Category Archives: CD Reviews

Let the Steel Play: Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier

Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier:  Let the Steel Play
Writer:  Kyler Klix

Not many musicians make a career out of the slide guitar, so music fans get a real treat with Let the Steel Play, the forthcoming album  from Andy Hall (Infamous Strindusters) and Roosevelt Collier (the Lee Boys). The result is music so beautiful, you could imagine angels in heaven playing steel guitar instead of harps. Continue reading Let the Steel Play: Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier

Mountain Ride: Time to Roll

The last few years have been mighty good for string bands.  There has an been an outbreak of younger, progressive bands mining the rich vein of bluegrass and a renaissance of traditional legends releasing some of the best albums of their long, rich careers.  This has all combined to create a great time to be into bluegrass, string-band, and old-timey music. Continue reading Mountain Ride: Time to Roll

Keller Williams KWahtro – SYNC

Keller Williams KWahtro – SYNC
Writer: Josh Mintz

There’s not a lot Keller Williams hasn’t done from a sonic standpoint. For a guy who mostly made his bones as a solo artist, he’s done bluegrass, he’s done dub, he’s done a children’s album, and he’s had lord knows however many iterations of bands throughout his career. Each project generally includes a new cast of characters, and SYNC is the first album from a 2015 project, KWahtro, a band that features longtime Williams collaborator Gibb Droll (guitar), Rodney Holmes (drums) and Danton Boller (bass).

Williams bills KWahtro as “acoustic dance music,” which is an apt description – SYNC listens like an extension of what Williams does on his own. However, the additional players on the record allow the music to bridge out a little more than possible with pre-recorded loops; there’s just more freedom with a human being driving the ship.

“Hategreedlove” is a standout track on the recording. Holmes provides a dark, brooding bass line that’s augmented by a string section (provided by The Accidentals).
Fans of Williams’ token lyrical silliness won’t be disappointed, as the album includes tracks like “Missing Remote” and “Ripped 6-Pack,” the former providing one of the stronger musical performances from Droll and Holmes.

KWahtro really stretches out, though, on “In the Middle.” It showcases the musical depth of the group, and the places that they can go when all four players are speaking the same musical language.
SYNC doesn’t exactly break any new musical ground. For a guy like Williams, who’s had his fingers in so many musical pies, that’s hard to do at this point. But, those who like what Williams has been doing for decades are going to dig this – there are just a few more faces on stage.

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Jimmy Landry: Sing Your Own Song

Piano man Jimmy Landry had a novel problem when adding his new release, Sing Your Own Song, to iTunes. What genre is fitting for a record with such a wide berth of styles and influences?

It’s not a bad problem to have, and it is validated given just one spin through the album’s 10 accessible, piano-driven tracks that tap into a world where heart and soul are on full display. Kicking off with “Where the Love Is,” Landry demonstrates a fine-tuned approach and a deft ear for textured orchestration, particularly when the track’s funky keys give way to a reggae groove. He assumes Todd Snider-like spoken word above an achingly upbeat piano melody on “Let’s Get Together,” and takes a lounge-y approach to the heartbreak of “Proved Me Wrong.” Regardless of the lyrical subject matter, the compositions roll with a playfulness that is kissed by the sun and salt air of his coastal South Carolina home.

Sing Your Own Song marks Landry’s first release since his 2008 debut, New Day, and he delivers in spades when it comes to both style and execution. And about that genre problem? Who really cares. Sing Your Own Song is truly difficult to categorize, and that is its strength.

Sing Your Own Song is self-released and out now. Buy it here!

The Travelin’ Kine: Change In The Wind

It would be perfectly understandable for those not in the know to believe that country music is dead. In the mainstream, it has felt this way for the better part of the last three decades. But the sparks of a few real songwriters – with influences like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard – are building to a full-blown fire. And while Jamey Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Stapleton, are leading the charge, there are upstarts in cities around the country who are kicking up true country songs filled with the sweat and grit of yesterday. One of them is The Travelin’ Kine.

These troubadours from Charleston, South Carolina, have now delivered their first album, entitled Change in the Wind, and although the title and title track don’t necessarily allude to the current state of country music, it seems apropos given the emergence of musicians that harken back to the good old days of the genre. And the band delivers an eight-song set that is straight-talking, compositionally adept, and soaked in spirits from some backwoods still.

“Change in the Wind,” written on the day frontman Slaton Glover’s divorce papers were signed and he dedicated his life to music, rides the brisk rhythm section of bassist Brent Poulson and drummer Jim Donnelly, giving momentum to his yearning. “I’m Not As Smart As You Look” spotlights Glover’s clever wordplay with sinewy lead guitar from Scottie Frier, “I Hate You” is a scornful wish for a former lover, and “Bad Bad Man” is a roadhouse rally cry accented by flourishes of harmonica and mandolin, courtesy of Mark Davis and David Vaughan, respectively.

At the heart of the album’s eight tracks is Glover’s adept songwriting. There are no frills here, and that is just right.
The Travelin’ Kine are yet another new voice in a country music chorus that is growing louder, and if there is such a thing as “real” country music today, it can be found on Change in the Wind.

Change in the Wind is independently released and out now.

Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free

The time for talking about how much Jason Isbell has changed since his Drive-By Truckers days is long past. Yes, gone are the whiskey-soaked, carousals from his time in the seminal Southern band.  Also in the past is the triumphant story of his hard-won sobriety and newfound life as a successful solo artist.

In their place, a shelf-full of all the hardware the 2014 Americana Music Awards had to offer, in addition to numerous critical accolades and a new life as happy family man. Also: a new album called Something More Than Free.

His 2013 breakout album Southeastern set the bar extremely high, and the follow-up, Something More Than Free, manages to reach, and perhaps hurdle, it.

Thematically, the album is a bit lighter than its predecessor, but it shares a tonal similarity. Isbell has hit a comfortable creative stride that gives the impression he and his listeners are in the midst of a fertile stage of artistic output akin to Neil Young’s early 1970s oeuvre.

Throughout Something More Than Free, Isbell constructs a now-trademark rustic realm, a world inhabited by people yearning, searching and hoping for something better, and a few who think they have it figured out. These are hardscrabble folks living with regrets and seeking redemption.

He creates such vividly imagined characters that at the conclusion of nearly every track, you feel like you’ve just finished a novel or movie, or stepped out of someone else’s dream. These characters—the guy who feels fortunate to have lost three fingers in an accident so he could get a court settlement (“The Life You Chose”), the teenage parents who can’t tell the difference between the “sacred and profane” (“Children of Children”), the guy who just wants to leave town because there’s “nothing here that can’t be left behind” (“Speed Trap Town”) and others—are instant intimates. Isbell’s craft allows these characters to come to life and for you to step into it.

Isbell is a singular voice, but it’s hard not to hear his forbearers living through him. Hints of Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer” (a song he’s performed live) live inside of “Flagship” in more ways that one.  John Prine’s wit suffuses “If It Takes A Lifetime.” And so on. Neil Young’s work informs here, his contemporary Ryan Adams there.

Sonically, Isbell and his band, including wife Amanda Shires on fiddle, are in a comfortable zone, shifting easily from melancholic ruminations to rowdy rockers and country swing.

“Children of Children,” with a string section that floats eerily over Isbell’s slide guitar and soaring solo, is one of many standout tracks on Something More Than Free.  Elsewhere, he adopts old-time, bluegrass-tinged country stomp with “If It Takes a Lifetime” and raunchy rock with “Palmetto Rose.” Throughout, his melodies seem like they’ve been there forever, pulled from the heavens by his pen.

Something More Than Free is continuation of the songwriting maturity found on Southeastern, so much so that Isbell might be wise to make some room on that shelf.

 

Something More Than Free will be released July 17 on Southeastern Records. 

NMO: Freedom & Dreams

NMOWhen veterans of the music industry get together in the studio you know that something special is going to occur. Growing up with a deep appreciation for the delta blues and rock, Anders Osborne and The North Mississippi All-Stars (Luther and Cody Dickinson) are the perfect fit to work together and create an album.  Freedom & Dreams is a powerful statement from the Osborne/ All-Stars collaboration (NMO – North Mississippi Osborne) and brings out a wealth of emotions that listeners can relate to in their lives.  With decades of live performances and studio releases under their belts this is the first time that Anders Osborne and The North Mississippi All-Stars have had the opportunity to come together as one on an album.

 

Opening with “Away for Too Long,” Osborne’s soulful voice rings through brightly, as Luther Dickinson’s recognizable guitar and his Brother Cody’s drums provide a steady juke-joint style swing.  “Back Together,” the second track follows with a nice slow groove that is an emotional journey as Osborne sings of a long-lost love that has been rekindled.  Guitarist Dickinson adds an absolutely flawless solo that highlights Osborne’s heartfelt lyrics and reminds why Dickinson is quite simply one of the most inventive guitarists around today.

 

On “Shining (Spacedust)” the inter-play between the three musicians is at the forefront and it is easy to hear how the trio compliments each other so well.  With Osborne’s lead vocals on this slowed down tune you can hear the Swedish born singer/songwriter speak from his heart with the lyrics, “You’re shining and you’re beautiful today/ You’re radiant right now in every way.”  The Dickinson brothers accentuate Osborne’s heartfelt lyrics with a subtle taste of guitar and shimmering dose of tambourine and brushes on the drums.

 

The addition of the classic Osborne track “Katrina,” is the definition of the blues.  Ten years ago Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans and the surrounding area bringing sorrow to millions. Many musicians at the time, including Osborne and the Dickinson’s, came together to lend a helping hand by playing benefits to help people get back on their feet. With the lyrics “You pushed me and you pulled me/ You tore my heart apart,” the powerful lyrics are near and dear to trio who saw so much of the destruction up close in their New Orleans and Mississippi homes.

 

Freedom & Dreams shows the wide-range of this multi-talented trio.  One of the many highlights is “Many Wise Men,” an acoustically-driven tune that finds the band switching gears to a slower-mellow paced groove that is like floating on a cloud. Multi-instrumentalist Cody Dickinson, on washboard and drums, leads the way, while Osborne and Luther trade sweet, lilting guitar licks back and forth.

 

The album concludes with the long-time blues and New Orleans staple “Junco Pardna,” which proves the perfect capstone to this collaboration of southern-blues-rockers.

Green Rock River Band: Rhinoceros

rhinoceros_artwork Emerging from the burgeoning Americana-music scene that is flourishing in London is Green Rock River Band.

The eight-piece band is a wild mix of banjo, horns, fiddle, and acoustic guitar that eschews much of the modern flair associated with current music. Instead they create a sound that is all strings and old-timey soul at its core, yet still fresh and relevant sounding at the same time. It is this attention to the music that came before them that gives Green Rock River Band’s music its power.

On their debut album, Rhinoceros, Green Rock River Band deliver a rollicking, rambunctious ride which storms across the musical landscape, blasting out songs that sound like a piss-drunk Tom Waits bashing away on a banjo while his mates from New Orleans provide a boozy, horn-laden atmosphere over which to play. Flourishes of jazzy trombones and clacking washboards color that sound and only add to the musical party that is Green Rock River Band.

And all of that is a good thing, a real good thing.

Rhinoceros finds that fine line between the old and the new and uses that area as the canvas upon which they paint their aural soundscapes. The album veers from the sing-a-long working-man anthem “Drinking ‘Till I Die,” to the foot-stomping high-energy galloping thrash of “Angry Ferret,” to the inventive “Rosie Ann” which takes the concept of mixing the old and the modern to a whole new level with its collaboration with DJ Walde. Walde weaves in subtle percussive lines of dub-step beat box into the rhythm of the song which results in a wholly original take on folk-music.

With their English roots and clear influence of traditional British folk and fiddle tunes, Green Rock River Band also help subtly expose the close – but not always noticed – relationship between those traditional British folk-tunes and mountain-bred Appalachian bluegrass.

This ability to move through a variety of sounds can sound clumsy for so many bands, but for Green Rock River Band they pull this off effortlessly through the strength of their songwriting. This strength is shown best on the sorrow-laden lament “Seasons,” a powerful rumination about the passing of time, whose deeply passionate lyrics are balanced against the deep-groove of a Chuck Mangione-esque trumpet line.

This meshing of such diverse influences and styles is what drives the band, and gives Rhinoceros its unique, infectious sound. As singer and banjo-picker Jeremy Sachs says, “We couldn’t create songs like these by sticking with the same formula that has come before, we needed to find a new way of doing things, a new approach to get people excited and thinking about alternative ways of looking at folk, but that is still respectful of old musical tradtions.”

Rhinoceros is out now.