JP Harris (from the album Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing available on Free Dirt Records)
Making music takes up a lot more room on Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing than the wishes of JP Harris. On his recent release, desires are simple, JP Harris sharing that ‘I’m just hoping that me coming to the table without gimmicks or cool-looking clothes or boot cut jeans, just the dirt bag guy I am with a tank top and a pair of boots on, is enough to just get people into the music’. When the man that JP Harris describes musically comes to visit, he brings a look as well as an audio all-you-can-eat buffet of songs handgrown in honky tonks. The rhythms take turns asking to dance on Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, slowing finding their footing as JP Harris slides through sawdust with tentative steps in the memories of “Miss Jeanne-Marie”, shakes out train-track rhythms on acoustic strings for “Jimmy’s Dead and Gone”, and finds answers as the title track investigates questionable choices.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama 1983, JP Harris left town soon after he graduated eighth grade, boarding a Greyhound bus in the middle of the night. Working as a farmhand, shepherd and woodsman, JP Harris landed in Tennessee, still working as an in-demand carpenter as be builds a career with music. Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing was guided by JP and producer Morgan Jahnig (Old Crow Medicine Show), recording six musicians with each playing at least two instruments. The songs had no rehearsal, no pre-production, the players given the tracks and instructions to ‘take the next five days to think about these. Please write notes of whatever ideas come to mind. Please don’t talk to each other about it. Let’s all just get in the studio on day one and compare notes as we go’. Classic Country crooning smooths out a tangle of bad decisions as “Long Ways Back” looks down its dead-end road while Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing points south for JP Harris and the boys in the band share souvenirs of adventurous living in “JP’s Florida Blues #1” as the album swings an alcohol pendulum between solo nights out (“I Only Drink Alone”) and day-after observations (“When I Quit Drinking”). Dreams take wrong turns when JP Harris tells the tale of the “Lady in the Spotlight” while he lets experience be the story that fuels “Hard Road” as the track hits the highway and rips up the blacktop.
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The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band (from the album Poor Until Payday available on Family Owned Records)
Preaching a truth that is poked and prodded by a hellhound stomp, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band are here to spread the word. Young or old, a have or a have-not, the title of the recent release from The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is a universal statement with Poor Until Payday. Battering each message with a beat that breaks brimstone down to a dance floor, Poor Until Payday hammers its proclamations to a wall of sound when “It is or It Ain’t” lays out its facts while “Get the Family Together” embraces brethren outside of a funeral gathering, “So Good” testifies to the glory of the band and a DIY guide to life is offered by the preacher man at the microphone with “I Suffer, I Get Tougher”.
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band are torch-bearers of classic Country Blues, the good rev a lifelong devotee of front porch Blues, honing his craft studying with the late David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, Robert Belfour, and T-Model Ford. Reverend Peyton and the band immersed themselves by following the trail of their sound with a pilgrimage to its birthplace at various crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi and the Chess studios in Chicago, Illinois. Putting on their finest duds and dressing up with acoustic Blues, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band puts on “Church Clothes”, shuffles down “Frenchmen Street”, fortifies their resolve with “You Can’t Steal My Sunshine”, and bear down on the beat with heavy steps through “Me and the Devil” as Poor Until Payday makes a wish for good times on the title track and wrangles rhythm in a mighty groove for “Dirty Swerve”.
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Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters (from the album Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters available on Home Perm Records)
Many have held a rivet gun though the most iconic image of a worker with the tool was Rosie. Debuting in 1942, Rosie the Riveter became the image of women taking charge and handling tasks that needed doing. Ashleigh Flynn gathers together a like-minded group of females, women punching the clock in a working band, picking up guitars instead of rivet guns, foregoing power tools for power chords. Ashleigh Flynn and the Riveters have a cause as the pack their self-titled debut with rock’n’roll jangle, championing the cause for taking chances in “Too Close to the Sun”, hopping on a Country and Western rhythm to keep stretching out their wings towards freedom with “Fly Away”, and hammering nails into the heart promises of “This Love”.
A musical daughter of the Northwest, Ashleigh Flynn recorded Ashleigh Flynn and the Riveters in her native Portland, Oregon with local band big name Chris Funk producing with Chris’ compatriot in The Decemberists and Black Prairie, Jenny Connlee, joining the recording on keyboards. Country twang lightly touches “The Sound of Bells” as Ashleigh Flynn whispers a passing dream. Guitar riffs carve their name into the tough-edged legend of “You Will Remember” and a lazy wandering melody finds itself in the moonlight tale of “High on a Mountain” as Ashleigh Flynn and the Riveters chew down on a rock’n’roots rhythm of tight chord chops in “Cold Black Line” and saddle up a confession for “Big Hat, No Cattle”.
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Billy F Gibbons (from the album The Big Bad Blues available on Concord Records)
The Blues and Billy F Gibbons have been friends for many years. In the early days of ZZ Top albums, Billy and the Blues were very verbal about their relationship and while more discrete throughout the years, his guitar leads have drawn from the same well obvious musical links have long been found in the boogie-based Rock of the little band from Texas. While never far from the music that brought him to the dance, Billy F Gibbons help extend the genre by playing the Blues within his own brand and style while also curating its traditions. Maintaining balance as a fan and player, Billy admits the Blues hooked him ‘right from the beginning—and it’s never let up. There’s something very primordial within the art form. Nobody gets away from the infectious allure of those straight-ahead licks! I suspect Jimmy Reed did me in early on. The inventiveness of that high and lonesome sound remains solid and stridently strong to this day. We could go on to mention the lineup of usual suspects, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy, all three Kings [B.B., Albert and Freddie]. The lengthy list of champions are forever carved in stone’.
On The Big Bad Blues, the recent release from Billy F Gibbons, the affection is once again full frontal. A mix of classic Blues tunes and originals, The Big Bad Blues songs are linked by chain of thickly woven strut and swagger, the bloodline from past masters blending with cuts from Billy F Gibbons as a modern Bluesman. The playing of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” once again makes the Blues a dangerous neighborhood while Billy’s own “Hollywood 151” rumbles with a constant guitar distortion crackling over a boogie beat. Striding into The Big Bad Blues with love on his mind Billy F. Gibbons roars into the album with “Missin’ Yo’ Kissin’”, moves “Let the Left Hand Know” with a swampy groove, rattles out the Blues as he rolls into “My Baby She Rocks”, and brings the pace to a simmer stirred by the feral riffs of “Mo’ Slower Blues”. Nodding to New Orleans Blues, Billy F Gibbons falls into “Second Line” as he uses a Caribbean Folk beat for the observations of “Crackin’ Up”, and sinks low for the tell-all tale of love gone wrong in Muddy Waters’ “Standing Around Crying”.
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JD Pinkus (from the album Keep on the Grass available on Black Feather Records)
Keep on the Grass is a banjo album. Void of virtuoso solos inspired by Scruggs or Fleck, it’s not a record you’ll find in the Bluegrass section of your local record store. Toss it in the musically gritty, at times lyrically irreverent and brutally honest section, an album of sordid, bar-room tales of what some may consider questionable behavior, all delivered via the subtle twang from the banjo of JD Pinkus.
Time spent playing bass in The Butthole Surfers, Honky, and at times The Melvins, hasn’t defined JD as solely a loud rock musician. JD Pinkus takes a direct and D.I.Y. mindset and applies it to delivering a dose of lo-fi acoustic punk, with producer and perhaps banjo mentor, Danny Barnes, injecting subtle doses of barnyard electronics.
The opener for Keep on the Grass, “I Don’t Care”, sets a melancholic, down and out mood while the admission of not caring is quite liberating. Tunes like “Pissin’ Dirty” and “Broke, Soaked and Dirty” follow suit. “Good Trouble” is an upbeat reflection on anticipating your night out and owning up to your foibles that make your Saturday nights so much fun; it’s the bounciest cut on the album. This is a record by a dude with a banjo playing songs solely for you. The lazy and rough vocal delivery combined with Pinkus’ loose and down-tempo banjo playing, along with those snippets of audio dialogue from producer or musician aid the porch vibe of Keep on the Grass, which reveals the true beauty of this record is found within its simplicity. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Will Hoge (from the album An American Dream available on EDLO Records)
Controversy creates divides whether the gap opens between nations or personal friends. Anger bubbles up, mostly from our inability to understand how others can think so much differently than we do, and be so amazing wrong. Will Hoge ran into that issue, recalling a friend from his high school days with “Nikki’s a Republican Now”, a track from his recent release, An American Dream. Coming on the heels of his successful August 2017 release Anchors, a new album was not something Will Hoge needed for 2018, though he felt it was an album that had to made for his children as an effort to to right/write the course of their future. Putting the promises of An American Dream into the same box as other nighttime fantasies, Will Hoge introduces a character a man who finds daylight hours are the stuff of nightmares in the title track. The songs of An American Dream read as open letters with specific names, addressed to border police, political corruption, anti-intellectualism, poverty, gun control, the broken education system and indifference. As a songwriter Will Hoge wanted to clear out his head, and have a voice, recalling that ‘those things kept me up at night — and this record was less expensive than therapy. Silence couldn't be a part of my deal anymore’.
News bulletins about school shootings not only come into the home of Will Hoge, the stories are about others not all that different from the family sitting next to him in front a television screen. Will’s wife is a teacher at the same school as their sons, so for him ‘my kids and their future, that's the biggest thing for me. My boys are eleven and seven, they're happy and healthy kids, and I feel lucky for that every day. Every morning at seven o'clock, everything I care about in the world goes to one building. It takes one knucklehead with a gun going into that one building to ruin all that for me’. Will Hoge talks about school shootings in “Thoughts and Prayers” as he wrestles with personal duality in “Still a Southern Man”. His aims over the borders of “Gilded Walls”, Will Hoge’s words hurtle the barrier between the have’s and have-not’s while the life of immigrant becomes flesh and blood in “The Illegal Line” as An American Dream takes the side of youth against the old and in the way with “Stupid Kids”.
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The Black Lillies (from the album Stranger to Me available on Attack Monkey Productions)
The guitar jangle of “Ten Years” calms the voice in the collective minds of The Black Lillies as the band watch the doors to a decade close on love in the opening cut on their recent release, Stranger to Me. While the vocal charisma of The Black Lillies still forms around frontman Cruz Contreras, band members have changed. Stripping down from a six piece to a four-piece band, Cruz is joined by his song co-writer, Sam Quinn (The Everybodyfields) on bass as well as two other songwriters filling in the band ranks with Dustin Schaefer (Mickey & The Motorcars) on guitar and Bowman Townsend on drums.
Sonically, Stranger to Me differs from the songs of previous releases though the heart of The Black Lillies music stays beating with familiar stories of life and love, delivered with a confessional tone to the vocal as “Ice Mountain” opens a letter from the heart while “Weighting” lifts the heavy burden of a father’s words and a country ramble rushes along with the percolated rhythms of “Joy and Misery”. The music of Stranger to Me wraps the sound of the band in a slightly more Indie Rock texture, songs sticking to their Roots while pushing against borders by developing a depth to the arrangement. The Black Lillies stage the traveling tour story of “Third Place” with a cinematic melody line shepherded by electric guitar leads and unfurl cloud of chords slowly on the rhythmic roll of “Snakes and Telephones”, use acoustics and harmonies for the upheaval of “Earthquake”, and plug “Midnight Stranger” into a late-night noir edge. Stranger to Me hangs on to a up/down churning groove to warn “Don’t Be Afraid” as The Black Lillies ponder promises, commitments, decisions, and tomorrow in “Someday, Sometime”.
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Amy Ray (from the album Holler available on Daemon Records)
No matter where we land in the ladder of life, there is a personal accounting that happens, sometimes frequently, sometimes as a quickly passing shadow. For Amy Ray on her recent album release, Holler, the assessment is a mirror, seeking to find a single image for the left-leaning woman who is a proud daughter of the south. Holler was was created by Amy Ray and her band in ten days during January 2018, recorded live to analog tape at Echo Mountain Studio in Ashville, North Carolina. Friends joined in harmony for Holler, Amy Ray’s vocals backed by Vince Gill, The Wood Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Phil Cook, Justin Vernon and Rutha Mae Harris of The Freedom Singers.
The music of Holler is a soundtrack to the American saga, with touches of Folk Country (“Jesus Was a Walking Man”), sad Southern Soul (“Last Taxi Fare”), gentle Folk picking (“Fine with the Dark”), and honky tonk rock’n’roll (“Sure Feels Good Anyway”) as the stories speak of awareness (“Didn’t Know a Damn Thing”), survival (“Sparrow’s Boogie”), loneliness (“Bondsman (Evening in Missouri)”, and troubled lives (“Dadgum Down”). Amy Ray attempts to find answers within the songs she shares as experiential advice, giving the back story of Holler as ‘the songs are all my own compositions and tell stories of late nights, love, addiction, immigration, despair, honkytonks, growing up in the south, touring for decades, being born in the midst of the civil rights movement, and the constant struggle to find balance in the life of a left-wing Southerner who loves Jesus, her homeland, and its peoples’. A front porch jamboree is a jumble of strings as “Oh City Man” invites to join in a song of the south while Amy Ray brings home the bacon on a country boogie with “Tonight I’m Paying the Rent” as Holler covers its title track with a blue jazz haze to sing a love song.
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Stephen Simmons (from the album Gall available on Locke Creek Records)
In his early songwriting efforts, Stephen Simmons characterized the small town life he experienced growing up in Woodbury, Tennessee. His ability to translate his visions into words can still be found in the songs on Gall, the recent release from Stephen Simmons, while the tales find territory for a common ground in both urban and rural environments. For a background on his own upbringing, Stephen Simmons walks childhood streets to tell his story in the title track album opener. Gall backs its stories with quiet acoustics, the sparkle of guitar and mandolin offering a welcome in “There You Go” while the rhythm is pulled from the strings for “Acrobats Tonight (Still)” and an exit door is colored with “Burnt Orange and Bruised Purple”.
A harmonica calls out for “Space Between the Stars” as the tale drifts into a cosmos of deep thoughts and observations on human existence. Stephen Simmons finds potential judgments for his words in “Microphone in My Face” as he takes a seat among the front porch faithful taking sides in “Death to the Dreamers”, picks out a rhythmic path through the finger points of “U & I” and admits “I Love You, But I’m Scared of You” while Gall makes recreational choices in “When the Wine’s All Gone”.
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Paul Sachs (from the album Full Detroit available as a self-release)
The image of a Folk singer is sketched into our minds….a bare stage, one human and one guitar captured in a single light, standing or sitting and speaking truths with each strum. The long answer to the question of what is the sound of a Folk Singer is located within the purity of the role, the ability to tell a tale as both confidant and teacher with musical backing intricately woven around the stories with subtle elegance. The short answer is Full Detroit, the recent release from Paul Sachs. Found in the capital of Folk music, New York City-based songwriter Paul Sachs goes Full Detroit on the album, the title track walking through abandoned streets and desolated neighborhoods littered with the wreckage of human kindness.
Wondering whether the Irish tales of his heritage were completely true, Paul Sachs whispers “Family Secrets” on gently fingerpicking and violin swells, utters “Foxhole Prayer” on stern note patterns, finds peace and love in “The Good Bad Luck Brings”, and joins neighbors in piecing together the story of “Hit and Run”. A Tex Mex soundtrack is the backdrop for the advice of “People Are a Lot of Work” as Full Detroit follows childhood steps through an almost-famous life in “Glorious Failure” as Paul Sachs recounts “Old Happiness” with a smile in his words and Country bounce in the beat as he breaks into a grin and a groove for “Beautiful Friend”.
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