The Tulsa sound is a living thing, handed down like the center stage spot of its artists as each generation nods to the next. Like all of life, the music needs to breathe and grow to exist in the future. The New Tulsa Sound keeps the groove the J.J. Cale took worldwide, adding in the music that backs its unique musicians and their audio territory. Wink Burcham tags his hometown sound with touches of old-fashioned country, grass-roots folk, and Piedmont-style Blues. The music blends into one foundation for Cleveland Summer Nights as diversity in sound is carefully captained by Wink Burcham as he quietly gives a slow rolling testimony in “Hallelujah (Gonna Rest My Soul)”, sits back to recount his resume for trimming with “Lawn Mower Man's Blues”, and whispers a outlaws prayer for “For the Ones We Leave Behind”. Cleveland Summer Nights talks of home in “Wide River to Cross”, and shuffles the rhythms as a dreamer’s advice deals wisdom in “Lonesome Tune” while Wink Burcham stands his ground on a sad Country melody vowing “I'll Never Leave the Honky Tonks”.
A sad fiddle turns the page of Hickory as it opens the album with “Down in the Valley”, Don Gallardo pointing to a midnight map point that marks finding peace down on his knees in the calmness. Gentle acoustic guitar greets the confessions of “When the World Wakes Up”, a lonesome pedal steel offers “Pearls” a compassion as love slips away in its story, and a honky tonk swagger recalls a bad day in “This Time”. Hickory wonders “Will We Ever Get It Right” as it pulls the trigger to open our eyes on mortality and how quickly time is passing. David Pinkston helms Hickory as producer, overseeing Don Gallardo, his band, How Far West, as well as A-List session Nashville session players including Mickey Raphael, Rob Ickes, Randall Bramblett, Guthrie Trapp, Micah Hulscher, and Brad Pemberton. The rhythms of Hickory roll like a strong current as is heads down to “Banks of the Mississippi” for a final dance while notes fall like dappled sunlight through the leaves, sparkling in “Diamonds and Gold” and Don Gallardo sings of “Midnight Sounds” for the boulevard of souls moving outside his window.
Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan) sits in the producer seat for The Woodstock Sessions, backing with acoustic, electric, 12-string and resonator guitars on the album. He joins in a co-write with the group’s Dan Wheetman on the quietly passionate reveries in “Oh Sweet Wind”. Traditional tunes are put in the hands of Marley’s Ghost as they high step to take a swing at “Louisville Burglar”, bounce as a jazzy percussion rumbles under “Alabama John Cherokee”, firmly stride along roads far from home with “Blind Fiddler”, and saunters with Country Blues alongside “Prodigal Son”. The Woodstock Sessions waves and swoops over “Storms Are on the Ocean” as the voices of Marley’s Ghost come together to inspire with Gospel Rock, encouraging to “Run on for a Long Time”.
The tracks that cross In Any Town are balanced between tunes from the pen of the pair that make up The Lucky Losers. On her cuts, Cathy Lemons slows the groove to simmer on “It Ain’t Enough” and wanders through the title track as she nods to the ghosts walking beside her with each step. Phil Berkowitz co-writes with Danny Caron over the electric bristle of “Devil’s Dream” as he wanders out on a hot summer night. The Lucky Losers work magic on In Any Town as they make cover tunes their own, singing of “Small Town Talk” on a Bobby Charles hit, as they take sides heading into “Jackson” on a Johnny and June tune.
Dawn breaks onLatigo as album opener “Morning Light” slams into the E.P. with hard chords and equally tough hits for the on-the-edge love barreling towards a western ocean. Latigo lets its rhythms break over the rolling beats stomping with the mental battle inside “Already Loved”, and strums summer day sunshine into “Rubble to Rubble”. Wilderado came together in Los Angeles when the four members headed west; two hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma and two growing up in Dallas, Texas. Electricity surges like heavy winds through “Wheat” as thetrack trips with percussion, and on the future wish of ‘close our eyes to judge no one, what was behind is now before’.
The sound switches between Bluegrass, Country and Blues seamlessly as Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley smoothly glide over the bumps in the road with a percussive thump on Trey’s original “That’s What Leaving’s For”. They slide around the instrumental curves of Rob Ickes tribute to Buddy Emmons in “Biscuits and Gravy” as the pair bring pens and playing together, putting both parts on a fast track for “Everywhere I Go is a Long Way from Home”. Electricity flies from The Country Blues warning “Leave My Woman Alone” and in the acoustic gymnastics of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” as Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley go to The Allman Brothers’ for an exit plan for the album with “One Way Out”.
Matty T Wall credits Crossroads history with words (‘I discovered Robert Johnson and he made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, I got into the Blues and have never gotten out of it’) and music on Blue Skies. He gently seduces and uproots the Blues from his guitar strings in the instrumental “Smile”, stretches moody tones as he sings of “Love Gone Wrong”, turns up the flame with chord slashes and regimented riffs marching through “Burning Up Burning Down”, and creates a flashpoint with his playing in “Scorcher”. Matty T Wall learned his lessons well, standing proud as the sun breaking through the clouds on the title track as he carves his name into the ranks of past/present Blues players like the ink stains telling the tale in “Broken Heart Tattoo”, and moving into the future with the same assurances he claims on “This Is Real”. Blue Skies exits with the sound of distant thunder, the cascading rain coming down to cover Robert Johnson as Matty T Wall walks the master’s path in Johnson’s tune “Hellhound on My Trail”.
A listen to Hellfire and Amazing Grace draws a line to another mentor, particularly on the title track. The student honors master songwriter (John Prine) with phrasing and characters as Ethan Crump deftly follows two humans through a life together as they maintain their own individuality while walking through “Hellfire and Amazing Grace”. The emotion of “Mason County Blues” is nearly physical as Ethan Crump relates family history over whispered finger picking and a hard-edged beat to keep his feet moving towards a tomorrow outside both his young age and surroundings. Hellfire and Amazing Grace presents five stories from Ethan, leaving listeners with the hope that his pen has a lot of ink. Soft breezes blow the melody under “Mary Ann” as Ethan Crump makes heartfelt promises as he remembers the lights of stages past while watching times take chunks out of his present life in “Waiting Here on You”.
Libby Koch puts flesh on the bones lying by the road that leads away from love as she helps broken hearts beat a little stronger in her tales. Just Move On opens the door, stepping out alone into the unknown with its head held high so that the light of a new day dries a face full of tears. Her words embrace the hard-to-believe promise of new love with a Tex-Mex backing in “Don’t Know How” as she bets big on her own heart in “Chance on Me”, and carves a line in the sand with the tough-edged rhythm of “Tell Me No Lies”. Libby Koch traded the security of an eighty hour a week law job in Houston for an hour pleading the cases of her characters on stages in 2013. She recorded Just Move On over two days with producer Bill VornDick behind the board. The album’s exits include a highway “Back to Houston” as Libby Koch leaves Tennessee fueled by sound track of Classic Country while she stands tall as she cuts love off at the knees in “Bring You Down”, and counts the years in the mirror admitting “I've Been Blind”.
The positive message of Royal Southern Brotherhood foregoes the role of the lamb as they take lion-size bites out of the world’s problems, finger-pointing at the existing power structure with the joyful noise of heartpounding handclaps urging the faithful to “Stand Up”. The Royal Gospel suggests our decisions may be part of the problem rather than the solution in “Hooked on the Plastic”, cuts across the “Land of Broken Hearts” with slashing guitar chords, and shakes out the Blues as it points out that the have’s and the have-not’s share the same costs with “Everybody Pays Some Dues”. Cyril Neville bridges Royal Southern Brotherhood past and present members into one group, creating unity with simplicity, stating that ‘as far as the men making the music and playing the songs, the mission of the band has never changed’. Royal Southern Brotherhood immediately sets fire to The Royal Gospel with opening cut “Where There's Smoke There's Fire”, stoke smoldering coals with the promise of “I’m Comin’ Home”, and strut up to the altar of Blues-Rock with the assurances of “I've Seen Enough to Know”.
The proof is an easy hear on Not So Soft Landing. There are touches of Beatles-esque psychedelic Pop as he takes a shot at “Medicine” being doled out as the only answer to health issues as melodies ride a Ferris wheel of rolling rhythms and the tune languishes amid sparkling snippets of vibrating tones. A dawn filled with textured clouds floats around the hopes of ‘getting through “Sunday”, well-dressed lies take the lead for the nightmare of corporate greed in “American Dream’ while “Change” quiets its arrangement to whispering notes and beats before breaking free to offer observations and advice. The music on Not So Soft Landing is kept from drifting by the use of words as a guide to keep the tracks earthbound with a story line. An edgy hum rises up from the music that boils under “She Kills” as “How Long” wonders and wanders in a graceful motion, and “Self” looks into a mirror to take an assessment of the human staring back. Jerry Castle sheds the airy arrangements of Not So Soft Landing as he opens Not So Soft Landing with the determined beats of “Ride” and pushes through the doors of honky tonk twang to take a swing in “Weekend Brawl”.
Nathan Bell nods a “Good Morning Detroit” as his words hear the tires roll from assembly line in a city where ‘love rusts’, lets “Dust” settle as hushed notes and chords on a ‘panhandle town’, uses his harmonica to shine a light on “Georgia 41” as he passes closed down factories and mills, and pounds a percussive rhythm into “Stamping Metal” as the story heads north to the promised land. I Don’t Do This for Love, I Do This for Love tunes its guitar for world-weary Folk music yet it never succumbs to self-pity. Nathan Bell uses the daily grind to polish the spirit as the days bleed into one with the dullness of repetitious tasks and exhaustive labor. The roads of America are one long highway that we all travel with Nathan Bell standing “At the Bottom of Kentucky” as a miner ‘with a pick axe in my hand’ as he swings a hammer in “Walking Boss”, shuffles and strums in “North Georgia Blues” to keep his head above the rising water of inflation, and slowly climbs the rungs of “King of the North” as his dreams of hockey stardom fall through the ice of age.
Co-producer and bass man, Marc Doten, joined Rob onstage at Pappy’s, as well as guitarist Paul Lacques, co-founder and bandmate in I See Hawks in L.A. Fancy Free includes Willie Nelson’s “Me and Paul”, Rob hearing the cut as ‘the story of Paul (Lacques) and I. We have grown up musically in I See Hawks in L.A., touring the United States, and the world together for over a decade’. One of The Hawks stops was a SXSW gig where the band played with Daniel Johnston, whose track “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances” appears on Fancy Free. Rob was interested the story of Daniel and his father, making the singer/songwriter special, relating that ‘Daniel and his father were flying, his dad as pilot. Daniel reached over in the cockpit and turned off the plane in mid-flight, and tossed the keys out the window. They survived and Daniel’s dad was surprisingly forgiving. Daniel Johnston is a musical savant. I had to put one of his songs on the album’. Fancy Free welcomes other mental marquee stars from the head of Robert Rex Waller. Jr and the album includes tracks from Neil Young (“Albuquerque”), The Kinks (“Waterloo Sunset”), The Doors (“The Crystal Ship”, Bruce Utah Phillips (“Walking Through Your Town in the Snow”), and The Hollies (“All I Need it the Air That I Breathe”).
The catalyst for the album is captured in the Oak Ridge Boys title track. Rob’s mom passed away last year, and he speaks to her in “Fancy Free”, admitting that he needed to set her free even though ‘she was the best part of my world’. Rob’s mom becomes the album’s muse and was the center point of the night at Pappy and Harriet’s with Rob’s choice of hair decisions. Big Memphis Hair backed Robert Rex Waller, Jr on stage and sat right up on top of his head for the show. Rob gave the back story, saying ‘I heard about a guy who did hair in Eagle Rock for movie stars, rock stars, and drag queens, and I said I am in. David Cordova gave me my hair. My wife (Katie) and her friend tried to do it once and failed miserably. They used the same amount of hair spray but it still fell at some point’. For the show at Pappy and Harriet’s, Rob had David do the ‘do at 11AM, and every hair was still in place by the end of the third set at Pappy and Harriets as Robert Rex Waller. Jr closed the door on the record release party and headed west on Interstate 10 back to the ocean with a mountain of hair still proudly framed by the dawn creeping over him, as Fancy Free as the album title and his Mom’s spirit.
The Avett Brothers have grown from the original core of two brothers, Seth and Scott Avett, into a larger stage group, expanding on the players and sound, filling out the family and recorded output organically from their base in North Carolina. True Sadness hits the ground with a stomp as opening track “Ain’t No Man” pounds onto the album. The songs gracefully veer between the heavy bumps and heady observations of “Satan Pulls the Strings”, the front porch jam confessions in “Mama, I Don't Believe”, the mellow picking of personal history in “Fisher Road to Hollywood” as they balance on the road of life, looking over the edge at options in “Divorce Separation Blues”. From teenage years as a duo into a growing sound and band membership, The Avett Brothers manage to keep intentions for their music clear with the same assurances that give the True Sadness title track disclosures weight, and the spaghetti western string swells of closing cut, “May It Last” agility and style.
The core of NewTown was formed by husband/wife team, Kati Penn Williams (vocals/fiddle) and Jr. Williams (vocals/banjo). The sound of Harlan Road has a Bluegrass heart though the music feeds into the album from varied tributaries of the style. Kati Penn Williams hears the songs as combined efforts, sharing that ‘we play traditional Bluegrass but we also have a little Newgrass feel. We don’t really get too extreme on either side, so I feel like we’re in the middle somewhere. We’re definitely more progressive. Especially with Hayes on guitar and Travis on bass because they’re so well-versed in jazz, and Mitchell is very versatile as well. But in the end, we’re still a Bluegrass band’. Harlan Road travels to the future with a Modern take on tradition that gives Bluegrass a tomorrow as NewTown put a foot on the accelerator as album opener “All That I Can Take” tracks across U.S. highways to hit the beaches of Mexico, admits to pitfalls as it looks towards personal futures in “The Crows and the Jakes”, and tames the flames of “Wildfire” with quiet strums and picking.
The heartbeats felt on Songs for a Movie in “Come on Over” bring together both the music and activism of Adam Ezra, a testament to there being no distinctions between the words he speaks in conversation and those he sings. Gentle playing cradles “Both of Our Voices” as Adam whispers ways to face life as a team rather than a solo act while “Shine” slowly turns the wheel on memories and lets the flow of “Rain Song” cascade with an easy determination. The Adam Ezra Group make a positive message part of the band as much as an ingredient in the stories on Songs for a Movie. Freedom is blowing in through an open car window as “Letters to Allison” takes to the highway while fast track chords catch traction in “Sprig”, airy melodies watch an exiting shadow in “Glory Song”, and The Adam Ezra Group walk down E Street to lay a Jersey shore echo over a “Trouble Heart” on New England backroads.
Sara Watkins tapped long-time friend, fiddle man Gabe Witcher to produce Young in All the Wrong Ways as she stands solo after fronting for group efforts with Nickel Creek and Watkins Family Hour. The backing band on the album features Gabe Witcher’s Punch Brothers brothers Chris Eldridge (guitar) and Paul Kowert (bass). Vocal help on Young in All the Wrong Ways comes from Jim James (My Morning Jacket) in “One Last Time” as she welcomes her own bandmates in I’m With Her, Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz, on the title track. Sara Watkins has hand holding the pen on all the album’s tracks, foregoing cover tunes to tell her story in her own words. Young in All the Wrong Ways slowly beats the drum in the confessions of “Invisible” as Sara Watkins tenderly whispers “The Love That Got Away” over soft notes as she struts into “Move Me” with Rock confidence.
Quaker City Night Hawks sparkle notes over the hard drive of “Liberty Bell 7” as they “Beat the Machine” on an assured rhythm, throw feedback across the gentle audio waves lapping against “The Last Great Audit” and funk the fire of “Something to Burn”. A darkness shakes the ground in “Duendes” as Quaker City Night Hawks sink the track in a rabbit hole of fractured sounds and hard hitting beats.
Recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, Baptist Town captures the folklore of the South in its stories as it builds “Roadside Shrine” using acoustic Folk ramblings on the guitar while the album rumbles the rhythms to match the dancing of “Sugar Shake”, rattles percussive driven chants to welcome “Papa Legba”, and fixes its groove to match tire spins as it hits the highway with “Bess”. The Mike Eldred Trio toss down “Hunder Dollar Bill” on a chugging rhythm as they cruise into Baptist Town on the opening track as they push limits for “Hoodoo Man” with the demands of rhythmic beats and they stomp out a message to “Black Annie” while seeking salvation in the gospel-tinged groove of “You're Always There”. Tracked with originals on Baptist Town, The Mike Eldred Trio crawl across the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” carrying deep electric Blues.
Kira’s voice creeps close to the edge on 3AM, questioning and taking blame on the title track as she hushes to hear suitcase wheels make a click track for dying love in “For Love’s Sake” and staggers into “Stuttgart” on an assured groove. Kira Small bares her soul, leading with the drama that coursed like an out of control current through her life. 3AM crawls out of the hurt as it heals, swearing to not “Cover My Mirrors”, confessing ‘I’m not sorry I loved you, only that you didn’t love me back’ as Kira ups the pace finding footing as she realizes that that love’s exit was a “Gift That Keeps on Giving”.
02 Elizabeth Cook (from the album of Exodus of Venus) (6-17-16) - Emotion pours from Exodus of Venus, the recent release from Elizabeth Cook. The album is her first in six years, and the time between recordings gave Elizabeth plenty of pain and tragedy to stage her stories. A half dozen years of death and divorce, rehab and reconstruction build flesh and bone characters that walk the audio streets on Exodus of Venus. The tales use personal experience to expose their drama. Elizabeth Cook gets dubbed a Country Outlaw. Given the title, it would seem that living without laws includes telling truths in real time in an effort to circumvent huge holes of hard times and work through life’s crippling challenges.
03 The Record Company (from the album Give It Back to You) (2-12-16) - A snaking Blues riff is the pied piper drawing anyone within ear shot in to “Off the Ground”, the opening salvo from Give It Back to You, the Concord Records debut from The Record Company. The L.A.-based band are a three piece in the power trio style of Mountain, ZZ Top, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. The Blues has been receiving attention in releases honoring the roots of the genre. The Record Company go a different route by bringing The Blues back into Rock’n’Roll. Having only three members does not limit the band as TRC double dip on the talent of its rhythm section.
04 Charles Bradley (from the album Changes) (4-1-16) - Charles Bradley titles his recent third album release Changes. Charles’ life has seen Changes in the past five years, skyrocketing the Daptone Records artist from a bleak existence on the streets of NYC into two triumphant album releases and becoming the subject for the 2012 documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America. Changes is another step for Charles Bradley as he ascends that ladder of Soul, backing his songs with players from the Daptone Records talent pool, including members of Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, The Dap-Kings, and Charles’ touring band, The Extraordinaires.
05 The Avett Brothers (from the album True Sadness) (6-24-16) - As the career star of The Avett Brothers rises, providing hope and light for Roots and Americana peers, their musical output continues its path of comfort with thought-provoking rambles and easy rhythms. The Avett Brothers expand on their sound with True Sadness, bringing the production into the band’s catalog seamlessly, offering heavier studio touches on an equal footing with their natural take on acoustics. The Avett Brothers have grown from the original core of two brothers, Seth and Scott Avett, into a larger stage group, expanding on the players and sound, filling out the family and recorded output organically from their base in North Carolina.
06 Margo Price (from the album Midwest Famer’s Daughter) (3-25-16) - On the album opener for Midwest Farmers Daughter, Margo Price goes back to the origins of Country Hardships and heartaches line the walls of Midwest Farmers Daughter though the stories that are framed do not show worn or broken faces. Margo Price’s voice is a trumpet call shouting out trip-up’s and triumphs as her stories battle with bottles and with the men still found floating at the bottom of the glass. Margo Price left her Nashville mailing address and headed a little further west to record Midwest Farmers Daughter at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.
07 Hayes Carll (from the album Lovers and Leavers) (4-8-16) - The voice is still the same. Hayes Carll grabs the notes going low to give edge, breaking a little as the moods bend. His latest album release, Lovers and Leavers, uses voice as an instrument to poke and jab, prying into corners where emotions hide as the pens that script Lovers and Leavers put humanity into their songs. The voices of the characters vary from past releases, however, as they speak their mind with straight-forward lines throughout Lovers and Leavers.
08 The Jayhawks (from the album Paging Mr. Proust) (4-29-16) - It has been over thirty years since The Jayhawks formed in 1985 Minneapolis, hitting a stride with their American Recordings debut in 1992 (Hollywood Town Hall). Musically, The Jayhawks stayed true to the Country Rock sound they represented with their initial releases. Band break-ups and re-formings occurred over the years, and the current Jayhawks line-up for their recent release, Paging Mr. Proust, contains members of the 1997 touring group. Founding member Gary Louris still drives The Jayhawks train and he pulls off a sound shift with Paging Mr.Proust that allows the songs of the band to grow and expand, pushing the sonic boundaries in ways that the soft Country Rock and Americana of previous release could only experience as hints and touches. Paging Mr. Proust honors a sound that The Jayhawks minted and offered as influence to a legion of bands that followed.
09 Parker Millsap (from the album The Very Last Day) (3-25-16) - With his songwriter status confirmed by NPR and Wall Street Journal acclaim, Parker Millsap uses The Very Last Day to stretch his musical potential, staying true to the Folk music that swept across the Oklahoma of his youth while giving his songs a contemporary feel through the modern observations of his characters. The backdrop for The Very Last Day became the landscape surrounding Parker Millsap as he crafted the stories. He told that he ‘was living in Guthrie (Oklahoma) when I wrote a lot of these songs. Oklahoma in the winter looks post-apocalyptic. We don’t have evergreen trees, and the grass turns brown to the point of colorlessness. Everything looks like skeletons and grayness’.
10 Robert Ellis (from the album Robert Ellis) (6-3-16) - Robert Ellis asks ‘how can you call it art when you’re sticking to a dotted line’ in “Elephant”. The story speaks to confronting issues within a relationship, hinting at a touring musician on one side of the line. Robert’s question seems a little random within the discussion, though it does speak loudly to the self-titled Robert Ellis release on New West Records. As a singer/songwriter, Robert Ellis seemingly has the ability to not edit his songs to fit format, mainstream or backwoods. The album is meeting place for the Folk, Jazz, Country, and Pop music common ground that Robert Ellis deems equal partners for his words, an extension ladder to reach his emotions.
11 Daniel Romano (form the album Mosey) (5-27-16) - Daniel Romano continues to remind Country music that it is a living, breathing art form. Daniel joins fellow artists (Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton) who plug in and play Country music as they hear it. Mosey is the sound track for dreamy reveries, spaghetti western strings, and Indie jangle (“Maybe Remember Me”). Daniel Romano is a prolific performer, his album releases perfectly capturing each mood and theme that he brings into the studio as muse. His work in other mediums requiring attention to details, such as his leather work and graphic design, is brought into his songwriting as each track builds with subtle infusions of emotion and swatches of sound.
12 Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub (from the album Meridian Rising) (2-26-16) - The steps taken between an idea and the results can vary. For some, one or two paces is about as far as they get from the kernel of an idea to jumping in and hoping for the best. Paul Burch had an idea form in his mind for a tale, an audio biography of Jimmie Rodgers, the singing superstar of the late 1920’s and one of the first American musician to successfully blend various styles into hybrids. To put flesh to the plan, Paul dug through rare archives at the Country Music Hall of Fame, discussed Rodgers’ life with his biographers, and backed the stories with the music of his lifetime; the sounds and rhythms that came through Meridian, Mississippi, the hometown of Jimmie Rodgers. Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub take the lead in Meridian Rising, an imagined autobiography of Jimmie Rodgers, the Blue Yodeler, the Singing Breakman.
13 Eli Paperboy Reed (from the album My Way Home) (6-10-16) - Eli Paperboy Reed was on a rocket ride career path when he made a name in the Boston Soul scene with flash fire live performances, recording with local powerhouse Q Division in 2007 before hopping through major label deals with Capital and Warner Brothers. His trajectory hovered when he lost his major label deal in 2014, turning the switch back on with his recent Yep Roc Records release, My Way Home. The album was tracked in four days, utilizing the analog gear of drummer Loren Humphrey (Guards, Cults), who assembled the collection of in his Brooklyn, New York loft‐turned‐recording studio. My Way Home puts gospel into its vintage rock’n’roll, salvation into its stories. The songs are infused with spirit, Eli Reed not seeing the subject as for any particular religion or creed. Eli feels that ‘the idea of salvation doesn't have to mean salvation in terms of finding God. My goal is just to make good music that moves people and meets them wherever they are. So for me, salvation in this case is about getting out of a bad situation, about finding yourself in a tough spot and trying to find your way through it. It's about not letting yourself be pulled down by negative influences’.
14 Lucinda Williams (from the album Ghosts of Highway 20) (2-5-16) - Lucinda Williams first road crush was Highway 20, now Interstate 20, a stretch of road that runs for 1500 miles from South Carolina to Texas. The Ghost of Highway 20 joins the road with the spirits of venerated white lines such as Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway. The stories see no borders as they cross from the life of their author and into the lives that line the highway. On the personal side, Lucinda Williams passes by childhood homes, the final resting place of her mother, and the crossroads that became signposts on her further journeys. Lucinda Williams sees the road as ‘it is literally a map of my life in a lot of ways. We were driving between shows and between cities, and I kept seeing things that brought me back to times and places in my past. Like when we played Macon, Georgia, a place I lived when I was five or six years old. I got out of the bus and I was transported back to when I saw this street singer, Blind Pearly Brown. It was like nothing had changed. All these things started percolating in my brain, and the songs just came’.
15 Carrie Rodriquez (from the album Lola) (2-19-16) - Carrie Rodriguez is building an altar of song on her recent release, Lola. The candles she lights are in honor of Lola Beltran, held by Mexico as their most popular ranchera-style singer. Based in Mexico City, Lola Beltran became known as Lola La Grande (Lola the Great), playing for world leaders from the U.S., performing before presidents from Eisenhower through Nixon, as well as heads of government in Russia, Spain, France, Yugoslavia, and many more. Carrie Rodriguez performs Lola as a bilingual project, and welcomes guests Bill Frissell and Raul Malo in the spots on the album. For an English-only audience, Carrie translates her Spanish language vocals with emotion.
16 The James Hunter Six (from the album Hold On!) (2-5-16) - James Hunter has been building a career steadily for the past decade. The mission that James has taken on is Soul music, and over the course of four studio recordings, he has been fine-tuning the songs. The James Hunter Six serve up tracks minted in a Vintage sound for a Modern era, successfully presenting analog warmth for digital times on tunes that wear their cool as a badge of honor. The latest release from The James Hunter Six, Hold On!, is the band’s first on Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. The band went to Daptone in-house producer, Gabriel Roth, to helm the recording which was done live to 8-track tape. It was the second time the band worked with Roth, giving James Hunter a comfort level in the studio, satisfied when he realized that ‘“The great thing about working with Gabe is that he can get our tunes on tape exactly the way I heard them in my head when I was writing them’.
17 Penny and Sparrow (from the album Let A Lover Drown You) (3-11-16) - Lush, gorgeous, luminescent….all words that fit for the vocals of Penny and Sparrow on the duo’s third album release, Let a Lover Drown You. Voices harmonize, blend, weave, and wander together in song as they try hard to fit or somehow line up naturally. Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter met as roommates at University of Texas and their vocals found a home in the deep thought Folk of artists such as Bon Iver, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Swell Season. Musically, the pair are surrounded by the sounds of music that blends as well as the harmonies on Let a Lover Drown You, the album produced by John Paul White (The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes). The album title Let a Lover Drown You is a big clue to the more poetic lean to the lyrics of Andy Baxter as Kyle Jahnke matches words to music. Penny and Sparrow offer a listening experience with Let a Lover Drown You, offering moods in its melodies and time for both trouble and triumph in its stories.
18 Toronzo Cannon – The Chicago Way (2-26-16) - Toronzo Cannon takes a cue from guerilla warfare with his guitar playing. His riffs are quick hits, snake bites of notes, snapping out and back before you can feel the sting. Toronzo’s riffs are like razors accenting his words on The Chicago Way, his recent debut with Alligator Records. His playing is based in the Chicago tradition where he has developed and grown over the past ten years. His stories mirror the lives around him, culled and crafted from working as a bus driver on the West Side where he had a traveling fishbowl view of the life around him. The Chicago Way showcases the force that is Toronzo Cannon. The album (co-produced by Toronzo and Alligator Record head Bruce Iglauer) stacks stories that slash and cut with the same efficiency as the guitar playing.
19 Wild Ponies (from the album Radiant) (5-13-16) - Some words are special, almost magical in the way they present as images in our minds. Radiant, the recent release from Wild Ponies, is one of those words. By definition, Radiant is ‘sending out light; shining or glowing brightly’. Pretty description, and the tunes of Wild Ponies can certainly be beautiful, like the way they let the title track drift on clouds on electric guitar notes before the beat arrives through open the window facing the night sky. Digging a little deeper into Radiant defines the word as ‘a point or object from which light or heat radiates, especially a heating element in an electric or gas heater’. That nails it for Radiant as the Wild Ponies play the soundtrack coming directly from venues throughout their East Nashville neighborhood, as the album makes as little distinctions as the bands as to what is Rock’n’Roll, Country, Blues, Folk, Americana, Soul, and their hybrids.
20 Dave Cobb (from the album Southern Family) (3-11-16) - Initially, the idea for a concept album left Dave Cobb pretty flat. The Nashville-based producer paid attention when the light bulb went off to give the album a wider scope. Southern Family is a collection of artists that Dave has worked with on production, offering songs they authored or cover for the project. The album focuses on growing up in the South, times with friends and family. As a producer, Dave Cobb is as much a part of whatever new sound fans here in the music of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Shooter Jennings, and Chris Stapleton. His work on albums such as Traveler (Chris Stapleton), Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Sturgill Simpson) and Something More Than Free (Jason Isbell) put Dave Cobb at ground zero for a shift in music. He has become family with the artists he works, and they return the favor on Southern Family.
21 Bonnie Bishop (from the album Ain’t Who I Was) (5-27-16) - The career of Bonnie Bishop was stripped down to the skeleton as she left Nashville for her family home in Texas. Friends at Thirty Tigers suggested she get in touch with producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson). Dave saw, or more precisely, heard the Soul that was left after Bonnie’s dreams of working in Country music had shut the door. Ain’t Who I Was is the most recent release from Bonnie Bishop, the result of the pairing with Dave Cobb sitting in the producer’s chair. Bonnie’s training in Gospel as the only white in a black choir and her natural ability to dig into the emotional heart of a song, make the Soul transition seamless as Ain’t Who I Was shows the change in words and music. The Country Soul of the title track is subtle with soft strings and warm organ chords as guitar notes weave and wind underneath a vocal with Bonnie Bishop standing tall, owning the past and embracing the future.
22 Charlie Faye and the Fayettes (from the album Charlie Faye and the Fayettes) (6-10-16) - The easiest way to explain Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, the self-title release from an Austin-based trio is to talk about the band. The three women of Charlie Faye and the Fayettes put harmony and heart into every song, using a Vintage 1960’s audio glow to warm the sound track. They are samples of a world culture with Jewish, Korean, and African-American heritage, sharing height, standing at 5’1” in pre-heels. Charlie Faye takes the lead, stepping in with more of a crooner role than her previous Roots releases. She is joined in girl-group harmony by two established solo artists and background vocalists, BettySoo and Akina Adderley. Charlie Faye and the Fayettes uses the Vintage sound of 1960’s Pop to seduce with a sonic sweet spot on the recent release. Charlie Faye was drawn to the harmonies in the music from the era, set against a moving rock’n’roll beat that welcomed touches of Soul, and Twang in the music of Darlene Love, Dusty Springfield, The Ronettes, and The Shirelles.
23 Darrell Scott (from the album Couchville Sessions) (5-13-16) - Darrell Scott has a peaceful presence that translates into audio waves on his most recent release, Couchville Sessions. Being in the middle of a constant music stream could cause less hands-on captains to allow the current to carry them. Darrell Scott steers his personal life with the same care he gives to placing notes and words in songs, building a sustainable lifestyle outside of Nashville on the Cumberland Plateau. Darrell cares for his family by heating with wood, utilizing solar energy, and growing their own food. The tracks on Couchville Sessionsreflect the way Darrell lives; they are a natural product of his unapologetic approach to making music and living life.
24 Yarn (from the album This is the Year) (5-27-16) - This is the Year and this is the album for Yarn. Blake Christiana has stitched together comforters for kiss-off goodbyes, bad decisions, and rocky romance since Yarn’s 2007 self-titled debut. The band was Brooklyn-based through five album releases, carving out a name, a fan base with its own flag as Yarmy, and a spot on the Americana bandwagon since it was just a hayride. This is the Year reflects the pen of Blake Christiana, and his characters still have a smirk and a smile, happy to make a joke of where they land on the ladder to take out the sting of life. There is a change, however, to the mood in the tales that is a new breeze in the songs of Yarn. As they band sets up base in North Carolina, This is the Year reflects an optimism that strides through the title track on a confident beat as a snaggly guitar line waves a flag for new beginnings.
25 Levi Parham (from the album These American Blues) (6-24-16) - Levi Parham follows two successful E.P. releases (An Okie Opera, Avalon Drive) with his first full length, the Music Road Records release, These American Blues. Levi strides into the songs with confidence. These American Bluesstays true to Tulsa time with its groove as Levi Parham spreads Soul over the tracks with his vocals.While his voice has a natural Soul delivery, Levi Parham works magic with multiple touches of Folk, Country, and Blues on These American Blues.
26 Tommy Womack (from the album Namaste) (5-20-16) - Tommy Womack is a chameleon through his various musical projects, saving the heart of his stories for solo outings as he presents a life lived on Namaste, his recent album release. Tommy Womack says hello to the world with the ancient Sanskrit greeting, Namaste, as he addresses citizenship in his own world, chronicling life with a happy joy based in the realization that, against all odds, he has made it to 2016.
27 Brad Armstrong (from the album Empire) (1-15-16) - Brad Armstrong experiments with sounds on Empire, his latest solo release. The album experiments Roots music, melodically moving in the darker shades as the music rolls and tumble under the stories of Brad Armstrong. Empire strikes chords mostly played from the hand of Brad Armstrong, with Maria Taylor (Azure Ray, solo) backing on harmonies, and Jason Lucia (13Ghosts, Deadstring Brothers) on drums. Empire brings Jason back together with former bandmate in 13Ghosts, Brad Armstrong.
28 The Monkees (from the album Good Times) (5-27-16) - Not that long ago I would have said The Monkees were a guilty pleasure. The band’s recent release, Good Times, moves aside any guilt to proudly get in line as a fan. Good Times is the album that The Monkees have put together to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary as a band. The three surviving members, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork, put playing and vocals into the album. The tracks that line Good Times are a mix of band originals added into the template that worked on The Monkees early albums of tunes written specifically for the group.
29 The Lumineers (from the album Cleopatra) (4-8-16) - The Lumineers became a Roots music success story with the mega-hit status of their tune “Ho Hey” and healthy chart presence for the following singles. Roots music was in the mainstream, giving The Lumineers a unique position in the Roots music community with a million selling album. Handling success is as much of a challenge as somehow finding the path that gets you there. Cleopatra, the latest release from The Lumineers, stays true to the Roots and Americana that the Denver- Colorado-based trio has honed. The songs were carefully grown and trimmed down to bare essentials, allowing the emotional beauty of the tracks to hold center stage in the words and music. The piano work of Jeremiah Fraites, how also holds down the role of drummer, has a strong presence on Cleopatra. Jeremiah is co-songwriter for The Lumineers, joining music to the words of lead vocalist/guitarist Wesley Schultz. The pair complete the band circle with cellist/vocalist Neyla Pekarek.
30 Sarah Jarosz (from the album Undercurrent (6-17-16) - An album should be a reflection of its artists life in the songs. Sarah Jarosz went into the studio to record Undercurrent with a blank canvas of future. The recording is her fourth release for Sugar Hill Records, and the first since her move to New York City after graduating from New England Conservatory of Music. The album is a time capsule, and like maky of our own lives, takes one step forward, one step back, one step forward in its dance of life. Sarah is satisfied with the flow of Undercurrent, seeing the album as ‘this is the first record I've made since being out on my own and experiencing a lot of changes, and I think that that's reflected in the songs. It's also the first record I've ever made that feels to me like a complete thought, with a beginning, a middle and an ending. It's also the first time I've made an album that doesn't have any covers on it. I wanted it to feel like the rollercoaster ride that is life, so I put a lot of thought into sequencing the songs. It was important for me to start with light, and then go through darker times, and stubbornness and strength and weakness, and then end up on a hopeful note’.
31 Carter Sampson (from the album Wilder Side) (1-12-16) - The words of Carter Sampson are sharp, scenes clear and characters that seem very familiar to those walking between the devils and angels hanging out on your own shoulders. She delivers her tales on the soft roll of Tulsa rhythms on her recent release, Wilder Side. Carter Sampson asks for “Holy Mother” to keep an eye out as ‘me and the girls are going out on the town’, asking for help from above to make sure they do not ‘go home with a guitar man, or anyone else in the band’. Carter Sampson has a knack for penning her words as mirrors, allowing the truths of her life as support within the lives of listeners, particularly those for whom the road is not an option but a default.
32 The Waco Brothers (from the album Going Down in History) (2-26-16) - The Waco Brothers play Country music. The venues suitable for touring behind their most recent release, Going Down in History, offer a wider than net than more traditional Country outlets as The Wacos comfortably plug into clubs catering to fans from punks to posers. While their mix of Country and Punk Rock might not seem really revolutionary in 2016, The Waco Brothers have been knocking back shots of their own branded Alt Country for twenty years, and were among the first bands to proudly grab a stool at the bar between Cash and Clash. Going Down in History crackles with intensity, playing that lets you feel the heat from the amps and every drumbeat/bass thump deep inside your chest. The playing is primal, but never feral. The Waco Brothers are gentlemen gamblers as they deal rock’n’roll from the bottom of a Country deck, slapping smirks and guitar chords down as winning hand.
33 Beth Lee and the Break-Ups (from the album Keep Your Mouth Shut) (5-5-16) - Beth Lee bites bullets on Keep Your Mouth Shut, firing a tease with teeth into the album. Her pen is dipped in done-wrong ink as The Breakups back tales of treachery with rock’n’rolling Country. She manages to be both worldly and wide-eyed in her characters. Beth Lee is a seductress with a snarl as she draws love into her flame far enough to leave a mark as she steps on the hearts trailing her around.
34 The Adam Ezra Group (from the album Songs for a Movie) (5-22-16) - Rhythms rule on Songs for a Movie, the most recent release from The Adam Ezra Group. The album separates from the past for The Group with the use of beats as well as a depth to the story telling and a more intuitive playing from the band, born from touring travel and road performances. While the tracks do not run under any specific films, the tunes open curtains on individual vignettes within the production.
35 Amelia White (from the album Home Sweet Hotel) (2-5-16) - Amelia White unlocks the door and checks into Home Sweet Hotel for her most recent album release. Write what you know might be one of the lessons taught for songwriters taking courses on story content for their tunes. The results are songs about life, taking aim at its loves and losers with words of advice based in experience and observation. Like it sounds, those ideals are text book versions of the singer/songwriter lifestyle. The reality for the traveling troubadour is that lovers at home stay in your heart but the beds that wait for you after a show are empty. Amelia White writes what she lives on Home Sweet Hotel. The tunes on Home Sweet Hotel do not take sides; they are extensions of the issues that roll around in the mind of Amelia White.
36 Hard Working Americans (from the album Rest in Chaos) (5-13-16) - Dedication to the art of a song plays a major role as Hard Working Americans are on-the-job in their second album release, Rest in Chaos. Hard Working Americans bring together musicians whose careers precede them as songwriter/author/ Todd Snider stands behind the microphone with Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, and behind the boards as producer. Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Band) is on guitar with additional work on electric and pedal steel guitars from Jess Aycock, Chris Stahley (Great American Taxi) handles keyboards, and Duane Trucks sits behind the drums.
37 Sultans of String (from the album Subcontinental Drift) (2-5-16) - Sultans of String offer ragas, reels, and rhumbas in a joyful celebration of song as Subcontinental Drift. The Canadian-based band brings in sitar master Anwar Kurshid, creating a bridge for world rhythms to cross freely. The Sultans Chris McKhool (bandleader/violinist) felt that ‘there is something magical about joining the world music rhythms we play, but with pop sensibilities and forms and lengths, and blending that with the music of the East’. When Chris heard the rumba rhythms in the guitar work of Kevin Laliberté, the Sultans of String were born. Traveling as a duo and band, the group has garnered Juno nominations and Canadian Folk awards with Chris McKhool receiving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work in creating community through music.
38 Rebekah Long (from the album Here I Am) (5-20-16) - One listen to Here I Am, the recent release from Rebekah Long, gives a fast track understanding of her love of Bluegrass and the ability to put that passion into her playing. For any non-believers, she has credentials in the form of a BA in Bluegrass and Music Education garnered from her 2002 studies at the Glenville State College Bluegrass Certificate Program. The title track for Here I Am is authored by the album’s producer, Donna Ulisse, who joins husband/bandmate Rick Stanley and Rebekah as co-writer for many of the cuts included on the release. The LUK Records release keeps Rebekah Long’s co-writers with her at the microphone as Donna and Rick lend vocals, backed by an A-list cast of players, including IBMA banjo player of the year, Scott Vestal, five-time IBMA bass player of the year, Mike Bub, and two-time IBMA mandolin player of the year, Jesse Brock.
39 The Cactus Blossoms (from the album You’re Dreaming) (1-22-16) - The Vintage Sound of The Cactus Blossoms provides effects like those ideally presented by a cup of chamomile, a meditative journey inward or an Indica hit of Girl Scout Cookies. Sonically, You’re Dreaming, settles you on a massive audio cloud that tumbles and rolls as it covers the album, successfully capturing analog warmth in a digital world under its canopy. Produced by JD McPherson, You’re Dreaming, frames the harmonies of brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum against a sound that refers to another time in Country music without ever date stamping the tracks.
40 The Relatives (from the album Goodbye World) (4-29-16) - The Relatives offer Gospel Funk as a foundation for their music, and expand on the natural electric groove of the band with their recent release, Goodbye World. The Relatives are players and pioneers for the 1970’s Psychedelic Funk that is the bed for their message. The Relatives lost their mentor and leader just before the recording of Goodbye World was completed. Reverend Gean West had produced two vocals for the album before he became too ill to record, becoming unconscious for twelve days. He rallied to lay down vocals for more tracks on the album.
41 Kalyn Fay (from the album Bible Belt) (6-10-16) - The Oklahoma Room was the hot ticket for Folk Alliance 2016. Kalyn Fay was one of Tulsa talents that played, and played, and played throughout the weekend. The musicians mixed and mingled, backing one another and stepping to center stage as needed. The sound that Kalyn presents on her recent Horton Records release, Bible Belt, once again showcases the music of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its family of musicians. Kalyn Fay passes over her stories with an easy vocal, her voice landing on the music bed to tease the tales by stretching out the notes to the edge of the rhythms. Bible Belt whispers secrets in its title track as Kalyn sings of childhood, still calling home a place she has left behind long ago.
42 Whitehorse (from the album The Northern South, Vol 1) (5-6-16) - Whitehorse define their sound as Intergalactic Blues grooves meet the full force of guitar gravity. That is true, the music is other-worldy, a virtual graveyard sound given birth in a studio. Whitehorse successfully trace a line back in their Blues that honors its southern birth with the latest release from the Canadian husband and wife duo, The Northern South Vol 1. The album spits and snarls, the guitar is feral, biting as much as riffing.
43 Quaker City Night Hawks (from the album El Astronauta) (5-20-16) - Coming off tour runs with Chris Stapleton, Lucero, and Leon Bridges, Quaker City Night Hawks update Texas Boogie on their recent release, El Astronauta. Quaker City Night Hawks sparkle notes over the hard drive of “Liberty Bell 7” as they “Beat the Machine” on an assured rhythm, throw feedback across the gentle audio waves lapping against “The Last Great Audit” and funk the fire of “Something to Burn”. A darkness shakes the ground in “Duendes” as Quaker City Night Hawks sink the track in a rabbit hole of fractured sounds and hard hitting beats.
44 Willie Sugarcapps (from the album Paradise Right Here) (4-15-16) - Willie Sugarcapps deliver album number two with Paradise Right Here. The band is made up of Roots music players with credentials including Jimmy Buffet, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Winwood as well as their own careers. It was in lower Alabama at Blue Moon Farm that Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, Sugarcane Jane (Anthony Crawford and Savanna Lee) and Corky Hughes played together at a musical gathering called The Frog Pond. Paradise Right Here was produced by Willie Sugarcapps with Trina Shoemaker (Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chicks) and recorded over three days at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The second outing for Willie Sugarcapps wears the confidence of touring as a band in its songs. The tracks are unified within the band’s sound brand while the pens of its members walk with more definition.
45 Mark Erelli (from the album For a Song) (4-8-16) - Mark Erelli gives the answer immediately on the album title for his recent release, For a Song. The questions spring from his touring schedule being a solo musician and recently backing Lori McKenna, playing Royal Albert Hall backing Josh Ritter, and working with Paul Cole. Why do this to the lives you love back home? Where does it end? The questions came from different points and all led to the same answer, For a Song. Mark Erelli remembered ‘that’s been the answer to almost every question I’ve asked myself for quite some time’. He sings out a life with that focus in the title track on a story littered with post cards to young lives back home, warning the ‘road is not your friend, just a means to an end’ as a way of explaining absence.
46 Derek Hoke (from the album Southern Moon) (4-22-16) - Derek Hoke took to the road to create the first takes of the songs on Southern Moon. The tunes took their form on late night drives with a voice recorder in the passenger seat. To complete the pre-recording process, Derek used audience response from his weekly $2 Tuesday residency at East Nashville’s The 5 Spot to fine-tune the tracks. Southern Moon welcomes Elizabeth Cook into a duet with Derek on “Still Got Time”, featuring backing vocals on the album from Chuck Mead and Robyn Hitchcock as well as Mickey Raphael on harmonica.
47 Willie Nile (from the album World War Willie) (4-1-16) - Willie Nile pretty much just has to stand in one place with his standard uniform of black leather jacket, sunglasses, and revolutionary stance to let you know his politics. Just in case anyone missed the look or the four decades of Rock’n’Roll testimonials from his pen, Willie Nile paints his persona across the cover of his most recent release, World War Willie. The cover image is of Dresden after bombing in WWII. Willie stands in front the desolation with his guitar, stating that ‘for me rock’n’roll, at its best, helps to make some sense of the world. There can be a redemptive quality to it. I guess it’s me trying to make some sense of the world with rock’n’roll’.
48 Grant-Lee Phillips (from the album The Narrows) (3-18-16) - The sound of The Narrows is dusty and wide open. It is the one souvenir that Grant-Lee Phillips took when he left California in 2013, following the worldwide that leads back home to Tennessee. Born in the San Joaquin Valley, Grant-Lee spent time by The Bay in San Francisco and made his home in Los Angeles since the age of nineteen. While the music maintains Grant-Lee Phillips’ Western Roots, his parents claimed southern ties. Nashville felt like a missing piece for his music, and The Narrows goes wide and deep to sink in Roots.
49 The Bo-Keys (from the album Heartaches by the Number) 4-29-16 - The Soul of The Bo-Keys is a pure one. The band naturally inhabits a sound that is a cottage industry for their base in Memphis, Tennessee. Their recent release, Heartaches by the Number, puts the band behind stories of love and loss as the tracks are surrounded by a Vintage warmth buried deep within the sound. The Bo-Keys recorded Heartaches by the Number onto analog tape at Electraphonic Recording in Memphis. Produced by bandleader Scott Bomar (bass, percussion), the album is the third release from The Bo-Keys since forming in1998.
50 Dori Freeman (from the album Dori Freeman) (2-5-16) - The purity in the vocal of Dori Freeman is a combination of her heritage with a natural confidence in how her voice tells its tale. Dori is a daughter of Appalachia, and the mountains dig roots into her own growth as a singer. Dori Freeman makes use of geography, adding a slow drawl to her delivery that fits well with the natural bends and gentle twang in her voice as it reaches up to call out notes cradled in the arms of the mountains as they climb to their highest peaks.
19. The Neville Brothers - Fiyo on the Bayou (1981) - The follow up to the dbut album, The Neville Brothers, Fiyo on the Bayou incorporated more elements of funk, reggae and New Orleans, cajun flavored R&B than it's predecessor. The result resonated with critics and the public and The Neville Brothers have become synomymous with American R&B world wide as a result. It contains the monumental songs, 'Hey Pocky Way,' 'Sitting in Limbo,' and 'The Ten Commandments of Love' that have become 'standards' of the standards.
36. Nanci Griffith - Once in a Very Blue Moon (1983) - Nanci Griffith brought in musical backing for her third album release, Once in a Very Blue Moon. The folk-fed sparseness of her earlier releases was replaced by a fuller sound that contained a little more Country. Guest musicians Bela Fleck (banjo) and Mark O’Connor (fiddle) bring in musical magic as support for the dream texture of “Year Down in New Orleans” and the nod to favorite venues “Spin Around the Red Brick Floor”.
37. Joan Armatrading - Walk Under Ladders (1981) - Joan Armatrading came further into the full-on rock world with the Steve Lillywhite produced Walk Under Ladders. The mix of studio personnel was all over the map with new wave representation from Thomas Dolby and Andy Partridge (XTC), Elton John percussionist Ray Cooper, reggae rhythm man Robbie Shakespeare and Orleans’ Peter Gabriel and Hall & Oates alumni, Jerry Marotta.
38. John Mellencamp - Scarecrow (1985) - Pre-production for Rain on the Scarecrow was simple, and sounds like a lot of fun. John Mellencamp and his band spent a month playing about a hundred Rock’n’Roll songs from the 60’s before heading into the studio to record. The album took a stand in and for the heartland. Without changing the Roots/Rock sound, John Mellencamp brought lyrics that had meaning, talking about good lovin’ in Middle America (“Lonely Ole’ Night”) and touring ala Motown caravans (“R.OC.K. in the U.S.A.”). Rain on the Scarecrow would be the first volley heard for the plight of America’s farmers and for Farm Aid.
39. Chris Isaak - Silvertone (1985) - Chris Isaak had the snarl and the chops to be the next in line for Elvis Presley comparisons. His band was equally stripped down but the resulting sound was more ethereal and dream like. The tone of the music was a good match for filmmaker David Lynch, whose work in films had the same dreamscape attached. The director’s use of the tune “Gone Ridin’” from Silvertone jettisoned the album to much deserved recognition.
There are those who will view this as "America Bashing" and nothing could be further from the truth. This is about bashing the things that are tearing this great country apart. America is shackled to racism, sexism, corporate greed, intolerance, corporate fed drug abuse, political gridlock, child abuse and a widening gap between those who "have" and those who "won't ever be privileged enough to get any." We started in 1980 and worked up to today.
These artists are exceptional without hiding behind a charade of false "exceptionalism." Save the No Apology bullshit for Mitt Romney and the Privileged Class. We have problems, lots of them and this list is about the artists who look at America as it really is not as the people in the mansion on the hill tell you it is. These songs aren't pretty and they don't sugar coat. There's country radio for that...perhaps Brad Paisley will need a new home like the Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle and Johnny Cash did. We're here with open arms.
Here is The American Condition in 50 Songs or Less - The Top 50 Songs about the State of Our Union
1. James McMurtry - We Can't Make it Here - (2007) From the album Just Us Kids. 'We Can't Make it Here' is about corporate greed and how it strangles every aspect of American society. The American 'dream' has been reserved for those who have privilege, power or the cash to purchase it. McMurtry could have half this list but the top spot is his until someone comes up with something better.
"Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin,
or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in?
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today?
No I hate the men sent the jobs away.
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams.
All lily white and squeaky clean.
They've never known want, they'll never know need.
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed.
Their kids won't bleed in their damn little war,
And we can't make it here anymore."
2. Old Crow Medicine Show - Methamphetamine - (2008) - From the album Tennessee Pusher. The scourge of the heartland is methamphetamine or 'Crystal Meth' as it's known on the block. It's a killer from the moment you try it and unlike cocaine it's cheap and with a little ingenuity you can make it at home. Old Crow Medicine Show tackled a host of social issues but this one hits harder in the places where the band has it's biggest following.
"It's gonna rock you like a hurricane.
It's gonna rock you 'til you lose sleep.
It's gonna rock you 'til you're out of a job.
It's gonna rock you 'til you're out on the street.
It's gonna rock you 'til you're down on your knees.
It's gonna have you begging pretty please.
It's gonna rock you like a hurricane.
"The cradle did rock, the cradle been broken
It all fell down in the terrible flood, then
Some people came home, some people gave up
The levee went crash and the cradle did rock"
TV dads represent a little bit of many people. They are pieces of the many, coming together to make the whole. They are champions and sometimes they are an embarrassment. They do right, they do wrong, They make mistakes and the come off like heroes. They are dads.
Frank Gallagher - (William H. Macy) - Shameless - Not only is Frank Gallagher the WORST TV dad ever, he may be the worst TV person, period. On the show Shameless he is a drunk, narcissist and overall despicable human being and those are his good traits. He games the system for a living and occasionally hangs with his pseudo girlfriend Shiela who also collects disability. Gallagher is the occasional "dad" to six children on the show who have pretty much resigned themselves to the fact that they don't really have a "dad." On a particular show he hooks up with a barfly who is awaiting a heart transplant and has a large life insurance policy. He weasels his way into becoming the beneficiary and while she's in the shower a hospital calls with news of a possible heart for her. He tells the hospital she's dead already...'nuf said.
Andy Taylor - (Andy Griffith) - The Andy Griffith Show - Hands down, no argument, the BEST television dad in history was Sheriff Andy Taylor. The show was part "To Kill a Mockingbird" part "Little Rascals" and 100% rural Americana. All the planets were aligned for The Andy Griffith Show and it brought together the genius of Griffith, Don Knotts, Frances Bavier and Ron Howard, who at the age of 6, already showed signs veteran chops as an actor. Opie grew up in front of America's eyes from age 6 to age 14 and America learned most every valuable lesson about life, love, sharing, giving and growing and laughed their asses off while doing it. Ernest T. Bass, Floyd the barber, Emmit's Fix-It-Shop, Gomer Pyle, Goober Pyle, The Darlings, Jubal Foster...we could go on and on.
Dr. John Robinson - (Guy Williams) - Lost in Space - A cheesy spin on the Swiss Family Robinson story by Johan Wyss, Lost in Space was a story of Dr. John Robinson, an astrophysicist, who took a round airstream trailer with less dashboard controls than a '62 Volkswagon into space with a family of 5, a fellow astrophysicist who is hot for his oldest daughter, a stowaway sociopath named Dr. Smith and a clunky robot, called, well...robot. The rest is television magic as Dr. Robinson guides the fam through adolescence, growing pains, love interests, giant alien monsters and Dr. Smith's repeated attempts to get them all killed...no wonder they call the 60's the golden age of television.
Fred Flintstone - (voice of Alan Reed) - The Flintstones - It would take decades and The Simpsons to unseat The Flintstones as the most successful animated series in history but The Flintstones was still the first "prime time" animated series in history. The show was a dead ringer take off of the successful Honeymooners series of Jackie Gleason. Fred didn't actually become a dad until late in the show's third season and parenthood did nothing to slow down his penchant for trouble, get rich schemes or other stone age mayhem. He does have some great friends including Anne Margrock, Mick Jadestone and the Rolling Boulders, The Beau Brummelstones which makes him a cool dad by any standard. Truth be told, The Flintstones 'jumped the shark' when Pebbles and Bamm Bamm entered the picture.
Archie Bunker - (Carroll O'Connor) - All in the Family - The man who said the things that too many Americans were thinking and had the common sense, class and decency to keep it to themselves. Gloria, you're dad was a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, blue collar narcissist and one of the funniest bastards to ever grace the small screen. It was television. Yeah it bit a little close to home for most liberal thinkers but if you get past that aspect he was a decent guy who just existed as a victim of his times. Years later the character of Archie Bunker would re-appear as the entire Rebublican leadership in the country with white collars instead.
Tony Soprano - (James Gandolfini) - The Sopranos - He was the dad on the best television series in the history of television and a good chunk of his character development over the course of the six seasons that the show ran was his relationship to his wife and kids. He was a shit-bum for a husband but as a dad, well, he provided for his family by running the North Jersey mafia, hanging out in a strip club full of silicon implanted "Snookies," and killing people. That was cool until daughter Meadow and son Anthony Jr. found out...fatherhood was pretty much downhill from there. Despite their existential issues with the source, the kids never stopped taking and Tony never stopped "providing."
Ward Cleaver - (Hugh Beaumont) - Leave it to Beaver - Being father to Wally and "the Beav" was no easy task and took patience and several trips to the den each evening to drink it off. Looking back, Leave it to Beaver was simultaneously every parent's nightmare and every parent's dream circa. 1960's America. The Beaver was lily white America's version of juvenile delinquency with peanut butter and jelly stains and a milk mustache. He got into all kinds of trouble that kids got into for generations and Ward would teach the lessons while the boys sat in matching pajamas and shared the same fully stocked bedroom. Ahhh the visions of our youth!
Gomez Addams - (John Astin) - The Addams Family - Alright here's one of the 'cult classic' dads in television history. I've recently re-visited The Addams Family which, to my delight, has gotten better as I age. The hidden innuendo was far ahead of it's time and the macabre has had a resurgence of sorts. Gomez, father of Pugsley and Wednesday, is eccentric, wealthy, aloof and a damn lot of fun. Who hasn't wanted an exploding train set their entire life? As a dad, well, look at Wednesday who raised killer spiders and carried around a Marie Antoinette doll post guillotine and Pugsley who actually guillotined it! These are well adjusted children who would be at home in any household post "Glee," "Friday Night Lights," and "American Idol" America.
Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill), Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) - Modern Family- Four fathers make up the Modern Family Dads. Ed O’Neill saves his good dad rating as patriarch Jay Pritchett. He also tops the dad list for the hottest wife for his second marital choice. Jay’s son-in-law, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) wants to be one of the guys, even for his two teenage daughters. He is a big lovable lug that means well. Phil is passive and steps aside to let his wife bulldoze her way through the family affairs. Jay’s son, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and his partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet) have adopted a Chinese daughter. They make their way through fatherhood but as their daughter ages, you get the impression she will be running the household soon. We would have named them the first gay dad household but just could not buy the whole ‘live-in man’ scenario with Uncle Bill (Brian Keith) and Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot) on Family Affair.
Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) - Boardwalk Empire - Nucky Thompson is an adopted father on Boardwalk Empire. Sure, he had the birth father killed and dumped in the Atlantic but he loves those kids. Nucky has multiple affairs on wife Margaret, who is no slouch in the extramarital rutting department. Nucky runs the Jersey shore for the purchase or procurement of anything illegal. Nucky Thompson is more comfortable with giving orders to feed more bodies to the fish then he is spending ten minutes as a dad. He can buy love and impress oldest boy, Teddy, and pay for any medical procedures needed by youngest daughter Emily. The parental side of Nucky stops there.
Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) – Bonanza - A single father on the lone prairie, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) raised three sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. The family ranch, The Ponderosa, was a 600,000 acre ranch along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. At 937 square miles, The Ponderosa was the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. The west was tough on the women in Ben's life and the Cartwright wives dropped after spawning a son each. Ben was dad to kids that went in all directions emotionally, personally and morally, with English, Swedish and French Creole bloodlines running in their veins. Through the magic of television, Bonanza chronicled the American west between 1861 and 1867 in its fourteen year series run, from September, 1958 through January 1973.
James Evans, Sr. - (John Amos) - Good Times - James Evans, Sr. became a father quickly on Good Times. The show was one of the many spin off children of All in the Family. Good Times descended from Maude but when the producers decided to give Maude housekeeper Florida her own show they changed her firefighter husband Henry to struggling husband James, making no mention of Maude and moving the couple from Tuckahoe, New York to inner-city Chicago projects….other than that, not a lot of changes. James Evans was a black, working class dad in an inner-city project, a new concept on television. Mr. Evans Sr. was a pretty straightforward, no nonsense guy. Nothing to challenge or portray an angry black man. All black community politics were handled by eleven year old son Michael (the militant midget) and the carefree, loving living on welfare attitude that much of the audience expected was handled by older teen J.J. “Dy-no-mite” Evans. (James Jr.).
Maurice - (Maurice Evans) – Bewitched - There were no last names for the witch/warlock contingent on Bewitched. Samantha’s dad was Maurice (Maurice Evans). Maurice treated every scene and set like an Elizabethan stage. Sweeping Shakespearean gestures and dialogue were taken for granted by daughter Samantha and Endora, who referred to Maurice as ‘my daughter’s father’ and thought of their marriage as ‘informal’. His relationship with son-in-law Darrin (Duncan? Durwood? Dustbin?) was strained. Maurice was a warlock, with hundreds of years under his cape, no need to tolerate fools or mortals.
Jed Clampett - (Buddy Ebsen) - Beverly Hillbillies - What a dad! He not only discovers oil (black gold, texas tea) in the backyard while huntin’ possum but decides to move the family from the hills they called home to the hills called Beverly….movie stars and cement ponds. Jed Clampett was the wise man for family matters and the practical voice of reason for the questionable banking practices Mr. Drysdale threw at him weekly. Jed threatened a lot of ‘tan your hide’ or ‘to get a whoopin’’ but never through with threats. His shock meter never registered more than a ‘well doggies’ as admonishments for daughter Ellie May and nephew Jethro. Jed tried to live with the cash but you can take the dad out of the backwoods but never take backwoods out of the dad. He wore the same clothes in every show proving clothes shopping is an unnecessary evil.
Porter Ricks - (Brian Kelly) – Flipper - Porter Ricks was a single dad with two sons to raise and a park/marine preserve somewhere in the Florida Keys to maintain. Given the heavy work load and family responsibilities, it is no surprise that Porter’s companion became the show’s star and namesake, Flipper. The aquatic Lassie took things space age for the 60’s. Whether the dog wagged the tail or the tail wagged the dog did not matter. Flipper could ride on his (her) tail….backward, and make a lot more noise, both above and below water. Take that pooch. Porter Ricks may have been a dream dad for a lot of youngsters….kids living on the water, riding dolphins and with not a lot of parental supervision... and it was always summer, Forget Neverland and Oz, take me to the Keys!
Homer Simpson - The Simpsons - Homer Jay Simpson lived a Hollywood dream. He went from a bit role on three episodes of the Tracy Ullman show to debuting as head of The Simpson household in December 1989. Homer's character seems mild compared to future toon dad Family Guy’s Peter Griffin. Homer was an everyman dad and factory worker. He was overweight, maybe a little clumsy and landed just this side of inappropriate but dude could hold a burp and get his lips to shake like jello on the fault line. Homer played support dad to son Bart for a few seasons, letting his skateboarding first born get all the attention and the great lines….”eat my shorts”, really, Bart, that coulda been your dad’s catch phrase? Homer played the quiet dad, letting his kid get the cred but started taking a stance for lazy, heavy drinking dads across the land. Homer got away with the stuff that was only a dream to many of us.
Alan Harper - (Jon Cryer) - Two and 1/2 Men - You can point fingers and deride Alan Harper for personal choices and severe lack of parental guidance. Alan is the “because-I-said-so” kind of Dad. Alan has a lot of shortcomings but it was his couch surfing at the home of brother Charlie that landed he and his kid, Jake, a Malibu address. Alan does very little, as a house guest, as a contributing member of the household and as a dad. He is available if needed, I guess. Alan is probably the least involved dad on television. It is difficult to put him on the worst or best side, there are very few dad things Alan does that can be measured to decide on his role of a father. He is a dad just because, you know.
Walter White - (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad - Walter White is there for his son if he can be. Walter's son, Walter, Jr., has cerebral palsy. Big medical issues seems to gallop at a full clip through the White household. Walter, Sr. was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Teaching science at his high school day gig took a backseat to the ‘second job” he took to pay the mounting bills. Walter White became a meth maker, then dealer, then major supplier, getting meaner and colder as each minute and deal passed. Walter does his best as a dad but each day his moral compass spins faster and faster, never pointing in any one direction. His job as a dad suffers the same fate as every other aspect of Walter’s life as he transitions from a sympathetic to an extremely unlikable character on Breaking Bad. Forget about judging him as a dad, you might want to take a look at who you are pulling for.
George Jefferson - (Sherman Helmsley) - The Jeffersons - George Jefferson (Sherman Helmsley) successfully moved his family up to the East Side, way uptown. He spent two years en route as a Queens neighbor of Archie Bunker. I am sure a ‘deluxe apartment in the sky’ was more appealing but two years with Archie’s biting words nipping at you could probably bring a little nostalgia even for the ‘hood. George had opinions but he was a good dad. His bark was way louder than his bite, but dad George did have one bad ass strut. George Jefferson spent twelve years as a tv dad, ruling over the family and appearing in all 253 episodes of The Jeffersons. He was a self-made man and an American success story, a small business owner that started and managed a string of dry cleaning stores. George shared more than a street address with neighbor Archie Bunker. The two had the same way of dealing with the world, though George had more street smarts and his schemes for taking care of his family were at the heart of each episode.
Al Bundy - (Ed O'Neill) - Married With Children - Al Bundy got married because he got drunk and asked Peg to marry him. He had children because he got married, Married With Children is where Al was in life when we met him in 1987 and where he stayed for the show’s eleven year run. Things never got better for Al in his life. Wife Peg has a if-it-moves-mount-it attitude, as does daughter Kelly. Son Bud, who proud dad Al named after a beer, would love to be a slut to take care of his perpetual horniness, but can’t ‘cause he’s kind of a geek. The Bundy bunch were a laugh-a –minute, step-by-step guide on what not to do. As a family, they ways to yank the fun out of dysfunctional.