Category Archives: CD Reviews

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.

Greensky Bluegrass’ New Album, If Sorrows Swim, TBR September 9th



The notably divergent bluegrass band, Greensky Bluegrass is set to release their fifth studio album, “If Sorrows Swim” on September 9th.  For the excited fan base who wish to purchase the album early they may due so on iTunes via the presale that started August 28th. To purchase presale packages via Greensky Bluegrass click HERE  and to order early through iTunes click HERE!


For an Honest Tune review by Tim Newby of the new album, click HERE.



Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition: Dark Night of the Soul

jimbocdFor the past decade or so, Mississippian Jimbo Mathus has all-too-quietly been cranking out some of the finest roots rock around, each successive album delving deeper into southern roots music and melding it together in complementary concoctions that gratify the heart, hips and head.

His latest, Dark Night of the Soul, is his second for the Oxford-based Fat Possum records and follows nicely with last year’s White Buffalo.  Assistance from then-producer, now-guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Del Lords, Bottlerockets) is one common thread. But another is Mathus’ constant maturation as a songwriter and sonic alchemist. After all those years of chewing up the roots of southern music, the resultant product of that mastication is a fiery, spitting stream of pure rock ‘n roll.

Mathus shows here again that he is perhaps our greatest modern practitioner of such fusion. He shifts effortlessly from the deeply grooving, Metersesque funk of “Fire In the Canebrake” to the honky-tonk Americana of “Writing Spider.” There are touches of soul, blues and country everywhere— the raw ingredients for pure, primal rock ‘n roll.

As someone starting with ingredients fresh from the source, it’s not surprising that Mathus reaches a conclusion that other legendary followers have, though often with even more profound results. The relentless boogie of “Rock & Roll Trash” out-Stones the Rolling Stones, the crushing feedback of “Burn The Ships” is crazier than Crazy Horse, and the sweeping, majestic title track is an epic that finds Mathus holding forth like a southern Springsteen. Seriously.

Elsewhere, the mash-ups transcend their constituent ingredients. For instance, the soul shouting of “White Angel” drifts into atmospheric hypnogogic asides while being straddled by muscular guitar heroics. He achieves elusive melancholy ache with “Medicine” and ghostly pleading on “Butcher Bird.”

Behind this alchemy is a penchant for storytelling  The namesake of “Hawkeye Jordan” is a richly drawn character that goes beyond the moonshiner clichés a lazier observer might rely on. “Casey Caught The Cannonball” is a worthy update to the folk legend. The tender “Shine Like A Diamond” began as the wedding vows he wrote to his wife. Throughout, there’s wrenching over absolution, redemption and past troubles.

Recorded at Dial Back Studios in Water Valley, Miss., Mathus is again backed by the excellent Tri-State Coalition (Eric Carlton, keyboards; Matt Pierce, guitar and drummer Ryan Rogers). He also welcomes guest players Ambel (guitar), bassist Matt Patton (Dexateens, Drive-By Truckers) and pedal steel player Kell Kellum.

Together, they whoop up a ruckus and conjure real rock ‘n roll straight from the source, the kind of gut-punching, hip-shaking record that is a real gem because it carries with it a kind of depth and soul all too rare in a landscape that seems to value such authenticity less and less.



Dark Night Of The Soul is out now on Fat Possum Records.

Dead Gaze: Brain Holiday

BrainHolidayThis past October, the Oxford, Miss. band Dead Gaze released its first studio album, Brain Holiday.  Jackson, Miss. native Cole Furlow is the mastermind behind Dead Gaze, a band that has been churning out homemade acid garage pop in Oxford since 2009.   Furlow struck gold when a friend of his who worked at Oxford’s Sweet Tea Studio was offered eleven days of free studio time, and the friend immediately thought of Furlow.  Sweet Tea Studio is owned and operated by famed producer Dennis Herring, and has attracted the likes of such well-known artists as Animal Collective, Modest Mouse, The Walkmen, and Elvis Costello.  Furlow jumped at the chance to work at such a great studio, and the result was Brain Holiday.

The music of Dead Gaze is sometimes classified as “Lo-Fi Psych Pop,” and while this term adequately describes Furlow’s previously released work, the term does not fully apply to Brain Holiday.  There is a definite “Hi-Fi” quality to this album that is all at once intergalactic, tropical, aquatic and air-like.  Furlow uses “Lo-Fi” tricks, such as a low-end synthesizer and circuit bending, to produce “Hi-Fi” results.  Circuit bending is the customization of circuits in electronic devices to produce unexpected, creative, and chance-based sounds.  Furlow utilizes tools such as reconfigured children’s toys, synthesizers, guitars, wires and amps to produce “Hi Fi”–sounding effects out of this “Lo-Fi” technique.  The result is a much more polished, crystal-clear, definite sound.  Furlow proves himself to have mastered the art of “Lo-Fi” in a “Hi-Fi” world.

Brain Holiday comes out only seven months after the self-titled Dead Gaze, which was released in the U.S. on May 21, 2013.   Dead Gaze was met with critical acclaim, however there were problems with the album that seem to be directly addressed on Brain Holiday, such as the lessening of the compression on the vocals that frankly made Cole’s lyrics on some of the tracks from Dead Gaze indecipherable. Here Furlow delivers vocals that are clear and crisp, becoming more sophisticated not only in style, but also in meaning.  Furlow is obviously going deeper with this album.

The first track, “Yuppies are Flowers”, is a catchy pop song on the surface.  But the lyrics tell a story of youth today trying to deal with the Yuppie generation being the ruling class, and how they have screwed things up for the generations to come.  “Rowdy Jungle” is another pop chart dream, sounding pleasantly like Weezer, but with some Mississippi mud thrown in to grunge things up a bit.

Overall, Brain Holiday is a pop album, but there are some indie-inspired surprises like “Runnin On The Moon” and “Breathing Creatures” which are so unique, they each seem to be creating a genre of their own. The self-titled track, “Brain Holiday” ends the album with poetic perfection because of its carefree sound and message, adequately fulfilling Cole Furlow’s wish for this album:  “I just want people to listen to the jams when they need something to get their brain off whatever it is that’s making them go to the music in the first place.”

Dead Gaze is huge in Great Britain and has just finished a European tour that started November 26, 2013, in Belgium, Brussels—seeing France, Italy, Switzerland, and then back to France for two shows (one in Paris), with the last four shows of the tour ending in the UK—the finale being in London (their biggest draw) at the Windmill.


Brain Holiday is available now on vinyl, cd and MP3 from FatCat Records. 



tell_the_onesRecorded and produced by Larry Campbell at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York, Tell The Ones I Love offers up traditional bluegrass with just the right amount of genre blending. Bluegrass fans
know that the Steep Canyon Rangers are one of the most acclaimed and accomplished modern ensembles. But not since the Country Gentlemen revived traditional bluegrass in the 1970s has there been a band with the same level of instrumental proficiency and mainstream recognition. On the heels of their grammy-winning album, Nobody Knows You (Rounder Records, 2012), the band doesn’t  break form on this album.

The Steep Canyon Rangers have always pushed – but never broken – the envelope of traditional bluegrass. Perhaps that’s what makes them so appealing. Whether it’s their collaborations with Steve Martin, or on this album the inclusion of percussionist Jeff Sipe (Leftover Salmon, Susan Tedeschi, Aquarium Rescue Unit), these guys take just enough risks to keep things interesting, but not enough to scare away the purists. “Mendocino County Blues” has an upbeat tempo and melodic riffs that’ll leave your foot tapping and hands clapping. Songs like “Camellia” sound like they may have been dug up from some reels of old recordings of The Band  laying around Levon’s studio!

The Rangers first impressed Helm with their playing at one of his famed Midnight Rambles and he invited them to record at his studio. Considering the Ranger
s are so well known for their live performances, producer Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan and Levon Helm) encouraged the band to recreate that energy on the recording. They succeeded. If you’re looking for progressive “newgrass” this might not be the album for you. But if you want high caliber musicians playing traditional bluegrass with just a tinge of pop-country vocals, some western swing, and even a few drum tracks, you won’t be disappointed.


Tell The Ones I Love is out now on Rounder Records


Bombadil: Metrics of Affection

bombadil-metrics-of-affectionMuch of the narrative about Bombadil lately has focused on the band’s return after a forced hiatus due to nerve damage in bassist Daniel Michalak’s hands.  While that is part of the band’s story, if one focuses on that they miss the truly important narrative of Bombadil.  Since they first burst into the musical universe out of Duke University (via a semester abroad in Bolivia) they have continually released great, quirky albums that have flown under the radar, yet can stand shoulder to shoulder with the year’s best albums.  Their latest release, Metrics of Affection, continues that trend.

Metrics of Affection is an addictive spin on folksy-Americana, Piedmont blues, and rocking gypsy rag-time.  It is built upon simple guitar lines, subtle hints of banjo, classically-themed piano melodies, and drum patterns that emit power in their simplicity.  Starting with the album’s opening track, “Angeline,” in which the band sounds like it is harmonizing with the ghost of Kate Bush, Bombadil crafts an album that sings of deep thoughts on life and love and relationships.  Each song is wrapped up snugly with simple word-play that hides the true meaning and requires the listener to peel back each layer of the song to reveal the elusive soul of each tune.  Or maybe as they sing, in what could be the album’s standout track, “Escalators,” “we’re just out of toilet paper again” and that is all they mean and there is no broader, profound truth to be found in the lyrics. Either way that is the beauty and genius of Bombadil’s music, their ability to create such complex musical beauty out of such a simple sound.


Warren Hood Band: Warren Hood Band

WarrenHoodBandIt’s amazing what can come out of a musical trio. Look at bands like Rush, Cream, The Police and Nirvana. Just three individuals in each group but an amazing amount of great music from each. Whereas the Warren Hood Band has not reached the pinnacle of those bands, they are still a trio that shows their capability for both quality and versatility on their new self-titled record.

Listening to Warren Hood Band one realizes by the fourth song that this not a one trick pony band. Between vocalist/fiddler Warren Hood and vocalist/keyboardist Emily Gimble, the listener is treated to numerous combinations of voices and approaches to their sound. At times reminding one of an Americana Lady Antebellum and in the next song a country rock Maroon 5, one is never bored when spinning this record. And, major kudos to guitarist Willie Pipkin, whose guitar work slips in and out of each song supporting and shining through in all the right places.

From the first two tracks, “Alright” and “You’ve Got It Easy” to the final “What Everybody Wants,” the Warren Hood Band is a great start for a young band with a bright future.


Trampled Under Foot: Badlands

TUF_Badlands-CoverIf you know the names Susan Tedeschi or Brittany Howard, do yourselves a favor and make sure to know the name Danielle Schnebelen of the amazing Kansas City blues band, Trampled Under Foot. Danielle, along with Tedeschi and Howard, is one of the three High Priestesses of the Blues performing and recording today. In other words, Trampled Under Foot is a motherfrakker of a band and their new record, Badlands will show you why.

Danielle (bass/vocals) and her two brothers, Nick (guitars/vocals) and Kris (drums), make up this terrific trio. Not only has Nick won the Albert Lee Blues Guitar award but the whole band won the 2008 International Blues Challenge. So, it is no wonder that Badlands is one of the best blues albums of 2013. There isn’t a bad track on this record. From the first cut, “Bad, Bad Feeling” to the final cut, an incredible version of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s Man’s World”, TUF show that they are definitely an up and coming band on the scene who need and deserve to be seen and taken seriously.

Both siblings who sing have voices that pour through the songs like smokey honey. Nick’s guitar work is so stellar that it’s amazing that more people don’t know his name. If you can listen to songs like “Don’t Want No Woman” or “Down To The River” without tapping your foot along, you suck at music.