Jorma Kaukonen (from the biography Been So Long available from St. Martin’s Press)
Spending time in an hour phone interview with Jorma Kaukonen, I have firsthand knowledge of the charms the guitarist wears on his sleeve. What is impressive is how Jorma Kaukonen brings the same calm class into his biography, Been So Long, summing up his recollections as ‘sometimes my memories are like jagged pieces of shrapnel and sometimes they are seen through a gentle veil’. The album jacket features the phrase My Life and Music. Those are the dual paths that Jorma wanders in the book, giving a family history early on and in memories throughout the chapters. On a personal accounting, the tale follows a younger version as a child turns to teenager while living in various locations both in the United States and overseas at posts for his U.S. State Department dad. Jorma Kaukonen strums guitar in the memories of early musical moments growing up in the Washington D.C/Baltimore, Maryland area, beginning his career in coffee houses playing the Blues side of Folk before heading west to California with his guitar. Rock history claims Jorma Kaukonen as one of its own for his place as founding member of both Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Been So Long meticulously sees the past clearly as Jorma details the steps in his career, finding his place in the day-to-day world replaced by the lifetime of a working musician.
Standing beside your decisions is not a comfortable place nor is our memory of events always inclusive. Jorma Kaukonen takes on the challenge of facing your successes and mistakes, becoming the guide for his own personal experiences as a ground zero house band for the Psychedelic Revolution in San Francisco, California. He played Monterey festivals for both the Jazz festival and Monterey Pop, had a set with Jefferson Airplane at Atlantic City Pop Festival, Woodstock, and Atlanta Pop in 1969. Been So Long watches the birth of a cultural movement as well as the rise/fall of successful bands. Jorma Kaukonen gives credit for the big and little moments in music, remembering well-known names and folkies lost in time as he cites lessons that became his own style. Fur Peace Ranch is the musical endeavor that took the musician to Ohio as teacher, promoter, and major domo of the facility. Jorma Kaukonen presents his life from the role of observer, relating without judgment the path taken from growing up in a rock’n’roll band to father, husband, and keeper of the torch at Fur Peace Ranch.
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Ray Bonneville (from the album At King Electric available on Stonefly Records)
Like the mighty Mississippi River, the flowing groove in the guitar work of Ray Bonneville is a continual motion machine. The river finds its home in the Mississippi Delta and that is the spot that Ray Bonneville uses as a beginning source for his music. The tracks collected on At King Electric are steeped and brewed in the Blues, the playing of Ray Bonneville finding new paths for the course of the music. Ray picks out notes to pack in the suitcase under the bed as he patiently plans an exit into approaching dark with “Waiting on the Night”. Rhythm is guided by the percussive pull in “Forever Gone” and a bounce in the beat predicts “It’ll Make a Hole in You”. At King Electric percolates and simmers Blues stirred by the playing of Ray Bonneville.
Born in Quebec, Ray Bonneville moved to Boston, Massachusetts at age twelve, learning English as he picked up playing on the guitar and piano. Ray traveled with military service in Viet Nam, earning a pilot license in Colorado, changing addresses between Seattle, Alaska, and Paris before making a home in New Orleans, Louisiana. The music of the Crescent City became part of Ray Bonneville’s DNA and after twenty years as a sideman, he began to write his own songs, releasing his first album in 1992. The characters in At King Electric wrestle with their own Blues-born problems in “Next Card to Fall” and “Codeine” while Ray Bonneville shakes out a second line sound as he joins the street parade in “Papachulalay”, cruises on a low rumble down “Riverside Drive”, turns a slowly revolving percussion wheel to define his steps heading into “South of the Blues”, and celebrates “The Day They Let Me Out” on hot breaths of rhythmic beats.
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Brandi & The Alexanders (from the album How Do You Like It? available on Red Parlor Records)
The Blues is in the rhythm as the songs stand up and shout on the How Do You Like It? debut from Brandi & the Alexanders. The mood is merry in the stories as the Brooklyn, NYC Rock ‘n’ Soul combo offer a hand to the heart standing next to them on “I’m in Love” as a deep groove helps the band in their search for something real in “Love Songs”. Funky guitar chords are the blessings received in “Lucky” while the beat pops in burst as Brandi calls ‘time up’ with the title track. Smooth Soul is the welcoming sound that gently guides the guitar lines snaking along below the crooning confessions of Brandi & The Alexanders as the offer a take on the Black Sabbath tune, “Paranoid”.
The band stayed close to home, recording in the neighborhood at Brooklyn’s The Creamery Studio. Pointing fingers with words propelled by rock’n’roll guitars How Do You Like It? identifies a “Drama Queen” while the horn section blows accents as a uptown beat heads out on to the dance floor with “Higher” while a slowly turning rhythm calms the sharp emotions poking out of “Jealousy” and a low-powered pace asks for love to come back home in “Running Around”. Psychedelia doses the tracks on Brandi & The Alexanders with soulfully cool grooves as the band whisper the truth about “Bad Love”, put a darkness under groove “Pulling Me Down” and strut out a rhythm to wrap around “Shapeshifter”.
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Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles (from the album Loves Middle Name available on )
She is a straight-shooting, tells-it-like-it-is musician. You know when Sarah Borges puts out a record you are going to get an honest dose of rowdy rockers, a contemplative mid-tempo tune or two, and perhaps a ballad. All of that is delivered with a little swagger, a little aggression, and a lot of honesty. Her latest release Loves Middle Name finds her back with her band The Broken Singles delivering hooks galore via uncomplicated rock and roll chops, with a vocal delivery walking the line between punk-rock rough and ballad tender. Like her past work, there are nods to American punk and early R&B that weave themselves into a smart package of swift rock and roll.
“Get as Gone as Gone Can Get” is the Loves Middle Name album ripper, a duet with Broken Single bandmate and album producer, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on a fun roots rocker of a cut with plenty of chug. ‘Anything that good for me, I don’t like it, as long as it’s good for you, I wanna try it’ from “Let Me Try It,” show Sarah Borges narrative flirting, and her lyrical tease coming with an air of danger, a slight tongue in cheek poke and plenty of caution left by the wayside. You can tell that Sarah Borges has a clock-in/ clock-out approach to her music. She clocks in when the guitar cable plugs into the amp, clocking out a handful of hours later when the last drink is spilled and the last song played. Somewhere during that shift she’s bopped, rocked and rolled all over a stage to the delight of fans who delight over bands like NRBQ, The Blasters or The Runaways. By Bryant Liggett
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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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