Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons (from the album Razor Wing Butterfly available on Ratlegz Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Lorraine Leckie got a late start in the rock’n’roll game, adding to the time-put-in diversity of her sound. Picking up the guitar in her thirties, Lorraine Leckie had plenty of time prior to explore a breadth of sounds, living through Punk Rock’s beginnings and the mass expansion of Classic Rock to the explosion of angst music, delivering angry guitar sounds to every doorstep. Backed by “Her Demons,” the latest from Lorraine Leckie is Razor Wing Butterfly, a release hinting at everything from Siouxsie Sioux-inspired Goth to late 70’s Blues Rock, all played out under a Psychedelic umbrella. Razor Wing Butterfly opens with the haunting, theatrical “Only Darkness”, where Leckie’s vocals begin over a quiet guitar, eventually splitting to make way for Psychedelic riffs that carries the tune to its end.
A violin opens “Vampire Moon”, walking a line between Grunge Goth and straight-ahead Pop. “It Ain’t The Blues” digs into gutter-Punk Blues, “Crickets” is dirty Folk, and “Mars” has a dark New Wave vibe. Wah-wah guitar work kicks off “The Other Woman”, featuring a surprising but just right electric violin in what could double as a cocktail lounge cut and “American Weeping” is a reality check that comes like a punch in the stomach. It’s a Stoner Rock cut that serves as a thank-you note to the last president and ‘I told you so’ in a song as Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons say “America, you fucked up’. Her Demons are a utilitarian Rock band, being the perfect group to easily move from through all the traditional traits. The use of the electric violin adds a Goth Classical touch, and Lorraine Leckie’s horror-movie vocal wraps it up in a delicious and weird, dark package. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Bowregard (from the album Arrows available on Bowregard Records) (by Brian Rock)
The spirit of Bill Monroe is alive and well on Bowregard’s debut album, Arrows. Bowregard (as in, respect the bow – presumably a hunting bow given the album’s title) is a five-member string band of virtuoso pickers and pluckers who create vibrant, new music firmly rooted in the original Bluegrass tradition. “Fallen Angels” starts off with furious banjo picking and weepy violin strains as lead singer Max Kabat sings about the one that got away. Realizing too late that it was not his angel who fell, but himself; he sings, ‘I walked away too soon and I left you all alone’. The fast tempo of the song belies the sorrow of his broken heart and is more symbolic of a man being relentlessly chased by the demons of his past. Banjo and resonator guitar work together to tell the story of “A Reasonable Man” named John who takes his revenge on a town that did him wrong. “Formaldehyde” is another rollicking Bluegrass tune about preserving your innards well past your death with repeated brush strokes of whiskey. “High on A Mountain,” slows down the pace a notch as the band admires a panoramic mountain view and draws an analogy to their own past spread out before them. Violin takes center stage on the Country ballad, “Nothin’ To It;” a tender tribute to a deceased, but much beloved father. Bowregard picks up the pace again on the Arrows title track, a bitter complaint about the sting of Cupid’s misguided arrows. “The Henrys” tells a haunting story of gambling, greed and loneliness; the furious pace of the music matching the story of a man always on the run. With themes of heartbreak, loss, revenge and, of course, moonshine, Bowregard tell traditional Blue Ridge Mountain stories with a robust, modern sound.
Several of Bowregard’s songs are just too good for words. Their three instrumentals show off the band’s musical chops. “Sage the Western Basil,” highlights the Celtic roots of early American music. “Cousin Sally Brown” starts off slow, then stampedes off at full speed, hinting at a life with two distinct acts, or perhaps someone leading a double life. “Flannery’s Dream,” is a pure celebration of Appalachian roots music. This is the kind of music that makes you yearn for outdoor music festivals and dancing barefoot on the grass. It’s authentic and real, and ‘Arrows” definitely hits the target. (by Brian Rock)
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Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne (from the Go, Just Do It! available on Stony Plains Records)
For album number eleven, Canadian Bluesman Kenny ‘Blues Boss” Wayne sticks to the formula that has worked for him over previous releases and his career overall. The 75-year old piano player holds tight to the music he has curated, cultivated, and carried around the world, claiming that ‘I’m not looking for a different path. I love that jump blues and boogie-woogie. That’s where my heart is at. I’m just trying to keep that style alive. That’s classic stuff, and I’m at that classic age so it all works out’. Hushing the song title with smooth groove Blues, Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne lets the band have its say with the instrumental “Bumpin’ Down the Highway” as he lets the beat out to play for “Sittin’ in My Rockin’ Chair” and puts boogie to the Tulsa groove with a version of J.J. Cale’s “They Call Me the Breeze”.
Hitting the ground rolling with funky chord chops, Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne opens the album, namechecking the title with “Just Do It”, joined on the cut by Dawn Tyler Watson. Leading the guest list on Go, Just Do It! with two tracks, Dawn Tyler Watson comes back on the late-night rumble of “Sorry Ain’t Good Enough” alongside Julie Masi on the tag team boogie of “You Did a Number on Me”. Matching the vocals of Diane Schur with a Blue mood, Kenny slows the pace for a call and response duet on “You’re in for a Big Surprise” while he pounds out policy with SeQual on “I Don’t Want to Be President”. A soulful sway courses underneath “Lost & Found” while Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne exits Go, Just Do It! on the boogie beat that brought him to the party with “Let the Rock, Roll”.
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Linsey Alexander (from the album Live at Rosa’s available on Delmark Records)
The Chicago Blues scene found a keeper when Linsey Alexander came to town in 1962. His playing is true to Chicago Blues Roots, his words rising/falling on the heartbeat of love when Linsey Alexander strums a Blues shuffle underneath “Somethin’ ‘Bout You”, slowing the rhythm to cool, his guitar fiery as it spits and scatters notes across “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” while he coaxes the effervescent rhythms from “I Got a Woman” with chopped chords and a solid backbeat. Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Linsey Alexander picked up more than a new address when he moved to Memphis, learning the guitar in his new home by the age of twelve. Part plea, part threat, Linsey Alexander’s recent release, Live at Rosa’s, opens with the seduction of “Please Love Me”, picking up the pace for a stroll across “Goin’ Out Walkin”, and high-steeping the rhythm of “My Days are So Long”. Linsey Alexander slowly plucks notes from “Ships on the Ocean” and, taking on the role of weatherman. plows over “Snowin’ in Chicago” with guitar work for all seasons.
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The National Parks (from the album Wildflower available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Call it a 21st Century New Wave record influenced by electro Folk. Or call it a modern Electric Folk record with pulsing, Indie Rock leanings. With their fourth full length Wildflower, The National Parks experiment with tone, tempo and instrumentation, unafraid to throw a dash of what sounds like a banjo here and a handful of blip rhythms there, eager to hear what will come out on the other side; it’s a creation pleasant that tests an expansion of Electro Pop and Indie Folk. The title track is preceded by a short dose of ambient and Psychedelic desert Rock, morphing into a quick blast of power chords; it is a chugging album opener with infectious riffs and the repetitive line of ‘if you can be my open skies, I can be your wildflower’.
“Mother Nature” is an Earth Day anthem, the simple line ‘it’s a beautiful world’, backed by Folk instrumentation of banjo and harmonica, hidden underneath a programmed beat. “Horizon” is introduced with a prog-synth rhythm before the vocals kick in; those same vocals trading space with a violin as they state ‘a broken heart is the reason to start again’ before turning into a pulsing dance cut, similar to “Blue Moonlight” with its up-beat rhythms weaving throughout the melody. “Chance” is a soft duet, the vocals of Brady Parks and Sydney MacFarlane confessing ‘you’re a gamble and I’m all in’ while “Painted Sky” is a twangy, Psychedelic sing-a-long. Wildflower has animated tone, and an experimental nature, this is an album that has mated an electronic, dance club feel to a Folk festival. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Dixie Dirt (from the album Springtime is for the Hopeless and Other Ideas available on Small Batch Records / Nine Mile Records)
Nine Mile Records, along with Small Batch Records, are re-releasing albums that deserve a second launch as The Essential Records series. Originally recorded in Knoxville, Tennessee and released in fall 2002, Springtime is for the Hopeless and Other Ideas from Dixie Dirt is Roots Rock’n’Roll screening against a Garage Rock dreamscape. The raw guitar leads wander, the spit and snarl of the six-string work in “Kaleidoscope” is more plaintive than pissed-off, chord slashes conjure up demons in “Old Soul” as a two-note trance pulls you in like an undertow. The vocals on Dixie Dirt are blood kin to the guitar work; ethereal, basking in the glow of Mazzy Star, reading “A Letter Put to Music” with an open heart over a Rock’n’Roll symphonic suite. Springtime for the Hopeless and Other Ideas puts a heartbeat rhythm underneath “Fast Food Media” as Dixie Dirt slam the pedal to the floor, barreling into “Springtime” and plugging “Whiskeydrunk” into a guitar reverie that carries the melodies on the rising/falling surge of strums.
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Fretland (from the album Fretland available on Fretland / Tone Tree Music)
Coming out of Washington state, Fretland offer a hearty brand of Americana Roots. The Seattle-based band open their self-titled debut with “Long Haul”, stuttering notes flickering over a sturdy beat, Hillary Grace Fretland’s vocal guiding the cut like a beam of light cutting through fog, bringing sailors on the rugged Northwest coast safely to shore. Fretland is a spurned lover calling out to “Heaven” as it sorts out tangled emotions with “I Still Care”, toasts reverie in “Have Another Beer”, and drifts back to another time celebrating “Fourth of July”.
Offering an album listening, the songs of Fretland share an honest telling of their tales as the musical backdrops shifts. Soft Country sways when “Black & Gold” calls love back home while Fretland takes “Friendly Fire” on a Rock’n’Roots swing, fingerpicks acoustic notes that sparkle like a night sky over “Must’ve Been Wild”, and grow “Garden” from a quiet entry with guitar chords to a sonic blast of hammering rhythm and sky-seeking guitar riffs.
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Various Artists (from the album On the Road: A Tribute to John Hartford available on LoHi Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
John Hartford was to Bluegrass what Ween is to Rock radio; a respectable presence with stellar chops, existing outside the norm, music NPR-quirky enough to raise a questionable eyebrow while also nodding approvingly to a respected presence playing spectacularly throughout a vast musical legacy. One of the world’s great songwriters, many of the fifteen acts heard in On the Road: A Tribute to John Hartford have touted Hartford’s name for years, making this tribute is a gem. Sam Bush’s album opening title track for On the Road is textbook Nu-Grass. Fruitions take on “Back in the Goodle Days” is a delight and Travis Books vocals are stellar with The Infamous Stringdusters nailing Hartford’s famed “Gentle On My Mind.”
Keller Williams begins “Granny Woncha Smoke Some Marijuana” as a lazy and drunken back-porch singalong before turning it into a Bluegrass ripper and “Holding” a choice cannabis-friendly song without mentioning the word “marijuana” gets proper studio treatment after being in The Yonder Mountain String Bands repertoire for years. Leftover Salmon’s “The Category Stomp” is a funky pounder, Todd Snider’s “I Wish We Had Our Time Again” gets the sentimental Folk treatment and Leftover Salmon bass player Greg Garrison’s “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry”, featuring Denver’s Sydney Clapp on vocals, is a dreamy ballad. Other contributors include The Travelin’ McCoury’s, Railroad Earth, Band of Heathens, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, John Carter Cash and Jamie Hartford with Norman and Jerry Douglas. Danny Barnes closes On the Road: A Tribute to John Hartford as it began, with a banjo-only take on the title track, revealing Barnes’ similarity to Hartford, with his unique ability to add a delicious dose of quirkiness to the Folk and Bluegrass world. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Corb Lund (from the album Agricultural Tragic available on New West Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Corb Lund must have spent some formative musical years in the garage. The Canadian Country musician can pen a slow burner and bang out a track that will send up sawdust from a dance-floor in two-stepping frenzy, doing so with a Punk Rock lyrical bite within traditional Country backing, appealing to both the pressed jeans, starched snap-button shirt crowd with a slick country cut and put a hint of twang into a locomotive rhythmed Roots Rocker. Agricultural Tragic pushes Country and Punk closer together, showing no difference between his honest approach to Country music and honest approach to Roots and Rock; all grade-A genuine.
Corb Lund opens Agricultural Tragic with a catchy anti-murder ballad in “90 Seconds of Your Time,” and gives a hearty nod to the age 70 and older crowd on “Old Men”. It is a tender moment as he sings a want for ‘old men making my whiskey, old men singing my blues, old men teaching my horses’ as he nails the notion that age equals experience. “I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey” is a fun and bouncy duet with Jaida Dryer, “Oklahomans” and “Rat Patrol” are gritty rockers while “Raining Horses” and “Never Not Had Horses” are aching, romantic ballads. He is as funny as much as sentimental. “Ranchin’, Ridin’, Romance” and “Tattoo Blues” are both catchy and fun, the latter a tale all-too-true for those with permanent body regret. Corb Lund delivers a great musical combination, melodically swinging and swaying while his comedic, poignant memory inducing lyrics raise a smile as quick as provoke thought. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Andrea & Mud (from the album Bad News, Darlin’ available as a self-release)
Not really a call and response duet, Andrea & Mud choose sides and each take a corner (issue) on their recent release, Bad News, Darlin’. A plucky guitar riff and stuttering twang support Mud as he ponders “The Reason Why She Cries”, sitting at the local bar emptying his wallet as Andrea points out that even though ‘you can’t be true I still fold your clothes and bake your pies’. Bad News, Darlin’ needs to come complete with a score a card, Mud singing to an exiting Andrea ‘I saw right through the bullshit when I looked into your eyes’ in “Leave” while Andrea addresses a loveless letter to Mud passed-out on the floor with “Lines”, spelling out the heartache as you’re the reason I cry each night, you’re the reason I writhe in pain’.
Dusty, windswept, and sunbeaten Alt Country is the backtrack for Bad News, Darlin’. Housebound “Used Car Salesman” walks proud over a gnarly six-string burping out notes, the mood darkening like storm clouds as the sun dawns on bad decisions in “Birmingham, AL 8:30AM”. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Andrea & Mud make a splash with Bad News, Darlin’, paddling their homegrown honky tonk out to sea for a surf-western sound, the pair co-producing the album with Damon Moon at Standard Electric Records in Decatur, Georgia. Andrea & Mud busk down at the crossroads with “Hellhounds”, cruise across Georgia in “Little Blue Truck”, and exit Bad News, Darlin’ on a mash-up of Skeeter Davis and Saturday Morning cartoons with “End of the World/Bullwinkle Pt.3”.
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