Jenny Reynolds (from the album Any Kind of Angel available on PrettyOkay Records)
For album number four, Any Kind of Angel, Jenny Reynolds recorded in her adopted home of Austin, Texas at Congress House Studio with local guests on the album include BettySoo, Jaime Harris, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, and Warren Hood. The beat is wheels hitting blacktop when guitar notes sparkle around Jenny Reynolds as she makes a personal request on the title track while passing souls become the storyline in “The Way We Say Goodbye”, plucked notes ride Latin percussion through “Dance for Me”, and characters spin in the revolving rhythms of “Love and Gasoline”.
Jenny Reynolds opens the album on dusty desert strums as she finds an exit in “There is a Road”, her voice carrying the weight of pain in Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and touching “The Trouble I’m In’ with a dab of Blue as Any Kind of Angel white-knuckles letting go in “Before I Know You’re Gone”.
Listen and buy the music of Jenny Reynolds from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Jenny Reynolds website
Twisted Pine (from the album Right Now on Signature Sound Recordings) (by Bryant Liggett)
Twisted Pine is living a fantastic identity crisis. Their latest release, Right Now, finds them as a full-blown, music festival ready new-grass outfit using Bluegrass instrumentation to explore Rock, Funk and Soul, while Twisted Pine just as readily become an acoustic instrumental playing Indie Pop band fluttering with AM Gold, while throwing a dash of experimentation into everything. The title track is a cheery opener, vocals soaring over layers of hip guitar, finger-snaps, and flute runs, setting an animated pace of innocent fun.
Instrumental cuts all use the new-grass model as a springboard to fly into innovation. “Amadeus Party” is loaded with hip, jazzy breaks, while “Come Along Jody” is driven by a breezy flute and fiddle combo, ultimately giving way to a splashy bass solo. Twisted Pine present the soundtrack for a World Music hoedown with the Cajun fiddle heavy “Fogo de Chow”. “Papaya” is fun blast of scatting pop, its defining characteristic is bucking definition, and the band turns Father John Misty’s “Well, You Can Do It Without Me” into a soulful, Gospel track. “Dreamaway” begins as a lullaby before it morphs into a Jazz-inflected vocal number while “Tomorrow the Sun Will Rise” is a whisper of faraway and dreamy Folk. Band meetings likely didn’t come with the forethought of their latest being an ‘Andrews Sisters joins Nickel Creek’ exploration but that’s the glorious territory Twisted Pine have discovered and conquered. (by Bryant Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of Twisted Pine from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Twisted Pine website
JW-Jones (from the album Sonic Departures available on Solid Blues Records)
A lifetime of work honored JW-Jones with the Best Guitarist Award at the 2020 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. JW-Jones took the award back to his Canadian home, and that is where the Bluesman and his trophy stayed. Needing a project (his new release Sonic Departures) to take his mind off an unknown future, JW-Jones deciding he ‘knew I had to do something productive to stay positive. I turned isolation into inspiration! I took some tracks my band had recorded last year, and dove in with renewed energy and focus, as well as some new technology. I bought recording hardware and taught myself how to use it. I re-recorded all of the vocals, added a new guitar solo to one track, played a second guitar (rhythm) on another, and the band did drum and bass overdubs on a few tunes. My wife Brit sings harmonies on several tracks, bringing a classic vibe to the jump blues numbers, and there is even a vocal sample performed by my 15-month old daughter. The engineer, Eric Eggleston of Johnny Hall productions, shared his screen and audio live over the internet, and we did the mixing and production together from our homes’.
Wobbly percussion finds its groove on album opener, the first cut wearing memories of a “Blue Jean Jacket” as JW-Jones heads uptown into the sweet sound of big band horns shuffling to the Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love” and puts a Southern Soul strut into “Snatchin’ It Back”. as Sonic Departures slides into smooth Blues for “Drowning on Dry Land”. The cuts on Sonic Departures feature a 17-piece band, including a 13-piece horn section (recorded pre-pandemic). JW-Jones offers a slow dance for a full confession in “The Things I Used to Know More” as Sonic Departures shouts “It’s Obdacious”, honoring the traditions of Kansas City Blues.
Listen and buy the music of JW-Jones from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the JW-Jones website
Scroggins and Rose (from the album Curios available on Yippee Skippee Records)
Bluegrass and Roots music has its explorers, string band versions of Lewis and Clark, players ready to put traditional Bluegrass and Folk on the backburner while turning up the heat on the front-burner with musical exploration. Throw Scroggins & Rose into that new frontier; Tristan Scroggins came up playing alongside his banjo playing dad, handling mandolin duties with Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. Alisa Rose comes to the project a Grammy nominated violinist who adapts to both Classical and Roots music. Scroggins & Rose are both prominent pickers in the music festival scene. As a duo, they recently dropped Curios, an ever-searching release that can be both morning mellow or after-dark swinger.
“Marvel” opens Curios with playful mandolin, where steady picking lays a foundation that supports the fiddle melody, before both instruments swap roles. “Stellar Sea” is moody and comfortably worn, a perfect piece of music for a historical score, transitioning into the note heavy, loaded with technique “Anxiety Jig”. “Bubblicious” has an animated bounce, “French Cowboy” is mellow and faint, but just enough to be your theme for walking down a weird alley in France, and “Jackalope” pulls from the new-grass textbook, where instrument meandering weaves between around a big hook and everything stops on a dime. Curios finds acoustic Roots blending into Blues, Blues into Jazz, a text book example of the genre shifting new-grass is known for. Scroggins & Rose are welcome players on the team, Curios a perfect display for their chops
Listen and buy the music of Scroggins and Rose from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Scroggins and Rose website
Daniel Donato (from the album A Young Man’s Country available on Cosmic Country Music)
The cover of the debut from Daniel Donato, A Young Man’s Country, is a keeper. I get why a warning label would mar a work of art though the first cut, “Justice”, is seriously addictive…..so now, you have been warned. The tune gives a sonic stretch in its opening before launching into a guitar riff that sticks and won’t let go.. The cover art and the opening track are quality-control templates for A Young Man’s Country. Daniel Donato packages a full album listen on the album, his songwriting, guitar playing, singing, and delivery performed with an ease that presents a meticulously crafted album with a shrug and a smile. The secret ingredient is charisma, outside of the pleasure of listening, the songs that are charming, old friends and new ones that fit like a comfortable shirt. Daniel Donato shares musical associations from his own record collection, covering three acts that show a framework of influence in his own music. A Young Man’s Country raises the roof with fire-breathing guitar licks on Rodney Crowell’s “Ain’t Living Long Like This” and softens the stuck-in-it sorrow of John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery” by shuffling the style into a front Porch Folk reverie. Daniel Donato funks with psychedelic guitar noodling to open the Grateful Dead tune, “Fire on the Mountain”, and receives ten dancing bears for making his August 7th release date for A Young Man’s Country in the middle of Jerry Week.
Video games were Daniel Donato’s gateway drug for music. Playing Guitar Hero opened him to the instrument as well as the classic rock song structure which helped mold his own musicals excursions. Daniel was a kid that played guitar day and night, moving from his bedroom to busking on Lower Broadway in Nashville and wandering into Robert’s Western World to hear the Don Kelly Band. Still in his teens, Daniel Donato’s requests to sit in with some of the finest players in a city full of pickers were tolerated though unfulfilled….until one day. Sitting in with the house band Daniel returned to ‘sit in’ for over 450 shows. Rubbery notes wander around Daniel Donato when he heads for the bright lights, offering his hand to join the revelry with “Meet Me in Dallas”, his guitar a pied piper leading the way across the track’s psychedelicized bridge. A Young Man’s Country raises a glass to “Sweet Tasting Tennessee” as truck lights leave an East Coast town, bets big on a honky tonk rhythm for “Luck of the Draw”, and signals “Forgotten Days” on a percussive rattle while Daniel Donato polishes “Diamond in the Rough” on a train track beat and struts into the boasts of “Always Been a Lover”.
Listen and buy the music of Daniel Donato from AMAZON
For more information,
Midnight Skyracer (from the album Shadows on the Moon available on Island Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
With the excellent quintet that is Midnight Skyracer, we have something of a double-first. An all-female bluegrass band is rare enough. To have been signed by a major record label, even more so. That the renowned Island Records have picked them up speaks volumes, both as to the quality of the band itself, and to the growing market for authentic roots-based music beyond the confines of the auto-tuned production booth. All five members of this Anglo-Irish collaboration contribute vocal harmonies as well as instrumentation. Charlotte Carrivick provides guitar; Laura Carrivick, fiddle and dobro; Eleanor Wilkie, bass, Tabitha Benedict, banjo and Leanne Thorose, mandolin. The group have been playing together since 2017. Shadows on the Moon is their second album.
Just a few seconds into opener “Average Faces” and it becomes obvious why Midnight Skyracer have enjoyed so much success. This is a tight, tight, outfit, possessed of the sort of musicianship which makes ensemble playing seem easy. Their music is radio-friendly, upbeat and swinging, featuring the mix of roots and pop which has served artists such as The Corrs and Shania Twain so well. Midnight Skyracer, however, are definitely more Roots than Pop. “Brand New Start” could fit easily into any album by The Band, with its rolling swagger and cheeky twang. The group's arrangements are fresh and fun, not overloading the mix and equally effective on the vocal and instrumental passages. The quintet fuse so nicely and organically, that the album warrants repeated listens in order to focus on each player.
A strong Western-country flavour inhabits this set. Laura Carrivick's fiddle swoops and saws, gracefully intertwining around Wilkie's melodic bass, which serves as a solid foundation. As a banjo-player myself, Benedict's picking is a particular delight. Deft and dextrous, without ever sounding showy, her restrained runs and riffs are beautiful to hear. Although Shadows on the Moon largely stays on the sunny side of the street, there's plenty of grit on tr acks such as “Crying Wolf,” which forces the pace with brash lyrics and incendiary playing. This song also showcases Charlotte Carrivick's wonderful guitar. Nimble, cultured and possessed of enough bite to rattle a rattle-snake, she can drive a song like John Lennon and solos with heart, humour and precision.
The jazzy kitsch that is “No Point Knockin'” is played without cynicism and is all the better for it. This could be a top-ten Billboard hit from the 1940s. The harmonies are first class, the vocal delivery full of charm. Indeed, this cut demonstrates the diversity of the group's sound, which will surely serve them well. From there, the band launch headlong into Bill Monroe territory, with the racing bluegrass of “Queen of Broken Hearts.” Taken at breathless speed, this riot of a song is a standout amongst stiff competition. The playing is hot enough to melt your stereo. Even at this tempo, the vocals are delivered smoothly and effectively. On “Steaming Buzzard” we're treated to an extended passage of mandolin and banjo, which dance around each other in beguiling fashion, before the rest of the players kick in.
Overall, Shadows on the Moon serves up a surprising blend of the old and the new. It is clear that the band's collective heart lies in the early twentieth century. In revisiting and celebrating this music, they have not sought to apply any modern spin or contemporary trends. Rather, the freshness and originality stems from the player's own authentic experiences and natural inclinations, as citizens of the modern era, whose ears instinctively pick up and process on the multitude of music which surrounds us. This is a fine album, deserved of attention, and a welcome signpost for things to come. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy Midnight Skyracer from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Midnight Skyracer website
Mary Chapin Carpenter (from the album The Dirt and The Stars available on Lambient Light Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
She’s got a list of accolades a mile long and is worthy of every last one. Grammys, a spot in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and a handful of Country Music Awards, Mary Chapin Carpenter is a Folkie with a crystal-clear croon, and has solidified, and continues to justify, her spot in the singer/songwriter world. Her latest tunes, collected in the recent release The Dirt and the Stars, were written before the world went on hold, a mellow offering that finds Mary Chapin Carpenter open and personal. “It’s Ok To Feel Sad” is a soundtrack for the pandemic. As she sings ‘its ok to be tired, fuck all the excuses, whatever’s required, there’s no day that’s useless’ she is channeling what are now universal feelings of not wasting a day.
“All Broken Hearts Break Differently” is a piano ballad that ends with a minute of moody musical ambience and “Old D-35” uses a classic Martin guitar to be the centerpiece of a walk down memory lane. “American Stooge” is a Roots Rock groover and scathing lyrical examination of making the American dream come true via suckin’ up. “Secret Keepers” dances around jangle Pop, while the first line of the album closer takes you back to wherever you were when you were seventeen, ‘ready to ride anywhere, the summer night sticks to my skin, and the beers gone to my head’. The cut, “Between the Dirt and the Stars”, also throws out props to Mick and Keith namechecking ‘Wild Horses’, giving that familiar hook the responsibility of being ‘everything you’ll ever know, is written in the choruses’. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s musical formula is that of acoustic balladeer. The Dirt and the Stars reminisces and ponders, a melodic, Rootsy walk through a photo album and one more drive in your best friends parents car. (by Bryant Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Mary Chapin Carpenter website
The Haggis Horns (from the album Stand Up for Love available on Haggis Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
I first stumbled upon UK-based seven-piece The Haggis Horns when I picked up a copy of their 2010 release, Keep On Movin', on spec. The joyous, sharp modern funk of that record completely won me over. Needless to say, when the opportunity to review their new album, Stand Up for Love, came along, I was delighted to take it. The good news is that the nine new cuts here do not in any way disappoint.
The musicianship on Stand Up for Love is top notch. Erroll Rollins, drums; Kenny Higgins, bass; Ben Barker, guitar; George Cooper, Keys; Malcolm Strachan, Bass; Rob Mitchell and Atholl Ransome, sax is augmented here by John McCallum, vocals and Sam Bell, percussion. Between them, the band have worked with such varied luminaries as Jamiroquai, Martha Reeves, Amy Winehouse, Duran Duran and Robbie Williams. Together, they play some fine Funk Jazz on this set, with one foot firmly planted in the 1970’s and the steaming brews served up by Funkadelic, Sly Stone et al. The other foot, to stretch the saying to breaking point, lands in the block occupied by acid-jazz artists such as The Brand New Heavies and Corduroy.
Expect invigorating wah-wah guitar, infectious Stevie Wonder keyboard-riffs and vamps, down and dirty brass and jazz-inflected interludes. Funky, dub bass, echo effects and shades of dancehall reggae broaden the palette. The tracks breeze by in a miasma of hazy sunshine, which is not to suggest that this is throw-away music. The Haggis Horns offer plenty in terms of depth and nuance. The instrumental passages are a delight, switching playfully from full-on funk to tingling soundscapes, changing gears smoothly, with lovely touches of spacey, swirling keys and many an unexpected detour full of fire, grace and fun.
The strength of Stand Up for Love lies in its compositions and arrangements. Playing well is one thing, but musicians of this caliber need good material to get their teeth into. “Haggis Express”, coming half-way through the album, showcases the group’s ability to let loose on a tightly-structured instrumental, which never outstays its welcome and never feels contrived. The vocal tracks, such as “Nothing but Love in the End” are equally impressive. McCallum's voice is cultured and strong, with just the right amount of grit and soul. The manner in which the brass section lift, support and punctuate transforms what would have been good into something truly compelling.
Stand Up for Love, although unabashedly demonstrating the band's aforementioned influences, isn't afraid to add Jazz solos, Hendrix break-downs, old-school R&B, and whatever else might serve to spice up the mix. Production is lovely, lively, and inventive. The instruments are nicely balanced, with each player given room to breathe. The result feels classy, and not over-polished. Little breaks, rolls and solos are perfectly high-lighted, without ever detracting from the group effort. It is clear that a huge amount of love and work has been applied by all involved.
Labelling yourself as a particular genre brings mixed blessings. On the one hand, your target audience is known and appreciative. On the other, you may be limiting yourself to a certain demographic. Then there's the challenge, of course, of keeping your sound fresh, of moving forward without letting go of your anchors. It's a rare musician who can do that, think Bowie, Miles Davis etc. With Stand Up for Love, The Haggis Horns, although not charting any new territory (for them), deliver up a memorable and impressive set with strong songs married to impeccable playing. It would be churlish to ask for more. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of The Haggis Horns from AMAZON
For more information, please visit The Haggis Horns website
Zara McFarlane (from the album Songs Of An Unknown Tongue, Brownswood Recordings) (by Chris Wheatley)
Songs of an Unknown Tongue is the fourth album by British singer-songwriter Zara McFarlane. It's been three years since 2017s Arise, a memorable and very modern record, which nevertheless brought to mind the adventurous 1970’s compositions of Alice Coltrane. With this latest release, Zara McFarlane seeks to explore the esoteric spiritual and musical tapestry which comprises the rich history of her ancestral home of Jamaica. It is clear from the outset that this is a project which Zara has infused with deep passion and consideration, having spent time researching at both The National Library of Jamaica and the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston. That research lead to a lengthy study of rhythms associated with the traditional rituals of the land. Bringing these rhythms back to her London base, McFarlane set about analyzing, deconstructing and recombining these elements into a personal exploration of heritage, history and spirit.
Echoing Alice Coltrane's own release, Universal Consciousness, Songs of an Unknown Tongueopens with “Everything is Connected,” a startlingly original composition which mixes processed beats, hand-drums, swirling keys and McFarlane's celebrated voice into a complex and shifting song that flutters and drives. Straight away the Jamaican influence is obvious. Those cognizant with classic reggae or calypso will discern much that is familiar in the hypnotic patterns and cadences which sway beguilingly as McFarlane sings of sacred moments intertwining through dreams.
It is a bold and breathtaking start, which lays down a template for the rest of the set. Zara McFarlane weaves traditional and physical elements with electronica in a manner which results in a wholly organic and warm-sounding music. Her voice is clear as crystal, free of histrionics and full of feeling. The songs appear to defy gravity, floating like bees and unfolding like flowers. Not since Jah Wobble's album, The Light Programme, have I heard electronics utilized in such a thrilling manner. “My Story” is a bubble upon a stream, drifting gently, with slow bass, rolling hand-drums and drum machines, gentle keys and, of course, those beautiful vocals. “Broken Water” echoes and glitches, fades and thuds. McFarlane often overdubs herself, setting up a rolling crescendo of voice, accenting and chanting to great effect. As the journey continues it becomes impossible to discern the natural from the constructed. There are no harsh angles here, no sharp edges, just wide oceans of mesmerizing semi-alien water, beckoning you in, through and under, to the well-spring of the soul.
Jazz aficionado's may find this a step too far from traditional shores. That would be a crying shame. Alice Coltrane would surely have adored the off-beat vocals, shimmering keys and nuanced delivery. Jazz is at the heart of Zara McFarlane and, like Coltrane, she is able to produce challenging and complicated music which is simultaneously inviting and very human. Lose yourself in “Saltwater” for example; an impressionist water-colour of synth washes, reverberating calls, keyboard drones and strong currents. Album closer “Future Echoes,” in contrast, is a funky, skipping number which rattles and whirls like a Motown pop hit filtered through the lens of Talking Book-era Stevie Wonder.
The true wonder here is that every second of Songs of an Unknown Tongue feels uniquely connected. McFarlane weaves a constantly coherent, constantly charming and exciting narrative from disparate elements which, in her hands, do not sound disparate at all. At the culmination of the ten tracks you will be left simultaneously enervated and relaxed, refreshed and inspired. Songs of an Unknown Tonguewill put a smile on your face and a light in your heart. Who could ask for more?
Listen and buy the music of Zara McFarlane from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Zara McFarlane website
The Benders Band (from the album Twice in a Blue Moon, Vol. 1 & 2 available on Woodeye Records)
A turn of the century tale finds The Benders Band on fire with three album releases, major tours, and supportive press. After four years of sticking to it, The Benders Band closed their doors and shuttered up as a group in 2004. The players (Bow Thayer - banjos, vocals, baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, drum machine, Jabe Beyer – acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, harmonica, keyboards, banjo, Sean Staples - mandolin, clavinet, B3 and pump organ, diddley bow, Tim Kelly - dobro, lap steel, jaw harp and Jay Aucella on upright bass, replacing original bass play, Nolan McKelvey, on Volume 1) went separate ways. New bases for The Benders Band were in Tennessee, Vermont, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Taiwan. A term in isolation left holes in the day for Jabe Beyer, and he began rummaging through old unreleased tapes from the band. He reached out to members about completing the cuts and had everyone signed on within a half hour. Modern technology put the band into a virtual studio and The Benders Band have release Twice in a Blue Moon, Vol 1 & 2.
What got The Benders Band fan attention in the early 2000’s comes through clearly on the double volumes of Twice in a Blue Moon. The playing is smooth and easy, going down like a cool drink, the rhythm moving fast on Vol 1 opener “Next Equation”, the rolling groove of “Moonlight Mile”, quieting for the reverie of “Mind Over Matter”, and relaxing in somber hum of “Pretending”. The Benders Band are a welcome return, the playing comforting and familiar, their topics timely when a hyper-active melody shuffles across “Lockdown Quarantine”. Twice in a Blue Moon reconsiders suicide on a shuffle with “Moving to Hong Kong”, hanging on tight for the runaway rhythms of “Eyes Wide Open” and “12 Inch Steel” as The Benders Band advise “Grab It Before It’s Gone”.
Listen and buy the music of The Benders Band Vol 1 from AMAZON
Listen and buy the music of The Benders Band Vol 2 from AMAZON
For more information, please visit The Benders Band website