Mark Knopfler (from the album Down the Road Wherever available on British Grove Records)
Not needing to explain his reasons four decades into a career, Mark Knopfler hangs a sign out for anyone interested in his day-to-day existence with the title on his recent release, Down the Road Wherever. The album title is the musician’s version of ‘Gone Fishin’’ as their daily choices move from sitting down to write a song, into the studio or off to play a gig. Down the Road Wherever is a nod to a happy place for Mark Knopfler, his personal comfort zone on stage and performing his songs. These goals were set early on, and Mark Knopfler takes listeners into a memory of his musical early days, transporting Down the Road Wherever back to Deptford, England 1979 as Mark’s band, Dire Straits, begins to pick their way out of the pub scene in “One Song at a Time”. The storyline watches the guitarist travel from local hero bar band to circling the globe with his own patented brand of transatlantic Blues.
The guitar playing of Mark Knopfler is the constant as Down the Road Wherever style shift from Folk lightly touched with jazz noodlings in “Floating Away” as Blues riffs playfully romp with the late-night dreams of “Just a Boy Away from Home” and rough rhythms dart across “Nobody Does That”. The guitar lines of Mark Knopfler have become as recognizable as the familiarity of his voice and Down the Road Wherever steadfastly traces a groove as the storyline searches along with its narrator for “My Bacon Roll”. Mark Knopfler turns wistful as love’s demons exit on a tender jazz noir melody in “When You Leave” while “Every Heart in the Room” flutters on a bright beat and joins the snakeline into the rhythmic draw of “Back on the Dance Floor”.
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Shawn Mullins (from the album Soul’s Core Revival available on Soul Carnival Records)
The goal for younger musicians is to break through with their music. The intention is strong until it happens and the great what-now makes its presence felt. Shawn Mullins broke through into the mainstream twenty years ago with the hit tune “Lullaby”, the track a part of his debut album, Soul’s Core. The Atlanta, Georgia-based songwriter was surprised, recalling that he ‘had no idea anything like that would ever happen with that song. Back then I just wrote whatever I felt and I must’ve got lucky once’. The 1998 hit gave Shawn Mullins a career, and he revisits his debut album with his recent release,Soul’s Core Revival.
The double disc offers two versions of the original album cuts, Shawn Mullins providing both an electric band and acoustic take on the tunes. Disc one presents the tracks of Soul’s Core Revivalwith Shawn’s touring band, Soul Carnival. The acoustic side includes the bonus of a backstory as Shawn Mullins provides the setting with a spoken introduction to the tunes, Soul’s Core Revivalgiving the musician a chance to offer the songs with new backgrounds and the ability of the singer to wear the tracks as new skin twenty years on.
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Balsam Range (from the E.P. It’s Christmas Time available on Mountain Home Music Company)
Lush strings blend beautifully with the harmonies of Balsam Range as the group touch the season with Bluegrass melodies that celebrate the holiday with “The First Noel” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. Majestic strings fall the gentle snow as Bluegrass rhythms make the flakes fly in “Jingle Bells” while stringed strums shake with the spirit for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”. Balsam Range harmonize to open It’s Christmas Timewith tenderness with “Christmas Lullaby” and give thanks for family in “I’m Coming Home (It’s Christmas Time”).
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Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers (from the album All I Got for Christmas is the Blues available on Pretty Good for a Girl Records)
Providing a rattle and roll soundtrack for the season, Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers bounce into the holidays with takes on traditional songs in All I Got for Christmas is the Blues, their recent release. Offering a personal tone to the gathered songs, Mindi Abair sets aside her saxophone, picking up a pen for a trio of tunes, giving her heart with “The Best Part of Christmas”, wrapping electricity around the anticipation in “I Can’t Wait for Christmas”, and slashing at the season, carving an X into the holiday with guitar chords on the title track.
Country Folk picks at the beat stomp of “Christmas Fool” as Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers instrumentally decorate with hard Blues in “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) and get funky to tell the tale of a rushed reindeer in “Run Run Rudolph”. All I Got for Christmas is the Bluesspins in a blur of twinkling lights for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and slides into the rough rhythm of “Merry Christmas Baby” while Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers put muscle into seasonal shout of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
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Sultans of String (from the album Christmas Caravan available on CEN)
Seasonal traditions have been carried over land and water when millions of refugees walk the same steps that trace back to the origins of December celebrations. The music of Sultans of String erase borderlines as they create a world where sounds of east travel like the traditions on their holiday release, Christmas Caravan. Sultans of String blend sand and snow in “Turkish Greensleeves”, decorate the air with gypsy melodies in the classics of the season in “A Django Christmas”, and sleighride from dusk to dawn in “Jingle Bells/Auyuittuq Sunrise”. Acoustic strings trim “The Christmas Song” with Nikki
Yanofsky on vocals as Christmas Caravan makes a rhythmic stop in African tradition with “Sing for Kwanzaa” and packs the sled for a multi-cultural romp in “Himalayan Sleigh Ride”.
Friends hop on board to join Sultans of String in Christmas Caravanwith Ruben Blades and Luba Mason (“Happy Xmas (War is Over)”), Rebecca Campbell (“Hallelujah”, “Little Drummer Boy”), Crystal Shawanda (“Jesous Ahatonhia (Huron Carol)”), and Sweet Honey in the Rock (“Celebrate the Holydays”) joining the boys in the band at the table for a sonic spread that circles the globe.
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Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers (from the album The Christmas Swing available on Juicy Juju Records)
Handclaps and scratchy rhythms accompany Erin Harpe as she spins her own tale in “The Night Before Christmas”. The story is close to origins as Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers add a little sugar, spice, and sass to Santa’s bag of toys. The New England torch-bearers for the music of the South present The Christmas Swing, their first foray from Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers into holiday releases. Front porch Folk tells the tale of festivities “At the Christmas Ball” while The Christmas Swingslinks in on a Blues groove for the title track and blends Blues harp with guitar twang for “Jingle Bell Blues”.
Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers stick to the celebration side of the holidays, soundtracking parties with jump Blues and boogie in The Christmas Swing. Rock’n’Roll is the route taken for “Run Run Rudolph” while Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers toast naughty in “Merry Christmas (Here I Come)” and make a resolution with whiskey and gin for “Drink and Get Drunk” as The Christmas Swingexits the album (and 2018) with “Auld Lang Syne”.
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David Graff (from the album Supposed to Fly available as a self-release)
It is not the great beyond but the great what-if’s that David Graff faces in “Supposed to Fly”, listing missteps and pitfalls that plague the promise life offered in the title track for his recent release. In his personal/professional life, David Graff has flown into multiple mediums for his art. Beginning as a touring drummer in his native southern Alberta, moving on to guitar and songwriting before relocating to Vancouver and recording in Los Angeles in the late 80’s/early 90’s. David Graff’s creative energy turned to visual art by the late 1990’s and a move to Bowen Island in British Columbia found him combining metallic leaf, transparent color glazes and high sheen resin that gained recognition for his art. He circled back to music in 2010, again by drumming, and put together a new batch of tracks to head into the studio with backing band The Continental Grifters for Supposed to Fly.
David Graff dances a waltz before grabbing a seat at “Best Bar in Hell” as Supposed to Fly saddles up a Country ramble to head west into “Tough City”, follows the patter of banjo notes across the Soft Rock of “The Only One I’ve Got”, and stutters out a beat to lay out a challenge in “Another Way to Hurt Me”. Twang touches the Folk Rock for “Suzanne”, honky tonk Country revs up for “I Love My Truck”, and dreamy Rock drifts lazily along “Vapour Trail”, David Graff shapeshifting the audio backing for the tracks while maintaining his signature on each tune. Supposed to Fly adds some hard Blues to the road bar reality and Country-tinged advice in “Can’t Trust That Woman (After Dark)” while David Graff puts a triphammer heartbeat under “Watch Over the Ones I Love” and claims the skin he wears as a wanderer searching for love in “Blue”.
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Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers (from the album Bought to Rot available on Bloodshot Records)
The debut from Against Me! guitar player and vocalist Laura Jane Grace is for all extensive purposes a side project, solo steps taken with The Devouring Mothers on an album separate from the body of work released from her still very active punk band. Yet Bought to Rot keeps things close by the Against Me! camp with the band’s drummer Atom Willard and sound engineer Marc Hudson making up The Devouring Mothers, Laura Jane Grace’s low in number but high in wallop backing band. Grace felt the songs weren’t quite right for an Against Me! album, yet similar to the band there is plenty of angst and vocal rage proudly displayed on the at times profane album; Grace still standing tall with an axe to grind and Bought to Rot will do the job on sharpening it up.
“China Beach” kicks the album off, a punchy and aggressive opener where Laura Jane Grace moves from spoken word tones to full on throat damaging screaming.
“Apocalypse Now (& Later)” is initially driven by an acoustic guitar with whispers of some delicate jangle about being with the proper person for the world’s last moments.
“I Hate Chicago” name drops numerous Chicago landmarks, including people and bands from the city; if the vitriol is tongue in cheek Laura Jane Grace does a fantastic job playing it off, yet ultimately lets the listener off the hook, revealing the city is nothing more than a punching bag for anger brought on by divorce.Musically Bought to Rot moves around; jangly rock rubs elbows with subtle punk, while cuts like “Screamy Dreamy,” “The Hotel Song” and closer “The Apology Song” are ballads that still carry a dose of aggression. (by Bryant Liggett)
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decker. (from the album Born to Wake Up available on The Royal Potato Family)
Circling back to an earlier view of humanity, decker. samples Joni Mitchell’s vision of Woodstock (‘you’re stardust, you’re golden, you’re billion-year old carbon’) with his own opinions on “The Garden”. The tune is one of the many observations on life and its living that decker. gathers on his recent release, Born to Wake Up. The songs on Born to Wake Up are personal souvenirs that decker. has collected on his journey back to a homebase in Sedona, Arizona, the songwriter harnessing the mystical power of the red rock mountains and canyons in words and music. The collection receives credit from its creator, the cuts on Born to Wake Up coming to decker. while hiking the mountains near his home, the musician feeling that ‘this album is all about going where the flow leads. For the last ten years, I've pushed hard, but I realized that there's more reward in letting go, in being open to the where songs and life's currents naturally lead you. It was an important lesson for me to learn, both as an artist and as a human being’.
A rhythm laps against the drift of “Smudge”, the music meandering, guided by a thick bass line as Born to Wake Up corners “The Matador” with sharp-angled guitar notes, gently travels in memory to “Mexico”, and strums brittle chords to ignite the trial fire in the storyline of “Burnin’ Grass” (a tribute to Tom Petty). .decker (aka Brandon Decker) creates an experience on Born to Wake Up, offering an audio explanation of the lessons learned from the environment, striding into “Awake” on regimented footsteps that lead into a predestined life, meeting “The Strawman” on a slow trudge of rhythm, and offering advice to “The Saint” on a soundtrack of dreamscape Pop.
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Ace of Cups (from the album Ace of Cups available on High Moon Records)
The world passes in the blink of an eye and yet time continues to wait until the right moment to open its door. Prior to their recent High Moon Records debut, Ace of Cups were ground-zero, card-carrying members of the Haight-Ashbury (San Francisco) music scene of the 1960’s, taking their name from the Tarot card that shows an image of five streams of water flowing from one cup. The band appeared at legendary spots from Golden Gate Park to Winterland, and Ace of Cups seemed destined to follow peers Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and other SF-bands into rock’n’roll legend. All careers, however, are in direct result of one decision at a time and Ace of Cups never signed a record deal. Four of the original five band members come together for Ace of Cups, a long-awaited self-titled debut from females who influenced a historical music scene.
Sonically, the songs on the Ace of Cups debut find their way back to the musical environment of the band’s 1960 origins yet while the music stays true, the stories have followed the musicians through life. An immediacy grips “We Can’t Go Back Again”, the tale claims of the narrator confident and bold, foregoing any desperate pleas. Ace of Cups promises “Mama’s Love” on a Blues march, tenderly offers “Simplicity” against a backdrop of fractured guitar notes, and uses six-string jangle to envision “Fantasy 1 & 4”. Friends join Ace of Cups, Buffy Sainte-Marie helping to stir the swampy brew of melody in “Pepper in the Pot”, Bob Weir (solo, Grateful Dead) leading the tale of “The Well” as the band back the song with desert rhythms, and Taj Mahal calling out as four voices harmonically respond in “Life in Your Hands”. Ace of Cups plug into the generational power of rock’n’roll, strumming power chords to carve out a groove in “Feel Good” as the self-titled debut spins a carnival kaleidoscope melody to send out a love letter to “Pretty Boy” and lets the voices of the band create a choral magic in “Music”.
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