Dale Watson from the album Call Me Lucky available on Red House Records
The genre of Ameripolitan needs a flag-flyer, and Dale Watson is just the man to do it. It is in fact his genre, a style of music inspired by Sun Records along with the greats that laid American musical foundations. A quick listen would define it as country, but Dale Watson’s proclaimed genre is linked to what country was in past decades and a stand against what country music has become in 2019. Twang is one of Dale’s things, lyrical humor another, and there is plenty of both loaded in the package of Call Me Lucky, his latest release that comes in a songwriting and record releasing career aptly termed prolific.
The baritone, click-clack train rhythm, sturdy telecaster and pedal steel remain an ever-present pleaser. The title track for Call Me Luckykicks the album off with a classic shuffle giving way to “The Dumb Song”, the humorous and reflective story questioning vice when you ‘keep doing all these things I shouldn’t do’. “Tupelo Mississippi & A ‘57 Fairlane” has a New Orleans flair and punchy horn-section. “Haul Off and Do It” with its pedal steel bounce is a two stepper while “David Buxkemper” is a trucking song that bops down the road. “Who Needs This Man” starts off as a slow Blues number, kicking into a bouncy Rhythm & Blues cut once again showcasing that horn section. “Run Away” is a somber but beautifully placed closer driven by Telecaster twang and harmonica. Call Me Luckyis a genuine dose of classic country that lands far away from called ‘throwback’. Tossing that term around is inaccurate when someone like Dale Watson kicks down with class, tossing out classic sounds in the here and now. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Lula Wilesfrom the album What Will We Do available on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
Who we are as Americans is a hot topic, and the three women of Lula Wiles deal with the subject with Folk music that reveal the truths hidden in history with “Good Old American Values”, the storyline poking holes in cowboy song nostalgia. The track is collected along with other tunes as What Will We Do, the recent release from Lula Wiles. What Will We Dopresents the words of Lula Wiles as modern-day tales backed with the instrumentation, the passion, and the commitment of Folk Singers, the album released on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, fitting perfectly into the label’s dedication to music that stands for diversity and inclusion as well as championing social and political protest.
The album introduces counterculture options that look at life from all sides, offering DIY guides for self-love as Lula Wiles make “If I Don’t Go” a love song that seeks the freedom of being alone while What Will We Doturns the channel to nightly news in the form of a song with “Shaking as It Turns” and reverses traditional murder ballad roles in “Bad Guy”. Lula Wiles provide opinions with an eye to the world yet the trio balances community with personal wishes, What Will We Dopounding the pavement for mail delivery and a letter from “Nashville, Man”, drifting in a dream with “Morphine”, cruising main street USA in “Hometown”, and basking under a night sky alive with light as the candle dims on romance for “Independence Day”. Matters of the heart hurt when Lula Wiles open the album admitting shortcomings with “Love Gone Wrong” and strumming up courage for the misery in “The Pain of Loving You” while What Will We Doexits on its title track, weighing possibilities and listening to them echo back as a yodel.
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J. Shields & The Honey Spoons from the E.P. Damn Good Alibi available as a self-release
Country and Rock roll across the Americana shadows cast by the songs of J. Shields & The Honey Spoons on their recent E.P. release, Damn Good Alibi. J, Shields and the Honey Spoons peek through closed curtains to solve the murderous mystery nestled behind “White Picket Fences” as Damn Good Alibiwraps a solid beat around “Universe” and knocks back a memory as it traces a trail of alcohol from youth through adulthood in “Kentucky Brown”. The title track leads the pack of tunes on the E.P., “Damn Good Alibi” following a crime spree through the south while heavy steps trudge beside “Dead Man Walkin’”. J. Shields & The Honey Spoons are joined by Anna Buckle under fall skies to celebrate the season as the story in “October Forever” watches colors swirl amid the stark black and white realities of mortality.
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The king heat ensemble from the EP Songs available as a self-release
Five stars are released as sparkling gems scattered across Songs, the recent EP release from The king heat ensemble. Songsis seductive, the groove of The king heat ensemble an undertow that holds stories as the band search for understanding in the form of a crown with “Landslide” while tumbling beats roll and rumble under the promises of “While the Snow Falls”. Syncopation in the rhythm gives the message of ‘start again’ in “Give or Take” an effervescence bounce to its percussive step, matching the encouragement in the chorus while guitars notes are plucked as sharp shots. Songsmaps out a path for personal achievement with “Triumph” while lazy Blues struts with a slow gait when The king heat ensemble fill in the missing hours of “Ten Years” as they spin a story of patiently waiting for wishes to walk their way.
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Jaywalkers from the album Time to Save the World available on Burnt Chili Records
A flurry of strings (guitar, mandolin, upright bass, fiddle) spin around the harmony vocals of Jaywalkers on their recent release, Time to Save the World. The UK-based trio play the music of the mountains, blending voices with musical backing that liberally borrows from Folk, Bluegrass, Country, and Western Swing traditions. Time to Save the Worldlets the music take the first steps into the album, the opening instrumental cut setting the dance bar with “Homage to the Fromage”, Jaywalkers sticking to strings-only as they play a reel for “Burnt Chili Creek”. Chopped chord strums partner with sky-seeking fiddle notes to lead the way into “This Time/End of the World Waltz”, the tune namechecking the Time to Save the Worldalbum title as it twirls towards a planetary exit.
Sonically, Jaywalkers are an all-inclusive bridge that spans the scope of Americana music, linking British and American musical traditions as one sound. A Bluesy strut cakewalks into the confessions of “Too Close for Comfort” while Classic Country whispers to the barroom mirror staring back in “How Many Whiskeys?”. Stepping to a waltz sway, Jaywalkers pledge their hearts in “This is the One” as the slap of wheels defines the beat and decisions for “Life I Choose” while Time to Save the Worldshakes off the rain in the storyline to make a request with the rushed rhythms of “(Won’t You Please) Rescue Me”.
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Joshua Ray Walker from the album Wish You Were Here available on State Fair Records
Sound rises like heat coming off the earth when Joshua Ray Walker opens his recent release Wish You Were Herewith the cut “Canyon”. The track acts as an entry to Wish You Were Herewith the gentle Country sway of Joshua Ray Walker, the story introducing a big man ‘not just in size or in stature’ as he proudly wears his skin claiming ‘I’m a bottomless canyon without a drop to spill’. Wish You Were Hereis a Country-wisdom collection of words from the pen of Joshua Ray Walker, the tales soundtracked with neon and sawdust. The man waking up in “Keep” gets tired of waiting for natural causes to take him home to heaven, getting out of bed by falling on the floor as he pines for lost love, the former lover returning to fill out the back pages for the story as a duet. An accordion hums under the day-to-day lives in “Lot Lizard” while a heavy beat holds a blue-collar tale in “Pale Hands”, gnarly guitar licks lead the charge into “Burn It”, and “Last Call” does its best to pretend that a late-night barroom savors the magic of the moment.
Classic Country is the vehicle that drives the words and music of Joshua Ray Walker, his characters owning the origins of the genre as they present real-life stories, Wish You Were Herestitching flesh and bones on the tales from the Dallas, Texas songwriter. The sonics take a deep breath when Joshua Ray Walker steps into “Trouble” while Tex Mex supports “Love Songs” as Wish You Were Heresings a song for a “Working Girl”.
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Amy McCarley from the MECO available on MECO Records
In space jargon, MECOis an acronym for Main Engine Cut Off. For Amy McCarley, the title she chose for her recent release turns a page in her life, MECOan audio reminder of the experiences she has lived pursuing a music career following her contracting job with NASA. A native of Alabama, Amy McCarley followed the road north to Tennessee, recording MECOin Madison with co-producers Kenny Vaughan and George Bradfute. Amy’s team went beyond their production roles, George Bradfute mixingMECOand Kenny Vaughan adding guitar to the album. Kenny’s Fabulous Superlatives bandmates backed his guitar, Chris Scruggs providing drums, percussion, pedal steel, and bass for MECOAmy while Harry Stinson provides backing vocals and FS frontman Marty Stuart brings his mandolin for “Never Can Tell”
A Country ramble materializes to open MECO, Chris Scruggs counting to four to start the easy rolling rhythm for album opener “A Clue” as Amy McCarley looks for answers between working two jobs as she sorts through an onslaught of trouble. A sway starts off “Ain’t Life Funny”, Amy McCarley riding a roller coaster as she highsteps across daily events. MECObecomes dairy pages of hurt for “How You Do”, walks “High Wire” on a back and forth swing, bids “Farewell Paradise” with a honky tonk wave, and gets “Happy” on a bright mountain ramble. Gentle guitar picking supports the lonely minutes marking time in “Days” while Amy Carley slides over the ground like slowly moving swamp mist to sing “Clarksdale Blues”.
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Hayes Carll from the album What It Is available on Dualtone Records (by Julie Wenger Watson)
Cleverly mixing the profane with the profound, Houston, Texas native Hayes Carll nails it once again with his sixth and latest release, What it Is. In twelve beautifully crafted and sonically pleasing tunes, Hayes Carll delivers a musical dissertation on love, religion, politics, relationships, and the human condition. It is a lot of ground to cover in a single album, and Carll does it so well with his signature blend of humor, intelligence and grace. The man can write – songs that bring you to tears, make you laugh out loud and occasionally squirm in recognition. While he’s a keen and insightful observer of modern American life, Hayes Carll’s sarcastic edge is frequently tempered with plenty of dry, self-deprecating wit and warmth. His brand of social commentary, blended with raucous honky tonk or heartfelt folk, goes down smoothly and leaves you coming back for more.
‘You look like a tragedy that just hasn’t happened yet’ Carll sings in the opening words of “Be There”, summing up in a line what would take a lesser writer an entire song to convey. It’s a poignant love song, the kind at which Hayes Carll excels, his simple, yet sophisticated lyrics perfectly expressed in his country-inflected vocals. “Fragile Men”, set to a stark, haunting melody, complete with steel guitar and violin, is a none-too-subtle jab at his own gender in the era of the #metoo movement and shifting political power. The funny, blunt “Things You Don’t Wanna Know,” manages to address personal shortcomings, a guy’s perspective, lack of communication, and a troubled relationship, all in a short three minutes and eleven seconds while “None’ya” and “I Will Stay” are simply great love songs. Hayes Carll is a big talent whose songwriting skills are on par with the likes of John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, John Prine and Jason Isbell, and What It Isattests to that.
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Watermelon Slim- Church of the Blues
Bill “Watermelon Slim” Homans idea of the clerical side of the afterlife is a similar visual to that of a modern office. Saint Peter obviously would have to keep a ledger to keep track of the throngs of people coming through the pearly gates and who would be going elsewhere.
“St. Peters Ledger,” the opener on Watermelons Slim latest Church of the Bluesis an afterlife plea, where the narrator is hitting up Peter for the favor of keeping him out of Purgatory and even paying off his drug dealer the devil.
The opener, and what follows is an album of roots and blues complete with white hot rhythm section and the exceptional slide guitar work of Slim himself.
Blues songs about modern day issues are always risk silliness; “Poster Modern Blues” bypasses the risk by wearing tongue in cheek on its sleeve while rearing a hook and horn section.
“Mni Wiconi- The Water Song” is an activist tune addressing disappearing water while taking on a Los Lobos vibe.
His version of “Get Out of my Life Woman” is refreshingly up-beat sung with some vigor that the woman is gone, while his version of “Smokestack Lightning” conveys a feel of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues.
“Charlottesville” has the repeated line of “I’ve got the blues for my nation” as it addresses the violence the city witnessed in 2017; it’s a serious message coming across in a boogie blues tune. Things close with the silly “Halloween Mama” that comes complete with a keyboard heavy, garage-rock vibe.
Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz from the album Riverland available on Red Beet Records by Bryant Liggett
Riverland is a tribute album and history lesson delivered as a dose of laid-back roots music. The latest release from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz tips its hat to the great passages of water that have defined towns and inhabitants while the threesome serve up stories that paint a vivid picture of the past. Like a river, the album drifts along at its own pace, the listener’s role is to remain comfortable with the current and be satisfied with an open-ended destination. The album opener, “River City”, details the nomadic existence of those that work the river, dropping anchor to hit dry land for a night off the boat, repeating the same scene the next night miles downstream.
“Drowned and Washed Away” details the harsh reality of living river-side, “Old Tom T. And Brother Will” showcases great instrumentation in a moonshine tale. “To Be a Steamboat Man” and “Fort Defiance” hint at John Hartford and “Uneasy Does It” finds Peter Cooper’s soft vocal matched with ambient steel in a tune about ‘The Killer’. The album closer, “Mississippi Rest My Soul”, speaks to the longevity of the river; life and people move on, you can count on the river to remain in place. This is a trio where all three musicians and songwriters unselfishly give each other plenty of room. There is no frontman, every voice as important as the other with instrumentation placed with craft and care. Packaging is also important, as the liner notes for Riverland are loaded with informational tidbits and historical photos that bring text and visual accompaniment. (by Bryant Liggett)
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