Robben Ford (from the album Pure available on EARmusic) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s all instrumental goodness. No lyrics, just notes. A record delivering music in its pristine form, void of a lyrical message to be disseminated. It is an honest transmission of the melody through its music, and the message is up to the listener to hear and create. In the case of Pure, the latest from Robben Ford, that melody and music come via Blues and Jazz complete with a big dollop of Soul and groove in wonderful, laidback package. All hip and cool from a dude whose resume bears the same stamp due to time spent as a member of Yellowjackets and LA Express while also collaborating from Jazz masters to The Beatles.
“Pure (Prelude)” is the under two-minute album opener that features a stabbing guitar solo, sitar lines, and one big heavy riff setting an expectaion that Robben Ford may throw in a few surprises. Cuts like “White Rock Beer…8 cents” and “Blues For Lonnie Johnson” are straight ahead Blues tracks, showcasing Robben Ford as a solid player, arranger, and a fine soloist….but he also strays from strict templates. “Balafon” is a slow groover with hints of electronic rhythms, “Milam Palmo” delivers a touch of ambient Jazz, and “Go” is a bouncy beat where Ford’s guitar weaves in and out or keeps in time with the punchy horns. The Pure title track is an experimental blast where Robben Ford picks up from the prelude, stretching out the guitar playing while soloing over a worldbeat rhythm. Robben Ford closes with the fun “If You Want Me Too”, a rootsy, Country Funk mover that, like all of Pure, is just flat out cool. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Darrin Bradbury (from the album Artvertisement available on Anti-/Epitaph Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
The wear-it-on-your-sleeve honesty on Artvertisement requires a tough skin for the message. On his recent release Darrin Bradbury offers the tender thought ‘I am glad you are around’ in “The Wedding Song” despite the laundry lists of pain and sorrow that comes from partnering with another human. Self-assessment writes the words for “Busted World” while a dreamy rhythmic loop tries to find footing on a Sunday morning with “Pizza and Drugs” and belief balloons get holes poked, popping for each problem that Darrin Bradbury delivers in “XXYTOPLEFT”.
Happily, Darrin Bradbury has no edit button in his songwriting. What may seem like eccentricity is stream of consciousness from the songwriter. The musical backing of Artvertisement matches the words. The beat is a slowly building foundation under the story that stretches out in “Exile on Myrtle Beach”, the hammering pound continuing underneath fun-house organ riffs and the observations of “15 Shovels”. Darrin Bradbury holds big questions as a muse for Artvertisement, offering his songs as answers for ‘why are we here?’ and ‘how can we live principled lives in a capitalistic hellscape?’. Artvertisement can’t decide if the memories are good or bad when “Those Beautiful Days” pass by and makes an apology to “Deanna, Deanna” over crunchy guitar chords as Darrin Bradbury puts ‘your brand and their brand together’ as a chorus for the Artvertisement title track. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Divine Horsemen (from the album Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix available on In The Red Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
It’s been 33 years since Divine Horsemen have dropped new tunes, and their latest Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix is a sound just as edgy and gloriously left-of-center as it was in the 1980’s. Post Punk and Roots Goth, Chris Desjardins aka Chris D’s writing is sad urban grit, his duets with Julie Christensen are half-sung, half spoken word, and 100 percent heartache. The duo come off as your cranky neighbors that bang out rough around the edges racket. “Can’t You See Me” has a Rock’n’Roll stroll with the two trading lyrics claiming ‘lonely people are the ugliest people in the world,” while “Handful of Sand” is a big charging punky blast and a lyrical question of self as the two sing “I need to change my life, it’s a mess’.
There is a slight, subtle jangle in “Love Cannot Die” and a Tex-Mex vibe via accordion in “Mind Fever” while “Mystery Writers” chugs along with a dirty riff and handclaps drive the aggressive “Stoney Path”. This is Punk World Music. The Divine Horsemen sound is ultimately identifiable by Chris D’s recognizable moan, and that moan is supported by a band that kills. Guitar player Peter Andrus is a punk player with a worldbeat influences and the rhythm section of Bobby Permanent and the LA legendary punk drummer D. J. Bonebrake (X) is all drive. The word ‘unique’ is apt; Garage Rock melodies rubbing elbows with South of the Border rhythms and parts of Europe, all given a haunting Los Angeles Goth Punk treatment by Divine Horsemen. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Paul Thorn (from the album It’s Never Too Late to Call available on Perpetual Obscurity Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
An album is often a reflection of the spot in life its artist was standing during the recording process. On each release, Paul Thorn has told his story, claiming his place on earth in his songs, his abilities as a songwriter granting the tales humor and a cast of characters. For his recent release, It’s Never Too Late to Call, Paul Thorn collected songs over the course of seven years, the tracks self-written or co-writes with longtime manager/compatriot Billy Maddox. For Paul, the threads that holds It’s Never Too Late to Call are found in the stories, and he feels that ‘there’s a theme running throughout the record about people needing each other and reaching out to each other’. The moods are mellow on the album, Paul Thorn comfortable as the storyteller, his words playfully matching the beat for “Holy Hottie Toddy”, quietly confident over the gentle melodies underneath “Sapphire Dream”, soulful in the whispered acoustics of “What Could I Do”, and proudly baring his soul as he puts his beliefs on display for “Two Tears of Joy”.
His songs are extensions of himself, and that personal side is fully transparent on the title track, “It’s Never Too Late to Call” written for his sister Deborah, who passed away in 2018, and a late night voice to call after shows, long after other family members had gone to bed, There is a peace to Paul Thorn on It’s Never Too Late to Call, his life again reflected in his telling of the tales, his love rising like heat from “Apple Pie Moonshine”, his heart riding a rollercoaster on “Breaking Up for Good Again”, and his tone accusatory, his resolve set in “Goodbye is the Last Word”. Amid the self-awareness, It’s Never Too Late to Call makes sure to offer advice for life when Paul Thorn shares “You Mess Around & Get a Buzz”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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James McMurtry (from the album The Horses and The Hounds available on New West Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
What do you listen for in a new album? The answers differ, some artists are fine storytellers while others are masters of the riff and groove. James McMurtry navigates both of those avenues in his songs yet the big take-away from the A-list songwriter are the characters that walk the tales. On The Horses and The Hounds, his first studio release in seven years, a man bids goodbye in the sad reflections of “Vaquero”. The album introduces “Jackie”, catching the long-distance trucker in a quieter time at home, waiting for the dispatcher to call and tending her horses before heading out for her last run. Recorded at Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica, California, James McMurtry feels the Pacific pull in the songs as well as the sound stating that ‘there’s a definite Los Angeles vibe to this record. The ghost of Warren Zevon seems to be stomping around among the guitar tracks. Don’t know how he got in there. He never signed on for work for hire’.
The album begins its song cycle with a road tale, a troubadour’s story of a faraway friend spreading like the “Canola Fields” passing outside the car window. The men and women passing through the stories of James McMurtry wear their own skin however the storylines on The Horses and The Hounds bear an occasional resemblance to the man behind the pen. A traveling musician writes a letter home in “What’s the Matter” and self-realization provides a full disclosure rant for “If It Don’t Bleed”. The Horses and The Hounds title track grinds gears with each gritty guitar chop as a driver asks for a minute to get his rig turned around and “Operation Never Mind” is a wake-up call to watch the big picture rather than a small screen television. The soundtrack for The Horses and The Hounds is a rootsy Rock’n’Roll, the rhythm of the record a constant motion machine. A bad day spits out a non-stop tirade as James McMurtry drags the drama into a one liner for life’s woes…”I keep losing my glasses’. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Sugarcane (from the album Cat's Eyes available on Frizz Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
On the back of some intriguing singles, the debut from London/Brazilian band Sugarcane has already generated plenty of interest, so it's a pleasure to review it here. The quartet come with some pedigree and present a fascinating blend of British and South American sounds. Leader Robin French has long been drawn to foreign music. ‘Maybe Samba attracted me’ he explains ‘because of how it balances oppositions - it’s black and white. I remember looking at record sleeves in HMV (London) and feeling intrigued that the musicians were mixed-race like me’. French, who formerly played bass with Mr. Hudson and the Library, gained practical experience of this music while travelling but it was a fortuitous meeting back in London which kickstarted the Sugarcane project. At a rooftop party, he met two Brazilian exiles; drummer Xande Oliveira and double-bassist Klaus Stahr. Oliveira has previously worked with English singer-songwriter Alison Moyet and the highly-regarded composer Max de Castro. Stahr had spent time with politically-conscious reggae band Captain Ska. With steel-pan player and dancer Claire Niestyo-Bame (who has undertaken some interesting projects of her own) onboard, the line-up for Sugarcane was complete.
“One Specific Thing” kicks us off and straight away we're in sunshine territory, with delicately swaying South American rhythms, buzzing percussion, and soft, Samba guitar. Contrasting against this are the vocals, which are distinctly English, with a wistful edge and deliberately 'everyman' delivery. Nuanced steel-pans dance around this extremely likeable composition, which shimmers gracefully, as bright as you could wish for. Lyrically, we're talking love story, albeit more akin to the 'realist' approach of Morrisey than Mills & Boon. ‘It wasn't one specific thing you said, all the feelings that I hid, came to surface in my head’. “Blondes Have More Fun”, a standout, radio-friendly track, is an impressive slice of Indie Pop. And Poppy it is, in the best possible sense of the word, yet there is real craft and depth on display here, not least due to the elements of acoustic instrumentation, traditional rhythms, and Folk roots. The compositions are inventive and surprising, full of subtle changes and bringing to mind classic alternative acts of the past who enjoyed considerable crossover success. I can hear OMD here, as well as shades of XTC, and even Talk Talk. There's a distinct Brit Pop afterglow also; echoes of the highly accessible wedded to the adventurous and quirky which Blur and Space served up so well. A cheeky flute solo playing the melody from Rod Stewart's “Do You Think I'm Sexy” is a nice touch.
The title track for Cat’s Eye is a quite lovely shuffling, evocative number. ‘No eagles flying overhead, just cat's eyes on the road’. Robin French and co certainly know how to spin out a compelling soundscape. Progressions are measured and gentle but the arrangements are full of bursting flowers of music. The band serve up remarkably cohesive and composed songs; rich and warm sonic blankets which often bely the sometimes somber and serious subject matter. There's wit and invention aplenty but it is never forced or showy. “Shambala Mess” is another highlight, a racing, bracing work-out which takes inspiration from 70’s soundtracks, spaghetti Westerns, 60’s psychedelia, and, of course, those ever-present Brazilian tones. “Wide Sargasso Sea” (after the novel by Jean Rhys?) is an eccentric delight. ‘Do I feel the vibrations of voodoo?’ There's definitely some magic at work here. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Ben Reddell Band (from the EP LA Baby! available as a self-release) (by Danny McCloskey)
The Ben Reddell Band ride hard into LA Baby!, their recently released E.P.. Opening the six-song cycle with “My Baby”, the band sets the rhythm to cruise when the backbeat and chord chops pound out the beat for bright piano riffs to accent the cut. Bordering the tracks, LA Baby! closes out the song roster with Tex-Mex accordion swirling over “Good Thing”. West coast-based, Ben Reddell hears the songs of LA Baby! as a celebration of his adopted city, the tunes balancing allegiance between California Country and the history of songwriters soaked up growing up in Texas. The rhythms of “Tumbleweed” roll and bounce like its namesake while “Love Her & You Need Her” barrels along, bobbing and weaving with a love story careening over the hammering beat.
The pandemic lockdown took Ben Reddell away from studio management promoting LA Roots gathering, Grand Ol’ Echo. What-to-do was not as issue, Ben recalling that ‘in the absence of my responsibilities, I wanted to focus on putting out my art that I feel is good. Before I didn’t have the time or ability to put my work out there’. LA Baby! makes plans to party, laying out the how-to over the rocking rolls of rhythm lining up in “Cocaine” as the Ben Reddell Band ‘spins the sawdust’ on the dancefloor slowly turning to “12 Bar Blues”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Cruzados (from the album She’s Automatic available on Scam-co Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The 2021 version of Cruzados have picked back up where they left things 30 years back. The lineup may look a bit different for the Los Angeles-based Rock band save for founding bass player Tony Marsico, but the sound on their latest, She’s Automatic,remains the same. The same Rock swagger and the same gritty attitude that puts them the Punk world. She’s Automatic keeps some of the same company from their heyday as well. L.A. show-bills from 1980 may have found the original Cruzados performing alongside X, The Blasters, or Los Lobos. Guest spots on the new release welcomes back John Doe (solo, X), David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, and The Blasters Dave Alvin, before his solo career.
Big rock drums and a power chord introduction opens the record with “On the Tilt A Whirl” while subtle jangle yields to Blues Rock riffs on the radio friendly “Across This Ghost Town”. The She’s Automatictitle track dips into the Bo Diddley beat before transforming into a Blues Rock charger fueled by the bands SoCal Punk upbringing and “Sad Sadie” finds Cruzados exercising an ability to toss in a heartbreaker ballad. “Long Black Car” is a blast of Texas Boogie Blues, “Let Me Down” and “Wing and a Prayer” are a one-two punch of Honky Tonk rippers. Unpolished and old-school all the way down the She’s Automatic recording session finds Cruzados setting up, hitting record, and banging it out. Blues with a Punk edge or Punk influenced by Texas Blues rockers, the whole sound is glorious grit, true-believer vocals chugging over rough instrumentation. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Brian Setzer (from the album Gotta Have the Rumble available on Surfdog Records) (by Brian Rock)
Rock and Roll legend, Brian Setzer, returns to his Rockabilly roots on his new solo release, Gotta Have the Rumble. Unlike his band’s, The Stray Cats, (in)famous “Rumble in Brighton”, the rumble here refers to the sweet purr of a 6- cylinder ’57 Chevy Blue Flame Six engine. Recapturing the energy of his Stray Cat days, Setzer sings fiery songs about rocking, racing, and romance. Celebrating its original form, Brian Setzer manages to spice up the already raucous sound of Rockabilly by adding elements of Jazz, Western Swing, and even Middle Eastern rhythms. Gotta Have the Rumble races into high gear on the lead track, “Checkered Flag”, staring off with a gritty, Link Ray-bass line, Setzer moans ‘your daddy says that I’m no good. He don’t know what’s under my hood’. Building tempo and urgency he continues, ‘looking like the cover of a hot rod mag, baby’s wrapped in a checkered flag’. Capturing the excitement of an impromptu street race, Brian Setzer and backing bass vocalists sing in unison, ‘Can’t be humble, gotta have the rumble’. Setzer’s signature guitar chops complete the experience as he surges to the finish line.
Brian Setzer introduces Middle Eastern rhythms on the unexpectedly up-tempo teen tragedy “Smash Up on Highway One”. “Stack My Money” incorporates Marty Robbins-style Western rhythms to sing this decidedly Rockabilly version of the working man’s Blues. “The Wrong Side of the Tracks” gets slinky with a Jazzy string section to recount a rendezvous with a mysterious woman. Continuing to push the boundaries of traditional Rockabilly, Brian Setzer adds Latin/Bosa Nova percussion to “Drip Drop”. “The Cat with 9 Wives” returns to straight ahead Rock’n’Roll. The spirit of Bo Diddly permeates every note of “Turn You On, Turn Me On”. “Rockabilly Riot” indulges in the Psychobilly sounds of Reverend Horton Heat as “Off Your Rocker” lets the bass guitar take center stage. “One Bad Habit” tempts his goodie two-shoes love interest with early Stray Cats swagger and style while Brian Setzer finishes the set with “Rockabilly Banjo”, the bands’s sound paying tribute to Marty Stuart’s style of Hillbilly Rock. Brian Setzer’s devotion to that incredibly creative three year burst of Rock’n’Roll energy from 1954 -1956 is well documented. His ability to take that small subset of Rock music and create a diverse, eleven-song album where no two songs sound the same is the mark of a true virtuoso. Brian Setzer’s reputation as a guitar slinger par excellence is on full display here, and his voice is as strong and sultry as ever. Gotta Have the Rumble proves that this Stray Cat may have been around the block yet he hasn’t strayed far from his roots. (by Brian Rock)
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Pi Jacobs (from the album Live from Memphis available on Blackbird Recording) (by Bryant Liggett)
PI Jacobs has dropped a record that’s as much spoken word as it is a traditional words and music album. With lengthy narratives that introduce each song, Live from Memphis (recorded at Ditty TV in Memphis, Tennessee) is an intimate storyteller’s record where Pi Jacobs saddles up and sits next to you, whether it be on a couch where she comfortably tucks her legs up beneath her settling in for a few or on the neighboring barstool as she’s ready to run up a tab and tell you her story. Pi’s opening dialogue addresses the courting and development of a relationship morphing in to “Broken Cup”, a boozy and lovelorn lounge number. She pokes into president 45 on the part twangy, part soulful “First Thing Tomorrow”, where Pi has been ‘drunk since the election’ and upset that ‘the nazi’s would come out in plain sight’.
Pi Jacobs addresses finding her estranged dad in “Rearview” and developing her own romantic relationships in the Country shuffle of “Party Girl”. The #MeToo Movement receives a story and a shout-out for “Diana the Hunter”. Closing with “Good Things” Pi Jacobs ends her narrative with a driving Roots cut, wrapping her story at the timeline where her career takes off. This is a therapy record for Pi Jacobs, and perhaps an inspirational record for the listener. Live from Memphis speaks of Pi Jacobs’ story, tales interchangeable with all humanity. Following each anecdotal admission with lush and lovely twangy Blues, Live from Memphis will satisfy your thirst for live performances with Pi Jacobs discourse on love, family, current events, and all-around life. (by Bryant Liggett)
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