Cidny Bullens (from the album Walkin’ Through This World available on Blue Lobster Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Despite being the first record from roots rocker Cidny Bullens, it is far from a debut. Bullens has dropped previous eight releases dating back to 1979 as Cindy Bullens, this latest Walkin’ Through This Worldthe first since becoming a transgender man. Tailored for the Americana crowd, there’s a punky punch with Cidny Bullens having a lot to say; identity and perception are proud narratives delivered open and smart. Album opener “Little Pieces” kicks off with sharp and stabbing guitar while a Rock’n’Roll sitar lays a psychedelic bed while Cidny sings of personal change where an ‘existence has gone up in smoke, it’s my own’.
Cidny Bullens is bold and stoked for his future as he speaks /my travels as a man in this world have only just begun’. The Walkin’ Through This World title track is a spoken word, Rock rhythm backed bit of Beat poetry, detailing that Cidny Bullens is ‘walking through this world as exactly who I am’. A boogie groove drives the autobiographical “Call Me by My Name” where Cidny takes you from age four to the present while detailing some significant times from Bullen’s past, times he sings about in a confident swagger. Singing “call me by my name’, the story attempts to rest others discomfort to his physical changes. Walkin’ Through This World is Cidny Bullens giving a voice to many, a human and real narrative that is important to hear, wrapped in a Rock and Roll package. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Reb Fountain (from the album Reb Fountain on Flying Nun Records)
The music surrounding Reb Fountain on her self-titled release is respectful, barely whispering a rhythm on “Strangers” and lazily drifting alongside the dreamy moods in “Lighthouse”. The piano plays an instrumental role when staccato taps guide Reb Fountain’s footsteps across “It’s a Bird (It’s a Plane)” while fingers touch ivory keys gently, scattering random notes to open “Quiet Like the Rain”, and solidifying to become a set pattern of bass tones drumming a trance for the mystical telling of “Samson”.
Born in San Francisco, California Reb Fountain emigrated with her family from America to Lyttleton, a port city in Christchurch, New Zealand, a hub for the South Island’s Folk scene. Reb Fountain makes spells of her songs, her vocals enticing and seducing as she sketches a lovers end in “The Last Word” while a male/female conversation becomes the storyline for “When Gods Lie”. Opening the album with a stomp of rhythm, “Hawks and Doves” marches on a determined pace as a world-weary beat trudges underneath Reb Fountain when she pontificates on a worldview asking “Don’t You Know Who I Am”.
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The Oh Hellos (from the album Boreas available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Lush harmonies and a dash of Folk instrumentation set the base for the latest from The Oh Hellos. Boreas is anything but basic and far from traditional Folk or string band music. The third EP installment in a serial tribute to the Greek wind deities from The Oh Hellos (following Notos and Eurus), the wind muse inspired release turns Folk music on its head as the sibling duo of Maggie and Tyler Heath explore soft Art Rock and Acoustic Psychedelic, where drifting melodies can give way to gentle instrumental pokes that are playfully unpredictable.
“A Kindling of Sorts” opens Boreas with plucked banjo, animated fiddle, and bowed bass, building to a big sonic blast. With no break between the first two tracks, “Cold” is driven by a repetitive banjo melody that pulls back with sweeping dashes of fiddle, and “Lapis Lazuli” moves from faint to fierce, where minimalist instrumentation gives way to waves of sound. “Smoke Rising Like Lifted Hands” is a 60-second experimental and exploratory interlude between “Rose” and “Boreas,” both featuring Maggie’s soft and guiding vocals. “Rose” has beautiful blips and bleeps, “Boreas” dreamy harmonies that float between lyrics addressing everyday tasks including a radio show. The Oh Hellos tread their own ground. Folk traditions are left at the curb with soft and psychedelic wanderings away from the norm as The Oh Hellos brand their own definition of Roots music. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Various Artists (from the album Back to Paradise available on Horton Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Oklahoma remains one of the great but overlooked musical states, home to a load of under-the-radar Indie and Roots Rock, the latter celebrated on the Horton Records comp Back to Paradise – A Tulsa Tribute to Okie Music. It is a solid collection from Paul Benjaman, John Fullbright, Jesse Aycock, Sarah Frick and more of Tulsa’s Indie A-list, a deep body of work that serves a delicious plateful of country-fried Roots Rock. JJ Cale and Leon Russell may share the state’s biggest musical dude trophy, JJ’s songs worthy of two appearances delivered by Paul Benjaman. “I’ll Make Love to You Anytime” is a groove-heavy opener for Back to Paradise, and “Ride Me High” is delivered up cool and slow.
Alongside Cale in the Oklahoma musical canon Leon Russell is given special treatment from reigning Tulsa piano man John Fullbright appearing on the funny, folky and acoustic funky “If The Shoe Fits” and returning for “Crossing Over”, a heavenly, more Gospel Rock heavy from local Tulsa hero, Steve Ripley. Charlie Redd and Briana Wright choose not to mess with funk-perfection, presenting a mirrored version of The Gap Band’s “I Yike It” while Sarah Frick captures a 1975-vibe on Dwight Tilley’s “I’m On Fire”. Jacob Tovar’s “I’m Gonna Get to Tulsa” is a boogie number, and John Fullbrights third appearance gives Hoyt Axton’s dirty folk cut “Jealous Man” a Bourbon Street bounce. Back to Paradise is a gateway drug. Solid contributors to what is modern Americana and Roots music, this peek behind Oklahoma’s musical curtain will send any music fan down a wormhole of further exploration of the past and present of Oklahoma’s hot music scene. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Arlo McKinley (from the album Die Midwestern available on Oh Boy Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The solo debut from Arlo McKinley is a musical punch in the gut. Die Midwestern is a solid and slow dose of reality delivered via gritty Folk and fringe Country, true tales of spent dreams, lost love and attempts to reconcile and just get-by. Die Midwestern opens with the hopeful “We Were Alright”, a road tune about lovers traveling wherever to escape anything. The title track kicks off with a lazy fiddle as Arlo McKinley sings about ‘another Cincinnati Saturday Night’, a story detailing McKinley’s love/hate relationship with his home state of Ohio. “Bag of Pills” is the tune that got Arlo McKinley signed to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records, the last bit of business Prine conducted for the label. It is a simple song about selling off some pharmaceuticals to fund a date-night of drinking that turns into calling out to Jesus as the narrator claims ‘I remember when you told me, if I believed I’d never be lonely. Now I know you were lying’.
“Suicidal Saturday Night” with its church organ is a country-gospel confession, “Whatever You Want” is a lonely ballad of dedication and change, and album closer “Walking Shoes” is a gutsy plea of change, championing both taking off and returning home. The emotion is painted on thick, the situations in these songs universal. The layered instrumentation provides a solid bed for a lyric-heavy record of shared pain and shared hope, where Arlo McKinley breaks your heart in the best of worst ways. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Alhousseini Anivolla & Girum Mezmur (from the album Afropentatonism available on Piranha Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
Hailing from two countries separated by thousands of miles yet united by shared musical heritage, guitarists Alhousseini Anivolla (Niger) and Girum Mezmur (Ethiopia) are already household names in their respective homelands. Anivolla has an acclaimed history, including time spent with the potent desert Blues band Tinariwen, and leads his own trio, Anewal. Mezmur has collaborations with 'crossover' stars Angelique Kidjo and Ali Keita in his resume, not to mention being musical director for legendary singer Mahmoud Ahmed. Between these two, then, we have decades of musical experience, expertise and collected knowledge. Their band on their recent dup release, Afropentatonism, is rounded out by percussionist Misale Legesse and septuagenarian mandolin virtuoso Ayele Mamo, plus two players of uniquely Ehtiopian instruments; Habtamu Yeshambel on masinko (one-stringed violin) and Anteneh Teklemariam on krar (a five-stringed lyre, tuned to pentatonic scale).
Fans of Tinariwen will be familiar with the ringing, Blues-based guitars which sound forth on opener “Awash Ammalele”; traditional African-American Blues infused with an aroma of heat and dust over a dancing, effervescent pulse. The music here, though, is a little more relaxed, a little gentler than that produced by the aforementioned Malian rockers. Mamo's twinkling, vibrato mandolin adds a warm, shimmering wash. Yeshambel's masinko colours, underscores and weaves its way between melody and rhythm. The deep-bass krar 'walks' in soft splashes, connecting the dots, while Legesse's hand-drums roll out like calm ocean waves. The liner notes of this album talk about the uniting musical language that is the pentatonic scale, an ancient five-notes-per-octave system upon which almost all other scales are built. It is a fascinating subject, but you don't need any knowledge of music theory to enjoy the results as presented here.
The music on Afropentatonism feels both joyous and organic simultaneously, with songs and melodies seeming to grow as they are played; the fertile ground of talent watered with inspiration and the splendid vagaries of the human mind. “Asalam” unfurls like an unruly shrub, and rises and spreads in branches to the sun. The grand plan becomes clear as the disparate strands of sound unite into simple yet hypnotic patterns. This feeling of 'looseness' in tandem with 'tight' playing is surely the ultimate aim of all musical collectives. The six players assembled here are masters of their respective instruments. That alone, isn't enough to guarantee 'success' (as pernicious a word as the modern world can offer). Heart, passion and a certain level of instinctive connection is needed. On Afropentatonism this group have this and more.
“Toumast Enkere” cooks and shimmers with subtle percussion and teasing lines until the krar swirls to life, pulling the band together and launching them easily on a sun-soaked, easy-tempo journey. “Isouwad” plunges deep into currents of rhythm which pull and sway. Those yet to experience this genre of music may well be astounded at just how familiar these tracks sound to Western ears. Swirls of traditional Country, Jazz, even modern Rock and, of course, the Blues form a large part of Afropentatonism. Those already in love with the Roots-based music from this continent will certainly want to add this record to their collection. The playing is delightful, stirring and, at times, such as on the breathtaking finale to “Isouwad,” exhilarating.
The sound of the 'desert Blues' guitar must surely mark as one of the most enthralling and exciting in music today. Cross-pollinations of styles and technique seldom fail to produce interesting results. Indeed, such movements are vital to inject freshness and vitality into the art form. In recent years, it seems, such collaborations between the Eastern and Western sides of the African continent have become increasingly more difficult to accomplish. Politics and violence, those well-fitted yet often ugly bed-fellows, throw up a wall to freedom of movement. All the more reason, then, to celebrate Afropentatonism and to treasure it. (by Chris Wheatley)
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The Daiquiri Queens (from the album The Daiquiri Queens available as a self-release) (by Chris Wheatley)
Louisiana's latest Cajun sensations, The Daiquiri Queens, were originally only supposed to last for one gig. Back in 2017, when guitarist Jamie Lynn Fontenot was invited by Rennie Elliot of the Blackpot Festival to put a band together for a one-off performance, she gathered friends and jam-partners, rehearsed a few songs and took to the stage. The crowd's enthusiastic response, coupled with the group’s obvious chemistry led the assembled players to conclude that this was a venture worth pursuing. Those players are: Fontenot (guitar) with Miriam McCracken (guitar), John Dowden (accordion/fiddle), Tysman Charpentier (fiddle), Sabra Guzmán (bass) and Chelsea Moosekian (drums).
Fast-forward three years and we have The Daiquiri Queens’ debut self-titled album, and a very fine one it is. Similar to traditional Irish music, Cajun songs make use of an infectious, rolling underpinning of bouncing drums and, in this case, the accordion. The Daiquiri Queens sing in French and opener “Mes Deux Beaux Frères “is a good representation of their exuberant style. This is just a step away from the rockabilly sound which tore up the charts in the mid-1950s. Replace the electric guitar with the fiddle and you're nearly there. There's nothing self-consciously retro or kitsch about The Daiquiri Queens, however. Their authenticity and passion for the art form shines through every second. This is as 'together' a band as you could wish to hear. Extraordinary, really, given that they have only been playing as a unit for such a comparatively short time.
Even on slower cuts such as the rambunctious, shuffling “Une Femme Avec Un Coeur Cassé”, there is a burning energy which lifts these tracks above the ordinary. The Daiquiri Queens is such a 'listenable' album, in fact, that it's easy to forget just how hard it is to play this music this well. There are some beautiful harmonies here, just the right level of strummed guitars and the subtle bass does a great job of pulling everything together. The lovingly-rendered “Plus Tu Tournes” will have you nodding your head and swaying your body even as its gentle yearnings pull at your heart.
Cajun music owes its own origins to the Great Expulsion of the Acadians (descendants of French colonists and indigenous people) from parts of Canada, by the British, in the mid-1800s. Many Acadians settled in Louisiana, itself an important meeting point of musical cross-currents. American Country music traces its roots back to Cajun, and therefore so does Rock'n’Roll and pretty much the entirety of the popular music catalogue.
You can clearly hear the Americana twang in tracks from this record in cuts such as “I’ll Always Take Care of You,” (titled in English but sung in French). Over an easy, rolling gait, fiddles and accordion flutter and float. I'm afraid I can't tell you what the Daiquiri's are singing here, but the sweet-sour pathos is self-evident, stirring images of late-evening sunshine, hazy meadows and lazy-flowing streams. Album closer “Dessus Le Pommier” brings the show to an end with charming hand-clap rhythms over playground-like chants. A delightful finale to a wonderful show.
The Daiquiri Queens produce music which ought to be cherished and which, perhaps, could have come from nowhere else. While many forms of traditional art find themselves stranded in backwaters, or fading altogether, Louisiana has always heralded its particular creative forms. Jazz, Cajun and Creole are central to the region's self-identity. At its best, Folk music (I include the Blues in this) speaks directly to the heart in a way that few others can, conjuring up a sense of shared humanity, of warmth and security even when it speaks of the mundane dangers and troubles of life.
In short, The Daiquiri Queens are good for the soul. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Emily Zuzik (from the album Torch & Trouble available on Maenades Music) (by Bryant Liggett)
The music of Emily Zuzik gets put into a lot of categories. Blues and neo-Folk, fringe Alt Country and Rock, the woman zigzagging through each category sidestepping classification. Emily Zuzik’s latest in Torch & Trouble is non-committal as she dabbles in Country, knocks out a tender ballad, and even explores big Rock riffs before moving down another audio avenue. What remains consistent are tough yet warm vocals, delivered from a woman exuding a musical confidence via songs of personal introspection or storytelling observation.
A muscle-flexing lead guitar is matched with an equally strong-willed storyteller in the opener “Stay Wild”, a story about a woman venturing toward personal independence while “Chinese Food and Donuts” is a lonely, late-night trip where novelty and a humorous title part a curtain to reveal a surf guitar-starring ballad. A heavy riff introduces the hard-driving Blues Rocker “Trouble” while “Magic” is a dose of throwback AM Gold; lonely, reverb driven guitar, gentle, cocktail-lounge-organ and harmonies that voice ‘each time I see you, its magic’ deliver you back to 1970’s, soft Rock radio. The elusive pedal steel guitar of “All That Love” gives the song an air of ambient dreaminess, “Wild Mustangs Across the Great Plains” is a historical narrative and a dose of desert-noir. “The Band Played On” is a cut heavy on emotion, Emily Zuzik singing about a band ‘grinding out another heartbreak song’. closing Torch & Trouble on a theatrical note, the perfect soundtrack for rolling the credits. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Satin Cowboy & The Seven Deadly Sins (from the album Amigos available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
A few cuts he plays it like a straight ahead Folkie. A few others are Country romps, and a few others Psychedelic Pop gems. The latest from The Satin Cowboy aka Silas Hite and his band The Seven Deadly Sins, Amigos, cuts a diverse rug while remaining animated and lighthearted, a record that doesn’t take itself too seriously nor dipped in Pop cheese. Amigos, from The Satin Cowboy & The Seven Dead Sins is fun. “Song for Tom Petty” opens Amigos with a sentimental nod to the late rockstar, a ‘guiding light, who burns out without saying goodbye’ while a zippy fiddle crackles in “Let’s Build A Home”, driving what’s both a romantic Roots Rocker and whistling sing-a-long.
The Satin Cowboy’s vocals drive the inspirational, western bounce of “Looking Back” and The Seven Deadly Sins dig into the film “Three Amigos” with a cover of Randy Newman’s “Blue Shadows (On the Trail)”. “Here and Now” has a reggae rhythm that rears itself randomly and “Lefty and Pancho” is an unsanctioned sequel to the Townes Van Zandt cut of a similar name; with its spoken word lyrics it like a Red Sovine track. “Pick and Grin” is a tasty and fun rockabilly homage to playing music for the sake of playing music, a poster child for 4 AM Bluegrass picking in a festival campground. The Satin Cowboy cries in his beer with “I’m No Good at Being Sad” and “Sleep to Dream” says it all in title, is a dreamy, faraway psych-folk closer that bids farewell to Amigos. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Old 97’s (from the album Twelfth available on ATO Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
They’re a Dallas band and proud of it. With a dozen proper full lengths studio albums, Old 97’s latest Twelfth, likely named so to recognize where the band land with regards to records dropped, while honoring one of the towns top football stars. Showcasing the branded sound Old 97’s has honed for over a quarter century, Twelfth is more chugging Cow Punk that seamlessly drifts into a Rootsy Indie Pop, where rock solid melodies drive frontman Rhett Millers words. Twelfth album opener in “The Dropouts” comes as a rallying cry. Fans can be happy Miller’s ‘one true love is this cheap guitar’ and we’re all good with ‘whiskey and guitar strings’; it’s fine being a dropout, thank you very much.
“Confessional Boxing” and “Bottle Rocket Baby” have that rhythmic chug the band has owned since day one, complete with the latter referencing Miller’s pal Robert, a lyrical reference that repeatedly shows up in song lyrics like a great inside joke. Pop inspired Rock rears its head on the dreamy “I Like You Better” where Rhett Miller claims, ‘I like you better than playing guitar’ and the missing-you love ballad “Absence (What We’ve Got)”. Old 97’s are never solely the Rhett Miller show. Bass player Murray Hammond kicks in vocals on the bouncy “Happy Hour” and the roots-psych “Why Don’t We Ever Say We’re Sorry”. Rowdy Country Rock peers from behind big Rock hooks, a locomotive rhythm section pushing Ken Bethea’s always stabbing guitar, while Miller’s lyrics are personal while dialing in Pop Culture references. You know where you stand with Old 97’s, while also knowing the goodness they will always deliver…from number one through Twelfth. (by Bryant Liggett)
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