New Reviews
Review Archives
Best of FTB
About FTB
Hindu Equations.....(One World)
This is a fine album of folk and roots-rock by a guy from Kansas City.  Mike Ireland plays bass on it, otherwise I don't know much about it other then I love the album.  Iceberg's voice is not excellent, in fact it reminds me a lot of John Prine or Bob Dylan, neither one of whom let their voices get in the way of great music.  It makes me wonder, would Prine or Dylan be signed to major label if they came upon the music scene today?  Probably not. This CD deserves to be heard by fans of good songwriting and great rootsy arrangements.
Best songs: You're the One I Want, Waiting for the Prisoners to Riot, If I Spoke Italian, Scarlet Fever. He has a brand new website, with bios, tour and CD ordering. order the CD from Amazon. Released Oct, '98, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Road Song... (ResoRevolution)

The flagship for Rob Ickes new independent record label is a little gem of a CD called Road Song. Ickes is famous for his seventeen year tenure with bluegrass supergroup, Blue Highway, as well as countless hours as a session player in Nashville. Oh, & along the way he picked up thirteen Dobro Player of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association. That said, what could he possibly do that would surprise and delight the record buying public? Enter Road Song. This is a gorgeous, and I mean gorgeous, collections of mostly jazz standards done exclusively with piano and dobro (with a bit of vocal support from the immensely satisfying Robinella). There are a number of things that set Ickes apart from the growing numbers of reso players. One is his commitment to melody over licks. Another is the blues influence found everywhere. And a third is that he approaches the instrument as if he were a singer & this, his voice. Which, of course, it is. And like any great singer he touches you where you live. Though he and pianist, Michael Alvey, cover many of the greats (Hoagy Carmichael, Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Wes Montgomery, Oscar Peterson, Hank Williams & more) this unexpected duo are masters at making each song their own. As Ickes commented at a recent live show." a lot of people tell me this is their favorite dobro/piano record". As if another one even existed! If someone you love has an adventurous musical taste you ought to consider picking this one up. They'll love you for it. On the other hand, maybe that’s you.
ResoRevolution has all thing Ickes. Order from CD Baby. Released 2010, reviewed by Kevin Russell.

Speedway Sounds... (Hayden's Ferry)
The group sort of goes with a race car motif for the title and the CD liner notes and such but if I were to compare this group to a car, I wouldn't choose the fastest car on the track but the points leader that wins a few but makes a great show in every race. Let me explain. Rather than blasting off of the starting line and blowing their engine in the first lap or winding up in a senseless pile-up, this band's music is very polished and radio-ready and bound to be a strong finisher in any pile of CDs. Definitely not a bad thing, as the band mixes enough exciting, radical touches in their music while still maintaining a sound that sounds at home over the old airwaves. While they don't reach the experimental heights of, say, Wilco, the band seems to specialize in the ultra-catchy hook and nearly every song on this is good enough to hit big. I couldn't find a weak song on here. Also, any band that covers Nick Lowe ("Lucky Dog") is fine by me. While not that flash, I'd bet on this band anytime. An all-around points winner!
Hayden's Ferry's web site. Released Aug. 2001.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Imperial Gold Crown Harmonizers... (Catamount)
The Imperial Gold Crown Harmonizers, (who number Gurf Morlix among its membership), hold down a weekly brunch-time gig at the Empanada Parlour in Austin, Texas.  This ego-less group donates their weekly take to a local charity, thus ensuring the unspoken premise of goodwill. While the music made by this (currently) seven piece group is marked as Gospel, you don't need any religious affiliation to wade in the water.  With five featured vocalists the sounds range from the traditional uplift of Martha Merriell and Sarah Brown to dark-night-of- the-soul moans provided by Scrappy Jud Newcomb.  If Curtis Mayfield and Pops Staples have a place on your stereo, this tremendous groove will too.
Catamount's site Reviewed by Blaine Schultz

Cluckaphony... (self released)
To describe The Imperial Rooster as an alt-country band does not even come close to explaining how much of an alternative they are. Maybe alt-alt-country is better. I first became aware of this Espanola NM band through their series of couch-by-couchwest videos in 2012, where they are just playing acoustically on a porch. Since then, all I want to do is hang out on that porch and fetch them snacks and cold beers and mix drinks for them, whatever it takes to keep them happy and playing. Their new album Cluckaphony, which is available on their bandcamp page, is representative of all that is right with this band. Fun and catchy, endlessly inventive in the lyrics and the instrumentation, this album is just a joy from start to finish. I have come to expect the raucous frat-boy songs like "Polka De Naglas" from this band, but, in what is a particularly interesting form of musical alchemy, they can turn a song about ecology and local class warfare ("Shit Falls") into a party anthem. I like a band that has a signature sound, and these guys certainly have that, even if it beyond me to describe just what that sound is. With their ragged but effective vocal harmonies, the dumbed-down yet surprisingly thoughtful songs, and their obvious joy in performing, they are the CSN&Y of jug-band americana punk.
More info on TIR at Reverb Nation. Order or download from Bandcamp. Released March, '13 reviewed by Keith Kasyan.

Call Me Lonesome… (self released)
Out of the ashes of Arizona's Trophy Husbands comes this great solo release from Dave Insley. He jumps right out of the gate with the hard tonkin' “There's Gonna Be A Few Changes” with the line “I'm expanding my vocabulary beyond the words ‘Yes dear'”. I realize this may be the only song I have to hear to love this CD. But there's quite a few more great songs bouncing around a little with some bluegrass, ragtime and even some R&B. He has a deep baritone that reminds me of Jr. Brown, only Insley's voice has more character. It's the honky tonk that carries the show with some able support from sometimes-Guilty Man Rick Shea. This guy's got the goods!
Dave's web site has CD's by mail or order from Miles of Music. Released Feb. '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Tucson... (Rustic)
Wow! That's about all I can say but will try to do better for you. People have been raving for the past few years about how good a songwriter ex-Whiskeytowner Ryan Adams is. For my money, Insley has him beat. Where Adams' songs tend to be oblique and detached, Insley's songs tend to cut through to the marrow without any wasted words or time. And Insley's interestingly fresh yet strikingly familiar melodies wash over you, literally forcing you to sing along, to become part of the songs itself when you hear them. Yes, he got some ringers like Dave Alvin, Albert Lee and a few of John Hiatt's Goners to help him but all credit for this gem of a record must go to Insley and his magnetic songs. More roots rock than traditional country but a phenomenally good record. Get this now!
Check out Rustic's site for bio and tour info. Released Sept. 2001.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Learning How To Live....(Sub Pop)
This excellent band comes out of Kansas City, and they're on grunge-pioneer label Sub Pop, surprisingly enough. They are the "real deal", soulful, hip and square at the same time, and not full of themselves, and not trying to be something that thet aren't. And, get this, many of the songs feature a small string section a la "countrypolitan" music from the early 70's on country radio. It works, thanks to Ireland's great voice, although he's no George Jones, and his wonderfully simple broken-heart songs. The band is great and subtle, not too twangy and not too rockin'. They even look kinda hip/square on the cover. so contradictions are everywhere, and I love this CD more each time I hear it! Thanks to Sub Pop for finding and signing these guys. I recommended you give this CD a listen!
Best cuts: House of Secrets, Headed For a Fall, Biggest Torch In Town, Cry, Learning How to Live. The band's Sub Pop page, includes bio, samples, ordering, etc. Released March, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Here We Rest... (Lightning Rod)
Native Alabaman Jason Isbell has an amazing talent for capturing a catchy melody.  It always amazes me that with a very limited amount of notes and chords in our Western music world, there is always new and unique songs and melodies being made. In the case of Jason, what started with the better songs on the Drive-By Truckers earlier CD’s has continued and become more confident, on this, his 3rd solo release. From the acoustic-based opener “Alabama Pines” through the tender "Stoppng By” to the tastefully written “Codeine” with Amanda Shires on fiddle and harmonies. And that's only half the album! The highlight is his discovery of the obscure soul gem previously sung by Candi Staton, “Heart On A String.” Isbell just nails that deep Muscle Shoals soul on this one! His voice is good if not very remarkable, but he sings in an effortless style that I love. The closing song, "Tour Of Duty" returns to the acoustic sound and is a sensative take on a soldier's return from war. It come down to the songs and arrangements, which are brilliant, and that’s a word I don’t use lightly.
Order from Amazon. Released Apr, '11, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Grapevine... (Western Seeds)
This LA band caught my ear straight out with their tight, eerie sound that plays into songs sounding straight ahead country, LA rockin' and bluegrassy.This is west coast rock with a distinctive Southern California feel to it with space between the layers of sound that allow you to move along at your own pace..the difference between a CD that lifts you up and and along through the tracks or one that kicks you from one song to the next. Fine guitar work with pedal steel, dobro & electric from Paul Lacques strong, satisfying vocals from Robert Rex Waller and with the talented Brantley Kearns on fiddle and Paul Marshall on bass, this is a band of serious talent.

The I See Hawks site Buy from amazon.   Released June 2004.  Reviewed by Kay Clements.

California Country... (Western Seeds)
Hawks main vocalist and co-writer Rob Waller has been known to say country never died, it just changed names. But the California country rock of this band, one of the finest on the scene, takes some by ways down back roads from L.A. to Bakersfield clear up to Marin County, making them heirs in my book not just of the Byrds and Burritos but Workingman's-era Dead and New Riders. This group of songs doesn't quite reach the heights of the best of Grapevine to me, but is more consistent and fully realized. The opener "Motorcycle Mama" is not the Neil Young song, but makes reference to it the final chorus. Slices of life songwriting laced with passion and humor (try “Slash from Guns N' Roses”) and the by now required ode to cannabis ("Barrier Reef") show the band to be at a peak, musically that is. Pedal and lap steel, psychedelic guitar solos and the excellent fiddling of Brantley Kearns (the fifth Hawk?) flesh out the solidly written tunes, making this a must have disc. And check out their website for note worthy blog reports from a down to earth band on the move.
The above-mentioned website also has CD ordering. Released May, '06. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Shoulda Been Gold: 2001-2009... (American Beat/Collectors' Choice)
They're a band and a statement... Well respected and reviewed, yet barely known outside of their native Southern California, the "Hawks" are about as solid as a band could be. The tracks here are from their first 3 albums. Shoulda been classics like "Byrd From West Virginia" (a tale about the senator) and "Raised By Hippies" are both funny and ironic. There is an underlying intelligence and social commentary that rises their lyrics way above your normal Burrito's-inspired bar band. It doesn't hurt that lead Hawk Rob Waller is a USC professor. Brothers Paul and Anthony Lacques fill out the band with some splendid vocal harmonies. This collection also adds a few new unreleased tunes to make for an excellent place to start of you don't have any of their earlier CD's. Waller says the title pretty well sums up the band, "Audacious and self-deprecating at the same time."

I See Hawks site. Order from Amazon. Released Feb, '10, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Before We Met...(Hayden's Ferry)
This Minnesota band has a great roots-rock sound that features strong melodic songs and tasty lead guitar. Songwriter and lead singer Isreal's voice has a little Jeff Tweedy from Wilco mixed with a little Bob Dylan. Some songs have a little power-pop to them while others manage to sound country without the usual country instruments. They're probably only playing the bars in St. Paul, but there's a lot of talent here. I look forward to a follow up CD due in late 98.

Love Ain't a Cliché... (Hayden's Ferry)
The first thing that struck me when listening to Israel's new CD is Tom Petty, believe it or not. While Petty has allowed his creative juices to drain from his career at an alarming rate over the last few years (witness his latest clunker The Last DJ to see how far he's fallen) Israel has crafted an interesting album full of great well-polished (but not overly so) roots rock songs that sound as good as Petty's ever done. Not only that, but Israel crafts his musical magic with a stripped down sound involving him and just two other guys, save a guest here and there. Does Israel sound like Petty vocally? No. Do Israel's songs sound like Petty's? No. Then why use Petty as a comparison? Because Petty is held up as an artist who is "bankable" and "steady" - same sound, no surprises - just Petty. Well, I for one want to hand it to another artist who is also "bankable" and "steady" - great songs, great stripped down country rocking sound, no weird sonic surprises - just great sounding albums: Dan Israel and the Cultivators. Here's an idea: instead of wasting money on an album from a superstar who's obviously lost his touch, pick one up from a rising star who deserves more attention. Anyone into some cool swagger-filled roots rock will be interested in this gem.
The band's site.  Order from Miles Of Music or CD Baby Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Time I Get Home... (Eclectone)

This marks the sixth release for Minnesota's Dan Israel, and it's essentially a solo effort. Recorded in his basement, with drums and organ backup from David Russ and Peter Sands, Israel handles the rest of the work by himself, writing, vocals, guitars, bass, and piano. While being a physical departure from Hayden's Ferry Records, this an Eclectone Records production, it's still got that rootsy rock feel of his earlier work. He has been, questionably to me, compared to Tom Petty. OK, he's got some of the same nasal harmonics in his voice, like Petty, and, he does use some similar rhythms and song structures, but I don't think that Tom has a copyright on those items, just like Strauss couldn't preempt the waltz after writing “The Blue Danube”. And, more importantly, he's doing a lot more productive things with his talent: his lyrics are crafted to say something, rather than to provide fluff for a guitar line, e.g. as in “Don't Turn Away”. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and you can't build a song in its entirety around a hookish guitar riff. If your tastes run to literate takes on familiar themes, without a lot of fanfare, then this one's up your alley.

Dan's site. Order from Miles Of Music or CD Baby. Released January, 2004, reviewed by Don Grant.

Home | News | Radio | New Reviews | Review Archives | Links | Best of FTB | About FTB