Kristen Grainger and True North (from the album Ghost Tattoo available as a self-release)
Heroes walk among us every day, and as Kristen Granger and True North collected songs for their recent release, Ghost Tattoo, the tales of those men and women walked along the tracks. Kirsten Grainger shared ‘my goal is to craft song stories that illuminate extraordinary aspects of ordinary life’, True North supporting the words with misty mountain Bluegrass (“Jeremiah’s Tree”, “Keep the River on Your Right”), front porch jams (“Light by Light”) and Country Folk (“Fine Young Companion”).
Oregon-based Kristen Grainger and True North shuffle Bluegrass, Americana, Folk, and Country in their songs, tracing Pacific Northwest Americana onto Ghost Tattoo. Life on the edge finds Ghost Tattootraveling to a bordertown on the chord chops of “Down in the Lonesome Draw” as Kirsten Grainger and True North become the voice of the children separated and detained in “Ghost of Abuelito” while two hearts find each other in the gritty desert dust with “Tattooed Love Song”. The stories of women in power having to fight for each inch they carve out is represented on Ghost Tattoo with “She’s Flies with Her Own Wings” as Kristen Grainger and True North put string band fire into a California trip, covering Bay Area band New Riders of the Purple Sage with their ode to a SoCal musician with “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy”.
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Molly Maher (from the album Follow available on Real Phonic Records)
Coaxing with the album title Follow, Molly Maher seals the deal seducing with percussive trances, weaving guitar lines, playful strums, and a vast spectrum of six-string sonics on the release. Shape-shifting styles on the album Molly Maher confidently leads an instrumental album opener “Jango” while the rumble of a thunderous rhythm and lightning-fractured bursts of spitting guitar notes listen to the recitation chapter and verse under “Stormcloud”. Styles influence Molly Maher without anyone owning her brand as Follow tosses Blues into the Country current of “Pale Face River”, meanders on the dreamscape of “On the 18”, and uses the power of harmony to offer life advice over the lazy groove of “Bird Song (I’ll Follow You”).
The sound of Follow always surprises, each song turning a corner wandering down lost desert highways on “Open Road”, floating on a island groove through “Go Slow”, and adrift on radio signals, dialing in a quilt-patched melody for “Find the Shepard” as Molly Maher saddles up a Country Rock rhythm for “Run Run Run”.
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Dougie Poole (from the album The Freelancer’s Blues available on Wharf Cat Records)
Chronicling life in in Brooklyn and Queens, New York circa 2019, Dougie Poole alters his Country music with wobbly rhythms as he highlights friend and their life choices in “Vaping on the Job”. The echoey voice introducing the title track finds itself under layers of community harmony in “The Freelancer Blues” while Dougie Poole attempts to name names for “The Who’s Who of Who Cares”. The NYC musician fully embraces the Country music he hears in his head, Dougie Poole brings a fullness to the backing sound of The Freelancer’s Blues, his second album release fine-tuning the lo-fi bedroom Country Pop of his debut (Wiseass Highway).
Performing in the honest delivery of an unrepentant lounge singer, Dougie Poole crafts words that find humor in the dramatic tales humans and their conditions with “Buddhist for a Couple of Days” as the honky tonk jukebox spins a warped waltz for “To Not Have a Brain”. The Freelancer’s Blues quiets to share not-so-hidden secrets in “These Drugs Aren’t Working” while Dougie Poole feels the pull of the Santa Ana winds as he tries in vain to bid Queens and winter goodbye from a truck stop in New Jersey with “Los Angeles”.
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Dedicated Men of Zion (from the album Can’t Turn Me Around available on Bible and Tire Recording Co)
For a younger Anthony ‘Amp’ Daniels, the eldest member of Dedicated Men of Zion, harmony was a virtue. After coming in from outside play, his mother would have her children sing in harmony before any television viewing. Dedicated Men of Zion have stayed true to the harmony, adding their own ingredients to the sweet sound when the give the wings in their voices a beat to dance to on Can’t Turn Me Around, the recent release from the North Carolina-based group. Recorded in Memphis at Delta-Sound Studios in 2019, Dedicated Men of Zion take Gospel back to its origins….Soul music. Can’t Turn Me Around chugs along the tracks, huffing and puffing the beat as it pulls into salvation station with “When I Look Back” while Southern Soul spreads sunshine on “I Feel Alright”. Dedicated Men of Zion form a line when tambourines and a thick bassline join the boogie stomp across “Leaning on the Lord” while they cruise into late-night R&B noir to warn “It’s a Shame”, shuffle and sway shouting “Down Here Lord” as the title track gets bathed in the Blues.
Fat Possum Records’ Bruce Watson produced Can’t Turn Me Around, releasing the album on Bible & Tire Recording Co, an arm of Fat Possum specifically for sacred music. Dedicated Men of Zion fill Can’t Turn Me Around with the sound of Soul, opening the album on a Rock’n’Soul rhythm with “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me”, filling “A Leak in This Old Building” with the power of passion, and exiting the album high-stepping on the joys of getting it right with “Work Until My Days Are Done”.
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Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons (from the album Razor Wing Butterfly available on Ratlegz Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Lorraine Leckie got a late start in the rock’n’roll game, adding to the time-put-in diversity of her sound. Picking up the guitar in her thirties, Lorraine Leckie had plenty of time prior to explore a breadth of sounds, living through Punk Rock’s beginnings and the mass expansion of Classic Rock to the explosion of angst music, delivering angry guitar sounds to every doorstep. Backed by “Her Demons,” the latest from Lorraine Leckie is Razor Wing Butterfly, a release hinting at everything from Siouxsie Sioux-inspired Goth to late 70’s Blues Rock, all played out under a Psychedelic umbrella. Razor Wing Butterfly opens with the haunting, theatrical “Only Darkness”, where Leckie’s vocals begin over a quiet guitar, eventually splitting to make way for Psychedelic riffs that carries the tune to its end.
A violin opens “Vampire Moon”, walking a line between Grunge Goth and straight-ahead Pop. “It Ain’t The Blues” digs into gutter-Punk Blues, “Crickets” is dirty Folk, and “Mars” has a dark New Wave vibe. Wah-wah guitar work kicks off “The Other Woman”, featuring a surprising but just right electric violin in what could double as a cocktail lounge cut and “American Weeping” is a reality check that comes like a punch in the stomach. It’s a Stoner Rock cut that serves as a thank-you note to the last president and ‘I told you so’ in a song as Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons say “America, you fucked up’. Her Demons are a utilitarian Rock band, being the perfect group to easily move from through all the traditional traits. The use of the electric violin adds a Goth Classical touch, and Lorraine Leckie’s horror-movie vocal wraps it up in a delicious and weird, dark package. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Bowregard (from the album Arrows available on Bowregard Records) (by Brian Rock)
The spirit of Bill Monroe is alive and well on Bowregard’s debut album, Arrows. Bowregard (as in, respect the bow – presumably a hunting bow given the album’s title) is a five-member string band of virtuoso pickers and pluckers who create vibrant, new music firmly rooted in the original Bluegrass tradition. “Fallen Angels” starts off with furious banjo picking and weepy violin strains as lead singer Max Kabat sings about the one that got away. Realizing too late that it was not his angel who fell, but himself; he sings, ‘I walked away too soon and I left you all alone’. The fast tempo of the song belies the sorrow of his broken heart and is more symbolic of a man being relentlessly chased by the demons of his past. Banjo and resonator guitar work together to tell the story of “A Reasonable Man” named John who takes his revenge on a town that did him wrong. “Formaldehyde” is another rollicking Bluegrass tune about preserving your innards well past your death with repeated brush strokes of whiskey. “High on A Mountain,” slows down the pace a notch as the band admires a panoramic mountain view and draws an analogy to their own past spread out before them. Violin takes center stage on the Country ballad, “Nothin’ To It;” a tender tribute to a deceased, but much beloved father. Bowregard picks up the pace again on the Arrows title track, a bitter complaint about the sting of Cupid’s misguided arrows. “The Henrys” tells a haunting story of gambling, greed and loneliness; the furious pace of the music matching the story of a man always on the run. With themes of heartbreak, loss, revenge and, of course, moonshine, Bowregard tell traditional Blue Ridge Mountain stories with a robust, modern sound.
Several of Bowregard’s songs are just too good for words. Their three instrumentals show off the band’s musical chops. “Sage the Western Basil,” highlights the Celtic roots of early American music. “Cousin Sally Brown” starts off slow, then stampedes off at full speed, hinting at a life with two distinct acts, or perhaps someone leading a double life. “Flannery’s Dream,” is a pure celebration of Appalachian roots music. This is the kind of music that makes you yearn for outdoor music festivals and dancing barefoot on the grass. It’s authentic and real, and ‘Arrows” definitely hits the target. (by Brian Rock)
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Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne (from the Go, Just Do It! available on Stony Plains Records)
For album number eleven, Canadian Bluesman Kenny ‘Blues Boss” Wayne sticks to the formula that has worked for him over previous releases and his career overall. The 75-year old piano player holds tight to the music he has curated, cultivated, and carried around the world, claiming that ‘I’m not looking for a different path. I love that jump blues and boogie-woogie. That’s where my heart is at. I’m just trying to keep that style alive. That’s classic stuff, and I’m at that classic age so it all works out’. Hushing the song title with smooth groove Blues, Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne lets the band have its say with the instrumental “Bumpin’ Down the Highway” as he lets the beat out to play for “Sittin’ in My Rockin’ Chair” and puts boogie to the Tulsa groove with a version of J.J. Cale’s “They Call Me the Breeze”.
Hitting the ground rolling with funky chord chops, Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne opens the album, namechecking the title with “Just Do It”, joined on the cut by Dawn Tyler Watson. Leading the guest list on Go, Just Do It! with two tracks, Dawn Tyler Watson comes back on the late-night rumble of “Sorry Ain’t Good Enough” alongside Julie Masi on the tag team boogie of “You Did a Number on Me”. Matching the vocals of Diane Schur with a Blue mood, Kenny slows the pace for a call and response duet on “You’re in for a Big Surprise” while he pounds out policy with SeQual on “I Don’t Want to Be President”. A soulful sway courses underneath “Lost & Found” while Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne exits Go, Just Do It! on the boogie beat that brought him to the party with “Let the Rock, Roll”.
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Linsey Alexander (from the album Live at Rosa’s available on Delmark Records)
The Chicago Blues scene found a keeper when Linsey Alexander came to town in 1962. His playing is true to Chicago Blues Roots, his words rising/falling on the heartbeat of love when Linsey Alexander strums a Blues shuffle underneath “Somethin’ ‘Bout You”, slowing the rhythm to cool, his guitar fiery as it spits and scatters notes across “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” while he coaxes the effervescent rhythms from “I Got a Woman” with chopped chords and a solid backbeat. Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Linsey Alexander picked up more than a new address when he moved to Memphis, learning the guitar in his new home by the age of twelve. Part plea, part threat, Linsey Alexander’s recent release, Live at Rosa’s, opens with the seduction of “Please Love Me”, picking up the pace for a stroll across “Goin’ Out Walkin”, and high-steeping the rhythm of “My Days are So Long”. Linsey Alexander slowly plucks notes from “Ships on the Ocean” and, taking on the role of weatherman. plows over “Snowin’ in Chicago” with guitar work for all seasons.
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The National Parks (from the album Wildflower available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Call it a 21st Century New Wave record influenced by electro Folk. Or call it a modern Electric Folk record with pulsing, Indie Rock leanings. With their fourth full length Wildflower, The National Parks experiment with tone, tempo and instrumentation, unafraid to throw a dash of what sounds like a banjo here and a handful of blip rhythms there, eager to hear what will come out on the other side; it’s a creation pleasant that tests an expansion of Electro Pop and Indie Folk. The title track is preceded by a short dose of ambient and Psychedelic desert Rock, morphing into a quick blast of power chords; it is a chugging album opener with infectious riffs and the repetitive line of ‘if you can be my open skies, I can be your wildflower’.
“Mother Nature” is an Earth Day anthem, the simple line ‘it’s a beautiful world’, backed by Folk instrumentation of banjo and harmonica, hidden underneath a programmed beat. “Horizon” is introduced with a prog-synth rhythm before the vocals kick in; those same vocals trading space with a violin as they state ‘a broken heart is the reason to start again’ before turning into a pulsing dance cut, similar to “Blue Moonlight” with its up-beat rhythms weaving throughout the melody. “Chance” is a soft duet, the vocals of Brady Parks and Sydney MacFarlane confessing ‘you’re a gamble and I’m all in’ while “Painted Sky” is a twangy, Psychedelic sing-a-long. Wildflower has animated tone, and an experimental nature, this is an album that has mated an electronic, dance club feel to a Folk festival. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Dixie Dirt (from the album Springtime is for the Hopeless and Other Ideas available on Small Batch Records / Nine Mile Records)
Nine Mile Records, along with Small Batch Records, are re-releasing albums that deserve a second launch as The Essential Records series. Originally recorded in Knoxville, Tennessee and released in fall 2002, Springtime is for the Hopeless and Other Ideas from Dixie Dirt is Roots Rock’n’Roll screening against a Garage Rock dreamscape. The raw guitar leads wander, the spit and snarl of the six-string work in “Kaleidoscope” is more plaintive than pissed-off, chord slashes conjure up demons in “Old Soul” as a two-note trance pulls you in like an undertow. The vocals on Dixie Dirt are blood kin to the guitar work; ethereal, basking in the glow of Mazzy Star, reading “A Letter Put to Music” with an open heart over a Rock’n’Roll symphonic suite. Springtime for the Hopeless and Other Ideas puts a heartbeat rhythm underneath “Fast Food Media” as Dixie Dirt slam the pedal to the floor, barreling into “Springtime” and plugging “Whiskeydrunk” into a guitar reverie that carries the melodies on the rising/falling surge of strums.
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