Tag Archives: album reviews

Tedeschi Trucks Band : Made Up Mind

Tedeschi_Trucks_Made Up Mind

Following their 2011 Grammy-winning debut album, Revelator, and 2012’s rollicking live record, Everybody’s Talkin’, the Tedeschi Trucks Band have done it again with their newest endeavor. Made Up Mind is a highly-anticipated collection of songs that melds the considerable talents of this sprawling 11-piece outfit in a way that will satisfy fans and critics alike.

The instrumental, vocal and songwriting expertise of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks fuses with their bandmates in a way that shows creativity and confirms that they’ve hit their stride as a group. That musical understanding of one another results in a sound reminiscent of both Stax Records and Muscle Shoals Sound with elements of jam and funk thrown into their signature blues/soul mix.

Known for their extraordinary assemblage of musicians, the Tedeschi Trucks Band truly shows no signs of weakness on Made Up Mind. The album’s stellar lineup includes Kofi Burbridge (keyboards, flute), Tyler Greenwell (drums, percussion), J.J. Johnson (drums, percussion), Kebbi Williams (saxophone), Maurice Brown (trumpet), Saunders Sermons (trombone and vocals), Mike Mattison (harmony vocals) and Mark Rivers (harmony vocals). Along with the instrumentation, further collaboration adds to the album’s success with co-writers Doyle Bramhall II, Eric Krasno, Gary Louris, John Leventhal and co-producer Jim Scott.

The album showcases Trucks as the guitar virtuoso to which we’ve become accustom and adds in Tedeschi’s signature raspy vocals in a way that is both gritty and sensual.  In a mature leap forward, Made Up Mind shows a more polished and intentional instrumentation than the group has previously delivered. Each track beams with layers and textures of their southern soul groove, leaving the listener with great hooks, catchy tunes and exquisite guitar.

When speaking of the current state of the band, Trucks says, “It makes a statement that this band knows what it wants to do and is here to stay. Take it or leave it, this is what it is.”

We’ll take it.

Made Up Mind is out now on Sony Masterworks.

Cherokee Red : Self-Titled

Cherokee Red - Self Titled

What can be said about the new self-titled album Cherokee Red? For starters, it is a cool, ethereal record that will haunt you even after you’ve stopped listening. Its wispy sung lyrics and haunting instrumentation will echo deep within your cerebellum as you drift off to sleep at night. These are the songs of which dreams are made.

Hailing from the music mecca of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Cherokee Red have crafted a style of their own that at times makes one think of Mazzy Star and Galaxie 500, purveyors of American dream pop who also knew how to write a cool laid back lullaby. Within songs like “Holy Jam”, “Leviathan” and “Vaya Con Dios,” the listener cannot help but to close their eyes and let their minds try to reach a whole new level of awareness. Yeah, I know. Not to sound all hippy-dippy, but Cherokee Red is a totally sonic mind trip.

Cherokee Red is out now.

The Horse’s Ha : Waterdrawn

HorsesHa_Waterdrawn

I never, ever use the word dainty, but it comes to mind every time I spin The Horse’s Ha’s new album, Waterdrawn.

It isn’t so much the sound of the word, but its meaning. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition is “marked by delicate or diminutive beauty, form, or grace.” And this just about says it all.  James Elkington’s rich baritone and Janet Bean’s concise country-ish lilt fit hand-in-glove on the album’s succinct, stripped down tracks. His easy folk guitar is modest-yet-supple, and her approach complements with delicate phrasing, evident on the dreamy “Dying Tree.”

Waterdrawn is an irresistible songset that is as delicate as it is beautiful.

Waterdrawn is out now on Fluff and Gravy Records.

The Deadly Gentlemen : Roll Me, Tumble Me

Deadly Gentlemen - Roll Me Tumble Me

The Deadly Gentlemen have been revived after a change in the lineup in 2010. The band of talented individuals sat down and decided that the once quirky side project deserved to be the main focus.

The Deadly Gentlemen are comprised of Greg Liszt, the innovative four-finger-style banjo picker who lent his talents to Crooked Still; Mike Barnett, who spent his teenage years touring with Jesse McReynolds, and later became a member of the David Grisman Quintet and played with the Tony Trischka Band; bassist Sam Grisman has also been playing since his teens, learning from one of the music world legends, his father, David; mandolinist Dominick Leslie, who gained recognition from his appearances with The Infamous Stringdusters; and finally, guitarist Stash Wyslouch, a reformed metal head who discovered bluegrass and acoustic music (yet if you’ve seen him play live, you know that his metal side still lives and breaths inside him).

The band’s new album, Roll Me, Tumble Me, is the group’s third for Rounder Records. The batch of 10 songs, all composed by Listz, finds a slightly new style for the band featuring more two- and three-part harmonies. The material features some revamped version of throwback songs from albums ago, including the title track and “Working,” which both are from the band’s self-released debut. For me, the album reaches new ground with the more emotionally evocative songs, like “I Fall Back” and “A Faded Star.”

Overall, fans will find the album easier to sing along with, but in the end, Roll Me, Tumble Me still captures the enjoyment that music must possess on its most fundamental level. It is part of the recipe that has made the Deadly Gentlemen a must see live band for bluegrass fans.

Roll Me, Tumble Me is now available on Rounder Records.

Moreland & Arbuckle : 7 Cities

Moreland_Arbuckle_7_Cities

The beauty of being based in the heartland of America is that you are pretty much centralized and set to absorb influences from so many different genres of music. And, if you’re a band like Moreland & Arbuckle, Wichita, Kansas, is the “perfect storm” for these influences; it is perfect fodder for an album like their latest release, 7 Cities. If this record was any more American it would come packaged in the stars and stripes.

Essentially a concept album, 7 Cities is a modern day look at the explorer Coronado’s search for the Seven Cities of Gold in Kansas over 300 years ago. Through these songs Moreland & Arbuckle create a sonic tapestry that draws upon delta blues, rock, Americana, and country.

Guitarist Aaron Moreland and harpist/vocalist Dustin Arbuckle, along with drummer/vocalist Kendall Newby, can be compared to another great American trio of musicians known as ZZ Top. When just three guys can great music like this, you realize to your bones that they are the real motherfrakkin’ deal.

The production of 7 Cities makes you feel the expansive Kansas plains in songs like “Quivira,” “Kow Tow,” and “Red Bricks.” Kick ass cuts like “The Devil and Me” and “Tall Boogie” are fit to be cranked in a pickup truck driving down a dirt road as the sun sets. But, the kicker on this record is their cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.”

7 Cities is out now on Concord Music Group/Telarc Records.

Dumpstaphunk : Dirty Word

Dumpstaphunk - Dirty Word

When your last name is Neville and you pursue a career in music, the world is going to have some mighty high expectations for you, whether playing live or on record. So, it’s no surprise that on Dumpstaphunk’s latest release, Dirty Word, they have not only raised the bar of funk but that of New Orleans music. In other words, Dirty Word is the stankiest, greasiest, most bodacious album to come of the Big Easy in 2013. And, quite possibly 2014, 2015, and 2016.

It’s sad that it took the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to draw national attention to just what an incredible jewel and historical landmark the city of New Orleans is to America. It should be a government mandate that every citizen of the United States visits this place at least once in their lives. It’s bands like Dumpstaphunk that prove the amazing quality of artists who are born, bred, and developed there. Like the Marsalis clan, the Neville family tree only gives root to the strongest and beautiful entities in the music business.

Dumpstaphunk claims not just one Neville in keyboardist and vocalist Ivan, but also in Ian on guitars. Newest member Nikkie Glaspie has played with everyone from Beyonce to Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and she has folded herself into the mix as only a professional of her caliber can. How do you get your funk this sweaty and mindblowing? Simple … two bass players. The double-decker deuces of dirty devastation are Tony Hall and Nick Daniels III, and they carry on a birthright of bass playing that can be traced back to the godfather of New Orleans bass players, George Porter, Jr.

We pause for a moment of silent prayer to the majesty that is George Porter, Jr.

Dirty Word is the final proof that Dumpstaphunk is the legitimate heir to the great Parliament/Funkadelic. This, of course, makes you immediately ask, “Does that make Ivan Neville the next George Clinton?” Um, hell-to-the-yes! It is records like this that make you want to scream at urban radio station programmers to quit playing the disposable pablum that passes for R&B these days (I’m looking at you, Chris Brown and Ne-Yo) and put Dirty Word on hourly rotation. This is easily the best way you can spend an hour if you believe in the power of the funk.

Recommended If You Like: Curtis Mayfield and Allen Toussaint, Abita beer, shrimp po’ boys, being drunk on Bourbon Street at 4 a.m. during Mardi Gras, and dinner at your Grandma’s house on Sundays after church.

Dirty Word is out now on Louisiana Red Hot Records.

Steve Earle : The Warner Bros. Years

Steve Earle - Warner Bros Years

By the time Steve Earle released Train A Comin’, he had flirted with disaster while addicted to heroin and had only recently been released from prison for drugs and weapons charges. And just as these struggles could have been a last call for a promising young songwriter, this album signaled the rebirth of one of today’s greatest songwriters.

The Warner Bros. Years celebrates Train A Comin’, as well as subsequent classics I Feel Alright and El Corazon. This trio of releases captures a broad range of Earle’s powers; the first sees him stripped down with some older compositions of his own, as well as covers of his influences, like Townes Van Zandt and The Beatles; the second boasts classics like the definitive “Hardcore Troubadour” and the reflective “South Nashville Blues”; and the third documents a gradual move to bluegrass, and includes the classics “Christmas in Washington” and “Taneytown.” And while plenty has been written about these albums – both in the mid-‘90s when they were released and today, with this collection – it is the two live documents found in this four CD/one DVD box set that are truly spectacular.

Starting off with Live at the Polk Theater, recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, in December 1995, Earle – joined by Peter Rowan, Norman Blake, Roy Husky Jr., Bill Monroe, and Emmylou Harris – displays the energy of a songwriter back in his own  skin. The song selection is heavy on Train A Comin’ compositions, with a little Copperhead Road sprinkled in, and it works just fine. There is an audible excitement among the players, making this a top-notch performance that is seeing its first official release.

The DVD, To Hell and Back, documents a set played at Tennessee’s Cold Creek Correctional Facility in 1996. Backed by The Dukes (Mark Stuart, David Steele, Kelly Looney, and Custer), this show was a condition of Earle’s parole, and the band plays a spirited set, which is interspersed with interviews with the songwriter as well as inmates at the facility. It adds the visual to this collection, and while not a home run, it rounds out this already-robust package.

The era of Steve Earle’s career documented on The Warner Bros. Years isn’t his best, but it is no less remarkable. It marks the return of a true “hardcore troubadour” who has created one of the finest catalogues of American music in the 20th century.

The Warner Bros. Years is out now on Shout! Factory.

Watermelon Slim and the Workers : Bull Goose Rooster

Watermelon Slim - Rooster

For longtime fans of the blues, Watermelon Slim is a pleasant find. Nominated in 2009 for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Bill “Watermelon Slim” Homans, originally from Boston, has led the kind of storied life that imbues his music with the feeling of real mojo.

Having soaked up the sound of John Lee Hooker from one of his family’s housekeepers while living North Carolina, Homans learned to play slide guitar using a Zippo lighter when he was laid up in a hospital bed during the Vietnam War. His day jobs have included forklift operator, trucker, sawmiller, collections agent, and watermelon farmer (the occupation that gave him his stage name). He briefly attended Middlebury College in Vermont in the ’60s and is a longtime social activist who likes to bowl and fish.

His varied life experiences have colored his unique voice and can be felt all across Bull Goose Rooster.  From the powerful opening track “Tomorrow Night,” to his slinky renditions of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” and “Baby Scratch My Back,” as well as on the amusing anecdotal ditty “Trucking Class” and the title cut (inspired by a wild bird that stalks the parking lot of the U.S. Post Office in Key West, Florida), this album marks the work of a mature musician who hasn’t forgotten how to have fun.

Bull Goose Rooster is out now on Northern Blues.

I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House : Mayberry

I Can Lick Any SOB - MayberryCover

There is more to Portland than the indie style and cool kid vibe lampooned on the hit comedy Portlandia. In fact, under the surface, things are pretty rough-and-tumble, both in life and in music.

Michael Dean Damron’s long running outfit I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House is just one example, and the hard-driving sextet bares bloody knuckles on Mayberry. Amid gritty guitars and runaway train harp, Damron longs for the untarnished olden days on the title track, and acknowledges the immanence of death on this and a handful more, like “Liars” and “Dead By Christmas Time.” Through it all, one thing is clear: Damron isn’t scared.

A lot of Mayberry is what you would expect from the group of hardened veterans. The rock-and-raunch sound is like a burnout at a bike rally, and Damron unflinchingly acknowledges his weaknesses and demons. But this is an older Michael Dean, one who has turned wily rebellion into laser-focused protest. No, he doesn’t like what he sees, and his well-oiled lyrics offer hard-won observations that are as prickly as they are wise.

According to Damron, Mayberry – the Andy Griffith vision of an idyllic, innocent town and lifestyle – “… is all dead and gone.” It’s a sad truth, but it is an image that serves I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In the House quite well on yet another stellar release.

Mayberry is out now and available through CDBaby.

Guy Clark : My Favorite Picture of You

GuyClark - My Favorite Picture of You

When you listen to a Guy Clark album, there is no Internet, no civil unrest in the world, no Snowdens on the run from their own government, no reality TV full of middle-aged women with botox and fake boobs. When you listen to a Guy Clark album, there is nothing but one voice, six strings, and a million stories painted with lyrics. With My Favorite Picture of You, Mr. Clark continues to add to a 40-plus year career with another album that is pure America to the bone.

If you call this album a country album, you really mean America. Does it contain fiddles, banjos, acoustic guitars and a beautiful female backing vocalist? Damned right it does. But this record is, once again, a sonic portrait of the USA painted in music, much like Norman Rockwell painted this great country in oils on canvas. My Favorite Picture of You is comprised of a suite of songs that not only makes you feel the warm sun on your face, but you’d swear you can actually see the dandelion fluff floating through the light.

My Favorite Picture of You is out now on Dualtone.