Rising Appalachia (from the album Leylines available as a self-release)
A show of faith is as firm as the continuous rhythms that rise and fall within Leylines, the recent release from Rising Appalachia. Sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith embrace the magic in the world around us, soundtracking and supporting the stories with a non-stop rhythm that wraps around Leylineswith the same conviction as the belief system that lights up the messages. The stories on Leylinesmirror its musicians, Rising Appalachia feeling that ‘with some of our original songs, it’s a reflection of the times. We’re folk singers and we consider this a folk album, so there’s a lot in there. There’s word of politics, of being women in the music industry, as well as a lot about our lives on the road’. A tough skin reflects haters, Rising Appalachia showing by example, listing thunder, lightning, and personal roots as the ammunition needed to feel your joy as they are backed by a full band in “Resilient” while voices and finger-snaps are the magical ingredients that bask “Sunny Day” in radiant light.
Produced by Joe Henry, Leylinesconnects the world with its music, the fiddle channeling misty Celtic tones in “Lovin Her in the Mornin’” while traditional American instrumentation (banjo, fiddle) finds their rhythm in West African musical history with the n’goni in the English Folk tune “Cuckoo”. Guests join Leylineswhen other voices share the microphone, Trevor Hall coming on board for the groove of “Shed Your Grace” and Ani DeFranco taking a stand beside the sisters urging to “Speak Out”. Trumpeter Maurice Turner accents the lyrical flow of the duo in “Indigo Dance” as front porch Folk is the glue that holds “Sassafras” and Leylinesweaves a tantalizing groove worthy of wizards underneath “Making Magic” as Rising Appalachia offer a harmonious incantation.
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Caroline Spence (from the album Mint Condition available on Rounder Records)
The story told in “Angels or Los Angeles” holds dual citizenship as Caroline Spence reads the mind of the woman behind the wheel, a mental state that stages what was left behind alongside an open highway of what-might-be. The tale plays out on the recent Caroline Spence release, Mint Condition, the depth of its character joined by like-minded souls sending out prayers to lady luck (“Wait on the Wine”) as a rock’n’roll beat struts out into the unknown (“Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes”) and a hushed melody drifts lightly over self-reflection (“Sometimes a Woman is an Island”. On her third album release, Caroline Spence creates a safe space for searchers, the songs onMint Conditionmirroring the lives of its listeners, women and men alone on a dark road, restless yet surrounded by big city comforts, and white-knuckling dreams as they stubbornly hold on.
As a story-teller, Carline Spence can be found on the top shelf. She slowly adds flesh and bones as she exposes the spirits looking to bust loose, using memories of the past to strengthen the real-time bonds of love in the Mint Conditiontitle track. The music matches the intimate conversation in “Sit Here and Love Me” as a voice seeks the solace of a touch without the need of words. Mint Conditiontakes its first steps on a hyper-active rhythm when “What You Don’t Know” pulls back the curtain on secrets and acoustic strums wrap around the war between the angel and devil taking sides in “Who Are You”. Caroline Spence stands on a rooftop to make a wish to the night sky, putting the message into “Song for a City” as she settles in for the “Long Haul” with life choices in the passenger seat and slow dances with whispered advice in “Till You Find One”.
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Left Lane Cruiser (from the album Shake and Bake available on Alive NaturalSound Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Left Lane Cruiser is a band of very little middle ground and even less ambiguity. You know what you are getting with this duo as they lay a base of Blues backed by sonics of power and aggression. Lots of distortion and raw vocals, Left Lane Cruiser’s brand of the Blues on Shake and Bakea child of a punk rock upbringing. The grittiness aligns Left Lane Cruiser with the Blues purveyors of the past while ignoring Classic Rockers whose Blues came via cleanliness and slick production. Shake and Bakeis an album loaded with dirty grooves. “Two Dollar Elvis” is an opener that sweats and boogies and the Shake and Bake title track leads a party charge when guitar player and vocalist Fredrick “Joe” Evans IV declares ‘we’re here to rock and roll, hell yeah I’ll take a drink, thank you very much’.
In 2018 Left Lane Cruiser was invited to play on the Blues Train in Durango Colorado in a summer marred by a wild-fire. “Smoke Keeps Rising” is their nod to Durango and the town’s indomitable spirit despite a wildfire burning thousands of acres. Electricity and distortion is left behind on the mostly acoustic “Smooth Commander”, a pleasant reprieve from all the sonic power on steroids. Left Lane Cruiser turn the volume and ramp the power back up on “Sweat Love to Shine” opening the cut with a big Stoner Rock groove. “Detroit House Party” is a huge closer that exit Shake and Bake on a big riff plucked straight from the Michigan Rock handbook of 1976. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Damn Tall Buildings (from the album Don’t Look Down available as a self-release)
What-if’s are the subject matter when Damn Tall Buildings feel the burn of indecision still stinging as they bury the past in the barn-burning beat of “Angeline’s Blue Dream” on their recent release, Don’t Look Down. The Brooklyn, NY-based four-piece make a mighty torrent of the rhythm that courses underneath “Late July” as they make a promise to the night in “Morning Light”. The stories range and ramble as Damn Tall Buildings make the unifying feature on Don’t Look Downthe playing. The natural groove made by a string band seriously happy with the music they are making speaks louder than words on the album, though Damn Tall Buildings compete with the beat in the shouts of “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” and in the lyrical spit of life lessons in “Loving or Leaving”.
A slow sway puts a comforting arm around the hopes that settle in “Alison” while a meandering pace makes it way through the dreamscape melodies of “Location” and a salvational strut marches down “River of Sin”. The four members of Damn Tall Buildings met while attending Berklee School of Music, busking on the streets of Boston before finding themselves forming a band for studio and stage in Brooklyn while keeping the informal street guerilla feel to the playing. It sounds like preaching though the words read like a diary page when Damn Tall Buildings make personal observations a link to unite the citizens of the world in “Words to the Song”. High-stepping rhythms shuffle to the confessions of “Had Too Much” while handclaps and footstomps welcome “Evan” and Damn Tall Buildings count their blessings on a downhill beat with “Green Grass and Wine”.
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Kevin Breit (from the album Stella Bella Strada available on Stony Plains Records)
Stella Bella Strada sonically translates to a shape-shifting musical experience, master guitarist/composer Kevin Breit the captain and crew on the recent release. Rather than stacking up songs on the album, Kevin Breit creates individual audio moments, roller coaster rides that swoop and swirl (“Kick at the Grape”) and Tex Mex slip’n’slides (“of Milk and Honey”) while reverential strings wrap around weaving guitar lines (“A Common Vow”). As a composer, Kevin Breit builds cinematic masterpieces of sound, his guitar a playful companion for the film noir soundtrack in “Vegas Address’ as it drifts like a western breeze over “Shoo the Bluebird”. Kevin Breit is a six-string Svengali on Stella Bella Strada, creating the sounds and moods for the album with his guitar, finding himself in the credits column as producer and engineer as well as mixing and mastering.
The guitar sounds on the album are otherworldly, alien riffs channeled from distance space and other times, the notes tripping and falling over a rhythmic rumble in “Buttons and Zippers” and uttering a molasses slow growl on “Mother’s Cupboard”. For Kevin Breit, the album came together when his dreams were made real with a special gift, and he summarized the recording saying that ‘Stella Bella Strada loosely translates to ‘beautiful star of the road’ and is aptly named for a new guitar built by master luthier and grand friend, Joseph Yanuziello. Did I want a one-of-a-kind instrument that could offer a fiery tone and is capable of fitting in many genres? Yes. Did I want an instrument that was lightweight and didn’t require a chiropractor after every show? Yes. Did I want Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren peeking out from under the Mojo pickup grills? Yes. Did I want it to light up when it was in high gear? Yes. Did I want my initials on the tone and volume controls? Why not? So, this is where the road trip starts’. The count of four begins a march down the midway led by a carnival calliope and a wandering horn section in “Marcell Loren” as Kevin Breit makes a musical spectacle of the Stella Bella Strada title track.
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The Felice Brothers from the album Undress available on Yep Roc Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The Felice Brothers kick off their first album in three years with a song about trying to even the playing field. The opening cut, and title track, on Undressimplores Republicans, Democrats and everyone Undecided in between to undress with the summons ‘even the evangelicals, yeah you, lighten up, undress’. It is a simple plea coming across via a horn driven groove to perhaps reveal by using universal nakedness as a model that we are all not that different. It’s a solid opening to another equally sturdy Felice Brothers record.
“Special Announcement” has a drunken sing-a-long vibe that becomes a mission statement for someone who is ‘saving up my money, to be president’ with a campaign full of political promises that include putting Charlie Parker on the $10 bill. “Nail it on the First Try” is a short tune with a Gospel vibe that kicks into the punchy/punky “Salvation Army Girl” while both “The Kid” and “Hometown Hero” are heartbreaking and somber tales of coming back home to heartache. “Jack Reminiscing” is a bouncy, piano driven cut, “Days of Our Years” is loaded with lyrical details that rolls like life passing before its character’s eyes. The Felice Brothers cover some ground, sad ballads rubbing up against bouncy Roots Rock with boogie piano as they traverse through lyrical Springsteen-esque territory while camping out with Pavement, all while turning the great pastime of people watching into singing out what they see. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Cerny Brothers (from the album Looking for the Good Land on Cleveland International Records)
Brothers Scott and Bob Cerny looked east and west while growing up in rural Illinois, the pair heading towards the sun and landing in Los Angeles before relocating to Nashville where they currently set up shop. Though their travels have taken them from the land that provided fodder for their stories, Scott and Bob have carried the essentials of their formative years in their songs, and with the recent release, Looking for the Good Land, The Cerny Brothers carve a niche for heartland Rock’n’Roll into Americana and Roots sonic roster. The nature of heartland Rock to tell its tale as straightforward testaments for its citizens fits in well with Roots and Americana musicians speaking truths in their music. Looking for the Good Landreverses the image in the mirror when the man building a career fantasizes of a simpler world where home is the stage in “Night on the Town”. The Cerny Brothers log “A Million Miles” with the wandering thoughts of a touring band, commit to the journey while searching for a path in “Where I’m Going”, and march into “Tennessee” on a confident rhythm for a homecoming that dreams of heading back out on the road.
Threads of a theme connect the songs on Looking for the Good Land, the strongest link coming through the main characters in the stories as Americans in a Modern Age. The Cerny Brothers share words based on their own beliefs and the framework of their own upbringings, Scott Cerny stating that ‘we’re not looking to push any specific ideology, we’re just making observations about what we’ve seen. Across the country, whether you’re a musician or a plumber, you’re looking for your piece of the American pie. Everyone is’. Wearing the skin of whatever-it-takes to survive, chiming guitar chords introduce “American Whore” as Looking for the Good Landgreets the morning with an echo of motorcycle dreams making the soundtrack for “Days of Thunder” as the album opens with a turn it up and cruise rock’n’roll beat when “I Wanna Love You” marks its time against the blur of white lines. The Cerny Brothers “Laugh at the Devil” against a rockabilly beat, watch “Ghost” materialize out a slowly building melody, and move through guitar notes flickering like a night sky underneath “Moon Above the Desert”.
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Rosie Flores from the album Simple Case of the Blues available on The Last Music Company (by Bryant Liggett)
Rosie Flores is a timeless treasure. A stomping, crooning, and shouting rockabilly queen that kills it on the guitar whether she is partnering with great players in Roots or Indie Rock as well as fronting her own band. Simple Case of the Bluesis a collection of old Blues and slinky lounge music, and it may be the hippest record of 2019. Cuts like “I Want to Do More” and “Till the Well Runs Dry” play like old-school Jump Jazz as Rosie Flores sings over a hopping horn-section, while “Love Don’t Love Nobody” and “Simple Case of the Blues” scream The Blues and showcase her guitar playing.
It is the slower cuts on Simple Case of the Blues, “Mercy Fell Like Rain”, “If There Was a Way”, and “Enemy Hands”, that find Rosie Flores playing the role of a sultry lounge lady; steamy and possibly risqué, the tracks are beautiful ballads that fit the old-school vibe of the album. Rosie Flores hasn’t forgotten how to rock and “Teenage Rampage” is a swinging instrumental with an extra-order of great guitar work that makes the whole melody swing. Rosie closes the album with “If You Need Me,” a soulful Rhythm and Blues exiter. She sings with a sense of urgency making the whole story ache within her delivery, with the spoken word segment revealing desperation as another layer of emotion. It is a closer that kills as it bids Simple Case of the Bluesgoodbye. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Cash Box Kings (from the album Hail to the Kings! available on Alligator Records)
The best way to ascend to any throne is to create the land over which you rule. The Cash Box Kings build their own dominion, stacking the deck with a sound they cultivated, mixing tough Chicago and Detroit Blues blended with country rock’n’roll, dubbing the results as a genre called Bluesabilly. Hail to the Kings!is the recent release from the group, co-fronted by Chicago Blues vocalist Oscar Wilson and Madison, Wisconsin-based harmonica man, Joe Nosek. Hail to the Kings!poses a direct question to fans that would rather hear the music of The Cash Box Kings from the other side of the wall in “Bluesman Next Door”. Rowdy honky tonk Blues like ”Take Anything I Can” plays along with Jump Blues (“Back Off”), rockabilly (“Hunchin’ on My Baby”), slinky grooves (“Smoked Jowl Blues”, and hand-jive beats (“Joe, You Ain’t from Chicago”).
Musically sticking to traditions, the tales of The Cash Box Kings stage their Blues tales with modern day accessories, relating the sad story of a sexting incident in “The Wrong Number” and realizing that, as a band, they may wear the crown but in the real world, gender equality is king with “Ain’t No Fun (When the Rabbit’s Got the Gun)”. Joining The Cash Box Kings on the other end of the argument. Shemekia Copeland duets with Oscar Wilson as the pair confess last night’s mistakes on “The Wine Talkin’” while Hail to the Kings!gives up the podium to “Sugar Daddy” to speak of plans, warn of living too high with “I’m That Man Down There”, and make a complaint out of a drinking song for “Poison in My Whiskey”.
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Steel Blossoms (from the album Steel Blossoms available on Billy Jam Records)
The “Heroine” in the song from Steel Blossoms achieves greatness only in opioid dreams, seeing bravery as ending the vicious cycle of a junkie. The fine line between “Pick Me Up” and one more of the high of the moment becomes the question the Steel Blossoms ponder as the pair point fingers (“You’re the Reason I Drink”), offer a DIY guide for death (“Killed a Man”), stir the rumor mill (“Trailer Neighbor”), and lay down laws for love (“You Ain’t Sleeping Over”). No one can ever accuse Steel Blossoms of passive/aggressive behavior as the pair make full disclosure their mantra on the recently self-titled release.
Former elementary school teachers Sara Zebley and Hayley Prosser met at a music festival in their home state of Pennsylvania, playing in the local Pittsburgh music scene before relocating to Nashville. The pair let tenderness take the lead on “Innocent” recalling a gentler time before the world pissed on their parade as the Steel Blossoms hear I-65 sing a sad song in “Kentucky’s Never Been This Far from Tennessee” while they cross “County Line” into the side of town sitting in the shadow of trouble. They plot “Revenge” on a coiling fiddle riff channeling the after-life sentiments of Steel Blossoms.
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