Paul Cauthen (from the album Room 41 available on Lightning Rod Records)
Admitting personal successes and hurdles seems easy for Paul Cauthen as he sings ‘you know I can write a song, you know I can kiss all night’ on “I Can’t Be Alone”. The cut is on the recent release Room 41, the stories all making use of clear words as Paul speaks of love (“Angel”) as his messages urges mercy (“Slow Down”) and sweet release (“Lay Me Down”). The words of Paul Cauthen on Room 41 are the link that connects the songs, his deep vocals granting the role of consoler and advisor. As the tales unfold, the musical foundation of the tracks becomes fluid, shape-shifts between cuts as it sonically finds common ground footing within the diversity of its styles, rhythms, and beats.
The groove of “Cocaine Country Dancing” is as infectious in taking over bodily control as its drug namesake while “Freak” walks on a rubbery rhythm line as jail-mates bond on a devils-dreamscape strut. Paul Cauthen colors outside the Country band lines as he busts a move as “The Big Velvet”, tenderly opens “Prayed for Rain” on gentle acoustics before his voice rolls like thunderclouds guiding the hot in/out breaths of the beat. Room 41 swaggers on a rambling musical interlude as it speaks of human nature in “Give ‘Em Peace” while Paul Cauthen stands tall over a shuffling-deck rhythm that deals out a mighty funk for “Holy Ghost Fire”.
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Charley Crockett from the album The Valley available on Son of Davy Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Fans of real Country music have always known the genre has remained cool despite all the Pop stars derailing its purity. There are plenty of road warrior true-believers schlepping a pedal steel onto a stage night after night, preaching to a return offender choir about how good Country music has always been here and within their reach. Charley Crockett is one of the artists appeasing and proselytizing with that same pulpit, taking all of the great wide-spread musical elements available in Roots music, from a Big Band playing Two-Steppin’ twang to a single microphone catching the recording of a murder ballad. The latest Charley Crockett release The Valley promises, and delivers, all that and more.
The hand-clap driven “Borrowed Time” kicks the The Valley off with a gospel heavy tone, followed by the title track, a reflective tale where beautiful pedal steel plays out under the narrative. “Big Gold Mine” raises some dust featuring an up-tempo dancer with fiddle, pedal steel and some whistling. The story becomes a simple love song where Charley Crockett sings ‘I don’t need no big gold mine, I just wanna make you mine’. “If Not the Fool” is a timeless slow dance, sonically falling back to a recording and release date circa 1958, the dirty saxophone with Charley Crockett’s aching vocals makes for a gem. “9-Pound Hammer” is delivered with campfire simplicity made up of plucked banjo and sparse percussion, the track followed by the gospel flair, and keyboard saturated “River of Sorrow.” An appropriate album closer is “Motel Time Again”, the song a crying in your beer cut about the doldrums of being in a traveling band, where the narrator will once again ‘find your way once more, to that old number on the door’, a reference to whatever motel/hotel room is home for the night. The Valley was recorded prior to a life-saving heart surgery for Charley Crockett that took place early in 2019. The Valley is a no frills, no tricks, recording that travels seamlessly from each note and through every heart-aching lyric.
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The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys (from the album Toil, Tears, & Trouble available on Rounder Records)
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys playing echoes a direct lineage to the music of the hills. The sound of a string bands back the stories, subtle it percolates under the vocals and pure harmonies, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys becoming a music machine as each individual player locks into a groove and trades riffs. Toil, Tears, & Troubles leads with a winner, opening the album with “Next Train South”, sonically securing The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys role as curators of Bluegrass traditions on the first cut.
While the musical traditions of Toil, Tears, & Trouble reveal their age in song, the words erase the years to show that human emotion has no shelf life when The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys lay bare the pain of war in Roy Acuff’s “Searching for a Soldier’s Grave”, singing of a hurt that echoes through generations. Civilization gallops through “Hickory, Walnut, and Pine”, the storyline changing the tree names to street signs in a subdivision of new homes as The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys watch family farms disappear (“Bidding America Goodbye”), confront personal demons (“Cold Hard Truth”), and celebrate hard-won homecomings (“Longing for the Ozarks”). The music of The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys stays true to Old Time music traditions while the stories of Toil, Tears, & Trouble holding no allegiance to any calendar date. The passions that seduce “Widow Mae” are timeless much like the goodbyes of “Ice Covered Birches” and the human spirit living beyond death in “Don’t Kneel by My Graveside”. Toil, Tears, & Trouble fast tracks the playing on the title track as its story promises fidelity as The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys become the wedding band for a marriage on the rocks in “Old New Borrowed and Blue”.
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Rick Estrin & The Nightcats (from the album Contemporary available on Alligator Records)
Most would consider Rick Estrin a true believer, playing harmonica in his native San Francisco, California at fifteen years old, coming up in the Bay Area Blues scene, playing five nights a week backing infamous Bluesman/pimp Fillmore Slim. He formed Little Charlie and the Nightcats with Charlie Baty in 1973, and fronted the band when Charlie retired from touring in 2008, adding guitarist Kid Andersen to the existing line-up and staying on the road as Rick Estrin & The Nightcats. With multiple Blues Awards for the singer and the band, Rick is the true believer poster boy, and yet on the recent release from Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, the choice is made to go Contemporary.
Happily, the mood passes quickly and the song “Contemporary” is tongue-in-cheek, the track featuring speaker-freezing bass bumps, compressed vocals, and a resume-boasting bridge. The remaining cuts of Contemporary puts the songs on the same level as Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, solid vehicles of the Blues and all its many rhythms and forms. The beat is the wake-up call that snaps album opener “I’m Running” into a Blue-noir dawn while Blue Funk tinges “New Shape (for Junior Parker)” and a rhythmic ricochet sashays across “Root of All Evil”. Rick Estrin & The Nightcats become a machine on the instrumental cuts, the sound playful in “House of Grease” and frenetic in “Cupcakin’” as Contemporary locks into a Vintage Rock’n’Roll Blues groove for “Bo Dee’s Bounce”. Contemporary claims “New Years Eve” as its favorite holiday and slows the Blues to a simmer for “The Main Event” as Rick Estrin & The Nightcats share the sad story of a lover with a few loose screws in “She Nuts Up” as they read “Resentment File” on a pop and click groove.
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Janiva Magness from the album Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty available on Blue Elan Records (by Bryant Liggett)
John Fogerty has written some of the catchiest and recognizable cuts in the Classic Rock canon. Loved by fans of all genres, including the die-hards in the genres of Country, Punk and Country Punk, John Fogerty has penned songs that have solidified into the psyche of anyone that has dug into his solo recordings as well as his work with Creedence Clearwater Revival. Anyone covering Fogerty’s catalog deserves an ear aimed in the direction of their album to hear the results.
Janiva Magness and Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty dive deep into songs that span a lengthy career, from the well-known CCR cuts to some of the lesser known tracks from solo work. Change in the Weather offers some big Bluesy takes on the American Music Songbook via John Fogerty, hits and fan favorite songs.
The title track revisits “Change in the Weather,” a cut originally heard on Fogerty’s 1986 release Eye of the Zombie, the tune kicking off the record with Janiva Magness leading a charge out of the gate with steady hand claps and an up-beat gospel groove. The emotional, gut punch recordings come at tracks 2, 3 and 4, Janiva Magness delivering knock-out versions of “Lodi,” “Someday Never Comes,” and “Wrote a Song for Everyone” in quick order. The trio of tunes is followed by Taj Mahal and his country blues chops on “Don’t You Wish It Was True,” with “Bad Moon Rising” and “Fortunate Son” sandwiching the raw “Blueboy,” pulled from Fogerty’s release, Blue Moon Swamp. It doesn’t matter if it’s a solemn weeper like “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” or a front-porch picker like “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” John Fogerty has written some memorable sing-along songs and Janiva Magness has done them solid justice with Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Corb Lund from the album Cover Your Tracks available on New West Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Hearing into a artist’s selection of personal choices is a great way to dig into your own favorite musician’s record collection. On Cover Your Tracks, fans of Canadian alternative country rocker Corb Lund get a look at some of the sounds that likely shaped his musical core. Cover Your Tracks is a collection of Classic Rock and Country cuts that have received a twangy groove while not straying too far from the original version. Made famous by Nancy Sinatra, penned by Lee Hazelwood, “These Boots are Made for Walking” kicks off Cover Your Tracks, a straight ahead and tasty opener, followed by Shel Silverstein’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone.” Joined by Hayes Carll, the version is another straight-ahead re-make with great twangy guitar.
Marty Robbins “They’re Hanging Me Tonight” is a western weeper that has a subtle R&B feel in the hands of Corb Lund while the Eagles via David Blue “Outlaw Man” is Classic Country and Southern Rocker. Ian Tyson joins in on AC/DC’s blues burner “Ride On”, the re-imagining loaded with the same grit of the original, Corb Lund filling in Bon Scotts vocals and the riffs packed with the dirty guitar of Angus Young. “Seven Spanish Angels” remains as soul-touching as in its original form, Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” still a classic 80’s gem while Corb Lund croons out a beautiful version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” All great choices, Cover Your Tracks is a balanced mix of known cuts to the more obscure tracks. With few liberties taken, Corb Lund’s straight play on his versions is a nod to the musicians who he knows got it right the first time. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Quebe Sisters from the album The Quebe Sisters available as a self-release (by Bryant Liggett)
The Quebe Sisters are nailing the old-school, new-school thing. The Quebe Sisters sound is retro while also being as fresh as next week. Andrews Sisters-style harmonies that date back three-quarters of a century for influences combined with a three-fiddle chorus. The Quebe Sisters got a foothold in the current roots music scene that screams swing and twang. Their self-titled, fourth release rocks as it waltz’s, crying the blues while digging deep into Jazz; The Quebe Sisters is a swinging look into the genres that make up whatever defines Americana. The trio could turn a Black Flag cut into a swinging dose of harmonies if the mood felt right.
“My Love, My Life, My Friend” is a sentimental number while the instrumental “Load at 7 (Leave at 8)” bounces and swings. Fans of The Andy Griffith Show may get the “Lonesome Road” reference to an episode with Mayberry moonshiner Rafe Hollister. It is a cut with a huge history, The Sisters version beginning with haunting tones before morphing into an upbeat bouncer driven by the fiddles. The Quebe Sisters close the album with the Gene Autry cowpoke classic “Twilight on the Trail.” The line ‘my ceiling is the sky, and the grass on which I lie is my floor’ coming from The Quebe Sisters is welcoming and warm, lonesome and adventurous. Calling their sound “Progressive Western Swing,” The Quebe Sisters are reminding us that Western Swing shouldn’t take a back-seat to the honky-tonk resurgence. The style has never gone far enough away to be retro. It has been here all along and sounds as hip as ever. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Hot Club of Cowtown from the album Wild Kingdom available on Gold Strike Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Count on The Hot Club of Cowtown to always deliver in full. Playful and aggressive, soulful and swinging, their latest, Wild Kingdom, is fully loaded with Whit Smith’s hot guitar licks, Jake Erwin’s solid bass rhythm foundation, and the fiery fiddle and big voice of Elana James. The Hot Club of Cowtown come back solid and reliable on Wild Kingdom; listeners fulfilled knowing exactly what to expect as they expect, and receive, a return to glory from the band. “My Candy” is a playful album opener, a nod to someone’s love with confectionery comparisons to every piece of candy on the corner store’s sweets shelf, from the ‘Charleston Chew’ to the ‘Atomic Fireball’. The sweet-tooth story is backed by a bar-room piano and a snare drum that gives the song some extra punch.
“Near Mrs” finds Elana James giving the listener a lounge-act croon with Smith’s guitar doing the same on “Billy the Kid”. Sandwiched between the two songs is “Three Little Words”, with all the musical catch-and-hook of a post-war Pop tune. “Tall Tall Ship” has a big Elana James fiddle intro with Whit Smith’s guitar playing the melody under James’ vocals. The melody has a bounce that remakes the threesome into a rockabilly trio. The Hot Club of Cowtown take on the Scottish traditional tune “Loch Lomond” is fantastic; the cut beginning as if to become a somber ballad before rapidly morphing into music that bounces and swings; Smith and James trade of guitar and fiddle licks in the instrumental solos as the trio wrap the tune with harmonies that are high and tight. Labelling The Hot Club of Cowtown ‘hot jazz’ or ‘western swing’ are appropriate descriptions but that may sell the band short. With hints of Bluegrass, Blues, Cocktail Jazz or Lounge muisic with an ability to fit in no matter what the scene, The Hot Club of Cowtown are like that friend you can bring to any party and watch them seamlessly fit in.
(by Bryant Liggett)
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Dalton Domino (from the album Songs from the Exile available on Lightning Rod Records)
An empty page becomes a mirror when Dalton Domino exercises (and exorcises) his ghosts with the stories on Songs from the Exile, his recent release. An open letter begins the cycle of Songs from the Exile, “Happy Alone” directly addressing an ex, the first cut setting a stage that opens its heart in “Shadowlands” as a Southern Rock stomping beat soundtracks happiness for the mixed-family ties of “Halfblood” and the album follows a jittery marching drum through “Daddy’s Mud”. Writing the tracks for Songs from the Exile at home during a period Dalton Domino describes as a ‘personal rock bottom’, looking at his troubles through the bars of a song gave Dalton enough distance, allowing him to view his demons behind a protective shield. The Texas songman claims that ‘I learned that the mistakes and ghosts of the past are okay to befriend. They are what make you who you are today. This record is a collection of songs that are about specific moments in my life where I felt wronged — where I did things that were wrong — and I wrote it alone, in exile, during a year I spent learning how to look the things that kept me prisoner in the eye and let them go. I learned gratitude. I learned how to forgive’.
Scratchy chords line the crooked course that leads from bliss into break-up badlands in “Love is Dangerous” as Dalton Domino toasts memories with “Cheap Spanish Wine”, rolls on a shaky rock rhythm to offer “Dead Roses”, and finger snaps to mark the toll of loss in “Hush Puppy”. Dalton Domino is the centerpoint for Red Dirt Americana, his words turning into a love song, and shared in a duet with Kalsey Kulyk in “All I Need”, touching “The Nerve” with honky tonk rock’n’roll as Songs from the Exile makes an exit on ethereal sonics, greeting an old friend with hard truths in “Welcome Home”.
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Old Man Jasper (from the E.P. Old Man Jasper available as a self-release)
Blues. Hard stomping Blues, the bass drum beat a rhythmic rumble that drives the songs, the hammering punch a foundation to guitar lines defining a melody while random six-string blasts fire like laser lights. The band is Old Man Jasper, the roar of their sound confined to a recent self-titled E.P. Old Man Jasper describe the music as Hard Garage Slide Blues, the six songs on the track listing matching style branding with near feral guitar lines, punishing beats, and sky scratching vocals. Old Man Jasper bang out a backdrop biting guitar chords for the blistering sun and unwelcoming landscape of “Down in the Valley” as slide licks flicker around the lyrical hopes of “Find Your Peace”. The drums become a heartbeat for the human toils making their way through darkness into the promise of dawn in the storyline of “Pray for Salvation” as the rhythmic pattern becomes a trance, solid underneath the playful guitar poking at the beat in “Rains That Are Falling”.
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