Black River Drifters (from the album Drive By Feel available on 800822 Records)
Wisdom leads the words of Black River Drifters as they wrap a ring around mortality, citing that ‘we ain’t here for long’ and putting forth a proposition within an admission, confessing “I’m a dreamer, so let’s go back to bed’ (“The Way I See It”). Smarts and smirks play tag in the songs on Drive By Feel, the latest release from the Winnipeg, Manitoba-based band. Black River Drifters strive to take ‘the high road from nowhere’ (“These Chains I’m In”), sink in a swirling nightmarish melody (“The Kiss”), run into trouble down south (Ontario) in a honky tonk tale (“Mi Casa Es Su Muerte”), and run out of words as they make one last request (“Longhorn”). Alt Country and Folk Roots music blend into the Canadian Americana of Black River Drifters. Drive By Feel takes a bite out of the blacktop under its wheels in “Rumble Strips”, rattles rhythm like the pills swallowed in “Down Near El Paso”, and hammers out a love letter for “Jelly Bean” while Black River Drifters make a toast on gospel piano for “Old Friend” and rewrite “Stagger Lee” as a honky tonk romp.
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Mountain Heart (from the album Soul Searching available on Compass Records)
The four musicians that are at the core of Mountain Heart, (Josh Shilling - piano, guitar, Seth Taylor - guitar, Aaron Ramsey - mandolin, bass, and Jeff Partin - dobro, bass), continue to open possibilities for string bands as they become musical chameleon seekers of truth on their recent release, Soul Searching. Mountain Heart stare up with tenderness as their playing hushes under “Stars” and let the bass bump form a conga line into “Festival” as Soul Searching calls out with a chorus of harmony buried under the weight trapped emotions of “Your Love Won’t Let Me Go”.
Mountain Heart travel down the Mississippi to New Orleans, putting the string band into a second line strut for “No Complaints”, pick out an English Folk pattern for the extended ramble of “Curly Headed Woman”, tumble along like the shifting love in “Restless Wind”, and drift a piano-driven lead across the title track. Soul Searching spins the dial between musical styles, the common ground on the tracks the ability of Mountain Heart to create a non-stop beat to course underneath “You Can’t Hide a Broken Heart” as their instruments cascade over “Amicalola Falls” and support the promises of “More Than I Am” with a committed honesty in the vocals and playing.
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Kevin Galloway (from the album The Change available on )
There is an easy comfort in the voice of Kevin Galloway; honesty in a message delivered with such obvious consideration to the words. The Change is the recent release from Kevin Galloway, the album title signaling a solo outing from the Uncle Lucius frontman as well as reading an open letter of love to his newly formed family. Each line traces a clear path back to the heart of the man singing the songs on the album. The outpouring of love on The Change can be felt in the bright melodies and though the emotion is a constant on the tracks, it never seems calculated. The feelings penned into the stories come across authentic as a harmonica leads into the title track, the story of a traveler and someone left at home taking center stage. The could-be-true tale puts a light on a love that is just out of reach for the two souls longing for it.
The Change becomes the listener, advising to pay attention to the message within on “When the Heart Cries Out”, falling in line on the pounding beat in “Miles and Miles”, tenderly understanding the meaning of “We Don’t Have to Say a Word”, and putting flesh to “Face in My Mind” with softly rolling rhythms. Kevin Galloway uses the power in his voice to great effect, showing what is in his soul with his words. Echoed piano notes mark the white lines slowly clicking by, Kevin Galloway lets his thoughts spin with “Hands on the Wheel” as he paints a picture of good times in “Don’t It Feel Good to Smile” while The Change offers the words of another songwriter to compliment the love in its own songs with Joe Cocker’s “You are So Beautiful”.
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Aimee Lay (from the album The Other Side of You available on Respectful Lust Records)
Aimee Lay was probably the kid that wasn’t afraid to show up at a party, gauge the crowd and put on a record she knew would likely baffle, or perhaps anger the attendees. The musician wears multiple influences on her sleeve, from pop to garage rock and psychedelia. The styles reveal themselves like water leaking through roof on a rainy night; they don’t pour through all at once, they slowly drip, and after a period of time they’ve filled up a bucket. That bucket of influences is full on The Other Side of You, the Manhattan Beach, California musician’s debut that is a delicate trip through rock and roll, 80’s new wave and goth, all delivered in a lazy manner with a touch of psychedelic haze and undertones of 1970s AM Gold.
Aimee Lay pleads ‘I’m crawling up the walls to see the other side of you’ in album opener/title track. It is a plea delivered like she’s trying to kick a bad habit, sung over a dose of punched-up fuzz guitar. “Psychedelic Morning” is a cut that speaks for the whole album; subtle nods to an era of music where psychedelia may have been ‘hip’ while also coming across as realistically dark. Aimee Lay has made an album loaded with reverb and beautifully under-produced that keeps company with artists from Marianne Faithful to The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The Other Side of You opens its doors, welcoming with open-arms the black velvet lounge singer that has dared set up shop at a goth party. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Few Miles South (from the E.P. Might Could available on Dang Ole Moose Records)
The Might Could E.P. title for the recent release from Few Miles South pays tribute to the first tune the pair wrote as a band. “Might Could” set the course, subliminally singing its chorus for future possibilities as Few Miles South came home to their studio apartment after working day jobs. Might Could E.P. lists differences, proving that the best relationships have matching baggage with “What’s Yours is Mine”. Few Miles South ride a rhythm that percolates a Country sway for “Walking on the Moon” as they heed the highway call barreling through “On Down the Road”.
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Jason Eady (from the album I Travel On available on )
On album number seven, Jason Eady finds time to relax musically in the songs, an easy groove flowing through I Travel On, his recent release. Jason Eady is the “Happy Man”, the song tumbling like water in a creek, its cool strums offering a resume for what makes him smile. I Travel On chugs along, issuing a weather warning with “Below the Waterline”, threading a tangle of guitar notes as a path for “She Had to Run”, and finds room to stretch out in California as Jason Eady leaves his Fort Worth, Texas home to make the trip to “Calaveras County”.
The feel-good spontaneity of I Travel On traces back to the way Jason Eady gathered the cuts. On past releases, he would select songs written randomly and collected. I Travel On was a conscious effort, the tunes the result of a month-long burst of creativity. Jason Eady shares the story, recalling that ‘normally I take my pick of the songs I’ve come up with since the last album, but this time I was writing specifically for this record, and because the album’s so groove-centered, I focused on the way words rolled off the tongue and how they moved with the music. If something felt good to sing, I just let it be instead of going back and editing myself like I might’ve done in the past’. The ease translates in audio waves into the songs, I Travel On whispering “Always a Woman” on a rumble rhythm as a thick bass line guides the string band taps in “Now or Never”, and hitches a ride on the train track click of “That’s Alright” as Jason Eady trails a percussive patter into the album to explain “I Lost My Mind in Carolina” and reads mental diary pages on the dreamy melodies of the title track.
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Boz Scaggs (from the album Out of the Blues available on Concord Records)
For many musicians, influences can be traced back to first musical tastes. Albums that were painstaking studied to learn how the notes followed on another. Boz Scaggs grew up in Texas, soaking up Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed, and seeing Ray Charles at fourteen years old. Boz Scaggs gives back to the style, noting that the path his music has taken all leads back to the same source in the road-map title of his recent release, Out of the Blues. Backing Boz in the studio were guitarists Doyle Bramhall II, Ray Parker Jr. and Charlie Sexton along with Willie Weeks (bass), Jim Keltner (drums), and Jim Cox (keyboards).
Songwriter Jack Walroth lends his songs to Out of the Blues as well as harmonica work as a band member, pushing the engine with blasts on his tunes “Radiator 101” and chugging along with the rhythm and harmonies in “Rock and Stick”. Boz Scaggs covers tracks by Bluesmen Magic Sam (“I’ve Just Got to Know”) and Booby ‘Blue’ Bland (“I Just Got to Forget You”) as well as Neil Young (“On the Beach” on Out of the Blues.
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Benjamin Jason Douglas (from the album First World Blues available on Flour Sack Cape Records)
Disintegrating relationships, graveyards and traveling churches have never been so subtly funny. The stories, delivered by Nashville by way of Baltimore based musician Benjamin Jason Douglas, are a woven narrative of strife delivered with a wry smile though an obvious sense of sadness from a narrator teeming with optimism. First World Blues is a gothic electric-folk album, ten tracks of dark humor that move along with the simple melodic structure of insert-your-favorite-folkies-name-here or the chug of a roots-rock band.
The record opens with “Tent Pole,” a bouncer that speaks a wish, wanting to ‘be the tent-pole in the big tent revival’. When the tent is a church and you’re the tent-pole, you solidify a forever presence. ‘I’m in no hurry to get to where I’ve already been’ is the motif of “Doc Red Blues,” a slow-moving dose of acoustic blues, a lyrical admission of surrendering to the reality of having zero control of your past while looking forward to the future. “Tchoupitoulas” is the road tune of the bunch, brimming with the idea of anywhere is better than here with promises that the late-night will be perfect, the girl is waiting for you, and the possibilities of good are endless. First World Blues features a decent dose of folk-jangle and blues, nailing the idea that situations he is singing about will be funny sometime in the future. Benjamin Jason Douglas’ husky growl is the perfect vehicle for his tales, ripe with lines like ‘I woke up feeling more alone than an Elliot Smith song’ that all live comfortably right in the middle of heart-ache and hilarity.
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Roger Len Smith (from the album Anything Goes available as a self-release)
Returning after a nine-year recording hiatus, Roger Len Smith entered co-producer AJ Downing’s studio in Wimberley Texas, the pair both helming the recent release, Anything Goes. Over the sway of rhythm, Roger Len Smith joins humanity together in the color-blind freefalling possibilities of title track as Anything Goes lays down a determined beat to fill “Empty”, surrounds “Rainy on a Sunny Day” with Country sunshine, and pursues a snaggly guitar sliding through “Leaving It All Behind”. The musical wheel spins on Anything Goes, the styles in line with the album title as Roger Len Smith borders the natural Americana tones of the music with Country-tinged Folk (“House of Cards”) and strutting Rock rhythms (“Got to Thinking”).
Joining a stellar cast of players, Rami Jaffee (The Wallflowers, Foo Fighters) offers keyboards and Kim Deschamps provides dobro, pedal steel, and lap steel to compliment Roger Len Smith on guitar, bass, harmonica, percussion, and keyboards. Anything Goes opens its doors by putting a Country Rock’n’Roll beat in first cut “Can’t Wait for Another Day” and shares the story-song tale of “Zander and Zoey” as Roger Len Smith plugs in and turns it up “Down at Juniors”.
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Liz Frame and the Kickers (from the album Sparrow in a Shoebox available on OPT Records)
As a way of explanation, Liz Frame and the Kickers open Sparrow in a Shoebox with the title track, the story speaking directly to those inner-voices and the committee of judges inside out individual heads. Liz Frame is the voice of encouragement, the depth of her belief a companion to her deep vocals. She envisions “Sparrow on a Shoebox” as the moment of flight when hesitation gets left back at home as steps are taken into the unknown, carried on winds of possibilities. The collection of tales on Sparrow in a Shoebox become a theme in their ability to be confidants, Liz Frame and the Kickers show a path for a walk through life as they wave goodbye to youth moving into the world (“Grown Children”), put a little Country rhythm under confessions (“Used to Be Your Slave”), face down a break-up (“What You Gonna Do When I Go”), and cast off woes (“I Don’t Worry No More”).
Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Liz Frame and the Kickers released their debut in 2011, Sparrow in a Shoebox the second full length release from the band. Sparrow in a Shoebox digs deep into emotions, the songs showing their compassion for the human condition as Liz admits to ‘being a lonely girl’ when Liz Frame and the Kickers go on the hunt in “Lookin’ for a Lonely Man”, shuffle into a Tex-Mex rhythm to give advice to “Ungrateful Girl”, and tenderly strum sentiment into “She’s Made of Love and Light”.
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