Best of FTB
Segundo... (Big Bender)
Waylon, and Willie ploughed a row that Nashville chose not to follow. Fortunately
for us aficionados, there are bands like the Railbenders that continue to seed
that row. Hitting the road with the bare essentials of equipment, one guitar,
a drum kit, and, one of those wonderful standup basses, this staple of the Colorado
club circuit delves beneath the shallow passions of mainstream 'country' music.
Theirs is not that 'poor little me music'; it's that 'shit happens, sometimes
it's my own fault' brand that acknowledges our human frailties. From too much
booze, to love not gotten, and not enough given, the 'Benders evoke a pattern
that we can all at least partially admit to, if we're honest. If you can't relate
to "Whiskey Rain", or "O.D.'d in Denver", then you're probably tuned to the wrong
station here. And, just as you're looking for that railroad track to lay your
head upon, they hit you with a rollicking version of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline",
just to remind you that, while life may be desperate, it ain't ever serious, kids.
If you can't laugh at the slings and arrows, you've already lost; didn't that
guy named Sue say something like that? |
PayPal CD ordering. Released in 2003, reviewed by Don
The Good Life... (Sugar Hill)
Hill Records has built a reputation for recording America's best bluegrass, and
Railroad Earth is among the best of the best. All 12 tracks shimmer with expert
musicianship. Never sounding cliche or content to mimic, Railroad Earth is creating
new space in the world of bluegrass. Songs like "Mourning Flies" are infused with
a maturity to them that reflects their years playing and writing songs together.
While they do have a pop sensability about them, it would be a great mistake to
compare them to the pop-bluegrass of Nickel Creek or festival jambands like Phish.
They are truly original, even when they wear their influences on their sleeves.
The songs show the definite influence of their trials, tribulations, and their
faiths. The songs like "Bread & Water" ask questions and invite the listeners
to answer for themselves in the same way Bob Dylan did -- and at times do it better.
When they're not asking questions, they're telling stories that draw the listeners
in and create little worlds with words and music as in the song "The Good Life."
Some might say the CD is overproduced, but I would disagree. Not all Americana
is simple, and Railroad Earth with its six musicians and countless instruments
(what IS a Marxophone, anyway?) is a complex organism. Join me in the complex
beauty that is Railroad Earth. This CD goes on my Best of List for 2004.|
Hill's page has audio samples. Buy
from amazon Released June '04, reviewed by Clint
Collecting Empties... (Treble Maker)
This young band from Denver, CO knows what they're doing. I mean, they have
many different styles up their collective sleeves for a four-piece band. The central
figure is John Common who writes, sings and plays subtle and always appropriate
guitar, (lead and rhythm). His voice is in the gruff school of singers...
think Mark Knopfler or maybe Richard Buckner but as with everything else on the
CD, it compliments the music perfectly. Mostly slow to mid-tempo roots rock
with dark, lyrical themes balanced by bright melodies. I like 'em. If you liked
Nadine's fine 1999 CD or perhaps early Jayhawks, lend an ear to Rainville. |
| I can't find a website for the band...
you can order the CD from Miles
Of Music, just type Rainville in their search engine box. Released
early 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.
The Longest Street In America... (self released)
most country-oriented bands seem to be choosing sides, pop or country, Rainville
splits it down the middle and gives us some engaging roots rock fans of Hiatt,
Cougar, Springsteen and Kevin Salem will certainly enjoy. Eschewing (except for
a few songs) the pedal-steel-and-fiddle tyranny of classic country, Rainville
nonetheless conjures up a rootsy vibe with its' judicious use of acoustic guitars
and lead singer John Common's (great name for an Americana singer huh?) All-American
heartland-steeped voice. Lyrically, the band covers the same ground as the songwriters
above, covering topics such as love, heartbreak, and small town values with a
heart-on-your-sleeve honesty and forthrightness that is both simplistic and touching.
Note that there is nothing new or groundbreaking here but since when does all
music have to topple boundaries? Rainville do what they do very well and they
do it with a skill and passion most bands would love to have. If you love heartland
rock with a strong rootsy vibe ala the artists mentioned above, you should love
this CD. |
website. Order the album from cdstreet.com.
Reviewed by Scott Homewood.|
Bonnie became so popular after 1990's Nick of Time that she got a little too comfortable
musically with the same sound and same producer and started to sound dull and
predictable. She's got a second wind now after some time off and a new confidence
to just follow her heart and just do what she wants. Fortunately, what Bonnie
wants is what her long-time fans want too, and we all win. Raitt has stretched
herself a little on this release and has created an exciting and entertaining
CD. It helps having a whole new gang of talented guys to work with, including
a couple of Latin Playboys as co-producers that add that seething and clanging
sound that works so well with Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega and others. Her core band
here not only includes co-producer Mitchell Froom on keys, but also the "Q's"
Joey Spampinato, and underrated Attractions drummer Pete Thomas. There's a new
spirit and excitement here and her songs reflect the maturity of a woman who cares
about her marriage and is willing to look at it square in the face. It's nice
to get some of the "old" Bonnie back, but we also have a "new"
Bonnie that is changing and willing to grow.|
| The Official
Bonnie Web Site or Capitol's
Bonnie site w/ bio, tour info, bulletin board, etc. Released April,
'98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.|
ELLIOT RANDALL & THE DEADMEN
Caffeine & Gasoline... (self released)
|With the release of his second independent album, Caffeine & Gasoline, Bay Area-based songwriter Elliot Randall has taken a giant leap forward—and the national stage can’t be out of his reach for too much longer. When I first caught wind of Randall on his 2007 release Take The Fall, I was immediately struck by how this good looking kid of twentysomething had such a good grasp on songwriting to go along with his immediately strong and honest vocals. Having spent much of his childhood with family in the Carolinas, Randall’s love of the twang factor and the craft of songwriting is something he stands proudly behind. “My dad was a Country songwriter, so I guess it’s in my blood,” says Randall. He has the twang turned up a notch or two on the new album, which was produced by David Simon-Baker, and its clearly evident from the one-two opening punch of the title track and the hard shuffling “Oh Miranda.” Be on the lookout for Elliot Randall & the Deadmen, hopefully in your town soon.
|Elliot's site. Order from iTunes. Released Feb. '10, reviewed by Rob Bleetstein.
|DAVE RAWLINGS MACHINE
A Friend Of A Friend... (Acony)
|Rawlings is Gillian Welch's musical partner and the inventive lead guitarist and partner with . No telling where he came from before but he's been with Welch since her first album over 10 years ago. I'd been hearing about his "Machine" for awhile now and I assumed that it was a rock band. Wrong again... it's full of beautiful melodic acoustic music, the most radical thing being a 10 minute cover of a Neil Young and a Bright Eyes songs, combined! Gillian supports him on every track along with the Old Crow Medicine Show who are excellent throughout. His voice is thin but he knows how to use it, and Welch complements him just as well as he does her. The album seems longer than only 9 songs... and it opens and closes with 2 beautiful songs that bring in a string section. Until Gillian Welch puts out a new release this brilliant will CD will just have to do.
|Acony's site. Buy from amazon Released Nov, '09, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Villanelle... (Northern Blues)
There's this great blues band out of Canada called the Sidemen, and Paul Reddick is their front-man, on vocals and harp. Villanelle is the result of a collaboration between Reddick and guitarist/producer Colin Linden, of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings fame, amongst a plethora of other credits. It is a wonderful collection of old-time blues numbers that range stylistically from the Windy City to the Cajun inflected Delta. Linden's production, using loops and a grainy edginess reminiscent of those old bakelite 78s, gives this one an authentic pre-war, (WWII, the Big One, for younger readers), feel, without sacrificing digital quality. All of the songs were written by Reddick or Linden, but you'd have difficulty differentiating them from period pieces, that's how ‘real' they sound. The instrumentation is sparse, befitting the genre's historical antecedents, as it was created: harp, guitar, mandolin, piano, bass, and drums, with a bonus appearance by Kathleen Edwards on violin. Want to know the best cuts? Can't tell you, they're all that good.
Northern Blues has a Redick bio. Buy from amazon Released Oct. '04. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Starin' Down The Sun... (Lazy SOB)
this new CD the Rangers balance their own special brand of roots rock with their
desire to reach the larger audience their music deserves. To that end, they have
enlisted Steve Ripley, the leader and mastermind behind the Tractors, to produce
and play on this CD. Ripley's reputation falls on both sides of the coin as he
was respected for bringing some genuine roots rock back to the country charts
in the mid-'90s but reviled for taking that same roots rock and laboring over
it so much as to squeeze the very life out of it by polishing it up with a dreadful
studio sheen. Here, he does less damage than on his CDs with the Tractors. While
indeed polishing up the Rangers, their distinctive songwriting, full of humor
and heart, only allows itself so much room for change. It's pretty much the Red
Dirt Rangers through and through, which means rowdy roots rock with minimum grunge
and maximum fun. They even have a song on here about a garage sale at a power
popster's home (Dwight Twilley's Garage Sale)! Nothing cerebral, nothing that's
gonna change the world, but some damn good roots rock with a minimum of fuss.
from amazon Released 2002. Reviewed by Scott
| This CD by Red Rooster showed up in the pile of CD's a month ago and I was intrigued by the image of a tractor in front of a city skyline. The music is an infectious reflection of the cover, urban pop melodies played by mostly country instruments. The New York-based band calls themselves a folk collective, centered around lead vocalist Jay Erickson and guitarist Nat Zilkha, who also share the songwriting. The other band members play fiddle, steel and banjo that blend amazingly with a small horn section and your standard keys, bass and drums. Hints of gospel, blues and even a few samples can't keep the twang from shining through. The album closes with the only cover, Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind, " sung passionately by "ringer' vocalist Susannah Hornsby. This is Americana music in the broadest sense of the word and that's a good thing. I dare you to not love what these guys in Red Rooster are doing.
|Red Rooster's site, includes "pay what you want" download of Walk. Or order a "hard" copy from CD Baby. Released Sept. '09, reviewed by Bill Frater.
|THE RED STICK RAMBLERS
Right Key, Wrong Keyhole… (Memphis International)
The Red Stick Ramblers have a talent for mixing many musical styles. They play a delightful retro mixture of Cajun fiddle tunes, western swing, traditional jazz (à la Louis Armstrong), and even a little blues and honky tonk. They met at LSU in Baton Rouge (get the “Red Stick”?), and Dirk Powell produces this second CD. They band's sound leans heavily on the powerful harmonic convergence of two fiddle players. Lead singer Linzay Young has a fine voice that reminds me of Whit Smith of the Hot Club Of Cowtown. Guitarist Chas Justus wrote 3 of the songs and contributes some tasty solos. They cover Bob Wills ("That's What I Like About the South”), Clifton Chenier and Fats Waller ("Sweet and Slow") among others. That should give you an idea of the diverse range of styles that these five guys cover. Never mind trying to describe them, just pick up the CD and crank it up. Be forewarned, you just might want to move the rug to the side ‘cause your girl's gonna want to dance!
|The Rambler's site. Buy from amazon Released April, '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Guest fiddler Sam Bush and drummer Scott Babcock supplement the sturdy Americana sound of The Refugees’ Three featuring the trio of Cindy Bullens (guitars, mandolin, harmonica), Deborah Holland (bass, accordion, piano), and Wendy Waldman (guitars, Dobro). While the three singing and songwriting women have years of experience (with 19 solo albums between them!), The Refugees is a Los Angeles-based collaboration formed in 2007. The distinctive group has spun many heads with their keen ability to build upon each musician’s strengths revolving around songwriting, instrumental prowess, vocal blend, humor and showmanship. A former backup vocalist for Elton John, Cindy Bullens has also written songs, scores and musicals. A prolific writer, Deborah Holland was the singer and songwriter for Animal Logic, and she currently teaches music at Vancouver, B.C.’s Langara College. Wendy Waldman’s band Bryndle debuted in the 1970s, and she’s also found success as a soloist, songwriter and music producer. Their current aptitude and craftsmanship are fully displayed in the band’s repertoire influenced by folk, blues, country and rock. The cooperative effort may be best displayed in those five songs jointly written and arranged by the ladies (Catch Me If You Can, I Don’t Care At All, 5th of July, Rosalinda, Every Body and Soul). At the same time, tune into each songwriter’s moxie and individualism in their self-penned numbers such as Waldman’s “Can’t Stop Now,” Bullens’ “January Sky,” and Holland’s “My Favorite Joe.” The only song from public domain, “Green Rocky Road,” has been recorded by many including Emmylou Harris, and it’s a perfect cover for a trio that emphasizes sumptuous vocals. It’s a lean song, in a spare setting, to recount the story of Little Miss Jane runnin’ to the ball. The Refugees’ vocals are sure to have the same impact on you. Building their regional fan base for several years, I think it’s time for The Refugees to put a bigger dent in the public consciousness. “Three” is an impressive effort with considerable vigor and downright brawn. Without too many gimmicks, the music is clever. With a nice final hook, they get their groove on in their closing statements about finding “a way to follow the dream” and “time to put a message on the line.” It could be the story of their lives, careers and music. I’m not sure exactly what The Refugees are fleeing from, but I can tell you that their supple music will find a home on my CD player.
|The Refugee website. Buy from amazon Released Dec. 2011, reviewed by Joe Ross.
REUTER & KAMIKAZE COWBOY
Down in America... (Magoo)
Can I be a heretic? Can I risk my writing career? Can I go against the bounds
of logic and call this album from Bob Reuter and band an exciting mix of country
that sounds like Bob Dylan fronting the Eagles? I think I just did! This band
takes the precise, tight and well-oiled pseudo-country sound of the early Eagles
albums and put the whiny, sometimes-almost-spoken vocals of Reuter doing his best
pseudo-Dylan work right on top of it. While I say polished, please don't think
sterile. Think Bakersfield tight and polished enough for radio with no extra noodling
and no wrong moves. When I say Dylan, think nasally voice and characteristic songs
that distill pure emotion with witty wordplay and incisive storytelling. Also
remember both the Eagles and Dylan's love of rock, because there's plenty of roots
rock touches as well. Then stop thinking and run out and buy this because you're
gonna love it! |
Records Order the CD from Miles
Of Music. Reviewed by Scott Homewood
RAY REYNOLDS |
Whole Lot Of Memories... (Compadre)
After glancing at the cover and encountering Reynolds' chiseled, weathered face
and his all-knowing, steely eyes, it's easy to see Reynolds has called upon his
life-changing experiences as guitarist with Waylon Jennings to shape and hone
the songs on his new CD into some of the best old-style country music possible
given today's sound standards. And classic country is definitely what you get.
You know, you can't run a mile today without bumping into a bunch of young guys
trying to play Bakersfield country just like Buck and raw tear-in-your-beer stuff
like old Hank. Sometimes it's great to hear the young'uns trying to revisit the
old country sound, it reaffirms the fact that it was and still is some of the
best music ever created and was a great time in the world of country music. But,
on the other hand, it sucks to see authentic country legends like Johnny Cash
and Merle Haggard get left behind when their new music is just as good today as
it was back then. This conundrum comes up with Reynolds' new album. Sure, he played
with Waylon when country music actually had some bite and the good stuff was making
the radio and making people notice, even in the rock world. But, dammit, this
album is filled with good stuff, heart-rending songs Reynolds wrote for Jennings
and others and some he's written just for this new album. All carry his distinctive
guitar stamp, his weary vocals, and his intense look at life. Should this album
carry the same weight as the ones released by Wilco and Steve Earle this year?
Hell, yeah! So don't let the fact that Reynolds is a virtual legend stop you from
enjoying this album. Like my daddy said, if you want the real deal and the absolute
truth, go to the man who has been there. Reynolds has been there, and he walks
it like a man who knows it. A great album of stone country. |
Compadre Records' site. Buy
from amazon Released Oct. 2002. Reviewed by Scott
On The Wind... (self released)
ever wished Sheryl Crow would turn country, Jenny Reynolds' new album may be just
the thing you're looking for. Though a little more acoustic-based than Crow's
records (and less gravelly on the vocals), Reynolds asserts the same kind of strong
female personality as Crow, totally demolishing the long country legacy of the
weak female. If you find Reynolds standing by her man, it's only because she's
punching him out. A decent songwriter, Reynolds writes all the songs here save
a cover of Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street. She does corral a guest star (Catie Curtis
on vocals) but mostly, this is her CD. Utility player Kevin Barry does handle
a ton of instruments, and the production chores were done by Richard Gates and
Chris Rival, but the assistance doesn't subtract anything from Reynolds vision.
A very good CD from an artist who deserves more attention.|
website. Order from amazon
Released Sept, '02. Reviewed by Scott Homewood
Marshall Rhodes... (Big River)
The opening cut here, “la' Pontchartrain”, with its rollicking piano boogie gets one thinking, “Dixieland swing country from a Bay area band”? Sort of right, abetted by the ragtime clarinet, (?... yup, a clarinet), solo on “Kay Marie”, further down in the tracks. The truth of the matter is that this self-titled release by Marshall Rhodes is rather more eclectic than that. The second cut, “Brand New Coat of Paint”, is in the traditional country good-time vein, replete with brushes on the snare-only rhythm line. Conversely, fourth up is “In The Name Of God”, a searing and rocking indictment of organized religion that sprawls from Biblical times to the present, and features guitarist Michael Leaman soaring with the best of them. The band's writing is principally in the hands of Glen Burke, the Rhodes complement to Leaman's Marshall, and Michael Godwin and Adam Berkowitz on bass and percussion round out this quartet that has its antecedents in Frisco's Borderline. Difficult to categorize, easy to listen to, none too shabby for a debut release.
| His site. Order from CD Baby. Released Aug. '06. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Jam the Breeze... (Ten High Ranch)
While Chris Richards has no relationship to the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist
Keith Richards but a shared last name, I daresay this great album from the relative
newcomer is more vital and entrancing than anything that bunch of dinosaurs has
put out in many years. This CD is a very engaging mix of gently rocking country
songs and fine ballads that will just about rip your heart out with their imagery
and heartfelt beauty. Chris' voice is a very soothing and comforting one, almost
lulling you to sleep during the slower ones and calmly guiding you through the
quicker numbers. This is a very good CD from an assured singer and very talented
songwriter. Standout tracks include "Why Arizona" and "Someone
Else's Blues", but trust me, there ain't a bad one in the bunch! Fans of
the V-Roy's slower numbers will love this! |
Order the CD from Miles
Of Music. Reviewed by Scott
| CHRIS RICHARDS
Tumblers and Grit...
| Chris Richards has himself a fine collection of songs here. By far the
most "radio friendly" of the current crop of indie CDs I've heard recently. His voice
has a certain Tom Petty influence. On the other hand his sound and
writing style scream classic Nashville. Speaking of which, he had the
good sense and fortune to surround himself with a high cred producer like
R.S. Field. Add to that
some fine Nashville session
and steel guitar legend Lloyd Green. Their contribution shows. This
is a finely written, performed and recorded set. Well done.
|Chris' website. Buy from amazon. Released July, '04, reviewed by Keith Robb.
At first listen, Kim's CD
sounds a little "slick", as in big Nashville budget "slick".
Indeed, Nashville may have thrown a wad at this CD, but Kim Richey has too much
taste and interesting song arrangements for Nashville Radio to notice. She has
a strong alto voice that I love, not unlike Shawn Colvin, in both voice and and
songwriting style. Producer/co-songwriter deserves a hand for packaging the songs
inventively. If you like say, Mary Chapin Carpenter or Rosanne Cash, try Kim Richey's
new one, and I kinda hope Nashville doesn't discover her.
Rise... (Lost Highway)
has an artist come along the country scene with talent like Richey. And, sadly,
rarely has anyone with so much talent been so abused by the corporate music industry
machine. Sure, legions of talented artists have been ripped off by the majors.
You could almost say if an artist hasn't been ripped off they didn't have any
talent to rip off. With Richey, though, it's especially annoying. Blessed with
a wonderful voice, she can out-sing most of the mindless thrushes sitting on the
charts right now. An excellent songwriter, her songs have hit for other artists
and show plenty of depth and style. Her looks and personality are also formidable
and I'd much rather be stuck in an elevator with Richey than with a plastic princess
like Shania Twain. Combine all of her pluses and it boggles why she doesn't hold
a higher place in the pantheon of female country artists. Her newest makes this
slight even more remarkable. Rise is a great album. From the first song
(Girl In A Car) where she sounds a little like Sheryl Crow on through the shimmery
pop of Me and You and throughout this CD, Richey shines like a diamond. Passionate
vocals and rich, compelling songs make this the best of Richey's three CDs and
a wake-up call to the cowards-that-be at country (and pop, even) radio to play
this great CD to death. Sure, it's a little more rocky than her other releases,
almost as if Richey is starting to walk away from the country establishment that's
ignored her, but it's still rootsy enough. And who could blame her if she were
to walk away from country? She's not the first artist the establishment has shit
all over. Check out this fine album, claim her as your own. The musical terrain
is not as important as discovering how great this neglected artist is. Country
fans as well as rockers will find a lot of stuff on this to like. |
| Lost Highway
has done a site for Richey which includes
a bio, mailing list, and more. Buy
from amazon. Released Oct, 2002. Reviewed by
Scott Homewood . |
Post to Wire... (El Cortez)
| This Portland, Oregon band has definitely made a splash in the Americana scene and is known for character driven songwriting set to rootsy rock backing, fleshed out by pedal steel and vocals sometimes evoking Harvest era Neil Young. This song cycle plays out like an indie film, grainy black and white shots of losers, loners and other travelers, complete with verbal postcards from the main protagonist. Is all hope lost for these young n'eer do wells? According to the song Polaroid " not everyone gives up, or is beaten or robbed, or always stoned". Depending on your life situation, this may be small comfort and difficult listening, though the evocative tunes and lyrics suggest this is a band to watch. The question is do the songs play out on their own, minus the thematic elements. Well, in the case of the rocking "Through" or the afore mentioned "Polaroid", the answer is yes.
Not for everyone , this recording may be one you save for a rainy day or a melancholy drive.
|Buy from amazon. Re-released early 2005. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.
RIDER & 420 TURNAROUND |
and Doghair ... (self released)
like I, mourned the passing of those great, guitar-fuelled bands like Marshall
Tucker, and Lynrd Skynrd, weep no more; their torch has been caught by 420 Turnaround.
These guys keep the throttle fire-walled until the last two cuts, and, even then,
you can tell from the riffs in the background that they're still chompin' at the
bit. Interestingly, what those other bands did with three guitars, they accomplish
with two.. All of the tunes, except one, sprang from the pen of James Rider, lead
vocalist and guitarist, and he's definitely got a knack for turning a phrase.
The last, uncredited cut, "Fuckin' and Fightin'", is one that everyone who has
ever been in a relationship can empathize with. Yes, days like those do have a
habit of happening. Distressingly, there was a dearth of info, re: recording company,
release date, etc., but their website has some background info. Nevertheless,
this one gets a permanent spot in the CD changer.|
site is the only place to get the CD. Reviewed by Don
Empty Old Mailbox... (Sugar Hill)
Don Rigsby is the real deal. He's one of the younger masters of bluegrass who
is equally adept at hard-driving traditional bluegrass or the leading edge of
a more progressive sound. Like all the best country music innovators (Hank
Williams and Bill Monroe come to mind) he incorporates elements of the past with
a passionate engagement for the present. And in the process creates something
new. His soulful mountain vocals recall the early Stanley Brothers and his stellar
band (including Dobro ace Jerry Douglas) kicks it as tight as Monroe's Bluegrass
Boys. And the material, though largely of recent vintage, sound both modern and
classic. Hot picking, excellent material, and the best country tenor this side
of Vince Gill elevate Don Rigsby to the top of the contemporary bluegrass heap.
This is a must for bluegrass fans. |
Sugar Hill Records.
Released Sept. 2000, reviewed by Kevin
Russell . |
All Over Creation... (Yep Roc)
Jason Ringenberg first got together with his Scorchers to barnstorm all of the
country playing his rowdy mix of country, rock and blues there was no alt.country
movement, no network of radio stations or people to help the cause. Ringenberg
and his band were all alone, championing the kind of music that has grown into
a movement today and gained a lot of attention. He was there plying his roots
rock trade in the middle of new wave and when alternative was beginning, playing
to crowds of skinny-tie wearing teenagers when the Eagles were a corporate rock
joke (still are, actually) and Gram Parsons was a forgotten man. Now that other
bands have come in and built on Jason and the Scorchers' trailblazing, sometimes
we forget who brought the country-rock movement back to life. Thank god Ringenberg
comes back to remind us every so often. He's put out this new CD, which is made
up of a bunch of collaborations with musical friends recorded while touring his
last solo record, A Pocketful Of Soul. Artists like Tommy Womack, BR549
and Steve Earle join Ringenberg to share in the recording of songs they have written,
or inspired him to write. While most albums featuring a myriad of guest stars
are hit-and-miss, Ringenberg has such a rock-solid vision for his music that everything
still comes out vintage Ringenberg, twang and raunch intact. Even though the future
of Jason and the Scorchers is up in the air right now, be thankful that Jason
Ringenberg is in this music thing for life and keeps putting out albums full of
rocking country soul to keep our own souls satisfied. |
Yep Roc's Jason page.
from amazon Released June, 2002.
Reviewed by Scott Homewood .|
A Pocketful of Soul... (Courageous Chicken)
Way back in the '90's Jason, with his band the Scorchers, carried the beer stained
banner of punk-country music, and made the world safe for the edgier side what
became alt.country music. We now find Ringenberg raising a family on an old chicken
ranch outside of Nashville. Self-released, the label named reflects his wife's
fondness for chickens. The bare-bones songs played with just 2 or 3 acoustic instruments
reflect his happiness in his new-found domestic life. Not an electric guitar or
drum kit to be found here and his off-beat vocal style make him sound like the
Jonathan Richman of country music. |
Release date: Aug. '00. Reviewed by Bill
|For those stumbling over the name,
you might remember Ripley as the main cog behind the country group The Tractors,
who had a few hits in the mid-'90's. Personally, I compare Ripley with Jeff Lynne
from ELO in the pop world. Ripley, like Lynne, is a perfectionist in the studio,
both production-wise and musically. More than one Tractors album has been delayed
repeatedly simply because Ripley didn't feel it was ready. Ripley is a multi-instrumentalist
as is Lynne and both are known to "take over" an instrument when someone else
can't get the part quite right. Both are decent songwriters who contribute most
(if not all) of the songwriting duties to their respective groups. Both treat
their bandmates pretty much as functionaries. Also, their simplistic production
styles are quite similar. Both use lots of extra gee-gaws in the mix while downplaying
drums, often relying on the same simple beat for every song. Also, and most telling,
both manage to squeeze every ounce of life and inspiration from their songs, leaving
the songs sterile and limp more often than not. As good a songwriter as each of
them is, their songs often are simply studio-ed to death. This album, sadly, follows
suit. Like most of the well-produced, well-written, lifeless-sounding Tractors
albums, Ripley's solo debut exhibits the same strengths and weaknesses of his
past work: great potential and sad execution. There is no life to any of these
songs and the last half of this CD is just about unbearable. This just proves
that you can be as talented as anyone and still manage to create a bad CD. Diehard
fans may like the cover of "No Depression (In Heaven)". Other bonuses include
guitar legend and Elvis Presley bandmate Scotty Moore producing some of this as
well as a crack studio band backing Ripley up. Aside from "No Depression" and
a few spots here and there, this album doesn't cut it at all, though if you like
the Tractors, you'll like this.|
Ripley page has song samples. Buy from amazon Released Oct. 2002. Reviewed
by Scott Homewood . |
I have this CD recorded on a "car tape" and I've played it so much drivin'
around that I'm not sure what's on the other site of the cassette anymore, I just
keep rewinding the Riptones side! This Chicago quintet, led by 2 brothers, has
a rootsy-rockabilly sound that at first sounds like a hundred other blues bar
bands. But it's that second listen that makes you realize that these guys have
great harmonies and a bunch of good, fun tunes. The song subjects range from good
food to County fairs to a song that pokes fun at all the motorcycle yuppies. They
have the tattoos and torn-off sleeves of a bunch of bikers, but the upright bass
and occasional washboard lets you know that these guys love to make music. This
is just a fun-lovin' hit-the-highway kind CD. I hope they come out my way 'cause
I know they'd be great live. |
If you like...Spanic Boys, The Blasters, Wayne Hancock...then check these guys
out. Best songs: Out All Night, Good BBQ, County Fair, Crawfish Pie. Bloodshot
Records site featuring tour info, etc. Released Jan. '98. Reviewed by Bill
RISHELL & ANNIE RAINES |
Moving to the Country... (Rounder)
basic format of this duo is acoustic pre-war rural blues, but wait, it's not that
bad. They wisely mix things up, (some electric, some acoustic, and some fun instrumentals),
to make things interesting. Rishell is an excellent blues guitarist, fingerpicking,
slide or electric, he can do it all. His voice is rough, but he pulls it
off because he's learned well from the blues masters. Annie Raines, in addition
to her killer harmonica playing, sings a few tunes with a voice reminiscent of
Maria Muldaur. Now she has taken up the mandolin and although it isn't heard
often, there is something very special about a mandolin playing the blues that
goes back through to Ry Cooder and Yank Rachell. I'm not usually one to
sit through a whole blues album, I tend to get bored, but in this case, the innovative
mixture of styles makes for a very listenable album.. |
Best tracks: Kansas City Blues, Moving to the Country, I Get the Blues, Keep Your
hands Off her, Sweet Tooth, Twist It Babe, Tears. Paul
& Annie's website. Tone
Cool's site. Released Aug. '99, reviewed by Bill
|A. J. ROACH
This five-song EP gives a pretty good introduction into the songwriting skills
of Roach. The songs are pretty much based around the acoustic guitar with a smidgen
of instrumentation here and there. Overall, very minimalist stuff and very folky,
like a young Johnny Cash without the basso baritone. Pretty decent. |
website. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.
Billy Mae... (self released)
Canadian country artist Robertson decides to go straight for a traditional sound
on this seven song EP. No drums are featured, just the bare bones sounds of some
acoustic guitar, a little bass and a lot of traditional stringed instruments such
as violin and mandolin. Very good stuff, although I have to say the song writing
is just a bit amateurish in the rhyming and structure department. Robertson's
voice, although not overly polished (a good thing), lends a sort of craggy authenticity
to his world-weary songs and the only thing I am left really wanting is more.
Definitely worth the money. |
Reviewed by Scott Homewood.
guy's music reminds me of a time when major record labels supported lots of great
singer-songwriters like Danny O'Keefe, B.W. Stevenson, Steve Goodman and Larry
Hosford. These artists straddled the line between rock, folk, and country, and
no one cared if it sounded like country or folk or whatever. It was the songs
that mattered. If you miss some of the above people like I do, then I think you
will love this CD. He's from Austin and his wife, Kelly Willis is all over the
album adding her sweet harmonies. These songs are on my mind when I get up in
the morning. What more can I say...this is good stuff! |
| If you like...Peter Case, Steve Earle, Bap Kennedy...then
you should like this artist. Best tracks-Wrapped, Angry All The Time, When
I Loved You, 12 Bar Blues. Sony has a
series of Bruce
Robison pages inc. bio, audio, and pictures. Released May, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Long Way Home From Anywhere... (Lucky Dog/Sony)
|Where some songwriters have to be in pain to write great songs, perhaps being married to Kelly Willis has helped Robison write songs that acknowledge love while retaining a sense of humor. Bruce has such a soft and resonant voice and he writes such beautiful ballads that he has to be careful not to fall into sounding like soft rock. He wisely mixes in some country shuffles to keep things lively, perhaps taking a cue from his brother Charlie's Country Radio success. Then again, maybe I'm over-analyzing here, looking for his motivations. I do know that this is a great collection of songs, not a bad one in the bunch! If you love singers like Guy Clark, Jim Lauderdale or Kevin Welch, add this CD to your shopping list.
| Best songs: Driving All Night Long, Just Married, Red Letter Day, The Good Life, Trouble, Anymore Good Lovin', What Do You Think. Bruce has his own site, boarsnest.com with tour, mailing list and bio stuff, but not much else... Released July, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Eleven Stories… (Sustain)
| What's not to love about Bruce Robison's new CD… I'm having a hard time answering that. From his warm, soothing voice to his poetic ballads to his impeccable arrangements to his intelligent choice of cover tunes. Robison, like Don Williams, has one of those voices that just sounds mellow, even when he's rockin' out. Having his songs covered by a few big-name Nashville artists has afforded him the luxury to build his own studio and to have control over what he does. So he sounds relaxed and confident, writing about dreams, missed opportunities and of course, love. “It's All Over But The Crying” cuts to the core of the resignation of a failed relationship, and sounds like it'll be the next hit by some other singer. He even channels Jerry Garcia's voice slightly on the glorious re-do of the Dead's “Tennessee Jed”. Bruce's wife Kelly Willis lends her harmony voice to Webb Pierce's “More And More” and all is right with the world. So the answer is, 5 stars, I love this guy's voice, songs and attitude.
|Bruce's site. Sustain Records. Buy from Amazon. Released April, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.
The New World... (Premium)
|There are times when an artist reaches a comfortable — not to be confused with complacent — stage in their career and the ease and confidence of their work is evident. Bruce Robison sounds like he is at that stage. His latest work, The New World, shows off his experience as a songwriter and stalwart of a crowded house of Texas singer/songwriters. He may not be at the top of a heap that includes Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle, but his latest effort keeps him in the running. His vocal confidence is reminiscent of Nick Lowe and a few of the songs harken back to Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. There’s even a little bit of the Bakersfield sound of Buck and Merle lurking in the background. Robison is a gifted songwriter who is in command of his talents.
|Bruce's website, and MySpace page. Buy from Amazon. Released Sept. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan
Step Right Up... (Sony/Lucky Dog)
Since the success of Charlie's last album, (the more country flavored Life
Of The Party), this new one is being "handled" by Sony's Nashville
division, [Charlie's being married to a Dixie Chick and all]... I was fearful
of some "Hot Country" compromises, but to my surprise, the album is
great and actually rocks pretty hard for a country release. You don't even hear
any fiddle or steel guitar until the 5th track, which is a wonderful duet with
Natalie Maines. He also covers two wonderful Al Anderson-era NRBQ songs. Turns
out Charlie's a big fan of the band and there are some intriguing "Q"
influences in the arrangements. He also takes some excursions towards Irish and
Tex-Mex music without seeming to take it all too seriously. It's refreshing to
know that Charlie is still untamed by Nashville. |
or Sony Nashville.
Released April, '01, reviewed by Bill
ROBISON, JACK INGRAM, BRUCE ROBISON |
Unleashed Live... (Sony/ Lucky Dog)
This is a live package featuring Lucky Dog's best 3 young Texas rockin' Country
singer-songwriters. Each submit 4 songs originally recorded on their solo albums.
The whole thing was recorded at Texas's oldest dance palace, Gruene Hall, in front
of a fairly raucous crowd. Bruce Robison is up first with good but unspectacular
versions of songs from his 2 earlier Lucky Dog CDs. Big brother Charlie follows,
the Texas fan's favorite judging by the enthusiastic response. Jack Ingram, my
favorite of the three, brings it all home with his smokin' roots-rock, and a sing
along version of "Barbie Doll". One nice bonus is an offer inside the
CD box for a free live video of the show, as long as you send it in by the end
of the year. |
info: Sony Nashville. Released
Sept. '00, reviewed by Bill Frater.|
Bar Time... (Hayden's Ferry)
This St. Louis outfit features a bunch of guys from other bands who started off
doing old country cover tunes on their days off from their regular bands. They
eventually started writing their own tunes in the same Retro-Country style. Like
anybody or any band on "holiday" they sound relaxed and like they're
having fun and it makes the music that much better. Not only that, the lineup
is stacked with no less then three really good singers-songwriters. Kip Loui (Belle
Star), Gary Hunt, and Dade Farrar (One Fell Swoop), and brother of Jay from Son
Volt, all switch off vocals and writing songs. It's all quite fun and swinging
and steeped in the tradition of real "old school" country music while
not ignoring the present. |
Check out Hayden's Ferry's
site. Released June, '00, reviewed by Bill
Love and Circumstance... (R.E.D./Ninth Street Opus)
If for no other reason than the song selection, this is a great recording — but there are plenty of other reasons. Carrie Rodriguez’s soulful voice and her consummate musicianship put a polish on the overall sound. It’s a provocative group of love songs and you can feel the ache when Rodriguez sings them. She adds a guest lineup that includes the ubiquitous Buddy Miller (when does he sleep?), Greg Liesz and Bill Frisell. Rodriguez, who has made three solo records following her collaboration with Chip Taylor, could have set herself up to fall short on this ambitious undertaking. Few singers have the ability to pour themselves as skillfully into such a collection of songs: the familiar covers include “Big Love” from the Little Village combo of Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner, “Wide River to Cross” by Buddy and Julie Miller, “Steal Your Love” by Lucinda Williams, “Waltzing’s for Dreamers” by Richard Thompson, “I Made A Lover’s Prayer,” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings “I Started Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, “Rex’s Blues” by Townes Van Zant, and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams. The latter may be the standout. With Rodriguez playing electric mandolin and singing and Frisell on guitar, it is a sparse and plaintiff interpretation of a classic.
|Carrie's site. Order from Amazon.
Released April, '10. Reviewed by Barry Dugan.
|CARRIE RODRIGUEZ AND BEN KYLE
We Still Love Our Country... (Ninth Street Opus)
|If I walked into a bar and saw these two charming performers playing this set, I’d sit right down and sing along with these great songs I’ve known for years - "If I Needed You", "You’re Still On My Mind", "Love Hurts" - all classics that many of us who read Freight Train Boogie cut our teeth on, with versions from the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Townes VanZandt. Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle are each accomplished writers and performers. Ms. Rodriguez is an exciting fiddler/chanteuse, and has done a fine series of albums with über-veteren songwriter Chip Taylor. Hailing from Minneapolis by way of Ireland, Ben Kyle brings a passionate folk sensibility to his Americana group, Romantica. And there's the problem with We Still Love Our Country. Of the 8 songs here only 3 stand out as album material, while the rest sound like basic readings of well-worn favorites. When you've got great original material it seems odd to fall back on covers, much less chestnuts such as these. Ben Kyle’s "Your Lonely Heart" starts the album sounding fresh and energized, and the duo-composed "Fire Alarm" is fetching and witty. The standout track by far is "Big Kiss", a smoldering and sensual ballad composed by Ms. Rodriguez' compatriot Chip Taylor. An album of that, please. 3 stars until then. |
|The album's site. Order from Amazon. Released Feb. '11, reviewed by Brad Price.
Own Side Now... (Theory 8)
| She writes and write songs like an old soul, yet, Nashville-based Caitlin Rose is just barely into her 20s. She tantalized folks with her lyricism and big voice on her debut EP (Dead Flowers, 2009) where she was equally at home be it singing tough or tender. Now along comes her full-length debut called Own Side Now on which she combines that fetching and versatile voice with lived-in songs running the emotional gamut to deliver a take-notice performance primed to perk ears. Highly recommended.
| Visit www.thecaitlinrose.com. Order from Amazon. Released March, '11, reviewed by Dan Ferguson
Hummingbirds In Flight (Winged Flight)
Now here's a guy who can quit his day job with impunity. Stuart Rojstaczer, geologist and professor, has an alter ego named Stuart Rosh, and he's a pretty scratch musician and songwriter. His blend of bluegrass, jazz, and blues/rock would seem to belie any academe connection, except that his lyrics betray him. Articulate, concise, and not unnecessarily embellished, his words say what's on his mind with brevity that is refreshing. Put that kind of writing alongside Delbert McClinton's guitarist, Rick Gordon, Shad Cobb's mighty fine fiddlin', a backbone supplied by Kathy Burkly and John Vogt, and you've got the makings of a respectable recording. Add some keyboards by Ronnie Godfrey and Neil Janklow, some vocal support from Audrey Auld and Catherine Summer, and you've got a very good recording. It's an impressive follow-up to Accept No Imitations , his 2004 debut.
|Stuart's website. Buy from amazon. Released April, 2005 Reviewed by Don Grant.
PETER ROWAN & TONY RICE
You Were There For Me... (Rounder)
The liner notes describe this CD as, “graceful, challenging, authentic and beautiful”. Liner notes can be misleading, but, in this case, I'm hard put to come up with a better description; I'd argue with its bluegrass classification, however. There are simply too many dimensions herein, Tex-Mex and folk, to name a few, that preclude a definitive and singular categorization. These guys go back a long ways in their individual careers, and they're proof positive that age is nothing but experience. Rowan writes some really great stuff, (do you perchance remember ‘Panama Red'?); ‘Miss Liberty', the title track, ‘Cowboys and Indians, oh, to hell with it, there's not a dud here folks, I can't pick out the best ones for you. Rice's guitar stylings are par excellence; it's the perfect embellishment for the framework provided by Billy Bright on mandolin, Larry Atamaniuk, percussion, and Tony Garnier and Bryn Bright share the bass duties. This one is a work of auditory art, and a real pleasure to listen to.
|Rounder's page. Buy from amazon. Released Sept. 2004. Reviewed by Don Grant.
|PETER ROWAN & TONY RICE
Quartet ... (Rounder)
| Peter Rowan has worn a lot of sombreros in his musical career, from staight (with Bill Monroe) to not so straight (Old and in the Way) bluegrass to newgrass, tex mex and even reggae. But never has his great voice and songwriting been as well served as it is teaming up with master flatpicker Tony Rice. While their first release highlighted brand new Rowan compositions, this disc features a set not unlike their live shows, relying strongly on classic Rowan songs such as “Walls of Time” and “Midnight Moonlight” mingled with tasteful covers like Patti Smith's “Trespasses” and an absolutely pristine version of Towne Van Zandt's “To Live is to Fly”. This is a band effort, and the Quartet is nicely rounded out by the contributions of bassist/vocalist Bryn Davies and mandolinist/vocalist Sharon Gilchrist. Rowan's voice has never sounded better, Rice's picking is world class and the overall sound is as pretty and accomplished as your likely to hear on any acoustic/bluegrass release this year or any.
|Rounder's page. Buy from amazon. Released Jan. '07. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.
RUBY RAKES |
The Ruby Rakes... (Ethic)
Ever since Porter sang with Dolly and Gram harmonized with Emmylou, the concept
of a male and female country duo has been prevalent. Strangely, for years this
only manifested itself in background vocal work as there were no real male/female
teams to speak of in country music for quite a while. The Kennedys and, more influentially,
Buddy and Julie Miller have recently paved the way for acts to have lead singers
of both sexes. The Ruby Rakes are one of the more recent acts to take advantage
of this new development. Switching leads and harmonizing effortlessly and beautifully,
both singers (Barb Plank and Kurt Stevenson) add wonderful contrasting textures
to their songs while carefully keeping it from becoming merely a gimmick. The
increased sonic palette and freedom that is allowed from this arrangement lifts
this album much higher than if the songs would have been sung by one or the other
of them totally alone. Great stuff that fans of the Millers and Gram and Emmylou
will love. |
| Ethic Recording's
Ruby Rakes page.
Miles of Music has the CD.
Reviewed by Scott Homewood |
Here It Comes... (Prudent)
"Song Of Nothing New" kicks it off this Twin Cities singer's CD with
a commentary on the fact that there's nothing original these days. Then he goes
on to show just how original and clever he is. His song subjects feature everyday
items like cell phones, driving and love, but always with a witty twist. This
is a CD of pop music with well-arranged acoustic and roots arrangements. He really
has a way with words, I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't an Elvis Costello fan.
What I really love is the guy's real name is Lee Zukor but a friend gave him the
name Lee Rude as a funny takeoff on Lou Reed. |
Release date: Oct. '00. Order from amazon,
or from the artist's website, LeeRude.com
Reviewed by Bill Frater.|
Rebel Radio... (Pedernales/ FreeFalls)
got the title right. Listening to this album is a lot like listening to a radio
station. But not the talentless crap that stands for corporate radio today. This
sounds more like a dream alt.country station where only the best stuff gets played.
I mean, you start with Russell's righteous Sleepy Labeef-like deep baritone vocals
on top of music that could be either hardcore country from the ‘50's or some blistering
blues rock that sounds like the Black Crowes backing him up. Either way, this
is one of the most eclectic albums I've heard recently with every roots rock style
save rockabilly represented. The diversity of musical styles on this CD is exemplified
by Russell's choice of covers including songs by Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch,
Stephen Bruton and Jagger and Richards among others. There is something here for
fans of every style of country all ably fleshed out by Russell's outstanding vocals.
A killer CD. |
Russell website. Buy from amazon.
Released March, 2002. Reviewed by Scott
Homewood . |
Don't Know Me... (Jackalope)
there is no school to help erstwhile music journalists polish their craft. Most
of us are frustrated musicians or just writers who have found themselves writing
music reviews to help pay the rent or to satisfy some unfathomable music jones
unquenchable in any other way. I fall somewhere in between, I am indeed a frustrated
musician and I do write about other topics as well. But, in my case, you have
to factor in an overwhelming love of music and a feeling that analyzing music
in this way is worthy in and of itself. Usually, before writing a review, I listen
to an album three or four times to get a full appreciation of it. Often, while
listening, I will peruse the liner notes or check out a bio of the artist. In
this case, I lost the info pertaining to this disc and just had to go off the
music itself. How surprised I was, after searching the web to find info on Russell,
to find out he is also a writer - a writer for this very same website. Now, after
listening, I have realised his take on being a writer may be vastly different
from mine. Far from being a frustrated musician, Russell is a very accomplished
one, playing with several bands and finding additional time to create this fine
CD. A mixture of country and jazz with a few bluegrass touches, I can truthfully
say this CD is wonderful and not feel like I am doing him any favor at all. Russell
mixes in a bunch of classics (Chuck Berry's "Nadine", Gram Parson's "Hot Burrito
#1", and Eddy Arnold's classic "You Don't Know Me" to name three) with his more
country-flavored originals and all are great. Russell's guitar work is tasteful
and memorable while his vocals are plaintive enough to bring out the deep emotion
in his songs and serves even better when he interprets others'. Great music from
a fellow writer! Makes me so jealous I may have to do one........nah, I wouldn't
want to inflict that on anybody. Buy Russell's instead and maybe I'll keep my
tortured songs to myself!|
|Order from CD
Baby. Check ModernHicks.com for more
info on Kevin. Reviewed by Bill
Hank Wilson Vol. III...(Ark 21)
back in 1973, Leon Russell put out his first volume of country cover tunes, the
same year that John Fogerty did a similar country-alter-ego thing with The Blue
Ridge Rangers. Both of these albums exposed rock fans to a great bunch of classic
country songs, myself among them. Well, "Hank" is back, but this time
the songs he chose aren't as classic or as good. Either he chose some real smaltz
hits like "Daddy Sang Bass", or songs that didn't need re-doing in the
first place like "Crazy". No one should attempt to cover George Jones'
signature song "He Stopped Loving Her Today", especially with Leon's
Okie warble of a voice that has only grown more hoarse through the years. He also
chose to help out ol' buddy Willie by covering a total of 4 of Nelson's compositions.
Leon doesn't have the fan base or popularity that he had back in the 70's, so
this effort comes off as a little desperate. Given the song selection, I don't
think we needed Hank Wilson to come back yet. Sorry, Leon. |
|Released April, '98. Reviewed by Bill
RUSSELL & THE SORE LOSERS |
Think We're Gonna Be Alright... (self released)
watching all of the great alt.country bands of the past ten years either break
up or defect to a more poppier side of the musical spectrum, it is exciting and
energizing to see a band come along that seems to honor their country roots so
fully with none of the artifice and Brian Wilson-isms that have crept into a lot
of bands' repertoires so much lately. Not to say there isn't some blending of
genres in Russell's sound - there is a healthy dose of Southern rock and even
a huge dollop of punk-ish tone (yep, believe it) in a lot of the songs. But, unlike
most of the popisms some bands have adopted, the rockier influences do not detract
from the songs, but oftentimes enhance them. A fitting example would be Springsteen
- he's still roots-based rock no matter how high he cranks up the guitar. It's
too deeply imbedded in his sound to totally disappear. Same with Russell and his
band on this CD - even the rockier songs scream of bedrock country. There's no
escaping it. No matter how high the guitar gets cranked, the Hank Williams quotient
is there and the quotient is high. This is a perfect band for country boys to
get rowdy to and still be steeped in pure country music. Russell, to my ears,
has reached what could be a perfect blend of roots and rock. Check it out for
|Order from CD Baby. Reviewed
by Scott Homewood |
Fans of the story-songs of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are gonna love this
new album by Tom Russell. Produced, aided and abetted by almost-legend-himself
Gurf Morlix, this album also contains such quality players as Jimmy LaFave (background
vox) and Ian McLagan (keys) among others. The best thing, though, is that neither
the stellar production or great playing detract from Russell's great songs about
life and love. For all the good work he has already done, this could be Russell's
career album, the one that puts him up in Clark's and Zandt's league. His best
ever, and just a great album, besides. Pick it up. |
Released April, '01. Reviewed by Scott
The Man From God Knows Where...(HighTone)
as most of you know if you read my reviews, I tend toward the visceral in my response
to music...chills, hair raised, spine tingled etc. The Man From God Knows Where,
a collection of songs tracing the history of Russell's relatives immigrating
from Norway and Ireland to America is no different and in fact has me virtually
a-twitter with physiological response. While it is the nature of poetry to convey
much with little, it is the mastery of Tom Russell's songwriting that he can weave
the poetry of his stories with music as integrally as strands of DNA. The
same DNA that configured his very essence is the blending of these people
whose story he tells. The music, while haunted by the traditional sound
of Ireland and Norway, is like America itself, a blend of history and innovation.
This I find so appealing in good contemporary folk music...it honors its roots
but branches out so the sound is reflective of its life and times. The Man
From God Knows Where reminds us of the power of dreams to move people across oceans
and continents to "a land where love abides". Tom Russell
has said he'd prefer this record be played in its entirety and I agree.
It deserves the time you take to sit back, listen and enjoy. Sharing vocals
with Tom Russell are: Iris Dement, Dave Van Ronk, Kari Bremnes, Sondre Bratland
and the wonderful Dolores Keane plus top musicians. |
There is a TomRussell.com and, of course,
HighTone has a site. Released March,
'99 and reviewed by Kay Clements.|
Cowboys Horses Dogs ... (HighTone)
you might have guessed from the title, Tom Russell is back doing what he does
best, singing songs about the characters that populated the Old West. He chases
Pancho Villa around Chihuahua and Coahuila in the opening cut, and then proceeds
to lead the listener all around the Southwestern landscape, from Marty Robbin's
"El Paso" to an intriguing version of Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of
Hearts", featuring some nice vocal work by Eliza Gilkyson and Joe Ely. One thing
you have to say about Tom, is that when he chooses his help, he chooses some of
the best. Just listening to the counter-play of his and Andrew Hardin's guitars
is a treat, and then there's the songs themselves. What he didn't write himself,
he exercised great good taste in including here. No one ever said that Woody Guthrie
was a slouch at songwriting, and the same is true of Peter LaFarge and Linda Thompson,
too. My favorite is "The Ballad of Edward Abbey", a lament for the West that was,
versus the West that is. The old values are gone, replaced by their age-old nemesis,
money. 'Tis a sad comment, and, sadder yet, 'tis the truth.|
site, HighTone's site. Buy from amazon.
Released Feb. 2004. Reviewed by Don Grant.|
I don't believe that I have ever encountered anything quite like this CD before. It's not so much a CD as it is an hour plus long audio documentary. Listen to this one alone in the dark, and just see if there isn't an old grainy black and white Movietone newsreel playing in your head after the first five minutes; “Ladies and gentlemen, it's matinee time”. It is downright eerie. Eerie because, while Russell is still recording the history of Americana, this time it's not about people, places, and events from a hundred years ago, this one hits almost too close to home for comfort. Hotwalker is a journey through an age within living memory, the fifties and early sixties, the Beat Generation, and it's a bit disconcerting to realize that the characters from an era that one was peripherally a part of have now become historical figures. Dialogue from luminaries such as Edward Abbey, Lenny Bruce, and Charles Bukowski are woven amongst Russell's period tunes, and inserts like “Sportin' Life Blues” by Dave Van Ronk and “Cocaine Blues” by Gary Davis. Russell's eye and ear for detail, his ability to pick up on the minutiae that are the essence of a culture is unerring here. Hotwalker will leave you reeling with a plethora of mixed emotions; after listening to it a few times, personally, I can't shake the sensation that someone has just walked over my grave.
|TomRussell' site, HighTone's site. Buy from amazon. Released March, '05. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Love And Fear... (HighTone)
| On his first album of all new songs in over 10 years, Tom takes on such big subjects as life, love, lust, growing old and, as the title mentions, the fear underlying it all. This CD is not for the weak-hearted. This is the kind of songwriting that would make Springsteen jealous or make your ex-girlfriend cry. He lashes out with brutal honesty and jagged guitars on “Four Chambered Heart”. “Beautiful Trouble” cuts to the heart of forbidden fruit. Gurf Morlix, Mark Hallman, Fats Kaplan, Gretchen Peters and his steady lead guitarist Andrew Hardin are all there to lift this masterpiece. This is one of the few times when I actually was disappointed not to find a lyric sheet with the CD. I have to be honest, I never completely “got” Russell until this CD. The lead-off track is “The Pugilist at 59” and I had to look up what the word pugilist means. It means “someone who fights with his fists for sport”. Well, this one knock me out cold.
|HighTone's site. Buy from amazon. Released March, '06. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
CD features a pair of young Boston-area bluegrass veterans. John McGann, who produced
and co-wrote the challenging melodies, as well as ably covering all the acoustic
and electric guitar chores. Then there's Chris Moore on mandolin and lead vocals,
who also wrote all the intelligent lyrics. Oh, there are a few barroom songs here
and an instrumental, but mostly this is well-thought-out acoustic music. Most
of the tunes are upbeat and fresh-sounding. Moore's voice is expressive but sometimes
a little on the thin side. Still, these guys are good players and harmonizers,
and I hope the college-bred roots crowd discovers this CD. |
short bio, and McGann'sTour
info page. Released March, '98. Reviewed by Bill
The Big Top... (self-released)
Geoffrey Rutledge comes from the California coastal town of Santa Cruz, an area
full of talented artists and singers. He reminds me of the great singer-songwriters
prevalent in the late 70's such as James Taylor, B.W. Stevenson and Jesse Winchester.
In this day and age, you have to not only be a good songwriter, you have to have
a great voice as well. Rutledge qualifies in both departments.. His voice is smooth
and expressive and his arrangements are varied and always interesting. His songs
have been steadily growing on me. Give this newcomer a listen and allow his warm
tender songs to grow on you too. |
Order from Miles Of Music.
Reviewed by Bill Frater. |
Diamond Shine… (Ambitious)
was a member of the Blood Oranges, an under-appreciated roots band that also featured
Cheri Knight and Mark Spencer. Ryan plays the mandolin and mandocello (left-handed
no less), on every track, frequently replacing the guitar as the principle melodic
instrument. It tends to give the CD a certain "chiming" flavor throughout, although
save for a few choice tunes, it ain’t bluegrass. Interestingly, it’s produced
by Morphine drummer Billy Conway and sax player Dana Colley, also from the same
minimalist rock band, (led by the late Mark Sandman) that frequently sounded like
they were from another planet. Ryan’s voice and songs get a little tiring towards
the end of the album, I’m sorry to say, but I greatly appreciate his musical courage
web site. Buy from amazon
Released July, 2002. Reviewed by Bill
Many music fans may remember Ryan from his two excellent albums on A&M Records
before the label lost its' mind and sent him packing. It's their loss as Ryan
is one of the better songwriters to emerge in the past decade and this, his third
album, is a testament to it. Able to convey deep sadness and heartbreak as well
or better than his more well-known contemporaries (Hello, Mr.Adams and Ms. Williams)
Ryan has not received the public acknowledgement he deserves but seems on the
verge of changing that, even while now a part of an small indie label roster.
This is a moody album to listen to when you're alone, frightened and in deep emotional
pain. Most songs are slow and brooding but all venture far from the generic country
pap played on country radio today to embrace pop elements and instrumentation.
A standout song, and possibly the centerpiece for the album, is a duet with Lucinda
Williams fittingly called 'Devastation' . If Roy Orbison were starting his career
today, this is probably what he would sound like. Only probably without Ryan's
Tom Waits-like croak. Not putting out this record only proves what I've thought
for a while: the letters A&M stand for Assholes and Morons. |
has some bio and tour info. Released Sept. 2001. Reviewed by Scott