Old Crow Medicine Show (from the album Volunteer available on Columbia Nashville)
Gigs have been the easiest part in the musical life of Old Crow Medicine Show. The ground beneath their feet has changed from the street corner busking that began the band’s journey through their Ryman lobby between-main-acts residency. As the stages got wider and deeper, OCMS remains on the same level as their fans due to the same model in place since the group’s 1998 formation. The result of the obvious delight that Old Crow Medicine Show takes in playing their instruments is an infectious joy that translates from the band on stage directly into the audience. Volunteer continues the musical progression of Old Crow Medicine Show and their intuitive talent to bend with the traditions of old-time string band sounds for modern ears. OCMS kick down the door as they enter the album with first cut “Flicker and Shine” barnstorming Volunteer as they knock back a potent dose of old-time music with “The Good Stuff” and whisper a welcome with the sad Country Folk of “Homecoming Party”.
Following an album release and tour that tributed Bob Dylan’s bridge between Rock’n’Roll, Folk, and Country music with 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde, Old Crow Medicine show deliver their first studio album of original music in four years with Volunteer. While the band took advantage of recording in RCA’s Studio A in Nashville with Dave Cobb as producer, their Roots ring as clear as their busking days as they promise to “Shout Mountain Music” as their star rises over more urban environments. Plugging in an electric guitar in their songs for the first time since 2004, OCMS strut down “Dixie Avenue” as they start a fire using only acoustic strings in the instrumental “Elzick’s Farewell” while Volunteer paints “Look Away’ with southern sentiment as it keeps an open window facing south with the history of “Old Hickory” and in its claim to heritage in “Child of the Mississippi”.
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Pat Reedy & The Longtime Goners (from the album That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More available on Muddy Roots Records)
A relocation has changed the soundtrack to the stories of Pat Reedy and the Longtime Goners. Moving from the New Orleans base, Pat Reedy traveled north to Nashville to plug in and play his music, recording his new release, That All There Is (And There Ain’t No More) backed by the pure sound of Country music in its classic form. The constant between Louisiana and Tennessee is the neon glow of bar lights, Pat Reedy and the Longtime Goners pointing out the neighborhood matters little in “Nashville 3AM”, as the story cites a universal connection in the observation that ‘everyone’s an outlaw ‘til the cocaine wears off’. The address where Pat Reedy collects his mail is not home as much as the highway under his wheels, That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More) admitting that Crescent City and Music City are “Same to Me”, the song romanticizing black top while the title track counts ‘six on the seat and four on the floor’ and rolling road rhythms rumble off the walls of both motel rooms and bars in “Bloodshot Heart”.
Losing interest in judgments about personal decisions, Pat Reedy and the Longtime Goners draw a line and put a stop to a deadend conversation in “You Don’t Have to Tell Me Again” as they head up the mountain and down in the mines with “Coal Train Blues” and slowly spin a honky tonk waltz around “Wedding Ring”. Heartbreak and hope car pool with Pat Reedy and the Longtime Goners, the rear-view mirror out the window showing a long lone of broken bridges behind them, the windshield spreading out with promise stretching down the open road ahead. The unknown becomes a comfort zone, Pat Reedy finding the motion familiar, stating that ‘it's about that feeling when there's nothing to hold you someplace no more. There's a broken relationship that you've tried to fix, but it's not worthy and that's all there is. It's time to hit the road again and start over with a truck and a guitar. And maybe a dog’. That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More) bids goodbye to New Orleans against a solid backbeat on “Fare Thee Well” and takes a swing at the status quo for the blue-collar worker in “Funny Thing About a Hammer” as Pat Reedy and the Longtime Goners walk the streets of Abilene with an optimistic bounce in their step and perspective for “Lucky I’m Alive”.
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The Last Revel (from the album Hazard & Fate)
The notions of Hazard & Fate, the new release title from The Last Revel, seem to find different finish lines much like the trio’s musical mix of old-time string band instrumentation with a punkabilly story delivery for their songs. Hazard & Fate is the third album from the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based band. The day closes on a familiar path for The Last Revel as “Sundown, Kick Around” offers a glass of wine and the beat of a traveling band strums front porch Americana into “God Knows Where” as the band purr with a rhythmic rumble signaling “Engine Trouble”.
Modern American Folk music from the Midwest, The Last Revel make good use of the harmonic magic performed by the trio (Lee Henke, Vincenzio Donatelle, Ryan Acker) as they trade vocals as well as guitars, banjos, and fiddles on Hazard & Fate. The acoustic chords and picking of the album walk with confidence into opening cut “Blind in the Fray” and recall a gospel hymn with the fervent memories of “Almighty Amen” as the playing quiets to set up “Homestead” before the rhythm once again finds the fast track. Form words to music, an honesty backs the songs of The Last Revel, the threesome note-for-note united for the background soundchecks of “Honest Man” and locked into the rhythmic determination mirroring the passionate pleas of “California, Be Kind”.
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Long Tall Deb and Colin John (from the album Dragonfly available on Vizztone Records)
For much of the world’s cultures, seeing a Dragonfly is a symbol of change signalling a time of self-realization. Both topics are covered by Long Tall Deb and Colin John on their album release, Dragonfly. Following the success of their initial E.P. pairing, the duo use their natural sense of Blues and Soul as a backdrop for tracks, offering touches of late night Jazz, the excitement of Rock’n’Roll, the experimentation of Americana, the playfulness of Surf music, and the sweeping majesty of spaghetti western soundtracks. Long Tall Deb and Colin John brush noir tones onto their version of Townes Van Zandt’s tune “Lungs” as they rip a sonic hole into “On the Way Down” with feral guitar bites and drape a veil of island breezes over the moods of “Horizontal Lighting”.
The partnership is a marriage of sound, Colin John handling all the guitar work, winding through Dragonfly with sharp-edged notes (“Trouble”), rubbery Tex-Mex twang (“Remember Why”), and tender strums (“Lights That Shine”). The grounding of a powerful vocal steers the songs on Dragonfly, Long Tall Deb guiding the stories as the guitar work accents the emotions. Dragonfly dips its wings in psychedelia for the title track as Long Tall Deb and Colin John turn down the lights and soften the melody to offer experiential advice with “Pull the Pin”.
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Hi Lo Ha (from the E.P. Ain’t Gone Tonight)
When Hi Lo Ha turn the dial for “Radio” on their recent E.P., Ain’t Gone Tonight, the San Francisco, California-based four-piece return to an old neighborhood, immediately hearing crackle coming from the speakers. The sound traveling from the past into the present moment carries the joyful abandon of Rock’n’Roll, jangly guitars against a potent backbeat. Ain’t Gone Tonight embraces the sound and spirit of Rock’n’Roll, using the basic format as a stock for the E.P.’s sonic soup, Hi Lo Ha adding in healthy doses of audio tastes with dashes of Indie Rock, Americana, Folk, and Psychedelia.
Ragged guitar chords trudge like the tour van tires slapping the blacktop underneath as Hi Lo Ha dream of drink tickets and hand stamps on the Folk Rock of “Guest List”, namechecking the E.P. title in the track as they look to next year gigs while pointing out ‘we’re gone tomorrow but we ain’t gone tonight’. The music of Ain’t Gone Tonight is an ever-moving juggernaut, Ben Reisdorph’s vocals holding firmly to the story, telling the tales with an almost conversational delivery as Hi Lo Ha don “Cold Weather Clothes” on as the triphammer hits of Afrobeat guitar licks tickle the melody. World music rhythms and tones are the background sound for “Come Down”, Hi Lo Ha closing out Ain’t Gone Tonight with a goodbye played out on barrelhouse piano beats and southern rock guitar struts for the thoughts of “Thinking ‘Bout a Friend”.
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Rob McHale (from the album Prophets on the Boulevard)
Like the country that is the backdrop for Prophets on the Boulevard, Rob McHale colonizes the territory of the album with multiple topics and varied Roots that all find common ground on the release. The theme of a united world walks proudly into Prophets on the Boulevard as the album begins its journey by taking a stroll through Boston Commons, gaining strength of purpose with the levelling of the barriers between diverse cultures. Social commentary strides with the same determination into the songs, Rob McHale spending time discussing the ways of humans through his observations on their love and lives, their history and their environment. A slow-moving rhythm revolves around “Mother Earth”, Rob McHale stands in “Woody’s Shoes” to relive the goals of a young man sitting intently listening to Woody Guthrie on the radio, and takes a stand on “Blair Mountain” beside coal miners striking for a better way of life.
Moods swing like a pendulum on Prophets on the Boulevard, guided and captained by the calm assurance in the voice of Rob McHale. Tenderness speaks the words as sadness pulls the strings on “Keep Me Warm” while the light of “One Star” is found in a single smile as two heartbeats find their steps in time for “When the Sun Shines In” and a bluesy breeze ruffles the feathers of “Little Red Rooster”. Recorded in his home state of North Carolina, Rob McHale recorded Prophets on the Boulevard in the mountains, digging deep into musical Roots for the cultivated Folk and Bluegrass buried in the fertile ground. Street corner preaching begins the story of the title track as “Prophets on the Boulevard” turns a 360 degree circle to view the faces surrounding us all while Rob McHale sings of finding hope in the memory of loss with “Old Man on the Road” and watches red fill the water with blood for “Deep in the River”, tracing the legacy of John Brown as it continues to bleed into modern times.
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GIVE A LISTEN TO ROB MCHALE:
Donovan Woods (from the album Both Ways)
You have to lean in to listen as Donovan Woods whispers his words over stark banjo notes to open his recent release, Both Ways. Hushed thoughts select images from his mind, Donovan Woods walking through memory, wondering and possibly worrying about his part in a past relationship with “Good Lover”. The song sets the standard for Both Ways, the album choosing sides in love, the stories each picking partners for the push/pull motion as hearts give, take, move forward or get stuck in a moment. There is a reverence to Donovan Woods vocal delivery, a respect for the music that subtly courses underneath the tracks as he makes a last wish with “Our Friend Bobby” over percussive bubbles of rhythm, tugs a tale out of static airwaves for “Read About Memory”, and struts on the assured beat and decisive actions, fixing the world as he moves down “Easy Street”.
The songs of Both Ways are interactive, Donovan Woods staging the scene, dressing his characters without needing to announce a spoiler alert as the listener picks up the development of the story line. That style suits Donovan Woods, his choice for songs staying close to his belief that ‘the writing I always liked is about things that are indicative of a world but not the entire world. They lead you into the room and then let you fill in the details. One detail that makes you go, ‘OK, I feel like I understand.’ As long as you find that one detail, that’s the key. That’s the one you stick with and the rest is up to people’s imagination’. Time with family and friends winds towards the future while the present picks up the pace to reach tomorrow in “Next Year”. Both Ways packs a “Truck Full of Money” with the help of a solid backbeat and crosses the finish line in “Great Escape” with a suitcase full of what-if’s while Donovan Woods shares secrets with the hammering heart beats of “I Live a Little Lie” and strums acoustic chords to admit “I Ain’t Never Loved No One” in a duet conversation with Rose Cousins.
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Marcia Ball (from the album Shine Bright available on Alligator Records)
Texas roadhouse Blues and New Orleans Funk headed into the studio with Marcia Ball to record Shine Bright. Though based in Austin, Texas, Marcia Ball rules a territory that reaches over land to the sea. She wears the crown of Queen of Gulf Coast piano boogie and on Shine Bright offers a hatful of musical gems recorded in Austin with local musicians and band members and in Louisiana Cajun country backed by bayou heroes Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Shine Bright achieves the goals set by Marcia Ball. She fulfills her desire to make create meaningful music and make it move, admitting that ‘it is a ridiculously hopeful, cheerful record’ confessing that her secret is ‘to set the political songs to a good dance beat’. On a personal side, Marcia Ball shoots for simple goals on a Crescent City R&B groove with “I Got to Find Somebody” as Shine Bright quiets to let in the light of a better tomorrow on a global level for “World Full of Love”.
There is history for women and pianos in Marcia Ball’s family, and in her formative years she blended ancestral history with marquee musicians of the time, hearing the music of Little Richard and Fats Domino as a target she was looking to hit with her own playing. She landed in Austin in 1970, falling for the city and cancelling plans for a San Francisco destination. Around the same time, she heard Professor Longhair, setting up her style as she set up a new home. Shuffling in with pride for choosing the right direction Marcia Ball takes joy in the decisions of “I’m Glad I Did What I Did” as she opens her umbrella and strolls down to the parade in “When the Mardi Gras is Over”, tributing the music that has given her lifelong soundtrack in “Take a Little Louisiana”. Shine Bright basks in the glow of funky riffs as it circles the sun on the title track while it drifts south to dial in Caribbean rhythms on “Life of the Party” as Marcia Ball advises to grab and give away the gold ring in “Once in a Lifetime Thing” and rumbles in on barrelhouse beats to roll out memories with “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That”.
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John Prine (from the album Tree of Forgiveness available on Oh Boy! Records)
In an age of full disclosure, I feel the need to disclose. As I write the review for the new John Prine album, Tree of Forgiveness, I am wearing a sweat shirt that reads I Don’t Need Therapy I Just Need to Listen to John Prine. I wear the shirt often, I do not often get to mention why that line is 100% correct as much. Here is why…..
The clue for Tree of Forgiveness album title is found in the final cut on the album, “When I Get to Heaven”. Following a transitional harp tone, John Prine walks his first steps into the Great Beyond, taking time to say thanks before he picks up a guitar, gets a band, opens a nightclub called Tree of Forgiveness, and remember to forget all past transgressions against his person. There was also mention of a cocktail and a nine-mile long cigarette. While the past albums of John Prine have all held some of the author in the stories as well as offering plenty of space for other characters, Tree of Forgiveness is the most obviously personal collection of words and music from John Prine. There are moments of mortality and frivolity that leapfrog through the songs, frequently appearing in the same sentence. Faith is strong on the album, John Prine seeing the deal as between just two, the man and the heavenly house, as “God Only Knows” reveals the innerworkings of a mind as decisions roll like credits across a screen. Tree of Forgiveness opens its doors for choices on a larger scale as it watches a long line of humanity approaching in a “Caravan of Fools” while John Prine pens a love letter thank you note with “Boundless Love”.
Where do songs come from? John Prine found the songs for Tree of Forgiveness living within the four walls of a hotel room. John’s wife was familiar with his comfort zone, booking him a room at a local Nashville hotel. It was the perfect setting for man and muse to hang out, John worrying slightly as he checked in recalling that ‘I said, ‘If anybody sees me checking into the Omni, they’ll figure Fiona and I are on the outs. I grabbed my stuff just as fast as I could. She knows that after being on the road so many years, I function better in a hotel, so that’s what I did. I ordered room service and worked and watched my quiz shows. No pressure. This way, if I wanted to write at 3 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoon, I could. I’d go out to the swimming pool and go eat at the steakhouse. It worked out because by the end of the week, I was ready to go into the studio’. Produced by Dave Cobb and recorded in Nashville, Tennessee in historic RCA Studio A, Tree of Forgiveness welcomes friends with Brandi Carlile featured on “I Have Met My Love Today”, Jason Isbell plugging in electric guitar for “No Ordinary Blue”, and Amanda Shires with fiddle and background vocals on the Phil Spector co-write, “God Only Knows”. Using Tree of Forgiveness as a platform to vent, John Prine voices his displeasure at the planet Pluto being marked-down (“The Lonesome Friends of Science”) as he shares a smile looking at times when local farmers left the door open and young roosters came to call (“Egg and Daughter Night, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1967”). Heart and humor have been the ink in John Prine’s pen for over fifty years, decades of memories becoming seasonal breezes blowing warm winds through Tree of Forgiveness with “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door” and the tender beckoning home of “Summer’s End”.
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Sam Morrow (from the album Concrete and Mud available on Forty Below Records)
A member in good standing, flying the flag of California Country, Sam Morrow gets musically nostalgic for his Houston, Texas birthplace with new songs. On his recent release, Concrete and Mud, Sam tells the story of a traveling troubadour as a classic Texas singer/songwriter on “Coming Home” while he touches “Mississippi River” with Delta Folk Blues. Sam Morrow stretches on other tracks of Concrete and Mud, staying true to his Roots style, adding Country to Western as he pulls off the highway, signing a honky tonk tab as “Paid by the Mile” while he uses guitar notes to mark the pros and cons in “Good Ol’ Days” and partners with Jaime Wyatt in “Skinny Elvis” to select preferences for The King in a song.
Songman becomes bandleader on Concrete and Mud, Sam Morrow recording with Eric Corne producing, capturing the album live in studio on a vintage Neve 8068 console. A Little Feat groove opens Concrete and Mud in “Heartbreak Man”, thinning the playing to a sparse noir rhythm carrying “Weight of a Stone” as a funky beat snakes like tendrils of smoke from “Cigarettes”. Sam Morrow bakes a desert melody into the story of a guitar player heading west as Concrete and Mud trades a home address from San Angelo, Texas to “San Fernando Sunshine”.
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