Various Artists (from the album Hanging Tree Guitars on Music Maker Relief Foundation)
The picture on the album cover is Freeman Vines, an artist, a luthier and spiritual philosophizer. Working as a luthier for five decades, Freeman Vines has made guitars from materials found in ancient tobacco barns, mule troughs, and old radio parts, forever in pursuit of the sound he hears in his head, the tone that haunts his dreams. His searches took Freeman through eastern North Carolina, a land where his family has lived since their days of enslavement. The Music Maker Relief Foundation album, Hanging Tree Guitars, is a companion to the book that travels with Freeman Vines through his journeys and introduces the woods he uses to craft his art, including gifted wood from a hanging tree.
Rufus McKenzie opens Hanging Tree Guitars with “Slavery Time Blues”, reaching back into history to tell the story of day-to-day life in captivity. One-man band, Aldolphus Bell, tells the tale of “Black Man’s Dream”, a spoken word piece dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. while Bishop Dready Manning and Marie Manning handclap and strum up memories of “Hard Life and Trouble”. The Hanging Tree Guitarscompilation offers both Sacred Soul and Blues music, the song roster divvied up with Blues tracks preceding the sacred songs. The live instrumental “Turning Point”, from James Davis and Gilbert Henderson, trudges to its ever-present marching beat as the Hanging Tree Guitars provides ragged Blues rhythms to back the salvation shouts from Elder Anderson Johnson in “Glory, Glory” as The Glorifying Vines Sisters sway on a heavenly groove for “Get Ready” and Faith & Harmony claim “Victory” on the acapella strength of their vocals.
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For more on Freeman Vines and Hanging Tree Guitars, please go to the Music Maker Foundation website for more information
Please visit the Hanging Tree Guitars virtual exhibit to view the art of Freeman Vines
Hook + Line (from the album Lemons and Limes available on Nahaku Records)
Big city life and its whiskey Blues was not for Hook + Line, so the Folk Americana outfit left concrete buildings behind and headed out for the country. Luckily, Honolulu, Hawaii is close to rural territory, so Hook + Line set up camp in the Oahu countryside, feasting on the Lemons and Limes of the recent album title and proceeded to make music. The current four-piece (songwriter Jacob Staron (guitar, vocals), Mari Maffioli (harmonica, washboard, vocals) Caroline Pond (fiddle), Alex Morrison (bass), Jonathon Heraux (drums)) present their debut with Lemons and Limes.
Scratchy rhythms roll like waves and warm like sun-heated sand as Hook + Line pick out notes to send a song from their Hawaiian home to “Rocky Mountains”, ask “What is Love Anymore” with a busker’s bounce, caffeinate the rhythms to race across “Let Me Give You That”, and strum up Country for the truth-telling of “When I’m Gone (the Laundry Song)”. Through the magic of music, Hook + Line make the Hawaiian island chain safe for string bands with their love, and creation, of mountain music. Fiddle and guitar partner to open Lemons and Limes with “Holly” as Hook + Live wrap “Tired of Singing the Blues” in a sad melody while their island home hears “The Waves Roll In” and wishes “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me” on the band’s cover of a Mississippi John Hurt tune.
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Ward Davis (from the album Black Cats and Crows available on Ward Davis Music) (by Brian Rock)
Acclaimed Nashville songwriter Ward Davis (covered by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Cody Jinks,) releases his second album, Black Cats and Crows. Filled with brooding lyrics and occasional crunchy Southern Rock guitar licks, the album proves that Outlaw Country is alive and well.
The title track sets the tone for Black Cats and Crows. Singing ‘God must have it in for me. Why? He only knows. ‘Cause everywhere I walk I see black cats and crows’. Wrestling personal demons and teetering between sin and redemption, Ward Davis ponders the futility of his struggles. With power ballad, electric guitar chords surging in the background, Davis paints a bleak portrait of a soul seeking hope in a sea of despair.
Ward Davis’ barrel-aged baritone adds gravitas to his lyrics as he mines the dark recesses of his psyche for stories about memories, melancholia and murder. “Ain’t Gonna Be Today” and “Get to Work Whiskey” deal with the aftermath of a failed relationship with despair and a touch of defiance as Davis uses crunchy guitar chords to mimic the anger phase of breakups. “Good and Drunk” and “Book of Matches” move Davis closer to acceptance as he gathers ‘letters and sweaters and pictures of you...’ and proceeds to ‘pop that cork and light this fire’ to burn away the pain of old memories - to the accompaniment of steel guitar. “Sounds of Chains” and “Papa and Mama” deal with a much darker side showing break-ups of a more permanent kind. The former cut is a vintage Outlaw Country story about killing an unfaithful lover. The latter a Gospel Blues infused tale of desperation at the hands of an abusive partner. All these tales are told with grit and a gravely snarl. However, Ward Davis shows his softer side on several tracks.
“Nobody” is a confessional song about feelings of self-doubt concealed beneath a friendly smile. He shows off his piano skills on the tender “Threads” and “Lady Down on Love”; both of which employ fiddle to great dramatic effect. He even manages to find a ray or two of sunshine in the traditional Country ballads “Where I Learned to Live” and “Heaven Had A Hand.” Both are songs of thanksgiving for the blessings that come unexpectedly into our lives. And therein may lie the secret to overcoming the negative influence of Black Cats and Crows in our lives. Davis seems to hint that the more we insist on imposing our own will, the more sorrow we reap. When we open ourselves to others and Heaven’s helping hand, the more we find our joy.
Ward Davis explores the emotional gamut of the human experience with honesty and intensity. His voice has a ‘straight from the heart’ quality that makes each song feel like a conversation with an old friend. Davis clearly respects the history and traditions of Country music, and Black Cats and Crows is a worthy new chapter of that continuing story. (by Brian Rock)
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David Quinn (from the album Letting Go available on Low Down Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
David Quinn’s exploration of Country music and all its offshoots leaves nary a stone unturned. He’s not just dipping a toe into the wide Country ocean, he is diving headfirst to taking a lap around the entire body of water and venturing into its tributaries. David Quinn’s latest, Letting Go is a fresh splash of Folk and Outlaw Country, two-stepping dance-floor diddies and classic Honky Tonk, Southern Rock and Cow Punk.
The Psych-Folk opener, simply titled “Intro”, is a short escape tune, a melody where a subtle flamenco guitar yields to feedback, an introduction to the chicken picking that introduces the Country Rock of the title track. A click-clack, locomotive rhythm charges across “Ride On” and “Thunderbird Wine” gives the Rockabilly influenced cut an encouraging kick over to the Psychobilly neighborhood while “1000 Miles” and “Midnightin’ Woman” are pulled from an era of Classic Country where there’s a groove of Cowboy Funk. Both “I Hope I Don’t” and “Let Me Die with My Boots On” are pedal steel heavy two-steppers, the former a weeper, the latter ripe for a drunken singalong. “Born to Lose” is a Blues influenced, jam-band ready bout of Southern Rock. Letting Go ends like it begins, the short opener “Intro” hinting at heading west to ‘get a job and go drinking all night down in sunny L.A.’, the narrative continuing in the album closer “Maybe I’ll Move Out to California”. The Folk cut wraps the record as it begins, bookending David Quinn’s diverse, Country music package. (by Bryant Liggett)
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John Batdorf (from the album Last Summer available on Batmac Music)
On a cut from Last Summer, his recent release, John Batdorf sings of the music circa 1970 in “Good Music Never Dies”, citing ‘guitars that keep ringing true today’ as the musical magic that has kept him going. For five decades, the voice of John Batdorf has chimed like a bell, standing with his acoustic six-string to keep the same truths ringing loud. Last Summer offers advice when “Hope is Everywhere” shines its light through darkness as John Batdorf sees love walking in the room with “You Don’t Have to Know My Name” and speaks directly to a longtime with heart partner in “Where Do We Go from Here”.
The 1970’s Folk Rock that John Batdorf nods to for keeping the songs alive can be heard alive and well in every note and nuance of Last Summer, the musical master gifting every song with the passion of the true believer. The title track questions our times, looking at an unknown future as it recalls packed rooms full of live acts, stadiums for of cheering fans, and humans together, John Batdorf wondering if we can get back to life as it exited just twelve months ago. Percussion keeps “Island Girl” walking into her day with rhythm as John Batdorf relies on perseverance to take him through challenges in “Broken”, reads “The Writing on the Wall” against an acoustic guitar strum groove, and looks for new ways to thank love in his life with “I Wanna Be with You”.
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Rick Shea (from the album Love & Desperation available on Tres Pescadores Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
File west coast musician Rick Shea’s latest effort under Blues…and as a disclaimer, don’t expect to hear only the Blues. The California-based guitar player’s release, Love & Desperation, two steps all around the genre. Traditional Blues rears its sad head here and there but like a second-guessing partner while stuck in a relationship bound for nowhere, the sound never fully commits. That leaves Rick Shea other paths to stroll down, including Country and Folk, much of which is given a Tex-Mex feel through the subtle use of Phil Parlapiano’s accordion.
Said accordion keeps a quiet and reserved presence for much of Love & Desperation with the exception of “Juanita (Why Are You So Mean)” and “Texas Lawyer” when both cuts are loaded heavy with Tejano and Tex-Mex chops.
“Blues Stop Knocking at My Door” is a bouncy album opener and “(Down at the Bar at) Gypsy Sally’s” is a gritty lounge number, both tracks highlighting Rick Shea’s stellar straight-ahead guitar chops played in a beautiful, blue-collar get the job done way. Rick Shea showcases a multi-instrumental ability, handling mandolin and steel guitar on the Folk-festival ready “She Sang of the Earth while “A Tenderhearted Love” is a straight-ahead, Country two-stepper and the instrumental “Mystic Canyon” is a mellow and earthy dose of desert-noir. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Various Artists (from the 415 Records: Still Disturbing the Peace compilation available on Liberation Hall Records) (by Dave Steinfeld)
Over the years, there have been many compilations of the Punk and New Wave scenes that took shape in England and New York City in the late 1970’s and early ’80s — and even a few that focus on Los Angeles. But anthologies of San Francisco Punk and New Wave are significantly harder to find — which makes Liberation Hall’s expanded reissue of 415 Records: Disturbing the Peace all the more welcome. 415 Records was a San Francisco label that was launched in 1978 by music fanatic and jack-of-all-trades Howie Klein. Some of the bands on 415 (such as Romeo Void and Translator) went on to achieve modest commercial success. Neither of those bands is represented on this collection, but that hardly matters. The 21 tracks compiled here are proof positive that the Bay Area had an important and very diverse New Wave scene back in the day.
‘Diverse’ is, in fact, the key word. Still Disturbing the Peace certainly features some bands (The Nuns, Red Rockers, New Math) that were grounded firmly in Punk Rock — at least initially. Red Rockers, four young guys who originally hailed from New Orleans, are represented by two tracks on this compilation: “Guns of Revolution” and “Teenage Underground”. While both songs adhere to Punk’s fast-hard-loud ethos, the Rockers did an about-face a few years later, re-emerging with a totally different sound and scoring a minor hit with the beautiful “China”. Elsewhere on this disc, you’ll find everything from synth-pop (The Units) to ska (The Uptones) to female-fronted pop (Pearl Harbor and the Explosions) to fairly mainstream rock (SVT was led by former Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady!). There are also a couple of New Wave covers guaranteed to bring a smile to your face: Baby Buddha offers a sarcastic, Punky version of the Tammy Wynette classic “Stand by Your Man” while The Pop-O-Pies tackle “Truckin’”. All in all, Disturbing the Peace shines a light on a scene that is too often neglected. Break out your skinny tie and enjoy! (by Dave Steinfeld)
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For more information head over to the Liberation Hall Records website
The Pinx (from the E.P. Christmas Singles available as a self-release)
A three-pack of holiday strutters are sent special delivery from Atlanta, Georgia’s The Pinx on their E.P., Christmas Singles. Electric Blues shreds airwaves into tinsel for the tree with Rufus Thomas’ “I’ll Be Your Santa, Baby” as The Pinx rip up the pretty paper with a cover of The Kinks “Father Christmas”. Soul to Soul, The Pinx match the smooth seasonal vibe of Otis Redding’s holiday hit, “Merry Christmas, Baby”.
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Murder by Death (from the album Lonesome Holiday available on Tentshow Records)
Awash in luxurious strings, brushed drums, and a warm-fire cozy baritone Lonesome Holiday is a seasonal offering wrapped up as new release from Murder by Death. The album is stacked high with end-of-the-year friendly songs, Murder by Death reworking their favorite tracks as gifts. Many of the tunes stay true to the album title when Murder by Death cover Elvis Presley with “Blue Christmas”, borrow “(Baby Please) Come Home for Christmas” from Darlene Love with a true-to-original version, and read Bing Crosby’s letter home from a soldier on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.
The mood is celebratory as Murder by Death send out a Hawaiian greeting with “Mele Kelikimaka” and take a ride down Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” from the National Lampoon Vacation film franchise. Stay-at-Home NYE reminders make an appearance on Lonesome Holiday when Murder by Death make a resolution in “Let’s Get Tight” and exit on a front porch jam with Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Happy New Year”.
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Grant-Lee Phillips (from the E.P. Yuletide available on Yep Roc Records)
The hush of a falling snow, the warm glow casting light from a welcome home window, the complete joy of a child’s speechless face receiving gifts. That is the sound of the Grant-Lee Phillips E.P., Yuletide. The four cuts differ sonically as a winter theme wraps arms around the tunes. Grant-Lee Phillips begins the seasonal song cycle with a Folk shuffle, bright chords, twinkling piano notes, and a strong wind rhythm plug in the magic of the season with “Winter Glow”, the only original track on Yuletide. “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” was included on Frank Sinatra’s first album release on his own record label, Reprise, and finds its way onto Yuletide with sparkling guitar notes and a mulled cider-thick bass line. A dreamy melody accompanies Grant-Lee Phillips version of Nat King Cole’s “Take Me Back to Toyland” as he exits Yuletide, and 2020, with “Auld Lang Syne”.
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