Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Warren Haynes Rings in the New Year

To celebrate the holiday season, Warren Haynes has released a free streaming version of "Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday" from his new album "Man In Motion". A holiday treat for Govt. Mule fans..Since everyday is a holiday, you have my permission to tell the boss you're taking 2012 off. Good luck with that and happy new year!

Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday - Warren Haynes

Friday, December 9, 2011

Michael Donner & The Southern Renaissance - No Better Time

Just under the wire for 2011, Michael Donner introduces himself on his first solo album.No Better Time. What an introduction! Donner is certainly going to take listeners by surprise when they discover this collection of well crafted songs. This is not only one of the best under the radar releases of the year, it is one of the best releases period.

Donner is from Dallas, but he recorded the album in Alabama. More specifically it was created at the fabled Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Having a Southern Renaissance in Muscle Shoals is a perfect place considering the plethora of Southern Rock, Country and Soul classics that have been recorded there. Although Donner's music is more of a virtuosity of styles and influences than a renaissance, it is a well crafted work of art by any definition. The album is a mix of Rock, Jam Band, Country and alt-country. However, no song is represented by a single style. Each song is a blend of influences. Whether up-tempo or more subdued, there is no doubt that a talented and emerging songwriter carefully arranged each song. 

No Better Time is an exceptional debut release. Michael Donner has set the bar high for himself, but there is no doubt that he is a truly gifted artist with more to offer in the future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers are causing a buzz in the Indie world. Their self-titled debut release is a mostly acoustic journey into the duality of human emotion. They explore the context of our true feelings, and the complex emotions that make us betray them. The Barr brothers are not new on the scene, they are the founding members of The Slip. They have dropped the theatrical nature of their former band for a more stripped down, yet complex sound. The album’s ethereal undertone is accentuated by inclusion of the harp played by Sarah Paige.

Though mostly acoustic, there is some gritty Rock & Roll, like the Electric Blues on “Lord I Just Can't Keep From Cryin’”. Another interesting track is “Give the Devil Back His Heart”, which mixes in Native American influences. However, the song that really stands out, and is one of the best songs I have come across this year is the opener, “Beggar in the Morning”. The song is perfectly arranged with poignant lyrics. The song provides a very dark but true picture of how relationships can evolve over time. “Hello I’m a monster too and what poisons me is what poisons you too. Into these animals we grew, but when we were young our eyes were blue”.  Although they are veteran musicians, their debut as the Barr Brothers is impressive and full of innovation.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dan Hubbard and the Humadors - The Love Show

It wasn't that long ago when someone asked me "Why doesn't anyone make Rock n' Roll" anymore?" Like many folks, he quit looking for new music after he graduated college, and was now trying to search the radio for new Rock n' Roll. If he asked that today, I would give him a copy of Dan Hubbard and the Humadors new release, The Love Show, and end his search. This Central Illinois based band, serves up Rock with hooks that latch on from the opener "Don't Take Me Now" and never let go.

Dan Hubbard gets it, Rock and Roll is best when it is uncomplicated. There are no gimmicks or pretenses found on The Love Show, just really great melodies. These are the songs that make you want to crank the volume and go for a drive. Just don't set the iPod on repeat or you may never come back.

As a songwriter, Hubbard follows a similar uncomplicated formula. Guess what indie rockers! You don't have to be an art school student on anti-depressants to write lyrics. Hubbard has a troubadour's gift, creating songs that balance life's tough times with hope and healing. On "This is Your Life" Hubbard sings, "Life isn't fair and that's Ok. It's crazy how much things can change before you even realize. This is your life. Yeah, there's some things you can't control. Yeah, sometimes you have to let go. Yeah, everything is gonna be fine. We're doin' alright baby." What is wrong with plain spoken wisdom?

Stay Away

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mark W. Lennon - Home of the Wheel

Listening to Mark W. Lennon’s new release Home of the Wheel, I felt as if I was transported back to depression era America without leaving 2011. At times it is the music that takes you there, and other times it is the lyrics. Lennon draws the parallels between the Modern and the past with a wide brush of Americana. There are influences from traditional styles and contemporary songwriters like Ryan Adams. In between you will find Country and even some Jam Band riffs. All of these diverse ingredients may sound like a case of creative schizophrenia, and in some hands that would be the case. However, Lennon keeps his many influences contained within his own singular vision. That is no small task, and the result is a compelling sound that will likely end up in many listeners heavy rotations. Fans of Chattam County Line, the Avett Brothers or Steel Wheels will definitely enjoy Home of the Wheel.

The album was produced by Marvin Etzioni, a former member of Lone Justice who has worked with Steve Earle, Counting Crows and Lucinda Williams. Lennon is a North Carolina native but he now resides in California. In the title cut, Lennon gives a powerful portrait of life in post-depression America, and the desperation of the time. Other songs on the album are modern in there setting, but the parallel between then and now is clear. “Blues Forever (in Your Eyes)” is simply one of best songs I have heard this year. A Country tune “California Calling”, presumably refers to his own move to California. The move has been a good one for him, at least musically. His sound is now complete and he is establishing himself as a rising star in the roots music community of the area. Look for the buzz to get louder on future releases. Mark W. Lennon’s music needs to be heard.

“Blues Forever (in Your Eyes)”

Blues Forever from Mark W. Lennon on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Greencards - The Brick Album

It does not seem long ago that the Greencards burst onto the New Grass scene. Almost immediately they captured audiences with music that blended influences from their Australian, European and American heritages. With the release of their fifth studio album, The Brick Album, The Greencards are now one of the most respected bands around. Their musicianship is admired by their peers, and the voice of Australian lead singer, Carol Young, is captivating. On the duet "Heart Fixer", Young is joined by Vince Gill and their voices complement each other with perfection. The album leads off with another all-star guest, Sam Bush, on the song "Make it Out West", which takes the smooth style of the band and adds the kick of Bush's mandolin.

The guest appearances are well chosen, but The Greencards are just as impressive on their own. The Greencards eclectic musical and lyrical brilliance is on full display in each track. The Brick  also captures the energy and passion of the band. Their passion was understated on their previous two releases, but this new project has a live feel. Anyone who has been to a Greencards show knows exactly to what I am referring.

The Greencards are an ever evolving band. With each release the expand their horizon. They don't seem content standing. Instead they continue to push boundaries, which makes room for a growing fan base.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

HA HA Tonka - Finally Getting Their Props

Bloodshot artists HAHA Tonka, are getting a lot of attention with their new release, "Death of a Decade"

Check the links below to discover this band, if you haven't already.

NPR Song of the Day -

Washington Post:
A couple of rootsy, passionate, scruffy groups such as Mumford & Sons did their thing at the Grammy Awards this year, exposing their music to a relatively vast audience in one fell swoop. Mumford’s music is fine, but it’s a shame that Ha Ha Tonka couldn’t have taken that group’s spot. The Missouri quartet is not only authentically scruffy, it tears at the heart of American roots music with every chord like Mumford only pretends to, and its new record, Death of a Decade, basically oozes passion for the craft.

Featured on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations":

Featured on MTV's The Seven:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Old Californio - Sundrunk Angels

“Cosmic American Music” is what Gram Parsons called his own music. I think the term also fits Sundrunk Angels, the new release by Old Californio. The length of the songs puts them in Jam Band territory. In fact, it is a bit odd that the Jam Band crowd hasn’t widely discovered these guys yet. “Jewels and the Dross” certainly channels the ghost of Jerry Garcia. Old Californio would have fit nicely into the California music scene of the late 60’s and early 70’s, but they are not just a throwback band. Their music intertwines their influences with an original and contemporary approach. They have a strong following in their home state of California and are expanding their fan base eastward. Sundrunk Angels should increase their following in both number and geography.

Songs like “Allon Camerado” start with a mid-tempo hook and then gradually migrate into full on high speed Jam.  It is not uncommon for the studio to fence in a group of improvisational musicians, but that is not the case here. The production of Sundrunk Angels has a live feel no matter if the song has a mellow vibe like the title cut, or an upbeat Country-Rock Jam such as “A Cool Place in the Light”. The time is right to jump on the bandwagon and take a ride.

This Post was first published on Twangville

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Overlooked and Under the Radar Releases

There has been an early flood of great releases in 2011. Below are a few that should not get lost in the shuffle:

Robyn Ludwick - Out of These Blues: Produced by Gurf Morlix, This Rock and Blues album has an All-Star supporting cast. She is the younger sister of Bruce and Charlie Robison. She provides a gut punch of Blues and Rock that should not be overlooked. Download on CD Baby.

Exene Cervenka - The Excitement Machine: See my Review on Twangville.

Brian Wright - House on Fire: This Sugar Hill release features excellent songwriting. Wright even plays all of the instruments himself. An all around Talent! Order on Amazon.

The Only Sons - American Stranger: Country Rock from a band of Middle Tennessee State University students. Their influences are varied, but their future is bright. Website.

Bennet Brier - Scorpio and Me: An Austin Native that delivers raw and, at times, emotionally dark songwriting. The album is a deep soul-searching experience. Website.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tara Nevins - Wood and Stone

When we last saw Tara Nevins, do her own thing, outside of the Donna the Buffalo "herd", it was an award winning Bluegrass album, but it has been over 10 years since Mule to Ride. On her new release, Wood and Stone,  she showcases a broader stroke of the Americana landscape. On the surface it invokes a similar territory travelled by Donna, but on her current solo project Nevins puts aside the jams. Instead she delivers a Country leaning effort that conjures up a time before the Opry. An era just before Nudie began making his sequined suits for Little Jimmy Dickens and Hank Williams (and a long time before he made the infamous gold lame' suit for Elvis). It is the music sung by and to the rural poor, who lived on the margins of the Post-Depression era economic recovery. People whose lives were defined by their broken relationships.

The earthy tunes on Wood and Stone are captivating. Nevins takes the past and utilizes drums and a steel guitar, to ensure the album is still contemporary. However, the real bridge between past and present is a voice, so singular and beautiful, that it must be heard to be appreciated. Ask any one of the "herd" who has followed her for years, and they will back me up. It has been too long since we heard from Tara Nevins as an individual artist, but the wait was worth it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lucinda Williams - Blessed

Some albums have lyrics with an emotional impact, but more often than not, the music impacts me more than the lyrics. So it is always special to find an album that does both.

Then there is Lucinda Williams' new project Blessed , which has great musicianship delivering a Soulful Blues with deep roots. Even More impressively, the lyrics not only affect the listener, they rip their heart open, exposing the deepest part of the soul and speak directly to it. This is not an exaggeration in the slightest, and your first listen to Blessed will prove it. The album opens with "Convince Me", which builds from a quiet question to a Rockin' feeling of hope. The title track demonstrates, in a dramatic way, that we are all Blessed everyday. However, we do not look for blessings, so we miss them as they move right in front of us. Indeed the theme of the album seems to be, that in always searching for more, we discount what we already have. We tend to long for something illusory, ignoring the good in our current reality. When we move on, we are just running away. Running never fulfills, but Williams doesn't pretend to know what does fulfill. She simply provides reflection for the journey. It is odd for an Album to be full of pain, without leading to hopelessness.

The producer of Blessed is Grammy Award-winning Don Was. Was co-produced the project with Eric Liljestrand and Tom Overby. Blessed features special guests Rami Jaffe on keyboards, Matthew Sweet on vocals Greg Leisz and Elvis Costello on guitar. In fact, Costello's guitar work on "Seeing Black" is amazing.

Buy the album on March 1st and see for yourself.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Iron & Wine - first entry out of the gate for Album of the Year

In music like politics early front runners can gain an adavantage. Using the political analogy, I believe Iron & Wine has just won the The Iowa Caucus. Ironically, some loyal fans are rebelling. It seems they never wanted Sam Beam to move away from the introverted, etheral sound, to which they became accustomed.

On Kiss Each Other Clean we discover that Beam's voice has a range that he has never unleashed. He hasn't lost the muted raspy tone of previous efforts. He just shows so much more. The melodies aren't hidden on this album. While it may be a new direction, it moves with the brush strokes of a diverse pallet. From the first listen, it is clear that Kiss Each Other Clean will be a career defining album for Iron & Wine.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Susan James - Highways, Ghosts, Hearts and Home

Susan James has gained a lot of well known fans over the last few years. Bob Weir and Rob Wassrerman heard her, and asked her to open for Ratdog. She has also opened for for Son Volt, Rufus Wainright, Richard Thompson and Lindsey Buckingham among others. 

She has been playing guitar since she was eight. She writes all of her own songs, and with the release of Highways, Ghosts, Hearts and Home, she can now add producer to an expanding list of talents. Much of the album is straightforward country, but she also integrates Ccontemporary Folk, often with a sort of Hippie jam virtuosity. The songs aren't eight minute jams, but the vibe is still the base of certain songs. The guest list is impressive. Three members of I See Hawks in LA play on the album. Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers) plays fiddle and Danny McGough (Social Distortion) is on the Hammond B3 organ.. 

The lyrics she employs on Highways have basic themes, but the musical arrangement is more complex and layered. James' smooth voice wraps this project into a cohesive package. No doubt a large dose of critical acclaim will follow. The album will be released on February 15th, in stores and online. 

Susan James Facebook