The Birds of Ontario (from the album The Birds of Ontario available on as a self-release)
Songwriting and performing was basis for the twenty-year musical collaboration of The Birds of Ontario. The pair, Joe Roncetti and Eric Grovenor, gather their tunes together under a self-titled release, The Birds of Ontario soundtracking the tales with Country Folk (“Come to Me”), dirty Electric Blues (“Anybody Now”), psychedelic wanderings (“Falling”), slinky Rock grooves (“Sail Apart”), and scratchy Rock’n’Roll (“In My Mind”). The Birds of Ontario is a jukebox for assorted beats and styles. The band competently shape-shifts between genres, opening the album with spit and snarl, stomping out a badass beat for “She’s Got Time” while The Birds of Ontario drifts lazily across trippy desert rhythms with “Been This Way” and floats through a dreamscape on “Distant Waves”.
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Crow vs Lion (from the album The Heart, The Time, The Pen available on ) (by Bryant Liggett)
Call it Art Folk or Emo Americana, The Heart, The Time, The Pen, the sophomore effort from Crow Vs. Lion, the musical project of Pennsylvania’s Dan Gallagher, puts a rough-edge around the Folk title and some guts to the Americana descriptor. With tossed in audio which includes the odd drone of voices and more personal script from Gallagher’s kids, the vocal ramblings give the record an industrial feel adding an inquisitive dose of oddity. An unfamiliar static to anyone born in the 2000’s, the sound of spinning a car radio dial opens The Heart, The Time, The Pen, giving way to a heavy fiddle that kicks off the lonely “Daniel Odin”, followed by a soulful “Beg, Steal & Borrow” that comes right out of an old school, gospel/R&B playbook.
“Missouri” is subtly anthemic with Indie Rock leanings disguised as a ballad, the punky “Entropy” has a hot fiddle, and “I’m Gray”, introduced with more dropped-in audio snippets, gives way to a heavy vocal chant coming off like a rap. The title track closes The Heart, The Time, The Pen, the track a mid-tempo kick and punch, not quite ranging into Cow Punk territory but exhibiting a restrained energy. The Heart, The Time, The Pen showcases Dan Gallagher’s singer/songwriter chops while also proving he can lead a more than capable roots band. A memorable takeaway is the vocals; Dan’s duets with Kiley Ryan are a stunning match, his sharp voice living comfortably alongside Ryan’s smooth, dreamy delivery. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Adobe Collective from the album All the Space That There Is available on Love Sands Records/JTMMusic (by Bryant Liggett)
File The Adobe Collective under Indie Rock however the California quintet covers much more sonic territory. The Adobe Collective do the Cosmic Country thing, the Electro Folk with hints of Psychedelia thing, and the Jazz lounge duo thing, all delivered with big, lush instrumentation and warm vocals, their slight pop element restrained by a little true grit. All the Space That There Is kicks off with “Carousel,” a sunny, California beach meets high-desert vibe. “Blind” follows with up-beat ‘woo-hoo-hoo’s’ and good timing handclaps, while “Doing It to Ourselves” is a pop number that breaks into a fist pumping rocker a third of the way in. “Never Tell” is ambient and dreamy, blown up and out for the last thirty-seconds, where Psych Rock and a manic, simulated tribal scream close out the tune.
“Warm to Me” and “All I Know” are stunning duets, the former with a moody and delicate guitar intro giving way to a slight dose of AM Gold, the latter a warm, Alternative Indie cut with Country guitar. “Taking Time” is a lazy, 60’s, Laurel Canyon inspired cut where the twangy guitar is paired with an acoustic six-string, one carefully placed on top of the other, and the closer in “Happy That It Hurts” wraps up the record with an industrial nod. There’s no melody, just ambient noise and slightly distorted vocals, a fit ending for a band unafraid to remain ambiguous. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Sarah Jane Scouten (from the album Confessions available on Light Organ Records)
Using Confessions as a reveal, Sarah Jane Scouten picks pieces of her persona, sketching her likes, dislikes, and observations on life into her latest release. Choosing secrets as song fodder, Sarah Jane shares that ‘I love rattlesnakes. In the southern U.S., fiddlers still remove the rattle from their tails and place them inside their fiddles to "put the devil inside" or make them sound really good. I like how they protect themselves but only bite when they've been startled or attacked. They give warning with the rattling of their tail, but don't hesitate in self-defense. I don't tend to get angry very often. But when I do, I write “I'm a Rattlesnake”’. Pinning a target on the wall, Sarah Jane Scouten takes aim at relationships, spinning past partners on a wheel that puts them on a pedestal or under a bus with Confessions.
Staccato strums wave flags for a hero’s arrival in “You Are the Medicine” while Sarah Jane Scouten turns the pages of family history with the slinky groove of “Ballad of a Southern Midwife”, scatters guitar notes like sparkling starlight underneath “Crossing the Bar”, and trots out “Show Pony” with pride for a last ride. Music was a family heirloom growing up in Bowens Island, British Columbia, Canada, Sarah Jane Scouten furthering her knowledge with studies of British and American Folk music, finding lessons at the source of the sounds from the folklorists of Vancouver Island, old time late night jams in West Virginia, the songcraft of Tennessee, and her own roots in Glasgow, Scotland. Confessions frames its stories with Folk, opening the album with an overture march leading in “Dark Side” while a sedated melody settles on “Poison Oak“ and makes the rhythm throb to propel “You Still Love Him, Kid” as Sarah Jane Scouten lets her mind wander over plucked notes in “Pneumonia (to Love)”.
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Triggers & Slips (from the album The Stranger available on 1492007 Records)
A marriage of heart-on-your-sleeve Country and swaggering Rock’n’Roll, Triggers & Slips introduce The Stranger, the latest release from the Salt Lake City, Utah band. The songs of Triggers & Slips play dual duty, telling their story before heading for the open range with electric jams. Starting its life sparked by a rhythmic thump, “Blue Smoke” spreads out into a pounding Rock stomp as a thin beam of delicate strums begins a journey into “Natchez Trace”, rising up into a electric fist that opens in the dark tale, and rough banjo notes ground the ethereal textures laying a path for “Dig a Hole” to plant a powerful groove, part-Rock, part-Country.
Forming around frontman Morgan Snow, the band began life in 2008. Triggers & Slips put muscle into the songwriter’s words, providing the musical foundation for his Rock’n’Roll with a Country Soul vocals. The Stranger hears hinges creak as it opens its doors with the title track, the chaotic blend of sonics parting its curtain to show a pure-bred Classic Country melody. The Country touches of Triggers & Slips tint with the Blues in “I’m Not Your Baby” and wrap a sunshine gospel beat around the confessions of “Old Friends” while the album exits with a Countrified cover of Alice in Chains “The Rooster”.
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Wayne Hancock (from the album Man of the Road available on Bloodshot Records)
Celebrating two decades with his label, Bloodshot Records, Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock packs up Man of the Road, his recent release, with tunes from history with the label, A-Town Blues (2001), South Austin Sessions EP (2001), Swing Time (2003), Hard Headed Woman: A Celebration of Wanda Jackson (2004), Tulsa (2006), and Viper of Melody (2009). Gambling (“Throwing Away My Money”), deadly relationships (“Your Love and His Blood”), long weekends (“Johnny Law”), and new beginnings (“Life’s Lonesome Road”) find a common ground with the romance of the road theme in the songs of Wayne Hancock.
His love of life, and the words he uses to express his joys, find their way into the hearts of fans as an anthem, “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs”, found as a live version on Man of the Road. The title track trots by on a Country and Western sway as “A-Town Blues” prances with some Texas Swing, Honky Tonk Rock’n’Roll kicks up sawdust with “Hoy Hoy Hoy”, and truck-driving Country grabs the wheel for “I’m Driving My Young Life Away”. Every note from the guitar of Wayne Hancock sings of his love of playing, and the man behind the strings shares the back story on “Shootin’ Star from Texas” as Man of the Road follows a fat bass thump into the big band strut of “Tulsa”. For their part, Bloodshot Records gives the gift of vinyl for the 25th anniversary of their time with Wayne Hancock, releasing the tracks of Man of the Road on a 12-inch album for the first time.
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Showcasing the songs of Helene Cronin, Old Ghosts and Lost Causes gathers the work of the seasoned songwriter under her own name. Her pen puts flesh and blood into the characters wandering Old Ghosts and Lost Causesas “Riding the Grey Line” turns its head around to watch the faces of the fellow passengers moving towards, and away from, their lives. Helene Cronin opens the album with soft guitar picking that lets her clear vocal question her motivations in “Careless with a Heart” as the legend of a man rolls across the screen of a song as “The Last Cowboy”, and “Mongrels and Mutts” suggests acceptance of the face in the mirror.
An electric guitar wiggle dances across “Mean Bone”, a tune Helene Cronin co-wrote with her novelist daughter, Alex, the story wondering if the descriptive term may be more real in the bodies of those around us. Old Ghosts and Lost Causes sets the cruise control on groove for a highway song in “El Camino Fly” while an edge courses through the rhythmic resume of “Devil I Know” as the album considers the diversity “In a Kiss” and watches an invisible presence walk among the living with “Ghost”. Helene Cronin beautifully paints love for one another with each soul she introduces on “Humankind”, using the theme of the track as a centerpoint for Old Ghosts and Lost Causes.
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Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps (from the album Live! available on Jesi-Lu Records)
Beginning the set with a shout out, Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps nod to Big Mama (Thonrton) and Jimmy Reed, testifying to the power of the Blues and its healing potential with “In The Pink”. The tune joins a satchel full of barrelhouse Blues cuts, Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps letting the music do the talking, titling the album simply as Live!. The celebration smoothly rings the bells in “Everyday Will Be a Holiday”. Pulling from nearly twenty years of releases, Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps use the Blues to do a little begging (“Put the Squeeze on Me”), boasting (“I Want It All”), finger-pointing (“She’s Got a Way with Men”), and shoulder shrugging (“Easier Said Than Done”).
The music of Blues and R&B forebearers lines the walls of Live! as Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps offer cuts from Etta James (“If I Can’t Have You”), Allen Toussaint (“Shoorah, Shoorah”, and The 5 Royales (“I Like It Like That”). The groove sinks low, leaning in to tell about “The Day the Blues Came to Call”, swaying in the light of love for “Don’t Make a Habit of It” as it whispers regret into “Forgetting You”. Closing out Live! with a tune to get them back on the road, Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps make an exit in a puff of honky tonk rock’n’roll with “Long Way from Texas”.
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Joni Mitchell by Steve Matteo (from the album Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Celebration available on
Joni Mitchell turned 75, November 2018. Battling serious illness for many years, and reportedly near death at one point, Mitchell has recovered and was able to attend concerts that commemorated her milestone birthday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles over two nights on November 6 and 7, 2018.
The event featured a wide mix of artists from various generations and musical styles. A 16-song release, Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Celebration from Decca includes selections from the concert. Artists such as Graham Nash and James Taylor, who were a key part of Joni Mitchell’s early career, and contemporaries such as Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris are included here performing covers of Mitchell’s song catalog. Aside from newer artists with Jazz leanings (Diana Krall and Norah Jones), Joni 75 doesn’t reflect the breadth of the Jazz stylings from Joni Mitchell’s recording career evident at the full concert tributes.
The omission is significant particularly in that Joni Mitchell’s Jazzier recordings and tours were often misunderstood by critics and the record business in general. Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Celebration rights these wrongs but the abridged disc waters down this key component of the shows. Songs such as “Amelia,” “Coyote” and “Dreamland” are drawn from Mitchell’s more adventurous jazz and world music-styled albums, but they are overshadowed by her more popular songs such as “Help Me,” “Both Sides Now” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Regardless of stylistic choices, Joni 75 is still an exceptional compiling and performances by Glen Hansard, Rufus Wainwright, and especially Brandi Carlile, pay tribute to the original compositions while reflecting their vitality in the hands of these sympathetic and deeply talented post-60’s artists. An interesting juxtaposition is hearing Graham Nash perform his song “Our House” about his relationship with Joni Mitchell alongside James Taylor’s mournful “Woodstock”, originally recorded in a scorching rendition by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the rendition included on Joni 75 closer here to Mitchell’s original recording vision.
This is not the first, or likely the last, tribute album or concert for Joni Mitchell. Few popular musical artists of the Rock era are more innovative or iconoclastic than Mitchell. Her compositional talents and versatile musical skills are unmatched. For both those just coming to Joni Mitchell and those long familiar with her music, this is a welcome chronicle of a milestone musical event.
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Various Artists - If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison (from the album If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison available on Concord Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Mose Allison is hip innovator and most musicans know it. Laid-back vocals over loose piano rambles defined its style as the sound created a Jazz Blues genre, influencing Jimi Hendrix to Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell to The Pixies. If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison is a big nod to the man behind the piano keys, a collection hosting a diverse assembly of players such as Loudon Wainright III, Dave and Phil Alvin, Iggy Pop and Frank Black, Bonnie Raitt, Chrissie Hynde and many. Musicians as fans pay homage to Mose Allison with a compilation of songs that recognizes his contribution to musical coolness. Taj Mahal kicks off If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison with a straight-ahead cover of “Your Mind is on Vacation” while Robbie Fulks captures Allison’s subtle humor on a tripped out take on “My Brain”.
The ladies step up and knock it out of the park with their tributes. Fiona Apple, joined by The Tippo Allstars, delivers a bouncy “Your Molecular Structure”, Chrissie Hyndes’ “Stop This World”, with its moody Hammond organ becomes a smokey cabaret lounge cut while Bonnie Raitt’s live version of “Everybody Crying Mercy” plays with heavy gospel overtones and Allison’s daughter, Amy, teams with Elvis Costello on the laid-back “Monsters of the Id”. “Wild Man on the Loose” is a wild rocker courtesy of Dave and Phil Alvin and Frank Black’s “Numbers on Paper” like the original version from Mose is slow and heavy. A tribute record where Indie Rockers rub elbows with old punks, Blues players, and Folkies certainly speaks to the man’s influence, with If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison a neighborhood where everyone feels comfortable, and tracks that will expand on the legacy of Mose Allison. (by Bryant Liggett)
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