Rich McCulley (from the Out Along the Edges)
Los Angeles, California-based Roots musician Rich McCulley takes nothing for granted. With years of touring and studio gigs behind him, Rich still finds way to improve and challenge his guitar work as well as exposing his experiences in love and loss, good times and bad times, as he stays Out Along the Edges on his recent album release. Harmony and hooks take a bite from personal history as Rich McCulley stands with one foot in the past, on in the future as he makes a promise to “Burn a Hole in the Sky”. California Country sways the rhythms under “Summer Storm”, a track recently heard on the CMT hit television series, Nashville while guitar jangle brightens the shadows growing in “Eventually”, and a snaking groove crawls over the funky beat guiding “The Pilot”.
The fertile farmland of the Central Valley of California grew guitar work for Rich McCulley as he began his career in Country Rock and Pop bands along Route 99 before following the road down to Los Angeles. Plugging into his new hometown industry, Rich has found placement in numerous film and TV projects while carving out gigs as a sideman and releasing seven solo albums. Out Along the Edges adds a SoCal Latin vibe to the title track, puts west coast Country into the childhood hopes of “Come Home Mama”, and visits a local Mom and Pop record store memory in “Midtown” as Rich McCulley opens the album with a shout-out to “Hey Trouble”, stitches rock’n’roll wishes into the dreams of tomorrow with “Sinking Sun”, and leaves a Mississippi River holiday behind for a homecoming in “When I Get to Memphis”.
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The Mastersons (from the album Transient Lullaby available on Red House Records)
When The Mastersons offer the title track from their recent release you can be assured that the band know about the song from the inside with “Transient Lullaby” singing the pair to sleep each night once the crackle of the amplifiers subside. The husband and wife team of Chris Masterson (guitar, vocals) and Eleanor Whitmore (fiddle, guitar, vocals) are on their third release as The Mastersons while they maintain roles for Steve Earle in his backing band, The Dukes. The couple have been both band members as well as openers for Steve over the past seven years, so the tales on Transient Lullaby come easy. Chris knows that the road will provide, feeling that ‘when you travel like we do, if your antenna is up, there's always something going on around you. Ideas can be found everywhere. The hardest thing to find is time’. It was tough love encouragement from Steve Earle take gave birth to the band, Eleanor Whitmore recalling that ‘before we hit the road with him in 2010, Steve said, 'You'd better have a record ready because I'm going to feature you guys during the show. We didn't even have a band name at the time. We were going through all these ideas and Steve suggested, 'Why don’t you just be The Mastersons, and that was that’.
The Mastersons wrangle with a what-if in “This Isn’t How It’s Supposed to Go” as Transient Lullaby sees the lives behind the wheel as a crooked line in “Perfect”, picks out notes that sparkle like sun on water off the coast with “Highway 1”, feels the burn from constantly being in the spotlight with “Don’t Tell Me to Smile”, and hits the stage like a true professional, shaking off road weary woes in “Shine On”. In an effort to challenge themselves, The Mastersons took the familiar out of their recording process to provide a subtler sound for Transient Lullaby heading to Austin, Texas and entering Arlyn Studios with longtime friend and collaborator George Rieff co-producing alongside Chris Masterson. The sound that pair curated wraps an arm around The Mastersons road tales, supporting and complementing the stories. Transient Lullabyadds a quiet rhythm underneath the voice of reason in “You Could Be Wrong”, climbs “Fire Escape” on a persistently building melody, and puts “Fight” into a ring of 60’s Pop percussion as The Mastersons lay asphalt under their wheels for an exit on “Happy When I’m Movin’”.
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King James and the Special Men (from the album Act Like You Know)
Hometown grooves, parade percussion, and smooth talking introduce sons of New Orleans, Louisiana King James and the Special Men on their debut E.P., Act Like You Know. The album opener gives a background on the band as King James pontificates while The Special Men lay down a “Special Man Boogie”. Recorded in New Orleans 9th Ward at House of 1000Hz Studios, Act Like You Knowrattles and roars out some “9th Ward Blues” on one persistent fuzzed-out riff as King James and the Special Men prepare for the worst and hope for the best with “The End is Near”, proclaiming ‘we all gotta die but baby please not tonight’ on a vintage Bourbon Street rock’n’roll beat.
Though Act Like You Know is the first musical salvo from King James and the Special Men, members of the band have been heard on other recordings with the horn section appearing on album and in performances with Sturgill Simpson as well as St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Horn pops and a strutting rhythm sashay and shuffle on “Eat That Chicken” as Act Like You Know slows down to sing a love song to “Baby Girl” as King James and the Special Men preach a Rock’n’Soul gospel asking “Tell Me (What You Want Me to Do)”.
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Tom Maclear (from the album Gods and Ghosts)
Tom Maclear couldn’t be happier, and it shows on album track “Movin’ Back to Texas”. Tom spells it out as T-E-X-A-S on the track from his recent release, Gods and Ghosts. The haunting in the album title mirrors Tom Maclear’s day gig for the past thirty years as the spirit whispering in the ears of hit songs, creating tracks as a ghostwriter in the Country, Hot/AC, and Alternative music genres and songwriting behind the velvet curtain of the industry from Nashville and beyond. Tom Maclear is the marquee name on Gods and Ghosts, opening the album on a bounce as he opens his heart for “That Wonderful Love”, spreading the joy he feels around the world, suggesting that the emotion is the gift that keeps on giving.
Recording and producing Gods and Ghosts, Tom Maclear adds the musical backing on the album, filling out in the instrumentation with a suitcase full of six-strings with his work on slide, lead and rhythm guitar, mandolin, dobro, and bass. The songs on Gods and Ghosts all bear Tom Maclear’s imprint with the exception of “Simple Song of Freedom”, a track from Bobby Darin that is an equal to the message from Tom in his tunes. Gods and Ghosts was recorded over four years at MEG Studios in Los Angeles, California and showcases the man quietly serving many of the radio hits on the dial for the past three decades. Gods and Ghosts catches a western breeze as it cruises under a “Purple Sky”, picks out notes to scatter over the path taken for “Lessons in Your Life”, and steers into “One More Rodeo” as Tom Maclear slides on the sad times in “County Prison Blues”, quietly offers solace in “The Harder It Falls”, and shares opinions of our times in the title track.
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Big Star (from the album The Best of Big Star available on Stax Records)
Success is difficult to define in musical terms, that is what makes it so elusive. There are hit records and superstars, songs that live forever and musicians who are both famous for their work and infamous for the lives. Big Star was a band whose influence was greater than their ability to make money, for either themselves or the record labels that signed them. As is often the case, the music made by Big Star was important to the band, to the ears of one A&R rep for a record label, and to young, soon-to-be, musicians, who began to hear their own music calling in the music. Once the songs move beyond that core, the tiny little light that shines above the intersection of fame and fortune can lead in many directions. In the case of Big Star, the Memphis, Tennessee-based band became peers of artists such as The Velvet Underground, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Moby Grape, Parliament/Funkadelic, Jesse Winchester, The Flatlanders, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, and many others; musicians with album releases that did not sell millions yet could take pride in the fact that nearly everyone that took their music from store to home would form a band of their own.
In celebration of its sixtieth anniversary, Stax Records has released The Best of Big Star, giving the music of the band a spot on a hometown label. Jody Stephens (drummer) is the only surviving member of the Big Star four-piece whose rhythm section was rounded out with Andy Hummel on bass. Alex Chilton was looking for a more challenging musical project after having hits as vocalist for The Box Tops and turning down an offer to lend his voice to Blood, Sweat, and Tears, feeling the music was too commercial. Alex turned to local Memphis singer/songwriter Chris Bell to form a duo. Chris Bell introduced Alex Chilton to his band, Icewater, who in turn asked Alex to join with some of its members once they heard his new songs and Big Star was born. The Best of Big Star collects tracks from all three of the Big Star recorded output, the two albums released while the band was active, #1 Record (1972) and Radio City (1974), as well as Third, released in the late 1970’s after Big Star had disbanded. The songs of Big Star are born in the heart of Rock’n’Roll storylines as they musically bless a garage rock rawness with the glitter of guitar jangle. “Back of a Car” shows how teenage decisions come accompanied by ‘music so loud, can’t tell a thing’ while “Feel” portrays the emotion from a current girlfriend as a death sentence, “Don’t Lie to Me” shouts out its demands over a rats nest jumble of guitar notes and “Nighttime” walks out into the dark on lush instrumentation. Big Star was championed as major influences by bands such as R.E.M. and The Replacements, who dedicated “Alex Chilton” to the group. They had cuts covered by The Bangles, who reworked Big Star’s “September Gurls”, and Cheap Trick on “In the Streets” with their version becoming the theme song for That 70’s Show. Both tracks are included in their original form on The Best of Big Star. Rock’n’Roll gold standards can be found in the music as The Best of Big Star offers “The Ballad of El Goodo” as inspiration, reads aloud a heartfelt letter backed by persistent strumming for “I’m in Love with a Girl”, and carves out a path for the future with guitar grooves leading “When My Baby’s Beside Me” as Big Star performs “Thirteen”, an Alex Chilton song written about his seeing The Beatles in 1964 and the prediction that ‘rock’n’roll is here to stay’.
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The Harmed Brothers (from the album The Harmed Brothers available on Fluff and Gravy Records)
Over the course of their career, The Harmed Brothers have evolved from a duo of singer/songwriters into a band, staying on the road to let their songs enjoy the same transformations as they unfold in same the manner as the group. On their recent self-titled release, The Harmed Brothers blend new songs with older tracks that have followed them around through the dive bars and makeshift stages that have been the destinations of long hours on America’s highways. The Harmed Brothers blend scratchy chords strums and electric feedback to sonically reflect their changes to begin “A Lovely Conversation”. Firmly planted in the IndieGrass style the band hears in their music, The Harmed Brothers puts out a thumb, catching a ride on a wish for good days ahead for all travelers in “Adopt a Highway’. The boys in the band let in “Sunshine” on a sparse rhythm of piano and percussion, relate family history for a personal resume in “Cryin’ Shame”, and sway on a sad horn-fueled march for “Don’t Want to be Lonesome”.
The Harmed Brothers spend time picking at what makes relationships tick, using the songs for the do’s and don’ts as the have trouble finding footing with “In the Wind”, introduce “Elvis the Lion” on frenetic electric chord slashes, and let the story unravel on sonic cloudbursts to describe “A Life in Progress” as they pack it in to make an exit.
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61 Ghosts (from the album …to the edge)
The trio that forms 61 Ghosts adds a fourth influence, the sound of the band’s base, Clarksdale, Mississippi, and its rich history of Blues. The recent E.P. release, ….to the edge, from 61 Ghosts, growls and roars in the language of dirty Blues with its blend of Hill Country homegrown styles, electric rock, and Americana. Gritty vocals and feral guitar chops are provided by Joe Mazzari, former guitarist for Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls) as well as fronting his own bands and recording with producer Jimmy Miller (The Rolling Stones, Traffic, Motorhead). Joining Joe in 61 Ghosts is the hard-edged rhythm section of JD Sipe on bass and drumming from Dixie (Len ‘Bud’ Welch).
The playing quiets for the spoken dark stream of consciousness that poetically describes a “World Gone Crazy” against raw electric Blues as …to the edge asks to “Show Me Your Scars” with an acoustic guitar as duet partner and continues the backing, keeping the simple man and guitar format, in “Passion Tipped Arrow”. 61 Ghosts crackles with a inch-by-inch build of electricity that rises slowly before turning into flames on “If Tears Were Dirt”, and playfully teases the Blues with Country in “Heartbeat”.
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Pokey LaFarge (from the album Manic Revelations on New Rounder Records)
If insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results, Pokey LaFarge is the sanest man on earth. He sees what is not working and can clearly visualize the prize so that when his feet hit the floor for each new step towards a goal, a different path will be taken. Pokey LaFarge is looking for ‘a good woman and family of your own’ and he is willing to make changes when the harmony prods him along asking ‘better man, don’t you wanna be a better man” in “Better Man Than Me”. The latest Pokey LaFarge album release, Manic Revelations, has “Bad Dreams” on thick, wobbly guitar leads, comforting horns, and a marching beat while “Silent Movie” screens its images on rumbling strums of rolling rhythms, pockets a “Good Luck Charm” to get back on solid ground, and makes plans for a getaway on a mysterious melody in “Going to the Country”.
By his own admission, Pokey LaFarge is constantly ‘reshuffling the deck’ to make sense of the trouble that comes his way as well as to understand the trouble he has made. He uses pen and paper to show the hand he is dealt, making his bets on the words and music he makes on Manic Revelations. Wearing a wardrobe that lands somewhere between a businessman and a janitor, Pokey LaFarge heads to New Zealand on a bouncing beat in “Wellington”, reads aloud headlines from the morning newspaper in “Riot in the Streets”, and wrangles with relationship woes with “Must Be a Reason”. Manic Revelations goes back the Jazz-era birthed in Pokey LaFarge’s hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to back the ways to be a woman in “Mother Nature” as Pokey shuffles his feet to the beat and vows “I Will Never Change”.
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Mike Younger (from the album Little Folks Like You and Me)
Life and love for both a personal and worldwide view are the subjects for the songs of Mike Younger on his recent release, Little Folks Like You and Me. He opens up his heart in “The Living Daylights”, tackling environmental issues with “Poisoned Rivers” and the problems that face cultures around the globe on “What Kind of World”. Mike Younger is a Nashville, Tennessee-based musician, staying close to home to record Little Folks Like You and Me at Music City’s Studio G with local guitar man Bob Britt (Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, Delbert McClinton, John Fogerty) as producer. Mike Younger brings in a cast of characters for the album, taking audio snapshots of everyday lives, traveling alongside people on the road (“Drifter’s Lament”), traipsing with the lonely footsteps of big city streets (“Walk in the Mud”), and wrangling a Country twang into universal love story (“With Every Heartbeat”).
The skin in the stories of Mike Younger touches all lives, his words unify and stand in solidarity with men and women no matter what path their feet are walking, bridging the distance between two hearts or among the masses who stand together in defiance. Little Folks Like You and Me tells a tale of dreamers setting out and coming to a fork in the road in the heartfelt “How to Tell a Friend Goodbye” and sits at home to imagine a life on the road with “If I Was Wheel” as Mike Younger shares the story of a “Rodeo Queen” and makes up for the shortcomings of his feet with the love in his heart in “Never Was a Dancer”.
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