The Insurgent Country Homepage Reviews
 Copyright 1998-2001 Insurgent Country Page
Updated July 28, 2001

Blue Highway Festival March 10th, 2001
The reviews
Buddy & Julie Miller, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men,
Mary    Gauthier, Robbie Fulks, Slaid Cleaves, Larry John McNally, The Hollisters,
  Hazeldine, The Cash Brothers, Kristi Rose & Pulp Country, Chris Gaffney,
David   Onlney, Jon Dee Graham, Two Dollar Pistols, Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love 


Michael McDermott – Last Chance Lounge
by Markus Rill

I hate to admit it but I needed a good kick in the butt. The records that had moved me most last year were acoustic records by Todd Snider, John Hiatt & Johnny Cash. Good rock’n’roll just did not seem to exist. Well, Michael McDermott came to my rescue. He is able to R-O-C-K in capital letters without resorting to cliches and worn out poses. Wordy, poetic rock if you can imagine such a thing in the new millennium. His lyrics are epic tales, big on wordplay and simple faith in the power of storytelling. You can tell he’s firmly rooted in folk music but at the same time, he just loves the thrill of loud electric guitars and big drums. It’s no surprise he gets compared to Dylan and Springsteen a whole lot. Think “Blonde On Blonde”-storytelling meets “Greeting From Asbury Park”-kind of energy. But for all the respect McDermott holds for his elders, he’s still his own man. The exuberance of “Unemployed” is not a result of imitation, the insight he gains by reflecting on “Annie And The Aztec Cross” is personal and original. If we lived in better times, “Murder On Her Lips” would move millions just like “Just Like A woman” once did.. And sound-wise, McDermott’s fifth outing manages to surprise. Most rock records these days sound either tired & dated  or too-too gimmicky-modern. “Last Chance Lounge” is an intelligent, moving, exciting, and thoughtful rock’n’roll record for the new century.

PS: Alt. country, it’s not. But just because there are no steel guitars doesn’t mean it won’t get to you. After all, you get all that’s drawn you to in the first place: top-quality songs and performances and real storytelling.

Jeff Krebs – Keep An Eye Out
by Markus Rill

This record takes you to unknown territory. You can tell from the first few seconds of minor-key banjo-picking that there’s a special atmosphere to Jeff Krebs’s music.  The arrangements are so full of unusual ideas, listening to this record would seriously screw up a middle-of-the-road radio listener. The title song “Keep An Eye Out” is downright scary with its hypnotic rumbling beat, “Tango Delle Rose” is a – surprise – klezmer tango and other songs are just impossible to describe. Still, “Keep An Eye Out” is not just an assortment of weird ideas. Krebs isn’t out to impress but to present his songs. And fine songs they are. The Wurlitzer-driven “Emily Take It Back” and the laid-back “Another Piece Of Me” are undeniably catchy; the title song and “Up In The Old Hotel” provide you with haunting melodies for your next walk alone through the woods. But Krebs’s voice is something to hold onto, your soothing and comforting guide through his world. And he does throw in warm acoustic guitars, dobros, and lilting harmonicas, too. Even if the album as a whole isn’t quite as mesmerizing as the first bunch of songs promise it to be, “Keep An Eye Out” is a real remarkable record, and Jeff Krebs a highly original artist.

Johnny Cash - American Recordings III: Solitary Man
by Markus Rill

Johnny Cash is an old man. He is also a sick man. Too sick, in fact, to still be a live performer. Still, though, he seems to be the epitome of dignity.

A lesser man than Johnny Cash would probably falter or look stupid under the metaphorical burden placed on his shoulders by an album title like "Solitary Man" and song titles like "I Won't Back Down." Cash, however, rises to the occasion and sings these songs so matter-of-factly that their lyrics sound like the truth and nothing but. It's amazing how songs grow when they're presented by Johnny Cash. And it's not instrumental brilliance that makes them shine (although Marty Stuart, Norman Blake, Tom Petty and Sheryl Crow guest on the album) and it's not spectacular production work, either. Rick Rubin knows well enough that simplicity works for Johnny Cash. So for his third album with Johnny Cash, he went for something in-between the stark nakedness of American Recordings and the jaunty lushness of Unchained, on which Cash was backed by Tom Petty & The Heartbrekers). 

If you hear the Man In Black sing "One", you are so mesmerized by the performance's breathtaking beauty that you forget the song was written by Irish wannabe-avantgardists U2. 

Some other songs would be more forgettable if it weren't for Johnny Cash's voice and the power it has to perk your ears and hang onto every word it sings. "I'm Leaving Now", Cash and fellow outlaw Merle Haggard proclaim...let's pray it ain't so.

Sonny Landreth - Levee Town
by Markus Rill

Sonny Landreth is a slide guitarist like no other in the world. David Lindley and Ry Cooder will no doubt acknowledge that Sonny has catapulted slide guitar playing onto a new level with his virtuoso technique and passionate playing. Instrumental mastery alone does not always make an album worth buying, though. What makes Levee Town one of the year's best is not only Sonny's amazing and often stupefying guitar playing, it's also his songwriting and the top-level musicianship of everyone on the record.

Sonny Landreth delves deeply into the rhythms and musical textures of his home state of Lousiana, incorporating elements of Zydeco and Cajun music into almost all of the album's twelve 
tracks. But make no mistake, this is no folklore affair. "The USS Zydecoldsmobile" is one hell of a rockin' machine and "Z.Rider" is sinply the first instrumental ever to make me hit the repeat button so I could get up and play air guitar bottleneck-style. Landreth's acoustic blues playing is demonstrated on "Broken Hearted Road."

His lyrics are also very heavily influenced by Southern mythology, Voodoo and the like. So much so that a friend of mine remarked "the moon sure is busy in Louisiana" since there seems not a single event on the whole record going unnoticed or undisturbed by the Earth's trabant.

Sonny doesn't exactly discover new territory on here. Although "Soul Salvation" (w/ Bonnie Raitt) is a fine attempt at soul music and horns are prominently featured on the two final tracks, "Levee Town" is pretty much a logical follow-up to the phenomenal "South Of I-10" album. And it's quite simply to good to be missed.

Dave Alvin - Public Domain
by Markus Rill

I'll admit it right up front: Dave Alvin is just about my favorite 
musician in the world right now. He's a great guitarist, a terrific arranger, a wonderful songwriter and has grown to be a fine singer. This album, however, does not present his songwriting talents. As the title indicates, it's a collection of traditional folk and blues songs that Dave and his fabulous band, The Guilty Men, have rearranged and recorded.

The musicianship of Dave & the boys is astounding. You can just hear how much fun they had with the rollicking "What Did The Deep Sea Say" and "Walk Right In" (on which drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks turns in an inspired duet vocal performance). Then they approach "Shenandoah" and "Sign Of Judgment" cautiously, gingerly and create convincing folksy interpretations.

It's tough to pay homage to a song and reinvent it at the same 
time. Alvin manages to do just that. As the saying goes "he makes them his very own." And while this would not be a wrong assessment and the album is as convincing as it can possibly be given the concept, it's not quite the same caliber that its predecessor "Blackjack David" was. If you know your Dave Alvin or you want to delve into some folk music, this CD is definitely worth your money, but it's not Dave Alvin's best work to date. Mind you, to me, Alvin's best work is unsurpassed.

John Hiatt - Crossing Muddy Waters
by Markus Rill

Man, this album is such a pleasant surprise. Sure, Hiatt has 
churned out some great albums before (Bring The Family, Slow Turning, Walk On) but his last outing Little Head failed to excite me. From now on, Crossing Muddy Waters not only stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his own best efforts, I think it'll find a place among my personal all-time favorites.

The concept is intriguing. It's just Hiatt on acoustic guitar, Davey Faragher on bass, foot-stomping and vocals, and wild man Dave Immerglück on mandolins and guitars. So it's a stripped-down affair but not an overly melancholy or somber one. Hiatt's gravelly voice has never sounded better and the new songs are a far cry from the lame bunch he shared with us last time around. 

There isn't a thing to miss on this infectiously energetic album. 
Hiatt's trademark dry humor ("My baby's gone like a Nixon file") is intact, the songs sound like good ol' friends with a new twist and Faragher and Immerglück are positively smokin'. There's just three guys playing acoustic instruments but "Lincoln Town" is as powerful an opener as I've ever heard. And Hiatt doesn't let up. 

There are at least five instant classics on this record. "Crossing Muddy Waters" "What Do We Do Now", "Take It Down", and "Gone"  are just beautiful, lyrically and musically. Actually, they're perfect pop nuggets, delivered all raw and tasty. And - as the album title promises - Hiatt also knows his blues. "Mr Stanley" features an absolutely heart-wrenching story and vocal performance.

Inspired performances, great songs, a top vocalist - this album's got all anyone could ask for. Less is more.

Tim Carroll - Not for sale
by Steve Schmidt

While I was shopping at Miles of Music, the woman on the other end of line suggested "Not For Sale", based on other purchases I was making.  It proved to be an impulse buy I wouldn't regret.

"Not For Sale" is ostensibly a re-release of Carroll's 1997 album "Rock N' Roll Band".  (A dispute with Sire Records kept "R&R Band" from seeing the commercial light of day).  Rolling from the country lament  "When She Wants To Cry" to flat out rockers like "After The Hurricane" and "Good Rock From Bad", Carroll proves he can successfully straddle both sides of the alt. country line.  However, make no mistake about it, "Not for Sale" is a rock n roll record and a good one at that.

Track 1 kicks things off in strong fashion with a mid-tempo stomp "The House That Ruth Tore Down" that features some of Carroll's strongest vocals.  "Five Year Town" refers to Nashville & the challenges of making it big with hundreds of 10-cent cowboys & lap dancing cowgirls around every corner.  In contrast to Robbie Fulks' "Fuck This Town" (in which Carroll is mentioned by name), Carroll offers a hint of optimism despite those odds.

Carroll sings of therapeutic powers in a country song in "A Good Cry".  "I'm not really gonna need a shrink/When I've got George Jones to help me think/Now I know why/ It's called a good cry/It's helping me to get by".   Who needs Freud when you've got country music?

The only mis-step is "Find A Way To Win" which rings of an early 70's pop tune and doesn't quite fit comfortably with the rest of the tracks.

The disc rebounds and ends strongly with "In Memory's Arms" and "You Call This A Song".  "Song" is an intimate tale of a fractured relationship. Carroll finds refuge in the tune and takes the listener with him: "You call this a song/I call it my only hope/A little way/That I can cope".  With a sparse, stripped down sound, it is a beautiful way to close the album.

"Not For Sale" is filled with so many first-rate songs that one can't help but wonder what Sire Records was thinking.  On second thought, this is exactly the kind of record that most major labels screw up by insisting the artist change their sound to find a hit single.  Do yourself a favor and buy "Not For Sale".  You won't be disappointed.

Jimmy Smith "Clocker Redbury/Dusty Slosinger"
by Jan van Doorn

This record is not easy to get but when you are lucky like me you have a copy and he is out now in Austin Texas. But when you like Gourds music than is this a perfect album. The first song Loveseat is make you laugh a great opening for an album, After this one there comes I Can Smell It On You and this is the first highlight and then the album is going on and you can feel the songs and the there is the Niple Form with a Rolling stones feel but this is real the song of the album. I think this is a colectors Item for roots music lovers and I hope Mr Smith is still writing and give us more of this. I love this kinda albums it give you the feeling I want more of this and the Gourds are coming soon a good year of rootsmusic.

by Jan van Doorn
Copyright 2000


Markus Rill & the Gunslingers - Nowhere begins
by Indy

The magic of the road and the lonesome cowboy can be found in the songs of Markus Rill, a singer/songwriter from Wuerzburg/Germany who paid his dues in Austin, Tx. Where else could a German have gotten the confidence to be a kraut writing authentic road movie-esque songs?

He writes from a point of view not unlike Bruce Springsteen's. Often the storyteller is a not-so uninvolved bystander. Then there are songs that evoke the land and its people by relating the stories of the "Ramblin' Man", "Lorna Sue" and of Susan & Jack who keep hanging on to a dream of love. Rill's stories and his matured guitar picking are supported by his backing band "The Gunslingers" and their good old-fashioned brand of roots-rock'n'roll. To state that "Nowhere Begins" is Rill's strongest work would not do justice to its two excellent predecessors. One could however claim that his third record ist his most mature and powerful one so far.

Hangdogs - Beware of Dog
2000 Shanachie 
by Doug Waterman

If you're thinking that Americana music is only bred south of the Mason-Dixon line, you're dead wrong.  Straight out of the Big Apple, the Hangdogs second release Beware of Dog captures the finer points of this genre with an invigorating performance aura and a mature display of songwriting.

Slightly more rock 'n roll oriented than their first album, East of Yesterday, Beware of Dog covers a broad range of musical styles which are penetrated by lead singer "Banger" Grimm's  nasal-twang vocals.

The album cranks up with its first track, "The Gun Song," a cowpunk rant about the inevitable revenge of a victim of spousal abuse. The dogs tone down with two slower love tunes, "Angelita Turns" and "Somewhere Near Heaven," asserting a distinctive Tex-Mex flavor through melodic accordion drones and simple acoustic guitar progressions.

In "Waltz This Waltz Alone," we get the feeling of an oldschool Merle Haggard barroom drinking song. "Love in here (the bar) don't last forever, but it might until 4," moans Grimm over the high and lonesome whine of the steel guitar.

The Hangdogs kick it back up a notch with two gutty honky-tonk tracks, "Meet Me at Tommy's" and the album's title song, "Beware of Dog." Traces of musical contemporaries such as the Bottle Rockets and the Backsliders cannot be avoided in these two compelling country jams.

Beware of Dog would not be complete without a bit of politics pervading the air. American class struggle and inequalities, as well as governmental negligence toward the common citizen, seem to be themes that run bitterly throughout a few songs on the album, including "The World is Yours" and "Out There." The band responds to a historic post-World War I incident in "Anacostia," where a group of protesting veterans were turned upon by the US Government, who ultimately set fire to their campsite along the Potomac River.

This new release from the Hangdogs is a highly commendable collection of mature roots rock and Americana music. It represents the best elements of this progressive, rapidly expanding genre of music. Do yourself a good deed and invest in the dog pound.

Feb 13, 2001

Steve Wynn - Here come the miracles
2001 Blue Rose Records
by Smidi

Are our beloved US guitar rockers going crazy? After Rich Hopkins called his   last album "my Sgt. Pepper" and labelled it 'Devolver' in a very daring way, his buddy Steve Wynn is appearing with new material. It's a double-album,   and he puts it in a row with 'Exile on Main Street' and 'London calling'.

Completely driven mad? Keep calm: Steve Wynn is not so wrong. Certainly we have to wait if 'Here Come the Miracles' owns the permanent quality of the shining examples from the past, but I discovered that it is really a very special acoustic experience. Right away in the opener and title song you can hear Wynn rocking wild through the garage, not able to keep his hands away from the hallucinogenic mushrooms on his windowsill. I don't remember an   album of the ex-Dream Syndicate frontman with so much fine psychedelia in it. Distorted, feedbacking guitars are blown through many different effects, and Chris Cacavas draws some magic sounds out of his organ. Of course the guest list is a fine one - not only Cacavas, but also the Calexico guys Burns and Convertino play a part. Though many experiments happen on this album, making it a very refreshing one, there is also a lot of classical Wynn. 'Shades of Blue' , Wynn says, is the song that is most typical for him, something like an intersection. And the first single 'Sustain' could have played a good role on 'Melting in the Dark" or 'Sweetness and Light'.

Great songs among others are 'Death Valley Rain', 'Southern California line', and 'Topanga Canyon'. Well done, Mr. Wynn!
Available at Blue Rose Records

The Silos - Laser Beam Next Door
2001 Blue Rose Records
by Smidi

Das 7. Album der mittlerweile zum Trio geschrumpften Band um den Charismatiker Walter Salas-Humara ist ein gutes, aber kein spektakuläres geworden. Aufrecht nach vorne gerockt wird hier, meistens in Englisch, manchmal aber auch in spanischer Sprache, was natürlich mittlerweile obligatorisch ist. Aber Salas-Humara war eigentlich schon weiter, er kehrt auf diesem Album dem Neuland den Rücken, um wieder auf gewohnten Pfaden zu wandeln. Und wenn er dies auf derart hohem Niveau tut, gibt es meinerseits keinerlei Einwände. Natürlich hat es Klasse, wenn er Geschichten von früher Ford Fairlane fahrenden Frauen erzählt, die ihn unterm Säufermond zurücklassen und wenn er diese Geschichten dann noch in bekannte Akkorde kleidet, die in dieser Anordung doch nicht so bekannt sind, fühlt man sich einfach wohl. Ein Schunkelalbum, fast.
Available at Blue Rose Records

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker (Bloodshot)
by Rachel Leibrock

With two Whiskeytown records under his belt and another already completed and waiting for a label, Ryan Adams makes a move towards emancipation with his solo debut Heartbreaker. Produced by Ethan Johns, son of the legendary Glenn Johns who produced the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, it possesses a confessional if not remorseful air. Johns, along with Adams' Nashville neighbors David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, make up Adams' backing band for the record; also making guest appearances are Emmylou Harris and Kim Richey. The resulting record is brooding and reflective, hushed with occasional outbursts of strident fury, sadness and aching. Adams has called it both his "Smiths record" and a product of his "Dylan period." In fact the songs span the scope of not just Dylan and Morrissey but the Stones, Neil Young, Dolly Parton and Gram Parsons as well. The opening track "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)" rocks like a bluesy, garage-y early Stones tune. The Emmylou Harris duet "Oh My Sweet Carolina," has a honeyed Appalachian twang while the scathing "Come Pick Me Up" recalls the scorn of Johnny Cash with lines such as "come pick me up, take me out, fuck me up, steal my records, screw all my friends… ." Those expecting a follow-up to 1997's Stranger's Almanac may be disappointed Heartbreaker isn't as polished or diamond-bright. Its strength, however, lies in its roughness; Adam's ragged vocals are like a stinging balm—painfully soothing.

The Barn Burners - Alibis
by Steve Schmidt 

Perhaps nothing is more frustrating than to have a band shine on their debut, only to see them lose their focus or settle for lesser material for round number two.  Rest assured that the Barn Burners not only avoid a sophomore slump, they take an impressive step forward.

Alibis builds on the solid foundation the Burners laid with their first album, Tobacco Sunburst.  Led by singer /songwriter Bob Kannenberg, the Baltimore area quartet has put together a strong collection of 10 originals and one remake; T-Bone Burnette’s “Little Daughter”.  Like the city of Baltimore itself, the Burners sound successfully straddles the line between North & South.

Kannenberg sings the blues of the workingman in the rocking “Dice Are Loaded”.  The frustration continues with “Thinkin’ Hard and Drinkin’ Harder”, only this time it is country blues. “Thinkin” features deft pedal steel work against a 50’s rock n’ roll backbeat - a combination that definitely works.

In “Just Because”, a honky-tonk rave-up, Kannenberg pays homage to a fistful of country legends including George Jones, Hank Williams, Ray Price and Buck Owens. 

The Burners get up and boogie with “Jenny Lee” which will have you two-stepping before you know it.  “Hey Little Darling” and “Can’t Happen To Me” keep the heat turned up, while “Rebel Bop” chugs along with a CCR-inspired back beat.

The album’s standout song, the country-tinged “Big Tree”, paints a beautifully sad picture of a highway patrolman who earlier in life “felt like a big tree/watchin’ over you all”.  Now at retirement, the feeling has become “like a big tree/waiting to fall”.  The tree metaphor works perfectly and showcases Kannenberg’s best writing to date.

Alibis is polished enough to show that the Barn Burners take their craft seriously while making it clear that they still believe rock n roll is supposed to be fun.  And what could be more fun than listening to a band hit its stride?

Jeffrey Duke Patterson - Story Of A Rebel
by Markus Rill

Jeffrey Duke Patterson presents himself pretty much in the same fashion as the Hard Way-era Steve Earle did: as the Harley-riding, hard-rocking outlaw kind. Contrary to most contenders, though, Jeffrey doesn't suffer from the comparison because he has more to offer than just a rebel image. 

As a songwriter, he does show an undeniable Earle influence but he also ventures into Mellencampian small towns and 
Springsteenesque working class territory. While most songs' 
topics have been dealt with before, Patterson shows intelligence, wisdom and understanding in the album's ten self-penned tracks with lines like "18 years old I knew everything, knew more than my old man/ so I left home said I'm never comin' back, shows you how little I knew back then." 

To accompany him, Patterson has assembled a bunch of good, 
competent musicians who bring a lot of rough-edged energy to his tunes. Drummer Robert Smith and guitarist John Sprott sound best, though, when they deny themselves their share of wildman breaks and hot licks. Thus, the mellower songs like "She Loves Me Anyways", "Little Miss Beautful" and the folkish "Maggie Kane" are more convincing than the not always terribly original rockers ("Friday Night").

Whereas Jeffrey may be convincing but not (yet) ingenious as a 
songwriter and arranger, he is a truly amazing singer. He has a 
strong, Southern-accented, manly voice and is quite a confident, soulful vocalist. It's just a real pleasure to hear real good singing on honest, believable songs and, accordingly, "Story Of A Rebel" is a remarkable album from a a mature, talented artist. 

Edge City - "Mystery Ride"
by Markus Rill

Only in Austin, Tx. can an unsigned, strictly local act assemble such a wealth of talent to help out in  the making of an album. The husband-wife duo of Jim Patten and Sherry Brokus managed to recruit much in-demand pedal steel ace Lloyd Maines as producer and his fellow Joe Ely band veterans David Grissom (guitar) and Glenn Fukunaga (bass) along with other similarly experienced first-rate players for their new release "Mystery Ride". In other words, getting good instrumental parts was not a problem. 

Needless to say that Maines's production provides a wonderfully rounded-out sound which allows the listener to enjoy these positively inspired performances. 

And it's no wonder these great musicians have fun playing Jim Patton's songs. They are fine songs, indeed. Patton is a competent songwriter and his songs concentrate on life's hardships. 

Yet although Patton is a sympathetic, insightful lyricist, he does sometimes resort to cliches. Some opening lines give reason to 
expect the worst ("Baby you've been hurt before" from "I Will Not Let You Down", "Yeah, your life's been kinda rough" from "No Reason", "In this world full of trouble, pain, and sorrow" from "I  Turn To You") but, ultimately, Edge City steer clear of schmaltz and deliver the goods. "Million Miles Away" and especially "Aliceanna Street" are real gems.

Unfortunately, the vocal deliveries are not quite up to the high standard of songwriting and musicianship. Don't get me wrong, Sherry Brokus is a good singer and she hits the right notes but her voice lacks character and her performances are rather unexciting. 

Jim Patton has a Butch Hancock-meets-Peter Wolf-kind of voice but his singing style (if you can call it that) is closer to Lou Reed's.

However, with 13 good songs, truly fine playing and great production work by Lloyd Maines, "Mystery Ride" still stands head and shoulders above most independent productions.

by Markus Rill
Copyright 2000

Joe Ely - Live At Antone's
by Markus Rill

Since I own most of Joe's albums and he has released two live ones before, I wasn't sure I really needed to add this one to my collection. There were two more reasons to think twice about 
buying "Live At Antone's." First, the set list is not exactly full of surprises and number two, I'm a real sucker for guitarist David Grissom (who played on "Live At Liberty Lunch") but Grissom and Ely have parted ways. His replacement, Jesse Taylor, is a longtime Ely veteran and a fine player but I still miss Grissom's highly original style.

Anyway...I should not have doubted Joe Ely. The album is simply too good to be missed. Not only is Joe Ely is an energetic performer (equal only to Springsteen and maybe Todd Snider), he also has a terrific band aboard for the ride. Flamenco guitarist Teye and accordionist Joel Guzman add wonderful flourishes to the basic setup of drums, bass, two guitars and Lloyd Maines's pedal steel. The much in-demand producer's fiery pedal steel playing is quite different from the syrupy Nashville style.

Most important, though, the songs are just superb. It doesn't matter how many times you've heard Robert Earl Keen's "The Road Goes On Forever" or Tom Russell's "Gallo del Cielo" before, in Ely and his excellent band's versions, they sound all fresh and invigorating. The album also features the ultimate version of Ely's own tall Texas tale "Me And Billy The Kid". 
The crisp, clear sound on this album allows you to not only enjoy the music, you can also chuckle about every single tongue-in-cheek line in the aforementioned songs, rock out with Butch Hancock's "Road Hawg" and ponder Ely's musings (A Thousand Miles From Home). 

A really fine album with truly great songs!

by Markus Rill
copyright 2000

Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues
by Markus Rill

I admit I was skeptic. Though I've been an ardent admirer of Steve Earle for years, I must say that I was disappointed by "El Corazon"  and unenthusiastic about "The Mountain", his last two releases prior to "Transcendental Blues". Then, just two days before the official release date, I witnessed a lackluster performance by Earle & The Dukes in Frutigen/Switzerland. And word of a "rock album" had me expecting the worst.

I'm glad to state that the new album is utterly convincing. As on "El Corazon", Earle demonstrates amazing stylistic variety but this time around, he manages to give the album a cohesive feel. There are joyful Irish jigs (Galway Girl, Steve's Last Ramble), bluegrassy numbers (Until The Day I Die), guitar-driven rockers (All Of My Life) and introspective folksy tunes (Lonelier Than This, Over Yonder). Yet, most of all, there are wonderful pop songs aplenty. "Everyone's In Love With You", Another Town", "I Can Wait", "Halo Round The Moon" and "I don't Wanna Lose You Yet" have an irresistible immediacy about them that really sets the atmosphere for the whole album. The "rock" elements may be found in Earle's gravelly voice, his fuck-me-attitude, in slapdash-sounding arrangements and the less than pristine sound quality. Fortunately, though, Earle refrained from writing along the lines of "West Nashville Boogie" and "Here I Am", his air-guitar-punkrock anthems. His new compositions are practically bursting with melodic beauty and brilliance. So much so that Mr Earle, who has never had an ego problem, cannot cease to talk about the "rubbery soul"-sound or "Jules-Shear-goes-fab"-quality of his new oeuvre. Oh well.

Lyrically, though, Earle's latest offering is surprisingly weak. Who would have ever thought that the author of so many exceptional storysongs can be so clumsy when it comes to writing verses for a true gem of a love song as "I Don't Want To Lose You Yet": "You know I love you and I know you love me/it's everything that love's supposed to be." Aw, come on.
And not even a gorgeous string arrangement can disguise that "The Boy Who Never Cried" is not the powerful parable it attempts to be. 

"Transcendental Blues" does not contain a single standout track that can stand alongside Earle's very best (or even the best songs from "El Corazon" or "The Mountain"), but as a whole, the album easily ranks among his top two or three outings.

Copyright 2000 by Markus Rill


Dirtball - Turn Up The Barn

True to their band name the six-piece from Virginia favor rough edges over perfection and songs full of despair, sorrow and, well, booze over smooth, radio-friendly pop. In my book, that makes them an instantly likeable band. 
They also have a wealth of talent and seem to be good guys: Jeff Liverman is not only a talented songwriter but also a very versatile team player on all kinds of stringed instruments. Yet, he still allows guest musician Charles Arthur to highlight quite a few numbers with his tasty dobro and pedal steel licks. Josh Camp is Dirtball's other songwriter, not a bad one either and he supplies organ, piano and, most importantly, some beautiful accordion. Well, I'm a real sucker for that.

And then there's singer Wes Freed who makes his band mates' compositions his very own by giving them a distinctly feel with his slow Southern drawl.

So in theory this should be one of my favorite albums. And I do like it. Good songs, competent picking and plaintive vocals - what's not to like? Then again - as with a bunch of other, much better known bands - I sometimes get the feeling that Dirtball care more for demonstrating their devil-may-care attitude than for communicating any actual substance. Most songs' lyrics seem not fully developed and some vocal phrasings are a just bit too careless or unoriginal. In the end, Dirtball deliver a good album with high points ("3am") but fall of short of realizing their full potential.

Copyright 2000 by Markus Rill


Slaid Cleaves - Broke Down

Slaid Cleaves is a truly wonderful person. He makes equally wonderful music. I saw him perform quite a few times while I lived in Austin, Tx. He was, in fact still is, friends with friends of mine and they played together a lot in juke joints and bars to small but captive audiences. Now that Slaid has toured with Fred Eaglesmith and Robert Earl Keen and plays with Ian McLagan (the man has been in the Faces and played with virtually everyone, including Springsteen!) and long-time Lucinda Williams-collaborator Gurf Morlix, he still invites his old friend Laura Nadeau to sing on his records.

And he covers a song by Karen Poston. Karen's song "Lydia" is so breathtakingly beautiful, it wouldn't be out of place on a Dave Alvin album (and that, boys, is the highest praise I can come up with). I used to embarrass Karen by asking her to sing with me at Open Mikes. So maybe this is not the most objective review so far.

Well, even if you don't know Slaid and you don't give a hoot what kind of a person he is, you'll still love the sparse folksy sound of his music, Slaid's warm, raspy voice, and his storytelling abilities. "Sandy Gray" not only tells a mighty moving true story but is also practically bursting with poetic brilliance. Haven't seen better internal rhyming since "Like A Rolling Stone."  And I don't think the combined efforts of Wilco & Billy Bragg of putting Woody Guthrie's lyrics to music led to results as satisfying as "This Morning I Am Born Again." Slaid takes Woody's Walt Whitman-like poem and turns it into a song that could stand alongside Woody's best works, right up there with "I Ain't Got No Home". And there are plenty more fine songs to muse on ("One Good Year") or sing along to ("Key Chain") and tasty picking to enjoy. So much the better if it comes from a great guy.

copyright 2000 by Markus Rill


Mary Cutrufello - "When the night is through
by Markus Rill

Most of you probably don't know who Mary Cutrufello is and you'll find this hard to believe: The first time I saw Mary play, she was on stage of the great Continental Club in Austin, Tx. and she looked like Tracy Chapman with Bob Marley's hair and she played her Telecaster slung way down low Keith Richards-style, jumping round like a jumpin' jack flash and playing the rowdiest, rockingest, twangiest version of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" that I'd ever heard while getting some real mean licks from that ole Tele's fretboard. Hell, she even yodeled. She was too good to be true. 

Obviously record companies had no clue what to do with her, so she released a fabulous tape and a self-produced CD entitled "Who To Love & When To Leave" that captured all the excitement of her live performance and features a beautiful song co-written with Steve Earle. 

Now, she's released her first major label CD and Warner Brothers have tried their very best to falsify the old saying "you can take the boy (or girl) out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy (or girl)." They almost succeeded. 

There's no two-stepping to this record and there's no waltzing. And no-one yodels. Instead you get Kenny Aronoff's powerhouse drumming and Rami Jaffee's beautiful organ playing (and it's good to see him get gigs outside of the Wallflowers) and Mary doing her very best to ignite some of the old fire into some new songs and some old ones. The best songs get real close to some good-time rock'n'roll, maybe comparable to Springsteen's "Sherry Darling". And, surely, Mary's capable hands still play them countrified licks. 

In the long run, though, this record provides slightly stale roadhouse rock with the kind of lyrics that go in one ear and out the other. This is an ok record but it fails to present the real live Mary Cutrufello and I, for one, will lay the blame on major record companies who obviously lack the balls to let an African-American woman record a country record. And what a hell of a country rock record it could've been.

 copyright 1998 byMarkus Rill


Crowd Of One - Rubbertramp
by Markus Rill

Crowd Of One are a member of the endangered species known as  "hardworking-four-piece-no-shit-rock'n'roll-bands." Hearing their record "Rubbertramp", you'll  wonder why a band with such a plentitude of talent is still unsigned but hearing that  they're from
Nashville, Tn. will give you the answer. They're way too fresh and alive and ass-kicking to get  signed in Music City, USA. And somehow I doubt that they don Stetson hats. 

Their press kit contains various comparisons to better-known bands such as the The Bo-Deans  and Gin Blossoms and as far apart as those two bands may seem, Crowd Of One indeed manage to  remind me of both. 

Hook-laden power-pop songs, perfect vocal harmonies and good musicianship is what they all have  in common. Add to that the energy and obvious enthusiasm unique to a debut album and you know  the cornerstones of the "Rubbertramp"-sound. These songs are so infectious and the production is  so authentic that there's no doubt that Dutch, Jon, Tod & Fred must be a real fun band to witness  live on stage. 

What's even better when you see them live is that some of the more simplistic lyrics will not quite  spoil your fun as much as they do on the record. Here's an example of what I mean: 

Lead singer: "Broken hearted" - Band: "What can I do?" 
Singer: "Broken hearted" - Band: "Without you." 
Singer: "Broken hearted" - Band "Yes, it's true." 

Too bad that I can't give you a sample of their truly enjoyable roots-rock with nice guitar-work, a  steady backbeat and strong melodies; it's well-worth checking out even if the lyrics aren't of quite  the same quality as the music is. 

For info on how to purchase the CD, send an email to

copyright 1999 by Markus Rill


Howard Iceberg & The Titanics "Hindu Equations"
by Markus Rill

I know what you're thinking. The band name and album title scared me off at first too. Also the  cover doesn't look like your average record and guess why - it simply ain't. But  something silly or odd, it ain't either. In fact, this album has the freshest folkrock sound I've heard in  a long while and what's more - it's got real lyrics. Most bands manage to write a bunch of ok  three-chord songs - it's not all that hard. Very few songwriters, however, have   Howard Iceberg's knack for writing lyrics that are both fun and stimulating to listen to. 

He won me over by alluding to my favorite author (wanna know who it is? - buy the record) in the  very first verse and by being able to constantly surprise the listener. Who would've thought that a  song called "You're The One I Want" would go on with "but she's the one I need." And there's plenty  more wordplay and irony in his songs ("you need more of me and less of him"). But don't be fooled,  there's no lack of serious moments and introspection - these lyrics are just the most intelligent I've  ever seen by an artist this side of Dylan and the songwriting Gods we've all come to know. 

However, the quality of the lyrics doesn't burden the melodies. The Titanics expertly serve up  flat-out rockers with a twist and lilting folk tunes. Needless to say that the arrangements are lovingly  woven around the acoustic guitar without losing the bite and emergency that the more uptempo  songs require. Harmonicas, slide guitars and accordions nicely complement these tunes. 

Maybe a word about Iceberg's voice is in order here. So he's not exactly Aretha Franklin's male  counterpart - so what? I bet you've gotten used to Dylan and maybe even Neil Young and Iceberg is  much less eccentric. In fact, after a few listens, his nasal drawl becomes an integral part of these  songs. It's hard to imagine words full of  self-deprecating humor being belted out by, say, Michael Bolton. 

Iceberg scores on all accounts and he deserves that you give him a listen. 

Contact him at

copyright 1999 by Markus Rill


Radney Foster " See What You Want To See"

This record took some time to make and then some years to be released. Foster who'd had major  hits as part of  "Foster & Lloyd" and as a solo artist had grown disenchanted. With life, first, and  then with Nashville. The songs on this record are a reflection of the personal turmoil Foster has  gone through. His marriage fell apart, a custody battle ensued when his ex-wife moved to Europe  and took their son with her, and then Foster found a new love. These experiences made for  songwriting that's closer to the bone than some of the poppier stuff Foster had churned out before.  But the man is still crafty and witty and able to write instantly memorable lines like "the Mississippi  moves a whole sadder than you think." With most of these songs concentrating on relationships, lyrically Foster hasn't strayed all that far from his past outings. Soundwise, "See What You Want To  See" is a whole new world, though. There are loud drums and distorted electric guitars galore and  Foster's smooth voice sounds surprisingly at home in this environment. The arrangements do  wonders or these songs which could have been watered down by the usual Nashville array of pedal  steels and sweet harmonies. Instead, with their edges rough and the performances rugged they  shine and continue to excite. There's never a dull moment on the whole record which is why it was  too risque for mainstream record companies. "I've Got A Picture"  and "I'm In" start the album off  just fine but the songs just keep getting better. "Angry Heart", "The Lucky Ones" and especially  "God Knows When" are all killer tracks, beautiful songs, hits for a perfect world. A really  unexpectedly beautiful album, definitely one for the year's best list. 

copyright 1999 by Markus Rill

Todd Snider - Happy To Be Here
by Markus Rill

Todd Snider appeared on the scene with a splash. His debut album "Songs for The Daily Planet", released in 1994, presented him as a humorous and extraordinarily gifted young singer-songwriter. "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues" was funny as hell and "You Think You Know Somebody" still stands as his best song, a brave tale about domestic violence and friendship broken. And these songs merely needed the acoustic guitar as accompaniment.
Yet Todd also created quite a stir with his electrifying and electrified live performances and was invited by Joe Ely to join him in a rocking version of "Oh Boy" on the tribute to Buddy Holly. So Todd rocked out and little by little, he seemed to be losing direction. Although his other two albums still displayed Todd's talent and wit, they couldn't match the originality and sheer enthusiasm of his debut.

Apparently, a falling out with is band The Nervous Wrecks and ensuing solo gigs as well as losing his record deal with MCA led Todd to re-assess his true goals. "I'd ceased to be a folk singer in front of [The Nervous Wrecks]", he says. "So I wanted to get back to making a record that was all about playing [the songs] as a person with a guitar. [...] Rather than the usual Tele with organ, I really wanted something acoustic."

Oh Boy, we can all be glad he came to that conclusion and he found Ray Kennedy to produce "Happy To Be Here", easily Todd's best post-debut release. The song takes center stage on this album. "Happy To Be Here" is undeniably funny, "All Of My Life" wonderfully tender and "Long Year" is both and then some. And as a whole, the album is anything but sparse, even though none of the tracks feel overproduced. Horns and mandolins and tap dancing and Tom Littlefield's singing garner Snider's songs, and, yes, that might even be a Telecaster playing those bluesy licks on "45 Miles".

This album is all you expected but never quite got from Todd after the "Daily Planet" album. There are caustic observations about twelve-step programs and pre-nuptial agreements, celebratory singalongs ("Keep Off The Grass") and moving moments of introspection. No wonder Todd's "Happy To Be Here" these days. He's gotten married, his friendship with Will Kimbrough seems intact and he's released the best record of the year so far.

The interview quotes are courtesy of

Copyright 2000 by Markus Rill

Dwight Yoakam -

Confession time: Hats and tight jeans (on a guy) don't work for me. I had never been quite able to really dig Dwight Yoakam and his neo-Bakersfield sound, no matter how hard I tried.

On this new album, Yoakam gets rid of all gimmicks and tricks, of the band and even a CD booklet. It's just the man and his guitar and to my ears he's sounding better than ever. Funny, but in this context his countrier-than-thou singing seems less put on. In fact, his vocal abilities - sighs and hickups included - hold up the whole record. There's not much else to hold it up, anyway. Songs, of course, and Yoakam's beautifully effective guitar playing. It's a relief to these songs to not be cluttered by Yoakam's longtime guitarist and producer Pete Anderson's very forced arrangements. To me, Anderson's attempts to be original and radio-friendly at the same time never sounded very successful. Of course, millions of buyers are in disagreement with me on this.

Now, however, Yoakam's songwriting can be assessed on its own merits. It's good stuff. "A 1,000 Miles From Nowhere", "Please Please Baby", "Bury Me", "Fast As You" - the list of originals that have never never been closer to their country, blues, folk and honkytonk roots goes and on. It's terribly hard to make an interesting record with just one guy and his songs. Yoakam's pulled it off.

Copyright 2000 by Markus Rill

Frog Holler - Adams Hotel Road

If Son Volt and Whiskeytown really do split up (I'm sure you heard the rumors too), don't fret. Frog Holler are more than ready to fill in their footsteps. This six-piece band from Philadelphia manages to incorporate all the essential alt. country ingredients into their sound without sounding the least bit contrived. They combine sad songs and rowdy ones as well as fine musicianship with a naturally rough-edged production. Yet, contrary to the bulk of new bands joining the movement, Frog Holler sound original and familiar at the same time.

They started out as a bluegrass band, they say, so it's not surprising that most of Frog Holler's songs are driven by acoustic instruments, namely, guitars, mandolins, and a pluckering banjo. But they must've been a mighty slow bluegrass band because Frog Holler's main singer/songwriter Darren Schlappich prefers midtempo melancholia. And, oh boy, what a wonderfully world-weary voice Schlappich has to add to the songs. And humor too. "I'm the least most wanted everyday", Frog Holler's frontman complains in the lead-off track to Adams Hotel Road, his band's second outing. "Couldn't Get Along" is further proof of Schlappich's ability to be honestly sad without being boring.

Further along the road, Frog Holler rock out and then wander on, the whole disc flows effortlessly along. So maybe the CD is a little too long to keep up the high standard set by the aforementioned standout tracks and rhythmically it doesn't offer too much in the way of variety but, really, what the's still a wonderful ride down Adams Hotel Road.

copyright 2000 by Markus Rill


Dave Alivn - Blackjack David  (Hightone Records)
by Markus Rill

Ok, folks, to start off this reviews thing, I figured we might as well start off good and, believe me, this is as good as it gets. Maybe you already know Dave Alvin, maybe not. Those who do can skip to the next paragraph. In the 80ies, Dave played guitar and wrote all the songs for the fabulous rockabilly band, The Blasters. But he's a musicologist of all American roots music today. So far, he's released five solo albums, this is his sixth and, believe it or not, his best. 

Dave is undeniably a great guitar player and, man, he's even turned into a highly emotional singer over the years. There's also some terrific playing on this record by Greg Leisz, master producer and player of all stringed instruments, especially lapsteel and slide guitars, and the other musicians. What this is all about, though, is songs. Dave is both a craftsman and a poet. He can skillfully arrange an old folk tune (the title song), refresh blues patterns (Hate The Way You Say Goodbye) and he can even come up with a veritable pop hit for a perfect world (Abilene), most of all, though, the man knows how to tell stories. The story songs on BLACKJACK DAVID will come back to haunt you. There's a song co-written with Tom Russell about a border patrol guy that would've fit right in on Springsteen's "Ghost Of Tom Joad" (it's called "California Snow"), there's a morality tale about a murderer and an unfaithful wife ("Mary Brown") that equals Steve Earle's best outlaw ditties and there's two songs uniquely Dave Alvin. "1968" & "From A Kitchen Table" are about longing and isolation and (as James McMurtry put it) "just life, Mom" and I get goosebumps right now just thinking of these amazing story songs.

Dave Alvin needs no "alt. country"-hype to come up with the best American roots music album of the year. Buy this album right away and then start saving up for its only contender, Springsteen's six-CD box scheduled for November.

Copyright 1998 by Markus Rill

Lucinda Williams - Car wheels on a gravel road
by Markus Rill 

I'm sure you've read your share of raving reviews about LucindaWilliams' long-awaited new album. And, frankly, it's a damn good album. 

It's got the best ingredients: 

1) Great players galore. Buddy Miller, Steve Earle, Roy Bittan of the E-Street-Band, that ever-amazing Charlie Sexton, Johnny Lee Schell, Jim Lauderdale, and Lucinda's long-time cohorts, bassist John Ciambotti , drummer, Donald Lindley and guitarist Gurf Morlix (you've probably all heard about the unfortunate rift between Lucinda & Gurf but he's a real trooper). 

2) Fine production. Despite all the endless work on the record and the change of producers from Gurf to the Twang Trust to Roy Bittan, everything is in place here. There's at least three guitarists on each song, often more, but players like that don't step on each other, they complement one another and, boy, it's well worth listening to. 

3) Good songs. Lucinda is capable of writing real life-songs about real life-situations using real life-language. They're all very emotional, very direct and there's a spirituality that shines through in her lyrics as well as her singing that's all her own. 

Now, that we've established the fact that this is indeed a good album and I enjoy listening to it, may I take a second to mention some of its flaws. Somehow you get the feeling that the greatness of this album is mostly due to the participating players and the tasty production. Lucinda's songwriting tends to focus on the mundane and while that is not a bad thing per se, it would probably help if there were a song or two about something other than boy-girl relationships (ok, I give ya "Car Wheels" and "2 Kool 2 Be 4Gotten" but that's two outta thirteen).

Musically, the songs are a bit repetitive, too. The beautiful playing and the tasty arrangements help disguise the fact that too many songs are too damn long. In the end, however, you grow weary of the songs with umpteen verses and no choruses and no bridges. I dunno if there's just one bridge on the whole record. 

What I'm trying to say is, I like the record but the whole hype makes it sound like a true masterpiece along the lines of "Blood On The Tracks" or "Born To Run" or  "--" (insert your favorite all-time-record here) and I don't think it's quite up there. 

copyright 1998 by Markus Rill


Kelly Willis  "What I Deserve"

Let's get a few things straight right away: This album does not dig deep. The production is a bit  polished and Kelly Willis is not a songwriter and storyteller like Townes Van Zandt or Steve Earle.  She doesn't tell us much about her demons and darkest fears and she doesn't provide us with any  new Texas outlaw yarns. 

But, man, you gotta love this album for what it is. It's simply a record full of beautiful songs - pop  songs, to be sure -, fine singing and wonderfully subdued musical performances. To me, Chuck  Prophet's guitar playing is worth the price of admission alone. I love that guy and Kelly Willis's  album makes him shine in a way that his own records have lately been failing to. And, really,  players like Prophet, Michael Ramos (organ), Jon Dee Graham (lap, steel & slide guitars) and Rafael  Gayol (drums) are what set this album apart from a Nashville recording. The material, though  well-crafted, might not be spectacularly different from what's on, say, Allison Moorer's debut but the  playing is just so much more soulful. 

And, of course, Kelly Willis is able to deliver too. The way she's crooning her way through these  songs like she does make her utterly loveable. And, trust me, it's not her looks that make me go  weak in the knees, it's how her voice seems to melt like chocolate when she sings "Heavenbound"  or how she's surprisingly seductive on "Got A Feeling For You." 

Willis achieved exactly what she set out to do. If you co-write with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks,  you're not aiming to write about existential pain. If you recruit session players, you're not shooting  for an eccentric rough-and-tumble rock sound. She wanted to make a record that is listenable  without being all gloss and no content. She wanted to write and record songs that have a real  chance of being played on the radio and still avoid the cliche-ridden Nashville machinery while. And  she succeeded in doing just that. You might say, it's all a very calculated affair but I still find these  performances utterly irresistible. 

copyright 1999 by Markus Rill


Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band "The Mountain"
by Markus Rill

The word is that Steve Earle made a bluegrass record. Those who still see him as the bike-riding  outlaw might be surprised, some even alienated. But those who've been listening closely know that  Earle has always been a songwriter who writes most of his stuff on acoustic guitar or mandolin. He  even collaborated with the McCourys on his last rock album, "El Corazon." So this new album  isn't  such a giant leap, after all. He's made a brilliant acoustic record before ("Train A-Comin'") and this  seems like a logical next step. (However, Warner Brothers didn't quite see it that way, they released Earle from his contract.) 

What's unexpected, though, is that Earle who used to rebel and break the rules in the best Waylon,  Willie & Johnny-tradition is suddenly confining himself to staying in well-trod territory. There's a  train song, a murder ballad, mining songs, songs of heartbreak - what's new? Well, maybe not so  much is new but this record is still very enjoyable. 

One reason is that great storytelling songs by Earle like "The Mountain" & "Dixieland" are always  welcome. And the man even sings much better than lately (although he's still outclassed by Iris  DeMent on their duet "Still In Love With You"). What's best, though, is that the Del McCoury-band  manages to perform Earle's more by-the-numbers-efforts like "Graveyard Shift" and "Lonesome  Highway Blues" with a spontaneity and energy that makes one glad they're included on the record.  There are really no letdowns on this album which works as one cohesive unit of good songs and  superb performances and has a lot of heart - which is more than can be said of Earle's last  much-praised release, "El Corazon." 

copyright 1999 by Markus Rill


Schütze & Stückle - Leave The Blues Behind
by Smithie

Finally, the first German band to be reviewed here. They are a mostly acoustic duo with Dennis Schütze handling guitar and vocal duties and Hans Stückle on harmonica. This is their second CD and - as the title indicates - it leads them away from the more traditional Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee-approach of their debut.

That is not to say they shun the blues entirely but they spice it up in their original compositions and they bring in different roots musical flavors such as country and folk and a taste of rockabilly.  In order to do so, bluesman Hans Stückle gets cast in a supporting role, not too different from upright bassist Thomas Prisching and various hired hands providing accordion, saxophone and drums. Dennis Schütze really takes over the steering wheel on this record. He is a versatile guitarist, an insightful songwriter and this album presents him as a fine singer. Anyone who can deliver the "Lovesick Blues" and hold his ground in comparison with Hank Williams must indeed be good. He also shines on his original compositions, such as the title track, the bluesy "I've Been Down" and the haunting "Devil's On My Trail".

Hans Stückle blows up a storm on "The Train That Carried My Girl  From Town", finds a niche for his blues harp on the folksy "Leave The Blues Behind" and takes over the vocal mic on Doc Watson's "Walk On Boy" and thus proves that he's an integral part of the duo.

The whole disc is wonderfully cohesive even though it combines Hank Williams and Nancy Sinatra ("These Boots Are Made For Walking"), Markus Rill ("West Texas Moon") and Johnny Winter ("Sugaree"). It's really only great musicianship that enables a band to pull off a feat like this effortlessly and utterly convincingly.

Copyright 2000 by Smithie

Contact Dennis Schuetze:
CD also available at

If you find this page at all interesting, maybe you'd like to know Markus Rill's  ten favourite records:

My personal top ten, make that eleven, for the year 2000:

1. Todd Snider - Happy To Be Here
2. John Hiatt - Crossing Muddy Waters
3. Johnny Cash - American Recordings III: Solitary Man
4. Sonny Landreth - Levee Town
5. Slaid Cleaves - Broke Down
6. Jim Roll - Lunette
7. Dave Alvin - Public Domain
8. Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
9. Steve Forbert - Evergreen Boy
10. Bruce Robison - A Long Way Home From Anywhere
11. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Echo

I missed out on Kasey Chambers - The Captain and Damon Bramblett. If there's a kind soul out there who would like to send me a tape of these two albums... or if you'd just like to comment and get in touch, email me to

and don't forget to check out

Markus Rill's  ten favourite records of 1998:

1. Dave Alvin - Blackjack David
2. Farmer Not So John - Receiver
3. Chris Knight - dto.
4. Fred Eaglesmith - Lipstick Lies & Gasoline
5. Eric Taylor - Resurrect
6. Jon Dee Graham - Escape From Monster Island
7. Gillian Welch - Hell Among The Yearlings
8. Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
9. Kevin Johnson & The Linemen - Parole Music 
10. Robert Earl Keen - Walking Distance

Some other records well worth checking out (in my humble opinion): 

James McMurtry - Walk Between The Raindrops
Sue Foley - Ten Days In November
Greg Trooper - Popular Demons
Lyle Lovett - Step Inside This House
Hank Shizzoe & Loose Gravel - Plenty Of Time

and I'm sure I've missed some good ones ...As always, feel free to contact me if you want info on any of those records or if you want to make a recommendation.
Send all email to

Markus Rill's favorite records of 1999:

I must say that I don't think last year brought us albums quite as good as the best of '98 but maybe I just missed out on some of the more out-of-the-way stuff because I was very busy throughout the year, first recording my own new album "The Devil & The Open Road" and then touring in France, Spain and Germany. So, as usual, I'd love to hear your comments and input.
Write to

1. Radney Foster - See What You Want To See
2. Kelly Willis - What I Deserve
3.Johnny Cash - Live At Folsom Prison (reissue)
4. Tom Waits - Mule Variations
5. Buddy Miller - Cruel Moon
6. John Mellencamp - dto.
7. Todd Thibaud - Little Mystery
8. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Echo
9. Townes Van Zandt - A Far Cry From Dead
10. Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band - The Mountain


Chris Mills - Kiss it goodbye
by Nobby Knape

Is there a return in the 40 minutes lp format? Some of my latest cds seem to indicate exactly this: the new Neil Young, Bad Livers and now: Chris Mills newest cd: Kiss it goodbye.

Looking back to almost the bulk of last years musical output I must confess that there were quite a lot of them that were way to long. 3 cds in 2 years and each was 74 minutes long: Either you have to be Leonard McLennon-Dylan as a never ending source of new songs - or a mighty percentage is just unnecessary.

Chris Mills I knew until now as accompanist to my musical herros from the Mekons: Sally Timms and Jon Langford did gigs / tours with him. So when I got his new effort, I was not expecting such a mature collection of full grown song jewels.
I didn't like the starter at first listening: Brand new day has Mills stating that he wants to be on the winning side from now on:

Because I've been waiting
Such a long, long time
And the truth ain't helping
So I guess I'll just pay it no mind
I've made up my mind
It's gonna be a brand new day

Well I thought: You may well wish to, but it's gonna take a lot more than mere wishing to be not just another alt-country clon. 2 songs later I was confronted with a little Buckner reminiscence in resignation and despair. So far so expected. All you ever do is the first really great tune: poppish in song structure, great riff and nice guitar break. Then we're into a deep 'knockin-on-heaven's-door'-like ballad. There's no more talk of a brand new day, but my mind's getting better with each song. Napkin in a wine glass (very Son Volt like in sound) has one of the most impressive lyrics I heard lately. The woman with the scar who sees p.c. as weak-ass wants to raise her kids with guns - to prevent them from having her fate. This turns out all the macho power in the guy listening: Politically absolutely incorrect he does what's ever been done to her: and
she folds like a napkin in the wine glass. Lips are like poison sounds like Jeff Tweedy singing in the beginning, but
again the nice guitar sounds can't whitewash the disturbing lyrics. When I'm through I repeat the cds twice and my conclusion: 40 minutes are great if you have things to say that take 40 minutes - and Chris Mills has. So it's not another pretender - it's a great combination of stylistic diversity and conceptual unity. And what's most frightening to an a man in the fifties: he's only 23. What can we expect from him in the years to come. The cd was produced by Brian Deck and Jon Langford. Features guest appearances by Lambchop's Deanna Varagona, Kelly Hogan and Pinetop Seven's
Ryan Hembrey. 

It will be released on June 19 on Loose Recordings in the UK and a month later by Sugar Free in the USA. Lyrics and more information can be found on:



Volebeats: Sky and the ocean
(Blue Rose/Rough Trade in Europe, Safe House in USA) 1997
by Nobby Knape

What can I call new music? Is it new sounds, newly released, new to me?
Ok, you know already, that is about old stuff: April 1977 - is it still in the stores, can you order it from your fav mailorder. Do you have to look for cut-outs?
I must confess that I don't give a shit unless it's good stuff. And I just came upon the Volebeats recently and was blown away by the simply beauty almost immediately. You may say it's almost old music. With no distance you hear charming minor chords, harmony singing a la Byrds, Everly Brothers or Beatles, tragic gestures. This may sound like bad retro, but it's just daring melody and harmony. I must confess that I miss the days of my youth when I hummed songs for days (I only see this with my own kids now). So I was immediately hooked by Two Seconds and couldn't get it out of my mind. This song is followed by the rockabilly Warm weather, one of the few tunes I don't like, but I never have been a rockabilly fan. So I go over to the meandering title track. Or listen again to Dead Of winter. I've heard those songs before, with very sparse guitar accompaniment on a mourning, acoustic classic of a song. Powerful lyrics, a strong tune and passionate deliver still bring me chills and I didn't hear such a basket of pearls for quite a time.
"We enjoy playing music," says singer Jeff Oakes. "And besides, we get to see Texas."

Coming from Detroit the band consists of guitarist/vocalist Jeff Oakes, guitarists Bob McCreedy and Matthew Smith, bassist Russell Ledford  and drummer Scott Michalski. Still having day jobs They're far away from being the next big thing, in fact I hope they will stay the way they are and I will definetly look out for their next one, write a review and call it record of the year.

Info about the band:

by Nobby (

Roy Harper: The dream society ( Science Friction)
by Nobby Knape

As Markus said, some folk, some rock, some blues and plenty of country. So I won't start with country and go one step further, it ain't US either.

I've been listening to Americana for a while now, so I was glad to hear that one of my old Brit favs was going to release a new one (his first after six years). I'm talking of Roy Harper, noted lunatic and friend of the stars. Members of the Nice, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd played on his records and some of them onstage too. Led Zeppeling wrote 'Hats off to Harper' for him and you could se him sitting somewehere in the Outer Hebrids jamming with Jimmy Page high on a mountain top.

What could I suspect: Another 18-minutes-of-ranting-song, sarcastic songs about crap food in motorway restaurants or this strange kind of selfconfidence of a man talking to nobody else but god?

Roy's new one is a collection af all his trademarks from the last 30 years: rocking stuff like 'Angle of the night' (starting with that Eductaion riff from Pink Floyd) or simple but wonderful ballads as 'Broke Wings'.
That one starts: 

I used to fly
I kew the sky
An eagle on a thermal high.'

He never was shy, and again he sounds like the singer who walked upon the water just like Jesus (HQ LP-cover), but again he's crashed down, hiding his broken wing. Effective violin by Ric Sanders. One of my favourites is 'Dancing all the night', which starts as 'Cottonfields' only that he talks about the 'killing fields' of central Manchester, when they were burned by 'Adoplh Schizomania'. After a minute the Cottonfields riff is followed by a bridge which changes the song to a very emotional mood: theme is his mother who died shortly after Roy's birth. When in earlier works Harper often was full of hate and anger, this time he is reconciled with evrybody:

'I forgive you for leaving me.'

So you got the stormer, the personal statement, now how's the long one? The suite is there: 14 minutes may be short compared to the one song-LP 'Burn the world', but 'These Fifty Years' ... well does capture fifty years. Lyrics is about a dream featuring Roy, God and a 19th century biologist named Tom Huxley. Huxley was a rationalist who laid groud for a secular 'relegion' based upon 'evolutionary humanism'. This discussion gives Harper the possibility to look back on fifty years of girls, drugs and rock'n roll and standig up against religion:
'We've had enough of that old stuff you playing holy ghost holding up the same old barbed wire.' 

Similar to the other songs he has a new resolve: In the last verse he sings: Tome is gone and god is gone ... my other life begins this morning.' (Just for the record: this song has Ian Anderson on a nice flute.)

Aaah, there's one country flavoured song at last and what's it called: Psychopath. This jolly little songs displays the new Harper:

I need another world to find
That winding road with an open mind
I wanna leave this psychopath behind

by Nobby (


Buddy & the Huddle:
Music for a still undone movie maybe called "Suttree"

So you've never been to Knoxville TN? So you've never read Cormac McCarthy's book "Suttree"? Don't bother, so havn't I. But I got the chance to visit that lonely spot, to drink with Suttree in his fav bar, till everybody fell down to the floor. Thanks to Roland Kopp and Michael Ströll, I have pictures in my mind of Knoxville and that lousy looser named Suttree. 
Those 2 read the book, flew across the pond and visited the town of Knoxville, talked to people they already knew from the book, took a lot of photographs and even tried to record some music. But that wasn't so easy, so they returned to their village in southern Germany and formed a band called Buddy and the Huddle (Buddy is Suttree and the Huddle is a bar). They imagined a movie made from the book and wrote some music for it.

My first impression was Ry Cooder playing the Paris/Texas soundtrack, my second was Philip Glass, then there was the blues. When I heard dark elegic cellos flowing like a majestic river, I took the booklet to my hand: to read that this song was called River IV (and let's the listener experience the river's elegiac and dignified aspects). River and Suttree are Leitmotivs, which occur 4 times each and show us the various facets of persons and places. And this really is the wonder of this extraordinary record: The pictures are so strong, you don't need a movie, you don't need the book, they live on their own. Some are easy to get, like the river or the party at the Huddle, others quite absurd. Like that song Bat Rain, where the strange Gene Harrogate shoots poisoned bits of liver in the air to kill those rabid bats: his slingshots brings masses of dead bats raining down. Another story: Ode to Leonard. Leonard's father has died a while ago but this has been kept secret to everybody in order to keep those welfare cheques coming. But now he starts to smell - what to do? - A fingersnippin tune!

Describing the music is easy  - or hard to do! The music has to explain those situations and places and moods. So it's quite a mixture of styles: blues, electronic, minimal, rockabilly etc. This description kept me away from the record for some months. Until I read some remarkable reviews I had thought this might be the usual soundtrack with mixtures of styles and no feeling for the right order of songs etc. But the record doesn't fall into any trap. The sound really put a spell on me, sounds and songs are full of Southern melancholy, some loud and noisy, some like filigree. A German critic called it a multidimenional experience, which is the best way to say it. 

The record had been released in 2 steps on vinyl and was put together for a cd by Glitterhouse. This was a labour of love and must be the most exceptional record for this year - but I still think the name of the band is silly and lousy.

by Nobby (

More to come!