Unpinnable Butterflies (from the album Radio Ocean on SonaBlast! Records) (by Lee Zimmerman)
The inexplicable name aside, Unpinnable Butterflies — the nom de plume for singer, songwriter, film composer, and filmmaker Gabriel Judet-Weinshel — is a delightfully engaging project flush with exuberant melodies, upbeat sentiment, and the kind of engaging imagery that all but assures eager appreciation. Taken in tandem, it’s an excellent antidote for the low-cost musings that have been tainting the atmosphere of late.
Produced by Grammy nominee Scott Healy, who is, himself, an accredited composer, Radio Ocean marks the second time the two have collaborated. Their first effort together, The Exile of St. Christopher (2007), was a fairly subdued record, but this time around they’ve accelerated their offering, investing it with robust melodies and a decidedly exuberant sound, one flush with rich arrangements and a swinging tempo. Songs such as “Sweet Loretta”, “You”, “Cracks in the Architecture”, and “Good Kinds” soar on the strength of the propulsive pacing and Judet-Wenshel’s effusive vocals. An ace backing band, one that includes legendary bassist Lee Sklar, the duo Birds of Chicago, Leonard Cohen’s onetime collaborator Perla Baralla, and Conan O’Brien’s brass section, adds further punch to the proceedings by maintaining the momentum as well as ensuring both the drive and dexterity.
In fact, it’s the credit of all involved that Radio Ocean makes such an immediate impression. These offerings resonate in a way that brings to mind such prominent pop provocateurs as Weezer, They Might Be Giants, and Sparks in particular, and yet still manages to stand out on its own. Flush with irresistible hooks, compelling choruses, and that sparkle-and-shine that effectively defines music of a memorable variety. Judet-Weinshel’s vocals possess an alluring pop sheen that enlivens the presentation overall, adding a luster and largess that makes the material jump out and create an indelible impression. That alluring combination reaches its crescendo on the final track, “Roses”, a song that shares emotional investment with both insistence and deliberation. As a result, it provides an emphatic end to the proceedings and provides a lofty peak to these performances overall. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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Joe Troop (from the album Borrowed Time on Free Dirt Records) (by Lee Zimmerman)
Activist, instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter, Joe Troop took temporary leave from his celebrated ensemble Che Apalache and opted to embark on a journey of observation and exploration with both political and personal ramifications. Making it his mission to get out the vote and defeat the then-incumbent resident of the White House, he also set about recording an album of original songs that express his thoughts and ideals through a bluegrass flourish. He’s aided and abetted by an all-star ensemble, one which includes Bela Fleck, Charlie Hunter, Abigail Washburn, and Tim O’Brien, among others in a list of musical notables.
That said, Borrowed Time is a notably nuanced set of songs, one that reflects the disparate background which brought him from the rural realms of North Carolina to Argentina and other areas of South America. He draws on all those influences, tapping into Appalachian tradition on a song such as “Horizon” before concocting a kind of Bluegrass bolero with “Sevilla”. So too, he offers an elegant ode to beleaguered immigrants on “Hermana Migrante” and “Prisoneros”, both eloquently sung in Spanish. Likewise, the low-cast “Mercy for Migrants” returns him to the theme of caring and compassion.
His outreach doesn’t stop there however. The witty and winsome “Purdy Little Rainbows” offers a shout-out to America’s rural queer community, which Joe Troop himself proudly proclaims himself a part of. What’s also evident here is Troop’s overall optimism. ‘I’ll hold your hand if you hold mine’ he sings on the sprightly banjo tune “Love Along the Way”. ‘Life on Earth is borrowed time, and as long as we’re living, we ought to strive to love along the way’. Indeed, most of the sentiments he expresses are just as lofty. “Red, White & Blues” attempts to find commonality between homespun homilies and the expectations of today’s high-minded expectations. A decidedly jaunty “Heaven on Earth” states a case for putting aside pessimism, even though hope can seem elusive and out of reach. A whistled refrain underscores the need to at least pursue those possibilities. Given the positive perspective shared here, Borrowed Time becomes time well spent. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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Anya Hinkle (from the album Eden and Her Borderlands available on ) (by Danny McCloskey)
A bright light shines from Eden and Her Borderlands, the recent release from Anya Hinkle. Like many of us, confinement and alone time opened long closed doors in our minds and hearts. Anya Hinkle shares the optimism she found at home on Eden and Her Borderlands. She enters the album on the title track, the gentle sway of the rhythm the audio equivalent for the motion of the road Anya Hinkle travels in the tune. Looking for answers, Anya Hinkle turns to “My Faithful Sparrow” to find solace and an understanding while is joined by Graham Sharp as she digs deeper with questions for “What’s It Gonna Take” and conveys gratitude for the life she is sitting in with “Lady Luck”.
As a solo artist, Eden and Her Borderlands is the debut for Anya Hinkle, following her work in Tellico. Describing her view of Eden and Her Borderlands Anya Hinkle shares that ‘Eden represents the essence of life, the wholeness, innocence and perfection that is our birthright, those things that seem to get stripped away from us along our journey. The past year isolated us and, despite the hardships of the pandemic, I had an opportunity to view myself and my circumstances differently. Living in uncertainty, I cancelled all my plans and lived more in the moment. I became more grateful for what surrounds me: my home, my pets, my family, my neighbors, my community. I gained a deeper appreciation for those that support us: mail carriers, medical workers, grocery store clerks, the guys on the garbage trucks. I began to feel unexpectedly open and curious, like I was moving ever closer toward Eden by breaking open my heart and mind’. Self-awareness has some laughs in “Why Women Need Wine”, dark memories bounce on the fast-paced rhythms for “Hills of Swannanoa” and the joys of playing music with friends finds a groove in “I Belong to the Band”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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TK & The Holy Know-Nothings (from the album The Incredible Heat Machine available on Mama Bird Recording Company) (by Brian Rock)
The career of TK & The Holy Know-Nothings continues to heat up with the release of their second album, The Incredible Heat Machine. Fusing traditional working man’s Country themes and tones with modern Alt Country sounds and sensibilities, the band creates a distinctive, Jerry Jeff Walker meets American Aquarium vibe. The lead track, “Frankenstein”, combines Country shuffle and Piedmont Blues (in a secluded Bavarian castle, we presume) to create an extended metaphor for entwined lovers. The lovers are so entangled that ‘some toes traded feet, so we walk the streets in circles’. As a result of this merging of bodies ‘my heart’s beating stranger ‘cause one of the chambers is the room where we slept in love and in anger’. So lost in love that it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends, the story continues: ‘we were blown to bits, limb from limb all mixed on the ground. Grabbing in the dark for parts we never marked. We took what we found and stumbled on’. A frighteningly fitting and occasionally funny take on intimacy, the song infuses crunchy, grungy, power chords to add a little jolt of electricity to help the predominantly Country corpus lurch to life.
Despite the otherworldly ambience of the lead song, frontman Taylor Kingman writes about real life issues from the point of view of relatable characters. He delivers those songs in an unadorned ‘everyman’ voice that’s worn by life’s hurdles and weathered by overcoming those struggles. In “Serenity Prayer” he has an epiphany outside a 7-11 convenience store and rephrases the prayer: ‘Grant me the serenity to pay for this in change and the courage to give up what I can’. The Outlaw Country rhythms complement his irreverent perspectives on life. “Hell of a Time” is a Country ballad confession of a starving man turned paid assassin. “I Don’t Need Anybody” is a brooding Country Blues song whose desperate vocals expose the falsehood of the title. TK and the Holy Know-Nothings further explore the theme of loneliness on “She Wonders”. “Laid Down & Cried” deals with the pain of having to sleep in the bed you made, but employs up-tempo Texas Troubadour rhythms to lighten the mood. Again, using mood defying rhythms to counterbalance serious lyrics; the band plays Western Swing while Tk sings about ‘teamin’ with demons, drunk on my regrets’ on the surprisingly spritely “Bottom of the Bottle”. Bluegrass strains abound in the mock tragedy “I Lost My Beer”. The band kicks into high gear on the bluesy rocker title track, “The Incredible Heat Machine”. Rocking hard and rolling like an out-of-control train, TK sings ‘every Honky Tonk around knows that I’m in town… I’m a train, I’m just blowing off some steam’. After changing styles and tempos, the band finds equilibrium in the meditative “Just the Right Amount”. Using bongos and muted horns to create a serene musical background, TK explains the path to musical success, ‘you gotta do a little wrong kid, to get that kind of right’.
Heeding Dean Martin’s famous quip, ‘good decisions come from experience. And experience – well, that comes from poor decisions’. TK & The Holy Know-Nothings play decidedly good Americana music with a weathered wisdom that shows they’ve taken a lot of wrong turns to get there. But it’s those wrong turns that yield the most interesting stories, and The Incredible Heat Machine is chock full of interesting stories. (by Brian Rock)
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The Accidentals (from the album Vessel available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
The Accidentals are the best of many things. On their latest, Vessel, the trio drop a little 1980’s New Wave, appealing to any seeking a nostalgia trip or a score from a John Hughes film, while including a modern Indie Dance vibe. Toss in a slight hint of Americana, tossed in like a flavor-all ingredient, and you’ve got the makings for a hip record, broad enough to satisfy many a pallet. Vessel is a record made like a painting with broad brush strokes.
The album goes at a great pace. “Go Getter” is a mover that pulses and throbs, “Rollercoaster” is an Indie Rocker that kicks, the instrumentation getting avant-Punk aggressive as the vocals pick up steam, and “Count the Rings” is ripe for Modern Rock radio. The lyric prize of the record comes via “The Line”, a phrase that cuts on historical awfulness as they sing ‘be it oil or gold or water, we have always treasured greed’. “Cityview” is sweet, soft, and timeless, sounding like something pulled from AM Radio of 1974. Album closer, “Birds Eye View”, is both a bit of NewGrass and Classical acoustic guitar. While The Accidentals rule at great arrangements, The Vessel is equally heavy on the vocals. The Accidentals go from whisper to hush to harmonies that push while never pushy, voices floating softly over the delicate instrumentation, The Vessel is a record of superb delivery. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Shannon McNally (from the album The Waylon Sessions on Compass Records) (by Lee Zimmerman)
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah — and, of course, talent and confidence — to record an entire album of another person’s songs. It’s not unheard of — there have been countless compilations that have replayed the music of everyone from the Beatles to Big Star, the Band to Bad Brains, and, indeed, practically everyone in-between. Still, it’s rare to find one musician who opts to completely cover another artist entirely. As a result, it’s notable to find Shannon McNally, an accomplished singer-songwriter in her own right, devoting an entire album to songs written and made famous by Waylon Jennings, which she’s chosen to do here under the banner of The Waylon Sessions.
To her credit, McNally gives this material the sanctity it deserves, sharing an approach that’s similar to the tack Jennings took for his original renditions. That’s a good strategy for her to have taken, given that the majority of these songs — “This Time”, “I’m a Ramblin’ Man”, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”, and “We Had It All” are so closely identified with Jennings that any change in treatment might have thrown the concept awry.
On the other hand, there are certain numbers here that aren’t tied exclusively to Jennings’ repertoire, and in those situations, Shannon McNally could have been tempted to take more of a chance with the familiarity factor. On the other hand, Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” has been interpreted so many times that she might have not seen any need to take any liberties. So too, by necessity, “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, her duet with the song’s composer Rodney Crowell, stays true to the seminal version. Likewise, she treats Donnie Fritts’ “We Had It All” as the classic it is, a standard that transcends genre and stands up on its own, regardless of the rendition.
Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter shares studio time, underscoring the authenticity and courting added credence as well. Buddy Miller, Lukas Nelson, Chris Scruggs, and other ace musicians inform the effort as well. Ultimately, The Waylon Sessions is not only a powerful reminder of what made the man a legend, but also an excellent example of Classic Country music as represented by one of its most memorable voices. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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Hayes Carll (from the album You Get It All available on Dualtone Music Group) (by Bryant Liggett)
Hayes Carll’s call-it-as-he-sees-it narratives remain a refreshing blast in the Country music realm. A true straightshooter, his latest You Get It All reminds us he has way more in common with Country forefathers and the Outlaws from 1970’s Austin and East Nashville than anyone on Music Row. His lyrics, found in spikey bouncers or sad narratives, are always a refreshing, and necessary, dose of reality and if we pay attention to those words like we should we’ll all be better for them.
So, what if he bums out the religious on “Nice Things” when referring to God as a woman while he reminds us that humans squander most of what’s good. It’s true, we can’t have nice things and we need to hear that. “Any Other Way” calls out the big, beautiful universe with ‘supper in the oven and a cold drink in my hand’ as he hypes up naps and dancing, acknowledging humanity’s differences in the slowed down, trippy, void of twang Blues cut “Different Boats”. “To Keep from Being Found” is an NRBQ inspired Roots rocker while “Help Me Remember” and “If It Was Up To Me” prove Carll can slow things down and nail a weeper, the latter loaded with wishful lyrics and delivered like a dream. Hayes Carll is a heck of a songwriter both inside and outside of the Country canon. His lyrics could stand alone in a book of poetry or short stories, but fortunately for our ears, they’re delivered with a kick ass band. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Eddie Spaghetti and Frank Meyer (from the album Motherfuckin’ Rock’n’Roll available on Kitten Robot Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Eddie Spaghetti and Frank Meyer are offering up a 10-course meal serving Rock music. The two have certainly rocked around the block as front men/leaders of The Supersuckers (Spaghetti) and Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs (Meyer). What the pair offer with Motherfuckin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll is a trip through the whole neighborhood, a display of 70’s inspired Hard Rock and Glam, Metal, Punk, New Wave, Power Pop and Cowpunk. Eddie Spaghetti and Frank Meyer charge out of the gate riding the title track with its Motorhead inspired electric force, sonic punch, and give-a-fuck attitude. With its handclaps and bounce, “I Think It Sucks (And I Don’t Like It) is a blast of Boogie Rock while “Knock My Teeth Out” is a nod to Bon Scott-era AC/DC.
The Rock roar continues with 2021 Indie Rock via “Relationshipwreck”, a party anthem for the Glam scene in “Tattletale”, Cowpunk bred Country Rock with “You Can’t Take It Back”, and a fantastic blast of psychobilly to close the record out with “Barroom Brawl”. The duo enlisted Berton Averre from The Knack for their smoking cover of “My Sharona”, doing the same with Kix guitarist Brian Forsythe on the Power Rock Pop cover of “Heartache”. It’s a brilliant choice of covers, a well-known one hit wonder and a blast of Power Rock from a Maryland hidden gem. This record is ear-piercing brilliance. It’s a nod to the bands these dudes were reared on, while also serving as an education on various styles of Rock. Eddie Spaghetti and Frank Meyer connect the dots between Punk and Glam, Power Rock and pop, and do it with the foot down on the gas pedal. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Various Artists (from the album Sacred Soul of South Carolina available on Bible & Tire Recording Co.)
Sourcing a tradition that reaches as far back as the 17th century, the dozen and a half songs that encompass this compelling collection of religious revelry are gleaned from an upcoming documentary that surveys Gospel music indigenous to Eastern North Carolina. Presented in a style similar to archival field recordings, the music is sacred in nature, while also incorporating elements of Blues, Funk, and R&B in a decidedly demonstrative manner.
That said, every offering provides an astute example of the power and passion that empowers these performers and effectively stirs the senses. The call and response of the Vines Sisters’ “Tell It to Jesus” rings with the same enthusiasm shared in the Dedicated Men of Zion’s robust “It’s A Shame”. Johnny Ray Daniels’ upbeat and effusive “Glory Glory” finds a fit with the drive and determination conveyed by Bishop Albert Harrison & The Gospel Tones in “Shake Me Lord”. In other words, there’s not a single entry here that fails to come across as both moving and memorable.
So too, despite the fact that some of the music benefits from contemporary arrangements and savvy studio techniques, all of it possesses the same raw urgency and undiluted emotion. The message remains the same throughout, even though the treatment may vary from song to song. Outreach and optimism are the overriding elements, and the strained voices and earnest entreaties never falter or fluctuate. For example, Big James Barrett & The Golden Jubilees underscore “Use Me Lord” with a soulful groove, but still keep the insistent strains of its repeated refrain intact. On the other hand, “Ask God in Faith” relies only on the group’s massed harmonies and a simple stomp to propel their prayers forward.
The revelry keeps a consistency that’s shared by each of these ensembles, and when taken in tandem, the exhilaration is as affecting as it is impressive.
Consequently, most listeners will find it all but impossible to resist the energy and enthusiasm these ensembles express so effectively. All share a driving delivery that fully reflects faith and frenzy in equal measure. Indeed, even atheists and agnostics might find these performances far too compelling to resist.
Ultimately then, that makes Sacred Soul of North Carolina an ideal example of how the power of prayer can result in exuberance and inspiration. Given these troublesome times, that’s reason enough to rejoice. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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Carolyn Wonderland (from the album Tempting Fate available on Alligator Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
Carolyn Wonderland uses her words to reflect her beliefs in album opener “Fragile Peace and Certain War”, the track leading the way for her recent release, and Alligator Records debut, Tempting Fate. Her political stance strides onto Tempting Fate, Carolyn Wonderland crediting the leather soles that keep her strutting with “Texas Girl and Her Boots”. While words can color in parts of Carolyn Wonderland, her mastery of the strings courses across the Dave Alvin-produced album like a Blues/Roots river. A lonely concertina echoes softly through “Crack in the Wall” bringing a hint of the border to the Texas Blues ballad, keeping the Tex-Mex combo playing in the melody of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Honey Bee”.
Carolyn Wonderland began showcasing her talents playing her bare-fingered, no picks-style in Houston, Texas at 15 years old. Moving to Austin at the urging of Doug Sahm, she quickly developed a following, releasing the first of her six previous album in 2001. She just concluded a three-stint as lead guitarist in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, giving a hint of her touring days with the band by covering Mayall’s “The Laws Must Change on Tempting Fate. A heavy beat is the foundation for Carolyn’s shout and guitar fire in “Brokenhearted Blues” while a Blue Jazz sparkle lights up “On My Feet Again” and a barrel roll piano backs the steamy Blues slathered across “Fortunate Few”. Tempting Fate closes out with two covers, featuring a duet with Jimmie Dale Gilmore on the Country Blues of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. Entering Jerry Garcia’s “Loser” on the rattle of dice, the song is soundtracked with thunderclouds of Outlaw Folk Rock that explode with lightning burst guitar riffs and pounding rhythms heralding the sky-seeking cries and low moans of Carolyn Wonderland as she exits the album. (by Danny McCloskey)
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