Rick Shea & The Losin’ End (from the album The Town Where I Live available on Tres Pescadores Records)
As the world population increases at a rapid rate, cities around the globe push at their seams while great patches of unwanted land lie just beyond the borders of urban life. Rick Shea & The Losin’ End set up camp somewhere between the two territories in The Town Where I Live, the recent release from the Southern California-based band. Wandering through the stories are characters with city smarts and a need to live out on the edges of civilized land as off-the-grid heroes and villains. Jangling guitar notes pop like the exploding bubbles of reality in the story of “Guess Things Happen That Way” as the tune bounces on a Buddy Holly beat while the rhythm of “Trouble Like This” slowly unfolds, rolling like the clouds hanging over the storyline. The music travelling alongside the songs on The Town Where I Live shows bloodlines long blended in the traditions of Folk, Country, and Rock’n’Roll, The Losin’ End ranging from the raucous honky tonk train track beats coursing through “(You’re Gonna Miss Me) When I’m Gone” while they spit out a groove for “Hold on Jake” and use acoustic strums to wave a farewell in “Goodbye Alberta”
A storyteller’s voice carefully guides the songs on The Town Where I Live, the warble in Rick Shea’s vocal comforting as he fondly recalls the men and women he has passed on the road, relating a folk tale of highway living in “The Angel Mary and the Rounder Jim”. The Town Where I Live pulls “The Starkville Blues” out of a tangle of guitar notes, follows a rhythm as constant as the steady turn of wagon wheels heading down “The Road to Jericho”, and lovingly cradles “Sweet Little Mama” on a warm shuffle. Desert communities and don’t-blink towns spreading off the endless freeway chain as well as sleepy mountain outposts can all claim a place in the storyline of the title track as Rick Shea & The Losin’ End cover “The Town Where I Love” with Country rhythms.
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The Mulligan Brothers (from the album Songs for the Living and Otherwise, self-released)
Simple pleasures stretch to make “The Deal”, the opening cut on Songs for the Living and Otherwise, The Mulligan Brothers picking moments from the past to frame a picture of what is in their heart in the present. The ability to capture audio snapshots of daily life turns the tunes on Songs for the Living and Otherwise like diary pages. A personal relationship expands into a worldview for “Divine Design”, the story admitting
‘it’s not okay and that’s alright, whatever gets you through the night’ while The Mulligan Brothers call out for “Roseanne” on a rhythmic rumble for a front-of-the-stage lip sync chick, confess “Loving You is Easy” with heartfelt gratitude and ruminate on a dreamy soundscape with “Possession in G Minor”.
The album is number two for The Mulligan Brothers, the group finding no need to cash in the second chance promised in the Mobile, Alabama-based band’s moniker. The Mulligan Brothers found the freedom to express themselves as a band in the converted second floor of songwriter Ross Newell’s (vocals) downtown Mobile home, recording Songs for the Living and Otherwise at in the makeshift studio with Trina Shoemaker mixing at Dauphin Street Sound. An upbringing with an addict father is addressed in “I Know That Man”, the story clearly describing the abuse and the tough decisions made to handle the problem as the issues of the southern family as a community battle in “Great Grandaddy’s War” and small-town life trips on a jazz-inflected groove as it wanders through “Ghost Town”. An echoed beat matches the ‘ambient glow of the dashboard light’ as Songs for the Living and Otherwise makes a break, hitting the open road as The Mulligan Brothers join in the chorus of “I Need to Get Out”.
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Paul Cauthen (from the E.P. Have Mercy on Lightning Rod Records)
A mighty roar cries out “Have Mercy”, Paul Cauthen guiding the title track for his recent E.P. release with a firm hand on the vocal reins and the beat stomps its feet. The resonance in Paul’s voice is as wide as an open sky, deep as the Roots and Americana riffs that takes line-up for Have Mercy E.P. “Tumbleweed” blows across a cinematic musical landscape, Paul Cauthen calling out on a western wind for love to return while Have Mercy E.P. takes a request for self-improvement with “Resignation” on a slinky shuffle as it takes a ‘seat at the Last Call Tavern tonight’ and puts a honky tonk rhythm underneath the thick, swirling twang of “Lil Son”.
A mission and a message become one on Have Mercy E.P., the power of truth and love wrapping securely around each storyline. Paul Cauthen accepts his role as sage with a song, realizing ‘I'm a singer not a preacher, but these songs are my sermon. We're ripping each other apart out there, and forgiveness and mercy are what's going to get us through. I want to use my voice the best I can to spread that message while I'm here on this Earth’. Paul Cauthen throws open the doors to Have Mercy E.P., welcoming a procession of the faithful on a marching rhythm, pointing a finger at oppression and locking arms as a united front on the opening track “Everybody Walking This Land”. A car pulls to the curb, Paul Cauthen smiling as he offers the world a lift in “My Cadillac”, and while his humanity is on full display with Have Mercy E.P., Paul saves his heart over for a single soul as he exits the E.P. with “In Love with a Fool”.
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Eliza Gilkyson (from the album Secularia available on Red House Records)
Providing options to traditional religious beliefs, Eliza GIlkyson spins tales of the spirit on Secularia, her recent release. Eliza embraces the unseen truths that we intuitively know rather than see, supporting our unspoken dreams in song. The delivery shifts as the message remains clear, Secularia confidently striding into the dark, relying only on faith and sparkling guitar notes in “Lifelines” and comforted by the purity of the devotional voices when Sam Butler (Blind Boys of Alabama) joins in harmony for “Sanctuary”. While her subjects seem to take sides, the stage set has more depth, Eliza Gilkyson explaining that ‘the fall from grace and redemption of the soul in these songs are less about a deity or afterlife, or a heaven and hell than they are about the very human story of losing and finding oneself within the span of a lifetime, which is all I know for certain that I've got. Woody Guthrie said, 'my religion is so big no matter what you do you're in it and no matter what you do you can't get out of it’. He also said, 'Earth is God's everything.' He conveyed all that depth in just 29 little words’.
Musically, Secularia has a quiet majesty, the instrumental backing whispered piano rambles and tender strings (“Reunion”) as it assuredly plucks guitars as a structure to hold a tale of the earth (“Conservation”), strums chords offering encouragement to aim for personal improvement (“Through the Looking Glass”), and stretches notes that rise like bubbles while burdens drop off (“Down by the Riverside”). Giving thanks in the semi-title track, Eliza Gilkyson lets her voice drift in the gratitude of “Seculare”, strumming off to sleep as a day’s decisions seek a guiding light in “Dreamtime” while Secularia lets a spotlight of somber melody fall on “Solitary Singer”.
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T. Hardy Morris (from the album Dude, The Obscure available on New West Records) by Bryan Liggett
The subtle, atmospheric snare drum heard on the cut “Be” that opens Dude, the Obscure, the latest from Athens Georgia based T. Hardy Morris reveals the musician is certainly moving into a more sophisticated direction in both lyric and melody, away from the grunge influenced Southern-rock sounds of his former band Dead Confederate, and even the rowdier tracks on his fantastic 2015 record Drowning on a Mountaintop. If in fact slowing things down is ‘sophisticated’. It’s an album loaded with lyrical questioning of self; ‘I trust you and not myself’ from “Cheating Life while Living Death” reveals an honest motif, heard also in “Homemade Bliss” and “The Night Everything Changed” that shows Morris may be offering a melancholic confession.
The cut “No Reason” with lines like ‘there’s a reason for fighting, and there’s a reason for retreat; there’s a reason for crying, but there’s no reason for me’ may come like a cry for help, but don’t let whatever admissions that may be happening in the narrator’s head drive the record. It’s a great album of psych-influenced folk made by someone who can make emotional music without the need to always rock-out, unique through Morris’, at times, dead-pan delivery and even greater use of laid back melody and instrumentation.
There’s obvious similarities to indie-rock contemporary Kurt Vile, and even someone like Neil Young. The aforementioned company, like Morris, know how to be as loud as they can when they want to, yet can still be both raw and soft when it comes to songwriting. (review by Bryan Liggett)
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The Jayhawks (from the album Back Roads and Abandoned Motels available on Sony Legacy)
Over the course of three decades, The Jayhawks have molded Folk, Country, and Rock like clay, creating small statuettes of songs, the common stamp on each finished piece the lush harmony and bright jangle on the tracks. Their recent release, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, finds The Jayhawks keeping the model in place as they collect past co-writes, and a couple of self-penned tunes, from frontman Gary Louris. Back Roads and Abandoned Motels borrows from shared credits with the Dixie Chicks, including album opener “Come Cryin’ to Me”, The Jayhawks’ Karen Grotberg taking lead on the cut as the band fill “Bitter End” with the camaraderie of the rousing bar room sing-a-long. The Jayhawks head to “El Dorado” with a tune written by Gary and Carrie Rodriguez and turn a moody melody wheel to spin a track penned with Jakob Dylan for the HBO series True Blood (“Gonna Be a Darkness”).
The Jayhawks have varied members enough to give their album’s specific current incarnation listings, with Gary Louris (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars) and Karen Grotberg (vocals, piano, keyboards) joined in the band by Marc Perlman (bass), Tim O'Reagan (vocals, drums, percussion), and John Jackson (mandolin, violin, acoustic guitar). Lead vocals are shared on Back Road and Abandoned Motels as guitar jangle and warm harmonies wrap sunshine around the lifeless existence in “Everybody Knows”, stay true to Folk in the admission of “Need You Tonight”, and scatters notes in the empty air surrounding “Bird Never Flies”. Country touches the chords backing drummer Tim O’Reagan as he takes lead vocals on “Long Time Ago” while The Jayhawks pound out a rock’n’roll beat for the tribute to “Backwards Women” and drift in the dreamy reverie exiting the album as Back Roads and Abandoned Motels watches and listens to the story, and the music, unfold in “Leaving Detroit”.
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Jeffrey Foucault (from the album Blood Brothers available on Tone Tree Music)
The pen of Jeffrey Foucault often takes his characters right to the edge on his recent release Blood Brothers. The meditative repetition of the daily tasks in “Dishes” slowly revolve around the rhythms as the guiding vocal of Jeffrey Foucault carries the story firmly over meandering melodies. A defined musical template to match each tale is draped over Blood Brothers, the soundtrack to the songs supporting the stories from soft Country twang (“War on the Radio”), dry breaths of percussion under the sparkle of guitar notes (“Dying Just a Little”), hushed finger-picked Folk (“Cheap Suit”), and gusts of rhythm and chords bleeding into one another over harmonic admissions delivered alongside guest vocalist Tift Merritt (“Blown”).
Heading to rural Minnesota, Jeffrey Foucault and his band (Billy Conway (Morphine) - drums, Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams) - electric guitar, Jeremy Moses Curtis (Booker T) - bass, Eric Heywood (Pretenders) – pedal steel) recorded Blood Brothers live to tape in three days at Pachyderm Studios. The sway of “Rio” courses on a easy groove as Blood Brothers untangles its title track from intricate riffs and note patterns while Jeffrey Foucault is joined by Kenneth Pattengale (The Milk Carton Kids) on acoustic guitar for the delicate Folk of “Pretty Hands”.
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David Haerle (from the album Garden of Edendale available on Edendale Records)
The early formative influences that west coast songman David Haerle turns channels as a muse for his recent debut, Garden of Edendale, came from his family. His music business dad provided a background in Country, introducing his son to both the style and the players, Roy Acuff escorting a nine-year-old David onstage at the Grand Ole’ Opry. Finding his own tastes, David Haerle combined the Country music he heard at home with the David Bowie songs that captured his attention on the radio. He pays homage in words to the Fender Stratocaster he picked up at age thirteen on Garden of Edendale’s “Shining Star”, showcasing what he learned from the six-string with the fast-paced strums backing his own history in “Finding Natalie”. A music gig took a backseat to a gig in music when David Haerle put aside his own guitar to promote the six-string dreams of other musicians, picking up the family business and taking over CMH Records when his founder father passed away.
David Haerle found inspiration in the artist enclave of his Los Angeles hometown, tributing his personal territory in the album title, Edendale the original name for the LA neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Los Feliz. California sounds play a role on Garden of Edendale as the album asks “Do You Know Surrender” on a soundtrack of psychedelic Folk Rock and lists desires on the caffeinated rhythmic foundation of “Everything I Ever Wanted”. The music that helped define his life contributes to the storylines as “The Tone That Got Away” tells its tale on a somber march while “Play It Like the Record” shakes out rhythms for fan shout-outs and David Haerle points to what guided his own pen for Garden of Edendale in the jangle of “Tell Your Story”. What is in his heart finds a way into his songs as David Haerle rolls down the window and takes to the endless freeways circling the City of Angels with “I Have a Crush” and is joined by Bess Harrison on vocals for “Women Make the World Go Around”.
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Rory Block (from the album A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith available on Stony Plains Records)
Food and love are spread out like a buffet when Rory Block tells the tale of “Kitchen Man” on her recent release, A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith. Rory is cooking alongside Bessie on the album, the culinary became entangled with sensual on “Kitchen Man” as the story plays fast and lose with double entendre, the sauce brewing sliding into saucy with the added spice. Bessie Smith seemed to have been born singing and though her vocals became an influence, the topics of her stories past the borders of acceptable in her 1920’s/1930’s hit record cycle. The songs of Bessie Smith spoke of independence and sexual freedom, becoming the voice of working-class women who believed they did not need to change who they were to gain respect. Columbia Records signed Bessie Smith in 1923, dubbing her Queen of the Blues while the press reviews upgraded her crown to Empress of the Blues.
A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith pays homage to both the singer and her songs. For Rory Block, her latest series honoring the Blues originals has a female focus, A Woman’s Soul the first installment of her Power Women of the Blues series. The project was a long time in the making, Rory recalling that ‘Power Women of the Blues is a project that has been simmering in my imagination for 54 years. It has been my longstanding mission to identify, celebrate and honor the early founders—men and women—of the blues. This series is dedicated to the music of some of my all-time favorite iconic female blues artists, many of whom were shrouded in mystery during the sixties blues revival, while the recordings of others had simply disappeared’. With a confidence as powerful as the sassiness in her delivery, Rory Block walks up to the bar to place her order with “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer”, coloring a late-night loneliness with “Empty Bed Blues”, stepping high with the spirit for “On Revival Day”, and taking charge in the bedroom with “Do Your Duty”. Bessie Smith was a storyteller, her tales showing life on a different side of the street. A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith heads up to “Black Mountain” to sing of its people and fingerpicks notes that scatter before the story of “Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town” while Rory Block relives Bessie’s pain with “I’m Down in the Dumps” and lays out her desires with little left to the imagination for “Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl”.
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Romantica (from the album Outlaws)
Tenderness can be found repeatedly in the heart of Outlaws, the recent release from Romantica. A sweet goodbye eases the suffering and helps with the journey into the light, Romantica urging a grandparent “Do Go Gently” as tap-tap guitar notes make the rhythm that rides under “Love in the Winter” while a mighty thump directs attention to the message of “Listen to Your Soul”, and a jangly love letter is addressed “Dear Caroline”. Romantica bare their souls, dipping their pens in an emotional well for the stories on the album, taking Outlaws out of earthbound badlands to drift on the dreamy melody of “Lost in the Cosmos” and swoon on dizzying rhythms in the murder tale of “Baby Killed Bobby”.
Personal challenges have become a part of the day-to-day life of Romantica frontman/songwriter Ben Kyle. As he recovers from debilitating health issues, he found communicating in song difficult. Outlaws represents a decade of songs that never found a home on Romantica albums, living outside of the track collections. The band are joined on Outlaws by Ryan Adams for a live version of their tune “The Dark” while Romantica cover the words and music of others as they dive into The Beatles for “Something” and celebrate with a Country sway on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
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