Birds of Chicago (from the album Love in Wartime available from Signature Sounds)
The weight of the world as it carries cultural upheaval while equally burdened by a lack of leadership was the backdrop for Birds of Chicago when the entered the studio to record Love in Wartime. Repairing the deep divides that stretch between us and them is a monumental task and while Birds of Chicago are not seeking to take on the whole planet, they offer solace on a personal level, spreading good news from house to house with Love in Wartime. To supplement their efforts, Birds oh Chicago point to the seismic strides made in the 1960’s and 1970’s for equality and human rights, band member Alison Russell feeling that ‘any act of love is an act of bravery. These songs are snapshots of covenants, big and small, of trust and understanding. We want to give people some good news, and we want them to be able to dance when they hear it’. Love in Wartime searches the skies for “Superlover” amid guitar notes that sparkle like stars and words that encourage to find a hero within. The title track parades purposefully on a persistent rumble of percussion as Love in Wartime uses handclaps to applaud the awakening and lead the rhythms of “Roll Away” and introduce “Roisin Starchild” on the funky strums of classic soul.
Husband and wife Alison Russell and JT Nero formed Birds of Chicago in 2012 after the pair had spent time in other musical projects (Po’ Girl, JT and the Clouds). They entered Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, Illinois to record Love in Wartime on election day January 2017. Co-produced by JT Nero and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), the album marks the moment when drama replaced dignity in the oval office, the event serving as a springboard for their urgency in the songs to catch air and fly. Chords chops create the funk for the affirmations of “Never Go Back” while the slow addition of instrumentation builds “Lodestar” as the arrangement unfolds like audio flowers seeking light. Birds of Chicago point fingers over the gently rolling acoustics of “Try” and put the happiness of home into the effervescent groove of “Travelers”.
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Jeff Plankenhorn (from the album Sleeping Dogs)
On the recent release Sleeping Dogs, Jeff Plankenhorn picks up guitars outside of the instrument he created, The Plank, to back his words. Jeff gave the musical back story explaining that ‘The Plank guitar came from me wanting to mix together the two worlds of bluegrass dobro and the sacred steel tradition, and my whole last album was dedicated to that one instrument — to get it out there. SoulSlide also really helped put me on the map as a solo artist, which is why I’ve moved on to focusing more on doing my own thing and only doing a side gig once in a while when I really want to, with people that I really respect. But now, with Sleeping Dogs, I wanted to take a bigger look at how the whole world of music is available to me; it’s not about just one guitar or sound, but rather about using all of the instruments I play and bringing all of my influences together — and about really wanting to bring my songwriting to the forefront’.
Offering a seat at the table, Jeff Plankenhorn scribes an invitation with the mantra “Love is Love” repeated as it puts matters of heart on the menu. Sleeping Dogs lights up a 1980’s Rock/Pop rock’n’roll beat proclaiming “I Don’t Know Anything” as it uses slide guitar to cut up “Piece of Cake”, lazily drifting on the rolling rhythms of lessons in “Heaven on Earth” and shaking as it uses flashing white lines under the wheels of “Homecoming” for its groove. Carving his name into A-list sideman status during his seventeen years in Austin (The Flatlanders, Ray Wylie Hubbard) Jeff Plankenhorn finds friends returning the favor on Sleeping Dogs as Ray Wylie (“Tooth and Nail”) and Patty Griffin (“Holy Lightning”) join in the creation of the album. Opening the album with the first cut advice of the title track, Sleeping Dogs quiets after a storm, gathering losses in the gentle string plucks of “Further to Fall” while Jeff Plankenhorn plays proud papa to the friend that he has brought to the world with “This Guitar”.
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Eric Corne (from the album Happy Songs for the Apocalypse available on Forty Below Records)
Blues stokes the backbeat as Eric Corne introduces Happy Songs for the Apocalypse, his latest release. Eric Corne packs a suitcase full of Roots and Americana for his trip down the tracks of Happy Songs for the Apocalypse, making sure to include touches of Folk, Alt Country, and Rock’n’Roll as accessories. Regional sounds drift as “Short Wave Preachers” dials in Cajun and Celtic Folk while heavy steps move in time to the sad beat of “Ashen Heart” and southern rock strides across “Pull String to Inflate” as Eric Corne takes a stand on a Little-Feat inspired, horn-fueled groove for “Locomotion”.
Having his name on the front of the album cover brings the songwriting and vocals of Eric Corne to center stage. The founder and president of Forty Below Records Eric Corne has produced artists for the label releases (John Mayall, Sam Morrow) as well as working on recordings from a diverse group of artists including Lucinda Williams, C.J. Chenier, Kim Deal (The Pixies), Edgar Winter, Joe Walsh, Nancy Wilson (Heart), and Joe Bonnamassa among others. Walter Trout claims a shotgun spot for his guitar as he and Eric Corne hop into the front seat to drive “Ridin’ with Lady Luck”. Happy Songs for the Apocalypse walks the “Trail Full of Tears” dirge on slow footfalls, wraps Country Folk around “Mad World”, stringing notes and beats together to light “Forbidden Town” while Eric Corne picks out acoustic guitar notes to accent “The Gilded Age” and uses thick reverb to cushion the lessons of “History Repeats”.
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We are the West (from the album The Golden Shore)
The setting is as important as the song for We are the West. Their recent release, The Golden Shore, is the Los Angeles, California-based band’s first full length release, the trio curating a sound, molding notes and chords from an array of instruments, gaining a name performing a monthly full-moon concerts series in an underground parking garage. We are the West transform the rigid concrete structure into a performance space, welcoming opening guests from chamber music to avant-garde sound experiments. The ability to provide a unique live music event translates sonically onto The Golden Shore. The tunes of We are the West spend time California dreaming over gentle west coast Canyon Country with “Tonight’s Tonight”. The album struts on a strong backbeat for “Luck of the Sailor”, the sea coursing through The Golden Shore, pulled by a repetitive rhythmic undertow in “More Machine Than Man”. We are the West tell the sea stories of a wanderer on the soft acoustics of “Siren”, penning sunshine into a love letter with “For Me, For You”, and puffing up on a powerful bass thump to pledge fidelity on “Any Day of the Week”.
Beginning life as a duo playing on a sheep farm in Holland, We are the West set up shows, performing in an abandoned convent in Brooklyn, New York before heading to California. The Golden Shore was recorded in downtown Los Angeles, We are the West capturing the cuts live as a trio with longtime drummer Elizabeth Goodfellow (Iron and Wine). The power of three creates a sonic landscape with an in-house symphony that utilizes percussion, woodwinds, strings, brass, keyboards, and harmonies as We are the West glide over the melody in “From the Bower”, quietly pick notes over ghostly silent-movie pump organ notes for “The Watchers”, and float the title track on misty musical clouds to discover “The Golden Shore” beaming an inner light born of lush strings and heavenly harmonies.
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Reckless Johnny Wales (from the album Runaway Train of Thought)
Coming to rest long enough to tell its tale, Runaway Train of Thought, the recent release from Reckless Johnny Wales, unloads a baker’s dozen tunes, its sound taking varied lines of meandering Folk Country Blues (“Let It Storm”), roadhouse rockabilly (“Because I Love That Woman”). Reckless Johnny Wales ruminates on life’s Roadblocks the gut bucket rhythms of “It’s Not the Money” as Runaway Train of Thought slips and slides over “Cool, Not Unusual Punishment” and doses an outlaw tale with psychedelia for “Mama Scared the Hell into Me”.
Every legend needs a setting to stage its opening act. The back story for Reckless Johnny Wales began in the Boston suburb of Dorchester, Massachusetts, soundtracked by the rhythms of Folk Rock and receiving an education from protest songs. Viet Nam era draft picks put a younger Reckless in the Navy for three years, depositing him in San Francisco’s Summer of Love. Reckless Johnny Wales landed on Nashville’s Music Row in 1980, eventually working for Warner Brothers as Senior VP of Promotions, helping in the careers of Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, and Faith Hill among others. Gazing out the window at the passing population, Reckless Johnny Wales as engineer details his observations, using the hard rhythm of the rails to define the beat and accent the warning of “The War Will Come to You” and filling “Pipe Dreams” with political rambles over a rhythm rumble as Runaway Train of Thought looks down the tracks for the light of a brand new day in “She Said, He Said”.
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Western Centuries (from the album Songs from the Deluge available on Free Dirt Records)
The music scene of Seattle, Washington adds honky tonk soul to its roster with Western Centuries blend of styles. The recent release from the group, Songs from the Deluge, strums and sways with songs that freely borrow from, and add influences of, Appalachian string bands, Delta blues, and Texas fiddles under the guidance of the Western Centuries as country and western cowboys. The morning sun glints of the cold steel of fighters preparing for battle on the Tex-Max strums of “Warm Guns”, a snaking guitar line makes its way north to follow the migration of “Wild Birds” and old school soul trudges with the pumping beat of “How Many More Miles to Babylon” as Western Centuries tell the tale of a great night out by staying in with me, myself, and I in “Own Private Honky Tonk”.
Roots music pedigrees hang on the walls of Western Centuries, Cahalen Morrison formerly part of duo Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, Ethan Lawton a member of Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, and Jim Miller with Donna the Buffalo. All three bandmates pen tunes for Songs from the Deluge, blending influence and talent in songs that paint wide landscapes of American Roots music and Americana. Songs from the Deluge opens on a Cajun rhythm backing a soldier’s story in “Far from Home”, the sound matching the environment when Western Centuries headed to Eunice, Louisiana to record the album with producer Joel Savoy. A fist-thick bass line from newest member Nokosee Fields holds tight to the beat as “Wild You Run” talks to addiction while Songs from the Deluge tosses back a smooth groove with “Three Swallows”, rides a western shuffle under the prairies skies for “Cloud of Woes”, and gently pitches “Rocks and Flames” at a broken heart while Western Centuries dole out “Earthly Justice” at a local bar room brawl.
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Charlie Overbey (from the album Broken Arrow)
A son of California, Charlie Overbey has his window facing south for Broken Arrow, his recent release. The songs burst open, sweeping rock’n’roll anthems with a distinct southern sensibility stand between styles, proud of their ability to honor Country and Rock influences. Growing up in Los Angeles, Charlie Overbey received a musical education from his father’s 1947 Gibson acoustic and the music he played. His plan for Broken Arrow was to brand the Alt Country tracks with the same devotion he experienced as a kid worshipping at ‘the school and church of Johnny Cash’. Broken Arrow soundtracks a tale with both the left and third coast represented in “Trouble Gets the Best of Me” as Charlie Overbey gets taken down by ‘Kentucky whiskey and California weed’. He is joined on the song by Eleanor Whitmore (The Mastersons), who returns with her band as The Mastersons comes in on “Outlaws”, joining guest Eddie Spaghetti (Supersuckers) who shares history and playing for “The Ballad of Eddie Spaghetti”.
Haunted piano chords give way to the ethereal vocals of Miranda Lee Richards (solo, Brian Jonestown Massacre) as she duets on Broken Arrow with “Slip Away”. Charlie Overbey offers vocals that drive the same empty beach roads of Springsteen songs, telling stories over dusty melodies, sturdy rhythms holding on to the gritty western tales. Stark Folk guitar strums are the foundation for Broken Arrow to sing a song for a solider with “Hero in Town” as the album revs up the jukebox for a honky tonk whisper of love with “Last Deep Breath” while Charlie Overbey recalls a rock’n’roll memory as he falls back to time for a summer in “Echo Park”.
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Greyhounds (from the album Cheyenne Valley Drive)
Greyhounds park a trunkful of Rock’n’Soul tunes on Cheyenne Valley Drive, the recent release from the Austin, Texas-based band. Greyhounds dub their music ‘spaceage soul’, the sound tracing back to times when the space race was at a full gallop, and when the 1960’s mixture of Rock’n’Roll and Soul were easier to hear and harder to separate. Guitars and voice are the blood that courses through the sound of Greyhounds. The vocals of Anthony Farrell (keyboards) liberally spread soul on his reading of the stories, smoothly gliding over the repetitive riff of “WMD”. The guitar work of Andrew Trube is a constant in each song, freely wandering over “All We Are” and jabbing at “Credo” with random flecks of notes before taking flight with soaring string gymnastics over the gently rolling rhythm of the cut. Rounding out the trio is Ed Miles. Former members of J.J Grey & Mofro, Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube formed Greyhounds in 2016.
Handclap beats, gnarly guitar licks, and a piano frenzy form a line to back the claims of “No Other Woman” as Cheyenne Valley Drive strolls down “12th Street” on a doo-wop groove, cradles “Rocky Love” in warm electric piano chords and sets a triphammer beat to light the fuse to “Space Song”. In making the album, Greyhounds wanted the sound of the recording to be in line with sonic influences…. a less produced, more spontaneous style of recording, capturing the sound straight to tape like many of the classic records the band cherish. Bubbling organ notes light the dark shadows as “Get Away Clean” makes an exit while “Goodbye” spits out notes and beats to lay down a potent rhythm underneath as Greyhounds let down their walls, softening the fall with the tender soul promises of “Learning How to Love”.
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Joyann Parker (from the album Hard to Love)
Blue Jazz backs the vocals of Joyann Parker as she strips songs down to their Soul on her recent release, Hard to Love. Her voice wanders in what-if’s on piano rambles and a sturdy upright bass as Hard to Love plays old school honky tonk rock’n’roll to check its look in the mirror asking “What Happened to Me”, and matches the groove with the thick flow of the Mississippi as the river and the story move through “Memphis”. Her classical piano training provided Joyann Parker with singing in a church choir and a gig in a wedding band until recently. She recalls that ‘I didn’t know anything about the Blues until four years ago but then it clicked. I said ‘this is what I’m supposed to do’. A win in the Minnesota Blues Society competition took Joyann Parker to Memphis to represent the state at the International Blues Challenge. For Hard to Love, she returned home with inspiration from the trip, realizing that ‘after I went to the Stax Museum in Memphis, it was like somebody lit a fire under me. I thought ‘I love this music. I want to write it’. I went home and wrote the songs’.
Joyann Parker and her band (Mark Lamoine-guitar, Michael Carvale-bass) lay down a mighty Blues beat to stride down “Home” on a building rhythm, Hard to Love shaking as it shimmies into uncomfortable questions demanding “What What When Where Why”, rattling Folk Blues for “Take My Heart and Run”, and heating up “Envy” with southern Soul. Joyann Parker carries a torch for the Blues, looking to give back to the world what the music has given her as she whispers of past love, her memories piecing together reasons in “Jigsaw Heart” while she joins a second line parade with “Ray” and spins on the see-saw rhythms of “Dizzy”.
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Becky Buller (from the album Crepe Paper Heart available on Dark Shadows Recordings)
Becky Buller entered the studio with instrumental friends for the recording of her recent release, Crepe Paper Heart. On the album, Becky played a Becky Buller model DP Hopkins clawhammer banjo as well as featuring work from longtime associates Leopold, her German violin from an unnamed maker (circa 1800) dubbed ‘the old man’, and Walt, an octave violin that was her Grandpa Buller’s fiddle. Other friends found their own way into the studio, Crepe Paper Heart welcoming Frank Solivan (“Bitter Springs to Big Trees”), The Fairfield Four (“Written in the Back of the Book”), Rhonda Vincent (“Calamity Jane”), Sam Bush (“The Rebel and the Rose”), Rob Ickes, and a stellar cast of other players.
The IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) took notice of Becky Buller, awarding her the 2015 trophy for Songwriter of the Year, and in 2016 handed over two awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Fiddle Player of the Year. Claire Lynch joins Becky in harmony for “She Loved Sunflowers”. The Becky Buller Band back cuts on Crepe Paper Heart, coming together musically for the instrumental “Cair Paravel” and percolating underneath the story of “John D. Champion” as Becky Buller opens the album on the fast track with “Another Love Gone Wrong” and seeks strength “Speakin’ to That Mountain”.
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