|NANCY APPLE | OUTSIDE THE LINES
I truly believe that it is a good thing when you can walk the line between mainstream and alternative country as easily as Nancy Apple does. The radio-friendly tunes on her album 'Outside the Lines' hang on her twangy voice, catchy melodies, and a touch of classic knee-slapping Nashville honky-tonk country music. Still, Nancy Apple is far from the plastic product of Nashville, because the feel that she puts into her music is absolutely real. Together with a talented band, she takes a very unique approach to these tunes by creating a certain live feel and spontaneity throughout the album, which shows that the musicianship is very good also. It all sounds like the band have spent a lifetime playing together as friends. Although there ain't nothing new about new country, Nancy Apple demonstrates a sound that is fresh and entertaining. With lush arrangements and some extremely nice background vocals from Jay Harrington and Reba Russell (Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison), Nancy Apple manages to loosely rock'n'roll outside of the lines. It's a fun album of pure joy, and at a time when a lot of (alternative country) artists are concentrating on lonesome introspective sounds, that's high praise. And if the opening song 'Slide Me Some Sugar' didn't start you dancing around the room, you'll at least start crawling the floors with any of the other energized songs on 'Outside the Lines'. I should not forget to mention that this album comes with a very nice enhanced section that includes a music video, an interview with Nancy Apple, and some more goodies. If you still think that all of this is not worth buying the CD, you should also take note of the bonus tracks, a Japanese tune called 'Shiri Shiri Naka Naka Jyoto Ne' and a damn near live cut, 'Truck Driver's Woman'. So, if Gunslingers and John Denver makes you sad, and you always thought that the Wild West was such a drag, this CD seems to be perfectly made for you.
GURF MORLIX | TOAD OF TITICACA
With Gurf Morlix' head floating
among some reeds in a dark pond, the cover art of Gurf Morlix' late solo
debut album 'Toad of Titicaca' could have been a nice addition to your
collection of the ugliest album covers ever created. However, the eleven
well-crafted songs on 'Toad of Titicaca' make you almost forget about this
really terrible cover art. Well, this might be his solo debut for the Catamount
label, but Gurf Morlix ain't a stranger in the world of country and roots-rock.
And it's a small world after all, because Gurf Morlix did some work as
a producer, vocalist, and guitarist for Lucinda Williams (the woman behind
the critically acclaimed classic album 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road').
He also worked with Buddy Miller (who is doing the backing vocals for the
first track 'Wild Thing'), Dave Alvin, and worked as a producer for Robert
Earl Keen, Slaid Cleaves, and Robert Earl Keen. So this might give you
an idea what Gurf's album sounds like. Surely, he is a good songwriter
with timeless qualities, but the production of this album is also nearly
perfect that it's almost scary. Even while these songs with their rootsy
charm are plain simple, you can hear that there is something going on underneath.
It's simply a beautiful album without pushing any boundaries or doing something
completely different. Yes, it's true that this has all been done before,
but who really cares if Gurf Morlix is doing it again and it is this good?
MISS TAMMY FAYE STARLITE AND THE
ANGELS OF MERCY| ON MY KNEES
She might look like a very
innocent girl, but don't let Miss Tammy Faye Starlite fool you. Just like
you shouldn't judge a record by its cover, you shouldn't judge this "lady"
by the big cross around her neck. Believe it or not, but this is probably
the most controversial country record ever released. Her real name is Tammy
Lang, and she's a New York-based actress and country singer. Though Tammy
Lang has a Jewish background, Miss Tammy Faye Starlite sings controversial
country songs about incest, the Holocaust, nymphomania, and her love for
Jesus Christ. Wearing long white dresses with feathers and glitter all
over, Starlite reminds us of country legend Tammy Wynette. Together with
her backing band, the Angels of Mercy, she is spreading the word of her
"filthy gospel country" around small venues across the United States. Now
she has released her first EP. 'On My Knees' includes five songs from a
live radio show broadcast made during a barn dance at 4am. While her twangy
voice and music perfectly fit in the Nashville scene, her lyrics and performance
may be offending to some people without any sense of humour. "I loved that
dichotomy between, you know, the upstanding family-values Christians and
then the drug-taking, philandering, wife-killing reality of it all", she
once said. So it's not unusual that people walk out during a Miss Tammy
Faye Starlite show, because she likes to entertain with the thrill of provocation.
Besides the nice melodies and Tammy's beautiful voice, I also like this
EP for its weirdness and original song titles such as 'Did I Shave My Vagina
for This?' (her version of Deana Carter's 1996 hit 'Did I Shave My Legs
for This?') and the anti-abortion anthem 'God Has Lodged a Tenant in My
Uterus'. Also included is 'Moonshiner's Child', another shocking song about
incest and her answer to 'Coal Miner's Daughter'. Well, she might not receive
any airplay with these songs, but she already was voted 2000's "Best Female
Sinner", by the readers of "Nastyguy" magazine. Indeed, Tammy Faye received
more votes than all of the Spice Girls together, and her music is much
better also. 'On My Knees' is without any doubt a promising debut EP that
will put a smile on your face.
JAMES APOLLO | PULL DOWN THE CURTAIN
James Apollo's latest release
'Pull Down the Curtain' reflects the feel-good innocence of the music from
the fifties. James Apollo is just like a talented kid who received a guitar
for his birthday. Influenced by many great rock'n'roll heroes such as Tom
Waits, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Costello, but with a voice and some great
ideas of his very own. I believe James Apollo is not as weird as Tom Waits
or Beck, but there is some kind of retrospective roots rock'n'roll extravaganzas
in his music. While all of this makes James Apollo a gifted and creative
musician with some very nice ideas, this album is a little brief at less
than thirty minutes. I wouldn't really mind if all of nine songs on 'Pull
Down the Curtain' were as dynamic as the first single 'One Horse Town',
because I'd rather hear thirty minutes of great music than seventy-four
wasted minutes of pretentious sounds. Not that this is a bad album, but
he just pulls down the curtain too soon, leaving you with only one standout
song and the strange feeling that James Apollo can do much better than
this. Well, if you don't want to put a quarter in the machine to hear 'Pull
Down the Curtain' , you can always download 'One Horse Town' from the official
James Apollo website. It's free!
JIM CAMPILONGO | LIVE AT THE DUNORD
Guitar virtuoso Jim Campilongo
is without any doubt San Francisco's best-kept secret. His latest release
was recorded at the historic Cafe DuNord on September 26th and 27th, listing
magnificent contributions by Scott Amendola (Charlie Hunter) on drums,
Jon Evans (Tori Amos) on bass, Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio) on accordion,
piano, organ, and - of course - the extraordinary Mr. Jim Campilongo himself
on guitar. It's not just his jaw-dropping technical skill that makes Jim
Campilongo a true master of six strings, 'Live at the DuNord' builds on
the intensity, creativity, and dramatic emotional power of Campilongo's
set of instrumental cowboy jazz riffs and swampy blues. This is undoubtedly
an impressive live album of somber beauty. Starting with two mysterious
blues songs, the chilling 'Mopey' and the also gorgeous 'Bought Some Swampland
in Florida' (What an awesome title for a blues song!). However, the unbelievable
happens when it becomes even more deeper and richer with the spooky cinematic
sounds of 'Do You Really Wanna Know?' and 'Lipton Tea'. It's almost impossible
to write about this deeply moving album without hearing a single note of
an unknown legend called Jim Campilongo, but if you want to get some kind
of idea of what this album sounds like, you can just think of a setting
with Miles Davis who meets Gram Parsons in one of Ennio Morricone's scores
for a spaghetti western. From the upbeat and tex-mex-influenced 'Twister'
to the lengthy 'Panhandle Rag', it's always very exciting to listen to
these jazzy and experimental soundscapes. If I had to pick out anything
to complain about, it would be the hard time record companies will get
to put a label on this CD. Who cares anyway? Just file this under 'Twang!'.
THE SPRAGUE BROTHERS | FOREVER
AND A DAY
It's quite possible that Frank
and Chris Sprague aren't brothers at all. After all, they look nothing
alike (Frank - singer, songwriter, and guitarist - is almost a head taller
than younger Chris - singer, songwriter, and drummer - and the physical
differences don't end there.) One thing the Brothers Sprague - relatives
or not - certainly can do is harmonize. Oh - and write a tune or two. 'Forever
and a Day' is the pair's second effort, following on the heels of 1999's
'Let the Chicks Fall Where They May' debut. Originally discovered by Blues
Brother (See the connection?) Dan Aykroyd, these two played all of the
instruments and wrote all 18 songs on 'Forever and a Day'. And what a galactic
timewarp of an album this is. Smooth is the operative word here, as the
Spragues blend the sounds of 1964-era Beatles with a good dose of red hot
rhythm and blues and also a dash of surf music. The track 'Come Back Baby'
could have come straight off of 'With the Beatles', and that's a compliment.
At least half of the songs here sound like you've known them all of your
life ('Remember, Forget, Remember, Forget' and 'I Don't Need Her' to name
but two). Had this album been released back then, we would be talking about
a deserved top ten record and a future classic in years to come. Let's
hope 2001 is as kind to the Sprague Brothers. Indeed "a taste of honey".
GEOFF MULDAUR | PASSWORD
In the Fall of 1998, Geoff
Muldaur released 'The Secret Handshake', his first album in seventeen years.
Having been silent musically for all of those years, the former Jim Kweskin
Jug Band member (and ex-hubby of Maria) peeled off the business suit and
grabbed a guitar. 'Password' - once again a clandestine title - picks up
where 'The Secret Handshake' left off, opening with 'Kitchen Door Blues',
a poem by Tennessee Williams set to music with some able lap guitar work
by David Lindley. A Kurt Weill-influenced adaptation of Sleepy John Estes'
'Drop Down Mama' follows, and this time the guitar part is taken over by
labelmate Dave Alvin. In fact, 'Password' has a host of stellar guests:
Aside from Lindley and Alvin, there are cameos by Greg Leisz, Kate and
Anna McGarrigle, Geoff's daughter Clare, John Sebastian, and even Van Dyke
Parks. The whole album is a fine collection of tunes, and Muldaur is able
to grasp at many different straws, coming up with a wide variety of source
material and styles. However, what unfortunately often goes missing in
this equation is the spontaneity, the guts, the soul of the music. Sadly,
all too often the songs sound somewhat stale or sterile, lacking that certain
extra push to send them over the edge. It's like Colonel Sanders forgot
the secret ingredient... That's not to say that this is a bad album. Not
at all. Geoff Muldaur is an accomplished tunesmith (For some reason, he
is literally huge in Japan!), but 'Password' sounds like he's sitting just
a little too comfortably right now. (Oh - one last thing: Larry Rivers
might be a famous pop artist, but 'Password''s cover is already in the
running for ugliest of the year.)
TAV FALCO & THE UNAPPROACHABLE
PANTHER BURNS | PANTHER PHOBIA
Oww! This record is shit hot. Tav
Falco is the real deal, you must know. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Fat
Possum Records, the Flat Duo Jets, Southern Culture on the Skids... They're
all a bunch of pussies lined up next to Tav and his Panther Burns. "We
laid your mother in the back of the club and if you don't watch it, we'll
ball you too in a New York instant." Somehow you get the feeling the man
means it. Call it what you want: garage, psychobilly, wreckabilly, juntabilly...
'Panther Phobia' is an ace record and another instant classic from the
'In the Red' label. According to Falco, "the Panther Burns are the missing
link between the earlier forms of swamp blues' unbridled howl and the psychological
onslaught of the new millennium. We are, essentially, the ditch diggers
in American music." Named after a legendary plantation located off of Highway
61 in the lower Mississippi Delta, the Panther Burns play pure energetic
Memphis-style garage. Killer tracks by the likes of Jesse Mae Hemphill,
Tampa Red, Howlin' Wolf, Eddie Cusic, Skip James, Johnny Carol, Charlie
Feathers, R.L. Burnside, and Guitar Gable are thrown in a bag with a couple
of originals, including the ten-minute diatribe workout of 'Panther Phobia:
Manifesto!', namechecking Fidel Castro and Jiminy Cricket. The album heralds
a welcome return to the moaning and groaning of the landmark 'Behind the
Magnolia Curtain'. So, throw this puppy in the mix, crank up to 11, and
get seriously ill. (by alex
DAVE ALVIN | PUBLIC DOMAIN: SONGS
FROM THE WILD LAND
"Most of the songs on this
CD I found collecting old records with my brother Phil when we were barely
in our teens. We searched thrift stores and junk stores, attics and swap
meets to find old blues, r&b or country 78s and 45s, or any long out
of print reissue album on obscure labels. We were just looking for something
that excited us more than the bulk of what was on radio. Little did we
know that we were discovering America's folk music." Step right up, step
right up... Former Blaster Dave Alvin is about to take you, the listener,
on a trip deep into the American consciousness. Folk ballads, blues laments,
gospel spirituals, and mountain music - They're all here on 'Public Domain',
a collection of 15 songs (plus the obligatory hidden track) unlikely to
be bettered anytime soon. "Public Domain" means that the songs aren't subject
to copyright laws, are no longer the property of the original writer (in
cases where the writer is even known). Alvin: "They belong to nobody. They
belong to all of us." And indeed the tracks here are often well-known chestnuts,
deeply ingrained into the American psyche and softly swaying signposts
alongside the collective human highway. 'Shenandoah', opening the record,
lets the listener know that this is going to be quite a rewarding journey.
Sounding simply timeless and wondrously beautiful, 'Public Domain' offers
up gems such as 'What Did the Deep Sea Say', a rollicking song, supposedly
sung by Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie when they'd been drinking a little
too much, 'Delia' (An alternate version is better known as 'Delia's Gone',
as performed by Johnny Cash on his 'American Recordings' album), and 'Walk
Right In', a swaggering yee-haw good time raunch for all. Backed by his
usual road band the Guilty Men, along with a few guests (among them the
multi-talented Greg Leisz), the musicianship and sound on this album is
simply fantastic. Guitars, mandolin, piano,organ, accordion, harmonium,
harmonica, and fiddle all brew up a heady melange of pure joy and sophistication.
According to Dave Alvin, "our folk songs live in the wild land of our heart."
If that's true, then 'Public Domain' is riding down the coronary bypass
straight to the soul.
JOHNNY CASH | AMERICAN III: SOLITARY
The reviewer discussing Johnny
Cash's latest, fine album 'American III: Solitary Man' has an admittedly
easy job. After all, there are so many angles waiting to be used in constructing
something witty and pithy, with or without a so-called 'one-sheet' bio.
That reviewer could talk about Cash's alleged close bout with death (He
contracted double pneumonia, then blood poisoning a few years back, and
he still - possibly - suffers from Shy-Drager syndrome, a neurological
disorder similar to Parkinson's, but much nastier and rarer.) and how it's
a miracle that this has even been recorded, much less that it's a stunning
collection of songs - four originals, nine covers, and a traditional. The
fortunate scribe could also easily reassess the Man in Black's relationship
with beardy producer Rick Rubin, mentioning once again - as on predecessors
'American Recordings' and 'Unchained' - the hip variety of covers chosen,
songs originally performed by Tom Petty, Neil Diamond, U2, Nick Cave and
the Bad Seeds, and even Will Oldham - yes, Will Oldham. Also, guests are
here aplenty: wife June Carter Cash, daughter Laura, and son John Carter
Cash acts as associate producer, while non-family friends include Sheryl
Crow, Merle Haggard, Petty, Oldham, and a handful of the cream of country's
pickers... Don't forget to mention that this was recorded in a little shed
in Cash's back yard in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Oh yes. Well - so far,
and indeed so easy. But what about the music? Well, John Cash pulls it
off yet again. 'American III: Solitary Man' is a damn fine album indeed.
Situated somewhere between 'American Recordings' and 'Unchained' musically,
Cash's voice has never sounded so pleading and fragile, yet so vengeful
and determined as on tracks such as opener 'I Won't Back Down' and 'The
Mercy Seat'. While the constellation of the album tracks might not be quite
as novel as on the first release with Rubin, Cash is able to make most
of these covers work, and some sound like they were written just for him
and for him alone ('Solitary Man', the title track, being a good example.).
Finally also we have our Johnny/Merle duet ('I'm Leavin' Now'), and the
vocal harmonies of June Carter Cash and Sheryl Crow on 'Field of Diamonds'
work surprisingly well. Long gone is the boom-chicka-boom sound of the
Tennessee Two; Cash's songs are much more fleshed-out nowadays, but yet
it's remarkable how he is able to reduce the essence of the work down to
its very core. Raw emotion, passion, feeling is the result. If - and forgive
me for saying this - 'American III: Solitary Man' was the last recording
John R. Cash were to make, he could easily ride off into the sunset with
a big old grin on his face. He may "see a darkness", but let's hope - indeed
let's pray - that Johnny Cash "won't back down" just yet.
CHICKEN COUPE DEVILLE | DRINKIN'
SONGS & SMOKIN' GUITARS
When some people think of a
country song, they think of this sad and tearjerkin' ballad with twangy
vocals. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with tearjerkin' ballads,
not at all. But if you think of country music in a stereotypical way like
this, you must have been listening to Dolly Parton and George Jones for
much too long. Talking about George Jones, alcohol is one of the main influences
on Chicken Coupe's debut album 'Drinkin' Songs & Smokin' Guitars'.
Musically, the band is successfully combining the speed of rockabilly and
punk with traditional bluegrass music. The result is simply amazing, and
with their playful sense of humour it's even more mind-blowing than you
can imagine. 'Man Ya' Better Watch Out', these urban cowboys really know
how to rock and roll. And you shouldn't mess with this trio, because they
are double cool with their hair greased back, cheap tattoos, snakeskin
boots, and flashy suits. "Driving low down a back country road", Chicken
Coupe DeVille close the album with a reprise of the opening track 'Hog
Wild', featuring the bluegrass legends Rob and Ronnie McCoury on fiddle
and mandolin. What an incredible way to end an album like this.
USED CARLOTTA | RECKLESS WHEELS
I have to say I'm pleasantly
surprised by this first-rate alternative country band. Used Carlotta is
a country band that really knows how to twang! Damn fine honky tonking
country rock with steel guitars, fiddles, mandolins, and even some saxophones.
This brand new album with old-fashioned country music has been produced
by John Morand (Cracker, Sparklehorse, and Joan Osbourne) and was recorded
without overdubs in one single session. The result is a truly warm-sounding
live album, but without the applause of the audience. Like other neo-traditionalist
hillbilly boys BR5-49, the Gourds, and Robbie Fulks they don't take themselves
too seriously, but without losing their magnificent musicianship, Used
Carlotta manages to combine lyrics dark as a dungeon with the melancholy
in their music that reflects images of lost highways, trailer parks, Nashville,
and cowboy hats. To be honest, this album doesn't measure up to the powerful
and energetic honky tonkin' music of BR5-49, but 'Reckless Wheels' is damn
fine melodic country rock, just the way you twangers like to hear it! Louis
Letford is singing about pain and loss with a big smile on his face. You
never know if Louis Letford is singing a true story or not, and probably
neither does he, but his soulful voice succeeds to entertain. Although
Used Carlotta is exploring the various roots of true American music with
whiskey-soaked vocals that beautifully mesh with the rhythmic driven music,
unfortunately not all the songs on 'Reckless Wheels' are nearly as strong
as the country weeping 'Dead Girl' and the highly melodic and fast-driving
truck song 'Big Fat Moon'. There is also an average cover of the singin'
brakeman Jimmie Rodger's old-time country classic 'Nobody Knows Me' and
an odd instrumental song called 'Grace's Waltz', but one of the true highlights
on this interesting country album is the heart-breaking title track that
makes 'Reckless Wheels' worth a listen.
|ERIC WESTBURY | WALKING TRACKS
Most singer/songwriters have something to sing about. Very few like Eric Westbury from Canada, however, succeed in capturing the spirit of playing banjo and telling stories around an open fire with friends. Eric Westbury's first independent release for Boomtown Records is entitled 'Walking Tracks', and this album is what you can call an absolute winner. Even though some of the darker songs on 'Walking Tracks' break with the cowboy-romantic Western spirit of country music and sound like they have been recorded in a dark basement, Eric Westbury demonstrates his unique songwriting with vocals that are as powerful as they are ragged. Besides Eric Westbury's gravely voice and intelligent songwriting, you'll hear some hauntingly beautiful arrangements that are kept as sparse as possible. Not all of these introspective songs are folk only; the upbeat 'Five Strings' has a touch of bluegrass, and some songs like 'Made of Wood' deliver fully on what fans of rockabilly and alternative country rock like to hear. Yet I believe that Eric really shines in acoustic folk-influenced songs such as 'Churchill's Black Dog' and the title song 'Walking Tracks'. While knowing that much fine music is being made in Canada, 'Walking Tracks' is unpredictably good!
Visit Eric Westbury's website @ www.westburyroad.com
THE SCARECROWS | CROW MAN
It seems like it's a long way
from Nashville to Norway, but country music has quickly spread in popularity
across the world. From the late 1600s to the mid-1800s, European settlers
brought their folk tales, along with new instruments such as the fiddle
and the harp, to the Promised Land. While the slaves also brought the banjo
from Africa to the American South, it didn't take very long before the
traditional folk or mountain music became known as country music. In the
early 1900s, with the invention of new technologies such as the radio and
the phonograph, country music even travelled beyond the Appalachian Mountains
and the rural West. Basically, the white man's blues has remained the same
since its early beginning, but over the past 100 years or so, country music
has developed into many various styles and sub-genres ranging from western
swing to cowpunk. Nowadays more and more European bands are creating an
interesting twangy sound. British bands like Lowgold and the Peter Bruntnell
Combination, or the Hillbilly Boogiemen from the Netherlands, can easily
measure up with their American colleagues. Country music has also reached
Norway. While Norway is mostly known for its hairy "church-burning and
devil-worshiping" death metal music, Tondheim's indie-rockers Motorpsycho
previously recorded an obscure country album called 'The Tussler'. So now
there are the Scarecrows, a Norwegian band highly influenced by country
rock. Mostly upbeat, there are quiet a few great songs out there, but unfortunately
most of them suffer from weak vocals and repetitive lyrics. This album
could have been so much more interesting if the Scarecrows only combined
Norwegian folk music with a melancholic twangy guitar sound and made an
instrumental album - Now that's a damn good idea for their next album!
Some songs on 'Crow Man' like 'Read Between the Lies' and 'Sleeping in
the Shadow' sound like frustrating pop songs, but even with these tracks
'Crow Man' remains a solid collection of rock songs. Therefore, you should
buy this album if you like Motorpsycho more than you like Gram Parsons
(Which I find very hard to believe). You can also wait for the next album
by the Scarecrows. I'm sure that will sound much better than 'Crow Man'.
PUERTO MUERTO | YOUR BLOATED CORPSE
HAS WASHED ASHORE
Any band that is named after
an imaginary bar in one of the members' minds is something of a curiosity.
Puerto Muerto - the mindfully creative Tim Kelly along with Christa Meyer
- are indeed a curiosity, but luckily for them - and undoubtedly so for
us, the listener - that uniqueness doesn't stop there. To put it simply:
'Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore' is one of the best debut albums
you'll hear. Ever. Spread out splendidly over 19 tracks, Puerto Muerto
provide us with a soundtrack of homespun, yet epic proportions. From opener
'Silver Shoes' (sung entirely in German) via feisty 'Jean Lafitte', the
despairing 'San Pedro', and the stunningly beautiful harmonies of 'Hetta',
the duo's music and tales are full of wonderful and colourful vignettes...
This is the sound of poetry, of sanguine soliloquies, of bodegas, bravado,
and bullfighters, mixed up with echoes of the Spanish Civil War, secret
French confidantes, and unbridled, pure romanticism. Thousands of images
are conjured up in longing imagination, and this debut has so much swagger
and overall ability it's frightening. Kelly and Meyer - recently relocated
to Chicago - even have thrown in a cover of 'Sorrow' (best known for being
included on David Bowie's 1973 covers album 'Pin Ups'), and it's an almost
unbelievable realization that 'Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore' has
hitherto only been available via the band themselves (Luckily, West Virginian
label Actiondriver will soon rectify this travesty.). Sheer, utter brilliance.
DIRTBALL | TURN UP THE BARN
Johnny Cash once said "God
likes a Southern accent, and He tolerates country music and quite a bit
of guitar". Now what we have got here is a lot of guitar by a bunch of
lonesome western heroes who walk the line between heaven and hell. This
is the kind of music that you probably get when God and Satan will record
an album together. Dirtball's third full-length album was recorded in an
old barn outside of Richmond, a little south of heaven for the band's devil-charged
anachronistic roots-rock. The album - named after a quote by Neil Young
- is absolutely made to crank up the volume of your record player to maximum.
The infectious 'Turn Up the Barn' slowly kicks off with '3 AM', a sing-along
road song, but when Hanks Williams meets the Tragically Hip in 'Holy Ground',
the wooden walls of this old barn really start shaking. Though Dirtball's
music draws from many hard rockin' 60s, 70s music, and punk roots influences,
songs such as 'The Best I Can Do' and the Bible-quoting 'Over and Over'
reflect some of the finest country & western heartache. With also some
of the meanest banjo picking and their "No Depression" songs about whiskey,
women, and redemption, 'Turn Up the Barn' is like a Bible to any hillbilly
PAGE WILSON WITH RECKLESS ABANDON
| BRIDGE OF LOVE
Out of the blue and straight
from the smokey bars, Page Wilson's music is a creative mixture of traditional
folk music, bluegrassy country, and plain blues. I don't like to stick
any labels to music, but his style of music has been often referred to
as the unique genre of "Pure-bred American Mongrel music". Page is not
a new kid on the block. For 25 years he has "lived off" music in some way
or another, sharing the stage with similar artists such as Kris Kristofferson,
Stephen Stills, Taj Mahal, and others. After critically acclaimed albums
in 1983 and '85, 'Road Tired', 'Wired and Ready', and 'Best of the Situation',
this singer/writer/picker/producer expanded his horizons in April, 1986,
by taking his tastes in music to the radio airwaves with the 'Out O' the
Blue Radio Revue'. And now there is this 'Bridge of Love', a live recording
"with Reckless Abandon" and beautiful cover art by his daughter Virginia
Blue. Starting with two nice songs, 'This Bridge of Love' and 'Nouveau
Beaujolais', this acoustic album carefully moves through different styles
of the Americana landscape. Well-crafted songs like 'The Ocean Keeps Us
All' and 'Richmond Blues' speak for themselves, but unfortunately not all
of the songs here are that exceptional. The best thing about this record
has to be the atmosphere that comes from playing for a small audience.
And even if much of Page Wilson's 'Bridge of Love' is mildly entertaining,
you still will love the very nice craftsmanship in most of these songs.
All in all though, this is a fine collection of live songs.
MIKE MELTZER | THE BIG GO-'ROUND
Mike Meltzer is clearly a singer/songwriter.
He sings about trains, damn blue skies, and Jesus Christ our saviour, but
that's about it. Like most singer/songwriters, he recycled the good old
music of the past, but unfortunately there is no spark and no soul to it.
Though you'll hear some decent melodies in songs like 'After the Darkness'
and 'Oh, Well', there are no standout tracks. He also gets a little help
from his friends such as Peter Case, Syd Straw, and some others, but the
biggest problem remains his weak songwriting. Lyrically, it's all very
dull. Mike Meltzer seems like a nice guy to me, but I can't think of a
reason to go out and buy his album. As a singer/songwriter, Mike Meltzer
has nothing to say. Still, he keeps on repeating himself, like in that
song called 'Go Away'. This is the kind of music you listen to when you
are 40-something and nothing really happened in your life. As a debut album,
it's not impressive at all.
HANDSOME NED | THE NAME IS NED
The 80s gave us MTV, Phil Collins,
Heavy Metal music, the never-ending guitar solo, and some extremely bad
haircuts, but it could have been so much better if we only listened to
country music by Handsome Ned. Now there is this comprehensive compilation
on two discs with 33 songs by Handsome Ned aka Robin David Masyk. It's
time for you to sit back and think of how great the 80s really were, but
it's still a shame that it took us more than ten years to discover the
soulful cult-country of Handsome Ned. Born with a natural talent for singing
and inspired by the music of country-rock pioneers such as Gram Parsons,
the Byrds, Johnny Cash, and Guy Clark, Robin started his rockabilly revivalism
with bands like the Velours and the Sidewinders in the late 70s. Breaking
up with the rockabilly bands and moving more towards a country direction,
Robin decided to change his name to 'Handsome Ned'. Of course, country
music was not hip in the early 80s, but Handsome Ned, with straw Stetson,
cowboy boots, and bandanna around his neck, spread the word of country
music around Canada. He quickly built a loyal fan base with his own radio
show 'The Honky Tonk Hardwood Floorshow', where he used to play his own
songs together with the legendary music of the Byrds, REM, and Tex Ritter.
In 1984, Handsome Ned formed a band together with some friends. The Handsome
Neds played an interesting mixed bag of rockabilly, punk, and hardcore
honky tonk. Most of the songs that you'll find on this anthology have been
recorded by fans, right off the radio and complete with the static. Still,
the sound quality of this re-mastered collection is excellent. But most
important, the music of Handsome Ned is simply great. You'll fall in love
with his version of 'Sea of Heartbreak' and his improvisation of the Johnny
Cash classic 'I Still Miss Someone'. This compilation kicks off with the
tremendous 'Put the Blame on Me', the first 45-rpm that Handsome Ned recorded.
In 1985, Ross Edmunds made a well-received 30-minute documentary called
'The Ballad of Handsome Ned'. He also appeared in a Molson Beer commercial,
because of his distinctive urban cowboy look. Yes, Handsome Ned was definitely
destined for fame and critical acclaim, but the police found his body on
January 10, 1987. Robin David Masyk died of a suspected drug overdose at
the age of 29. While he was alive, Handsome Ned only released two singles.
He was about to record his first full-length album in the same week that
he died. It's the sad story of a life unfilled, but with this anthology
Handsome Ned is here to stay.
TOM HOUSE | 'TIL YOU'VE SEEN MINE
Now here is an incredible album
that ranks up with all the great singer/songwriter albums of all time!
Tom House might be censored and hated by the radio with such a crackly
voice and his scary folk tales of murder and misery, but you can already
tell by looking at the back of the CD cover that Tom House doesn't really
care about all of that. Tom House is definitely a hell of a songwriter.
His creepy music follows the same pattern as the apocalyptic folk-country-blues
of the Carter Family, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers' yodelling, and the
early Bob Dylan. Although he doesn't break with the traditions of country
music, there is some kind of weirdness in his music and lyrics, often with
some punk rock feel to it, but he is also damn serious about it all. You'll
hear some extremely beautiful pre-war bluegrass instrumentation and perfectly
out-of-tune background vocals, but the strongest feature remains his always
intelligent, breathtaking songwriting. With no single word wasted, raw,
honest, and haunted by the old-time soul of real country music, Tom House
might just be the best of all singer/songwriters that you'll ever hear.
Songs like 'The Cold Hard Curve of a Question Mark', 'Letter from My Father',
and 'Canada' are primarily traditional American folk-country tunes, but
this is all pretty out of the ordinary. While most of his songs on his
third album ''Til You've Seen Mine' make him an unwelcome guest in a fucked-up
Nashville, this is what real country music or any other good music is all
about. I'm going to take this disc with me to wherever I might go. Highly
BLUE SPARK | TRANSMITTER
If I had to think of one word
to describe the rich music of Blue Spark, it would be "emotive". Their
music consists of a refreshing and more radio-friendly alternative rock
sound along with the influences of Neil Young, Son Volt, and the Jayhawks.
Blue Spark's band leader Garth Reeves is probably best known for being
"that bitchin' guitar player" in the Seattle-based indie-rock band Goodness.
Among those who helped out on Blue Spark's debut 'Transmitter' are Reeves'
Goodness band mates Chris Friel and Danny Newcomb, together with producer
Kevin Suggs and engineer Joe Hadlock on piano. The first song on 'Transmitter'
is one of the best rock songs that I've ever heard. 'Better of Me' combines
the psychedelic arrangements of 60s rock with the personal and excellent
lyrics of Reeves. The intriguing guitar lines of 'Parks of Olympia', nice
harmonies and an organ - It's all here in seven beautiful songs. Although
this is a very short album with less than thirty minutes of music, it's
definitely well worth exploring.
LIVE: JIM JAMES/KURT WAGNER
13 December 2000 - Paradiso, Amsterdam
Jim James was basically playing
to a home crowd. Eagerly and enthusiastically embraced by the Dutch music
press and public, his band My Morning Jacket have seen their fair share
of these nether lands in the past few months, and this particular hero
from Louisville didn't disappoint. Arriving on stage, casually barefoot,
holding his guitar, and bedecked with red Christmas decoration hanging
around his neck, Jim had them in the palm of his hand from the opening
chords of 'Up on Cripple Creek', one of a handful of covers that evening
(among the others were songs by CCR, Elvis, and the aforementioned Elton
John). Whereas Kurt Wagner's set was full of sobriety and a killing-me-softly-with-his-song
lullaby quality, the moment Jim James opened his mouth, people took a big
gulp from their strong drinks and looked up. This was going to be good.
Possessed with a voice half of the Vienna Boys Choir would kill for - haunting,
magisterial, and starkly beautiful - James is also an extremely charismatic
and effective showman. And that's when he's just sitting in that old chair.
Stripping the My Morning Jacket songs of their arrangements (notably on
the choppy 'The Dark'), James was able to pull it off: that transition
from full-fledged band sound to austere solo performer, all the while retaining
that magic and sparkle. Aided by the Paradiso's fantastic acoustics (It
is a former church...), songs soared into the night, crying, keening for
lost loves, for redemption, for joy, making for a thoroughly enjoyable
and oftentimes spiritual evening after all.
MARK SELBY | MORE STORMS COMIN'
What storm? This album by Mark
Selby is his vision of modern blues music. The result is a bluesy, pop-oriented
roots-rock record with some excellent backing vocals by Bekka Bramlett
and Kim Carnes, but I still can't get used to the poppy melodies and the
John Cougar Mellencamp-ish hard-folk Americana. Every picture I've seen
of Mark Selby is a picture with a guitar and 'More Storms Comin'' definitely
is an album for all you guitar worshippers. Although some people would
say that Mark Selby makes timeless music, other people would say it's out
of time. Mark Selby didn't convince me with his debut 'More Storms Coming''.
And I know that Selby also penned the breakthrough number one hit 'There's
Your Trouble' for the Dixie Chicks, but that doesn't say much to me, I
must admit. The sound quality is excellent, and technically there is nothing
wrong with this album, but I'm sorry to say that this ain't twang!
JOHN MCEUEN & JIMMY IBBOTSON
| STORIES & SONGS
Former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
members John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson came to Richmond to record a new
album in front of a small audience. The result is an intimate live album
with two professional musicians singing and playing classic folk songs.
I must admit I haven't heard of this Nitty Gritty Dirt Band before, but
I've read that they were a classic bluegrass and country rock band all
the way from California. I've decided to give this album a listen, but
I don't think I'm the right person to review this album, because this is
what they call contemporary country or progressive country, and I'm just
a roots-rock weirdo. Obviously you'll find stories and songs on 'Stories
& Songs' (duh!), but there is too much talking on this album, and -
besides that - I don't really care much about all the things you can do
with a banjo. In between all the mumbling and technical banjo pickin' you'll
find some well-crafted songs like 'Luncheonette' and 'Long Hard Road',
but still it's not really my kind of country-folk-bluegrass.
BURNT TATERS | STRANGE BUT TRUE
Ladies and Gentlemen, children
of all ages, step right up! The Taters have arrived! Indie roots-rockers
Burnt Taters continue on their second album with the innocent and dreamy
country pop songs from the early fifties and their previous record. Time
stood still for this talented trio, and with the audible influences of
Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers they combine straight-forward honky
tonk with catchy pop in eleven tasty songs and two carefully selected covers.
This follow-up to their similar debut album 'Vox Box' isn't just another
retro record, but here you'll find a refreshing mix between the traditional
country of Hank Williams and the refreshing pop of Crowded House. Therefore,
Burnt Taters is a fresh breath of air in a world of troubled troubadours
and pretentious rock bands. You'll hear some clever imitations of classic
country songs with jangling guitars, but all of this with a great sense
of humour and a gift for melody. Instead of carrying through the rawness
of alternative country rock, Burnt Taters reinvent a classic western wall
of sound that is sweet as sugar and hip as your grandmother. Don't worry
kids, because with beautiful harmonies and irresistible melodies like this,
you don't ever want to be cool again. Still, despite such talented musicians
and solid song writing, 'Strange But True' isn't a masterpiece. The stripped
down roots-rock of Burnt Taters is never boring, but unfortunately there
is this polished production and a lack of experimentation that makes 'Strange
But True' a slightly confusing listen. The accessible tunes with an honest
happiness might also frighten some fans of alternative country, but as
long you don't take it too seriously, you will find some true mastery of
melody delivered with the delicately beautiful vocals of Craig Evans.