Pokey LaFarge (from the album In the Blossom of Their Shade available on New West Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The sound of Pokey Lafarge has always been one of yester-year while remaining in a happening right now mode. Nostalgic and old-school yet rooted in the present, he has always been about an Old-Time vibe, and his latest In The Blossom of their Shade, continues in that motif even as he explores some other avenues…like Reggae. The album opens with Kingston LaFarge when “Get It ‘Fore It’s Gone” drops a rock-steady rhythm with the island vibe continuing through “Mi Ideal”. The beat is mid-sixties Studio One.
“Rotterdam” is an anthem for exiting the United States, Pokey LaFarge singing ‘in the U.S.A., things get worse each day’ between handclaps, Surf guitar, and lines about why leaving the U.S.A. for mid-European Dutch country is A-OK. He digs into R&B for “Drink of You”, delivers a Folk-Gospel sound on “Long for the Heaven I seek’ and even tosses a subtle tango around on ‘To Love or Be Alone”. “Killing Time” is doo-wop delicious, and the closer in “Goodnight, Goodbye (Hope Not Forever) is an end of the evening, say goodnight to your lover type of tune that could be yours and hers ‘song’. There’s old-school romance in Pokey’s sound, whether dipping into Reggae or hard R&B. Pokey LaFarge can pen a Country-Folk song and score a sock hop or a fish-fry at a Hill Country juke joint. This is another record where Pokey LaFarge proves he’s well versed in the great sounds, and styles, of yesterday while keeping it real for the music of today. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Murray McLauchlan (from the album Hourglass available on True North Records) (by Dave Steinfeld)
Though he’s been around since the ‘60s and is well regarded in his native Canada (to the tune of 11 JUNO Awards), singer/songwriter Murray McLauchlan has always been a cult artist, at best, here in the States. Originally from Scotland, he grew up mainly in Toronto and is a bit of an artistic renaissance man; in addition to having had a lengthy career as a musician, McLauchlan has also been a painter and a playwright. But songwriting remains his first love and if his new album Hourglass (on True North Records) is any indication, he’s still got a knack for it. The album was recorded in late 2020 and early 2021, and its subject matter was informed by the pandemic and other current events. It’s an understated, concise offering: ten songs that feature only McLauchlan on guitar and vocals, Burke Carroll on steel guitar, Vezi Tayyeb on keyboards, Victor Bateman on bass, and Al Cross on drums. While the melodies and sparse arrangements on Hourglass can get a bit samey, that’s a minor complaint. Taken together, the songs add up to a complete, consistent, and quietly moving body of work.
Murray McLauchlan kicks things off with “The One Percent”, a look at income disparity that sets the tone for the rest of the disc. Next up is the timely “Pandemic Blues.” (Who among us can’t relate to the line ‘been locked up a little too long?’) That’s followed by “America” and “If You’re Out There, Jesus”. Even an atheist like this writer can appreciate the latter track with its wry observations (‘if you happen to come back, it would be cool if you come back black/To no more false convictions or crucifixions’) McLauchlan looks at racism in more detail a few songs later on “I Live on A White Cloud” which was written for George Floyd. To wit: ‘I live on a white cloud high above the world/And all the gods are nice to me, cops all call me sir/I live on a white cloud, don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow/If someone else’s kid gets killed, it’s someone else’s sorrow’. Murray McLauchlan wraps things up with the song “Wishes”, a plaintive plea for love. If you’re looking for an album with mellow music but hard-hitting lyrics, look no further than Hourglass.
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The Delavantes (from the album A Thousand Turns available as a self-release) (by Dave Steinfeld)
The stress of touring and creating new music often causes bands to take a break and rest their collective psyche. Then there’s The Delevantes. They are returning to the studio after a Rip Van Winkle length rest. Their new album, A Thousand Turns, is their third album, but their first in over twenty years. After being at the forefront of the initial Americana scene in the mid 90’s, they hit the pause button - hard. After a long pause indeed, they are picking up where they left off, with jangly guitars, insightful lyrics, and memorable Folk/Rock rhythms.
The lead track, “All in All”, shakes off the rust and dust as the band hits that jangly, Byrds/REM Country Rock sweet spot. Expressing the joy of finding true love, they sing, ‘there was a time I did not know. And the night hung deep and low. I had no idea that there could be - all in all, you and me’. Aided by cheery harmonica notes, the song captures the profound happiness of finally seeing the daylight after a long period of emotional darkness.
“Dear Kate”, is another peppy harmonica laced Americana gem that celebrates a woman whose smile lights up the room. “Light Of Your Eyes”, tells a similar story from a slightly different perspective. They add “Incense and Peppermints” style psychedelic guitars to “The Junkman”, to tell the story of unscrupulous car repair chop shops. “Short Bed Blues”, captures a Sheryl Crow, Indie Rock vibe. And “This Old House”, incorporates an irresistibly catchy vocal bridge to recount a man’s love for his money pit house.
Clearly influenced by Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and Tom Petty, the band infuses every song with catchy, rootsy melodies. The vocal harmonies of band leaders Bob and Mike Delevante recall fellow Americana pioneers, The BoDeans. Moving more in the Folk direction, the brothers harmonize in the Dylan influenced, “I See”. Sending up a prayer for brotherly love, the siblings sing, ‘I see all that was but will be. Let a song of peace and love go tolling high above’. They add subtle Mersey Beat rhythms to the Folk anthem, “The Rain Keeps Falling”. Hammond organ helps set the mood on “Deeper Shade of Blue”. A little funky syncopation helps capture a Josh Ritter Indie Folk feel on “Little by Little”, “Every Sunset” and “If You Let It” recall Everly Brothers style Folk ballad harmonies.
There may not be A Thousand Turns between Folk and jangle Rock, but there are plenty of delightful musical turns to enjoy on this album. No matter how many turns it took them to get here, it’s good to finally hear some new music from Americana originals The Delevantes.
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The Felice Brothers (from the album From Dream to Dust available on Yep Roc Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Seven records in and The Felice Brothers continue to turn Folk music on its head. Their breezy, mid-tempo tunes have always had a bit of an avant-garde edge with a dash of wonderful weirdness. The band’s latest, From Dream to Dust, continues that eccentric exploration both lyrically and melodically. The Felice Brothers words drop a load of nonsensical references for both the real and the ridiculous to form an imaginative stream of conscious relay of the recognizable. The opener, “Jazz on The Autobahn”, is a tale of a sheriff and someone named Helen, a trumpet providing support for the Jazzy narrative. “The To-Do List” references the dust that hot fries leave on your fingers, “Valium” chants ‘Annie Oakley’ throughout a story that watches John Wayne movies at a beat-hotel on the Colorado-Utah border, and “Inferno” is a teenage dating tale that namedrops the films Fight Club, Inferno, and ‘Karate Kid.
Spoken word comes into From Dream to Dust with the sad confessionals “Be at Rest” when the narrator rattles off everything he lacks with random accomplishments. The record closes with an eight-minute narrative about a train ride that cleverly rhymes and references ‘Frances of Assisi to the fans of AC/DC’. The psychedelic Folk melodies of the Felice Brothers are the perfect support for the fragments of lyrical snippets that are half spoken and half sung. From Dream to Dust is a fun, thought provoking listen and the kind of thing that you’ll decipher like trying to unravel your weirdest dreams.
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Adrian + Meredith (from the album Bad for Business available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
A medicine show wagon has just rolled into town ready to peddle magic elixirs. This is their soundtrack, backing strong-arm sales tactics to the locals. From Gypsy Jazz and punchy Folk to Polkas and Country Blues all delivered with dirty Rock’n’Roll grit, the latest release from Adrian + Meredith, Bad for Business,is a Vaudevillian theatre, a mashed up concoction of the aforementioned sounds delivered in a good time package.
The bouncy “Even” opens Bad for Business, pushed by a rough saxophone, giving you the first taste of the duo’s hard-sewn harmonies. Gypsy fiddle drives the title track and features clever wordplay referencing various Hubbard’s, namedropping L. Ron and Ray Wylie, while Adrian + Meredith drop surf guitar riffs as an invitation to vintage mod-dancers to do a herky-jerky dance in “DOA”. “California” has a Psychedelic Rock vibe and “Who Stole the Keishka” is a Balkan blast while A+M lay down a Country ballad with “Chalk”. “Valley View” is a slow, historical ballad dropped out of the Civil War era; quiet banjo providing a bed that supports a lonely fiddle that alternating with Meredith’s angelic vocals. It’s a cut that moves from ballad to hoedown to close out the album. Bad for Business is a fun record of old-time Americana. A place where Ragtime Jazz and Country Blues are given a 19th Century, European Folk treatment that comes with a Punk Rock stamp. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Wandering Hearts (from the album The Wandering Hearts available Cooking Vinyl Limited) (by Chris Wheatley)
‘It sounds like someone put the world on mute’ says AJ Dean-Revington who, together with Chess Whiffin and Tara Wilcox, comprise The Wandering Hearts. Dean-Revington is speaking of the locale, high up in the Catskill Mountains, in Woodstock, New York, where, during the wintertime, the band recorded their self-titled sophomore album, a follow-up to 2017's Wild Silence. This is a band to whom authenticity clearly matters, and it's hard to envision an more apt setting for The Wandering Hearts music. ‘It was on the Ashokan trail and had the most incredible views’ says Chess of the intimate studio where the tracks were laid down. After daily recording sessions, the group would retire to a ‘mountainside clapboard farmhouse’ to jam, aided by a vintage 1930s Recording King tenor guitar, loaned by the farmhouse's owner. The Wandering Hearts met by chance through mutual friends and, in a dream start to their career, were picked up by a management company just twenty-six minutes after uploading their first ever demo to SoundCloud. Equally impressive, the trio won the prestigious Bob Harris Emerging Artist award in 2018.
“Hammer Falls” starts us off here, and what a wonderful number it is. Over a classic, rolling Bluesy acoustic guitar riff, softly thumping drums rise and some frankly beautiful harmonized vocals coalesce. It's a track which could lilt along on those opening few bars repeated, but main vocals soon kick in, tambourine ups the pace and sparkling electric guitar flickers round the edges. There's a lot to enjoy here. The warm, sunny production leaves enough hazy lines so that the crystal-clear guitar shines through to great effect. “Over Your Body”, in contrast, kicks off with a decidedly modern-sounding, shuffling drum-beat, punctuated by subtle guitar. Once again, it's those harmonized vocals which steal the show. On this track, indeed throughout the entire album, The Wandering Hearts show themselves eminently capable of crafting music with depth and soul, yet possessed of a warm, radio-friendly feel.
“I Feel It Too” is a heart-felt lullaby of a number. A guitar, and those voices, are all The Wandering Hearts need to conjure up a magical, timeless fantasy. ‘There's gold in the ground to be used...darling, I feel it too’. Circling lyrics and gentle motifs are the watchwords. One of the slower numbers, “Dolores”, is just as appealing. Finger-picked, interweaving guitars dance and flow like a summer stream. Vocally, you couldn't ask for richer, more luscious sounds. You can easily visualize mountain meadows and clear blues skies. “Dreams”, a standout track for this listener, adds a playful Americana edge, reminiscent of the great Outlaw Country stars of old. The easy, rambling, shambling feel is married to pin-point playing and earnest emotion. This would have been a hit in the 1950s. It ought to be a hit now.
Some of that classic feel is doubtless down to the wonderful production. The band single out producers Simone Felice and David Baron for providing a ‘safe, super positive space which felt almost spiritual in its focus’ and the “incredible analog recording gear’. Gear and location alone aren't enough, of course. The Wandering Hearts do both justice thanks to some superb playing and no little heart. Fans of lavishly crafted Country Pop are going to love this. Lavish, here, is used to connote effort and invention. The music itself feels as light as a feather and sounds as open as the hills. Recommended. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Ana Egge (from the album Between Us available on StorySound Records) (by Bryant Liggett
Call the latest album from Ana Egge “Pop” but follow the judgment with descriptive music adjectives that will get you into a diverse the genre ballpark. Pop Blues, Pop Lounge and Pop Roots with a cocktail vibe, Ana Egge’s latest in Between Us is cool and casual, her croon coming through studio-enhanced clean and modern hipness. She opens with a nod to going nowhere; “Wait A Minute” a sultry cool cut that is a soundtrack to meandering, taking your sweet time to get going, as Egge sings ‘wait a minute, why can’t we slow down, why don’t we take a little time?”. Ana Egge uses subtle electro lounge melodies and 80’s New York saxophone to dedicate a song for those souls forever in breakups with “Heartbroken Kind” while “Don’t Come Around” is a whispered, new-age noir ballad.
A New Wave rhythm section methodically kicks off “Be Your Drug” as Ana Egge’s vocals float over trumpet and piano fills. Those airborne vocals go into mournful mode with a double dose of sadness in “Lie Lie Lie” and “Sorry”. A fun aspect to Between Us is the added instrumentation. Ana Egge colors “Want Your Attention” with space-age Jazz fills however the whole record has little musical nuggets, including a horn section that lends some punch to the melodies that live under the singer’s softly emotive vocals. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Ward Hayden & The Outliers (from the album Free Country available as a self-release) (Bryant Liggett)
Change the name, don't change the output. Ward Hayden has dropped the band name Girls Guns Glory, changing to Ward Hayden and the Outliers. That is the only alteration. What remained the same is Ward Hayden’s slightly twangy Roots Rock and Roll patented product. Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel producing Free Country keeps the album a Rock record with Country leanings that hold no allegiance, a full band effort that showcases Hayden’s singer/songwriter abilities. A big Rock riff and pulsing bassline kicks off and drives the lonely “Nothing To Do”, a story where the narrator questions self-worth while pondering loneliness who ‘can’t go home, I burnt that bridge, spent my last dime’.
Small town marriage and heartache rolls on in “Shelly Johnson” as the ballad screams she ‘could use a better man’ as “All Gone Mad” looks at the state of the world, and its worth, questioning people in their virtual world. A click-clack locomotive rhythm drives “I’d Die for You” and the sobering anthem “Bad Time To Quit Drinking” is loaded with get sober statements while a bouncy shuffle kicks off “Irregardless” as Ward Hayden brilliantly calls out himself while also calling out all the others that ‘got a phone, became a drone’.Two-stepping and cow-punking give a romp around Free Country while many verses that question current events call for a second, thoughtful listen. Its equal good time and equal mind-provoking, Ward Hayden & The Outliers providing a record smart both lyrically and musically. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Colin Cutler (from the album Hot Pepper Jam available as a self-release) (by Mason Winfree)
The Piedmont of North Carolina is home to various musical traditions that make up the vast lexicon of American roots music. From the rhythmic fingerpicking guitar style of the Piedmont Blues to the two-finger rolls of the old-time banjo in the vein of central North Carolina’s very own country music pioneer, Charlie Poole, the musical landscape of North Carolina has cultivated some of the most seminal artists carrying on roots music traditions today. Many of these traditions are collected and demonstrated on the latest release from acclaimed musician, Colin Cutler, in the form of an album titled Hot Pepper Jam. The album not only serves as a celebration of the land that reared him but also as a homecoming with the music signifying his return to the United States to receive a hospitable embrace.
Kicking off the album is the banjo-driven “Bristol City Breakdown” which pays homage to the birthplace of Country music, the twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia. A self-proclaimed true story of a night of playful inebriation where Colin Cutler started his night in Tennessee, but woke up in Virginia. The tune features great fiddle work by Greensboro’s very own, Christen Mack, whose brilliant playing can be heard throughout the entire record.
The title track of the album, “Hot Pepper Jam”, is a rollicking number that clocks in as the second track of the album, and transplants Colin Cutler to a hot pepper field in Carolina. With steamy subtlety, Cutler crafts a narrative of new-found love; disclosing a very true story of meeting his significant other for the first time while she was wearing a hot pepper suit for the farmer’s market and looking hot pepper cute. Serving as the epitome of the album itself, the track possesses the qualities that exhibit Cutler’s artistry – layered lyricism, brilliant storytelling, and hot picking.
Hot Pepper Jam also contains interpretations of traditional American Folk tunes including “Cruel Willie”, “Am I Born to Die”, and “Waterbound” – a tune originally recorded in the 1920s which encapsulates the overarching theme of the record: a return to home. After spending several years teaching abroad, Colin Cutler’s interpretation of “Waterbound” is particularly fitting on this new collection--the number relaying a weary traveler’s plight to get back home to North Carolina. The presence of “Waterbound” on the record also connects Cutler to another traditional Piedmont artist from North Carolina: Greensboro’s Rhiannon Giddens who also included the tune on her latest release, They’re Calling Me Home.
Other highlights on the album include the instrumental “Lindley Park”, a tribute to the neighborhood Cutler lived in as a student while attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The stripped-down track features Colin Cutler solo on guitar, and its whimsical melody has the ability to ease your mind and take you back to a simpler time. The song “Red Bird” is an original tune that sounds just as old as the traditional numbers on the collection. Filled with images recalling the geography of North Carolina such as the muscadines that grow in the Coastal Plain, and the redbuds (which happen to be one of the very first trees to flower in the state), the song craftily paints a vivid image in your mind of the old North State and honors the cardinal, North Carolina’s state bird.
“Back in Gate City Again” features a weeping steel guitar provided by the great Mark Byerly laid over a fine piano accompaniment by Jack Gorham, and Mack on fiddle. The song is a beautiful salute to the city of Greensboro; a place that Colin Cutler holds dear to his heart, and now calls home once more. With such eloquent lyricism complemented by a stellar cast of fine musicians, the song stands out as a favorite and positions the listener directly in the landscape that the album is celebrating.
Hot Pepper Jam is an album demonstrating that the rich musical traditions of the Piedmont are alive and well. Featuring some of the best musicians from the region, including Christen Mack on fiddle, Evan Campfield and Ryan Mack on bass, Wake Clinard on mandolin, Jack Gorham on piano, Tom Troyer on electric guitar, and Mark Byerly on several instruments including guitar, drums, bass, and steel guitar, as well as Colin Cutler himself on guitar and clawhammer banjo. The album was recorded and produced by Mark Dillon and Tom Troyer at Black Rabbit Audio in Greensboro, North Carolina. (by Mason Winfree)
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GA-20 (from the album Try It You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor available on Karma Chief Records/Alligator Records)
In addition to tributing a Blues Master, GA-20 transport the sound of their recent release back to the smoky clubs and dive bars of Chicago to a time when electric Blues was being born. Guitars and drums are the heartbeat for Try It You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor. Formed in Boston, MA 2018, GA-20 by friends Pat Flaherty and Matthew Stubbs, the band formally became a 3-piece with the addition of drummer Tim Carman in 2019. The Blues, the raw riffing, and the boogie of Hound Dog Taylor translates from his own albums onto Try It You Might Like. The heartbeat pound of the album begins on opening cut “She’s Gone”, the groove traveling throughout the release. The forward thrust of the playing slows to a gritty crawl when GA-20 offer “Sitting at Home Alone” and the Blues classic “It Hurts Me Too”.
GA-20 will release their tribute through Alligator Records, the label tracing its own history with Hound Dog Taylor back to its infancy. Alligator head honcho Bruce Iglauer attempted to sign Hound Dog Taylor to Delmark Records, where, at the time, Bruce was a shipping clerk. Finding funding, Bruce Iglauer began Alligator Records, its first release the debut for Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers. Two guitars and drums, GA-20 do right by the songs of Hound Dog Taylor. The chord slashes leave scars when the band barrels across “It’s Alright” while the beat doubles down to race across “Let’s Get Funky” and “Give Me Back My Wig”. Slide notes sparkle as GA-20 exit Try It You Might Like It on the badass beat of “Hawaiian Boogie”.
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