Them Coulee Boys (from the album Namesake available on Some Fun Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
For their new album release, Them Coulee Boys add electric Rock’n’Roll to the group’s acoustic-based FolkGrass and Americana. Namesake opens with its title track, the harmonies and hope/heart inspiring stories of Them Coulee Boys floating over sparkling notes and a healthy bass-driven backbeat. Namesake showcases the cozy intimacy of Them Coulee Boys with a bite when rollicking piano and playful guitar notes open “Just Friends”, the force of the cut slowly rising, and speeding up, into a handclap ending. Tender fingerpicking quietly begins “April 1”, setting the moody reverie and reminisces of the story as decisions ride on the jangly Rock’n’Roll beat encouraging “Given Up” and time in baseball minor leagues tells its story in “Knuckeballer”.
The Namesake album title references a lost friend, Them Coulee Boys sharing the tale in “Phil’s Song”. The track tributes their lost companion and shines a light on the ongoing conversations regarding mental health issues. Balancing the driving beats with dreamy ballads, Them Coulee Boys sing of lost love in “Repurposed Frown” and exit Namesake on the ethereal sounds drifting over “Hallelujah”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Southern Avenue (from the album Be the Love You Want available on BMG) (Bryant Liggett)
It’s an apt name and a stellar nod to a A-list homebase. Southern Avenue, the band, being named after Southern Avenue, the street; the Memphis Tennessee roadway home to the original Stax Records, one of the labels that gave birth to the soulful sound that helped define Memphis music. Southern Avenue keeps that sound alive with a blast of Rock. Their latest. Be the Love You Want, is loaded with R&B of the punchy 21st Century variety, full of Funk and slick with Soul. The Be the Love You Want title track is a dirty Funk opener, the follower “Control” having modern Soul vocals over a 1970’s film-score melody. Finger-snaps drive the first half of the soulful ballad “Don’t Hesitate (Call Me)” before the band slowly strides in, “Fences” is an Emo-Soul heartbreaker, and “Heathen Hearts” is a percussive percolator. There are no plugged in electric or traditional acoustic instrumentation, the only accompaniment to the layers of vocals being claps, stomps, and finger-snaps.
Heavy horns help “Move into the Light” with its aggressive bounce and “Pressure” is a big ripper, from its dirty riffs to its Eddie Hazel (Parliament-Funkadelic) inspired Psych-Funk guitar solo that will ‘melt faces’. Be the Love You Want is everything in all the right places. Sultry and soulful, hip and heavy, funky and fun. Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) is an ace producer, Southern Avenue blasts, the ace-in-the-hole is front-woman Tierinii Jackson, whose croon is serious and soaring. The record is one big hearty and heavy groove. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Sierra Ferrell (from the album Long Time Coming available on Rounder Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
Self-describing herself, and her music, as ‘Country heart and a Jazz mind’, Sierra Ferrell adds touches of Calypso rhythms and Americana’s all-encompassing hybrids for the recent release, Long Time Coming. Island beats mix with Gypsy Jazz when Sierra Ferrell tosses out a question over the infectious percussion of “Why’d You Do It”. While not a full-on big band swing, Sierra Ferrell guides horns and woodwinds across “At the End of the Rainbow” on a gentle sway while Spanish guitar and mariachi horns permeate “Far Away Across the Sea” with Latin moods and melodies. Long Time Coming is a spinning wheel of sound, Sierra Ferrell seamlessly moving within Country, Bluegrass, and Roots music rhythms and riffs.
The lure of “The Sea” pulls you in and under when the opening cut for Long Time Coming ebbs and flows on a ocean of diverse instrumentation. Expect guest banjo playing on the album from Sarah Jarosz on “Jeremiah” while Billy Strings lends acoustic guitar work to the wistful tones of “Bells of Every Chapel”. Sierra Ferrell welcomes other musical cohorts into Long Time Coming with Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Chris Scruggs, and Dennis Crouch joining in for the recording. Two fan favorite songs garner reworking on Long Time Coming with “In Dreams” receiving a full arrangement, a different rendition than the simplicity in the viral video version of the song on YouTube. For her new take on “Made Like That”, the sound stretches with looping percussion and piano cradling the story’s confessions. Long Time Coming doubles up on dancing as well, Sierra Ferrell slowly turning through “West Virginia Waltz” and the hushed playing of “Whispering Waltz”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Durand Jones & the Indications (from the album Private Space available on Dead Oceans Records) (by Dave Steinfeld)
Of all the retro-Soul artists that have emerged in the last decade or so, perhaps no one has the genre down better than Durand Jones & the Indications. The self-titled debut by this Indiana-based quintet came out five years ago now. it was their 2019 sophomore set, American Love Call, that really put them on the map — and for good reason. If you didn’t know better, you would have sworn that the album came out in the 1960s, such was the band’s mastery of old school Soul.
American Love Call featured a dozen tracks that leaned heavily on love songs, with tight musicianship and two excellent, but distinct vocalists, in Durand Jones and Aaron Frazer. (In addition to Jones and Frazer, who also plays drums, The Indications are rounded out by guitarist Blake Rhein, keyboardist Steve Okonski, and new bassist Mike Montgomery.) Suddenly, the band found itself being spotlighted everywhere from Rolling Stone to late night TV. Private Space, The Indications’ third disc, doesn’t offer any major revelations; rather, it stays true to their sound while bringing it from the ‘60s into the ‘70s. There are only ten songs this time around and, while the album gets a bit samey toward the middle, there are no duds on Private Space. “Love Will Work It Out” kicks things off in fine fashion, offering the most topical song of the 10 (not unlike American Love Call’s opening track, “Morning in America,” did). The world has changed in the two years since their last album and the band knows this. Over a midtempo, string-laden groove, Durand Jones references everything from the COVID pandemic (‘folks overtaken by disease/All the people lost made me fall right onto my knees’) and the George Floyd murder (‘watching modern day lynchings in the streets that I call home’). They get less topical after that first song and move from your head to your heart (with your booty occasionally thrown in for good measure!). “Witchoo,” the second song, is a disco tune that sounds like it was recorded in 1977. The title track follows — a ballad with Frazer taking lead vocals. (This begs the question of how a white boy from the Midwest learned to sing like Russell Thompkins Jr.) The disc reaches another peak late in the game with the trio of “Reach Out,” Sexy Thang” and “Sea of Love.” Throughout, Durand Jones and The Indications provide proof that even in the age of auto-tune, there are some bands that rely on the tried-and-true attributes of real instruments and vocals. It’s ironic that their new album is called Private Space because, if anything, it should propel them even further into the public eye. (by Dave Steinfeld)
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Robben Ford (from the album Pure available on EARmusic) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s all instrumental goodness. No lyrics, just notes. A record delivering music in its pristine form, void of a lyrical message to be disseminated. It is an honest transmission of the melody through its music, and the message is up to the listener to hear and create. In the case of Pure, the latest from Robben Ford, that melody and music come via Blues and Jazz complete with a big dollop of Soul and groove in wonderful, laidback package. All hip and cool from a dude whose resume bears the same stamp due to time spent as a member of Yellowjackets and LA Express while also collaborating from Jazz masters to The Beatles.
“Pure (Prelude)” is the under two-minute album opener that features a stabbing guitar solo, sitar lines, and one big heavy riff setting an expectaion that Robben Ford may throw in a few surprises. Cuts like “White Rock Beer…8 cents” and “Blues For Lonnie Johnson” are straight ahead Blues tracks, showcasing Robben Ford as a solid player, arranger, and a fine soloist….but he also strays from strict templates. “Balafon” is a slow groover with hints of electronic rhythms, “Milam Palmo” delivers a touch of ambient Jazz, and “Go” is a bouncy beat where Ford’s guitar weaves in and out or keeps in time with the punchy horns. The Pure title track is an experimental blast where Robben Ford picks up from the prelude, stretching out the guitar playing while soloing over a worldbeat rhythm. Robben Ford closes with the fun “If You Want Me Too”, a rootsy, Country Funk mover that, like all of Pure, is just flat out cool. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Darrin Bradbury (from the album Artvertisement available on Anti-/Epitaph Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
The wear-it-on-your-sleeve honesty on Artvertisement requires a tough skin for the message. On his recent release Darrin Bradbury offers the tender thought ‘I am glad you are around’ in “The Wedding Song” despite the laundry lists of pain and sorrow that comes from partnering with another human. Self-assessment writes the words for “Busted World” while a dreamy rhythmic loop tries to find footing on a Sunday morning with “Pizza and Drugs” and belief balloons get holes poked, popping for each problem that Darrin Bradbury delivers in “XXYTOPLEFT”.
Happily, Darrin Bradbury has no edit button in his songwriting. What may seem like eccentricity is stream of consciousness from the songwriter. The musical backing of Artvertisement matches the words. The beat is a slowly building foundation under the story that stretches out in “Exile on Myrtle Beach”, the hammering pound continuing underneath fun-house organ riffs and the observations of “15 Shovels”. Darrin Bradbury holds big questions as a muse for Artvertisement, offering his songs as answers for ‘why are we here?’ and ‘how can we live principled lives in a capitalistic hellscape?’. Artvertisement can’t decide if the memories are good or bad when “Those Beautiful Days” pass by and makes an apology to “Deanna, Deanna” over crunchy guitar chords as Darrin Bradbury puts ‘your brand and their brand together’ as a chorus for the Artvertisement title track. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Divine Horsemen (from the album Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix available on In The Red Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s been 33 years since Divine Horsemen have dropped new tunes, and their latest Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix is a sound just as edgy and gloriously left-of-center as it was in the 1980’s. Post Punk and Roots Goth, Chris Desjardins aka Chris D’s writing is sad urban grit, his duets with Julie Christensen are half-sung, half spoken word, and 100 percent heartache. The duo come off as your cranky neighbors that bang out rough around the edges racket. “Can’t You See Me” has a Rock’n’Roll stroll with the two trading lyrics claiming ‘lonely people are the ugliest people in the world,” while “Handful of Sand” is a big charging punky blast and a lyrical question of self as the two sing “I need to change my life, it’s a mess’.
There is a slight, subtle jangle in “Love Cannot Die” and a Tex-Mex vibe via accordion in “Mind Fever” while “Mystery Writers” chugs along with a dirty riff and handclaps drive the aggressive “Stoney Path”. This is Punk World Music. The Divine Horsemen sound is ultimately identifiable by Chris D’s recognizable moan, and that moan is supported by a band that kills. Guitar player Peter Andrus is a punk player with a worldbeat influences and the rhythm section of Bobby Permanent and the LA legendary punk drummer D. J. Bonebrake (X) is all drive. The word ‘unique’ is apt; Garage Rock melodies rubbing elbows with South of the Border rhythms and parts of Europe, all given a haunting Los Angeles Goth Punk treatment by Divine Horsemen. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Paul Thorn (from the album It’s Never Too Late to Call available on Perpetual Obscurity Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
An album is often a reflection of the spot in life its artist was standing during the recording process. On each release, Paul Thorn has told his story, claiming his place on earth in his songs, his abilities as a songwriter granting the tales humor and a cast of characters. For his recent release, It’s Never Too Late to Call, Paul Thorn collected songs over the course of seven years, the tracks self-written or co-writes with longtime manager/compatriot Billy Maddox. For Paul, the threads that holds It’s Never Too Late to Call are found in the stories, and he feels that ‘there’s a theme running throughout the record about people needing each other and reaching out to each other’. The moods are mellow on the album, Paul Thorn comfortable as the storyteller, his words playfully matching the beat for “Holy Hottie Toddy”, quietly confident over the gentle melodies underneath “Sapphire Dream”, soulful in the whispered acoustics of “What Could I Do”, and proudly baring his soul as he puts his beliefs on display for “Two Tears of Joy”.
His songs are extensions of himself, and that personal side is fully transparent on the title track, “It’s Never Too Late to Call” written for his sister Deborah, who passed away in 2018, and a late night voice to call after shows, long after other family members had gone to bed, There is a peace to Paul Thorn on It’s Never Too Late to Call, his life again reflected in his telling of the tales, his love rising like heat from “Apple Pie Moonshine”, his heart riding a rollercoaster on “Breaking Up for Good Again”, and his tone accusatory, his resolve set in “Goodbye is the Last Word”. Amid the self-awareness, It’s Never Too Late to Call makes sure to offer advice for life when Paul Thorn shares “You Mess Around & Get a Buzz”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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James McMurtry (from the album The Horses and The Hounds available on New West Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
What do you listen for in a new album? The answers differ, some artists are fine storytellers while others are masters of the riff and groove. James McMurtry navigates both of those avenues in his songs yet the big take-away from the A-list songwriter are the characters that walk the tales. On The Horses and The Hounds, his first studio release in seven years, a man bids goodbye in the sad reflections of “Vaquero”. The album introduces “Jackie”, catching the long-distance trucker in a quieter time at home, waiting for the dispatcher to call and tending her horses before heading out for her last run. Recorded at Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica, California, James McMurtry feels the Pacific pull in the songs as well as the sound stating that ‘there’s a definite Los Angeles vibe to this record. The ghost of Warren Zevon seems to be stomping around among the guitar tracks. Don’t know how he got in there. He never signed on for work for hire’.
The album begins its song cycle with a road tale, a troubadour’s story of a faraway friend spreading like the “Canola Fields” passing outside the car window. The men and women passing through the stories of James McMurtry wear their own skin however the storylines on The Horses and The Hounds bear an occasional resemblance to the man behind the pen. A traveling musician writes a letter home in “What’s the Matter” and self-realization provides a full disclosure rant for “If It Don’t Bleed”. The Horses and The Hounds title track grinds gears with each gritty guitar chop as a driver asks for a minute to get his rig turned around and “Operation Never Mind” is a wake-up call to watch the big picture rather than a small screen television. The soundtrack for The Horses and The Hounds is a rootsy Rock’n’Roll, the rhythm of the record a constant motion machine. A bad day spits out a non-stop tirade as James McMurtry drags the drama into a one liner for life’s woes…”I keep losing my glasses’. (by Danny McCloskey)
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