Erik Nordstrom (from the album Songs from Underground available on ) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s a solo record while remaining a band effort. Songs from Underground is the solo debut from the Montezuma County, Colorado-based Erik Nordstrom, and while it may carry his name in title, he’s got backing from his long running (20 years and counting!) group Lawn Chair Kings in their familiar roles as bandmates.
“Perfect Answer” opens the record with a sad ballad, Erik Nordstrom’s ability to toss out catchy lines on full display as he will ‘tip my hat, and I would like to tip my server’. “Simple Recipe” has a twangy bounce as Nordstrom pays homage to Mark Twain and reminds us ‘whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting’. If the Ramones had ever dropped an acoustic tune you’d have “Backseat”, a teenage hook-up with someone in the backseat because it’s the only place a teen can get some privacy make-out tale and tune.
Dale X Allen from Genuine Cowhide, also based in Montezuma County, throws in some electric color on what is mostly an acoustic effort. He drops spaghetti western fills on the drifting “Brown Peepers” and some punchy jangle on “Sweet Louise,” as Erik Nordstrom sings of what would be a drunken trip to Scotland.
Songs From Underground is further showcase of Erik Nordstrom’s songwriting, which remains fun, quirky, and stellar. His songs detail a world of drunken late-nights and weird communities where old friends and broken hearts are part of an animated discourse, all delivered in a western Garage Rock and stripped down, Cowpunk package.
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The Flatlanders (from the album Treasure of Love available on Rack ‘em Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The trio of Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore may be the ultimate Roots Rock band with the street cred to back it up. With their first record in a dozen years, The Flatlanders know how to pen Country Roots Rock as well as dig into the genre’s expansive canon, with the latest Treasure of Lovedropping future classics while also taking long-time favorites for a ripping and emotional spin. The Butch Hancock penned “Moanin’ of the Midnight Train” kicks Treasure of Love off, Joe Ely handling the vocals, his voice adding a lonely wail to match the moan in the title. Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s nasal twang provides the perfect pitch for the hitting the road, I’m-out-of-here “Long Time Gone” and Townes Van Zandts “Snowin’ on Raton” remains eternally lonely.
The band plays “Love, Oh Love, Please Come Home” slow and big, the slide guitar stretching it out, and they keep Johnny Cash’s “Give Me Love to Rose” true all the way down to the classic Tennessee Two’s ‘Boom Chicka’ rhythm. “Mama Do the Kangaroo” is a super fun and grooving shuffle, “Ramblin’ Man” has a slight Tex-Mex flair, and The Flatlanders pack it all in for a huge ending with “Sitting on Top of the World”. With the three taking verses, it’s a super-group version that chugs along thanks to a locked in rhythm section and stabbing electric guitar; it’s a fantastic closer. Treasure of Love is a little hillbilly twang, a little Country Blues, and Country Rock by a band that is 100-percent cool in every sense of the word.
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The Mallett Brothers Band (from the album Gold Light available as a self-release) (by Danny McCloskey)
Hero’s Journey is a template rather than a trip. Loosely, it refers to an adventure where the main character (our hero) is victorious, returning home changed or transformed. For studio album number eight, the recently released Gold Light, The Mallett Brothers Band used the model as a muse, brother Luke Mallett sharing that ‘we ended up picking out the songs for this record based on a rough outline of the Hero’s Journey, applied generally to the creative life, the rock and roll life or however you want to think about it. Reflecting that there is definitely a lot of turmoil on this record, but overall, it’s pretty optimistic. We’ve all needed all the joy we can get over the past year, and there’s a lot of it on here’.
Kicking off the song roster with a resume, The Mallett Brothers Band follow a wandering fiddle into opening track “Livin’ on Rock’n’Roll” as they describe the day-to-day, year-to-year life of the traveling band. A mighty marching beat hammers and stomps out a walking groove across “Dangerous Enemies” as the story’s characters take sides while North Woods Roots are a foundation for the traveler’s tale of “Colfax”. Full throttle rock’n’roll rhythms are The Mallett Brothers Band answer to “When the Blues Come Around”.
Founded in 2009, The Mallett Brothers Band have had numerous line-up changes while maintaining a brotherhood in the members musical intentions. The group is a self-contained machine, promoting, touring, recording, all as a small business. The title track shines “Gold Light” onto the album with a Rock’n’Roll strut while The Mallett Brothers ponder choices in “Accidental Alchemy”, talk of times in a town called “Mexican Hat”, and find similarities between their chosen lifestyle and the plight of the “Buffalo”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Nobody’s Girl (from the album Nobody’s Girl available on Lucky Hound Music) (by Dave Steinfeld)
In the last few years, it seems like the female supergroup — or, more specifically, the female super-trio — has become a thing. Consider the likes of I’m With Her, Puss N’ Boots, and boygenius. Each of these bands finds a trio of talented women (generally with successful solo careers) coming together for a fun side project. Now comes the self-titled debut by Nobody’s Girl, To be fair, the Austin-based trio of Betty Soo, Grace Pettis, and Rebecca Ann Loebe released an EP called Waterline in 2018 (and played more than a hundred dates to support it!). But this is their first full album — and it’s a good one. The ladies actually began recording Nobody’s Girl in the fall of 2019. Michael Ramos, who produced Waterline, did the honors this time around as well. The album was recorded in Texas, where Nobody’s Girl is based, and features a who’s-who of top Lone Star state session musicians (including the legendary Charlie Sexton on several cuts). But despite that, this is by no means a Country disc. If anything, the songs on Nobody’s Girl generally lean more toward the Pop side of Americana. ‘For some people ‘pop’ is a dirty word’ says Grace Pettis. ‘Especially in a town like Austin that is all about music with integrity. But sometimes, something fun is good in its own right’. Not only that, but something fun can still have integrity — as is the case here.
There are 11 songs on the album — nine originals and two covers. The opening triple play of “Kansas”, “Rescued”, and “Tiger” is especially strong. All three are catchy, well-produced songs about female empowerment and/or independence. From there, the album turns a bit more contemplative. “Promised Land”, the fourth track, takes an unflinching look at 21st century America (‘no vote in North Dakota with a Native ID/Churches shot [in] Philly, Jersey, Kansas, Tennessee’) while “Birthright” tackles generational family trauma. There is also a new version of “Waterline” — a slow burning track about a hurricane — on the album. Nobody’s Girl proves they also have good taste in covers. They tackle Eliza Gilkyson’s “Beauty Way” and Carole King’s classic “So Far Away” (on the 50th anniversary of its release), both with lovely results. The originals on the disc are all credited collectively to Soo, Pettis, and Loebe. It would have been nice to know more specifically what each one brought to the proceedings, vocally and lyrically, but that’s a minor complaint. All in all — with its exquisite harmonies, radio friendly production, and admirable balance of witty and serious subject matter — Nobody’s Girl is a stellar debut. (by Dave Steinfeld)
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Americanaland: Where Country & Western Meet Rock’n’Roll by John Milward (book available from AMAZON) (by Danny McCloskey)
I once had a representative from a Performing Rights Organization tell me that Americana is the one genre with more musicians than fans. At the time it made sense. The conversation occurred about a decade ago, and in that time, Americana, through the efforts of its musicians and the Americana Music Association, has made the genre part of the musical conversation. Understanding exactly what Americana encompasses it a completely different matter, however, and in his book, Americanaland, John Milward admits that defining the sound can be as tricky as catching a breeze and that Americana itself is more a hybrid of many styles and genres. Wisely, John Millward uses the if-we-build-it-they-will-come model, creating a territory in his Americanaland title and sketching out borders with the who, when, where, and how details for many of the artists claiming citizenship and heritage.
His book is the result of digging in and researching. John Milward does not spare many words puffing up a picture preferring to list the careers of the artists part of the story both before and after success. Chance meetings and fate are as much of the part of Americana as the crafting of the songs. Three words and the truth pass the torch as an in-house telling of how the tales began. The women and men carrying banners high as they provide for themselves and families, operating as a small business and making DIY a viable option for long-term careers. Americanaland follows Americana step by step, showing the past and the present as a guide for the future of the genre. Starting the story with The Carter Family era, John Milward walks through decades soundtracked by Americana. The storyline weaves through mountain music beginnings and trails tributaries across the 1950’s and 1960’s. Americanaland watches musicians embrace that style long before it had a name. a time prior to musicians claiming residence in Americanaland when the music was passed from band to band via stage, street corner, and recorded output.
Traveling over a healthy period, Americana slowed its progress in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The sound was gestating in pockets around America, bursting out to become its own genre to represent music that took tradition and repurposed the sound for a modern audience with the same variety of tastes as the artist on stage. John Milward wraps Americanaland showing that the stardom of many of the genre’s artists does not stop the mission of taking the music door-to-door. Americanaland provides a history, clearly showing a dedicated path through musical eras as it points a path to the future.
Adding to the homegrown sound of the music, Americanaland features the portraits of Margie Greve, the images putting a face to the place where Country & Western meet Rock’n’Roll. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Flatland Cavalry (from the album Welcome to Countryland available as a self-release) (by Danny McCloskey)
Immediately fulfilling on the Welcome to Countryland album title from Flatland Cavalry, the band opening the song cycle with “Country Is…”, the story laying claim to the term, the music, and the people as a DIY guide and greeting. Welcome to Countryland is the recent release for the Texas/Nashville-based band, the tracks staying true to the traditions of Country music as Flatland Cavalry play pipers taking the genre into the future. “No Ace in the Hole” has a sturdy rhythmic grounding as the guitar and fiddle breathe honky tonk fire. Hailey Whitters joins the boys for “…Meantime” while Kaitlin Butts provides harmonies for “Life Without You”. Quiet late-night acoustics dreamily embrace moments to relax in “Tilt Your Chair Back” and hefty rhythms are a foundation for the gratitude of a life well-lived in “Getting’ By”. The stories shift and change as the music pours from the collective honky tonk hearts of Flatland Cavalry.
Songwriters and harmony vocals are a bounty in Flatland Cavalry. Following a time chomping at the bit, the band heads out for an extensive summer tour beginning in early July with the album release. Welcome to Countryland admits that life is tough living on a horse in “Cowboy Knows How” and watches the night sky in “Fallen Star” while Flatland Cavalry mix Rock’n’Roll and Country to stir up some dust in “Some Things Never Change” and find love once again “Off Broadway”.
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Son Volt (from the album Electric Melodier available on New West Records)
(by Bryant Liggett)
Son Volt has defined Americana on their own terms. Jay Farrar and company will eternally be categorized into the Americana genre, and with the term becoming a catch-all for anything Roots related, their sound will continue to buck any trends or traditions while holding onto the elements of Roots music. Their 2013 release Honky Tonk was their brand of the honky tonk style and 2017’s Notes of Blue was their take on Blues while their latest, Electro Melodier, their tenth studio release, may not sound like your uncle’s Americana, it is Son Volt Americana, which dips into Indie Rock, 1970’s Country Rock, or even a blast of experimental. Jay Farrar’s voice is the first thing you hear on Electro Melodier, the band kicking in on “Reverie” a split second behind the vocal. It is the familiar sound of Son Volt you’ve come to love since day one.
“Arkey Blue” then drops a gritty Blues, Southern Rock guitar riffing intros the track for the first 30 seconds before the song slows into a Rootsy ballad. “The Globe” samples the familiar synthesizer/organ from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Farrar drops a cut that questions being American circa 2021 in “Living in the USA”. The song’s story reminds us that ‘cash crowns the king’ and ‘wealth and privilege buy a ticket out of jail’, a protest tune looking nostalgically for an empathetic, pre-war America asking ‘where’s the heart from days of old?”. Son Volt will never play Folk straight. “Diamonds and Cigarettes”, with ambient steel and soft backing vocals from Laura Cantrell, is a bit of desert noir and “Rebetika” is pulled from Woody Guthrie’s dustbowl as Jay sings of ‘hard times’. Son Volt deliver a protest album with Electro Melodier, done in Son Volt fashion… their type of protest album. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Briars of North America (from the album Supermoon available on Brassland Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
The intriguing Briars of North America position themselves at the crossroads of Folk, Indie, and Ambient music, with a release schedule, in their own words ‘guided more by equinoxes and solstices than any conventional music industry wisdom’. The core trio, consisting of cousins Gideon Crevoshay and Jeremy Thal, along with Greg Chudzik, all come with interesting musical backgrounds. Thal and Crevoshay are deeply involved with Found Sound Nation, a non-profit organization which connects musicians around the world, aiming to leverage art for social good. Crevoshay is a student of traditional and ancient forms of singing, from the Caucasus to the Mediterranean, and the rural US. Multi-instrumentalist Thal has played with such notable names as The National and Neutral Milk Hotel. Chudzik is a classically-trained bassist who has collaborated with no less that Steve Reich and Pierre Boulez. ‘I play music’ says Thal ‘because it draws together all the disintegrating strands of life into something palatable, comprehensible, moving. Music conjures the spirit behind both suffering and joy and holds it for a second, a unique singularity in an expanding cosmos. Plus, it’s a good way to spend time’.
The album opens with “Sala”, a meditative blanket of gentle keys and wonderfully affecting vocals. With these two elements, the band conjure up an impressively imaginative sonic landscape. There is, indeed, an ancient or perhaps medieval feel to Crevoshay's vocals, a facet which helps induce the timeless atmosphere summoned here. Unusual, strained strings begin to creep in around the edges, a cymbal rattles. off-kilter brass, and guitar add an unsettling, mysterious vibe. Follower, “Island”, keeps up the good work. Finger-picked guitar and bowed strings weave a lilting, hypnotic rhythm. ‘All along the island, they turned to praise, the solemn ways, crushing caves’ sings Crevoshay. The group do a lot with a little and there's a fine melody at the heart of this song.
“Chirping Birds” is a sunnier number. Gentle ornamentation flickers around the core of Crevoshay's voice. Some lovely harmonizing adds much. The splendidly-named “The Albatross of Infinite Regret” offers up a tone poem of sorts, a slowly-evolving, mesmeric soundscape which echoes the aforementioned Steve Reich's work. “Same Old Lady” rustles and bustles at pace. Strings bow past a bright, kinetic melody which skitters and bounces. Once again, Crevoshay's voice is the centre around which the various elements revolve. The distant, tinkling piano which heralds the arrival of the titular “Supermoon” reminds the listener immediately of the excellent work of German experimentalists Faust. This is a far more lush and deeper affair, however. Once again, a relatively sparse arrangement fills the space to the brim with wonder.
States Thal: ‘If we can get people to dance or cry, it feels like we’ve been in deep conversation, even if we would have nothing to say to each other in normal life. We aspire to create music that exists in a ceremonial space, where emotions crystallize and structures like time and emotion become malleable’. That's a grandly ambitious sentiment. With Supermoon, the band have achieved all this and more. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Greg Townson (from the album Off and Running available on Hi-Tide Recordings) (by Bryant Liggett)
Groovy and cool. Greg Townsons Off and Running is a retro blast of cocktail Jazz and swinging Surf music, a thoroughly modern ‘daddio’ throwback that’s uber fun and hip without posing as a hipster. Greg Townson certainly laid some earlier groundwork, formulating the sound while leading The Hi Risers as well as working with Nick Lowe and as a member of Los Straitjackets. He has run the gamut of playing punky Pop and aggressive instrumentals, his chops as a guitar player and arranger in full sonic display on Off and Running.
Greg Townson tosses out some instrumental versions of the familiar, with Doris Troy and Gregory Carroll’s “Just One Look” loaded with as much Soul and groove as it did in 1963 while “The Locomotion” just as toe-tap inducing as the 1962 original. Townson also turns you onto gems from decades past, adding some exotica to Barbara Lewis’s 1962 cut “Hello Stranger” while giving The Rolling Stones B-Side, “Oh Baby (We Gotta Good Thing Goin’), just a hint of twang.
Off and Running is loaded with fun. “Able Mable” is a grooving stroller with a playful saxophone hook, “What A Way to Die” swings and has a John Zorn inspired saxophone shriek, “Aztec” has a touch of spaghetti western mysterioso and “Go Go Power” is just rip-roaring instrumental greatness. While Greg Townson can certainly rock, a cut like “Out In The Streets” has all the instrumental groove of a soft, slow spotlight dancing ballad. Off and Running is musical blast in both senses of the phrase, a big hit of fun and an explosive cocktail of great tunes. This is a score for hot-rodding and long-boarding, martini-swilling, rocking and rolling. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Dallas Burrow (from the album Dallas Burrow available as a self-release) (by Brian Rock)
Many artists release a self-titled debut album to announce themselves to the musical world. But when an artist releases an eponymous album after their debut, it usually means they are rediscovering themselves in some new and important way. Such is the case with Texas troubadour, Dallas Burrow. His self-titled second release finds him contemplating a new, sober life as a husband and father. Songs of rambling and drinking have given way to songs about love and family. However; the powerful baritone and insightful lyrics remain, as Burrow focuses his songcraft on the simple joys of being a family man. Like fellow Texans, Townes Van Zandt and James McMurtry, Dallas Burrow paints vivid snapshots of life in motion.
“Country Girl” sings the praises of Burrow’s wife with gentle Celtic rhythms and subtle steel guitar notes. Singing ‘I love my country girl in all four seasons; on different days for different reasons’ he compares his wife to the beauty of nature itself. The seasons bring out different aspects of the landscape but the landscape remains beautiful no matter what its attire. He adds Hammond organ and harmonica to “American Dream” to express his gratitude for his wife and his new life. “Easter Sunday,” is a Folk ballad about the pain of being away from his wife and the power she has to make him want to be a better person. “Holy Grail” is an acoustic, Springsteen-esque ode to love itself. Recalling his rambling past, he sings, ‘I’ve been around the world on the trail of God and song. I’ve found the Holy Grail; and it’s been true love all along’. Returning to nature themes, Dallas Burrow compares his wife to the beauty of a gently rolling river on “River Road”.
“Independence Day” adds electric guitar and Hammond organ to increase the pace and describe the fireworks he feels when he’s with his wife. Of course, all that loving eventually led to a child. Dallas Burrow sings to him in the Folk ballad, “My Father’s Son”. Recalling the transformative power of love, Burrow confesses, ‘I loved the whiskey and the women. I have fought my own wars. Some time ago I met a girl, she was as wild as me. She gave me a child. The Lord gave me eyes to see. I decided to turn my crazy life around. I did like my father did for me and stuck around’.
When not focusing on his own family, Burrow is able to put himself in another’s shoes and tell compelling stories from a new perspective. “Street Hustler Blues” is an acoustic Blues account of someone who’s ‘not here looking to score. I’m just hanging on’. “Outlaw Highway” is a steel guitar enhanced Country ballad about a killer on the run. “Look At Us Now” is a Folk/Country plea for humanity to assess where we are and make more loving decisions for the future. “Keep On Tryin’” is a Folk anthem of encouragement for those on the brink of losing faith in themselves. “The Other Side” is a Texas Blues/Gospel fusion about the ‘many who have tried to reach the other side… never to be seen again’. With a bit of boogie-woogie piano and pulsing horns, Burrow encourages those who seek adventure to ‘put your heart in the hands of the Lord’. As one who set out seeking personal gain and found his fulfillment in serving those he loves, he knows the first step to redemption is opening your heart to something greater than yourself. This is the discovery that Dallas Burrow made that prompted him to see himself anew. He expresses his uplifting message on this album with a poetic and dignified grace. It is a much-needed message and well worth hearing. (by Brian Rock)
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