Todd Snider from the vinyl re-issue East Nashville Skyline available on Aimless Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Todd Snider is a songwriting treasure. Warts and all, his songs can be a history lesson, a self-deprecating look inward, or a sharp, poignant gaze outward. Words that inspires, critiques of the world around you that (perhaps) provide the ability to poke a little fun at yourself… or anyone within heckling distance. Todd Snider’s 2004 album East Nashville Skyline is celebrating its fifteen-year anniversary as a vinyl reissue, the release shows why Todd Snider is at the top of his game as a lyricist and storyteller. “Age Like Wine” kicks things off East Nashville Skyline with Todd Snider voicing an ache that carries itself from the tracks beginning to end as the singer contemplates aging in his world of ‘beer joints and concert halls’.
Todd Snider tells a tale of getting your ass kicked by the law with some humor in “Tillamook County Jail,” offers history lessons in the Crazy Horse sounding “Alcohol and Pills” and “The Ballad of the Kingsmen” while he delivers solid covers of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Play a Train Song” and Billy Joe Shavers’ “Good News Blues”. The story on “Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Male” appears more powerful than in its original telling fifteen years back. Todd Snider leaves the folk-singer label behind on the hyper-punky “Incarcerated” while bringing out some Jerry-Lee Lewis Rock’n’Roll boogie on “Nashville.” Never one to shy away from a good-time, Todd Snider closes East Nashville Skyline with a tender and quiet singalong-inducing version of Carl Sigman and Herb Magidson’s 1949 hit “Enjoy Yourself”. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Joe Henry from the album The World According to Water available on earMUSIC (by Bryant Liggett)
Musicians often may take the approach to treat each record like it could be your last. That could have been in the mind of singer-songwriter and Grammy winning producer Joe Henry, whose latest release The Gospel According to Water came via a burst of songwriting following the November 2018 news of his prostate cancer. We should all be so bold when faced with such tragedy; get to work, write songs, and find some time to make an album to leave as a last hoorah. Joe Henry isn’t obsessing on dark goodbyes nor making a statement to end a steady career; he has made an album of ambiguous stories acted out on dimly lit stages, dilapidated homes filled with hopeful lovers. Dark at initial listens, the beauty of The Gospel According to Water is in its simplicity; quietly plucked guitar, ambient touches of a clarinet or saxophone here and there, and distant drum beats.
The stories of The Gospel According to Water remain quite mysterious over subtle instrumentation; the clarinet frolicing over bluesy acoustics in “Mule” while “Orson Welles” inspires as a song of acceptance and meeting someone in the middle, asking them to ‘provide the terms of my surrender, then I’ll provide the war’ while quiet saxophone breaths playing the instrument as audible than the notes being played. “Bloom” sings of taking ownership of everything, as ‘treachery and love are ours to keep for all their worth’ while Joe Henry sings of partnership and acceptance in “Salt and Sugar.” The tone remains the same from start to finish, the tales left open to your own interpretations. The beauty of The Gospel According to water lies in the mysteries Joe Henry has created. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Come on Up to the House: Women Sing Waits – Various Artists from the album Come on Up to the House: Women Sing Waits available on Dualtone Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Tom Waits may find a new audience thanks to the women paying tribute to the man by covering his songs with Come on Up to the House: Women Sing Waits. Most won’t argue Waits’ songwriting prowess and musical contributions of the last four decades, his limits for his own recordings is the delivery in a gruff, gravelly, drunken growl of a voice. His songs have become major hits a cover tunes for other artists, proving how his music lasts, standing the tests of time. The twelve cuts covered by the ladies on Come on Up To My House: Women Sing Waits are given life via a sweet dose of seventies AM-Gold in the recordings.
Audiences were treated to the female treatment of “Hold On” when it was sung by a character in the television show The Walking Dead, Aimee Mann’s take turns the tune into a sparkling sad gem. “Ol’ 55” may be a forgotten as being penned by Tom Waits tune thanks to ownership that the Eagles placed on the track while “Jersey Girl” gets Bruce Springsteen seems to have sprung directly from The Boss’ bloodline. For Come on Up to the House, “Ol 55” features a remake with beautiful harmonies by Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer while “Jersey Girl” by Corinne Bailey-Rae becomes a dreamy lullabye. “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” is an ethereal cut with Kat Edmonson sounding like she’s stepping in from 1948 and “House Where Nobody Lives,” already the saddest song of the bunch in title alone, is a full-blown drama as an Iris Dement weeper. Tom Waits’ work has always been theatrically dramatic. Come on Up to the House: Women Sing Waits, which also includes contributions from Rosanne Cash, Patty Griffin and The Wild Reeds among others, shines a new light on Waits timeless work. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Fastball from the album The Help Machine available on 33 1/3 Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Fastball is one of those bands that sound similar to many other bands while still managing to sound like no one else but Fastball. Muses have helped pearls of audio wisdom creep into writing and rehearsal sessions of Fastball, influential whispers of art and Roots Rock accentuated with big doses of Power Pop.
The latest from Fastball is The Help Machine, a solid and on-point dose from the Austin, Texas-based power trio. Fastball are a band with two songwriters and co-frontmen in Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga, who along with drummer Joey Shuffield have had no shifting roles nor come and go members since forming in 1995.
‘You and I will never know which way the wind is gonna blow’ is the infectious line in “Friend or Foe,” the psych-pop opener for The Help Machine. “White Collar” is a funny look at the West Coast’s upper-middle class, victims of a ‘sunshine overdose’ living for the weekend to be the ‘grand wizard of the weenie roast’. “Holding the Devils Hand” is experimental indie-rock with breaks of prog-Jazz while “Redeemed” is an aggressive gospel number. Big and catchy, “The Girl You Pretended to Be” and “Doesn’t It Make You Feel Small” are beautiful throwbacks to the blurred lines where punk and new-wave danced with traditional Rock’n’Roll. Fastball close The Help Machine with “Never Say Never”, a folk ballad that features Spanish guitar. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Big Band of Brothers (from the album A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band available on New West Records)
The Allman Brothers deserve props across the board. Whether tributes come via Bluegrass, Jazz, or Rock’n’Roll records delivering accolades, The Allmans remain a band with an extraordinary contribution to the musical canon. Rounding up over a dozen Jazz musicians hellbent on beefing up Allman Brothers tunes with big band horn sections while giving the rhythms a Jazz groove was the plan that became Big Band of Brothers and the recent release, A Jazz Celebration of The Allman Brothers Band. “Statesboro Blues” kicks the record off with loose piano, a Jazz riff until the horns kick in right alongside the slide guitar intro. Featuring Marc Broussard on vocals, Big Band of Brothers play it straight with heavy horns trading off runs with the guitar licks. Ruthie Foster jumps in on “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” and “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’”. “Hot ‘Lanta” is a Hammond-heavy, grandiose jam, while “Whipping Post,” with its familiar dirty riff, has horns that come on like a heavyweight punch while “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” comes in at a short and succinct seven minutes, the guitar solo creating a prog-rock vibe.
Big Band of Brothers have done it right on A Jazz Celebration of The Allman Brothers Band, keeping just the right amount of guitar because what is any Allman Brothers tune without guitar? Where the Band of Brothers leans back on guitar they lay heavy on the horns, and they’ve done the songs right enough that any Allman Brothers fan would say it’s all okay.
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The Mavericks (from the album Play the Hits available on Mondo Mundo Recordings)
The Mavericks have a sly fashion sense and the Miami, Florida-based band always keep style front and center. Given their ability to dress bright the transition is simple, The Mavericks becoming a jukebox spinning the top tunes from decades past in the world of honky tonks with their recent release, Playing the Hits. Starting the song cycle, Playing the Hits takes a track from the top of the charts, its first cut “Swingin’” a John Anderson #1 from January 1983. While living its life as a minor hit, The Mavericks softly deliver a slow dance with the Patsy Cline track “Why Can’t She Be You” while Playing the Hits puts a Latin rhythm underneath Patty Loveless’ “Blame It on Your Heart”, soaks Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” in Saturday night horns, and puts a border beat into Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”.
Though many covered “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”, it was the Freddie Fender’s version that found the #1 spot, The Mavericks tenderly honoring the tune with their re-imagining while Playing the Hits retells of Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” remaining subtle in its quiet guitar notes as Raul Malo’s stunning vocal stops the world spinning for 3:59. A fat saxophone note beckons, holding out a hand in “Once Upon a Time” when Martina McBride joins The Mavericks while Bruce Springsteen takes his place in spirit next to the boys in the band’s version of his tune “Hungry Heart” as Playing the Hits makes its exit with “I’m Leaving It All Up to You”, originally brought to the #1 spot on the charts in 1963 by duo Dale and Grace, later taken to the top five by Donnie and Marie (1974).
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The Soggy Po’ Boys (from the album All in Favor available as a self-release)
Making moods is as much a part of The Soggy Po’ Boys experience as the music the Dover, New Hampshire collective create. Their recent release, All in Favor, stays true to the New Orleans textures of their tunes, The Soggy Po’ Boys keeping it Crescent City-centric with the soulful R&B in Irma Thomas’ hit “It’s Raining” while All in Favor gives a street parade shout-out to the traditional tune “My Indian Red” before switching seats for the ragtime tap-tap-tap of “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” as it tosses a handful of desert sand in the mighty Mississippi to a touch of Country and Western to the Blues strut of Hank Williams’ “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”.
High-stepping into All in Favor, The Soggy Po’ Boys make a safe space to dance as they pack the floor with the ragtime of opening track “Shag” before heading out on the open ocean to the West Indies for a healthy dose of “Gin and Coconut Water”, heading back to NOLA with a island souvenir riding a piano ramble that begins “Caribbean Girl (A New Orleans Calypso)”. Unlike the weather of the city that gave the band a sound, it was a cold, snowy Fat Tuesday night in 2012 that first saw The Soggy Po’ Boys take the stage in Dover, NH. The show established a residency in their homebase of New Hampshire, the collective expanding to cover New England and beyond for shows and festivals. Strums morph into a shuffle when All in Favor sings “Save It for Mama” and makes a marching beat into a street parade jam for “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” as The Soggy Po’ Boys maintain a bright beat to fan the flames of “Hotter Than That”.
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Lizanne Knott (from the album Bones & Gravity available Good Dog Jake Music)
Opening the doors to record her recent release, Bones & Gravity, a conscious decision was a companion for Lizanne Knott as the Pennsylvania-based songwriter makes it personal in the stories. Choosing to script the tales from her own life, Lizanne Knott went deep into her past, opening all the closed doors and casting light on the shadows with Bones & Gravity. The title track has a constantly revolving rhythm turning the wheel when Lizanne Knott counts only two pluses in her column with “Bones & Gravity” while she sends as open letter of reckoning to “Emmylou” and wishful thinking to “Caroline” while the album sees its author flying (“I Was a Bird”) and finding acceptance (“Like I Love My Dog”).
Though the subject matter constantly circles back to Lizanne Knott, she remains a witness, not a judge, feeling that ‘I decided I wanted to create something personal and cohesive in nature. I wanted these songs to tell a story about the circumstances we all can find ourselves in, without placing blame on someone or something else’. A way to make an exit opens Bones & Gravity, Lizanne Knott offering “Walking Away” as a first cut, following the song cycle with sluggish steps into “Keep Me Alive” as a sturdy Country backbeat frames shortcoming as a resume builder for “Hurricane”.
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The Missouri Pacific (from the album Gorgeous Indifference available as a self-release)
Drama pours from the songs of The Missouri Pacific, the literary source for the lyrics the early loves of songwriter Lubomir Rzepka as he was drawn to poetry, novels, film, and theatre. The recent release from the Boston, Massachusetts-based band, Gorgeous Indifference, presents its music as one-act plays, “Elijah” centering around two lovers while “Soldier” marches on ragged chord strums and regimental pounding drums to weigh its decisions. “Dimes” confides thoughts on solid rhythms as angular grooves are hammered out with frenetic guitar lines for “Bite the Bullet”.
The heart of the music on Gorgeous Indifference is Rock’n’Roll stripped back to raw Roots poking at “Heartland” with crisp horns and scratchy beats while The Missouri Pacific drift lazily on the future Folk of the title track as an edge crawls on the tightly wound groove of “West” and rolls through the revolving rhythms of “Kids”.
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Mike Zito (from the album Rock’n’Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry available on Ruf Records)
Players become fans with guitars when Mike Zito parks a cavalcade of stars in Rock’n’Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry. While matters of the heart were secondary to Mr. Berry when he limited his rock’n’roll songs to stories about Rock’n’Roll, Mike Zito brings love to tracks that have become the template for real in the world of music. Twenty tunes with twenty-one guitar pickers including Chuck Berry’s grandson Charles Berry III helping Mike Zito kick open the album doors of Rock’n’Roll on first cut “St. Louis Blues”. Fiery Blues lights up the night when Joe Bonamassa joins in for “Wee Wee Hours” as island breezes guide the rhythms as the guitar work of Sonny Landreth laps against “Havana Moon” while Ally Venable rails against the system in “School Days” and Jeremiah Johnson hops in the passenger seat for “No Particular Place to Go”.
Recording the basic tracks at his Marz Studios Mike Zito, along with mixing and mastering from David Farrell, sent the tracks out to the guest musicians. The freedom of the original cuts and the barely contained joy of a new form of music raising its voice is echoed on Rock’n’Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry when Luther Dickinson agrees with Mike’s worldview in “Too Much Monkey Business” as Robben Ford hops on board for a southern jaunt in “You Never Can Tell”, Walter Trout adds guitar froth to “Johnny B. Goode”, and Joanna Connor helps to remind what brought Chuck’s children into the fold with “Rock and Roll Music”. Horns signal prodigals coming home as Eric Gales and Mike Zito excitedly make a return in “Back in the U.S.A.” while Anders Osborne bends and shapes his strings for “Memphis”, Tommy Castro jumps a moving train for “Reelin’ and Rockin’”, and the “Promised Land” comes into sight with Tinsley Ellis sharing the ride with Mike Zito.
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