Best of FTB
is the fourth release for the Waco's and I think it's their best yet. This
band is so powerful live, but their studio albums don't always hold up to
repeated listenings. This time they got it right, both in the heavy subject matters,
(death, god, politics) and in the well thought-out melodies and arrangements. I
also think that ex-Mekon Jonboy Langford is finally fully committed to this band
as opposed to his various other musical projects. Great stuff from the only
Alt.Country band that matters.
Buy from amazon Best tunes: Pigsville, Hello To Everybody, Fire Down Below, Red Brick Wall,
Train back In Time, Good For Me. Check out
Bloodshot's site, with ordering and tour info. Released Feb. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.
|Rarely does an album
come along that's this much fun. Whatever New Deal the Waco's have signed, it
has definitely been worth it. While this CD offers much of the same Waco's charm
and rollicking country sound, this album is just so THERE that I haven't been
able to stop listening to it since I first put it in the player. If you like rollicking,
rocking, swaggering, staggering country music that makes so-called rowdy country
stars like Hank Jr. sound like big pussies, this is your CD. It's definitely their
best yet and one of the best uptempo country CDs I've heard in a long while.|
Buy from amazon Bloodshot's site. Released Oct. 2002. Reviewed by Scott
Freedom And Weep... (Bloodshot)
These guys would be pretty good, if they could just shake off their tendency to wander back into Sandanista territory. They can steamroll along with the best alt bands out there, and then, for some perverse reason, they will jar the listener back to a Seventies Clash atmosphere, as in “Chosen One” or “How Fast the Time”. It's incongruous and disconcerting. Perhaps you can take the boys out of London, but taking London out the boys is a different matter. And yet, they can still come up with bona-fide country songs such as “Lincoln Town Car” and “On the Sly”? Come on guys, make up your minds; the uncertainty is killing us.
| Buy from amazon. Released August 16, 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.
|CARA JEAN WAHLERS & GROVER PARIDO
Goodnight Charlotte... (self released)
|The cello entered popular music with the Beatles, and took up permanent residence in roots music within Lyle Lovett’s Large Band. A powerful and persuasive voice, it stirs up a strong and melancholy pang in the breast. Classically trained folk singer-songwriter Cara Jean Wahlers found a brilliant cello co-conspirator in Grover Parido. His lines weave through her personal, almost confessional songs, through the throb and pluck of her acoustic guitar, in clear, persistent arrangements. Her voice, pitch-perfect, may remind some of Judy Collins, and Parido has an impressive ability to echo her timbre in spots. Look, this is beautiful music, and for some that may be the issue. Like an orchid show, it’s one lovely bloom after another. In a summer hammock, or by the winter fire, with the headphones on, it may be just right—ambient music with flashes of Ms. Wahlers’ verbal imagery and grown-up comments. Others may find it overly consonant, and long for some twang, a blue note, a surprising harmony, the blip-bop of timbales. Your pick.
|Cara Jean's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Nov. '10, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.
|THE WAILIN' JENNYS
Firecracker… (Red House)
It seems like everywhere you turn there's another talented young folk-pop group from Canada featuring 2 or 3 ladies, and they're all quite good too: the Be Good Tanyas, the Duhks, and now the Wailin' Jenny's from Winnipeg. The Jennys are Annabelle Chvostek, Nicky Mehra and Ruth Moody. They all write their own songs; four by each member are included on this album (very democratic). Every song feature their rich harmonies, which are their strongest assets, and sure to give you goosebumps. Perhaps a few of the songs are not up to the level of the others but with time they'll get better; I'd even propose they collaborate on some songs on future albums. This is only their second release and if they stay together, (and they gotta with such a cool name), they'll only get better.
|The Jenny's site. Order from amazon. Released June, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.
after some 15 albums in over 25 years, Loudon is still at it. The confessional
songs delivered with that sardonic voice, and that way of making you laugh and
cry during the course of a dozen different delightful melodies.This time he has
the help of just-Grammy-ed producer John Leventhal who doesn't mess with Loudon
too much, no one could really mess up Loudon anyway. The funny and honest themes
run from sex to ambivalence, to answering machines, to fatherhood. There are very
few guys like this left, and God bless him for keeping at it, and not losing that
sick sense of humor. This is one of his better recent releases. |
|Virgin Records site If you like...Steve Goodman, John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III.
Best songs: Breakfast In Bed, Mr. Ambivalent, OGM, So Damn Happy, The World. Released Feb. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
|LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III
Here Come The Choppers... (Sovereign Artists)
|The first thing that strikes me about the latest offering from this veteran songwriter is the production (by Lee Townsend) Shimmering, beautiful guitar tones are everywhere, courtesy of Bill Frisell (who seems to be everywhere these days) and Greg Leisz (on lap steel, as well as other instruments). Add in Jim Keltner's drumming and David Piltch on bass and III (as he calls himself) dispatches his idiosyncratic songs with the benefit of a dream team band. It reminds me of John Hiatt's breakthrough recording "Bring the Family" when that veteran songwriter was put in a room with Keltner, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe and just let it rip. And "The Family" would be a suitable title for Wainwright's collection of songs, including tunes about his ex- wife, kids (who are well known musicians themselves), grandmother, grandfather, etc. As usual, III brings pathos and humor to his tunes, never more so than in the opener "My Biggest Fan", a classic addition to his canon with keen observation, great lyrics and hysterical humanity.
LWIII.com The label's Loudon page. Buy from amazon. Released May, '05, reviewed by Michael Meehan.
|This CD constitutes Wakefield’s fourth release in eleven years, so one couldn’t describe her output as being prolific. What one can say with confidence is that she obviously prefers quality to quantity. Her style encompasses many aspects, from the contemporary honk of the rollicking “Enough Bad Love” featuring Dave Isaac’s guitar lines to the smoky blues feel of “Together Alone”. Since teaming up with Nomad Ovunc, producer, engineer, guitarist, etc. etc., (oh yeah: he’s also her husband), Wakefield’s music has taken a bit of an introspective and pensive turn, which shouldn’t be mistaken for morosity, rather, call it maturity, the ability to observe and describe life without any angst-driven self-absorption.
|Mare's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Nov. '08, reviewed by Don Grant.
Hillbilly Heights.... Texas Round-Up Records
Wallace... it's true his voice brings to mind Dale Watson but I find the soulful
texture of Wallace's voice to be more appealing. More spare, easygoing arrangements
allowing his relaxed delivery of some good, well-written classic country tunes
to be right up front. I feel like it's just me and Roger hanging out with
the music, so effortless is his delivery... effortless yet with conviction which
is really what anchors a country tune. If you don't believe it, it's just
Nashville trash and while there's plenty of that around, you won't find it on
this album. Back-up is provided by an assortment of respected Austin musicians
who seem only to happy to give Wallace the spotlight. Sounds like the real
thing to me. |
tracks: Wishful Drinking, Nobody Loving Me, Don't Nobody Love Me (Like My Baby),
Crazy Love. Texas Music Round-Up Records
site. Released Sept. '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).|
The Lowdown... (Texas Music Group)
It seems that every so often there is a changing of the country music guard. A
time when older hitmakers fade into the background and become relative obscurities
or become legends (with their works much loved but seldom bought) while younger
stars take over the charts and the public's attention. For example, it happened
in the ‘80's when young traditional-country-steeped turks like Rodney Crowell,
Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam and George Strait took over from Johnny Cash, Bobby
Bare, Johnny Paycheck, and Willie Nelson and knocked them off the charts for good.
It happened again in the ‘90's when frustrated popsters Garth Brooks, Shania Twain
and the rest of the hat acts and female mannequins knocked Crowell and his contemporaries
off of the charts, never to return (except for Strait, who has lived up to his
name and chugged straight ahead, carving out a low-key, hit-making money-earning
career for himself). Judging by the rate of attrition, it seems to be the time
for another changing of the guard (towards traditional country music) to take
place. While most of us have our own list of alt.country acts we would love to
see played on the radio and making large amounts of cash, I nominate Roger Wallace
as one of the next bunch of new stars that are ready to assert themselves upon
the marketplace. I say this because his new CD, The Lowdown, is definitely a killer
album, one that deserves a ton of notice and a few million in sales, thank you
very much. Like Strait, Wallace is a traditionalist whose original songs sound
both old and new at the same time. Old, because they don't stray too far from
traditional Bakersfield/Texas country music lines and the arrangements fall squarely
into the ‘50's and ‘60's style of country. Not to mention Wallace's classic-country
voice. New, because the songs themselves are lyrically universal and because stark
honesty and passion is impossible to date and never becomes passé. His well-chosen
covers of songs from classic songwriters like Harlan Howard are also exquisitely
done. If you are interested in a great country album that blends the best of the
past with the best of what's good about today's alt.country scene, this is the
album for you. And quite possibly that album that brings Wallace the attention
his rich voice and well-written songs deserve. |
from amazon RogerWallace.com
Released June, 2002. Reviewed by Scott
That Kind Of Lonely... (Texas Round-Up)
And lonely has never sounded so good, believe me. This second offering from this
Texas hillbilly honky tonker extraordinaire is one of those you just want too
keep playing...and I have. From the toe-tappin' "Ain't' Gonna Waste My Time"
to the "stop it you're killin' me" strains of "The Last Word
in Lonesome is Me", Wallace has a complete lock on this sound. I thought
his first album was stellar (it was) but with That Kind of Lonely, he's
dropped right into guts of it and given us the kind of country that makes me want
to rat my hair. |
Order from Texas
Music Round-Up. Released March, '01, reviewed by Kay
Forbidden Road... (Appaloosa Records)
This debut by Peter Walsh is one of those true solo efforts in its entirety. He wrote all of the songs, does all of the vocals and instrumentation, production and engineering. He even sent the CD out here himself. Geographically speaking, Cardiff, Wales is a long way from the American heartland, but good music acknowledges no time or space constraints. Musically speaking, in this instance, it's right next door. Physically resembling a young Tony Joe White, Walsh writes and sounds similar to an earlier John Prine or, say, Jimmy Buffett, in a country folk fashion. His songs are at times wistful, at times introspective, but they all have in common a quiet confidence that leaves the listener in a state of serenity. Walsh hasn't set out to save the world here, but to accept and celebrate those oases of sanity left therein, even in the dark “The Storm May Cover Me”, with its Steve Earle influenced mandolin.
Peter Walsh Music. Buy from CD Baby. Released 2007, reviewed by Don Grant.
A Stranger To Me Now...(Asylum)
Warden has paid his dues since he was a teenager in Austin and through some promising
albums with The Wagoneers. Unfortunately, Nashville over-production
has filled this CD with too many sappy ballads for me to appreciate the few nice
tunes. Like Roy Orbison, Chris Issak and Raul Malo from The Mavericks, Warden
has a smooth-yet-strong voice that works well with the slow songs. There
is some of the old rockabilly spirit here and there, but it's pretty watered down. Song
subjects are mostly of the broken heart variety, understandable since his marriage
broke up recently. This is Warden's first major label shot, and maybe he'll
break through to the Country radio crowd, they could do a lot worse, but he could
do better. |
Best songs: Your Heart Will Come Around, It's Only Love, I Take Your Love, Someday,
Another Try. Asylum
has a page on Warden. Released
March, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.|
RIVER CLUB |
Don't Take It Easy... (Natural Disaster)
While the accompanying bio touts this as sounding like Tom Petty (and it does,
actually. The first three Petty albums, though, when the band was tougher and
a tad more punk, before Jeff Lynne ruined 'em.) I also find a big Kevin Salem
influence, the man behind the band Dumptruck and producer of many cool roots rock
albums. But what impresses me the most about this album is the songwriting. Like
Petty and Salem, main songwriter and lead singer Matt Hebert manages to burst
on the scene and conquer the formidable task of conveying a lot while saying a
little. He has seemingly mastered the art of the nuance like only the best songwriters
have. While his voice does have the Petty, Dylan, Salem twang, his rootsy songs
and grinding guitar riffs are completely his own and fans of Petty and Jason and
the Scorchers will no doubt love the hell out of this CD. Keep an eye on this
guy and join the Ware River Club! You'll thank me when you do. |
| The band has their own web site, WareRiverClub.com,
where they have audio AND video streaming. Order the CD from Miles
Of Music. Release date: July, '01. Reviewed by
Shift… (Heise Hill)
|Andrew Walker comes
from Toronto and spent many years playing in rock bands before Floating Shift,
his first solo endeavor. There’s a humble maturity that seems to pervade his songs.
The sound alternates between tender folk songs and some jangly power pop gems.
Tim Drummond (Neil Young) and Kim Deschamps (Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies) are the
only familiar name on the credits, but god player and arrangements throughout.
He’s got all the stuff, just no one’s heard of him in the states. Of course, Fred
Eaglesmith started out that way too. Worth looking for!|
site. CD ordering from Maple
Music (Canadian) Reviewed by Bill
City of Refuge... (Rounder)
|When I first heard this album, I was frankly stunned. Old time country and folk were colliding with some very modern songwriting and production for a result that is both arresting and earthily familiar, just as it is a bit uneven.
City of Refuge is Abigail Washburn's third album, and while she has ample Nashville pedigree (she is married to Bela Fleck) this world-weary project of songs about leaving home and finding places to be bears the strong stamp of Portland producer/wunderkind Tucker Martine, whose work with the Decemberists and Laura Viers is echoed here.
Washburn brings her frailing and clawhammer banjo to nearly every song, most of which she co-wrote with musical partner Kai Welch. While this imparts an echo of Appalachia, that echo is soon dominated by Martine's thoughtful and organic production, building a thoroughly imagined landscape into each track. The title song kicks things off in high gear and is followed by the outstanding ballad of the album, the haunting "Bring Me My Queen." "Chains" makes an abrupt but stirring shift into a modern pop universe, recalling k.d. lang's Ingenue album. From this point forward the album becomes less focused but still delivers the goods. "Burn Thru" could be a great tune for Bruce and the E-Street band - really!
The collection gets a little lost in the weeds on slower songs like "Ballad of Treason" and "Corner Girl", both which lack strong choruses and bring to mind the meandering songs of Joanna Newsom. The album closes with 2 strikingly traditional numbers, "Divine Bell" and "Bright Morning Stars", bringing the listener suddenly back to earth.
Overall a very strong collection that is sure to make many "best" lists in 2011.
Buy from Amazon. Released Jan. '11, reviewed by Brad Price.
| GERAINT WATKINS
Dial ‘W' For Watkins … (Bluefive/Yep Roc)
I assume that Geraint Watkins is English because I've noticed his name on Nick Lowe's CD's in the last 10 years or so, and also because Americans don't give kids names like “Geraint”. It turns out he's Welsh, which is fine and dandy too. But the point is, this is really incredible stuff! It's not exactly roots music, although he seems to favor upbeat shuffle beats, it ain't very twangy either. I hear vague bits of Ray Charles, J.J. Cale, Howlin' Wolf, Donny Hathaway on this album. Confused? Good. While his music is hard to describe, it always ends up back in my CD player despite the dozens of other new releases that I should be listening to. His principle axe is the Hammond B-3, and there's plenty of that here, but he's one of those guys who plays everything and does multi-track vocal harmonies. He writes all his own songs, lots of simple little odes to being in love. Oh yeah, there is one cover tune, Brian Wilson's “Heroes and Villains”, only it's done as if Louis Prima wrote it! Trust me on this one… if it sounds like something you'd be willing to take a chance on, then do it. You won't be disappointed or bored.
Yep Roc's Geraint page. Buy from amazon. Released Aug. '04, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Sara Watkins... (Nonesuch)
As the fiddler in Nickel Creek, a very popular acoustic trio that has been on an extended hiatus, it seems that Sarah was frequently overshadowed by the (admittedly enormously talented) other two members of the band. With this, she is the last to put out a solo release, and it is a confident and subtle masterpiece. From her plaintive opening ballad, "All This Time," through to "Where Will You Be," this just may be my favorite album of the year, and it's only April! Her original songs, including a couple of fiddle tunes, are superior, her choice of songs and artists to cover, from John Hartford to Tom Waits to Jimmie Rodgers, couldn't be better, and an all-star collection of players helps to pull it all together. I don't know how much or this was Sara's vision and how much was producer John Paul Jones's, but I lean towards the former (just what is the deal with Led Zep members and female American fiddlers anyway? The combination just seems to work! Perhaps Jimmy Page should seek out Carrie Rodriguez for a collaboration). Nevertheless, this is an excellent album that keeps getting better with each listen.
|Sara's site. Buy from amazon. Released Apr. '09, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Every Song I Write Is For You... (Audium)
How does one critique an album full of songs written about the heartbreak one
feels when a fiancée is killed in a car accident? Watson wrote the tortured love
songs on this record after that horrible fate befell the woman he was soon to
marry. This album is a testament of his love for her, and contains the most personal
pouring of his heart that Watson has ever shown in his work, and that is saying
something. Always a great songwriter, Watson and his deep baritone voice ably
distills the poignancy of loving and losing that same love with a starkness, depth
and tenderness that, sadly, only comes from being on a first name basis with pain.
I can't critique this fairly, but I will tell you it's well worth buying and definitely
the best album Watson has ever done. |
Check Dale's site, it's
pretty cool. Released July, '01. Reviewed
by Scott Homewood.|
Devolver... (Fiddling Cricket)
| They call their music "Acoustic Mayhem" and that's one way to put it. The Waybacks play hot acoustic music, Bluegrass mostly mixed with some swing, an Irish tune and an odd electric take on the traditional Cluck Old Hen. The band is from San Francisco and while they sing well, the CD leans hard on instrumentals. Fortunately, they are excellent players with special nods to the fiddle player and lead guitarist. They cover everyone from John Fahey to Charlie Parker to Kenny Baker. Any music fans (like myself) who miss the earlier versions of the David Grisman Quartet would probably enjoy The Waybacks.
| The band's website... waybacks.com... has press, tour and bio info as well as CD ordering. Released early 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Burger After Church... (Fiddling Cricket Music)
With this, their sophomore effort, the Waybacks confirm that they are one of the
most exciting, inventive and fun acoustic bands on the planet! Mixing interesting
instrumentals, played with taste and hot licks, and effective folky vocals, these
guys are a bit like what would happen if New Grass Revival played Chinese fire
drill with the Austin Lounge Lizards. It's no wonder that these bay area favorites
are catching fire across the country: they are stellar instrumentalists adept
in multiple musical genre's (folk, swing, bluegrass, Celtic) who have taken the
acoustic string band to a whole new level. Much of the CD is original material,
and the writing is consistently good, but even the covers are rendered in such
a way so as to make them sound new. Throughout the entire CD I had the distinct
impression these guys were having a ball in the studio. That kind of infectious
fun is present on every cut. Acoustic mayhem rules! |
Check out their website, Waybacks.com
for CD ordering info. Reviewed by Kevin
From The Pasture To The Future… (Compass)
| The Waybacks have been around for 6 years now, mixing witty pop songs with jazzy acoustic instrumentals. They seem to tour extensively and have even been playing with Bob Wier (Wierbacks anyone?). This new one was produced by Lloyd Maines but there's not a hint of Texas here, it's all the band's California. It was recorded during a time when the band was between fiddlers so Gabe Witcher, Darol Anger and Evan Price fill in admirably. Austin's Warren Hood has since become their permanent fiddle player. James Nash leads the charge instrumentally with his swift and clean guitar and mando picking. Stevie Coyle sings some lead and provides the comic side, most likely choosing to cover the obscure Kinks song “Motorway”, a song about the joys of eating on the road. They also throw a curve with the traditional "The Blacksmith" which sounds like the English folk of the Pentangle, (does anyone else remember them?) Their humor is what makes 'em unique, and while I think they include one too many instrumentals, this CD is a nice ride.
| Buy from amazon.Be sure to subscribe to the Waybacks' newsletter, it's truly hilarious! Released April, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Big Thinkin' ... (HighTone)
Dallas Wayne is a big guy with a very big voice as deep and country-sounding as
say, Randy Travis. Hard Country is the operating adjective here, this ain't the
CD you wanna play for friends who are squeamish about the word Country. Robbie
Fulks co-produces, co-writes and sings harmonies and his subtle sarcasm keeps
thing from sounding too "Strait". Backed by The Skeletons with the great
Tom Brumley on steel. Although this is an impressive hard-core honky-tonk debut,
there's something lacking in his songs or delivery that should improve on subsequent
Records. Release date: Sept. '00. Reviewed by
Bill Frater. |
I'm Your Biggest Fan... (Koch)
|The Big Boy is back in town with a fun packed CD full of honky tonking
that is long overdue. Relocated from Northern California to
Austin,Texas, and recording for Koch Records, a label that loves and
respects country music, Wayne hasn't lost any of his sense of humor.
With twelve original songs and a cast of musicians who know what country
music sounds like, Wayne and his deep, rich voice are like old friends
you want to make sure you invite to your party. A good indication of the
road traveled can be heard in song titles like "3:30 in the Afternoon",
"Tell it to the Jukebox", "It's All Over, All Over Town" and "Tex-Tosterone",
the signature great-goodtime tunes that Wayne is so good at delivering.
I'm particularly fond of the title track, a somewhat sinister take on
what happens when fans go bad called, "I'm Your Biggest Fan". The thing
is, Wayne loves this music, you can hear it in his voice, he loves
playing for you, he's good at it and that feeling is all over this CD.
Dallas's web site. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '05, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).
Randy Weeks was the co-lead singer of an unsung L.A. "rock 'n' country"
band called the Lonesome Strangers. This is his first solo effort and he takes
his roots base and stretches it from the outskirts of Nashville to downtown Memphis. Not
only Sun Records Memphis but also Stax/Volt Memphis. It makes for a fine
Roots Rock album, whatever "roots music" means. I suppose the
first Stones album would be considered roots music if it came out today! L.A.
utility guitarist Tony Gilkyson complements Weeks' guitar work, I believe they
both share lead guitar roles. Randy has one of those unique, almost-whiney
voices that takes getting used to if you haven't heard his earlier work. The songs
are fine from start to finish: some blues, some pop, some swamp...well, I guess
that's what Roots music is! Give the CD an extra spin if you're not sure
if you like it at first... it'll grab ya. |
HighTone has a website...
Released March, 2000, reviewed by Bill
Time (The Revelator)... (Acony)
This third outing by Welch and longtime musical cohort David Rawlings shows why
she is perhaps one of the most daring and original songwriters on the scene today.
And like all true originals she borrows from, then transcends, the various musical
traditions she loves. Listen closely and you will hear a seamless melding of folk,
blues, jazz, country, even rock n roll. At times dark or moody, each song is a
finely hewn emotional landscape rendered in stark brilliance by the simplicity
of two voices and two guitars. Many will miss the subtle genius of this record
but if you liked the first two offerings by Welch and Rawlings you'll surely love
this one too. This one is already on my top five list for 2001. |
| Her label's site, Acony
Records, has tour info and some pictures. Released
July, 2001. Reviewed by Kevin Russell. |
|This is Ms. Welch’s fourth
album, and they’ve (I automatically include partner David Rawlings when referring
to Gillian because he’s so essential to the music) make an ambitious leap into
the nearer present. For the first time they’ve included other instruments (fiddle,
drums, Dobro, organ!) on many of the tracks. Don’t be alarmed they still have
the same somber, loping style going on here. I think this is a wise move as they’d
just about done everything they could within the constraints of the previous 2
acoustic guitar arrangements. There has always been the unspoken assumption the
Gillian and David are more clever and hip then their ultra-retro arrangements
and simple lyrics would lead you to believe. Like their last one, Time (The Revelator),
a few of the songs sound like they’re a little short on inspiration. Still, that’s
what’s great about these guys, you’re not sure if they’re trying to be cool and
understated, or do they throw together these songs in 15 minutes, or are they
just trying to write new Carter Family songs. They’re probably all true.|
|GillianWelch.com has tour and CD ordering info or order from amazon. Released June, 2003. Reviewed
by Bill Frater|
The Harrow & The Harvest… (Acony)
| Has it really been so long? The last official Gillian Welch album, Soul Journey, was released in 2003. She and her songs appeared sporadically in other projects while she grappled with a crippling writer's block, not sure if the muse that fueled her legendary songwriting status would visit again. This painful process gave birth to The Harrow and the Harvest, an album that traces the arc of her despair and renewal.
This is a slow, beautiful recording that adheres strictly to the acoustic duo format that she and partner David Rawlings favor at live shows; the musicianship is patient and superb. The album opens with the foreboding "Scarlet Town" full of gorgeous spidery guitar work, all darkness and doom. From there begins a slow ascent into light, passing the signposts of old Americana - Dixie, six white horses, a silver dagger and sweet heaven when I die. "Hard Times", she declares, ain't gonna rule her mind no more. She has once again created something beautiful and new from something old and recast old-time folk music as high art, intense and demanding.
|Gillian's site, Order from Amazon. Released June, 2011. Reviewed
by Brad Price.
Beneath My Wheels...(Dead Reckoning)
is Kevin's 4th CD, and he has finally put it all together. I've always considered
Welch kind of a Nashville Folkie, but on this release he picks up the pace and
volume quite a bit, while still including some fine tender ballads. His
slow songs really are his strength, but the other songs help to give the
album some edge especially the ones with fellow Dead Reckoner Mike Henderson.
He brilliantly weaves in Gospel and Native American grooves to accentuate
his potent melodies and his smooth, smoky voice is sounding better then ever.
Kevin takes his time between each new CD,
|Best tracks: Everybody's Gotta Walk, Anne Lise Please, Fold Your Wings,
Beneath My Wheels, Every Little Lie, Full Moon Over Christina, While I Was Loving
You. Dead Reckoning's
site. Released June, '99, reviewed by Bill
| SUSAN WERNER
The Gospel Truth... (Sleeve Dog)
“You ask too many questions, dear / and I said, You ask too few / that's why I still don't know quite what to do / on Sunday mornings…” An album of original agnostic gospel songs that pokes fun at religion and the church, and asks what the hell we're doing here… what could be more timely? Susan Werner has traveled the country with these songs, gathered praise, weathered fire, and come up smiling. Werner even bought a Bible for reference while composing these songs (a Catholic one because it has extra books, “like bonus tracks” she says). There's an intelligent, gently funky folk-gospel feel to the album, and the production suits the songs. Werner's purpose and inspiration hold their edge and humor throughout, yet there's a surprising depth of feeling. Her singing has just enough vulnerability in it to, oddly, give the lyrics an added punch. A relevant outing, a joy to listen to, The Gospel Truth is one of the more thoughtful and cohesive albums of 2007.
| Werner's web site. Buy from amazon. Released April, '07, reviewed by Doug Lang.
Dakota Hairdo... (Frogville)
| You'll want
to fasten your seat-belts for this one, because South Dakota Hairdo is
one hell of a ride down the incredible highway of Joe West's imagination. Wonderfully
literate and musically impeccable, West and his band present a high-energy vision
of that other life that exists somewhere on the fringes. They say that true artists
look at life through a different lens than the rest of us, and that must be true;
how else can a song titled "South Dakota Hairdo" be accounted for? And that's
only the first song; trust me, it gets better. I can't shake the notion that this
guy was an English major at some point, because his lyrics contain so much more
than initially meets the ear. Listen to "Reprimand", for instance, and figure
out who he's really singing about. Is it his love life, or is it Jesus? Your choice.
Behind the cutting guitars of West, Derek Zelenko, and Ben Wright, there's the
irresistible bottom end of Jennifer West and Jim Palmer, bass and drums respectively.
Embellish that with some fine piano, pedal steel and dobro work, (I can't make
out some of the names, because Joe scrawled the info in black pen across an old
black and white photo?!!??), and you've got a Ten Best candidate, for sure. Do
yourself a favor, check his schedule at his site, and catch the show. I know I
will, if he ever heads North. |
West's web site. Available at Frogville
Records, thay have a few song samples too.Order from CD Baby. Released early 2004, reviewed by
Don Grant. |
The Human Cannonball... (Frogville)
Well, here we go on another magical mystery tour, with the inscrutable Joe West as our conductor. Lordy, from whence does this man draw his inspiration? I've been to Santa Fe, and I swear that I've never seen the people there that he tends to encounter and write about; it must be that artistic vision thing that most people are not gifted with. This time around, West has pared his band down to bass, banjo, lead, drums, and some brass. A lot of the electricity of South Dakota Hairdo has been replaced with a more acoustic flavour, but that's not to say it's mellow, far from it. There's an undercurrent of desperation, and almost menace, that threads across the tracks. There's combines comin', the title track character who blows himself aloft, Trotsky cruisin' Bert's Burger Bowl in his new SUV with an axe in his head, doing a pretty fair impersonation of Chuck Berry on Johnny B. Goode, and, to make the incongruity complete, there's a straight guy in a gay world. West has always populated his songs with the misfits and oddballs of the world, but Cannonball is a definite hard-a-port, even for him, hence the magical mystery tour reference. You listen to this one several times, and it still has the capacity to surprise, and, it goes without saying, to entertain. It's almost as if the songs subtly evolve with each subsequent spin. Eerie? Yes, and that's not a bad adjective to apply in this instance.
|Joe's web site. Order from CD Baby. Released Autumn 2005, reviewed by
Tongues & Blue Truths… (Barreltown)
Eric Westbury has a unique philosophical outlook on life and it comes across in
his insightful songwriting. Whether he’s writing about God or the Devil or politics
or the addictive aspects of satellite TV. He was very wise to enlist the great
Gurf Morlix to produce the CD, because with Gurf onboard you also get a tasteful
lead, rhythm and bass guitarist. Westbury sings with an expressive "sandpaper
rough" voice that is somewhat limited in range. It actually works quite well with
his roots rock sound. The album closes with my favorite song about "Knockin’ The
Big Man Down" and then watching as he tumbles down the longest stair. Good stuff!|
website. Order from Miles
Of Music. Reviewed by Bill
WEST COAST PINUPS |
Woman's Work... (Hard Eight)
The Pinups are a group of six young-looking musicians from San Diego who have
that "cowboy hat 'n earring" retro-cowboy-punk look. They've really
done some serious homework in the schools of Nashville classic country and Bakersfield
honky tonk. The album's title probably refers to lead singer Cella Blue,
who sings with the power and sass of a Wanda Jackson. Everybody else in
the band plays great and all take a turn writing songs, some more memorable then
others. All in all, they seem to be having fun while not straying too far from
the old stuff. |
| The band has a great site with bio, tour and ordering info. Released
in June, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Western Electric... (Gadfly)
The Long Ryders were one of the best bands to come out of the early 80's L.A.
Country Rock scene. They put out some great albums and I believe there's
a CD compilation available now. The band's vocalist and guitarist, Sid Griffin,
now leads this new band, Western Electric. Because of Griffin's history,
I really want to like this CD but unfortunately, it just doesn't excite me.
There's a few good songs, but there are also some really sleepy ballads that just
don't make it. They do some twanging and some 12-string chiming and the
steel player is great... but I'm gonna dig up some of my old Long Ryders LP's
Electric website. Gadfly's
site. Released March 2000, reviewed by Bill
Sylvia Hotel ....(Philo/Rounder)
I've been listening to this record quite a lot recently and I find myself loving
it more. And loving is truly what happens when you allow these thoughtful,
somewhat painful ballads to move your heart. By her own admission, many
of the songs on this New England folk singer-songwriter's fourth album were written
after a long-term break-up. She counters these with some wickedly funny tunes
that never fail to give us a good look at ourselves. Between the cats, James the
dog, ex-lovers, Fascist bank clerks and a moratorium on violence, there is plenty
to laugh and cry about. With Cheryl Wheeler, you may end up crying with
a smile on your face, but that always worked really well for me. One of
my favorite tracks is a no-sugarcoating-it take on the banks...it's a hidden track
at the end of the CD so be sure and check it out. |
| Favorite songs: But The Days
And Nights Are Long, Unworthy, Who Am I Foolin', All The Live Long Day. Of course,
Rounder has a huge site with the usual stuff,
and there's a nice Cheryl fan
site. Released Jan. '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).
Ten Day Bender... (Shut Eye)
Seeming to come out of the Deep South by way of Anchorage, Ten Day Bender is a true alt.-country rocker in the vein of Lynard Skynard, certain phases of Neil Young's career, or today's Drive-by Truckers. The boys call this one a ten chapter novel, and it in that regard, with its themes of skag, codeine, bar flies, and premature marriage, it could be considered a country “Heart of Darkness”, with a huge latitudinal difference. With references to places such as Cache Creek and Dawson City, there's no mistaking the setting of this narrative; it's all about living at the northern end of the continent and dealing with the same issues that confront, perhaps beset is a better word, those of us in the lower half. As is becoming increasingly common these days, the Europeans have latched on to this one way before North America has, but it's wagered here that when these guys start touring down here, that's going to change. Apparently the live gigs are not to be missed.
The Whipsaws' site. Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.
60 Watt Avenue... (Shuteye)
Even before noticing that the The Whipsaws' latest CD was dedicated to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the unmistakable influences of Buffalo Springfield and Mr. Young were evident. But this band from Anchorage doesn't contain itself to the sway of the indomitable Young on its new 60 Watt Avenue CD. The band, formed in 2002, has worked hard to forge a style of their own, a blend of Americana, roots rock, twangy and crunchy guitars, which they call Alaskan Rock n' Roll. On “Jessi Jayne” they cut loose with a honky-tonk number, replete with a jangly pedal steel and fuzzy lead guitar. On the next song, “Coming Home,” steel guitar, acoustic guitar and banjo mix with the soulful voice and somber lyrics of Evan Phillips to evoke the sound of early Son Volt. Other times, the band sounds like the Bottle Rockets playing at the corner bar having a high time or singing a plain-spoken, whiskey-soaked confessional. The songs are compelling stories of heartbreak, loss and the rough-and-tumble life in a land that has more dark than light for many months of the year. Given that, it's no wonder they've picked Neil Young as their patron saint. The instrumental, “Ode to Shakey,” pays homage to the solo from “Cowgirl in the Sand,” albeit mercifully shorter at 2:14.
|The Whipsaws' site They even have MySpace in Alaska! Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.
Pneumonia... (Lost Highway)
This album, originally set for release in '98, has finally come out and it's
pretty close to a masterpiece in my book. Ryan Adams sometimes comes across like
a self-centered punk, but the kid can really write a beautiful song when he wants
to, especially when he's writing about being in love, like on this album. He has
this uncanny ability to write straight-forward, memorable lyrics that hold together
with "stick to the roof of your brain" melodies. Big credit must also
go to Caitlin Cary for her beautiful harmonies and subtle violin fills.
Ethan Johns magnificent production flourishes bring back memories of his father's
work with the Flowers-era Rolling Stones. At times, both production and
songs flirt with pop sappiness only to be coaxed back to sanity with the right
touch of twang. This is Whiskeytown's swan song, although they are reported to
have more tracks in the can", this is their best yet. So far, this is the
album that I've listened to the most this year, it's a gem. |
Ryan-Adams.com has tour
is the label's site. Released May, '01. Reviewed
by Bill Frater. |
I like this CD a whole lot,
in fact, it was my choice for the 2nd best CD of '97. Leader/songwriter David
Ryan Adams has the kind of plaintive voice that would make Gram Parsons proud,
and the songs are brilliantly descriptive and catchy too. Violinist Caitlin Carry
throws in some fine harmonies, the only sad thing is these two fired the rest
of the band, so I wonder if they will be able to follow up this fine release.
I like the different style textures these guys throw at ya. If the Replacements
came from Raleigh, NC, they might sound like Whiskeytown. This is where the best
of the young independent alternative country is coming from. Give Whiskeytown
a listen and see what I'm talking about.
tracks: Inn Town, Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight, 16 Days, Dancing
with the Women at the Bar, and more! Outpost's
Nice site with bio, tour info, etc. Released Dec. '97
by Bill Frater
a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See... (V2/LuakaBop)
music is like opening a bottle of liquid mercury and letting it carry you away
into the otherworldly landscape of Jim White. Interesting stories spinning out
of seductive arrangements synthesized from banjo, pedal steel, snare, guitar,
trumpet and assorted sounds and instruments that are a part of Jim's world It's
a sometimes bizarre ride through the imagination of a musician following his muse
into the stratosphere. The back of the CD asserts that "these songs rise up like
ghosts, they haunt you, they know where you live". Well, yes... Not a lot of tempo
variation but your mind feels like it takes a big time out, while your body expands
to take in the music. Not a bad trip.|
from amazon. Released June '04, reviewed by Kay
The Broken Road....(Rounder)
been looking forward to Jeff White's new recording and here it is. The Broken
Road gathers the same crew of Vince Gill, Jeff Guernsey, Pete Wernick, Mike Bub,
Jerrry Douglas and Alison Krauss. They added a few other friends and just
started playing, sounding like they've been been together all their lives... Which
is actually one of the charms of this group. They play so easily together
that the music flows effortlessly from one well-crafted traditional-sounding tune
to the next. While White shares songwriting with a number of folks, the particular
melodic sweetness of his storytelling drives this record along with his
impeccable guitar. It's also a great pleasure to hear Vince Gill playing
mandolin and lending his high lonesome sound in harmony with Whites'. As
expected from this group of seasoned professionals, this is a smooth and well
| Of course,
has a great site with bios and tour info. Released Feb. '99, reviewed by Kay
The Lucky Few...(Little Dog)
This lady has a strong alto voice,
and thanks to Pete Anderson and the other usual Little Dog suspects, has put together
a fine CD that "Nashville Radio" will probably never hear. This is unfortunate,
but not surprising, it's their loss, not ours. She covers 2 songs each from So.
Cal's best "unknown" writers, Jim Lauderdale and Lucinda Williams, and
Joy helps write a few of the songs as well. And the songs are really the thing,
good melodies, great band, that's all you need. If you keep an ear on the
Nashville "sound" then I think you'll enjoy this CD.
Best tracks: Too Big For This Town, It's About Me, It's Better This Way, Life's
Just Too Short. Buy from amazon
. Released April, '97. Reviewed by Bill
TONY JOE WHITE
A long time ago in a society far away Tony Joe White had somewhat of a hit on AM radio titled “Polk Salad Annie”. Thankfully those days are where they belong, in the dustbin of musical history. It really wasn't all that bad, considering the era, but one would sure never guess that the same guy now gives us Uncovered. Steeped in the swamps and bayous, this CD reeks of their darkness and latent potential menace. It's not a screamer, rather, it's almost disconcertingly quiet, thanks to White's voice, an instrument with which he wrings out more emotion per decibel than would seem possible.
This is one quiet, low-key guy, but so is a shotgun quiet until somebody pops a cap, proof positive that it's smarter to ignore the barking dog, and concentrate upon the unruffled one.
That's the direction that the bite will come from. Guest appearances by Mark Knopfler, J.J. Cale, Eric Clapton, and the late Waylon contribute to a pretty impressive release, around number 24, if memory serves me well. There's even Michael McDonald here, but fear not, there's no trace of the schmaltz that led to the Doobies' demise. Tony Joe White is improving with age, just like a good wine or an old Chevrolet.
Official TJW site. Buy from amazon Released Sept. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.
Behind The Midway... (Flat Earth)
Jason Wilber has toured as a lead guitarist with such fine artists as John Prine,
Iris DeMent and Hal Ketchum. Not surprisingly, he has absorbed their talent for
finely crafted songs and observations. His voice is a little thin for the ballads
but fits the rockin' songs just fine. His tribute to an old Chuck Berry greatest
hits album (The Great 28) is flat out rocker with wonderful wry references to
Berry's entire song catalogue. John Prine helps out on a tune. All in all, a pretty
solid album and worth looking for. |
Release date: Sept. '00. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
much has been made about this release being Wilco's great departure from the chains
of Alt.Country. Their last CD, Being There, was leaning away from that
sound, and let's face it Uncle Tupelo were primarily a rock band. I guess it's
that there's been so much talk about the "No Depression" sound that
people were surprised that one of the main bands have chosen to grow and follow
their own muse seemed appalling to some. Now about the music. There
is a lot of 60's-inspired pop music on this CD. Adventurous orchestrations,
sound effects and other weird stuff. It's like the band has been listening
to Pet Sounds, The Village Green Preservation Society, or even
Sgt. Peppers. A lot of it is quite puzzling to me, at least so far.
Jeff Tweedy still has a great voice and he writes some brilliant if sometimes
perplexing lyrics. He's dealing with some dark, inner demons, and the band
is taking some big chances, trying to make a grand statement. So many of
us Alt.Country fans are jaded.
tracks: Can't Stand It, She's A Jar, I'm Always In Love, ELT, Summer Teeth. WilcoWeb
is a great "official" site, or Reprise
has RA and the usual stuff. Released March, '99, reviewed by Bill
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot... (Nonesuch)
It's finally here, the most talked about CD release of the year, in any format.
This record was initially handed to Wilco's old label Reprise last year. The label
balked because the suits couldn't hear a single and the fun began. Tweedy and
Wilco, pissed at their old label, bought the album back and released it on the
web for their fans, creating a huge word of mouth reaction and starting a bidding
war between labels as to who would sign Wilco and release the record. Things got
funny when Reprise re-entered the fray and asked if they could buy the album back.
While Tweedy and the band got a huge kick out of saying no and signing with Nonesuch,
after listening to this album I think I agree more with Reprise's earlier opinion
on the disc. If Wilco had not been one of the most promising bands of the '90's
thanks to their enthusiastic blend of alt.country and punk energy (later tempered
with a heavy dollop of Brian Wilson-esque pop) this would not be such a shock.
But it is, and they are not the same great band anymore, musically or membership-wise.
They fired drummer Ken Coomer as the album was beginning and Jay Bennett left
shortly after the album was completed, leaving the remnants of the band with this
muddled mess of a disc with more sqeaks and squonks than Phillip Glass on crank.
Songs are seemingly not finished and the whole project doesn't tie together at
all. The band that brought us their Summerteeth has shown us that all of their
sweet pop excursions have rotted out the best of what was left of their original
country sound. Crash and burn, anyone? |
The band's official website. Buy
from amazon Released April, 2002. Reviewed
by Scott Homewood.
Someone's Got To Pay... (Free Dirt)
|The Wilders, that old-timey, hillbilly, honky tonk band from KC, get serious, (sort of), with a “concept” album. It seems that bass player Phil Wade served on the jury for a real life murder trial He saw the similarities to the stories behind good ol' country murder ballads. Many of the songs are loosely based around the trial and the lives that were affected by it. It ain't exactly Tommy, but it's a bit of a stretch for a band that is primarily traditional. Music-wise they've just as wild if not, well, wilder. They've brought in the drummer from The Red Stick Ramblers and they really rock like a house on fire on many of the songs. The whole thing is a bit of a mixed bag but it grows on you. I gotta give 'em credit for stretching beyond the usual boundaries of trad music successfully.
|WildersCountry.com has CD ordering, or buy from amazon. Released April, '08, reviewed by Bill Frater.
WALT WILKINS BAND
Fire, Honey & Angels... (GrooveTone)
Fire, Honey and Angels by Walt Wilkins is the debut release from
GrooveTone, the new internet label partnered with Dead Reckoning Records.
Wilkins, a young Texan with a smooth, warm voice, shares the same singer-songwriter-
with- intelligent- lyrics characteristics with the Reckoners. Add to that
backing by a talented band who goes country without being too twangy and what
you end up with is an excellent and highly listenable album. Like Robert Earl
Keen, Guy Clark and a dozen more great Texas artists, this guy is the real deal,
and he'll only get better with time. |
The label, GrooveTone,
has a nice site with audio samples. Released Feb.
'00, reviewed by Bill Frater.|
WALT WILKINS & THE MYSTIQUEROS
Diamonds In The Sun... (Palo Duro)
The Lone Star State strikes again here with an amalgam of alternate country and what can pass for these days as traditional. Nelson and Jennings would probably have a fit if they read this, but they've been around so long, with such impact, that they are their own traditions, and they do have an influence. Apparently, deducing from the credits, Wilkins gets to fly his flag at the top of the pole due to his writing contributions, but this CD sounds like a collaboration of equals. At any rate, Diamonds In The Sun flows effortlessly from the rocking roll of “Trains I Missed” to the ‘traditional' lament of the title track, love lost and regretted. Homage is paid to the late Hank Williams in “Just Like Hank”, and The Band, an Americana pathfinder, with a honky-tonkin' rendition of “The Shape I'm In”. Rounding out the package is the Delta blues-ish “Stand Up Seven”. Preceded by three earlier ones, this is Wilkins first release with the Mystiqueros, and it's a pretty darn good fit.
Wilkin's site. Palo Duro's site. Buy from amazon. Released July, '07, reviewed by Don Grant.
GRANT CONSPIRACY |
Everything's Fine... (Slowriver/Ryko)
WGC is a loose aggregation of musicians from the Boston area who specialize in
mysterious low-fi stark arrangements. Sounds as if their influences lean more
towards Eno or Giant Sand than Hank Williams and Gram Parsons. This is their 4
CD and they definitely have a consistent and unique sound. Lead singer Robert
Fisher has a deep, expressive voice like Lloyd Cole or Lou Reed. If that doesn't
confuse you enough. I actually like them. They provide an interesting bridge between
Rock and Americana. |
WGC pages and the band's
site (made in The Netherlands, I think). Released
Feb. '01, reviewed by Bill Frater.|
GRANT CONSPIRACY |
The End... (Kimchee)
|There is a strong
dark and gothic streak that runs through Americana these days. Regard The End,
the 5th CD from Willard Grant Conspiracy continues that trend and does it as well
as anyone else. Starting with the tragic love song "River In The Pines" to the
creepy "Ghost Of The Girl In The Well" and "The Suffering Song" it just gets darker
and darker. Every facet of human suffering gets treated on this CD and every track
is great. Willard Grant Conspiracy also stands out as another Americana band that
isn't just American. The musicians in this band come from Europe, the Balkans,
the US, and the UK. They all blend beautifully under the leadership of Robert
Fisher, and the result is a sweet, sad CD full of authenticity and courage. This
CD goes on my Best Of list for 2004.|
from amazon. Released Feb. '04. Reviewed by Clint
JAYE WILLIAMS |
Tex-Mex Gumbo... (Bismeaux/ Lazy SOB)
The button accordion is the "authentic" kind of accordion, like Flaco
Jimenez and many of the Zydeco players play. It's sounds more fuller to
me then the keyboard-based accordions, and I'm guessing that they're more difficult
to play. Although Bradley Jaye Williams is from Michigan, he plays the button
accordion like he was born a Cajun or is of Hispanic descent. As the title
implies, this CD jumps all around the musical map from Country waltzes to Tejano
polkas to Cajun two-steps. His fine accordion playing holds it all together
along with his decent vocals, both in English and Spanish. Both of the Austin
band's that he plays with... LOS PINKYS and THE GULF COAST PLAYBOYS back Williams
in various configurations. This is the first release on Ray Benson's (Asleep
At The Wheel) new label. |
Check out Lazy
S.O.B's site. Released Nov. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Car Wheels On A Gravel Road...(Mercury)
I have been looking forward to this CD, after a change in record companies, and
other delays, I was afraid that my high expectations might fall short. But, no,
this is indeed a great album. Lucinda has done it again. Her lyrics are so brilliantly
simple, just the right words to put you in the song's location, which is usually
a town in the South somewhere. Her voice has that lazy nonchalance to it, as if
to say, "I'm singing these songs for myself, not for you, and if you like
'em, then that's fine." All the players are excellent, Roy Bittan has done
a great job by not dressing the songs up too much. This just might be the year's
best CD in a year that has already had a lot of great releases. Thanks Lucinda,
it's certainly been worth the wait! |
| Best songs: Right On Time, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, Lake
Charles, Can't Let Go, Metal Firecracker, Greenville,...and all the rest!The label's
site, Mercury Records has a nice bio. Released June, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Essence... (Lost Highway)
The expectations in the music world for this album are amazing. After waiting
over five years for her last disc "Car Wheels..." and then watching
it bust through to the mainstream and go gold has given the alt.country world
reason to hope that Williams can be the standard bearer for the whole movement.
Now, hot on its heels (almost a first for Lucinda to follow up this quick) is
her latest, a release bound to polarize her fans and music business watchers.
Did she follow up too quickly? The answer is no! Although Car Wheels seemed
so complete and well-realized, I believe it was only because fans had been salivating
and expecting that disc for years. These songs are as good, if not better, than
the songs on her last disc. And Williams and her co-producer Charlie Sexton have
managed to give the disc an excitingly spooky feel, almost like a Daniel Lanois
production. Emmylou's Wrecking Ball comes to mind....A lot of buzz is going around
that this album is a disappointment. It is sad that the alt.country world behaves
like the rest of the biz: knocking their artists for being themselves. This album
is a definite winner! |
Released June, '01. Reviewed by Scott
Without Tears… (Lost Highway)
success and critical acclaim of 1998's Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, I find myself
expecting Lucinda's subsequent CD's to be at least as good and accessible. I wonder
if Alt.Country's best known woman also worries about comparisons to Car Wheels,
or if she just does her thing and let the public and critics be damned. Although
this one's much better than her last CD Essence, which sounded somewhat unfinished
and dragged like an anchor, World definitely rocks more. She even drifts
into a sort of roots-hip-hop sound on a few tunes, and I find it a strange yet
welcome change for Lucinda. Her sense of poetry is intact, and she gets brutally
bitter and honest and even lustful. She also has another different band, featuring
Dwight Yoakam’s rhythm section and the excellent and versatile new guitarist named
Doug Pettibone. So maybe I’m expecting more, or I’ve grown complacent and jaded
in my old age… or maybe I’m just one more listen away from being blown away… time
will tell. May Ms. Williams have a long and prosperous career, and I’ll still
buy all her albums. Although there are some great songs here, I don’t think this
will be my favorite.|
|Buy from amazon Lucinda's
Lost Highway site. Released April, 2003. Reviewed by Bill
Musings of a Creekdipper...(Atlantic)
Williams is known for her battle with MS and for the Sweet Relief tribute CD that
came out to help her with her medical bills. That release brought her fine songs
to the "masses", thanks to an all-star lineup of artists. Since then,
she seems to be surviving alright, thankfully, and has married ex-Jayhawks Mark
Olsen and they have settled down in the California desert. Victoria has her own
unique view of the world, and it's kind of an odd, innocent, almost child-like
view. She has an equally unique outlook on song arrangements, a trumpet here,
a banjo there, some folk, some fun, some cabaret-sounding stuff and even some
funk thrown make this a varied and enjoyable album. Then you have that voice that
is somewhat untrained and almost "warbly", if that's a word. Amazingly,
she pulls all of this together with this youthful confidence that makes you not
only accept her vision, but you eventually embrace her words and music. No, it's
not for everybody, but it's real and from the heart, and it needs to be heard
by the open minded and adventurous. |
| If you like...Rickie Lee Jones, Jewel. Best Songs: Rainmaker,
Train Song, Let it Be So, Humming Bird, Blackbirds Rise.Atlantic's
site A slick site, but not much on Victoria, other than some tour info. The
Creekdipper site Released Jan. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Willie Sugarcapps... (Royal Potato Family)
|Willie Sugarcapps gets triple duty on this album. It's the name of the band, the name of the album and the title of the lead-off track on this album which I've had on nearly constant rotation since I saw the band at the Americana Music Conference in Nashville this year.
The "man behind the band" is Nashville-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Will Kimbrough who wrote the majority of the songs here. (You may also know him as half of the duo Daddy with Tommy Womack). Kimbrough was jamming with other musicians at a music gathering in Alabama and met the others (Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes, Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford; the latter two known as the duo Sugarcane Jane). They had such fun that they decided to make this album. I'm glad they did.
I've got a bunch of favorite tracks besides the title one. "Oh Colorado" and "Mud Bottom" are just two. Kimbrough is listed as playing six different instruments on the album and all the others are multi-instrumentalists as well. This a blend of bluegrass and "Americana" and, if you like either I think you'll like this one too.
|The band's website. Order from Amazon. Released Aug. '13, reviewed by Steve Ramm.
What I Deserve....(Rykodisc)
off, I should tell you that I'm a huge fan of Kelly's sultry baritone voice and
I love all three of her previous albums. She is finally on a good record
label that will let her do what she does best and not try to make her the next
country "Queen for a Day". She had a hand in writing most
of the better songs on this CD, which makes it more personal and from the heart.
The backing musicians are all tasteful, including Mark Spencer (Blood Oranges),
Chuck Prophet and her husband Bruce Robison, who also contributes two songs.
This is a well thought-out album and Kelly's singing sounds more confident then
ever. The whole thing's polished up pretty shiny, but there's just enough
twang to remind us she's from Texas. I think I have a new favorite Kelly
Best songs: What I Deserve, Heaven Bound, Not Forgotten You, Cradle Of Love,
Got a Feelin' For Ya, Time has Told Me, They're Blind. There's KellyWillis.com,
has a site. Released Feb.
'99, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Translated From Love... (Rykodisc)
Several years back, in a breathtakingly stupid move, some whiz-bang at MCA decided to drop Kelly Willis from the roster. (Ten bucks here says it's because she wouldn't fit the mould, refusing to be a round peg amongst square holes). Their loss is Rykodisc's and our gain. Her first release in five years, not counting last year's Happy Holidays, (sappy music of ‘the season' never gets counted here), Translated From Love is a breathtakingly good piece of alt/country country rock. Producer Chuck Prophet is the perfect foil for Willis' talent, doing a bit of co-writing and more than a bit of the guitar work, and, most importantly, giving her a free rein in expressing her craft. Overall this release leaves an impression of being more up tempo than her earlier work, but in actuality the tunes are a fairly even mix between rock and introspection. The favourite cuts will vary with listener's tastes for sure, but there are no throw aways here.
KellyWillis.com, Buy from amazon. Released June, '07, reviewed by Don Grant.
WOFFORD & THE HI-BEAMS
Grade A Country Music… (self released)
if this ain’t a fine little band! They sound so good that I'm wanna jump on a
bus and head to their home turf of Denver ‘cause I doubt if they get out of town
much. The best way I can describe their sound is straight ahead swingin’ honky
tonkin’ rockabillyin’ "real" country music. Lead singer Wofford possesses a great
twangy tenor voice that could only sing this kind of music, and he’s written a
bunch of damn great tunes too! Sure, they’re not too far different from Big Sandy
or BR-549, but these bands are all celebrating a style and attitude that I can’t
hear enough of. Support these guys by buying the CD and maybe they’ll come to
your town (and mine) sometime soon!|
can order the CD directly from HiBeams.com.
Released June, 2003. Reviewed by Bill
World of The Satisfy'n Place... (Blue Jordan)
Over the past ten years there have been so many sub-genres of country emerging
that musicologists must be having a field day after all of the dormancy that hit
the form after Chet Atkins developed the Nashville Sound. Wolfenberger adds his
own distinctive twist on this album. Wolfenberger decides to mix a decidedly folky
take on country with a smooth poppy California sound of the early '70s. While
at first I thought it gave his songs too much sheen and gloss, I have revised
my opinion after repeated listens and decided that the similarities to latter-day
Beach Boys (Holland) and the band America were too cool to ignore. Wolfenberger
is definitely on to something, as the mix of sparse pop and country elements make
for an engaging sound. Too good to ignore. |
David has a page on Blue Jordan's
site with CD ordering info. Reviewed by Scott
Circus Town... (Sideburn)
This new CD from Tommy Womack proves that if there WAS a place by the name of
Circus Town, Womack would definitely be it's mayor/ringmaster. Filled with stories
about crazy people doing crazy things while traveling through crazy places (and
that's just ONE song) Womack's persona as storyteller on this CD reminds me of
the old Tom Petty video where Petty plays a demented Mad Hatter. While no little
girls are being eaten like birthday cake, there is a lot of madness going on.
Song titles like "Fake It Til You Make It" and "My Name Is Mud"
give an idea of the strangeness one can find on this CD. Among the slightly warped
story-songs is the beautiful ballad "Nancy Dunn" and a funny song about
a great rock and roll band called The Replacements. Through it all, Womack impresses
as much as he shocks and amuses thanks to his often-brilliant songwriting and
his wonderful guitar work.Guitarist extraordinaire Will Kimbrough makes appearances
on several songs as well. Be sure to keep an ear peeled for the hidden track,
a song about a certain bodily fluid that's definitely one of the funniest songs
I've heard in many a moon. A deliriously good CD. |
Tommy's website, Sideburn's
site. Released March 2002. Reviewed by
Scott Homewood .|
|THE WOOD BROTHERS
Loaded... (Blue Note)
|A great CD, but hard to categorize with mere words. Real brothers here, featuring the lackadaisical yet endearing vocals and inventive guitar of Oliver Wood. The other brother is Chris, who plays bass with jazz/jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood. Although Loaded was produced by organist John Medeski, the sound is more edgy folk-blues music with a sprinkling of garage band. Witty lyrics and slide guitar abound. Guests include Amos Lee and Pieta Brown on vocals and they cover Hendrix, Dylan and “trad.”. There's something quite lovable about these guys. It ain't twangy but it's definitely Americana.
|The Wood's site and MySpace. Buy from amazon (Mp3 only $8.99). Released April, '08, reviewed by Bill
Up With The Sun... (Woodshack Music)
This, Woodard's fourth full-length release, is one nice piece of work. Don't be put of by misinformed opinions that describe his music as “power pop”; that's a load of crap. He does write some damn catchy tunes and couples them with intelligent and insightful lyrics, which sure as hell doesn't qualify for the inane label of “power pop”. Produced in association with John Would, who plays anything with strings, and some things without, i.e. accordion, and recorded mainly in and around his Southern California haunts, up with the sun is an evenly paced offering that strikes a beautiful balance between his slower writings, such as “Lift”, “ I Thought I'd Be There By Now”, and his rockier work, “I Saw You Here” and “Way Down There”. Listening to a good CD can be akin to paddling an interesting stream: there's some peaceful and quiet back eddys interspersed with some stronger currents to keep one alert. Although he lives on the ocean north of San Diego, Alex Woodard understands the importance of that flow.
Alex's site. Buy from amazon, or order from CD Baby. Released Aug. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.
Reason and Dream... (self released)
having a name that sounds like a softball team formed by a bunch of carpenters,
the Woodpickers have created a nice, if not groundbreaking, CD for fans of bluegrass
and mountain music. Lead singer and guitarist Kevin Bennett has a pleasing enough
voice with an authentic "high lonesome" sound to it sure to make you
feel as if you were set down on someone's back porch in the mountains of North
Carolina somewhere, sippin' sweet tea and getting ready to take your turn at the
guitar pull. The songs are written by bassist/guitarist/producer John Murphy and
have a rustic vibe and subject matter that screams "rural" and I can
imagine Louis L'Amour writing books with titles just like the titles of the songs.
While some might find the sound and subject matter a little contrived, when listening
to the CD I find all the preconceived notions falling away and I end up just grooving
to the authentic and emotionally stirring music. While country fans should check
this out, I feel bluegrass and mountain music fans will love this the most. |
|Order from Best Prices. Released April, '05, reviewed
21st Century Pioneer... (self-released)
Hidden on this CD full of psuedo-jam band-style country music is a pretty much
constantly reoccurring message to follow God and Christianity. While there is
certainly nothing wrong with having these beliefs, it kind of caught me off guard
as a music journalist. I have never reviewed a Christian album or dissected one
musically before. While some of the songs do sound preachy in certain respects
and their beliefs are kind of just disguised enough to be easily found, the music
itself holds up. I am floundering on who to compare them to, but the female lead
singer has a very good voice and the music itself is a meld between bluegrass,
rock and regular country, as I would imagine Blues Traveler would sound if they
grew up listening to bluegrass. Very good stuff, as long as you don't mind the
is a nicely done website with gigs, bio and CD ordering. Reviewed by Scott
|If country radio was really
interested in playing real country music, country music that doesn't bow down
to today's fads, it would be playing a Wrenfields song every hour. For their second
CD, The Wrenfields improve mightily over their first, and that's not to say their
first CD was bad, just a little unfocused and unrealized. You could hear the band
was onto something, they just hadn't found a way to fully flesh out what they
were going after. On this CD all the parts are in place and everything is just
clicking along fine. To my ears, what makes the Wrenfields music so special is
their mix of ancient and modern touches. Not only do they excel at bringing old-timey
vocal elements and arrangements into their songs, they also succeed at bringing
anough of the modern in to make it seem like a perfect hybrid of the two. If I
were to make a comparison I would pick the bluegrass style band Nickel Creek.
The same way Nickel Creek fuses the old and the new is the same way the Wrenfields
do it, though with a more mountain music style touch than bluegrass. The mix of
male and female vocals makes a nice blend as well. A little rock attitude is also
there, setting off the old-timey elements just fine. Fans of all styles of country
should find plenty to like here.|
web site. Order from CDstreet.com
Reviewed by Scott Homewood |