- Hunker Down
By Steve Schmidt
I am just a jackass with an opinion…and here it is.
Usually when I hear the word “junkers”, my thoughts go towards the cars I drove in high school. Now, I have just as much reason to reflect on a honky-tonk band from Madison, WI.
The Junkers are steered by Ken Burns on vocals, Thomas H. Crofts III on drums, Mathew Stratton on guitars, banjo & other stringed instruments and Dave Junker on bass.
Other than their Wisconsin roots, what sets the Junkers apart is their ability to turn a unique phrase in songs that visit otherwise well-worn country music themes. As proof, on the first track of “Hunker Down”, Burns sings “we’re adults, so let’s commit adultery”. Either that is the most brutally straightforward come-on line in a country song or a humorous variation - I am not quite sure which.
The very next song, “Buckeye Mile” is a typical lament of a broken relationship - until the chorus of “I think you’re sweeter than Saccharine and your boyfriend’s smoking crack in Akron. Baby forget Ohio, remember me”. One of the great examples of forced rhyming? Yes. Is it memorable in a land of sound-alike hat-acts – you bet!
“It’s Hard To Win a Woman (When You’re Working for The Man)” is the disc’s strongest track. Burns delivers a rapid-fire, banjo driven tale that every working stiff can relate to -- minimum wage don’t impress the senoritas!
The album closes with the “Susan B. Anthony Dollar Rag”, a live track that definitely deviates from tried and true country themes. I’m betting it’s a pretty empty bus that drives the supporters of the Susan B. Anthony silver dollar. Yet, you have to love a song that equates Ms. Anthony’s demise in 1979 with the Three Mile Island and Sky Lab disasters and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
“Hunker Down” is filled with honky-tonk
delivered with a wry sense of humor. Here’s hoping these Junkers
keep driving for a while.
Portland Oregon got a secret and that is Spigot. Rootsmusic wit a teaspoon rock,soul and country. This band is fun to lissen too and I was realy supriced when I put this record in my player. Nann Alleman is a combination of Dolly Parton, The B52 girls and Stacey Earl. The humor in their music make you smile and there are songs who bring you a tear in the eye. This band is something I want to see live here in Europe and they have everything in their music what makes a show complete. The first song Millie in the Garden is a perfect start to jump up and hup around the room. Bluehair rocks and Nunn Bunn makes you feel blue. Yes folk this is good music and you have this in your record colection. You can go to their homepage www.spigotband.com and check them out or order the album. Check this out.
Kevin Russell is the second one of
the Gourds with an solo album. The funny thing on this album is that all
the Gourds helps him out but also the Damnation, Mike Nicolai,the Tiny's,
John Dee Graham, Steve James, Kev's son Guthrie Russel and many more. This
album make you tirsty and the songs are little story's on their own. Buttermilk
& Rifles is full of happy happy joy joy and I found also in Blackfoot
the swamp and soul roots of mister Russel. No More The Moon Shines On Lorena
is an natural beauty and have the same kinda happiness of the Nora Bayes
and Jack Norworth song Shine on Harvest Moon who is sung by Oliver Hardy
in the movie
John Dee graham is one of those guitar players who is standing on the top of the mountain. He is one of the best lap steel players I ever hear. His new album is rocking and rollin' but it got also a song like Volver is the best tex mex tradition. When I lissen to this album I hear a little bit John Hiatt'sBring the Family and a little bit Joe Ely but I find in Waiting For A Sign the grunge of Nirvana and Laredo, John Doe. This album is pure Texas. Hooray for the Moon is one of those albums who stay in your player the whole day long.
The Creedence Clearwater Revival
story is not a funny one. Fantasy records destryed this band and they played
in a bad way with the talend of John Fogerty. I think the music from the
CCR is known by verybody in the world and they were important for the modern
musical world. I put them in one line with the Beatles and the Rolling
Stones. 100 % Pure rock and Roll. With the 6 CD box set you have all the
official album of the Creedence but also a CD with Tom Fogerty & the
Blue Velvets and Golliwogs. You can hear the early days of a supergroup
who growing to the band and the sound you never forget. They remasterd
the music of the CCR and I have to say they doing a great job with this
one. It is like the band is playing in your living room. I grew up with
this music and now I am discovered it again and this is the real magic
of a special band band. This band are the granddaddy's of the Americana
In 1999, Dallas natives Pleasant Grove anonymously debuted with their self-titled album on Last Beat Records. When they were discovered at last year's SXSW festival, the European release of their debut album followed very rapidly on the reliable and German alt.country record label Glitterhouse.
The first album is a brief, nearly 40-minute-long collection of six slow-fi beauties, with Neil Young-like electric outbursts and atmospheric, laid-back desert rock arrangements, mostly focused on acoustic instruments and with a very raw and deep melancholy. All of this makes Pleasant Grove's self-titled album one of the very best debut albums that I've heard in a while.
They are fronted by singer and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Striplin, who draws from a wide range of musical influences, but to give you an idea, his vocal abilities meet the likes of Jim James from My Morning Jacket and Robert Pollard from Guided Voices. Pollard especially shines through on the fourth track of the album.
Recently, the brand-new and stunning album 'Auscultation Of The Heart' was released on Glitterhouse, and that gives us even more minutes of shimmering country pop, although Pleasant Grove's line-up has been completely rearranged, with the addition of a new rhythm section, featuring Jeffy Ryan on drums, Tony Hormilosa on bass, and Joe Butcher on pedal steel. Very soon it becomes clear that the new sound of Pleasant Grove chooses a whole different direction. The introverted slow-fi encores took shape into something more bombastic and ambitious, much in the style of Calexico's spaghetti-western soundtracks, proving that Pleasant Grave are on a crusade to welcome the world to their romantic southern gospel music. Weird, unusual instruments, such as bells, omni-chord, pickaxe, moog, rhodes, mellotron, triangle, and - well - copy machines fill up their loving cup of soulful and gut-wrenching country music. Pleasant Grove prove to be unafraid of introducing their new visions, without exorcising the American ghost, and these songs still are bittersweet tales of lost love and misery. What an absolutely stunning and intelligent album this is from a fabulous band.
Listen up, kids. Let us face the
awful truth: Fans of alternative country music are becoming spoilt
brats. In the good ol' days -
I hate to say it that way,
because it's hard to deny that the production of Rick Shea is terrific,
the Emmylou Harris-like backing vocals fit in perfectly well with Richards's
clean-cut voice, and the melancholic lyrics make 'Jam The Breeze' a God-given
feast for the lonely and broken-hearted, especially the first half of the
album with a couple of standout tracks, but despite all of these
What would you expect from a group of musicians who call themselves The Texicans? Right, probably just like me: You would most likely think that they are a bunch of tough-looking cowboys from Texas who play some kind of rural white man's blues, drink nothing but booze, wake up early to milk the cows, feed the chickens, and talk a bit funny. Yeah, it doesn't really come as a shocking surprise that The Texicans come from the lone star state Texas and demonstrate a bowling hybrid of Texas blues and Texas country. Well, I don't know about the booze and chickens, but that could be a part of their rural lifestyle as well.
OK, Does that mean that The Texicans appear just to be another rock'n'roll band and complete the neverending list of beardy cowboys that like to rock? If you can ask yourself if that's something to worry about, the simple answer is no! These adventurous and often hip songs showcase a different band. First of all, when you listen to this disc you'll immediately hear that The Texicans choose to drastically recycle their Texas roots with romps of their own sophisticated melodies, hypnotic trip-a-billy beats, paranoiac soundscapes, and all of this is nicely dressed up in an accessible and postmodern country outing, with a few expectations to keep everybody satisfied, such as there are some rough rockin' tracks as well.
While The Texicans are not quite
what you would expect, they're still not completely different, and this
is a beautiful introduction to a wonderful band from El Paso. What I've
been considering for a long time is moving to Texas, because that's where
The first time that I heard Parker Paul wasn't very memorable, but his latest release brought back memories of that strange night. Ohio native Paul had the opportunity to do a small tour with the band Slobberbone, but that night he was in Rotterdam, and things didn't work out the way they were supposed to. He tragically ended up in front of some really drunk football supporters, who obviously didn't pay any attention to what he was doing on stage. While Parker Paul was doing his own thing on the piano, Slobberbone were getting ready for some loud country rocking, and the small audience got noisier with every single song. Luckily, it all turns out a whole lot better on his second release 'Wingfoot'. Each little song here has that weird, restless, and piano-based composition, but it seems to work perfectly in its own unique way. Now and then it gets painfully exhilarating, and sometimes he is playing a dead serious game with many of his ambitious songs, but the freewheeling arrangements and Parker Paul's vocal abilities of a drunken crooner constantly lift the songs way over the top. If you're expecting that this extraordinary record will immediately blow you away, Parker Paul may disappoint you. Upon first listening, 'Wingfoot' isn't a very appealing collection of convenient pop songs, especially when you are expecting something completely different: loud rocking with electric guitars or sentimental twang in it. Therefore, it simply takes a long while to only figure out how one should and shouldn't listen to the mind-blowing creations of Parker Paul, but in the end you couldn't think of a better investment for your precious time. Of course, the obvious influences from the work ofmaster craftsman Randy Newman and early Tom Waits are not hard to guess, butbesides all of the refurnishing and inaccessibility on 'Wingfoot' hides Parker Paul's idiosyncratic skill in writing songs that are all moving, silly, and a real treat. That is to say, if you give it a chance.
The title of this record is a near-perfect way of describing the twang-tinged pop/rock of Lucky 57 in just two words. You can tell it by the first striking notes of the extremely catchy 'Sips Of Wine, Coffee Chaser', and some of the mostly merry arrangements on their debut CD 'Lovely Melancholy' sound familiar. The energetic 'Can't Put Our Arms Around A Memory' is a classic punk anthem by the legendary front man of the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, while Lucky 57's dreamy interpretation of William Bell's 'You Don't Miss Your Water' was popularised by The Byrds and Gram Parsons on their unforgettable milestone record 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo'. The great, flawless production comes from Boston rock icon David Minehan (The Neighborhoods, Paul Westerberg, Aerosmith) and Carl Plaster (Old 97s, The Ramones, Hole). Lucky 57 are a professional supergroup of Boston-based indie rock veterans and cult heroes, with Sue Metro (ex-High Risk Group) on lap steel, Todd Foulsham (ex-Candy Butchers) on drums, Lil' Phil aka Phil Magnifico on backing vocals and bass, Russell Chudnofsky on telecaster guitar, and then there are the charming vocals of singer Carol DeFeciani, who goes by the name of Kip McCloud. From the catchy melodies of The Pixies and The Might Mighty Bosstones to the soul-stirring sounds of Morphine, Boston has always been an inspiring place for musicians, and for now it's up to Lucky 57 to rock on as Boston's best-kept secret. It's a lovely melancholy, indeed.
Out of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, comes singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist James Jewell, with an exciting blend of folk, country, rock, blues, a good sense of Hillbilly humour, and plenty of good songs to get excited about. Although the straightforward Americana formula is seemingly alive on Jewell's follow-up to his debut album 'Wasted', and these songs are not without the usual influences of Johnny Cash, Jay Farrar, and good ol' Bob Dylan, I'll have to admit straight off that roots-rocker James Jewell isn't that conservatively-minded, especially when it comes down to writing adventurous, moving, and sometimes surreal songs within the narrow space of four minutes. Therefore, 'Instruments And Controls' is, without any doubt, a welcome addition to the staggering amount of CDs that are being released in alternative country, No Depression, Twang, or whatever scene. The evocative Johnny Cash rhythms on a number of Jewell's songs, the constant sweeping of harmonicas, even the laughing and weird monkey sounds on 'Pretend': It all seems to work perfectly well for any true fan of Americana, though it may take a couple of times before this record leaves you with a lasting impression, most likely to do with the rowdiness of the low-key production and sometimes unusual arrangements. Add the often-strong melodies, Jewell's solid writing talents, a banjo, and you have a damn fine twelve-song collection from another great Pennsylvanian band, who fit in well with the neighbours, such as Frog Holler and John Train, previously reviewed in the Twang! section of KindaMuzik. The most moving song on James Jewell And Shew's conceptual 'Instruments And Controls' is the fourth, Dylan-esque song 'Flying Away'. Of course, there are some more pretty moments, such as the jangling melodies of 'Happy Feet' and the acoustic 'Reading', which is a song more or less about their home state Pennsylvania. I'm sure that some of these songs that don't stand out immediately will grow on you sooner or later.
Not the kind of group that easily
fit into one category, the quintet Star City may be described as a musical
bridge that stretches out over the high mountain tops of rock and pop,
with a faithful touch of twang, dynamic arrangements, and wonderful vocals
by singer Jason Lewis. Sometimes extremely quiet and melancholic, but at
certain times the worldly winds of great American soul explorers come rushing
by, when they paint lively pictures of Phil Spector's thick Wall Of Sound
and Brian Wilson's genuine creations of a madman. Well, of course, Star
City aren't up there with the greatest musicians yet, but with this promising
second release, 'Inside The Other Days', they definitely prove to be the
kind of band to keep an eye on. On the downside, you'll come across the
Welcome to the swamps and juke joints of Mississippi. Slim Fatz' 'Hard Time Ago' is today's resurrection of the deep Southern blues from the early Twenties. Take a listen to the first few seconds of the opening track, breathtaking as it is, 'Fly Away' is about as haunting as it gets. Superior playing of the acoustic guitar to the rhythm of men working on the chain gang and picking cotton, Slim Fatz slowly whispers, moans, and shouts his way through all twelve inspiring songs on 'Hard Time Ago'. At times, his howling voice captures the spirit of the chilling loneliness of Tom Waits, such as in songs as 'Grieve' and 'Friday Nite'. However, 'Hard Time Ago' is nothing but a pure traditional blues recording. Both lyrically and musically, Slim Fatz stays true to the old-time spirit of the unforgettable legendary blues pioneers, such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin' Hopkins, and the mysterious Robert Johnson. If you're a true fan of blues music, Slim Fatz is definitely worth a listen.
by Maurice Dielemans
Maybe it's just the similarity in
their names, but Lemonpeeler seems to be a little reminiscent of the Lemonheads.
After all, as the lead vocalist of Lemonheads and a devoted fan of country
music, Evan Dando used to play the unforgettable songs of Gram Parsons
now and then. Although this young band don't play any songs that have been
written by Gram Parsons, Boston-based quartet Lemonpeeler play a similar
kind of accessible and independent pop'n'roll as the Lemonheads, with a
tasteful pedal steel and rhythm guitar to fully showcase their passionate
love for American roots music. Song is king on the critically acclaimed
debut album 'The First Time', resulting in harmonious vocals and well-crafted
pop tunes, much in the style of the Jayhawks era before Mark Olson left.
Singer-songwriter Michael Hayes goes honky-tonking on the title cut, while
the melancholy of 'Around' and the foot-stomping
Frog Holler are based around singer-songwriter, left-handed acoustic guitarist Darren Schlappich, guitarist John Kilgore, and bass guitarist Josh Sceurman from the rural side of Pennsylvania, with Toby Martin on drums, Mike Lavdanksi, Ted Fenstermacher, and Todd Bartolo on banjo, mandolins, fiddles, backing vocals, lap-steel guitar, and everything else. Upon first listen, Frog Holler's bluegrass-styled Americana comes across as an unplugged reincarnation of alternative country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, with singer Darren Schlappich in the leading role of a depressed and half-drunk Jay Farrar. Admittedly, you've heard their songs before. Both lyrically and musically, Frog Holler reinvent classic themes in American music, absolutely true to the American country spirit. If you like this kind of alternative country music, you'll probably never get bored with this godfearing white man's blues, raising such heartfelt themes as loneliness, homesickness, drinking beer, thanking God on your knees for being a country boy, and every sort of smalltown problem. Well, it seems that inspiration comes from many sources, especially these little, precious things in life that are hard to describe. Starting out as a traditional bluegrass band, Frog Holler's music slowly grew into a more alternative and anarchistic kind of roots music, but luckily they didn't sell their hillbilly soul to the devil. Some of the Frog Holler tunes are catchy as hell, and before you know it you are humming every song on their album 'Idiots', especially such memorable tunes as 'Happy Hour', 'Pennsylvania', 'Who Will?', and the missing title track from their previous album, 'Adams Hotel Road'. Play another song, boys. This one will never grow old and bitter!
There is yet another sky-high pile
of demo tapes and self-released CDs on my desk this month, waiting to be
reviewed, with The Singing Mechanic staring at me from the top of the pile.
The Singing Mechanic is Vincent Vos, a real mechanic in daily life,
John Train would have been a great
name for any country singer, but John Train is the imaginative name of
a Philadelphia-rooted band. With a satisfying approach that sounds both
refreshing and familiar, John Train's front man John Houlon has talents
Well, it's strange how many tortured
('Come Tomorrow' by Townes van Zandt)
The 6th of January started as one of the foulest days possible - weatherwise, sleet and thick fog made driving conditions bad, and the once-reliable Dutch railway system has enough troubles of its own without the weather gods having to contribute to make things bad. But despite all of that, people started coming in very good numbers from about three pm onwards. A video of Townes van Zandt playing in the Willem II, the venue of the day, was the official start of 'For The Sake Of The Song - A Tribute To Townes van Zandt.' Townes' Gibson was on stage during the whole show, in the spotlight behind the artists. What can one say about the artists who came in droves to play their versions of songs by one of their heroes? We were blessed to have the crème de la crème of Dutch singer-songwriters on stage throughout the day, along with some of the best alternative duos and bands from both Holland and Belgium, American and British singer-songwriters - everyone with their own Townes connection and Townes story - and of course JT van Zandt. Their input was phenomenal. Their versions of the Townes songs were fun, interesting, eerie at times, and totally enjoyable. We also heard own work, which fitted in perfectly, as did a couple of Guy Clark and Hank Williams songs and - not to be missed from the list of course - Steve Earle's tribute to the Texas troubadour, 'Fort Worth Blues'. JT's performance was definitely the highlight of the day. His mom, Fran Lohr, was at the show, which was great - the first time ever she's seen her son perform on stage! The way JT looks like his dad, it must have brought back some memories for her And yes, JT did tell a bad joke, to truly make this a Townes tribute. So bad that I can't remember it. After his set, which included a brilliant version of 'My Proud Mountain', he gathered all of the artists on stage, and they closed the day with a roaring version of 'White Freightliner Blues', with the public closing in on the stage and joining in the chorus and the verses. The whole scene sent shivers down my spine. The audience was an all-important factor to the success of the day. They came in pretty large numbers (We had about 300 people there.), and the atmosphere was one of the warmest and friendliest I have ever experienced at a concert. The staff from the W2 did a great job and worked hard to make this day a success. Also I have to extend a big "thank you" to the sponsors, one of which was no other than Bono from U2. He had been invited to participate but couldn't make it, so he sent the following message through his assistant: "We're out here on the road, and he got your note regarding your tribute concert, and unfortunately you are right - he can't make the day, but he would like to lend some moral support. And by doing that he would like to pay for the whisky!" So every artist got a bottle of whisky with the pay cheque! Was Townes there? Who knows? A lot of the fog and the sleet had disappeared by the end of the show, so maybe he was. In any case, his memory and his spirit definitely were well around that evening, and that is what counts.
by Joanna Serraris
Elizabeth Stephen sings her heart
out on Blue Horizon's first full-length album. Jason Imbesi joins her on
guitars and vocals. Their heavenly voices well match the catchy melodies
and solid songwriting. Focusing not just on radio-friendliness and sing-a-longs,