Allison Moorer from the album Blood available on Autotelic Records (by Bryant Liggett)
On Blood, the latest release from Allison Moorer, the songwriter dives headfirst into a family tragedy that few would recover from, the murder-suicide of her parents when she was a teen. The world is full of songs of heavy content, but murder ballads and songs of emotional trauma always carry an extra weight when the voices telling the story are personally connected to the subject matter. “Cold Cold Earth” aches, and when Allison Moorer sings ‘now they are lying, in the cold, cold earth, such a sad, sad story, such a sad, sad world’ you wonder how Moorer can physically separate as a character to get through singing the words, re-telling the story.
“The Rock and The Hill” is a subtle Blues rocker while “I’m The One to Blame” and “Set My Soul Free” bear the full brunt of emotional weight in the tale despite being instrumentally stripped bare. “Heal” is a gospel weeper, Allison Moorer pleading for some form of respite, acknowledging personal toughness while asking someone to “help me lay my weapons down, help me give the love I feel, help me hold myself with kindness, and help me heal’. Songwriting has always been an act to exorcise demons, a way to rid rabid thoughts of past events from your head, opening the events to a public forum where maybe those thoughts can make peace. No matter the lyric content, songs can, and should, provide some form of pleasure, even if it is a harsh, murderous happening in the songwriters own life. While some storyteller offer a peak into their closet with Blood, Allison Moorer throws open the door, invites everyone in for a full look.
(by Bryant Liggett)
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Trigger Hippy from the album Full Circle & Then Some available on Turkey Grass Records (by Bryant Liggett)
When Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes put Trigger Hippy together back in 2009, it was more of a side project, an outlet for some key-players in the Southeast roots rock and Jam Band scene. The group hit the ground hard playing a bunch of shows with a revolving cast of musicians that included Joan Osbourne and Jimmy Herring, making a record in 2014 before calling it quits….until 2019. Full Circle & Then Some marks the return of Trigger Hippy. The album features original members Gorman and Nick Govrik, joined by Ed Jurdi (Band of Heathens) along with Amber Woodhouse. The record is big Roots Rock, loaded with grooves ripe for the Jam Band land while remaining tight and succinct in its rhythms. Full Circle & Then Some kicks off with a Jam-jingle; three vocalists trading verses on “Don’t Wanna Bring You Down” before they all join together in an optimistic and upbeat album opener. “Strung Out on the Pain” and “Born to Be Blue” is a double-dose of heartache while the title track is a big, driving Rock’n’Roll number.
“Goddamn Hurricane” is sad, Bluesy, and woeful, a tale about lives upended, with Trigger Hippy channeling the ache of Rick Danko for a tune plucked right from the South, a tale for anyone who has had to pick up roots, bailing before a turn in the weather. With nods to Little Feat, The Neville Brothers, and The Band, Trigger Hippy is digging into a 1970’s Rock’n’Roll’n’Roots vibe loaded with American Music, “Low Down Country Song” reminding that the homegrown sound of Blues and Soul is classic boogie for every party. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Cody Jinks (from the album After the Fire available on Late August Records)
The title track starts the song cycle rolling, the story immediately donning the skin of the outlaws that loom large in the songs of Cody Jinks as tales of love and freedom play leapfrog in the hearts of his characters. “After the Fire” follows the pounding of a heartbeat drum into a story that finds a tiny spark lighting a way into tomorrow with the admission ‘you’re my first clean breath, after the fire’. A honky tonky, heart-on-a-sleeve, sway spins little swirls of sawdust when “Someone to You” reads a love letter while Cody Jinks lets dawn’s light fortify his courage to make a request for “Yesterday Again” and holds out hope for “One Good Decision” as his world is once again bathed in the glow of neon and temptation.
Family lineage is present on After the Fire courtesy of the cut “William and Wanda”, Cody Jinks giving the background for the tracks as ‘we lost my grandfather earlier this year. My mother's father was the only grandfather I had, and we got closer than we had ever been after the death of my grandmother. He fought in Korea and was a part of the last great generation, so when Nanny died, we all saw a different side of him. When 'William And Wanda' came as an idea, I knew I had to write a song about how my nanny probably fussed at him for being late to heaven. I started the song shortly after his funeral, and my wife Rebecca helped me finish it. She would say, 'Your nanny would have said this,' and I would respond with what Papa would have said. It's the first full song Rebecca and I have sat down and written together. We are so proud of it; it's celebrating a 60-year love story told by two people building their own’. The songs on After the Fire stay true to the finely-honed brand Cody Jinks has brewed over ten years of touring. The album swings out the exit door on an instrumental with “Tonedeaf Boogie” and revisits “Think Like You Think” from an earlier release (Collector’s Item) as Cody Jinks rides an edgy rumble, betting heavy that the light coming to him from the tunnel’s end “Ain’t a Train”.
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Driftwood Soldier (from the album Stay Ahead of the Wolf available on Trash Cat Records)
In the blurry demimonde world of back alley Jazz, the soundtrack is stacked with Dark Side Pop from artists like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Rickie Lee Jones, Robert Smith, Siouxsie & The Banshees, and Nick Cave. Adding to the sad sparkle of songs spinning on the jukebox come Driftwood Soldier, a gutterfolk duo of mandolin and upright bass from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Instrumentation such as a lonely trumpet and percussion move in and out of Stay Ahead of the Wolf much like its characters such as “Old Man Catfish” and “Marietta”.
The album title becomes a lesson learned when Driftwood Soldier weave a noir fairytale with “You Gotta Stay”, making a mantra of ‘you gotta stay ahead of the wolf’. The album opens with first cut “All My Friends” steadily building heft as it fills in a resume for Driftwood Soldier with words and music. Revisionist history tells the tale of “John Henry” while a gypsy wind flies from the musical backing of “Banker and a Liar” and dive bar patrons pick up the chorus of “Sunny Side” as the neon beer sign spotlights individual stories. Stay Ahead of the Wolf introduces a local pooch in “Topeka” and explains the cause of its troubles over a stuttering beat in “If It’s Not Obvious” as Driftwood Solider exit the album taking “Blue Way” out amid a flutter of musical notes chords.
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Catherine MacLellan (from the album Coyote available as a self-release)
Recording at her home studio on Prince Edward Island, Canada, Catherine MacLellan channels the mighty sea, borrowing its melody for “The Tempest”, while a Country twang bounces in the guitar notes flickering like stars above “Night Crossing” as the playing hushes before generating a confident rhythm to support the heart opening in “Waiting on My Love”. Recording in her living space was a natural extension for Catherine MacLellan and she recalls that ‘it’s a dream home, a big old farm house with a long history of music. In the early days, there were big kitchen parties, with someone always rocking the piano and people square dancing. When I moved here, I really got the sense the house wanted things to be happening, and music to be played’.
Traditional East Coast Canadian instrumentation such as accordions, fiddles and bouzouki make musical appearances on Coyote, the self-produced album showcasing the songs of Catherine MacLellan on cascading soundscapes that become a nearly-physical current for Coyote in its title track. An electric guitar snarls as Catherine MacLellan stiches a patchwork quilt of memories to make sense of “Too Many Hearts” as she offers advice and gratitude in “Emmet’s Song” while simple strums are the foundation for the confessions coming from “Out of Nowhere”. In Coyote, Catherine MacLellan creates windows to the world with her songs, her words a travelogue of the passing humans juggling heartbreak, loss, and the joy of life. Tentative notes sheepishly play a melody for “Breath of a Wind” as Coyote faces “The Road is Divided” with armor-coated love as Catherine MacLellan wraps a goodbye in a soft Country sway for “Roll with the Wind”.
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HeavyDrunk (from the album Holywater available on 4142 Music)
Sitting just under double-digits, Nashville, Tennessee’s HeavyDrunk feature nine players backing songs that move through a diversity of styles on the recent release, Holywater. HeavyDrunk glide on smooth Southern Soul (“Pick You Up Along the Way”) and get caught in the undertow of a thick funk groove (“Walking to the Mission in the Rain”) as Holywater features Jazz-inflected love songs (“High on Love”), the heavy beat of Gospel Blues (“Shine On”), and slinky Soul (“I Can’t Be Satisfied”).
HeavyDrunk frontman and leader of the band, Rob Robinson lets his voice be the flame, his words lighting a fuse with opening line ‘I grabbed her by the hair of her head and drug her across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot’ as the mighty groove of “If I Loved You Hard Enough” drags you in and under its spell. HeavyDrunk borrow from peers in the jam genre of blending Blues, Rock, Gospel, Soul, and Funk with covers of Tedeschi-Trucks Band “Midnight in Harlem” and The Rolling Stones “Slave”. Marrying band name and album title “HeavyDrunk Holywater” floats across a Blue Jazz musical dreamscape while HeavyDrunk broadcast sweet Soul music as they play a song for “Memphis”.
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Kacy & Clayton (from the album Carrying On available on New West Records)
A dreamy texture envelopes the title track for Carrying On, the recent release from Kacy & Clayton, the pair joining in the singalong chorus advice as Kacy vocalizes her fears in somber observations that form verses. The beat gallops, mellowing when “Intervention” eases the rage of its character as the morning light wakens from its nightly sleep of death on the dark Country of “Spare Me Over One More Year”. Musically, Kacy & Clayton manage to honor multiple influences yet never brand any of their melodies with a defining sonic brand.
The ability of Kacy & Clayton to be those musical chameleons, adapting to the songs like the colors of the lizard change to fit each environment, is what drew producer Jeff Tweedy (Wilco, Mavis Staples) to the pair. Jeff recalled that ‘when I first heard Kacy & Clayton, I was struck by how much detail and nuance they had absorbed from what sounded like a large swath of my record collection. When I told them that they were as good as the artists they were drawing from, I’m not sure they believed me. On this record I don’t hear those influences as much as I hear them taking the things they love so intimately and telling their own story. I think they’re a truly great band’. Weaving wisdom and experiential advice into the world around them, Kacy & Clayton face fall and early winter on “The South Saskatchewan River” as they swirl in a memory searching for a name in “Providence Place” and sing of settling as they look for a cowboy on “The Forty Ninth Parallel”. Carrying On spits out notes for the ragged rhythms guiding “High Holiday” and waltzes to “That Sweet Orchestra Sound” as Kacy & Clayton sadly spin on the same steps for the family history of “Mom and Dad’s Waltz #2”.
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Samantha Fish (from the album Kill or Be Kind available on Rounder Records)
Following a badass bass-born groove into the title track, Samantha Fish walks through a memory, before she was a ‘homewrecker’ and ‘your heartbreaker’, reminding that “Kill or Be Kind” are the only two steps she knows when dancing with her heart. The doors to Kill or Be Kind are kicked open with a wicked groove as Samantha Fish duets with her guitar, matching her vocals to the riffs, equally partnering on first cut, “Bulletproof”. For her sixth solo album, Samantha Fish continues that model throughout Kill or Be Kind, words and music taking a bite, the guitar lines wiggling alongside the warnings of “You Got It Bad”, the beat thumping through an ethereal melody for “Dream Girl”, and the reading of “Love Letters” a seductive tease in the vocals and the guitar string bends. The songs match the goals of Samantha Fish who entered the studio with set intentions, recalling ‘that was my mission on this album: To really set these songs up so that they have a life of their own. Strong messages from the heart – that’s what I really set out for’.
To carve a spot in the world of music, Samantha Fish set her performances on stun, guitar and voice reaching for the extreme borders of whatever projects or live show she plugged in and played. Kill of Be Kind showcases the same spirit though the sass comes with a touch of class as Samantha snarls with the grace of a leopard, gliding across “Try Not to Fall in Love with You”, shredding emotions on words painted with sharp slashes and a gently breathing melody as she asks tough questions in the glow of classic Blue Soul in “Dirty”. Samantha Fish can hear the change, relating that ‘I think I’ve grown as a performer and as a player. I’ve become more respectful of the melody. You can go up and down the fret board and up and down your vocal register, but that’s not going to be as powerful as conveying a simple melody that people can really connect to and sing themselves’. Wrapping her voice around the beauty of a melody shines a Blue light on Samantha Fish as she tells a prodigal lover that “She Don’t Live Around Here” and spits out a message from her heart, part request, part demand, admitting “Love Your Lies”.
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Chris Knight (from the album Almost Daylight on Drifters Church Productions)
The first cut on Almost Daylight, the recent release from Chris Knight, sets the tone for the album, “I’m William Callahan” erupting into life as steadily winding wire tightened by sharp-sighted words and razor-string guitar bends form the song. Chris Knight tears a story from rough rhythms, backing his words with a feral sound, bastard chords and notes bred of a back-alley mingling of Country and Rock’n’Roll. Guitar notes sparkle and jangle on the slowly revolving groove of the title track as Almost Daylight looks through the dark clouds of small town life and hard luck living in “Wont’ Look Back”, demanding “The Damn Truth” as a angry response to the news of today and swaying on ragged Country Folk wisdom of “Everyone’s Lonely Now”.
The rural staging of the stories on Almost Daylight are in line with the ‘last of a dying breed’ nods that Chris Knight has garnered over his career. His characters stick to the shadows, survivors of hardscrabble lives, driven by desperation and running headlong into the tiny offering of the Almost Daylight album title. Of the title, Chris Knight feels that ‘I do think there’s a cohesiveness to this album. The title is key, I suppose. Through all these songs, you could find a theme about seeking shelter’. Producer Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle) brings a richness to the songs, the acoustics are raw and edgy, pounding out a melody wrapped up in the scorching guitar leads of Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites, The Yayhoos, Homemade Sin). The beat stomps, guiding a ragged musical backing through “Mexican Home”, with John Prine joining in while Lee Ann Womack joins Chris Knight on the Country cool of “Send It on Down”. The playing quiets as Chris Knight heads home to ‘the Kentucky line’, the rhythms raising up with the tense confessions of “Trouble Up Ahead” as he preaches outlaw inspiration with the words of “Go On”, pulling “Flesh and Blood” from the openhearted admissions of unconditional love.
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Pacific Standard (from the album The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I available on Mercy Street Entertainment Group)
Modeling a sound on California Country heritage and a Country Rock style, San Francisco American Roots collective Pacific Standard serve up The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I. The album collects songs from Pacific Standard alongside a rousing, true-to-origins, version of Stealers Wheel “Stuck in the Middle with You”. Country rhythms roam free for the title track, Pacific Standard offering love advice that turns personal as “The Honeyed & The Bittersweet” sings of a safe space somewhere in its own middle.
There is a warmth in the playing of Pacific Standard, acoustics bright as the storyline of “Consolation” strips bare a soul as they border The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I with an assured beat as they demand room to move around, opening the album with “Fence” while a sharp bite spits out a goodbye in the closing cut, “Always Be with You”. High-lonesome vocals from frontman Greg Lamboy are a secret weapon for the natural Americana and Roots tones of Pacific Standard. The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I echoes the joyous Roots rambles of fellow Bay Area band, Grateful Dead, in the musical abandon of “Rapscallion Rhapsody” while Pacific Standard put a train-track rhythm underneath “Sooner or Later” as the story launches what-if’s that make judgments and urge change before time runs out.
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