Hardened and Tempered (from the album The Trailer Sessions)
The decisions of the characters that make their way through the songs of The Trailer Sessions walk a fine line. The album, the latest from Austin, Texas-based duo, Hardened and Tempered, edges out on branches growing from the same long ribbons of highway travelled by the musicians behind the words and music. The Trailer Sessions investigates the love/hate relationships between the humans standing in the songs and the stage of their surroundings. Hardened and Tempered look through microscopes of song that examines the flesh and blood bodies as they march towards sudden edges that fall into deep pits as well as soft ground that requires careful footfalls. Kristin Davidson and Carolyn Philips aka Hardened and Tempered infuse their characters with hard-won dignity and a pride born in beating the odds as they push against the grain, toasting the moon in a “Dry County”, finding fortune in the heat of another human with “My Wildest Ride”, taking a seat on the “Heartbreak Transit Line”, and reading the hard-luck history tacked to the walls of “House of the Soiled Dove”.
Hardened and Tempered turned to Grammy award winner Lloyd Maines to produce their debut, The Trailer Sessions. He backed the duo with some of the Austin A-list talent found in the Texas music capital for songwriting influenced by the time Kristin Davidson spent living in an Airstream on the Texas-Mexico border. The Trailer Sessions shares “Family Secrets” on gently plucked notes and warm harmonies, weathers “Hard Winds” fortified by a tough groove as it makes its way on a current of Tex-Mex rhythms for “Cross Over the Rio Grande’ while Hardened and Tempered make plans for “Leavin’ in the Morning” on an assured beat and step lightly on the shuffle of “Path Already Paved”.
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Applewood Road (from the album Applewood Road)
Fate, AmericanaFest, and the musical magic in the air of East Nashville were the backdrop when Amy Speace, Emily Barker, and Amber Rubarth met, write their first song together, and immediately enter Welcome to 1979’s all analog recording environment to timeline the tune. “Applewood Road”, backed instrumentally with just a double bass, became the title track, and band name that the threesome would operate under. The trio reconvened six months later, once again returning to Welcome to 1979, and bringing in some of the fine Eastsider musicians to back the voices of Applewood Road with Telisha Williams, Aaron Lee Tasjian, Fats Kaplin, Jabe Beyer, and Josh Day playing in the band.
The songs of Applewood Road sparkle with the purity in the trio’s voices, captured with no overdubs and gathered around a single microphone. Lead vocals are shared and at times tenderly accompanied by ooh-ahh harmony as in “Bring the Car Around”. Applewood Road adds age to an “Old Time Country Song” by backing the three voices with scratchy banjo, guitar strums, and fiddle while a bounce becomes the beat for “Sad Little Tune”, hushed notes barely whisper to match the storyline snowfall in “Home Fires”, and echoes of Tin Pan Alley join the touching emotion found in the vocal and harmonies of “My Love Grows”. Raucous Country Folk is reflected from “Lovin’ Eyes” and a dreamy melody drifts over the tale of a young boy and his radio in “To the Stars” as thick bass notes partner with percussion to float “Row Boat” and Applewood Road revisit R.E.M. with Folk take on “Losing My Religion”.
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Over the course of a career that has spanned decades, John Mellencamp has delivered the songs in his rock’n’roll heart against an ever-moving landscape of musical styles. He has accepted his fame with dignity, managing his role as rock star with class and keeping the music a part of a fickle Pop culture by recording the way he hears a song as opposed to fitting the tracks into a popular format. That ability to follow a muse rather than running with the pack continues on the most recent release from John Mellencamp, Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. The album bears John’s name on the marquee as well as giving well-deserved credit to his partner on Sad Clowns and Hillbillies with the added notation, ‘featuring Carlene Carter’.
John Mellencamp finds his recent album offerings perfectly at home in the Roots music community, a territory he has long cultivated and developed in his own music. Sad Clowns and Hillbillies embraces the benefits offered by Americana as it shifts between melodic moods, saddling up with a Country Folk trot for “Battle of Angels”, taking a seat at the “Early Bird Café” as its jukebox sounds off with a raggedy rock’n’roll Roots, and following the lead of a snaking fiddle riff as to dials in “Late Night Talk Radio”. The rumble of Country chords guides the steps of John Mellencamp and dueling duet partner Martina McBride as they wrestle with living in “Grandview”. The voice of Carlene Carter comes through in the fading lights of “Indigo Sunset”, powerfully attached to the telling of the story as she is throughout much of Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. The burdens of “Damascus Road” are vocally shared with Carlene and John Mellencamp as the pair climb “Sugar Hill Mountain” with a shuffling ramble rhythm, brew a caffeinated bounce to walk a path to glory with “On My Soul’s Wings”, and hush to whispers to discuss “What Kind of Man Am I”. Fiddle, mandolin, and guitar notes play tag with the beat as “Mobile Blue” boards a west coast bus while Sad Clowns and Hillbillies takes pride in the less-than-perfect male dressed up to sashay onto the stage as the “Sad Clown” on a classic country ramble and quiets the musical moods for John Mellencamp to poke at politics on “Easy Target”.
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Hard Working Americans (from the album We’re All in This Together)
In the blink of an eye, Hard Working Americans have matured from a jam to a band. In three years, HWA have grown from a collective gathering of top shelf jam band musicians (Todd Snider on vocals, Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi) on keyboards, Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood) on guitar and vocals, Duane Trucks on drums, Jesse Aycock on pedal steel and guitar). The band’s self-released album was followed by a live disc and video (The First Waltz), which gathered the debut tracks and put them into a setting where Hard Working Americans felt most comfortable, a live performance that could include the band on stage and the audience that HWA considers as much a part of their show and sound as the guys with the instruments. We’re All in This Together, the latest release from Hard Working Americans, brings the group back to the stage for a recording. The sound of HWA have progressed from a bunch of musicians with a great idea to a musical unit that showcases individual instruments and players as one sound.
The songs on We’re All in This Together are drawn from Hard Working Americans studio albums and includes new tracks directly related to the live release. The title track puts Todd Snider at the podium for a manifesto resume that speaks of the band’s beginnings. The track becomes a chant mantra of the title that morphs into “Is This Thing Working?”, which, in turn, brings the audience into the song’s final mix. The two albums recorded in the studio for Hard Working Americans are comprised of an album of cover tunes (Hard Working Americans) and originals (Rest in Chaos). We’re All in This Together bridges the two previous efforts opening with “Mission Accomplished” and includes tracks from the pen of HWA (“Roman Candles”, “Ascending into Madness”, Burn Out Shoes”). Favorites songs from the work of other artists share space on We’re All in This Together with “I Don’t Have a Gun” (Daddy aka Tommy Womack/Will Kimbrough), “Stomp and Holler” (Hayes Carrl), “Another Train” (Will Kimbrough), and a closing tribute to the man that birthed a million guitarslingers, Chuck Berry, with a Hard Working American’s version of “School Days (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell)”.
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Mark Heyes (from the album Outrun the Law)
The title track slams the car door shut and hits the gas as Outrun the Law, the latest release from Mark Heyes, gets schooled running shine before hitting the big leagues of racing, wheels spinning and the goal on the checkered flag in Daytona, Talledega, Fontona, and Pocono. The common thread for the songs of Outrun the Law is the natural Country Folk warmth found in the vocals of Mark Heyes. The songs are backed by Folk (“Long Hard Road”), Barn Dance Bluegrass (“Backtrackin’”), Blues (“Matrimony Blues”), moody late night noir (“She Never Knew I Knew”), Gypsy Jazz (“Tribute to Django”), and twang-tinged Rock’n’Roll (“Just Wait and See”), all guided smoothly by the man behind the microphone, Mark Heyes.
Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, Mark Heyes became a musical sponge after hearing The Beatles, learning any instrument he could wrap his hand around, eventually making his way west, setting up in Los Angeles and immersing himself in what became a twenty-eight-year career as an Emmy Winning writer and producer of music for television. Outrun the Law presents Mark Heyes as man and guitar, the album offering music that drifts like wisps of smoke in “Crystal Blue”, firebrand Outlaw Country with “What Can I Do”, and tender homecoming ballads on “Take Me Back to Durango” while Mark takes the temperature of political climates for “Red and Blue”.
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Whiskey Shivers (from the album Some Part of Something)
Whiskey Shivers doesn’t play Bluegrass as much as attack the genre, ripping into the strings and stomping out a beat with steel-toed boots. Some Part of Something, the recent release from Whiskey Shivers, matches the worlds-end ferocity of the playing with equally fringe dwellings tales that turn frowns into smiles in a small town with the opening of a new store (“Liquor, Beer, Wine, and Ice”), cross the border with pedal through the floorboard on the tour bus (“No Pity in Rose City”), and roll a boulder up the steep hill of love (“Southern Sisyphus”). Some Part of Something spits and snarls as Whiskey Shivers re-shape Bluegrass with masterful playing and delivery.
Ragged banjo lines weave a drunken path into Some Part of Something with the pounding rattle of album opener “Cluck Ol’ Hen”. Whiskey Shivers plow through “Reckless” like a rocket with a rocket up its ass while the Austin, Texas-based band flies across the racing rhythms of “Like a Stone”, slow to a sway with “Red Rocking Chair”, glide over the cabaret strains of “Fuck You”, and quietly lend support for a hurting heart in “True Love (Will Find You in the End”) as Some Part of Somethingremakes The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” into a threat delivered on frenetic strings.
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David Rawlings (from the album Poor David’s Almanack available on Acony Records)
Leaving the Machine age behind him, David Rawlings foregoes a full band (David Rawlings Machine), putting just his name on the album and delivering words and music steeped in the American musical history of storytelling. Many of the tunes on Poor David’s Almanack were crafted using traditional songs and stories, backing the tales with electric and acoustic sound. Recorded at Woodland Studios in East Nashville, David Rawlings was joined by musical life partner Gillian Welch as well as former (Willie Watson) and current (Setch Kecor, Critter Fuqua) members of Old Crow Medicine Show, Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith (Dawes), Brittany Haas (Crooked Still), and Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers). The warmth of Poor David’s Almanackspeaks to the appreciation of the musicians for their instruments.
The voices of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch come together in harmony as easy as the swaying rhythm in “Yup” as the track rides on one riff while the saw playing of Austin Hoke circles the song. The album opens boarding “Midnight Train” as the groove on Poor David’s Almanack is set by strings, the model continues on the staggered strumming of “Airplane”, the picking of “Put ‘Em Up Solid”, and chord chops of “Come on Over My House”. Hand claps and harmony are the foundation for the folk tale of “Money is the Meat in the Coconut” as Poor David’s Almanack turns back the pages of time for the sepia toned “Lindsey Button” and the creation story in “Good God a Woman” while David Rawlings plugs in to showcase his six-string prowess in “Guitar Man” and beats darkness into the dangers of leaving home for “Cumberland Gap”.
Don Bryant (from the album Don’t Give Up on Love on Fat Possum Records)
Don Bryant and Ann Peebles have enjoyed a forty-three year marriage. After being teamed together in 1970 through Hi Records the couple penned hits such as “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, marrying in 1974, and touring together for decades until Ann retired from touring in 2010. After being on the road for years, Don Bryant found himself at home. He used the new environment creatively, heading in to the studio and beginning sessions for Don’t Give Up on Love. At seventy-four years old, Don’t Give Up on Love marks a triumphant return for Don Bryant, The album taps multiple generations of A-list Memphis musicians, including members of the Hi Rhythm section band. Produced by Scott Bomar (The Bo-Keys) and Bruce Watson at Electraphonic Recording in Memphis, Tennessee, Don’t Give Up on Love is a collection of tunes from a husband honoring a wife in song.
A funky groove line and horn blasts churn underneath Don Bryant as he claims ‘you set my soul on fire’ on “Something About You” and assured rhythms support the pain in “Can’t Hide the Hurt” as Don Bryant shares the advice of a man who has learned lessons in his years to stop playing in “One Ain’t Enough” and puts hope into each line as he encourages love to hang on in the title track. Don’t Give Up on Love sets a standard for Soul by continuing the power of its ability to reinforce hard times as it justifies every feeling of the heart and soul. Don Bryant opens the album with a slow-burn version of O.V. Wright’s “A Nickel and a Nail” as he goes back to personal Roots with the gospel Soul of “How Do I Get There?”, and struts out asking “am I wasting my time’ on “I Got to Know”.
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Korby Lenker (from the album Thousand Springs)
To record Thousand Springs, Korby Lenker headed to Idaho. The album is number seven in Korby’s studio output, though the songs on Thousand Springswere recorded in a non-studio environment, setting up in locations such as his father’s mortuary as well as a cabin north of Sun Valley, Idaho and removing walls entirely, making music for the album on the edge of Snake River Canyon. Korby Lenker staged the songs using the backdrop of the album creation as part of the storylines for Thousand Springs. Personal history describes what took him to the Gem State, Korby sharing that ‘I grew up in Idaho. My first band, Clockwork Orange, practiced in a basement in Twin Falls. I learned how to play guitar by listening to records and learning the licks, one note at a time. The way I play and think about music now has a lot to do with growing up there, feeling isolated from the outside world. There weren’t a lot of people around me making music. I had to go out and find it’.
Sun on the water makes a song from the image of “Mermaids” in Korby Lenker’s mind while visions of “Last Man Standing” recall the battle for land in the American West, scratchy chords back recollections of a party that introduced a younger self to his older image in “Father to the Man” and tenderly picked guitar notes rise up to display “Northern Lights”. The feel of Thousand Springs mirrors the magic of the journey Korby Lenker took to the songs. He packed recording gear and a high-end battery to capture the heart of each song on his trip to Idaho. Once the core was set, Korby traveled around the United State to finish the tracks with friends in backyards and hotel rooms covering seven states. Thousand Springs puts a heartbeat under “Nothing Really Matters” as the tune plugs into its own inner essence, continuing its search for emotion as it attempts to express feelings in “Wherever You Are” and exposing the many paths traveled to find affection with “Love is the Only Song”. Korby Lenker bares his soul in the songs of Thousand Springs as he turns the pages to reveal a “Book Nerd”, seeks companionship gazing through a windshield on “Friend and a Friend”, and waves goodbye to his heart in “Uh Oh”.
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Steelism (from the album ism)
‘It’s all about the music, man’ is more than an motto for Steelism. The Nashville instrumental outfit make their music a mission, a way to champion and proudly recall the work of groups such as Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Ventures as well as the orchestral work of movie soundtracks. Steelism are the music side of words and music, adding to their film score and the hits of 60’s musicians on their recent release, ism, with a hero worship nod to the musical gadgetry of Brian Eno. Steelism use assorted strings along with electronic blips and bleeps with the tribute of “Eno Nothing” on ism as they put a percolated rhythm underneath the dreamy feel of “Let It Brew” and lift a “Cup of Wasser” up on a solid backbeat.
At the heart of Steelism are the strings of Jeremy Fetzer (guitar) and Spencer Cullum (pedal steel). The pair co-produced ism alongside Jeremy Ferguson (Lambchop, Andrew Combs). Voices are brought in on ism, adding the vocals of Tristen to the groove of “Shake Your Heel” as Andrew Combs and Jesse Baylin duet on the Country-flavored “Lonely Game” while Ruby Amanfu takes a spin on the circling spy soundtrack rhythms of “Roulette”. Opening ism with a jangle of strings, “Re-Member” takes assured steps into the album while “Chartreuse” colors the sound with dots of notes and “The Henchman/Buffalo” dances on tarantella footsteps as Steelism unravel “Anthem”, rising from humble piano ramble beginnings to banner-waving reverbed guitar and pedal steel riffs.
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