Becky Warren (from the album Undesirable available as a self-release)
A sad melody opens “Valentine”, Becky Warren introducing a lady left out in the sun and alone with the bourbon, Becky’s words a conversation, a whispered worry between friends about family. Undesirable is the latest release from Becky Warren, the collection of songs stand-alone vignettes, welcoming characters as hopeful honky-tonk heroes (“Hall-Hearted Angel”) and hopeless souls (“Let Me Down Again”). The stories come alive in the retelling of tales from Becky Warren when she surfs a thick bassline to go dancing with “Carmen”, slowly releases a rhythm as dignity disappears down “Dabbs Avenue”, checks into “The Drake Motel” on a bed of Rock’n’Roll, and chooses Country as the vehicle to point fingers in “You’re Always Drunk”.
Subject matter for Undesirable came from the streets of Becky Warren’s homebase in Nashville, Tennessee. Looking to a homeless population, meeting both current and former citizens on the border of society. Entering her research with pre-existing conditions for the men and women she was seeking to meet, Becky Warren soon realized many similarities crossing the wide gap between the have’s and have-not’s. Becky was familiar with The Contributor (Nashville’s street paper) that is sold around the town by homeless and formerly homeless vendors. She went to the source and of the experience, Becky Warren recalls ‘I actually thought there would be a fair amount of overlap with subjects I already knew well from writing about a veteran with PTSD—mental health, substance abuse—but I learned after just a couple interviews that those were complete misconceptions. To make a living selling The Contributor, you have to get up every day, no matter the weather, take a long bus ride, and stand outside for hours making a real connection with your customers, like any good salesperson. You have to be incredibly hardworking, with an unshakable belief in yourself to make it work’. Dialing into a private talk between two voices, Undesirable becomes a fly-on-the-wall in “Sunshine State”, watches white lines fly by on Country Rock’n’Roll with “Highway Lights”, and stands proud claiming “We’re All We Got” (featuring Amy Ray) as Becky Warren uses guitar slashes and a solid backbeat to observe that “Nobody Wants to Rock’n’Roll No More”
Listen and buy the music of Becky Warren from AMAZON
Various Artists (from the album Appleseed’s 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches available on Appleseed Recordings)
Resistance is not a new reaction. When authority granted to a leader turns its back on the population they were elected to serve, voices are raised. For twenty-one years, Appleseed Music has led an audio charge against the barricades, giving the protest a song and the marchers a singer to lead them. The label gathers tracks from previous releases as well as offering new material with Appleseed 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches. The collection plays host to Appleseed Music headliners such as Pete Seeger, Donovan, Jesse Winchester, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Tom Rush, Al Stewart, David Bromberg, Jonathan Edwards, and Tom Paxton. As in any celebration, guests stopped by to add voices to the Appleseed family production. Label friends line up on the tracks with recordings from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello (solo, Rage Against the Machine), Tom Russell, and John Wesley Harding.
Setting a course of integrity for the label to sail, Appleseed Music devoted itself to three philosophies; truth-telling, preserving our wisdom keepers both past and present, and keeping the legacy of roots music alive for future generations. The power of three stays in place as Appleseed’s 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches delivers separate messages as themes for each disc of the triple set. Disc one faces off at politics, addressing injustices like racism, immigration, and homelessness as it speaks on gun control, the opioid epidemic, poverty, greed, and political corruption. Bruce Springsteen offers a performance with “If I Had a Hammer” (his sixth exclusive cut for the label) while Tom Russell takes a trip in a Springsteen tune with “Across the Border”, Anne Hills watches life pale in “Needle of Death”, Joan Baez shares her dream in “I Wish the Wars Were All Over”, and Tom Morello changes the words as he shouts the same chorus in AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. Songman Jesse Winchester opens Disc two with “Get It Right Some Day”, using his tune as a template for the following tracks containing songwriter personal experiences and observations. Lizzie West and the White Buffalo paint “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman”, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt pour “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”, Eric Anderson makes a decision in “Gonna Go Crazy”, and John Stewart tenderly makes a gift of “There is Love (The Wedding Song)”. Appleseed Music launches Disc three as the label continue its mission to explore the Roots and Branches of acoustic and world music. A front porch rattle makes a beautiful ruckus on David Bromberg’s “Bring It with You When You Come” featuring Levon Helm as Roger McGuinn and Judy Collins recall “John Riley”, and an Irish tone to the music takes the album out with closing track “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” performed by Tommy Sands, Dolores Keane, and Vedran Smailovic.
Listen and buy the music of Appleseed’s 21 Anniversary: Roots and Branches from AMAZON
Carter Sampson (from the album Lucky available on Horton Records)
It is an album of honest admissions. Carter Sampson is a rootsy-Oklahoma gal who kicks off her recent release, Lucky, with the title track. “Lucky” is modeled in the rhythms of the Johnny Cash backing band, Tennessee Two, the track chugging underneath a monologue of self-reflection nodding to good fortune…..’I got a man who loves me, with everything he has. I got a pretty cool Mama, and I got a pretty cool Dad’. The title-track opener finds Carter Sampson revealing that she’ll take it all as it comes and so far, good fortune has been on her side. “Hello Darlin” begins with an audio opening, thirty seconds of ambient steel, before Sampson drops in to confess about being happy with what seems to be a dreary day while waiting for that perfect person to walk in the door; it’s a song of strong will and anxious innocence. “10-Penny Nail” is a song of heartache and heartbreak, driven with beautiful dobro, summing up her plans with the line ‘I got a 10-dollar bottle to shut you out, 10-penny nail to shut you in’.
Carter Sampson zips through some great musical territory on Lucky. It is a singer-songwriter album that’s accessible and easy to take in with just enough twang to keep it in the country neighborhood while sonically hitting the on the fringes of Folk and Blues territory, a crossroads with Eilen Jewell living in one direction and Emmylou Harris the other. It’s another great notch for the state of Oklahoma music as its roots credibility grows as it garners acknowledgement by a worldwide community of the talent in its musicians. By Bryant Liggett
Listen and buy the music of Carter Sampson from AMAZON
Town Mountain (from the album New Freedom Blues available on Tone Tree Music)
Asheville, North Carolina-based string band, Town Mountain, is stepping outside of their bluegrass box. Not that Town Mountain have ever been defined as steeped in the tradition of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass. The band has always walked a fine line between classic bluegrass and classic country, forging a path for their own brand of good-time roots music, whether ripping through some originals or covering Son Volt or the Grateful Dead. New Freedom Blues finds the band stepping into the acoustic rock and roll game, adding a drummer for certain cuts and inviting Matt Smith of The Honeycutters to lend some pedal steel.
New Freedom Blues starts off with its title track, a break-up tune that’s classic Robert Greer, southern-drawl and all… ‘start my morning in the middle of the afternoon; yesterday’s coffee and a little smoke will get me through’. Greer makes a somber and resentful mood sound like the place to be even as he laments on a new found, and perhaps unwanted, freedom. “Life and Debt” is a bit tongue-in-cheek about things you can’t control and it finds the band crossing into rollicking, bouncy, rockabilly territory. Cuts like “Tar Heal” are as bluegrass as they come, a punchy and instrumental dose where Bobby Britt’s fiddle and Phil Barkers mandolin trade off until Jesse Langlais banjo comes kicking in. Caleb Klauder is a fantastic recruit for production, as his solo work and with Foghorn String Band is similar to Town Mountains, with one foot in the past and another stepping into the future of modern acoustic music. By Bryant Liggett
Listen and buy the music of Town Mountain from AMAZON
The Watson Twins (from the album Duo available as a self-release)
Proving the singer is not immune to the song, The Watson Twins point out that there is a short line between ‘headliner and heartache’ in every town. “Hustle and Shake” opens Duo, the recent release from The Watson Twins, the story following the sisters as they put life down on paper, looking at the possibilities and the pitfalls, realizing that their final goal stays clear and that they ‘want it all’. Duo is the sixth album release from The Watson Twins, the first album that saw identical twins Chandra and Leigh Watson co-writing the songs and singing the leads together. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, The Watson Twins chose Tennessee to record Duo, the pair harnessing the power of two, adding lessons learned in the course of their career to the mix, finding that ‘the backdrop of Nashville inspired a new direction for us. We’d always written songs separately but we wanted to focus on our strength as a duo. The last few years in the studio and on the road allowed us to explore our sound while singing with other artists. Now felt like the right time for us to make a record that reflected the experiences we’ve gathered along the way’.
West coast thoughts drift through the minds of The Watson Twins as memories of California haunt “Down in the Valley”. The sisters admit ‘I am just a woman and this is just a song’ as they color the weight of their words “Blue Tonight”, look for the right steps to take as they are shaken with the rumble of “Rolling Thunder”, and slow the pace for a sad Country song in “Cry Baby”. Joining with another pair of voices, The Watson Twins couple with The Cactus Blossoms in “Call to You” as Duo deals out gratitude for a special someone on the shuffling rhythm of “Lucky Star”.
Listen and buy the music of The Watson Twins from AMAZON
Seasick Steve (from the album Can U Cook? available on BMG-UK)
Savoring the flavor, Seasick Steve wraps his words around a worldwide humanity sitting down at a common table as he slowly peals notes and a story from “Chewin’ on the Blues”, prophesizing that at some point in life, everyone will be having a taste of trouble. The tune comes from the recent release that keeps food on the menu in the title track as Seasick Steve thickens his playing roux with a potent backbeat, sharing the secrets to a successful love life both in and out of the kitchen with “Can U Cook?”. Keeping his patented musical ingredients of Blues boogie, Rock’n’Roll, Americana, and Folk, Can U Cook?, the ninth album release from Seasick Steve, simmers (“Get My Drift”), stews (“Locked Up and Locked Down Blues”), and boils (“Down de Road”) with the Blues.
Opening the album with a seasonal slam, Seasick Steve shakes off the cold as he hits the beach on a mighty Blues riff with “Hate da Winter”. Can U Cook? took the advice of the man with the guitar as Seasick Steve headed towards the heat to record the album, observing that ‘just seems there’s all kinds of sunshine and colors on this record. Maybe it’s because we made most of it down in Key West, Florida, or maybe it had somethin’ to do with the happy hours at Conch Republic? I swear! Can U Cook? was made down south, way down south, as far south as you can go and still have your boots in America’. The recording studio for Can U Cook? was a converted ice house on the dock in Key West, Seasick Steve backed by his longtime drummer Dan Magnusson as well as Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), the guitarist signing on as part of the band for upcoming tour dates. A Blues beat takes center stage as Can U Cook? welcomes “Company” onto the album as the rhythm falls in line looking at the up-and-comers seeking to steal the crown in “Young Blood” and curls under “Shady Tree” with a riff and a rumble while Seasick Steve kicks back with front porch Folk in “Sun on My Face” and makes plans for an exit when the things he loves are no longer within reach on “Last Rodeo”.
Listen and buy the music of Seasick Steve from AMAZON
John Hiatt (from the album The Eclipse Sessions available on New West Records)
For John Hiatt, his twenty-third studio recording, The Eclipse Sessions, is part of a trio of releases that partner his latest release with Bring the Family (1987) and Crossing Muddy Waters (2000). The trio of recordings are similar in the manner which they came into life, John Hiatt feeling that ‘the three albums are very connected in my mind. They all have a vibe to them that was unexpected. I didn’t know where I was going when I started out on any of them. And each one wound up being a pleasant surprise’. Lazy Blues strums form a groove as John Hiatt mentally adds up the love chips in “The Odds of Loving You”, offers a shoulder for solace and support in “Cry to Me”, picks up the pace with a caffeinated stride for “Outrunning My Soul”, and stomps out a beat to take him across “Over the Hill” as the storyline hands out a literal and figurative resume.
Over the course of his career, John Hiatt has stayed to a cycle of one to two years between releases, the gap going wide as he looked out after finishing his last record (Terms of My Surrender) in 2014, his vision cloudy. While uncomfortable, John Hiatt went inward to find a path forward, admitting that ‘I’ve been lost before. Although usually I have some sort of notion or clue where to go. But this time? I had no sense whatsoever. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I was aging, with all that entails or doesn’t entail. Stuff was just happening’. The lyrics to “Robber’s Highway” which closes out The Eclipse Sessions were testament to the place John Hiatt found his songwriting as he sang ‘I had words, chords and strings / now I don’t have any of these things’. The track was the only one prepared for the album, its tale reflecting a closing door as the story became a catalyst for more tunes to fill out The Eclipse Sessions. The man on stage knows his limits as John Hiatt confesses to be a “Poor Imitation of God” and slams down a beat wrapped in reverberating guitar notes for “One Stiff Breeze”. The Eclipse Sessions take a late-night drive down Nashville’s Lower Broadway “All the Way to the River” while John Hiatt deals out memories cruising his own after-hours boulevard in “Aces Up Your Sleeve” and quiets the background playing to reveal “Nothing in My Heart”.
Listen and buy the music of John Hiatt from AMAZON
Tony Joe White (from the album Bad Mouthin’ available on Yep Roc Records)
Primal playing for Tony Joe White is a natural occurrence. The swamp boogie in the guitar strings of Tony Joe White is a groove that has been with the songman since he branded the strum on his 1969 hit “Polk Salad Annie”. Bad Mouthin’, the latest release from Tony Joe White, still finds the same pocket of rhythm, balancing its cuts between self-penned tunes and covers of Blues classics. There are moments on the album that feel haunted by the Blues. “Bad Dreams” trudges with heavy feet through the thick air of nighttime visions, the cut walking a nightmarish hall of sonics, awakening in a still-sleepy pace as Tony Joe White relates memories in Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Awful Dreams”. The voice of Tony Joe White begins the song cycle in Bad Mouthin’, talking to the band saying ‘let me hit a couple of licks then we’ll go’ before the rhythm falls in line on the title track.
Fifty years into his career as both performer and songwriting hits of other artists (Elvis Presley, Brooks Benton, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton) Bad Mouthin’ recalls the music heard by a younger version of the Louisiana-born Bluesman behind the guitar. Seventy-five-year-old Tony Joe White crafts Bad Mouthin’ as a Blues album in the way the soundtrack has spun inside his head, stating that ‘when and where I grew up, Blues was just about the only music I heard and truly loved. I’ve always thought of myself as a Blues musician, bottom line, because the Blues is real, and I like to keep everything I do as real as it gets. So, I thought it was time to make a Blues record that sounds the way I always loved the music’. In the style of his own influences, Tony Joe White introduces “Cool Town Woman”, finds each day bleeding into the next in “Stockholm Blues”, and sings a “Sundown Blues” as a clip-clop beat makes its way home for a night of misery. Bad Mouthin’ talks of Blues history, petitioning love to return one more time on footstomps and harp blasts in “Baby Please Don’t Go”. The album takes a swing at Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”, picks up the pace with Charley Patton’s “Down the Dirt Road Blues”, and puts a rumble into the groove of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” while Tony Joe White wanders haunted halls with his guitar and foot tapping time in a version of the Elvis Presley hit, “Heartbreak Hotel”.
Listen and buy the music of Tony Joe White from AMAZON
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit (from the album Live from The Ryman available on Southeastern Records)
In “I Hope the High Road” Jason Isbell sings out a wish for those within hearing range that the song will lead listeners ‘to a world you want to live in’. For the hour of listening provided Live at the Ryman, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit use the allotted time of their latest release put on stage the world’s greatest Rock ’n’ Roll band for an at-home set, tosses barbs at racial politics in “White Man’s World”, casting the harsh stage light of reality into the gentle strains of “Elephant”, and filling in photobook memories with “24 Frames”. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit point out spots on the map from the Ryman stage as their set includes air travel with “Flying Over Water” while the band barrels through small towns with “Cumberland Gap”. Two intimate songs from the life of Jason Isbell and his wife, 400 Unit fiddle player, Amanda Shires, appear on album together for the first time in Live at The Ryman. An open love letter from Jason to Amanda gets a bombastic treatment from the band in “Cover Me Up” while the album exiting on closing track as the couple exits the face their own mortality as two in “If We Were Vampires”.
Live from the Ryman was mostly collected from the Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit six-night stand at the Mother Church of Country Music in 2017. The run marked fourteen sold-out shows at the Ryman Auditorium for the band from 2014 through 2017, with the total rounding off at twenty shows with their recent six-days at The Ryman in October of 2018. Live from The Ryman brings Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit back to the stage with an encore of past shows, putting the songs on repeat with a set of thirteen live versions of cuts from their three recent releases, Southeastern (2013), Something More Than Free (2015), The Nashville Sound (2017). The happiness of family and career success give Jason Isbell’s gratitude wings in past memories with “The Life You Choose” as The 400 Unit reenact diary pages from the ‘old days’ touring in “Super 8”.
Listen and buy the music of Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit from AMAZON
Kate Campbell (from the album Damn Sure Blue available on Large River Music)
The album title Damn Sure Blue is a clue to the contents of the recent Kate Campbell release. Claiming her spot in the democratic process, Kate Campbell takes aim and wraps opinions around causes such as global destructions, presenting her questions on a salvation stomp in “The Great Atomic Power”. Damn Sure Blues closely examines promises with a past-due date for “Change Should’ve Come by Now” and makes war a target in “Peace, Precious, Peace” as she borrows a tale of conflicts overseas and at-home from a Johnny Cash hit for “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”. Kate Campbell chooses a dual role for the primary color in the story of the title track, aligning politically as she bares her heart, painting it blue to show the sadness for turbulent times.
Recorded in Nashville at Cinderella Sound Studio and Kimbrough Super Service with studio head Will Kimbrough sitting in the producer’s chair for Damn Sure Blue as well as becoming part of the backing band on guitars, bass, mandolin, keyboards, and harmony vocals. The recording is stacked with additional local A-list session players, Kate’s piano and acoustic guitar backed by Kevin Gordon (guitars, harmony vocals), Bryan Owings (drums, percussion), Dave Jacques (upright bass), Phil Madeira (accordion), and Chris Carmichael (violin, viola, cello). Kate Campbell borrows a love note to Ireland from Johnny Cash with “Forty Shades of Green”, picking out dark notes to tell the tragic tale of “Sally Maxy”, and seeks a light to brighten her faith in “Christ, It’s Mighty Cold Outside” while Damn Sure Blue foregoes politics to comfort humanity with her own inner strength under a sky turning grey for “This, and My Heart Besides”.
Listen and buy the music of Kate Campbell from AMAZON