Best of FTB
Cactus Hunters ...(Rustic)
is the self titled debut from this Woodstock, NY band and it's one fine CD at
that. Their sound reminds me of a cross between The Band, Dr John and Little Feat.
With maybe, just maybe, a little Skynyrd thrown in for good measure too. The guitar
has a nice southern rock/Bakersfield twang to it. Kinda like if Robbie Robertson
went out drinkin with Buck Owens and wound up passed out in New Orleans. The Keyboards
conjure up memories of Billy Payne and Garth Hudson, not too mention Billy Powell.
Well done gents. Hope to hear more in the future. |
band's site, and Rustic
Records. Order from amazon. Released
Oct. 2003. Reviewed by Keith Robb.
Only as the Day is Long... (Subpop)
|Thank God Sera Cahoone decided to step out from behind the drum kit and starting writing her own songs. The Seattle-based singer and songwriter started playing drums at the age of 12 behind a blues band at open mic night, and her second solo release is the latest chapter in her unorthodox journey to roots music. The journey included a notable tenure as drummer for rock outfit and Sub Pop labelmates, Band of as well as a stint for the late indie band Carissa’s Weird. There’s nothing weird about “Only as the Day is Long.” She’s the only person I have heard that conjures up the same feel as Gillian Welch, which where I come from is high praise. She is backed by a solid group of musicians, who enhance her message, but don’t overshadow her.
|Sera's MySpace page. Order from Amazon. Released March, '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.
Live At The Station Inn ... (Oh Boy)
Shawn Camp is a well-established Nashville songwriter who has written many country radio hits, but his roots are in bluegrass and folk. Here he teams up with some local pickers (the locality being Music City) and produces a strong set of rootsy workouts. Included are two co-writes with Jim Lauderdale and three with Guy Clark, and songs that have been covered by Del Mcoury and Ralph Stanley that should cement Camp's pedigree with bluegrass enthusiasts and country music fans alike. However, Camp is a versatile musician so expect departures from his expected studio album on John Prine's Oh Boy Records. Meanwhile, armed with a strong voice and songwriting chops, this live set, recorded at the "world famous" Station Inn should bring a lot of new fans into his tent.
|Oh Boy's site. Buy from amazon Released Aug. '04. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.
Humming By The Flowered Vine… (Matador)
Combine the sweet, angelic voice of Iris DeMent, the hip nod to tradition of Gillian Welch and the confident sonic experimentation of later-day Emmylou Harris and you might get an idea of what Laura Cantrell's third CD sounds like. Yet she is most-certainly her own woman with a strong vision about how to put together a diverse yet cohesive selection of songs. No wonder, she know how to mix 'em up, she's a public radio DJ, host of Radio Thrift Shop on WFMU in Jersey City, N.J. Laura humbly wrote only three of the ten songs on Humming, but they're the best of the bunch. “California Rose” is the story of honky tonk pioneer Rose Maddox, and “Old Downtown” is haunting and magical song about walking in the old part of Nashville.
Produced by JD Foster,
Cantrell does some popish material and some straight-ahead country and it all shines, there are no wasted songs here. I find listening to this CD becomes more rewarding with each spin.
Laura's site. Radio Thrift Shop. Order from Amazon. Released June, '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music ... (Diesel Only)
|Kitty Wells Dresses was prompted by Cantrell's invitation in 2009 from the Country Music Hall of Fame to present a musical program for their ''Kitty Wells: Queen of Country Music'' exhibit. Inspired by the first-ever exhibit dedicated to a female Hall of Fame member, Cantrell decided to make a recording honoring the sound and songs of the 91 year-old country star. Laura writes ''I always responded to the fundamental feeling in Wells' singing, her way of sounding both emotional and restrained at once, a really affecting combination.'' Cantrell doesn't try to sound like Kitty, but she's got a vocal quality that sounds like it from the same era. The arrangement and backing band are amazing in their vintage pre-60's sound. Special nods to Chris Scruggs on steel and Billy Contreras on fiddle. It's like there's not a single modern sounding lick on the whole album! Great song selection too, a few hits like "Making Believe" and "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" are included but obscure gems like "I Gave My Wedding Dress Away" and "I Can't Tell My Heart" make this a great tribute. It all comes together with the title track,"Kitty Wells Dresses" the only new song, which tells us that Kitty Wells did not dress in satin like many of the other popular women singers. She wore modest gingham dresses but "everyone knows they were robes of the queen." The Queen of Country Music just turned 92 in August of 2011. Long may she reign!
|Laura's site.Kitty Wells' official site. Order from Amazon Released June, '11, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Girls, Cars and Smoke-filled Bars... (Rust Belt)
God!! A band from Ohio, my stomping grounds. This is the debut CD from my homeboys
and a damn good one at that. Man, what a stomp!! The Cap Gun Cowboys' music sounds
like a cross between Johnny Cash (the early years), Rank and File, and
perhaps Carl Perkins. All supervised by the ghost of Luther Perkins. I love twangy
guitars and those good 'ole "Boom-Chucka" rhythms and this CD has 'em in spades.
HOT DAMN!! Good work dudes. |
site, the label's site.
Order from CD Baby.
Released Oct. 2003. Reviewed by Keith Robb.
|CAP GUN COWBOYS
Atomic Horsepower... (Rust Belt)
Much in the style of the early Kentucky Headhunters, Atomic Horsepower is a honky-tonk, rock-a-billy sort of country that doubtlessly works much better in a live scenario than it seems to do here. Phil Veridef's trombone imparts a certain uniqueness to the sound, but, unfortunately, the Cowboys don't provide much that grabs the listener by the ears and makes one sit up and pay attention. Megan Palmer contributes some nice violin lines that enhance some of the tracks, but she can't save it all by herself. “Honky Tonk Women”, for example, starts off all right, and then, for some reason that must only make sense in a smoky roadhouse, it breaks into one of those tempo-escalating renditions that are evocative of a Ukrainian wedding dance; I guess that you'd have to be there to really appreciate it.
|Their site, the label's site. Order from CD Baby. Released May, 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.
Y'all Don't Tell My Mama I Was Here... (Chicken Fried Music)
Carburetors from North Carolina swing for the fences on their CD Y'all Don't
Tell My Mama I Was Here. They didn't hit a home run, but there is plenty there
to enjoy. The musicianship shows the ease of a band that's been playing together
for a while. With an upright bass, dobro, banjo and mandolin adding to the guitars
and drums, one can hear the Carolina influence. The songs are meaty and substantial,
and a fair amount of them are dark and sad. The best of them is "Cotton Dust"
about a second-generation textile worker about to lose his job. There are also
fun, upbeat songs like "Quarter Machines" and an ode to the Rubenesque in "Good
Sized Girl." Unfortunately, between the songwriting and the vocals, something
is amiss. The vocalists seem almost awkward in some songs, often rushing through
the lyrics to keep up with the band, or maybe it's that the songs themselves need
a reworking. There's no denying that The Carburetors could bust out and get the
attention of Nashville and an A&R rep to help them with the songs. Until then,
accept them as they are and enjoy a wonderful example of Americana, North Carolina-style.|
band's web site. Order
from CD Baby. Released '04, reviewed by Clint
Trouble In Mind... (Lost Highway)
| Hayes Carll comes to bat a third time and hits one out of the park. The self-confessed “Arky” sings with a delightful hillbilly drawl spiked with just a hint of attitude. He knows when to rock and when to bring it down low. At a young age his songwriting is as good as his original influences (Prine, Snider, Hubbard) and there ain't a runt in the litter here. Producer Brad Jones co-pilots Trouble In Mind with respect and twangy taste. The arrangements are full of baritone guitar and lap steel, courtesy of Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin and Al Perkins. He takes Tom Wait's “I Don't Want To Grow Up” and adds fiddle and mandolin halfway through to great effect. They buried the hilarious “She Left Me For Jesus” at the end of the CD probably to avoid offending those with limited sense of humor. For my monet, this may be the best thing I hear all year.
|Haye's site, and MySpace page. Order from Amazon Released April, '08, reviewed by Bill Frater.
KMAG YOYO (& other American stories) ... (Lost Highway)
|This fourth CD confirms the breadth and rootedness of Hayes Carll’s post-post-honkytonk-beatnik balladry and to-the-firewall kicker raves. With ten self-penned and two co-writes, there’s lots of tracks to like here… in the tradition of George & Melba, Johnny & June, and especially the sly marker laid down by John & Iris, “Another Like You” proposes that Red/Blue political incivility is best dealt with by hooking up. The title track is a reluctant warrior’s Dylanesque paranoid fantasy for the age of the Predator drone (KMAG YOYO = Kiss my ass guys, you’re on your own). A Christmas tune that at first seems like an unwise attempt to upstage the classic wit of Robert Earl’s “Merry Xmas from the Family” gradually peels away the wiseass to uncover a bittersweet tale of personal growth and enduring love in the face of dysfunction…touching stuff. “I Meet Some Wild People Out Here” is outstanding, a conversational, retro double-jigger of reflective regret, urged along sparely by a flattop and lap steel duet. If Hayes is still best experienced live, a free-range, passionate, crazy dude with great songs and front-man charisma galore, this is a fine recording and a great place to take his measure.
|Haye's site,Order from Amazon. Released Feb. '11, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.
Get Up And Fall Down... (Indo)
An eccentric little roots rock album this, but don't let that scare you. It's
not eccentric as in inaccessible, it's more eccentric in that it bounces all over
the place, with a lot of different sounds and genres explored on this one disc.
In fact, I would dare say that no two songs sound alike. The songs I liked the
best featured guitarist, singer and songwriter Carns paired up with a couple of
John Hiatt's former collaborators, Scott Mathews and Dave Immergluck. The scope
of this album, even more so than the songs themselves, are what make it so interesting.
Carns starts out with a low-key rock approach ala Freedy Johnston on the first
song, "To The Rain", but then quickly explores lo-fi sittin'in-my-room-alone-strumming
stuff and moves on to raunchy rockers and straight ahead twang country after that
and so on. For those with eclectic tastes, this may be a great purchase for you
since the sound is constantly changing. In my opinion, though, for Carns to really
catch on, he may have to choose one style and stick with it. The problem may be
picking the style, as he does all of them pretty well. Worth your money despite
the stylistic switching. |
The web site, TommyCarns.com, has CD
ordering and more. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.
MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER
The Calling... (Zoe/Rounder)
Well, well, well; happy days are here again. After a hiatus of almost three years one of the best artists around has blessed us with her eleventh release. Mary Chapin Carpenter has been one of the pillars in the pantheon of female artists for a long time in my estimation, and The Calling confirms her cred. Ok, she's had the odd off-ish moment, but from the delicate piano intro of the opening title track onward, it's obvious that she's at the top of her game today. Her MO is unchanged from earlier work, with the same principle accomplices, producer/keyboardist Matt Rollings, and the incomparably fine John Jennings with his deft touches on guitar. Not many can match her ability to turn a phrase, and fewer yet can do it so damned beautifully; it almost brings tears to your eyes. Never one to back away from a fight, (remember, she “don't mind working without a net”), Carpenter hoists that hollow imposter in Washington on his own petard in “Houston”, a mournful ode to the New Orleans DPs, and in “On With The Song”, a shot to the heart, from the heart, that doesn't come from Cupid's bow. True to form however, she somehow still finds a bit of love, beauty, and hope in the sordid mess of current affairs, expressing them as only she can in the closing tracks, “Here I Am”, “Why Shouldn't We”, and “Bright Morning Star”. How good is this one? It's got me thinking Best of 2007, and it's only March, fer cryin' out loud.
|Buy from amazon. Released Mar. '07, reviewed by Don Grant.
Live At Cheatham Street... (Down Hole)
to Dylan and Steve Forbert, Carroll's music is a melange of folk and country and
is quite galvanizing in a live context. Armed with just his guitar and harmonica,
Carroll strips his songs of all the extra accoutrements and lets them breathe
on this interesting disc. It's always interesting to see if a song will hold up
in a stripped down setting and this set proves that Carroll has the songwriting
technique and necessary personality to successfully convey the deep meanings his
songs imply. While the sound does get same-y after awhile, Carroll's songs are
their own reward and I would suggest anyone into solid folk/country songwriting
like Clark, Dylan and Townes would seek this out. There is much here to enjoy
and will no doubt cause you to search out the rest of Carroll's wonderful catalog.
First class troubadour country!|
website. Order from amazon. Released
May, 2002. Reviewed by Scott
Always Tomorrow... (Sideburn)
Alt.country journeyman Carroll once again hits a roots rock home run with this
new CD. Long a respected songwriter, in recent years Carroll has scored big with
a few stellar solo records, and despite an earlier, harrowing stint on Sire Records
that produced nada, has made great inroads to becoming a bonafide player in the
alt.country field. Like Duane Jarvis, Robbie Fulks, Neko Case and a select few
others, Carroll and his rowdy and rocking alt.country are becoming the front line
in a genre that is experiencing some growing pains. As artists continue to tire
of simply aping older forms of country and are turning to pop in droves, Carroll's
music embraces country rock, Southern rock and good old fashioned rock and roll.
Instead of harpsichords, bells, and violins, Carroll plugs in his Tele, glances
at his drummer and pounds out another rocker, daring anyone and everyone to keep
up. While his bristling energy and guitar prowess never overshadow his songs,
he's not a Nudie-wearing old-time country poseur either, and has more rock cred
than bullshitter Ryan Adams ever could. This CD is for those who like the noisier
side of Dave Alvin and Duane Jarvis mixed with some Haggard-like rebellion and
snarly stuff. |
| Order from amazon
Released July, 2002. Reviewed by Scott
Stronger… (Yep Roc)
Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter and Carl Smith, has always had an independent streak. She had a few hit songs back in the early 90's when country radio was more open-minded. Then she had some embarrassing drug busts around seven years ago and she seemed like a goner. Then in 2003, she lost her mother, step-father (Johnny Cash) and her little sister Rosey in the same year. The girl's got some amazing perseverance. It's a wonder and a joy to just see a new album from her. And it's a good one, the best songs bearing the rockin' country sound that she did during her heyday. Producer John McFee, (Clover, Doobie Brothers, Southern Pacific) covers all the instruments, most notably, hot lead guitar. The songs are mostly positive and hopeful. Carlene is now clean and sober and happily married.
The "only" official CC Fan Club site. YepRoc.com. Order from Amazon. Released March, '08, reviewed by Bill Frater.
CARTER & TRACY GRAMMER |
Drum Hat Buddha... (Signature Sounds)
Drum Hat Buddha is a melodic and tasty ride down a country lane with two
fine musicians who enjoy writing intelligent songs that seem made for them to
sing. They flow effortlessly from sweet ballads to toe-tapping funny and they
do it as if they've been doing it all their lives. Nothing flash here, just a
solid, satisfying listen from start to finish. The kind of band you'd see and
love for their music and their sensibilities and wish you could take them home.
With Drum Hat Buddha, Carter and Grammer have done just that. |
| Release date: June,
2001. Reviewed by Kay Clements (from KWMR)
Waltzie... (Yep Roc)
Cary is the fiddle player and occasional lead singer with Whiskeytown and hasn't
been heard much under the strong talents of Ryan Adams. It turns out Cary
has a beautiful, rich voice and and a real bent for English folk melodies like
bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle. She even covers a Richard
Thompson song, (Withered and Died), sounding alot like original singer Linda Thompson.
Caitlin and producer Chris Stamey (The dB's) decided to release this 5-song EP
even though some of the songs weren't complete because it just felt right.
They made a very wise choice, the songs are excellent and the subtle folk arrangements
makes them shine brighter. |
Bio and ordering info from YepRoc.com.
Released July, 2000, reviewed by Bill
While You Weren't Looking... (Yep Roc)
While music writers and the other hangers-on in the music business have been tripping
over themselves to fawn over Ryan Adams post-Whiskeytown, the sweet-voiced background
singer and violinist for that late, lamented band has quietly been assembling
a knockout of a debut that comes from left field. Oh sure, astute fans will have
heard her well-done EP Waltzie from last year and been impressed, but nothing
would have given a clue that she would have put something this good together.
The title seems apt, as while most were checking out Adams' successes and misfires,
she was out of view, putting this great album together only to blindside us with
its greatness. Granted, she has had great help. Production help from roots/pop
meisters Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter; some other ex-Whiskeytowners like Skillet
Gilmore (excellent, ego-less drumming) and Mike Daly (pedal steel). But nothing
or no one can diminish the way Cary shines on this debut. Co-writing each and
every song, Cary has fashioned a musical statement that's every way as touching
and beautiful and steadfastly defiant as Lucinda Williams' last two or three records.
The opener "Shallow Heart, Shallow Water" could be a hit in several
formats. A slightly melancholy song, it is universal enough to be a big pop hit
(great melody, incredible lyrics) or a country one (just the right touches of
pedal steel, Cary's gorgeous voice) or possibly both. Not since Sheryl Crow's
first hit has a pedal steel been used so well in a rock song, effectively blurring
the lines between two genres. Definitely one of the best debuts I've ever heard,
you'll only be hurting yourself if you don't get this. |
Yep Roc's Caitlin bio.
Released March, 2002. Reviewed by Scott
|CAITLIN CARY & THAD COCKRELL
Begonias... (Yep Roc)
|Disclaimer: I'm a sucker for a good country duet. Something about weaving voices
and the conversation that happens when two people tell the story
together just knocks me out.. But for the collaboration to work, there
has to be a chemistry that makes us believe and feel the story ....that,
and good songwriting. Cary and Cockrell have both to spare and the
result is a satisfying CD of fine, original songs that has not left my player for
weeks. Not too flashy, but played and sung so that one minute you're
slow dancing across the floor, wondering why you can't get along and the
next, it's Saturday night & it's party time. I love that Begonia has all the feel
of country but a sound that is distinctly contemporary.
For all that this music is about relationship challenges, Cary and Cockrell are
a marriage made in heaven.
|Yep Roc Records. Order from amazon. Released June, 2005. Reviewed by Kay Clements.
& PHIL CASE |
Never Grow Old... (Dry Run)
Ann and Phil Case have created in these two CD's performances that not only pay
homage to a long tradition of duet-style singing in old-time folk and country
music but goes further by rendering them in such a way as to make them fresh and
new. Their gorgeous complimentary vocals are quite ably supported by their solid,
competent but never distractingly flashy instrumental abilities. their focus is
always on the song and what it needs rather than what they might do to sound
like "hot pickers". Other contemporary artists who've mastered this
unique corner of country music are Tim & Mollie O'Brien and Jody Stecher &
Kate Brislin. It's a shame that Ann and Phil Case are less known than these great
musicians since they are every bit as good. Hopefully these CD's will bring them
the recognition they deserve. |
Check out their website
with CD ordering info ($13.00) and more. Reviewed by
Kevin Russell. |
| As flavor-of-the-month
Shelby Lynne crashes and burns, losing her record deal thanks to lackluster sales,
Canadian songbird Neko Case continues her slow and steady rise to the top. In
no small part due to her wonderful singing, it must be said she shows a lot of
maturity when picking her projects as well, be they tribute discs or her work
with the Corn Sisters and The New Pornographers. It is no surprise she has decided
to craft her almost certain ascent to stardom by rising just quickly enough and
not doing the Shania kind of pandering to the common denominator. How could she?
She is still enough of a rebel to bet banned from the Grand Ol' Opry by doffing
her top at a concert performance during the sweltering summer heat. While she
was still clad in bra, the action so angered the grayhairs at the Opry they told
her she would never be invited back. So she pushes the sexual envelope a little!
It is on this incident that the title of this album is based. I say this because
it can no way be based on her music, as this album shows her in mighty fine voice,
songwriting chops in full effect and girlie swagger evident in every line. Instead
of banishing her, you'll want to play this CD again and again as her inner joy
and passion shines as brightly as ever. She has great taste in musical help too,
having the good sense to invite pedal steel god Jon Rauhouse and Calexico's Howie
Gelb to the proceedings as well as labelmate Kelly Hogan. For those who like defiant,
passionate female country vocals on a par with Loretta, Jeannie C., and Kelly
Willis, you couldn't do better than picking up this great CD. |
web site. Buy
from amazon Released Aug, 2002.
Reviewed by Scott Homewood.|
CASE & HER BOYFRIENDS |
Furnace Room Lullaby... (Bloodshot)
Country Torch singer, a woman who's had her heart stomped on. The songs
of Neko Case send pretty much the same message. Lots of twangy ballads about
hurtin' hearts and bitterness sung in a very strong and confident voice that sounds
like lost 50's Brenda Lee songs, heavy on the reverb. There's no denying
that this is Country, all the instrumental trappings are there but the production
is curiously dark and full of echoes. It takes a little getting used to
and it only bothers me on a few of the songs, but it sure ain't Nashville production.
All in all, it's not what exactly what I expected but it's a fine, stylized album.
has a fairly simple site with tour and CD ordering info. Released
Feb. 22nd, '00, reviewed by Bill
Flying Saucer Blues.. (Vanguard)
First off, a disclaimer... I'm a big fan of Peter Case, have loved all six
of his solo albums and I don't know why he's not a bigger "star".
I suspect his voice is too gritty for the folkies and his songs are too
honest and acoustic for the Country or Rock fans. He enlists the same crew
as on his last CD, including the consistently amazing Greg Leisz playing anything
with strings with the maximum amount of taste, I think it'd be great to see Peter
tour with a small band backing him as opposed to his usual solo tours. I
love him because he's a little quirky and he draws on Blues, Rock, Folk and everything
in between. In my book, that's what Americana music is supposed to be and
I consider Peter Case to be one of the genre's premier singer-songwriters. |
| Vanguard has a Peter
Case page... Released April 2000, reviewed by Bill
On his sixth post-Plimsouls release,
Peter Case has established himself as one of the premier folk troubadour's working
today. Although he has never really been considered a "folky", his solo
output has always featured his acoustic guitar with simple and tasteful backup.
His new CD is no exception, in fact, he even honors the "good old days"
when folk artists made their living playing on the streets or in small coffeeshops.
Case has taken the craft of storytelling with his guitar to a new level of maturity.
His melodies are always memorable and the "live" sound of the studio
lends itself well to his smokey, expressive voice. Peter Case deserves a much
wider audience. Tell all your friends.
tracks: Spell Of Wheels, On the Way Downtown, Honey Child, Until The Next Time,
Still Playing! Released Feb. '98.
Reviewed by Bill Frater.
|Peter Case has
been quietly releasing fine solo albums (this is his 9th), for almost 18 years
now. Long enough to have finally shaken his punk/power pop history, (Nerves, Plimsouls).
Yet still his bluesy folk-rock is not exactly a well-known among the more established
folk circles that surround the likes of Greg Brown, Cheryl Wheeler and others.
And that’s too bad. This is one of his best CD’s, with an added twist of incorporating
some Eastern percussion and even some extended "jams" on a few of the tunes. His
plaintive wail is intact as well as his simple-yet-deep songwriting. A few of
the songs even hint at the spiritual side of love and relationships. I hope some
day that the rest of the world picks up on Peter and give him the praise and recognition
he truly deserves.|
|Check out PeterCase.com
Buy from amazon Released Sept, 2002. Reviewed by Bill
Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John ... (Yep Roc)
Peter Case ought to be mentioned in any serious discussion of contemporary songwriting. Despite the brilliance of his post-Plimsouls solo albums -- and the worthwhile three-cd tribute, A Case For Case -- Peter manages to linger just below the spotlight while most of those bathing in that milk couldn't carry his notebook. This is a right now folk-blues album that burns, a minimalist recording that sounds big. Case traces an assortment of losers and bruisers, spiking the air with broken-shadow outsider insights. He shoots spirit and intensity, and you can't help but bite down. Joined by Richard Thompson on guitar, the album's opener, Every 24 Hours, is a driving beauty. Ain't Gonna Worry No More and Million Dollars Bail are just two of the other standout tracks. You can juke and hum with these melodies, or you can sit down and pay attention to the stories. Either way, the rewards are rich. If you appreciate Case's work, Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John is a must; if you don't know him, start here. Brilliant stuff!
|Buy from amazon. Released Aug. '07, reviewed by Doug Lang.
Wig!... (Yep Roc)
|18 months after open heart surgery and with a new lease on life, singer/songwriter Peter Case demonstrates serious mojo on his latest called Wig! A trio configuration with Ron Franklin on guitars, DJ Bonebreak (X, Knitters) on drums, and Case on all else, Wig! packs a dozen tracks into its 40-plus ass-shakin' minutes in the process going for the gut and grabbing it with gusto. With a new lease on life, it is raw, unabashed, and rockin' in all its lo-fi busker-ness. Simply put, this cracker smokes. Highly recommended.
| Peter's website. Buy from amazon. Released May, '10, reviewed by Dan Ferguson
American III: Solitary Man... (American/Sony)
Although his voice is a little rough around the edges, Cash sings with so much
emotion and conviction that it's impossible not to be moved by this CD. The spare
accompaniment on this record only emphasizes the power of the songs and as Johnny
says in the liner notes, it's the songs that matter. This is his third American
Recordings release produced by Rick Rubin, who should be credited for finding
some excellent younger artist's songs that combine with some fine sentimental
chestnuts and Cash originals. They all suit Cash's powerful vision and integrity,
especially Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat", which serves as the centerpiece
of the CD. Altogether, this is one of the best things Cash has done in... well,
since his last American CD. |
Johnny's site or American's
site. Buy from amazon Release date: Oct. '00. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
At Folsom Prison... (Columbia/Legacy)
|Like a lot of legend types, Johnny Cash's image has grown enormously since his death. Even in death, The Man in Black represents the king of cool. Much like what has been done with the Elvis back catalogue, the Legacy Recordings division of Sony BMG Music has been on a similar path with the Cash archives. The Legacy Edition of Cash's groundbreaking At Folsom Prison recording is the latest from The Man In Black's lengthy Columbia Records catalogue to get the deluxe repackaging treatment. It takes the listener back to January 13, 1968 and a performance by Cash for the inmates at California's Folsom State Prison. It resulted in the historic LP, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison. For the 40th anniversary of that historic performance, Columbia/Legacy roles out the red carpet with a two-CD/DVD set. It features the entirety of each of the two concert performances by Cash and company (June Carter, The Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins) for the inmates on that day gives. The bonus is the DVD which features a newly minted 90-minute documentary chronicling the concert. Oh yeah, there's a 40-page booklet, too, chock full of photos and new liner notes.
|Legacy Records. Buy from amazon Released Oct. '08, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
Black Cadillac... (Capitol)
Unless one's head has been in a cardboard box these last few years past, sourcing the inspiration for this gem shouldn't be difficult. Sooner, or later, in this grand card game that we choose to call life, someone's going to slip you the queen of spades, and Cash has gotten three of them in as many years. Black Cadillac was borne from the anguish and pain that the passing of loved ones brings, but, as always, it's not so much the cards in your hand, as how you play them, that makes the difference. Exploring the passions and the questions that death brings, Rosanne, (forgive me the familiarity here; it's one of those records), plays her hand here with a degree of style and grace, nay finesse, that does more than justice to her legacy; somewhere up there, Ma and Pa must be smiling. Quiet, almost understated, this one is a tour de force that comes our way far too infrequently. I could go into a lengthy analysis of every song, there's so much here, but, I'll leave that to the individual listener, as I'm sure that this disc will speak to you somewhat differently than it does to me. Suffice it to quote a line from “Like Fugitives”: “Priest is praying for your soul, doctor for your heart; someone tell me how to live, now that we must live apart”; it sure is a “strange new world we live in”. The sun will always shine after the rain, and there's a silver lining to every cloud; it's too bad that some of the best things come from the worst, but, hey, if it doesn't beat us, it only makes us stronger. Rosanne, thanks for this one, ya done real good here girl. June, Johnny, and Viv, repositam in pacem , the kid's going to do just fine; she comes from pretty strong stuff.
|Buy from amazon. Released Jan. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
The List... (Manhattan)
|This album is based on a list of 100 essential country songs that Rosanne's father, Johnny, gave to her as a teenager after he found out that she didn't know much beyond The Beatles. Many are well known like "She's Got You" and "I'm Movin' On" and "Long Black Veil." A few are forgotten classics like "Sea of Heartbreak" and "500 Miles." What separates this from other collections of cover songs is the arrangements, there's not a fiddle or steel guitar in sight. Cash's husband/producer/arranger John Leventhal deserves a lot of credit for his careful handling of these cherised artifacts. Polishing them up a little without changing their essence. Before performing the songs in Nashville in September in front of many of Nashville's greatest living songwriters she said "I know you have thought of me as your prodigal daughter." Rosanne wisely covers a Carter Family gem "Bury Me Under The Willow" to close the set out, bringing it full circle. During her show she made reference to her own children, telling them that now they will now have their own list to learn.
|Buy from amazon Released Oct. '09. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Midwestern Girls... (self-released)
| Yet another fine country-based combo from the Chicago area (also the home of Bloodshot Records) has made their unique presence felt. Unlike most of the current fave alt.country bands making big waves today (hello Wilco) Cedarcase stays away from pop elements and instead opts to add just as many Sun rockabilly touches to their sound as other so-called hip bands add Beach Boy orchestrations. This is pure roots here! From their use of standup bass instead of electric to their rollicking, often Sun-drenched songs, Cedarcase goes back in time (as their name suggests) to allude to the primal power of the beginning of rock when it was just amped-up country music with pounding drums. In other words, this band plays old-fashioned rockabilly-fused country that rocks. The Killer would be proud.
| Their website has CD ordering info. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.
The Captain... (Asylum)
Combine the intelligent and heartfelt lyrics of Julie Miller with the soulful,
twangy voice of Kelly Willis and you get an idea of what Kasey Chambers sounds
like. Her songs are personal and quite mature for a 23 year old, plus she's not
being marketed as the next cutesy Nashville newcomer. Chambers is from Australia
and along with other family members have recorded a number of albums under the
name of The Dead Ringer Band. Her brother Nash Chambers is the producer of this
CD and handles most of the guitar work. The whole CD has an upbeat exciting feel
yet it's still rootsy and folksy. This is the best new artist I've heard
all year and I can heartedly recommend this CD. |
Check out KaseyChambers.com.
Release date: Oct. '00. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
|KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON
Rattlin' Bones... (Sugar Hill)
|For those of you, (like me), who miss the early country Kasey Chamber sound, you wait is over with Rattlin' Bones. Collaborating with her husband Shane Nicholson, they wrote most of the songs together. The CD has a spare and loose sound to it, acoustic with banjo and dobro here and there. It was recorded ‘live’ in only 8 days and it's the informality that gives this collection it's charm. Kasey still has that amazing voice that just sounds "country", and her harmonies with Nicholson are just plain exquisite. For those who miss Buddy and Julie Miller's plaintive harmonies, or for that matter, Gram Parsons singing with Emmylou Harris, you gotta check tihs CD out.
|Kasey & Shane's site. Buy from amazon Released Sept. '08, reviewed by Bill Frater.
American Bittersweet... (End of the Road)
| Listening to this CD from a talented newcomer, you'll hear a young musican who's grown up with beats, Beck and Bright Eyes. And if you listen close, Neil Young, the Band and Tom Waits. Charlton seems content to rely on his songs, sung in a strong and nicely weathered voice for someone in their early twenties, and leave the genre labeling to others. Track one, "Two Dying Stars", puts forth a strong chorus and radio friendly melody, something this artist has a gift for. While "Promised Land" starts with scratchy banjo and pedal steel inhabits the beautiful ballad "To Be Found". This is mostly not twangy alt.country music but new American pop, the work of a singer-songwriter who's done a lot of listening and now has something to say.
|Wes' site. Buy from amazon or Miles of Music. Released April '05. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.
Swagger... (self released)
a bad CD, I sure wouldn't have used the word "swagger" as the title.
Chasteen's voice and demeanor are seemingly the complete opposite of what the
word implies. His vocals are very quivery and shakey (a comparison would be Marshall
Crenshaw if he were as nervous as a chihuahua) while the lyrics tend to verge
on the overly cute and cloying. If anything, there is a total lack of "swagger,"
or machismo, if you will, on this CD. Sometimes his nervous vocals actually enhances
his songs, as it brings a sense of honesty and realism to his take on unrequited
love and the failures encountered by everyone when searching for their soulmate.
Other times, and during a complete listen of this CD, it tends to grate. The sound
of the album is reminiscent of ‘50's country with an element of twee pop thrown
in. Almost as if the lead singer of the Violent Femmes got Hank Snow's band back
together and decided to record some country music. Not for everyone, but the more
musically adventurous should find something worthwhile in this CD. |
website. Order the CD for CD
Baby. Reviewed by Scott
|CHATHAM COUNTY LINE
Speed of the Whippoorwill... (Yep Roc)
| Chatham County Line are a young bluegrass band from North Carolina. Or are they? Two of its members, Dave Wilson and Greg Readling, are former band mates of Tift Merrit and also play in the alt.roots band Stillhouse. Although some of their solid songs (the lion's share written by lead singer Wilson) easily fit into the trad bluegrass canon ("Rockpile"), others songs like "By the Riverside", sound like roots rock tunes in an acoustic setting. This is not a bad thing. The fellas may not quite be instumental virtuosos like many on the bluegrass circuit, but they achieve a sweet, melodic, ensemble sound which is best showcased on the title tune. With distinctive vocals and sturdy songwriting, gathered around one mic, CCL lay it down sweet and rock the house.
|CCL's site, and Yep Roc's site. Buy from amazon Released May, '06, reviewed by Michael Meehan.
|CHATHAM COUNTY LINE
IV... (Yep Roc)
|This is the kind of record that seems to get better with each listen. Their fourth release finds this North Carolina quartet stretching the bounds of their bluegrass roots but still staying close to home. It’s a swing-infused blend of wild strings and sweet harmonies that brings to mind early Whiskeytown, (producer Chris Stamey has worked with Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary, Tift Merritt, etc.). The band calls this CD their “coming out party” and you hear them breaking out of a strict bluegrass niche and into new territory that harkens to the kind of experimentation we’ve come to expect from someone like Peter Rowan. They manage to blur the boundaries between traditional bluegrass and alt-country, and still leave their own stamp on it. It’s a satisfying result and leaves one anticipating where their musical future will bring them.
| CCL's site, and Yep Roc's site. Buy from amazon Released Mar. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.
Bob Cheevers is a well respected songwriter
who has been kickin' around the music business for over 30 years . His songs are
good enough, his themes universal enough that he should have his songs on country
radio. Not to imply that his deep and resonant voice, similar to Willie Nelson's,
isn't good enough for radio, but I figure if there's room for Jim Lauderdale's
songs, then there's room for a few of Cheever's fine tunes. The album covers alot
of ground including the basic folk-based music, but there's some nice R &
B, rock and country too. He deserves to be heard by more people, so give it a
Order from Songs.com's
Cheevers page, or from Miles Of Music. Released Nov '99,
reviewed by Bill Frater.
Cherryholmes... (Skaggs Family)
This is one hot bluegrass band, a family (dad, mom and four home schooled children) whose music sits somewhere between the rootsy, populist drive of Del McCoury and the sleek, sophisticated vocals of Allison Krause. Those vocals come mostly courtesy of eldest daughter Cia and with her stylin' and the double threat fiddle of siblings B.J. and Molly Kate, it's not surprising they're up for vocalist, emerging artist and entertainer of the year at the upcoming IBMA awards. Daddy plays bass and mom mandolin, with brother Skip on guitar. This disc, their debut for Ricky Skaggs' "Skaggs Family" records, starts out strong with rousing energy that does not flag for at least ten cuts and counting.
Well chosen covers by the likes of Hazel Dickens, Jimmie Fadden and the Louvin Brothers sit side by side with old school, country style originals by this talented family, all played with spirit and passion.
Cherryholmes site. Buy from amazon Released Sept. '05. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.
COUPE DeVILLE |
Drinkin' Songs & Smokin' Guitars... (self released)
| Does the world need another hard-pickin' upbeat
Twang band??? I say yes, if they're good, and Chicken Coupe DeVille are
great. Sure they've got a lot of tunes with that "train beat"
sound, but their songs are catchy and entertaining. Songs about warm beer
and cheatin' on your wife and lookin' Double Cool. The most surprising thing
of all is they're from right in the heart of California's Silicon Valley!
Ray Kennedy, (Steve Earle's Twang Trust buddy) brought the band to Nashville to
record this one. 2 singers with 2 guitars, a sense of humor and they rock
hard, roots, blues, rockabilly... Works for me! |
Check out the band's site,
ChickenCoupe.com where you can find bio & tour info. Reviewed by
Saved by a Woman ... (Torn Sky)
| This was not an easy one to review, but, I have to call them honestly, as I hear them. Christopher's sincerity in his writing is undeniable, paying homage to the people who have brought him joy and helped him through some difficult times in his life, a duel with the Iron Crab being one of them. However, Saved by a Woman is unfortunately, too predictable, and too formulaic, to get higher marks here. What I look for is originality and creativity, a different take, particularly if the songs visit familiar themes. When, after only a few opening lines, the listener can pretty much guess the rest of the lyric for most of the songs, it's not encouraging. There are some good tunes and good musicianship present, but, overall, the end result suffers from a slickness that borders on overproduction. It's not an unpleasant disc, but neither is it a memorable one. If some of the rougher edges had been left in, perhaps the CD might have stood out more from the miasma of cookie-cutter stuff that clutters the airwaves and constitutes the bulk of today's ‘pop-country' culture. I think Lance should hole up in the hills someplace with his guitar and no outside interference/influences; I'd bet on a better effort the second
|Lance's website is pretty slick. Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '04, reviewed by Don Grant.
Johnson... (Uzitunes Music)
Western Instrumental with attitude and you’ve got the opening bars of Chrome Johnson’s
new cd ..but don’t think you’ve pegged it there. From cryin’in your Cosmopolitan
to seein’ Jesus in the mixed nuts, this is a band that takes you where wanna go
and have a good time. Lead singer and guitarist Danny Uzilevsky has written some
tight and catchy rockin in the country tunes, citing influences as disparate as
Johnny Cash and AC/DC. With 12 out of 15 original songs, this is an impressively
produced debut for a Northern California band of accomplished musicians. Check
it out and play it at your next party. |
website. Order from CD
Baby. Reviewed by Kay Clements. |
Terminal Avenue... (self released)
I've been sitting upon this debut release for a while, because, quite frankly, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Its lead track, “Good For Something”, is a bit of a schmaltzy pop tune that could have come off of one of those ‘Hits of the Eighties' radio stations, while the second cut, “The Modification Song”, has a syncopated off-beat reminiscent of Doug Sahm's “She's About A Mover”. From there it goes into a bluesy vein, and then into a country ballad. Sound a bit scattered? Then you're getting the gist of my dilemma. It's not really what one would call an Americana release; it's more of a country-inflected blues album, with a bunch of pop influences. Just to keep things off-balance, the title cut hits a John Mellencamp groove. While the individual songs are not all that bad, in their own genres, the overall product comes off lacking in focus.
|Andre's web site. Order from CD Baby. Released '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
the CD cover, Cisco looks like a hard guy: tattoos, tank top, double ear rings,
snarl... He may be Alt.Country's Willie DeVille, (if that's not too obscure
of a reference). The music, however is great, he's from Fresno, not far
from Bakersfield, and that's where he is musically too. Strong melodies
and Pete Anderson-style lead guitar from Chris Lawrence are the strengths here.
The CD is produced by Mike Ness (Social Distortion), but this is country, hard
country, with a snarl.
songs: Mr. Wright, Pink Motel, The Bum You Say I Am,
I Hope Tomorrow Comes real Soon, Hard Times Again. I can't find anything on the
web about this guy, (you try entering Cisco in a search engine and see what you
get!) and Song Search
has it too. Released Sept. '98, reviewed by Bill
|THE CIVIL WARS
Barton Hollow... (Sensibility Music)
|Joy Williams and John Paul White, The Civil Wars, have burst out of the gate so dramatically, and their back-story has been so professionally massaged, that skepticism may be provoked. Forget it: these two folks do in fact make extraordinary music, pay no never mind that Garrison Keillor gushes over them, Taylor Swift tweets their praise, and their Grey’s Anatomy breakout song, “Poison & Wine” has had 450,000 downloads. The nature of their excellence is several…lovely, creative vocals; a fresh strategy for offering roots/Americana as contemporary music (through deeply affecting, distinctive songwriting); and tasteful, less-is-more producing by Charlie Peacock. Ms. Williams, a successful Christian music artist from Santa Cruz, CA, and Mr. White, a for-real Alabama boy, phrase harmonies just-tight-enough like the Everly Brothers, but rather than the endowed magic of family physiology, they exploit a sweet burr of disparate timbres, skillfully delivered in performances that evoke Simon & Garfunkel or the fading-into-legend jazz vocal duo Jackie & Roy. The writing references a nice range of roots sounds and memes, from bluegrass gospel to Pops Staples guitar to folk-rock, neither mired in obsessive authenticity nor coming across as a clueless mashup…it’s just...their music: it works. At core, it flows trance-like, two voices supported by John Paul’s acoustic guitar and/or Joy’s piano. Some of the songs are brilliant; they’re all good. This is state of the art, and must be attended to.
|Their web site. Order from Amazon. Released Feb. '11, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.
Under The Bed... (Valley Entertainment)
What kills troubadour Clair's second release is a sense of monotony. The songs aren't all that bad, but they all start sounding the same by the third playing, which is a bit of a shame. He has been described as a laid-back New Yorker, city, from upstate New York, state, and that laid-back bit has proven to be his undoing here. His approach to his music seems to be Ritalin or Valium inspired, producing a lackluster effect that makes all of the songs, different though they are, squeeze into a paradigm of numbing uniformity. It's high time someone stuck a burr under this guy's blankets; he could possibly put the ensuing excitement to profitable use.
|Stephen's site.Order from Miles Of Music. Released October, 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.
The Dark... (Sugar Hill)
| Guy Clark is the best songwriter working in America today. A bold statement perhaps but a listen to any of his last five CD's will convince you. And each record is successively better than the last. Dublin Blues and Cold Dog Soup were as good as record making gets but this new one, The Dark, bests even those. Nobody writes love songs or celebrates the dignity and drama of the common man better. And how about those three hundred page novels he squeezes into a three or four minute song? Superbly accompanied by Verlon Thompson and Darrell Scott (fine songwriters themselves), this a collection of stone songs polished to perfection. He begins at the beginning with a little creation song-story called, “Mud” and ends with the philosophically reflective title cut, “The Dark”. Right in the middle is a song that will forever change the way you look at that poor beggar on the corner (“Homeless”). These are songs about life and death, pleasure and pain, and living long enough to make some kind of sense out of it all. Townes Van Zandt would be proud.
| Sugar Hill Records, GuyClark.com. Buy from amazon Released Sept, 2002. Reviewed by Kevin Russell.
Workbench Songs... (Dualtone)
It would be very difficult to come up with a better title for this, Guy Clark's tenth studio recording. If he had lived in medieval times, he would have been considered to be a master guildsman. Some people write songs; Clark builds them, with no spared attention to detail. An artist could be forgiven if he/she exhibited a slight off coming of one's edge, rested upon one's laurels, as it were, especially after thirty plus years in the game. Apparently, (and fortunately), nobody has bothered to inform Guy Clark of that, or, if someone did, he had the great good sense to discount the information. He hit his stride a long time ago, and Workbench Songs doesn't exhibit any signs that he's letting up. He takes the common and mundane passings of what the average person would perceive as an ordinary life and turns them into auditory events that are startlingly beautiful in their unadorned simplicity of execution. Anyone who is already familiar with this man, read no further, you're a convert. Anyone else, go for this one and treat yourself to what the quintessential Americana songwriter can create. AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriter last year? There's a certain aura or implication of finality to things like “Lifetime Achievement” awards; thank heavens that Clark chooses to discount that information also.
|Guy's site. Dualtone Music Group. Buy from amazon Released Oct. '06. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Southern Soul... (Reflection)
The first listen of Steve Clawson's debut CD/EP, (at a shade over 24 minutes, I can't call it a CD), started the bells going. By the end of the seventh and final track, I had it. This young Georgian sounds a lot like Loggins & Messina from the mid-seventies, with a bit of James Taylor type introspection thrown in. Small world: his web site lists those two artists amongst his major influences. Soul is the appropriate descriptive here, with only “Golden Ring” straying into a rockier vein, from the ballad and mid-tempo mainstays, and some of these are quite good, “Lovesong Lullaby” and “I Cry Alone” particularly. He's on the record as saying that his melodies come first, and then the lyrics “take me forever”. That's good; far too often an artist hits a good riff, and then screws up the works by rushing it into production with whatever drivel happened to readily spring to mind superimposed upon it. Clawson has avoided that pitfall here; his words are intelligently crafted for more than just their ability to rhyme. Apparently he is/was a contestant on one of those ‘add water and stir' type of instant, (and fleeting), fame shows. Hopefully he escapes that sausage factory; genuine artists aren't created by the media doctors, they create themselves.
| Steve's site has CD ordering. Released January, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
WILLY CLAY BAND
Rebecca Drive... (Blackstone/Rootsy.nu)
First off, you are going to have a devil of a time finding this one: it was gifted to me by a friend in Holland, (muchas gracias, Root), and what a wonderful gift it was/still is. I've noted before that good Americana music springs up in the damnedest places, and you can't get much farther a field than an Arctic mining town named Kiruna, in Sweden. Dig out your atlas, and you'll see what I mean. Often times bands from non-English speaking cultures experience difficulty translating their songs into meaningful English, but I'm very happy to report that that's not the case here. Initially I had difficulty digesting the fact that these guys aren't North American, they've got such a wonderful grip on the genre. The songs and vocals of Reine Tuoremma, acoustic guitar, harmonica, Bjorn Pettersson, bass, and Tony Bjorkenvall, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, are as pure country as it gets, (sorry about the lack of accents, guys; can't get the keyboard to do them), and the complement of Fredrik Elenius' percussive skills and Orjan Maki, on electric guitar, lap steel and dobro, makes Rebecca Drive a very fine debut CD indeed. Production duties were handled by the redoubtable Will Kimbrough in Nashville last January, and, rumour has it that they also were invited to play The Basement at the Americana Music Conference. Pick the best tunes? Sorry, no can do; they're all winners here. This is one band that has come out of the starting gate with the pedal to the metal, and they warrant your attention; definitely Top Ten; in the runnin's for CD of the Year; believe me on this one.
|The band's English website. Try emailing this site to order. Released in Sweden August, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
| I find it interesting that some of the best songwriters choose to put out whole albums of songs written by other songwriters. In the case of artists like Nanci Griffith, Dave Alvin, Lyle Lovett and now Slaid Cleaves, it's not a matter of writer's block but rather choosing to pay tribute to them. With Unsung, as the title suggests, these songs are by lesser-known songwriters. I had an advance copy with no liner notes so I didn't know that until I'd listened a few times and I just thought they were all Slaid's songs. Most of these share the same narrative style; story-songs about poets, blue collar workers and other assorted characters. One of the best is “Flowered Dresses” by Karen Posten, who also wrote “Lydia”, one of Slaid's earlier “hits”. Another favorite, “Workin' Stiff” is by the most obscure writer, (according to Cleaves), Melvern Taylor and it has a lovely horn arrangement while “Everette” sounds like it was pulled out of Tom Wait's Rain Dogs. Nice easy-going arrangements otherwise thanks to friend Rod Picott. Cleaves started with 30 songs and whittled ‘em down to these 13 and they're all gems. Highly recommended!
|Rounder's Slaid page has tour info. Buy from amazon. Released May, '06. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away... (Music Road)
|The title of this CD, Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away, paints a very negative, matter-of-fact image. Slaid comes across as such a happy and easy-going guy that it threw me off. Then again, Slaid does a lot of surprising things when it comes to songwriting... he's different than your "normal" Dylan or Prine-inspired folksinger. And please don't ask me how he's different, he just is. Cleverly mixing fables and folk tales of long ago with true stories of love and loss... or are they true, who knows. This is his first album of original stuff in 5 years, which is also surprising... I get the feeling that he has a hundred songs that we haven't even heard yet. He is a true song craftsman and Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away is a subtle work of art. The songs get under your skin and wake you up at night, and make you keep the CD in the car player a few days longer... Mr. Cleaves does what he does his own way, and it works.
Music Road Records. Buy from amazon. Released April, '09. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Still Fighting the War... (Music Road)
|Listening to the expertly crafted songs on his latest release, one could argue that Slaid Cleaves may just be one of the finest songwriters going. It has been four years since an album of new material from Cleaves, but he more than makes you forget that gap in time with his latest. In other words, it is welcomed. A native of Maine who has made his home in Austin, Texas for the last 20-plus years, Cleaves has always had the gift of being able to tweak the emotions in myriad ways with his songs and likeable voice. The 13 songs comprising Still Fighting the War have a personal quality to them. There is anger, there is sadness, there is humor, and there is love on this album, perhaps Cleaves’ most politically leaning work yet. He leads it off on such a note with the title track which tells of the travails of all too many of the forgotten Iraq war vets, from the frustration of dealing with the VA to the inability to find a job to rejection for loans to just flat out giving up. It is hard hitting and Cleaves delivers it with complete empathy. “Without Her” is a teardrop-sad song that speaks of the loss of a mate with Cleaves singing “Every sunrise and set / Every little chord I can fret / Is just a little dimmer / A glimmer, without her”. The album features two fine working class, blue collar anthems in “Rust Belt Fields” and “Welding Burns”, each co-written with songwriter Rod Picott with whom Cleaves grew up with in Maine (and who is a highly talented tunesmith in his own right). Cleaves brings a little taste of Texas into the mix on “Texas Love Song” where he’s joined by Terri Hendrix on vocals and again on “God’s Own Yodeler” which pays tribute to the late Central Texas country singer Don Walser. Still Fighting the War is an album full of smart songs buoyed by terrific turns of phrase. It solidifies Cleaves being in the upper echelon when it comes to songwriters
|Slaid.com Buy from amazon. Released July, '13. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
Kill Devil Hills... (Fading Ways Music)
Chris de Burgh packs up, leaves England, and winds up in the bald-ass Canadian prairie. That's what Jim Clements sounds like, and it's an oddly intriguing sound at that. Even his more countrified songs, e.g. “So Much Confetti”, conjure up distinct images of his English roots. “I've Always Been Faithful” has a music hall ring to it, with its lilting piano lines, and “After The Flood” is vintage Strawbs. “Fletcher Christian”, well, the title alone should tell that particular tale. Maybe it's the combination of a discernable accent, and the use of a mellotron, that makes this CD so obviously rooted in ‘Merrie Olde', and the string arrangements add to that impression. Not for the true-blue country aficionado, but an interesting hybrid of Americana.
Fading Ways Music. Buy from amazon. Released 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.
Informed Gutbucket... (Mountain Shack)
Arghh! Another super short disc! Why do these guys do that to us? This one is not even half an hour long. C'mon people, think of the poor fans trying to stretch their meager resources these days. Now that the raggings done, it must be said that Clendenen, on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts, writes folk ballads in the vein of a Pete Seeger, or even a Woody Guthrie. His songs have that everyman common touch from yesteryear to them, and his sparse instrumentation and gruff delivery only serve to heighten the aged effect. You'd have thought that, with an extensive list of composing credits, and an impressive C.V., somewheres along the way he might have taken Artist/Audience Empathy 101, and learned to, in the words of Ray Davies: “Give the people what they want”. Yeah, sure Mae West said to always leave them panting for more, but that was sex, not music. Woody would always give a guy the whole caboodle, and the correct change.
|Bob's home page. Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.
Night All Day... (self released)
the CDs sent to me for review recently, this one was by far the most consistently
enjoyable. I can say in all honesty there wasn't a bad song in the bunch. Clifford
grew up in the TX honky-tonks and it shows. This CD runs the gamut from Doug Sahm/
Freddy Fender Tex-Mex dance tunes to classic jukebox cryin'-n-yer-beer country
ballads to kick-up-yer-heels shuffles. I'm going to issue a challenge to all country
radio programmers out there. I dare you to play any one of Mike's songs on your
station. If you do, tell me it ain't the most requested song running!! Be on the
lookout for Mike Clifford, he's going places!! |
site. Order from CD
Baby. Released April. '04. Reviewed by Keith
Long Gone... (Paleo Music)
|Conrad Praetzel is a man on a mission: he's trying to ‘modernize' here a collection of old tapes from the Thirties and Forties, presumably to make them more palatable to today's listeners. Whether or not that is a good idea, that's a decision best left to the individual listener. Some will say, no, leave those recordings in their original state, flaws and all; that was the state of Americana music reproduction in that era. Personally, the inherent hisses and clicks are not sorely missed, but there is a problem with revisionism, be it musically, historically, or whatever. Sometimes the beauty of an art form lies in its originality and uniqueness, and the ‘improvements' facilitated by modern technological wizardry is, in many cases, superfluous. I couldn't imagine, and wouldn't watch, a Ted Turnerization of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”; the addition of colour would just muck it up. Long Gone is not an unpleasant piece of work by any means, and it does achieve its goal of accessabilty, at the cost of a degree of homogenization. Whether or not the end justifies the means is a purely personal perception in this case.
Paleo Music. Buy from amazon. Released August, 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.
|THE CLUMSY LOVERS
Smart Kid ... (Nettwork)
They've certainly got some strange definition of Bluegrass over there in Vancouver, British Columbia. Apparently, from the sound of “London Bridge” and “Bobby Banjo”, nobody ever bothered to inform this gang that Appalachia and Jamaica aren't exactly kissin' cousins. Pleasantly and surprisingly, this is one shotgun marriage that works, and it's only one example of the musical hybrids that are to be found in this little gem. “Okay Alright” sounds like an old Blondie tune grafted onto a world-beat driven tempo, and there's evidence throughout the disc that the Celts ganged up with the Rasta force when they decided to invade the Smokey Mountains. The Clumsy Lovers, (and I'm intrigued by the potential story behind that name!), are five Canadian musicians that passed their music courses with honours, whilst cratering miserably in geography class, (sic). They're sort of to country/bluegrass what the Barenaked Ladies are to rock, cheeky, irreverent, and more than a bit iconoclastic, as in the tune that is their namesake. Purists may shudder, but this is one entertaining fusion of diverse influences.
|The Lover's web site. order from amazon. Released June, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
|THE COAL MEN
Nowhere's Too Far.. (Vaskleedez)
"I'm just a northwest kid, trying to figure it out" sings writer/guitar player Dave Coleman on the first track. That may be so, (the band seems to be based in Nashville) but he has certainly figured some things out. Like songwriting, for instance. And creating a full, edgy sound with a three piece band (helped along by producer/musician Bob Delevante).
The songs are strong here and often stunning, especially considering the youthful appearance of the group. That appearance belies a mature perspective and confident approach to lyrics, along with appealing twangy vocals and over -driven guitar. If a young Steve Earle backed by the band Teenage Fan Club sounds good to you, you should definitely seek out this well turned out disc from one of my new favorite bands.
|The Coal Men's web site. Order from CD Baby. Released late 2004. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.
Stack of Dreams… (Miles of Music)
Thad Cockrell, a preacher's kid from North Carolina, has the kind of soulful,
tenor voice custom made for 'putting the hurt back in country' and that's what
this record is all about. Produced in a single day by Chris Stamey, Cockrell and
his Starlite Country Band cut your heart out from the opening track,"Pretending"
on thru to "He Set Me Free", a testimonial that makes me want to get
religion. You can feel the hurt as you sing along and that's good country. For
a nine song debut album, this record is a stunner. What it lacks in polish it
more than makes up for in soul. I love this CD... even though it tears my heart
out every I listen. |
Of Music has a Thad Cockrell page with RA samples and CD ordering info.
Release date: July, '01. Reviewed by Kay
& Beauty… (Yep Roc)
|Thad Cockrell's motto
is "Puttin' the hurt back in country." On his 2nd album, Warmth & Beauty, he’s
still hurtin’, but he’s writing about it with more of an awareness of time and
it’s ability to heal the pain. The opening track "I’d Rather Have You" is a real
upbeat jangly power pop tune that get your attention. After that the album settles
into more of the country arrangements that perfectly suit his plaintive voice.
On "She Ain't No You," the powerful ballad that is the highlight of the CD, he
realizes that although he’s moved on he’s still not over his former girl. Chris
Stamey co-produces with Thad and they used a tight core band that recorded the
whole thing live in the studio. Cockrell continues to bear his soul and his songwriting
and singing have only improved. If hurtin’ really felt as good as Cockrell makes
it sound, maybe we’d put our hearts out on the line more often. Thad’s the real
deal alright, and this is one of the best CD’s I’ve heard all year.|
from amazon Released Sept, 2003. Reviewed by Bill
CONDO AND HIS RICOCHETS |
High & Wild... (Joaquin)
These guys have got the goods! They have a wild raucous Rockabilly sound
that freely jumps around from swing, jump blues and country to western swing.
They infuse everything they touch with a lively spirit and they play tighter n'all
hell. I'm crazy about their song selection: all old, obscure yet great songs.
It's like they scoured the old 78's and 45's seeking out gems to be
enjoyed anew. Condo and band plan to tour alot this summer and if this CD
is any indication, they'll be tearin' up some dance floors along the way.
| Check out the band's
site, with tour, bio and a few song samples. Released April 2000, reviewed
by Bill Frater. |
CONNELL & DON RIGSBY |
Another Saturday Night... (Sugar Hill)
Man, these guys can sing! And with a crack band of bluegrass side players (Tim
O'Brien and Missy Raines most notably) this record cooks! Their first CD from
1999 was good but this one really takes it to another level, due in large part
to the melding of electric lap & pedal steel with the usual acoustic arsenal
of guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Plus, these guys do it all: honky-tonk, folk,
country, bluegrass. And in the process they both honor and extend the tradition
in country music of the brother duets. If you like the brothers (i.e., Monroe's,
Louvin's, Everly's) you'll love this CD. |
Sugar Hill's site.
Released July, '01. Reviewed by Kevin
Vermillion... (Razor & Tie)
Much like the Band during their earlier albums,
The Drifters are a kind of musical collective who live, rehearse and record together. There
are three singers/songwriters, all veterans from other better known bands who
share the vocals. Susan Cowsill, (yes from the same Cowsills), has a husky
voice and handles almost half of the lead vocals. Peter Holsapple,
(from The dB's and also Cowsill's husband), takes a minor role considering his
talents, but his presence is still apparent, especially on the rocking tunes.
The third vocalist is Vicki Peterson from the Bangles, yet another talented songwriter
with a great voice. You do get the feeling that it's a group effort and they mutually
support each other. Their sound is basically jangle-pop with some nice acoustic
songs and great harmonies throughout. I loved their first album, which was
a little more roots and less rock, but this is a very solid group effort with
excellent songs and arrangements.
| The band has their
own site which is nice. Razor
& Tie's site. Released Oct. '99, reviewed Nov 2nd by Bill Frater.
I, Flathead... (Nonesuch)
|I've always been a big fan of Ry Cooder, going back to his slack-key-inspired Chicken Skin Music to his early 90's norteño-soul albums like Borderline and his many international excursions. After a long absence he has released a trilogy of early California inspired CD's that are each written around a fictional story. Cooder has always been known as a musicologist but surprisingly he's never done anything “country” until now. I, Flathead is loosely about a country band, Kash Buk and the Klowns. There is a novella that comes with the deluxe edition that might explain the story better. He's wrote all the songs here and plays most everything except drums. Songs with titles like “Johnny Cash”, and “5000 Country Music Songs” and “Spayed Kooley”, (about a dog) should give you an idea of what's goin' on here, that is, Ry's take on country. “Steel Guitar Heaven” is about a place where steel players go to die where the parking is free and that old triple-neck ain't as heavy as it used to be. Cooder gets heavily in to recitations, where the music slows down and he talks awhile, he's always liked those. There are some throwaway songs but I get the impression that Cooder's having a fun time and isn't taking himself too seriously these days. And that's a good thing.
|Buy from Amazon, or order the Limited Deluxe Edition. You Tube has some great Cooder clips. Released May, '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Elizabeth Cook... (Bro 'n Sis)
This is real country music- what every damn country radio station in the country
would be playing if they any any ears (or balls). Her voice has that distinctive
straight-ahead twang to it and her songs are solid and memorable too. Kenny Vaughn,
Dan Dugmore and Tim Carroll lend instrumental support and some guy named Hardie
McGehee who sounds an awful lot like Buddy Miller adds harmonies. Apparently,
Cook is a big hit whenever she plays The Grand Ole Opry, even though she's unknown.
Probably because the Opry fans still know and appreciate real country music. This
is a self-released CD but rumor has it that the major labels are talking to her.
Lets just hope that if they get their hands on her that they keep it country.
| Order from Miles
Of Music. Released late 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.
This Side Of The Moon... (Hog County/
| This is Cook's third release and after 2002's major label effort Hey Y'All, she returns to self-releasing her music. The Florida native has done hundreds of Opry shows by now and this CD exudes much confidence and style. She's had her hand in on all of the songwriting, and she can sure turn some wonderful phrases, in the classic tradition of country roots music, as evidenced in the very first lines: “I been thinkin' 'bout you baby and I don't know why, 'cause all you ever do is make me cry cry cry; But I'm missin' all your kissin' and I swear it's a dirty, dog-gone shame, next time Cupid oughta take a little better aim”. Her voice is captivating, with a twang that lies somewhere between Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, and her backing ensemble, including luminaries such as Randy Scruggs, Al Perkins, Tim Carroll, and Rev. Ronnie Brown, is flawless. This Side of the Moon is an impressive amalgam of straight-ahead country, swing, some torchy stuff, like the title track and “Before I Go That Far”, and there's a subtle dash of bluegrass throughout, just to enhance the sonic flavor. This one is good enough that now I'm compelled to go out and find her earlier CD's for comparison.
|Cook's site. Buy from amazon Released May, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
Balls… (Thirty Tigers)
Elizabeth has a lot of sass and sexiness that reminds me of a few other blonds like Dolly Parton and Carlene Carter. The title comes from the obvious single, "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman," which sounds almost ready for Nashville radio were it a little more open minded. This is Cook's fourth album and her best yet by a long shot. Produced by Rodney Crowell, who holds it together without messing with her twangy sound. She turns the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" into a country classic and duets with Bobby Bare Jr. on a love song, "Rest Your Weary Mind." Her husband Tim Carroll co-wrote the optimistic song, "Gonna Be," featuring the lyrics, "I'm not a has-been/I'm still a gonna be/You just wait and see/You just won't believe/Keep looking out for me." Carroll's hopeful and honest original, "Always Tomorrow," closes the album nicely. It's her real country voice that ties it all together and ironically, it's probably too country for country radio. Oh well, their loss is our gain.
|Cook's site. Buy from amazon Released May, '07, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Made Of Mud... (King Easy)
The standard modus operandi is to play a new CD first, without any background preamble, let those first impressions do their thing. So much for first impressions: Dana Cooper sounded like a young throwback to an early Jackson Browne/James Taylor style of artist, intelligent and melodic. It turns out, ‘though his voice belies it, that he was around in those days, recording his first solo work back in '73, and this one is his seventh solo release since then. Made Of Mud is a delightful introduction to a versatile and gifted musician, and a welcome alternative to those ‘compilations, anthologies, best ofs, etc.' that are, in most cases, sure signs of incipient creative vacuity. “Step Into The Light” is 30+ years old, and the succeeding cuts are a mini-diorama of Cooper's work up to the present that takes the listener on a journey along the higher and finer points of Highway Americana. For example, the title track, is one of best agrarian anthems to come out of a set of speakers in a long time, good company for Guthrie's “Pretty Boy Floyd”. Not a lot of fanfare and fooforaw on this one, just a lot of damn fine tunes.
|Dana Cooper Music. Buy from amazon. Released Sept. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
| PETER COOPER
Mission Door... (Red Beet)
|I first heard Peter Cooper's name as a byline in the music reviews in Nashville's local newspaper, The Tennessean. So first off, the guy's got a degree, which makes him smarter than the average Americana singer-songwriter. This is an impressive debut CD with a great picture of him on the cover surrounded by classic LP covers from artists like John Prine, Marshall Chapman, Tom T. Hall and Jerry Jeff Walker, and a turntable. I lovin' this guy already before even hearing a word! The album is packed with witty and intelligent songs about growing up, growing old and baseball, (and all baseball songs are great). He has an easy going vocal style that recalls Slaid Cleaves. Cooper has done his homework and he know what he likes, from his musical mentors to the fine musicians who play on the CD, to enlisting the great steel guitarist Lloyd Green as co-producer. I know what I like too and this is a solid winner.
|Peter's website, and MySpace page. Red Beet Records. Order from Amazon. Released April, '08, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Country and Blues Revue... (Narnian)
decided the title for the Copperheads new CD sure got it right. The band specializes
in a sweet blend of Memphis country soul and Southern blues that, amazingly, results
in a pure roots sound sure to please country fans as well. This album recalls
the works of artists like Tony Joe White, Charlie Rich, current Nick Lowe, Dan
Penn and Spooner Oldham, and The Band. Remember the song He Stopped Loving Her
Today? How meaningful, down to earth and dead-on it was in its' message without
overdoing it and clogging up the song with extra verbiage? It is the same way
with the songs on this album. The songs are deceptively simple, with basic lyrics
and sparse, catchy melodies coming straight from the heart and telling their stories
without any excess fat. Thanks to Lowe and a few other artists, the heart-rending
sounds of the blending of soul and country are starting to make a comeback as
more people are remembering the music of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and deep soul
from the ‘60s. The Copperheads are following the lead and doing it as good as
any one else out there right now. The band does have it's rocky side, but it is
a restrained power, somewhat like what The Band managed to do on their first two
albums. Singer Ray Barnard has mastered the nuances of great country soul and
the rest of the band locks in, from the sweet and stinging lead guitar to the
Memphis soul-rooted rythym section. This album is a wonderful treat sure to be
appreciated by fans of country and old-fashioned Southern soul music. |
web site. Reviewed by Scott
Better Days... (Boomba)
|After the slow
but steady rise of alt.country this past decade and all of the bands hopping on
the bandwagon, I would have thought all of the various sub genres of the form
would have been exploited and mined already. Man, was I wrong. Out comes Corndaddy
with their new CD and adding "garage-country" to the genre's legacy.
Rough, ready and unpolished in an endearing way, Corndaddy busts out of the gate
with a blend of Buck, Beatles and the Byrds that is as innovative as it is obvious.
Why more bands haven't put the common elements together is almost puzzling. Then
again, other bands don't have the songwriting talents of Jud Branam (vocals, guitars)
and Kevin Brown (guitars, vocals, harmonica, keyboards and mandolin) to call upon
when looking for quality songs. If the British Invasion bands were as influenced
by country as they were blues and early rock, they would have sounded just like
this. And if the garage-rock box set Nuggets was called Kernels and featured scrappy
young country bands, this is the kind of pop-steeped country music that you'd
find. Here's hoping the new generation of country fans gets to hear this band
and starts picking up some instruments.|
the CD from the band's site or from Miles
Of Music Reviewed by Scott
Bound for the Living... (Make)
days I think that I've got one of the best jobs going, and the day that this disc
hit my mailbox was one of them. If I was forced to label it, which I'm always
a bit gun-shy of doing to anything anyhow, I'd have to call it bluegrass, but
that's like calling Picasso a painter. This lady has a voice that simply soars;
think early Natalie Merchant after enunciation lessons. She's surrounded herself
with a coterie of excellent traditional bluegrass instrumentalists, but the end
product is anything but traditional, and that's what I love about the younger
musical generation. While they respect the roots of their art, they refuse to
be constrained by them. Corinne takes a dash of folk, a bit of country, adds them
to a bluegrass base and cooks up a style and product that is hers alone. Writing
eight of the songs, and co-writing another, she displays a remarkable empathy
for the everyday people and situations that comprise our lives in this real world.
Either she has crammed a lot of living into her years, or she is one hell of a
perceptive observer. I suspect a bit of both. Nonetheless, you can't go wrong
with this one. |
site. Order from CD
Baby. Released late 2003, reviewed by Don
Cosmic Dust Devils... (Little Train)
The picture of the twister used on the cover of this CD tells more about the music
than anything I could ever write. This band takes several styles of country music,
from Buck Owens' signature twanging Tele style Bakersfield country to some raunchy
Allman's style country rock and then to some Texas-style country swing, and twists
them all into a very striking original sound that sounds both familiar and new
at the same time. Sure, these same ingredients have been co-opted and abused by
tons of other bands, but, for some reason, it sounds fresh here. The band follows
the fairly new wrinkle of having male and female lead vocals, switching off back
and forth while the other does harmony. Generally, this band kicks up a lot of
dust and if you like your country with a lot of energy and some balls-to-the-wall
style playing, this is for you. I like it. |
has tour, bio and CD ordering info. Reviewed by Scott
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
|For the latest recording in his storied career, Elvis Costello has brought together a collection of bluegrass/Americana stalwarts (Jerry Douglass, Mike Compton, Dennis Crouch and Jim Lauderdale) under the direction of producer extraordinaire T. Bone Burnett. It’s his first acoustic recording since King of America, and there are certainly parallels to that record, not the least of which are his sardonic and caustic views of our American culture, portrayed in ways that only the gifted and insightful Costello could pull off. Tales of drunkenness and debauchery are intertwined with the horrors of slavery and the smell of sulphur and sugarcane in the South. The stellar musicianship is remarkable, and provide the backdrop Costello’s storytelling that is a kind of American travelogue seen through the eyes of Faulkner or Tennessee Williams. If you are now, or have ever been, a fan of Costello’s incredible musical odyssey, this one is required listening.
|Elvis's site. Buy from amazon. Released June, '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan
National Ransom... (Hear/Concord)
|It would be easy to view “National Ransom” as a follow-up to Elvis Costello’s Secret, Profane & Sugarcane from 2009, but the work of Mr. McManus is never so easily classified. Sure, he has T-Bone Burnett producing again, and again it is as clear and true a sound as one could ask for. There is an all-star cast backing him again, with longtime drummer Pete Thomas, Marc Ribot on guitar, Jerry Douglas on dobro and lap steel, with appearances by Jim Lauderdale, Leon Russell, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, to name a few. Unlike the last recording, the thematic string (if there is one) is not as easily followed. The range of styles and voices make this recording difficult to digest the first time through, even the fifteenth. “National Ransom” is a rock and roll tirade aimed at Wall Street, “Jimmie Standing in the Rain” is a tableau from pre-war 1937, and the folk-tinged “Bullets for the New Born King” an assassin’s tale from Central America circa 1951. Costello has never been better as a storyteller. But the overall effect is a recording that is not easy or accessible. You can’t swallow this record whole, but chip away at the edges and listen in snatches. In a way, it’s emblematic of Costello’s music as a whole and his career’s production. You never know what to expect from one track (or record) to the next. The 16 tracks contain a little something from many chapters of the illustrious singer-songwriter’s career – from passionate rock ballads, country songs, and ditties that could have been written for a 1930s musical. If you’re willing to accept the ongoing quirks and eccentricities of a compelling and challenging artist at work, this one will grow on you.
|Elvis's site. Buy from amazon. Released August, '10, reviewed by Barry Dugan
Half Way Down... (self released)
One might be tended to lump this band in with a lot of rural-rock raunch
bands that are hitting the Americana scene right now with their poppy hooks
and their country touches, wanting to be the next Bottle Rockets. This band stands
out from the pack at once. It starts with the vocals. Vocalist/guitarist Alan
Charing (A.C. - get it?) has an amazing vocal similarity to Tom Petty and the
songs have a Petty quality to them as well as a little touch of Ryan Adams' style
as well. While the sound is rather standard Bottle Rockets raunch-rock, the lyrical
and melodic twists set this band and their CD far ahead of the pack. This is a
CD to buy now and a band to keep an eye on for later. |
The band has a cool little website,
with MP3's and tour and bio stuff. Order the CD from Miles
Of Music. Release date: April, '01. Reviewed
by Scott Homewood
John Cowan... (Sugar Hill)
John Cowan's vocal and bass work were an essential part of the seminal "Bluegrass-Rock"
band (which also featured Sam Bush), New Grass Revival. Since they
broke up, Cowan has had varying success as a solo artist. This CD is a welcome
return to mostly acoustic arrangements featuring the best pickers in Nashville.
His distinctive tenor voice attacks a set of almost all original tunes.
Cowan doesn't just sing a song, he wails it and holds some notes long enough to
embarrass Michael Bolton. I had a hard time sitting through the whole 13
songs, but his fans, which are many, will probably enjoy his return. |
| There is an official John
Cowan website, featuring tour info, a message board and such. Sugar
Hill's site. Released April 2000, reviewed by Bill
Cowboy Buddha are a trio from southern
California and they describe themselves as a "Roots Pop" band.
That's as good of a label as any I guess. Fletcher Harrington writes sings
and plays the guitar, so it's all on him. His writing is good but sometimes
a little too sophomoric for me, and hey I saw the new Austin Powers movie twice
so don't try to tell me about sophomoric! His voice is good but not great
and his guitar playing is better then most but since he's used to carrying it
himself, he plays a lot of rhythm. All in all, there's a certain sameness
that makes it tough to sit through all 15 songs. There's talent here, but
their next album will probably be better.
Released June, '99, reviewed by Bill
Frater. Order through their website, cowboybuddha.com,
where they have tour and bio info.
A Journey Out Of Time... (Shanachie)
The Kinman brothers had a band called Rank And File that were way ahead of their
time playing country rock in the early 80's before there was "Alternative"
anything. I'm not really sure what these guys are trying to do here recording
old Cowboy songs like "Back In The Saddle" and adding originals in a
similar Marty Robbins-style. They're voices were never that great to begin with
and the arrangements don't give much else to focus on. A few solo instruments
like a fiddle or steel guitar would've helped alot here. Although I respect what
these guys have done in the past, I have a hard time recommending this current
June, 2000. Reviewed by Bill Frater.|
C.W.A. (Cowboys With Attitude) ... (self released)
without the angst is how best to describe Cowboys With Attitude. Attitude, yes
the Cowlicks have got it, but not as in the word's current negative usage. Their
attitude is that music, and life, can both be a lot of fun, and it shows in what
is generally an upbeat and melodic piece of work. Even a song like "Stupid Girl",
not a take-off on the Jagger/Richards tune, has a lilting appeal to it, not at
all like it's malicious namesake. There's a ton of musical experience behind this
band; some of these guys were around when I still had one of those damned cowlicks
in my hair. Mine's been gone these many years past, and I prefer this kind, anyhow;
the bounce is a lot better. This is perfect music for an Okanagan summer day,
when the weight of the world takes a break from bearing down upon your shoulders,
with nothing more pressing than soaking up the sun and a few wobbly pops with
your friends. Sometimes all that we ask of our music is that it entertain us,
and make us feel good. CWA does that in spades, and, there's some pretty cool
artwork on the sleeve, to boot.|
Cowlicks' site. Order from Miles
of Music. Released March, '04, reviewed by Don
Crowded is the New Lonely... (self-released)
At the relatively young age of thirty-one, Sara Cox' songs project a lifetime's worth of experience and maturity, two words that are not necessarily mutually inclusive. Eschewing the self-promoting route of the road, she prefers to stick close to the home fires of Portland, Maine, playing, in her words, “living rooms” over clubs. Very nice if one happens to live on the north-eastern seaboard. Crowded is the New Lonely, her third CD, starts off with the upbeat “Hijacked Soul” with a slide line by Nate Schrock that brings back memories of an early Sheryl Crowe tune. From there the disc shifts smoothly to the acoustic and keyboard “Song For Today” and that pretty much establishes the pattern, electric to acoustic and back over the course ten originals. At just under thirty-four minutes in length, the disc is a mite brief, but, considering that the lady juggles three kids in the mix along with her performing and writing, I'm glad we get what we do.
|Sara's homepage. Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. '07, reviewed by Don Grant.
Cracker is one of the only so-called
Alternative bands who I can still listen to and enjoy. They have a consistent
"roots-rawk" sound that is honest and simple. Leader Dave Lowery's laconic
and frequently playful lyrics are delightful. His voice is gruff and sometimes
sarcastic, and the band even sounds like Mott The Hoople sometimes, but I like
'em anyway. The throw in just enough blues and country flavoring to make for a
very listenable album. No, Cracker is probably not for everybody, but if
your tastes stretch towards REM or the Bottle Rockets, you will enjoy these guys.
Reviewed by Bill Frater.
|CRANKSHAFT & THE GEARGRINDERS
What You Gonna Do?... (self released)
|Alex "Crankshaft" Larson hails from the musical melting pot that is the Twin Cities; however, you won't hear a lot of Husker Du or Replacements influence on his sound. Rather Larson and his band, the Gear Grinders, seem to have tapped into the same vein as bands such as Jason & the Scorchers, Black Crowes, and most notably North Carolina's Southern Culture on the Skids. On their second album, What You Gonna Do?, the Grinders mine typical SCOTS themes such as cars, bowling, and dirt surfaces. Larson describes his sound as "pork neck blues" which, while I don't exactly know what that means, seems like as good a moniker as any.
Most of the tracks on the album are performed with a basic three piece setup of guitar, bass and drums, but Alex is not afraid to throw in some electric piano, horns, and, of course, cowbell for good measure. Highlights include "When the Sun Goes Down", "Dancin' in the Dirt" and "Kingpin". The songs are catchy, fun and the production never overshadows the band's performance. Overall, a worthy effort from this promising young artist.
|Crankshaft's web site. Order from Amazon. Released Feb. '13, reviewed by Chase Barnard.
|JOE CRAVEN TRIO
All Four One... (self released)
|Joe Craven's Trio, which may actually be a quartet, have just released their first project and it is, easily, one of the most joyful, musically interesting pieces of work I've heard in years. Joe and company demonstrate what happens when you mix together jazz, blues, bluegrass and, what nowadays we call, world music. Except under the broad heading of "terrific" you can't really classify this stuff.
But what else could you expect from Joe, whose primary instrument seems to be his quirky irrepressible spirit; along with mandolin, fiddle and all things percussive. (Anything this guy doesn't play?).
Of course it helps that he's pulled together a group consisting of top tier under appreciated players.
Kendrick Freeman, late of Alison Brown's group, is a rhythmic force of nature who is masterful at providing exactly the right percussion support for any form of music; jazz to folk to bluegrass.
John R. Burr has long deserved more recognition than he's got, despite stints with Robben Ford, Alison Brown and others. John's articulate, lyrical, emotionally expressive work is always spot on and nothing short of genius.
Ric Kuhn, unknown to me before this, appears to be a monster accordianist with both a tremendous technical facility, on this much maligned instrument, and a composer's ear for catchy melody.
What a delight to listen to these masters as they create music unencumbered by rules or definitions from the music industry. This is what creativity and musical joy sounds like.
Do yourself a favor, don't miss this one.
|Joe's web site. Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. 2012, reviewed by Kevin Russell.
Full Length Stereo Recordings
Robert is the younger brother
of Marshall Crenshaw and he recorded and toured with him for many years as a drummer
and harmony vocalist. Well, the apple doesn't fall far from his brother's
chiming sound. He plays the same kind of 50's and 60's influenced rootsy
power-pop as his brother, which is a good thing. His voice even sounds so
simular to his brother's that it's real difficult to tell them apart. Since Marshall
hasn't put out anything new recently, this is the next best thing.
| Check out Gadfly's site.
Best songs: All I Want To Do Is Be With You, She's Not You, Half A Heart,
Nobody Wins, Put The Bottle Down. Released June 8th, '99,
reviewed by Bill Frater.
Drunkard's Lament... (Rustic)
Coming out of Southern Indiana, Crooked County wear cowboy hats and have
the Alt.country look and the "train beat" rhythm down cold. The
look is good but the album is all over the Americana map, There's alot of writing
styles represented, thanks to 3 different singer songwriters. Toby Purnell, who
started the band in '98, his brother Toby, who's voice is a little smoother, and
upright bassist Merrie Sloan, who sings real "purty". Between the three
of them, most of their songs are well written, not too simple, not too fancy.
They put together some nice harmonies, especially on the ballads. Some talented
guests on fiddle and harmonica fill it out. All in all, it's an entertaining and
smooth ride. |
| The band's
got a site, CrookedCounty.com
and so does Rustic Records.
Released June, 2001. Reviewed by Bill
Seven Sisters... (Crooked Music)
This mountain music reaches right into my bloodstream and chills my soul.
From the first track on this documentary soundtrack, I knew this was a keeper. I
think the Crooked Jades are better known as a bluegrass band but they kick some
old-time Appalachian butt here on Seven Sisters, capturing the spare but intense
life of rural Kentucky. Equal parts instrumentals and vocals, the record
is nicely paced, well-produced and self-released. It's a nice tribute to
the record when I'm inspired to see the film because of it. |
|Check out the band's site, crookedjades.com,
where you can order their CD. Released Feb. 2000, reviewed by
Still Crooked... (Signature Sounds)
|Well you certainly have to hand it to the kids at Lotus Nile Media; they’ve assembled an impressive roster of artists, and Crooked Still fits the modus operandi to a “T’. They’re what would be called a progressive bluegrass quintet from the Northeast, with the emphasis on the progressive bit. Still Crooked was recorded in a single one day live take, incredibly enough only four days after the band went from quartet to quintet. Pretty amazing, say what? That should give one an indication as to the quality of musicianship to be found in this their third release, their second with Signature. Faithful to traditional bluegrass through their employment of acoustic instrumentation, they also throw somewhat of a spanner into the works with things like cello and glockenspiel, and, with a singer who answers to the name of Aoife O’Donovan, there is more than a smidgeon of, you guessed it, Celtic influence. Don’t be afraid to broaden your musical horizons with Crooked Still, they’re the straight, (ugh, no prizes for that pun!), goods.
|Their website. Buy from amazon. Released June, '08, reviewed by Don Grant.
Cropduster are a young Alt.Country
band from Santa Rosa, CA who sound like they grew up listening to more punk music
then country music. And that's a good thing. They have the urgency
simmering underneath their twangy well-crafted songs. Songwriter
and lead singer Andrew Asp has a good voice that's part Paul Westerberg and part
Steve Earle. The instrumentation is the standard four-piece plus a pedal
steel player. Much like Neil Young straddles the two genres, these guys
seem to capture the essence of Country without sacrificing their love of Rock.
Best songs: Little Voice, The Son of the Neverending Night, A Man Doesn't
Cry, Californis Cottonfields, Ugly Girl, A Wake to a Friend. Try ordering from
the label Flying
Harold Records. Released
late '98, reviewed by Bill Frater.
CANADIAN RAGWEED |
Highway 377... (Underground Sound)
These guys have been touring throughout the South for over seven years now and
their tightness is obvious. Their hook-filled roots sound has a considerable rockin'
edge, probably developed to cut through the din of a rowdy honky tonk in Texas.
Lead singer and principal songwriter Cody Canada has a fine gravelly voice that
sounds quite similar to Peter Case. The cover of the CD depicts a brutally smashed
up pick-up that Cody somehow survived after flying off an embankment on
Hwy 377. The band's name seems to be a combination of their individual member's
last names. They keep it simple, whether it's soft acoustic guitar or rollickin'
rock, it all works. |
band has a nice site, with tour info... CrossCanadianRagweed.com.
Released Feb. '01. Reviewed by
The Houston Kid... (Sugar Hill)
When Rodney did a solo show for the Americana Music Association, he apologized
for coming to Americana Music so late. In actuality he has been doing Americana
before there was an Americana. After one hit Nashville album and a series of attempts
to get back on the charts, he's where he should be, on a medium-sized, artist-friendly
label like Sugar Hill. That freedom has allowed Rodney to create one of the best
albums of his 20 year career. The Houston Kid is mostly autobiographical with
heavy topics such as AIDS and spousal abuse touched on. His voice is as
beautiful as ever and the ballads stand up as some of his best yet. This is a
must-have for any fans of Crowell or anyone looking for a sure thing in the singer-songwriter
genre they call Americana. |
Release date: Feb. 2001. Reviewed by Bill
Right Hand… (DMZ/Epic)
|Well, by my ears,
Rodney has done it again. That is, put together another flawless album of thoughtful
and thought-provoking songs. And let’s face it, as young as he still looks, Rodney
is a veteran musician who’s been around for over 25 years now. This release finds
him in a real good place where he’s very introspective and even spiritual. He
sounds confident and grateful to be around, while also looking ahead with an inquisitive
passion for life. Rodney always did have a gift for great ballads and this collection
is no exception with the excellent "Time To Go Inward" and "It’s A Different World
Now", which looks intelligently at the "big picture". But really, every song is
melodically and lyrically magnificent. It’s clear that Rodney is riding at the
crest of his sizeable wave.|
is a nicely designed fan site with a great discography and bio, RodneyCrowellMusic.com
is the slick label site with sound samples and more. Buy from amazon
Released August, 2003. Reviewed by Bill
The Outsider… (DMZ/Epic)
| The burning question here is: Has Rodney hit another homer, for a three-peat, after The Houston Kid, and Fate's Right Hand? Try as I might, I can't say that he's pulled it off this time. Therein lies the only trouble with getting to the top of the mountain, and that's that there's only one direction left, and everyone's expectations, including mine, are probably unrealistically high. The Outsider has Crowell plunging into the murky waters of politics, Steve Earle's habitat, with “Don't Get Me Started”, a searing damnation of the current morass of the American political slough. It should be interesting to see if it ignites the same controversy that some of Earle's work has.
While there are some very nice soft touches as well, i.e. “Glasgow Girl”, a poetic paean to a love in a foreign country, on the whole, spearheaded by the cutting guitar of Will Kimbrough, Adrienne Young's producer, this CD rocks a lot more than Crowell's last two. If it hadn't been for its immediate predecessors, I'd probably call this one for five stars, but there are two songs that stop me. The first is “The Obscenity Prayer”, which makes essentially the same point of social commentary that “Riding Out The Storm” did, from an obverse perspective, without its subtlety, the difference between sledge and finishing hammers. The other is the overly proselytizing “Ignorance Is The Enemy”, which, for anyone who has followed Crowell's career, constitutes preaching to the already converted, (preachin' to the choir?). Are they lousy songs? No, they're good, but just not his best songs, and a lot of other artists would be more than happy to achieve that level of song crafting. Speaking of which, “Beautiful Despair”: “Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan when you're drunk at three a.m.; knowing that the chances are no matter what you'll never write like him”. Give me, and yourself, a break, Rodney; you can, and you do, write as good as him, and, added bonus, you don't have to have the tune in your pocket to carry it. Only two out of eleven songs that fall just slightly below the mark is pretty damn good, considering the height of the crossbar, and, to be totally honest, “Shelter From The Storm”, with Emmylou Harris, is so achingly beautiful that it almost compensated for those two.
|Buy from amazon Released August, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
Sex & Gasoline... (Yep Roc)
|This is really a pretty different album for Rodney, and I can call him by his first name only because he is one of my favorite artists and he defines the Americana genre. His last few CD's have been excellent, but this one has eluded me despite repeated listenings, and I'm not sure if it's him or me. Rather then his usual twangy country, this one leans towards the funky, bluesy side. The songs look at the lives of women and how society and the media affects them and how sex and lust affect us all and how "this mean old world runs on Sex & Gasoline." Producer Joe Henry says he "admired Rodney for his nerve and imagination." Crowell went outside of his comfort zone to LA to record this CD. All of these words are fine and dandy, but you just want to know if the things any good. And the answer is yes, it's good, and it's getting better with each listen.
|Rodney's site. Buy from Amazon.
Released Sept. 2008. Reviewed by Bill
|As a jaded music
journalist, I've come across just about every musical hybrid and genre splice
you could ever think of. Mongolian blues band? Heard that. Moroccan polka reggae?
What, again? Brazilian space-rock? Been done. I've heard it all. Or, at least
I thought I did. Until I heard the Cruzeros. Get ready......the Cruzeros are a
Canadian roots rock band who happen to favor a Mexican sound. Of course, you might
have realized this from the CD title and the band name, but, hey....I'm a little
slow sometimes. Vocalist/guitarist Barry Mathers is pretty much the leader here,
writing the lion's share of the songs with and without his bandmates. Mathers
and the rest of the band craft a pretty solid CD of radio-ready country mixed
with a substantial bit of cantina. In fact, it sounds more like authentic (whatever
that means) Texas music than most of the country music currently coming from Texas.
The production, by Bill Buckingham and the band is very good, nothing lo-fi here.
If I were to make a comparison I would say a Canadian version of our own Texas
Tornadoes. Very good and I hope they get the attention Stateside that they deserve.|
web site. Order from CD Baby.
Released 2001. Reviewed by Scott Homewood
of these folk singers have praiseworthy solo careers and albums. Dar Williams
has even gained popularity beyond the coffeehouse's and folk clubs. They get together
here to cover other people's songs mostly, and presumably, to let their hair down
and have some fun. I guess I expected a little more "fun", along the
lines of Shawn Colvin's delightful Cover Girl. There are too many slow,
sad songs for my tastes. I don't always want to work so hard for good folk music.
I like all the artists individually, but I'm not sure if the sum is greater than
the parts. I'm told from good "folkie" sources that this is a great
album. So if your tastes lean in that direction, then by all means check
this CD out. Since writing this review, I have had the good fortune to see
this trio live, and I'm happy to say that they are a joy to see in person. |
Roots‘N'Roll... (self released)
| What's in a CD title? In this case pretty much everything: it's an exploration and celebration of the roots of rock and roll. Bill Culp comes from Southern Ontario, but his musical influences can be detected coming from much farther afield. His music is, to my ears, rooted initially in the rock-a-billy style of Buddy Holly, Johnny Cochrane, and, a little more recently, the guitar work of Brian Setzer, and that of the Greg Kihn Band. Throw in some keyboard work by Garth Hudson, and you've got this almost retro mix called Roots'N'Roll . It's the kind of music that some of the older readers used to cruise to at the high school bops, when rock and roll was still essentially an offshoot of country music, but it's a more updated and refined brand. Let's face it: some of that stuff we used to ‘cut up the rugs' to in the gymnasium was rather raw and rough, yet we still remember it as being really good music. Well, now you can listen to this disc, and it delivers what our memories tell us those days used to sound like. The guitars slash away at the melody, your fingers snap in time, and, just maybe, if the drums and bass jackhammer enough resolve into your backbone, you might ask that special girl to dance. Nostalgia? For sure, but it's a fun nostalgia.
|Bill's website, Order from CD Baby. Released Nov. '04, reviewed by Don Grant.
Ya gotta wonder how these
guys can put out 2 fine albums in less then a year when a guy like Tom Petty puts
out one album every 2 or 3 years. And sorry Tom, I like this CD better.
Leader Dan Israel is just a fine song craftsman with a good solid voice, although
it may be less distinctive then Petty's. Both words and melody are well
done and the band just does everything right. It's mostly mid-tempo melodic
roots-rock with pop sensibilities. I think it's just a matter of time till
they break out of their native Minneapolis area. I also wrote a glowing review
of their last CD... but this release is even better. If you're a Tom Petty
fan, that's great, but when you're tired of his latest, buy this one.
Best songs: All Alone, Wrong Side, Never Stopped to Run, Happy Again, Mama's Kitchen,
Word on the Street. You can order from the band's
has it, as well as other fine CD's, and then the excellent Miles
has it too. Released
March '99, reviewed by Bill Frater