs on festivals stages, the Blues has taken Daniel de Vita to festival stages throughout South America and Europe. He recently released his third album, Lost in Translation, rhythmizing his Blues with soulfuly salvational tones terrorized by his feral guitar attacks in “Breaking the Praise”, Daniel de Vita letting his six-string weep openly on “6 Year Blues” and jazzing a syncopated rhythm for an order of “Black Chicken 37”.
Making his debut in 2015 with Southside Blues, an album of tribute to Bluesmen Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, and Little Walter, Daniel de Vita used album number two to gather other likeminded South American players with the release of Third World Guitars, featuring guitarists from Brazil (Netto Rockfeller) and Chile (Jose Carrasco). Lost in Translation opens its door on the uptown Saturday night groove of “Every Time I’m Close to You”, taking immediate steps to introduce the Blues of Daniel de Vita swaying with Soul. Guitar jangle, piano rambles, and a wandering harmonica hop in the car for a journey up Highway 1 with the sunshine Pop of “California Rocket Fuel” as a honky tonk rhythm kicks up sawdust in “She Claps on the 1 & 3” while psychedelic Blues bubbles like lava-lamp across “Sand Between Your Fingers” while Daniel de Vita walks the halls of “My Sweetest Regrets” on a soulful strut.
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Grateful Dead (from the album Workingman’s Dead 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition available on Rhino/Warner Records)
Fifty years on and history has, at times, featured edited-out rewrites and stitched together stories for abridged versions of day-to-day events in the past as an elevator pitch. Workingman’s Dead, and its sister release, American Beauty, have become touchstones for Americana, cave paintings on the walls of music connecting the past to today. The importance of the album matches the band to the sound, citing a switch for The Dead, a step away from the psychedelic music that brought them to the party. Nice snippet though the full picture shows that the Grateful Dead were an Americana band in their infancy, starting out as a Bluegrass band, expanding their musical setlist when they went electric for long extended jams with touches of Soul, Rock’n’Roll, and Country in acid-washed soundscapes. Workingman’s Dead took the band back to Blue collar Roots, stripping away any excess that had come with elongated sets and presenting Country Blues with “Dire Wolf”, electric mountain music in “High Time”, rockabilly rebel riffs for “New Speedway Boogie”, and the sad, bottom-of-the-barrel Blues of “Black Peter”.
The remaster of Workingman’s Dead for the 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition showcases not only musical visionaries and curators for Americana, the results bring an intimacy to the playing that was missing on the original Warner Brothers release. The string band telling the story of “Dire Wolf” lets the voice of mandolin strums, pedal steel theatrics, and whatever the hell Bill Kreutzman is using for percussion wrap around the front porch harmonies like morning mist. The harmonies and percussion are each given spotlights on opening track “Uncle John’s Band”, the chiming of the guitar’s a true clarion call to follow The Dead as pied pipers while wandering string-driven notes freefall down through “Cumberland Blues”. Pigpen’s guttural growl and Bluesy hums are the stars of “Easy Wind”, the hard-drinking tone of the track fitting The Dead’s keyboardist like a second skin in the tune written specifically for him by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The sniff hits the back of your eardrum like air in a nostril for The Dead’s self-policing warnings in “Casey Jones”.
The song collection on Workingman’s Dead is precise, the band’s initial shot for Roots music coming via eight well-honed bullets on the album’s song roster. The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition shows the band ready to spend more time on stage with four of the studio tracks expanded on the live set. The two-discs of the re-mastered set are 23-songs from one show, recorded on February 21, 1971 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Arthur, New York. If the studio album Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty capture a band in their musical zone, the live discs pinpoint a group in top form on their performance. Intuition was always a key ingredient of a Grateful Dead live show, and the Workingman’s Dead Deluxe Edition gather cuts from other Dead albums in the period (American Beauty, Europe ’72, Bob Weir’s solo, Ace, and Jerry Garcia’s solo Garcia), featuring tracks such as “Loser”, “Playing in the Band”, “Greatest Story Ever Told” and covering Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”), Kris Kristofferson (“Me and Bobby McGee”), Slim Harpo (“I’m a Kingbee”), and The Young Rascals (“Good Lovin’”).
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Ted Russell Kamp (from the album Down in the Den available on PoMo Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s the best of both musical worlds for a professional musician. One job has you holding down the bass duties as you back a key player in the Americana crowd, the other job is your own solo career. With Shooter Jennings production duties outnumbering his performance schedule, Ted Russell Kamp can put down the bass and focus on his ever-expanding solo career which includes a dozen releases, the latest being Down in the Den. The record opens like the coming together of a loose jam session, where a tambourine rhythm is joined by percussion, the rest of the band easing in. “Home Sweet Hollywood” is a love-letter to the city that reveals a industry-town reality where ‘every actor’s waiting tables, every bartenders in a band’.
Both “Stick with Me” and “Word for Word” are laidback love ballads while “Have Some Faith” and “Hold On” find Ted Russell Kamp picking subtle Blues guitar.
A horn section drives “Waste a Little Time” and “Hobo Nickel”, the latter moving along with a Bourbon Street bounce while “My Turn To Cry”, with its big pedal steel-guitar hook and chug-along rhythm is a solid, Country Rock ripper. Down in the Den closes with a quiet duet featuring KP Hawthorne, “Take My Song with You” exiting the album on an airy ballad with dreamy, ambient pedal steel. Ted Russell Kamp remains a solid citizen in the Roots Rock neighborhood, a purveyor of loose Rock that flirts with Country and Blues while dashing between Folkie with a guitar and full-blown band leader. It is all done quite well. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Will Hoge (from the album Tiny Little Movies available on Edlo Records)
Songs are arguably small films, and Will Hoge naming his recent release, Tiny Little Movies, fits both his detail-staged storylines and powerful character-led tales. For a category, file Tiny Little Movies in the drama section. The richness of his backstory and protagonist lead actor’s ability to fully embrace the emotional tsunami in the song presents the tales of Will Hoge in full-color on the big screen. The action is live as Will Hoge pulls into the “Midway Motel” while the picked notes quiet to hear the tough love growl advice in “Even the River Runs Out of This Town” as a hammered beat marks time in mistakes for “That’s How You Lose Her” and Tiny Little Movies tries to find the right words to unlock the mysteries of “The Curse”.
Where Will Hoge stands in the real world of 2020 is mirrored in Tiny Little Movies as the songwriter turns the spotlight on himself, questioning how long he needs to hold on to a rebellious streak in “Maybe This is OK” and measuring today to the fears of yesterday with “The Likes of You” as he uses experience to write the rear-view wisdom of “Is This All You Wanted Me For”. Backing the words of Will Hoge is a Rock’n’Roll bite, the music soundtracking Tiny Little Movies and offering got-your-back support for the stories. Stuttering electric guitar chords light a match for the propulsive thrust of “The Overthrow” as a pounding rhythm lays the groundwork for the spit and snarl of “Con Man Blues” while Wil Hoge saddles up “All the Pretty Horses” for a theatrical ending as the track heads Tiny Little Movies into the sunset.
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Tad Overbaugh and the Late Arrivals (from the album Open Roads & Blue Sky: A Retrospective available on Rum Bar Records)
Hitting the highway that runs through Open Road & Blue Sky: A Retrospective with rubber catching asphalt, Tad Overbaugh and the Late Arrivals cruise into their recent release on the guitar jangle and Rock’n’Roll hopes of the title track. Cosmic Country spikes the drinks, taking Tad Overbaugh back to a night at The Palamino with “Tip My Girl” as guitar notes stich “Banged Up, Black & Blue” together with tight riffs and a dark rhythm pulls like an undertow into “Lethal Charm”.
The vintage song structure of Classic Rock and Classic Country back the stories of modern life circa 2020 when “Bill Stares at the TV” in a corner bar as Tad Overbaugh and the Late Arrivals strut across “Spotlight Hits You” on a Rock’n’Roll backbeat and take a vacation on a honky tonk ramble for “The Other Side of Six Pack” as they tenderly pick guitar notes that sparkle like stars in a night sky over the advice of “Breakdown Lane”. Giving a shout out, Open Road & Blue Sky: A Retrospective hammers a beat-driven hello in “Hey Lonely” as Tad Overbaugh uses the glory of Rock’n’Roll Garage Rock to spit out the promises of “Guts & Soul” and use a Country beat to frame an exit in “Done with This Town”.
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Town Meeting (from the album Make Things Better available as a self-release)
You can hear it clearly in “Bleeding Hearts”, the cut Town Meeting use to open their recent release, Make Things Better, when the band sing a salvational harmony on heartbeat drum thumps and a tambourine beat. What is apparent from the sound of Make Things Better it that Town Meeting are a live band. As the hushed hyperactive strums create the mood for “Silence Speak” and the twang-plucked, distortion-damaged strings hand over “Forget-Me-Nots” shuffle styles, Town Meeting are the common thread on Make Things Better amid a musical mash-up of Rock’n’Roll and honky tonk Country.
Notes sparkle like the winter snow and the cell phone light underneath “Sometimes the Moon” while the questions are obvious as Town Meeting spit out “Answers” and stuff an apology into “Eulogy”, sending out a little dose of inspiration and raising glasses for the singalong chorus of “Fuck the Man”. Make Things Better thinks globally, acting locally as it ponders daily life in a small town reciting “The Fourth Verse” while Town Meeting make their way through their own lives in “A Goddamn Song”.
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Libby Rodenbough (from the album Spectacle of Love available on Sleepy Cat Records)
The music becomes mystical when Libby Rodenbough’s voice weaves around a haunted bass line, trudging over the noir melodies of “Hey Buddy” and stepping around the sharp string plucks of “Country Jam”. Finding the magic in the music is second nature to Libby Rodenbough, a path she has walked as one-quarter of the North Carolina sting band, Mipso. Her recent release, Spectacle of Love, expands on the soundscape Libby uses to back her voice and fiddle, adding electric guitar and piano to the music that backs her songwriting.
The mixture of ethereal vocals and delicate melodies puts the Spectacle of Love front-of-the-line for Sunday morning album listens. Libby Rodenbough lazily asks “How Can You Call Me” as the beat bubbles underneath her words, quieting to continue her questioning in the Rickie Lee Jones-influenced “Tell Me How” and finding footing on the woozy notes of “What Do You Mean”. Libby Rodenbough dances with spirits in her music, foregoing a brand as she shuffles sound through a shifting kaleidoscope of styles across Spectacle of Love, her songs finding peers in diverse camps from the Indie Rock of The National to the Folk Americana of Patty Griffith. Libby Rodenbough is “The Gatekeeper” on a strict rhythm, the guide to “The Other Side” with a slight accent of Country, playing host to “The Kitchen” on a Jazz-dosed Folk ramble ala Tim Buckley and painting instruction from her own past into the advice of “Colors”.
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Bob Dylan (from the album Rough and Rowdy Ways available on Columbia Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Bob Dylan has no bad records. If a dozen respected critics have given negative ink to a handful of his records, there’s nine-dozen die-hard fans that think those albums are gold. He is an elder-statesman of advice and opinion as much as he is a game of roulette, a staunch study of the human experience and still one of the most important, and prolific, songwriter in any genre of music, with his latest in Rough and Rowdy Ways another well-tooled notch in a discography that is its own canon. Peel back the onion that is Dylan and you’ll find multiple layers. Looking behind the curtain won’t reveal just a single shadow; Bob Dylan’s admitting his multiple-character self in the lounge-opener, “I Contain Multitudes”, where Bob is a romantic poet, a Nazi-fighting archaeologist, and a fan of Mick and Keef.
“False Prophet” is a swaying, dirty Blues cut where Dylan continues his self-admissions, and the tear-jerker “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” is a loving ballad driven by his gritty croon. Bob Dylan swings on “Goodbye Jimmy Reed”, using lines like ‘you won’t amount to much, the people all said, cause I didn’t play guitar behind my head’ as a reminder that he has never needed visual theatrics to put on a show. The album closer in “Murder Most Foul” is a near 17-minute epic of bare instrumentation with a spoken word feel. Five verses that start on a Dallas day in 1963 give way to dozens of song references that narrate the world at its best and worst, where ugly news, world-wide critique and drops of iconic pop culture are delivered by a pop-culture icon. (by Bryant Liggett)
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