David Ball (from the album Thinkin’ Problem available on Omnivore Records)
David Ball, and his release Thinkin’ Problem, receive a proper reissue via vintage curators Omnivore Recordings. The reissue that could give Thinkin’ Problem a second helping of the chart love garnered on the first time around when the album received a double platinum award. Thinkin’ Problem is a solid dose of country music ripe for Classic Country lovers, or anyone embracing twang as a way of life. Originally released in 1994, David Ball delivered honky-tonk gem that sounded like it could been dated 1974, the re-release pushing more towards celebrating forty-five years instead of a mere quarter century.
The title track kicks off with David Ball and his lonesome croon admitting to his ‘thinking problem’. a girl always on his mind, a place where her ‘memory goes round and round, I tried to quit a thousand times’. Cuts like “Look What Followed Me Home,” “Blowin’ Smoke”, and “Honky Tonk Healin’” could all pack a dance floor with two-stepping or a line dance, and David Ball shows he can slow things down to sad in “When the Thought of You Catches Up with Me” and “A Walk on the Wild Side of Life.” Shuffling styles, David Ball head “Down at the Bottom of a Broken Heart” to visit rockabilly territory while “What Do You Want with This Love” displays a full Blues treatment. The album mirrors full-service reissues with the original ten tracks joined by another eight cuts of unreleased music. The Thinkin’ Problem reissue is like having a stranger walk through your door and immediately become the life of the party. 1994 accolades may have come and gone quick but the reissue treatment should give David Ball a hearty heaping of well-deserved and lengthy recognition.
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Wildwood Kin (from the album Wildwood Kin available on Silvertone Records)
Before formally hanging out a musical shingle and doing business as Wildwood Kin, the three voices that form the core of the band had a smaller audience in themselves. The harmony is what hooked the sisters (Beth and Emillie Key) and cousin (Meghann Loney), the three would harmonize, the goal to hit any musical note that passed them through radiowaves, television, or the sounds around them in their home of Southwest UK. With their harmonies firmly in place to create an audio environment unique to Wildwood Kin, the trio set another goal on their recent self-titled debut, to showcase their ideology alongside their vocal abilities. Wildwood Kin light torches with their words for like-minded souls, beginning the message on opening cut “Never Alone”, the trio promising loyalty and inspiration for a community seeking change. Bordering the track, the exit tune for Wildwood Kin focuses its worldview down to a one-on-one conversation with “How It Feels”. A stuttering melody line runs underneath “Signals” as a pattern of repetitive rhythms herald the percussive announcements of “Time Has Come”.
Throughout Wildwood Kin is a constant hum, percussion the sweet spot center of each song, a determined patter freckled with guitar notes surrounding “The Crown”, supportive words for “Beauty in the Brokenness” held up by guitar strums riding shotgun on a non-stop beat, and a heartbeat rhythm coaxing “Wake Up Sleeper” with clouds of electric sonics. While the harmonies are the first contact seduction, the stance of the band, whether in their sense of self or commitment to encouraging a little revolution with words and music, is where to find the heart of Wildwood Kin. Soft rhythms become the current as the harmony of Wildwood Kin bobs like leaves in the stream on “Breathe” while the trio wander “Headed for the Water” on dark thoughts and a somber trance groove.
Ghost Town Blues Band (from the album Shine available as a self-release)
The sound of Memphis, Tennessee can be heard on Shine, the recent release from hometowners Ghost Town Blues Band, the title riding the thick current of the Mississippi River in its rhythm as it heads uptown on horns and the storyline tosses its trouble into the water. Shine slowly rises on a piano led jam before dual guitar leads partner-up and plow into “Givin’ It All Away”, Ghost Town Blues Band sinking back down into the Blues for the missing-you regrets of “Carry Me Home” and high-stepping to sing a song for “Evangelie” as they slather a thick layer of homebrewed grease over a cross-country diary for “Dirty”.
In addition to making good use of their hometown export of Memphis groove, Ghost Town Blues Band pen stories from the streets of their western Tennessee turf, crafting songs on Shine with working class Soul and blue-collar Blues jams. The rhythm rolls around in “High Again”, snaps on the effervescent double entendre of “Soda Pop”, and struts in on memories mixed with wishes for “Running Out of Time”. Blues and Southern Rock are second nature to Ghost Town Blues Band, Shine showing that the styles are embedded in DNA when added to the Country sunshine sway of “Heading Nowhere Fast” as misty Americana boards a train-track beat with “Hey There Lucinda”.
Carolyn Sills Combo (from album Return to El Paso available as a self-release)
As a collective group, the characters that walked the sawdust floor of Rosa’s Cantina get a voice, sixty-years on, through Return to El Paso, the recent E.P. release from The Carolyn Sills Combo. Picking up from the Marty Robin’s backstory in “El Paso”, the E.P. introduces familiar names….”Feelena”, “The Handsome Young Stranger”, “The Ranger”. The Combo backs the song with Country and Western rhythms, hitting a gallop in “Hold Your Horses” when Carolyn Stills tells the tale of the horse that rides the original open range of “El Paso”. The cantina jukebox hits the heart, the Honky Tonk of Return to El Paso receives a South of the Border stamp when The Carolyn Sills Combo spin Tex Mex sadness into the background of “I’m Not Crying, I’ve Just Rubber Jalapenos in My Eyes”.
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Cody Jinks (from the album The Wanting available on Late August Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Ambiguity doesn’t work for Country music. It is a genre that calls for a straight ahead narrative, blue collar tales from the working class, and crying in your beer tunes with a load of references to all the vices making you cry in said beer. Texas singer-songwriter Cody Jinks nails the narrative on The Wanting, his second record release in as many weeks, delivering a dozen songs conveying emotions we have all shared. The mission statement ‘I’m living a country song’ was uttered for a record like this. The title track kicks things off and features a white-hot fiddle on a mid-tempo, radio friendly Country Rocker, The Wanting following with a sharp dose of self-reflective reality on “Some Kind of Crazy”, the narrator proudly boasting ‘I don’t go to church on Sunday, I don’t go to work on Monday; I sleep until I wake up, whiskey in my coffee cup’. It cements the concept that you are judged by the company you keep, and seeking out that company as ‘everybody knows where I stand, in all my friends I see the same crazy as me’.
Cody Jinks is in a reminiscent of gentler times on the soft weeper “A Bite of Something Sweet”, calling for a day like they used to be in the line ‘I need to see all my old friends, so we can start again. I need a bite of something sweet’.
“Ramble” is an escape anthem for downtrodden times, when the hand life deals calls pays nothing but movement. Cody Jinks sings that he’s ‘been forgiven for my sins, lord knows I ain’t through sinning yet’ in “The Raven and the Dove,” a damned if you do, damned if you don’t tune with a big, sing-along chorus perfect to wrap The Wanting in an outlaw knot. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Violet Bell (from the album Honey in My Heart available on Rainbow Woman Records)
The sonic purity of Honey in My Heart is in direct line with the production of the recent debut from Violet Bell. The North Carolina duo remained home state loyal, recording Honey in My Heart at Fideltorium in Kennersville, North Carolina with co-producer Jason Richmond (Dom Flemons, Avett Brothers, Bombadil, Steep Canyon Rangers). Violet Bell create environments alongside the words and music of each track, capturing Honey in My Heart mostly live, no click tracks, isolation, or vocal timing. The stillness of a deep forest is captured in “Mountain Song”, quiet breaths giving way to heavy weather in the pounding rhythms while motherhood comes of age using moonlight as a guide for “Howl” and a percussive rattle urges caution for a story that heads for deep water in “Swimming Towards Sharks”.
The musical backing for the songs is welcoming, Jazzy Blues (“Summer Skin”) poking a sharp stick at Bro Country as tendrils of organ chords wrap around soulfully secular Gospel Roots (“Let Me Forget”), Future Folk drifts on ethereal waves (“Path You’ve Never Seen”) and backwoods Americana (“Smoke in the Night”. Violet Bell are soundshifters, conjuring moods in the melodies of Honey in My Heart, seducing with the trance groove of the title track as a rhythmic rattle becomes the backbone supporting “Ugly Part” and Violet Bell slowly peel the beat back from memories in “Elephant Heart”.
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Micky & The Motorcars (from the album Long Time Comin’ as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Micky & the Motorcars can appease both sides of the Country musical fence. Lovers of Modern Country can hear the melody while Country-music traditionalists, along with the cowpunk crowd in their work jackets sucking down cheap beer, will nod to the grit. On Long Time Comin’ the Austin by way of Idaho band deliver dusty weepers and lyrical reality via tales of PTSD and off-kilter love affairs. “Road to You” is a solid and upbeat album opener, leading into “Rodeo Girl” where a hint of guitar jangle and a pushy melody urge a drunken singalong for a rodeo romance. “Lions of Kandahar” is a soldier’s song, from going off to war to ‘rain hell down on those men’ to the coming home where ‘civilian life ain’t easy, after what I’ve seen and done. I still hear the choppers coming, still hear the thumping of those guns’. The story is void of flag-waving pride chest thumping though loaded with a lyrical reality that hoists the banner that war has no winners.
Micky & The Motorcars find their zone, hitting out of the park with slow weepers. Arguably the strongest cut of Long Time Comin’, “All Looks the Same” is a tale about a lover splitting while “Run into You” a story of chance meeting someone you are longing to see. The Long Time Comin’ title track starts slow, warming up to a click-clack rhythm with a low-key accordion under the vocals, inviting you to explore ‘miles and miles of interstate, just sitting there waiting for the drive’, Micky & the Motorcars closing with optimism. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Jake LaBotz (from the album They’re Coming for Me available on Hi-Style Records)
There is a lot of imagery circling through the mind and body of Jake LaBotz. His history rambles sometimes gracefully, occasionally stumbling, forward, characters emerging fully formed or bearing a resemblance to relationships made in a myriad of worlds. The fellow travelers along for the stories come from times Jake LaBotz logged growing up in Chicago, Illinois, relocating to Southern California to take up residence in downtown LA cheap hotels living life as a drug addict, working as a film actor through friend Steve Buscemi, a Gospel musician in all black church, and a Buddhist meditation teacher.
Using his background as a starting point gives a clear understanding of They’re Coming for Me, the recent release from Jake LaBotz. They’re Coming for Me opens with its title track, the beat a constant footfall through the cut as fears find a groove. A center-stage spotlight locates a legend reading his story in “Hey Bigfoot” while as Southwest melody goes loco with “Johnnybag the Superglue” and delicate notes flicker and slowly fade in “Are We Saying Goodbye”. They’re Coming for Me dials in a Country station for “Grace of the Leaves”, whispers “Without the Weight” on a determined rhythm, and busks on a shaggy streetcorner strum for “The Bankrobber’s Lament while Jake LaBotz juggles singer/songwriter options with “Nashville, Nashville”.
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Rye Mountain Revelry (from the E.P. Rye Mountain Revelry available as a self-release)
Austin, Texas-based Rye Mountain Revelry dub their brand of music Cosmic Appalachia. The sound can be heard listening closely to the self-titled release from the band, Cosmic Appalachia the clarion call of the mountains meeting an equally seductive siren song from open desert sands coming together as a mighty howl. Sons and daughters of coal country look for a way out when Rye Mountain Revelry put urgency in their exit groove with “23-65”. A rich history can be heard in the songs of Rye Mountain Revelry, a musical kaleidoscope of Roots sounds as a heartbeat thump rhythm holds promises are made under “Whiskey Moon”, ragged Folk hammering out a beat to match the desperation of “Cross on the Dashboard” while Country sways move “Where the Moon Won’t Get in Your Way” to and fro. The Lone Star State light over on the sound of the hills is magic in the hands of Rye Mountain Revelry, as heady as the excited froth of “Holler Siren Serenade” as the band switch gears underneath “33 or Faster”.
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Dave Specter (from the album Blues from the Inside Out available on Delmark Records)
Dave Specter does not have the answers though he happily shares possibilities on his recent release, Blues from the Inside Out. The title track remembers past hurdles while Dave Specter leads a path towards the brighter light of a better day with the optimism of his words and the Blues of his guitar. Dave’s guitar weaves the Blues into a uptown sound with “Soul Drop” as Blues from the Inside Out heads down the Mississippi River on a New Orleans groove for “Ponchatoula Way”, spreads late night noir on the groove of “Minor Shout”, and casts a Dixieland vibe over the percussive rattle of “Opposites Attract”.
Activism sparked the songwriting of Dave Specter, Mavis Staples’ music a force behind his tune “March Through the Darkness”, the Chicago Bluesman feeling that ‘what she has sung about over her career is so important. There’s alot of darkness that we are living through and we’ve got to get through it. It’s not what this country stands for regardless of your political party. I like the idea of going high when they go low, but sometimes when a bully confronts you, you gotta stand up and speak out’. His own politics take a stand when Dave Specter addresses the times head on in the boogie of “How Low Can One Man Go” as he subtly states a warning with “Wave’s Gonna Come”. Dave Specter welcomes friends into the musical world of Blues from the Inside Out with guests Jorma Kaukonen (solo/Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane) and Brother John Kattke while he give thanks to the music that brought him to the party with “Blues Ain’t Nothin’”, laying out a dance groove in the funky wiggle of “Sanctifunkious” and drawing a line with “Asking for a Friend”.
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