The Lucky Losers w/ Cathy Lemons & Phil Berkowitz (from the album Blind Spot available on Dirty Cat Records)
The good, the bad, and the ugly are destinations on the map as San Francisco, California-based The Lucky Losers steer into Blind Spot, their latest album release. Making good use of the NoCal talent pool, Blind Spot was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California, the guitarist (Rick Estrin & The Nightcats) acting as engineer and producer alongside Cathy and Phil. The slap of tires becomes the rhythm for “Last Ride” as dark distortion keeps the edge sharp and pounding drums snakedance a path into “Supernatural Blues” while The Lucky Losers charm with words drizzled over a trance-groove for “It’s Never Too Early” and strut on funk-driven steps to warn “Don’t Take Too Much”.
Vintage Rhythm & Blues mixed with Americana are the added ingredients for The Lucky Losers brand of the Modern Blues. Blind Spot spits words over a beat-bound rhythm with “Make A Right Turn”, one of the many suggestions made by The Lucky Losers on the album. Taking their show on the road has afforded The Lucky Losers a chance to view the world first hand, Cathy Lemons adding that ‘Phil and I have traveled some of the loneliest highways in America to bring our music to the people, and in all those travels what we see is a kind of distraction everywhere – almost to the point of madness. I feel so overwhelmed by all of this information pouring in from my phone, the news, from tragic headlines. Now that can be funny or it can be deadly. This album is about a separation from real experience – seeing life through a screen.’ Superfly-style riffs and production shine a light on “Alligator Baptism” as Blind Spot sashays down the sidewalk with “Bulldogs & Angels” and The Lucky Losers throw down a mighty groove for support to the confessions in “Love is Blind”.
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Suzie Vinnick (from the album Shake the Love Around on Factor Records)
A thick bass line seduces rather than warn for the opening of “Danger Zone” as Suzie Vinnick weaves a Blues tale that intimately whispers in your ear of troubling times. The tune, and its equal message of threats and optimistic promises, shares its mood with the tracks lining Shake the Love Around, the recent release from Suzie Vinnick. A rumble percolates under the advice of “The Golden Rule” as Suzie Vinnick teases with a swamp boogie beat in “Watch Me” and tempts on a jazzy Country for “All I Wanna Do”. The rhythms slide and switch as they make their way through Shake the Love Around, wrapping their roots over and under the diverse grooves while Suzie Vinnick guides the tracks with tenderness (“Beautiful Little Fool”) and sass (“Happy as Hell”).
Originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Suzie Vinnick stayed in her Canadian homeland for a base of operations, setting up in Ontario’s Niagara region. Friends helped out on Shake the Love Around with Colin Linden and Kevin Breit on guitar and songman Matt Anderson co-writing “Drift Away”. Sultry vocals match the temperature heat for “A Hundred and Ten in the Shade” as Suzie Vinnick becomes the temptress with seductive invitations in “Lean into the Light” and forms a solid line with community harmonies to march through “Find Some Freedom” while Shake the Love Around channels currents of winding guitar leads in “Crying a River for You”.
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Grand Old Grizzly (from the album Pure Country Pyrite available from Edgewater Music Group)
Kick your album off with a double-dealing bang. Murder ballads shouldn’t be horded by the twang bands, although they seem to be most comfortable underneath the smoking gun and bloody knife umbrella of twang that lives within a stone’s throw of classic country and bluegrass. A murder ballad as an album opener is a charge out of the gate mentality, one that sets the steady pace of bent outlaw and revved up country heard on Pure Country Pyrite, the latest release from Houston, Texas’ Grand Old Grizzly.
“Gundowners” reads like a Bonnie and Clyde tale where a stoner thief partners with a runaway, their relationship of killing ending in a scene of brutal betrayal. “Took a Little Trip” is a mid-tempo tune with the harsh reminder that ‘if rock and roll ain’t killing you, you probably ain’t doing it right’. It’s a revelation that indulgence, often the key to success, is the thing that both helps and hinders your art. ‘I see you dancing, honey, and those aren’t no virgin hips’ comes from “Carmen,” a tale that drives along in jangly glory, a love story with some beautiful pop-sensibilities that resides into Long Ryders territory. This is an album that charges with enough subtle steel and telecaster twang to stable the band comfortably between rock’n’roll and classic country. Grand Old Grizzly slays and the top-notch storytelling of songwriter Will Thomas overflows with glorious and gut-wrenching life. A band like Grand Old Grizzly does more for the world of country music than a parking-lot pick-up truck country band ever will. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard (from the album Sing me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 available on Free Dirt Records)
Born to a West Virginia mining family in 1925, Hazel Dickens moved to Baltimore, Maryland in the early 1950’s where she met Mike Seeger, half-brother to Folkie Pete Seeger and founding member of The New Lost City Ramblers. Mike introduced Hazel to the healthy Folk/Bluegrass scene in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area as well as to his wife, Seattle-born Alice Gerrard. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard played jam sessions together, the pair noticing the blend of their own voices and instruments. They formed a duo, their debut album coming out on Folkways Records in 1965 with Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard recording another album for Folkways before moving over to Rounder Records for two albums before the band break-up in 1976.
Free Dirt Records releases newly found gems of live recordings from Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard garnered from the duo’s formative years with Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969. The pair broke ground for Bluegrass music, mixing in traditional string band music from The Carter Family and the Louvin Brothers with contemporary hits such as The Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love”. While later work would storm the barricades with political content, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard showcase a mutual love of the old songs from Appalachia as their music carved out a spot for women in the world of Bluegrass music. The recordings on Sing Me Back Home were recorded in Alice’s living room, practice sessions that show the intricate harmony (“This Little Light of Mine”, “No Telephone in Heaven”) and love of mountain Folk music (“Seven Year Blues”, “No One to Welcome Me Home”) as the songs show the influence of the Blues from the delta (“No Hard Times”) and from the country (“James Alley Blues”). Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes 1965-1969 offers previously unheard tracks (with one exception), as Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard find joy in their own singing and playing, working through the songs in the mountain traditions.
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Richard Thompson (from the album 13 Rivers available on New West Records)
The song tributaries that flow from 13 Rivers, the recent release from Richard Thompson, all move on powerful currents of rhythm. Pounding percussion counts time for “The Rattle Within”, lightly picked notes flicker around the pulse of a demanding beat to underscore the desperation of “No Matter”, guitar strings are the rubbery rhythm percolating in “Bones of Gilead”, and a slow-paced country cadence gracefully escorts “My Rock, My Rope”. The stories of 13 Rivers are translated by the wisdom delivered with a wink that has become a trademark signature for Richard Thompson, the songwriter admitting that ‘I don’t know how the creative process works. I suppose it is some kind of bizarre parallel existence to my own life. I often look at a finished song and wonder what the hell is going on inside me. We sequenced the weird stuff at the front of the record, and the tracks to grind your soul into submission at the back’.
Capturing 13 Rivers on 100% analog at Boulevard Recording Studio, the album is the first self-produced effort from Richard Thompson in over a decade. Using his regular backing band, Michael Jerome (drums, percussion), Taras Prodaniuk (bass), and Bobby Eichorn (guitar), 13 Rivers makes a statement in creativity, exporting the British Folk Rock and natural wit of Richard Thompson into new territory. Clouds of rhythm gather on the edge of “The Storm Won’t Come” as the track opens 13 Rivers carving a dramatic swath. Rock’n’Roll ups the beat to catch the man looking to fit in with “You Can’t Reach Me” as slow Blues turns the wheel to find “The Dog in You” while Richard Thompson puts a rumble underneath “Her Love Was Meant for Me” and walks distinct steps in the rhythm of “Do These Tears Belong to You”.
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The Band of Heathens (from the album A Message from the People Revisited available on BOH Records)
Upping the ante on tribute albums, The Band of Heathens present a track-by-track re-imagining of an entire Ray Charles recording on A Message from the People Revisited. The original release dates back to 1972, Ray Charles utilizing the power of song for then-current issues to inspire, encourage, and burn the flame bright for the cultural changes put in place by the 1960’s. The song arrangements trace lineage back to 1960/70 grooves with the funk of “Every Saturday Night”, the Folk sway in “Abraham, Martin, and John”, the Southern Soul of “Heaven Help Us All”, and the Country beat of “Take Me Home, Country Road”. The back story for A Message from the People Revisited comes from The Band of Heathens, the group telling that ‘in December 2017 we were working as a backing band on a variety of projects for other artists. The sessions were taking place at the Finishing School, a studio built by close friend, producer, and musical collaborator, George Reiff, who tragically succumbed to cancer in May ’17 after a 10-month fight. The studio had been dark since George’s passing. With the blessing of the Reiff family, the lights were turned back on and we went to work for a few weeks. The final four days of session time were blocked off for us to work on something of our own. A few weeks prior to the sessions it was collectively decided that we would use that time to take a shot at recording some of (whatever we could get to) A Message From The People. Working alongside our close friend (and George’s right-hand-man in the studio) Steve Christensen, there was a palpable vibration in the air. It was somber but also very peaceful. Our expectations were set low as we knew that doing any Ray Charles record justice was going to be a real challenge — let alone one with such lush arrangements’.
Staying as true to the mood of the album’s origins, The Band of Heathens put a passionate fire underneath “There’ll Be No Peace Without All Men as One”, take pride for homeland to church with “America the Beautiful”, strum shared disbelief for words getting misread in “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma”, and stir the Blues around for “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong”. A Message from the People Revisited addresses its mail to Washington, D.C. with “Hey Mister” as The Band of Heathens slowly raise the rhythm to match the call to action in “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.
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David Olney (from the album This Side or The Other available on Black Hen Records)
Desert winds lead the rhythms of “Border Town” as David Olney becomes the cowboy storyteller delivering foreboding weather forecasts, using words as a pointer showing safe ground further inland. Country rock’n’roll promises “Death Will Not Divide Us”, friendly front porch Folk is the welcome for “Always the Stranger”, and determined strums create a solid backbone for “Stand Tall”. The songs come together in This Side or The Other, the latest release from David Olney. Foregoing an obvious theme, David Olney stages vignettes acted out in the songs of This Side or The Other, hinted at in the storylines while his finger points to the issue directly in “Wall”, David stating that ‘I wanted to explore the idea of walls. What does a wall mean? What does it mean to be an immigrant who comes upon that wall as a wanderer, someone lost and alone?’.
Anne McCue joins David Olney on the title track, a tune she co-wrote along with David and John Hadley. A steady line of characters become flesh and blood in the songs of David Olney, the writer admitting that ‘I’m not comfortable writing about my own dirty laundry. It’s better for me to look at characters and what they might be going through. When I write about the heavy stuff of life, it’s usually while I’m in someone else’s shoes.” Fiddle and guitar lines play tag within “Running from Love” as the story returns This Side or The Other to the border while the album turns a lovelight on late night dreams with the bright melodies and harmony of “Open Your Heart (And Let Me In)”. David Olney walks the line between two worlds in “I Spy” and closes out This Side or the Other borrowing a tune from The Zombies with “She’s Not There”.
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Chad Price (from the album It Might Bleed Forever available on One Week Records)
Sadness can be beautiful. Painful like life, while invoking punch to the heart memories. It Might Bleed Forever, the latest record from Chad Price, is a mournful album waist-deep in heartache. It Might Bleed Forever, released on One Week Records, comes via Joey Capes label, recorded under the premise that you spend one week recording an album. Chad Price is a busy man, releasing a loud-rock album earlier this year with his band A Vulture Wake while continuing to play random shows with All and Drag the River. Melodically It Might Bleed Forever is laid back and stripped down, lyrically nodding to romantic ideals of individualism and emotion, putting an overflow of feeling as the bullseye of each track.
Cuts like “Slate,” with lyrics asking “is it too late, for this warm bed to be a clean slate” hit on a wrecked relationship, where ditching what happened yesterday are necessary for a tomorrow. The track “God” finds Price questioning why bad things happen to good people; “Where was god when we needed him most, he just turned his back on us and left us weak with a heart that barely beats.” It’s a song that dances around the idea of deism, wondering if there is a god that perhaps created it all and walked away letting things play out in whatever way they may. Similar to the work he’s done with Drag the River, it’s an album where subtle country-leaning melodies carry heavy emotion, while critical self-reflection runs high. For the singer in the songs or the person taking center stage within those songs, a heart is on the sleeve and a beer is ready for tears. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Asleep at the Wheel (from the album New Routes available on Bismeaux Records)
Versatility is the bridge that connects new musician members with past players in Asleep at the Wheel as the band approaches the five-decade mark in the forty-eight- year history. New Routes dials in tunes from Moon Mullican (”Seven Nights to Rock”), Johnny Cash (“Big River”), Paolo Nutini (“Pencil Full of Lead”), and two tracks from band fiddler, Katie Shore (“Weary Rambler”, “I Am Blue”). The album showcases the latest additions to Asleep at the Wheel as Avett Brothers Seth and Scott Avett for a Seth tune written to tribute another Austin guitar man with “Willie Got There First”.
New Routes puts frontman Ray Benson in the driver seat for the Austin, Texas collective, a spot he has held since Asleep at the Wheel’s beginning days in Paw Paw, West Virginia. Juggling genres, New Routes offers Country, Jazz, Jump Blues, Rockabilly, Western Swing and Folk as it opens its doors with a bounce, first cut claiming “Jack I’m Mellow” as Asleep at the Wheel share a Cajun groove along with the alcohol in “Pass the Bottle Around” and toss one back in the memory of a local watering hole with Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues”.
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St. Paul and the Broken Bones *from the album Young Sick Camellia available on Records Records)
Young Sick Camellia is mood music. The latest from the Alabama based soul and R & B outfit St. Paul & The Broken Bones is a thirteen-song exploration of slow to mid-tempo grooves; at their essence its all pure gospel and funk ripe for festival stage. Some cuts even fall into the realm of baby-making music. St. Paul & The Broken Bones lives somewhere in the fringe neighborhood of funk and soul that put Motown on the map, while also being a major player of 21st Century bands driving a new funk-dance music scene. Young Sick Camellia delivers an obvious nod to the influential artists that came before, bringing with it the forgotten era of discos more memorable traits; a groove that will fill a dance-floor leaving disco cheesiness in the rear-view.
Groove is everywhere. “GotItBad,” “Apollo,” and “LivWithOutU” feature punchy horns, hand-claps and those splashy bass lines that put this album into the club category. Purists may want the band to hit it harder, although hitting it harder likely would drive people out the door. As is, it’s a fun album, loaded with the riffs and slight psychedelia that nod to underground 70’s funk, partnered with the festival dance vibes you get out of a similar act like Shinyribs provides the soundtrack to your dance-party as much as it’s a gateway to American R & B history. Throwback is okay, especially if you let Paul Janeway guide you to the titles of up-beat American funk and gospel that have shaped the music he and his band are making today.
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