JD McPherson (from the album Socks available on New West Records)
The ghosts of bad Christmas presents of the past haunt JD McPherson as he unwraps the title track for his holiday release, Socks, wondering ‘why’d you waste the paper on a lousy pair of socks’. The displeasure continues to fill the seasonal air as JD McPherson sinks deep into holiday humiliation with “Ugly Sweater Blues”, putting husband and wife into the ring to take swings at each another in “Claus vs Claus”, sparring at the microphone with guest vocals from Lucie Silvas. JD McPherson decorates Sockswith a Vintage sound, perfect for fulfilling wish lists for nostalgia while making the music fresh as newly fallen snow.
Cruising city streets with a candy apple red ride to match his seasonal suit, Socksspots the man of the hour flying by in “Santa’s Got a Mean Machine” as JD McPherson works holiday magic with Memphis BBQ shouting out “Hey Skinny Santa!”. Socksis a stand-alone album, not cashing in on the green of the season, JD McPherson stands behind the recording, stating that ‘over the past few months, I’ve told a few friends and interested parties that we’re releasing an album soon, and that it’s a Christmas album. You can immediately see the disappointment or bemusement on their faces. Then I have to explain to them how incredibly proud I am of it, and how I rate it as an actual album, as opposed to some kind of stop-gap or cash-grab. It’s eleven original songs. I think it’s some of my very best lyrical work. The band played beautifully. It was the most fun we’ve ever had in a studio together. After hearing the final mix, we marveled, and none of us can stop listening to it. First and foremost, it’s a rock and roll record (fans of our first record are going to flip out) and one that I believe at least a few people will listen to in the summertime, when they get a jones for feeling good. Scout’s honor’. Sleigh bell ring when played by a saxophone as the clarion call that opens Sockswith the first cut hopes for “All the Gifts I Needed”. JD McPherson finds four angels under his tree with “Holly, Carol, Candy & Joy” and strips back the sound to put “Bad Kid” in the spotlight while Socksscratches out a rhythm for a holiday boogaloo in “What’s That Sound” and hammers a beat to match a happy heart in “Every Single Christmas”.
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The Mavericks (from the album Hey! Merry Christmas available on Mono Mundo Music)
The Mavericks work melody magic on Hey! Merry Christmas, their recently released album. The audio egg nog in The Mavericks machine makes music for any holiday wish list, blending Rockabilly, Americana, Country, Latin, and Rock’n’Roll for Hey! Merry Christmas, the songs crooned, shouted, and sung with the soulful vocals of frontman Raul Malo. The title track is a horn-blasted street party while Hey! Merry Christmas crosses its fingers for the perfect gift in “I Have Wanted You (For Christmas)” as it rings the bells and rattles the rhythms in “Christmas Time Is (Coming ‘Round Again)”. The Mavericks wrap up original tunes on Hey! Merry Christmas, opening up a pair of covers with Irving Berlin’s “Happy Holiday” as they channel Phil Spector through their rendition of Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
Seasonal sounds deck the holiday halls as Hey! Merry Christmas turns the key and lets the musical engine hum in the smooth come-on “Santa Wants to Take You for a Ride” while The Mavericks make a worldwide list of moods both good and bad with “Santa Does”, pen a personal wish in “One More Christmas”, and turn the tree lights blue on a solo reverie for “It’s Christmas Without You”
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Old 97’s (from the album Love the Holidays available on ATO Records)
The horns shouting salvation in “Love the Holidays” blow bursts of cheer as the sing with a seasonal sparkle backing Old 97’s on a tune co-written with Rhett Miller and Kevin Russell (Shinyribs). The chorus plays as the opening song and title track for their recent release, Love the Holidays. The theme of the album is specific, Old 97’s unpacking a sack full of audio homemade decorations, Love the Holidays filling the end-of-the-year air with the first ever collection of Christmas originals from the band. Added to the batch of Old 97’s tunes, the album exits on a Country Punk romp cover of “Auld Lang Syne”, the digital version digging deep to give a little extra with bonus tracks of traditional fare with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Up on the Housetop”, Angels We Have Heard on High”, and “Blue Christmas”.
Traditions have a special place in the Yuletide season and Old 97’s bring in their band family recipe of songs made with both a smirk and a smile. Love the Holidays finds the boys in the band with a restored faith in the magic of the season (“I Believe in Santa Claus”) as the album takes a world traveling reindeer tour south of the border on a rockabilly beat (“Rudolph Was Blue”), proves even punks like presents (“Gotta Love Being a Kid (Merry Christmas)”, and makes holiday plans (“Here It Is Christmastime”). The warmth of the season shines brightly on Old 97’s as they make “Snow Angels” with high hopes for humanity, feel the love passing by in the strangers walking by in “Wintertime in the City”, and play a snow-covered train song with “Hobo Christmas Song”.
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Otis Gibbs (from the album Once I Dreamed of Christmas available on Wanamaker Recording Company)
Memories of the past have not been a friend for Otis Gibbs. The power of music for both the musician and the listener may be the wheel that turned the season around for Otis Gibbs though what happened is not quite as important as the gift he gives back to the world with his release, Once I Dreamed of Christmas. Of the album and his personal experience, Otis Gibbs sends a open letter reading ‘as if there weren't enough Christmas songs floating around, I decided to throw a few more on the pile. I've never been a big fan of the holidays. My parents were barely able to make ends meet when I was a kid, so we rarely got presents. They couldn't even afford to buy me clothes, so I wasn't able to go outside in those early years. My first ever Christmas present was from my aunt Sophie. She bought me a hat, so I could look out the window. Writing these songs and recording them with my friends here in Nashville helped me find a bit of joy in all of this holiday nonsense. Hopefully, some of that joy made it onto this record. Thanks for giving a damn, Otis Gibbs’.
Another message gets read aloud on Once I Dreamed of Christmas when a knock at the door opens on “A Man Named Jesus”, who has some questions about holiday celebrations. In the holiday season of 2018 there are no secrets and Otis Gibbs shares a tale he received directly from the man in the red suit with “Looks Like a Hippie”. Once I Dreamed of Christmas looks into the nighttime visions of a child for “Mr. Santa Claus”, plucks out a humbug on a string band beat with “Crap for Christmas”, and fills the air with magic spinning a “Color Wheel”. Opening to a tragic page from holiday history, Otis Gibbs tells the tale of “1913 Massacre” as he sadly enters a home without festivities in “Lonely Mistletoe Night”. Once I Dreamed of Christmas welcome friends in for the holidays, muttering a ‘bless their hearts” as it tells of “Carl and Mavis” while Otis Gibbs strums a hello for “Mr. Santa Claus” and his lesser known buddy, “Lloyd the Reindeer”.
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Rhett Miller (from the album The Messenger on ATO Records)
Rhett Miller ss arguably one of the better songwriters of the last twenty-five years, penning heart -ache and -break with the Old 97’s. He can craft a tune no matter what company he keeps on stage or in the studio, and his solo output, which includes his latest release The Messenger, puts the cow-punk and twang of his long-time band in the back-seat. The opener “Total Disaster” is self-deprecating but also full of admissions. When Rhett Miller belts out lines like ‘there’s no such thing as perfect, why even try?’, you get the feeling that he may carry some past regret but is also satisfied with exactly where he is in the present.
“Wheels” starts off with a guitar intro that leads into the narrator’s confession of dedication to a partner; a positive affirmation to a relationship that will be steady as long as ‘the wheels go ‘round’. “I Used to Write in Notebooks” is an acknowledgement to change. ‘I used to write in notebooks, I used to read maps. I used to send letters, I used to take naps. but everything changes, it’s not the same world. I’m not the same guy’ are more open book confessions, admissions of personal change that are honest and at times unheard. Rhett Miller has written his fair share of hooks, and this is no different. While its far from rowdy, there is still bounce in the melodies, and Miller and his band give just as much of a nod to the forever-memorable sounds of 1970’s AM radio as they do singer songwriters that are firm in a world of electric folk and quieter rock. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Appalucians (from the album Bright Hills available as a self-release)
A pre-school isn’t the most fertile ground for a musical group formation but even the most unlikely locations can serve as a catalyst for band-making. Two sets of parents met at said pre-school, and small talk during a drop-off or pick-up revealed musical similarities; The Appalucians were formed and little time wasted on the recording front.
The Appalucians debut,Bright Hills, is a record of loose acoustic country, subtle twang and southern charm, an album that has harmonies for miles.
Bright Hillsstarts with a 1-2-3 punch of greatness. Opener “Bloom in the Seed” sets a laid-back vibe; “Forty Seven Main” is does dual-duty as a train and escape song where the narrator just wants to go somewhere to ‘just be another Jane’, right into “Champagne Annie”, a country rock torn from the pages of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Stop right there and you’ve got the folk E.P. of the year. Fortunately, they don’t.
“Don’t Bother Me” is an almost spoken word tune in the vein of Country Dick Montana (The Beat Farmers) and “One Man Woman” is like a bit of country Motown. The final track is “Sweet Later On”, a mournful gospel number with the instruments hushed behind the vocals….. a beautiful closer. The dominant instruments on this Bright Hillsremain dobro and harmonica, lending a bluegrass and blues vibe. The Appaluchians hit on all the great parts of roots music, Bright Hillsa harmony driven album of folk, bluegrass and cosmic country. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Gary Douglas Band (from the album Deep in the Water available as a self-release)
Gary Douglas sings of life on the road (‘I ain’t making any money that don’t bother me none honey ‘cause I love doin’ what I do’) the tune (“Oh My Oh My”) the tale of a troubadour, the show, the audience, payments for the time on stage. While the goal seems simplistic, the man fronting The Gary Douglas Band has spent a lifetime championing the small victories, with Gary Douglas the lawyer named a member of the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. Defending victims provides background for the stories in Deep in the Water, the latest release from The Gary Douglas Band, the rock’n’roll backing the DIY tales of survival against strife.
The Gary Douglas Band are the observers for the way of life on the streets in “Nothing Ever Goes as Planned” and the lovers beyond the last word in “Say What You Want to Say” as everyone holds on tight when hurdles and obstacles are faced in the life of the blue-collar worker barreling down “River Road”. Deep in the Waterputs its characters in the headlines from daily news, the title track looking at the pollution clouding our oceans, finger pointing as “Deep in the Water” as earth’s streams and rivers blend with human blood and tears. While topics take a stand, The Gary Douglas Band make sure the blood pumping in their veins takes time out from righteous rock’n’roll statements to put their hearts on sleeves. Deep in the Watersails with a late-night edge to the melody coursing underneath “Losing You” and advises determination in the fight for justice as it admits seeing the light of hope from a distance in “Million Miles Away”. The Gary Douglas Band introduce “Wild Child’ on a snaking rhythm line to match the out-of-control choices of the lady in the song as a slinky Blues groove hammers out a path for “Devil in Her Soul” and Deep in the Waterhas Saturday night in its eyes, offering a hand asking “Do You Wanna Go”.
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The Dirty River Boys (from the album Mesa Starlight available on DRB Music)
Southwest desert dust and grit swirls, dancing with Celtic jigs, gypsy melodies, and rock’n’roll attitude in the music of The Dirty River Boys. Frenetic acoustic guitar strums keep pace with the anxious memories of “Break” while The Dirty River Boys attack “I’ll Be There”, the beat peer to a Pogues-like physical assault as they pound Country with the heavy hammered stomp into “Mesa” and hitch up a caffeinated pulse to push “Western Star” down the road alongside highway headlights. Citing influences of the desert, the road, the stage, the dancehall, the mosh pit, The Dirty River Boys smirk like smart ass punkers in the stories of their latest release, Mesa Starlight, careening through the album, slowing on occasion as they offer a slow dance for “Johnny” and fall into good feelings with the sounds they make on “Shine”.
The boy are back in town when The Dirty River Boys use handclap beats as a foundation for the community harmony celebrating “Wild in Our Streets”, exiting Mesa Starlight on the song that borders the tracks by mirroring the barely contained crazy of opening cut “Wild in Her Eyes”. Lines are drawn and goals for the evening are discussed when The Dirty River Boys barrel into the night on “F.T.W.” as Mesa Starlight waves goodbye with an optimistic middle finger in “Hopeful Loser”, rides the rodeo life into “Cheyenne”, and wrestles experience into a honky tonk tune with “Backside of Uppers”.
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Bruce Smith (from the album ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off available on Back Wall Records)
A cast of characters wander the musical halls of ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off, the latest release from Bruce Smith, as the songwriters uses people, places, and things as the fodder for his tales. He introduces “Terry the Texas Tornado” as the story watches a young girl be drawn into the promising flame of a better tomorrow down the road, the same highway taking Bruce Smith to the ‘country, blues, rock’n’roll’ of Austin, Texas with “Longbranch Inn”. ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off freckles the title track with Country guitar licks as it puts the power of a rock’n’roll four beat to tell the tale of “Amanda and the Commander (Dance While you Got the Chance)” as the pair listen to the gypsy’s fortune telling them to rip up the rug and let go a little.
Based in Austin, Texas, Bruce Smith backs the songs on ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off with a note perfect country rock’n’roll band as they rope a chariot to the promised land in “Cowboy Up” and offer their collective hearts for some one on one in “Time is Ours”. Bruce Smith saves a special word for “’59 Stratocaster”, reverently relating a road story about the glories of one night stands as he stirs up summer night dust on the corner of “Elizabeth and Spring” while ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off cures the love hurt in “30 Days” by turning up the volume.
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Jamie Lin Wilson (from the album Jumping Over Rocks available on )
Getting the top prize for people watching, Jamie Lin Wilson mentally puts a brake on the inner movie reel scene in her mind as she gazes on an endless parade of humans in “Everybody’s Moving Slow”. The musical backing for the tune matches the pace, leisurely rolling underneath her vocals, story and song joining to make the mood. Jumping Over Rocks offer its tracks with the same consideration, soundtracking the lives of its characters with music complementing their decisions and deeds. Jamie Lin Wilson surrounds the tenderness of “If I Told You” with soft acoustics, uses an accelerated rhythm that mirrors the anxiety of the lady wistfully eyeing the door in “Run”, and harmonizes with Evan Felker under the glow of “Oklahoma Stars”.
The emotions and actions of her characters are the stepping stones that Jamie Lin Wilson scatters for Jumping Over Rocks, her words the details that fully flesh out the men and women in the stories. Jack Ingram mutters mornin’ as he pairs with Jamie Lin Wilson in “Instant Coffee Blues” for a late-night tryst withering in the light of day. Jumping Over Rocks timidly opens the album with tenderness as it speaks directly to a lover who ‘sees inside me better than I do’ in “Faithful and True” and finds lost souls left sleeping alone and seeking ways to make it through “Life & Death”. Jamie Lin Wilson digs deep in our secret thoughts, shuffling through the carved visuals of surface views to find the truth in the fine points. Jumping Over Rocks opens the passenger door for a road trip coming home in “The Being Gone” and tries to stop time to capture a moment “In a Wink” while Jamie Lin Wilson sashays out on a Country ramble to open her heart on “Eyes for You”.
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