New Reviews
by Steve Schmidt, Alex Tobin & Maurice Dieleman
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Messerly and Ewing - The Last Twelve Hours
CD, RocA/

Maybe itís all in the geography. To me, Cincinnati has always been a northern town with a southern heart. The Queen Cityís popular Messerly and Ewing sound like roots-rockers with a folky heart. Their harmonies flow easily through the 13 tracks of The Last Twelve Hours.

While sounding comfortable with the discís several mid-tempo rockers, Messerly and Ewing shine the brightest when they turn it down on the ballads and the acoustic numbers. On the standout Lucky Town, they sing a moving tale about the memories trapped in an old Kentucky mine. The story is laid over a stirring mandolin- and harmonica-driven foundation.

This is all territory that has been mined from the Byrds to the Delavantes, but Messerly and Ewing put it together with a sound that is all of their own. 

by Steve Schmidt

Visit Messerly And Ewing's website

Dave Alvin - Out In California
CD, Hightone/Sonic Rendezvous

Public Domain, Dave Alvin's last album, was a mesmerizing collection of American traditionals, taken straight from the heartland of this relatively new and naïve country. The album wasn't a concept album as such, but it was an album with a concept: Alvin breathed new life into long-forgotten pearls, remnants of the American experience. Sadly, Out In California is nowhere near as exciting or rounded out as its predecessor. First of all, we're talking about a live album here, not generally known  - and yes, there are grand exceptions - to be the best-quality releases in an artist's canon of work. Backed by his ever-reliable Guilty Men, Out In California shows two sides to Dave Alvin. On the one hand, there's the ex-Blaster, the secret rock'n'roller, yearning to tread the boards with amps cranked up to eleven. Then there's the softer, mellower Alvin, singing with passion (the highlight here being Blue Boulevard). The problem, however, with Out In California is that - regardless of the split personality of the disc - the variation isn't enough. Alvin's voice comes over as strained at best, and he's never exactly been the world's greatest singer. The band are tight, but the lack of passion and over-long songs make for a somewhat tedious listen. A shame, really. Here's hoping Alvin releases his very own Ghost Of Tom Joad nextÖ 

by Alex Tobin

Visit Dave Alvin's website

The Junkers - Hunker Down
CD, self-released/

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, Wisconsin.

The Junkers are steered by Ken Burns on vocals, Thomas H. Crofts III on drums, Mathew Stratton on guitars, banjo, and 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 humour. Here's hoping these Junkers keep driving for a while. 

by Steve Schmidt

Visit The Junkers's website

Bob Reuter & Kamikaze Cowboy -  Down in America
CD, Cowboy Angel/Multiphase

'Down In America' is not an awful record, and Bob Reuter is not the worst songwriter I can think of, but still, these songs aren't fully satisfying. True, if you're a fan of Americana music, and you are looking for some harmless, straightforward rocking, 'Down In America' could be a safe addition to your collection, especially for those interested in Steve Earle, John Hiatt, and Billy Joe Shaver, though you shouldn't expect a record that's going to change your life.  

Bob Reuter might try to write and sing as if he is an original singer/songwriter, but Reuter is definitely no Billy Joe Shaver or Steve Earle. He walks on the safe side, without experimenting or doing something you didn't expect, but the main problem with these songs is the lack of originality and excitement. Besides that, Bob Reuter often takes his music too seriously. You can tell, by the first track on the disc, the pretty straightforward 'Girl Like You', that what you'll get here is the usual singer/songwriter fare, with songs of lost love and homesickness. All of this might not sound very positive and probably keep you from buying this disc, but let's put it this way: Everybody can think of a dozen albums that are worse than 'Down in America'. Well, it's not completely a disappointment for those who worship the roots of music, but for those with mixed feelings about American music, Bob Reuter & Kamikaze Cowboy might keep them from exploring the genre any further. 

by Maurice Dielemans

Visit Bob Reuter & Kamikaze Cowboy's website

Richard Kaufmann - Common Senses
CD, Record Cellar/

For quite some time now, Richard Kaufmann has been dwelling in the underground of the Philadelphia music scene as the singer for a poppy punk band called The Electric Love Muffin. In the early Nineties, Kaufmann led the alternative country-oriented group Rolling Hayseeds, who recorded several albums for Record Cellar. On this first solo effort, Richard Kaufman has great plans with country music. He uses pedal steel on songs where you least expect it, and he sings with more than ten different voices. He also surprises more than often with a cheap electronic dance beat in 'Shiver' and crooning vocals - reminiscent of Scott Walker - in an innocent love song. Sometimes you're wondering if he's playing a game or just fooling around, but in the end it doesn't really matter, and Kaufmann's 'Common Senses' surprisingly turns out to be a refreshing album anyhow. 

by Maurice Dielemans

Visit Richard Kaufmann's website

Panama Red - Homegrown
CD, Kinkajou/

The title says it all. This do-it-yourself collection of ten raw demos is just Panama Red and his guitar in all its honesty and nakedness. As Panama writes in the liner notes, it could have been tighter, slicker, fuller, but probably not better. A little collection, lo-fidelity at its rawest, from a talented rock'n'roll star, with only an unplugged guitar, a good sense of humour, and the poor man's blues, robbed of all clothes and money. So, who is this poor boy lost in Austin? Well, Panama Red is actually one of the original members of Kinky Friedman's Texas Jewboys and also a co-writer of many famous Friedman songs, such as 'Rock'N'Roll Across the USA' and 'Popeye The Sailor', which are both included on 'HomeGrown'. You won't find anything more honest than the music of Panama Red. His unique and sometimes cynical style of singing and playing immediately shines through, often sad and happy at the same time, whether he sings the heart-wrenching love ballad 'Little Rose' or the sing-along 'Lost In Austin' and 'Popeye The Sailor' . 

by Maurice Dielemans

Visit Panama Red's website

Greg Trooper - Straight down rain
CD, Eminent/

The singer/songwriter revival seems to be an endless highway that curls up above the shoulders of the music business. Born and raised in New Jersey, Greg Trooper is the epitome of a singer/songwriter and a proud working-class hero, who has sold his heart and soul to nothing but the song. 'Straight Down Rain' is his fifth album, and it puts him on the map with some of the greatest songwriters, such as Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, and Vince Gill, all who have covered his work as well.

Unfortunately, the album sales haven't quite lived up to the enthusiasm and admiration for his road songs shown by friends and fellow musicians. Therefore, Trooper hides in the shadows as Nashville's best-kept secret, which is a bit odd, and even though today's music business isn't a fair world, Greg Trooper is a real craftsman and professional at writing songs. He cuts off the raw edges and gets rid of any idealism or egocentricity, which isn't necessarily a sin, but it's still better that way, especially when it comes down to achieving the writing of a perfect love song, whether speaking of country-rock or just plain pop music. 'Straight Down Rain' shouldn't be listened to as alternative country, but it's also too damn good to be considered as mainstream rock. Trooper's natural voice is always strong, and the heavenly melodies are nearly perfect. Lyrically, Trooper writes unsurprisingly of love and loss, but he possesses an imaginative strength to share his devoted love for retro-pop with the listener, which is simply the best thing about this undiscovered masterpiece. 

by Maurice Dielemans

Visit Greg Trooper's website