Friday, February 27, 2015

Album Review: Nels Cline & Julian Lage - Room

Do you like jazz guitar or guitar instrumentals? Then I have an album for your. Wilco lead guitarist Nels Cline has teamed with jazz guitarist Julian Lage to record Room, a "mix of original and collaborative guitar works".  Initially I just allowed the album to play as background music but as it looped through more cycles I started appreciating the depth of the guitar playing.  This may have started with Racy but definitely by Blues, Too.  These two are masters of their craft; take a listen and pair with some spicy ZAP zinfandel such as Michael David Winery. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Album Review: James McMurtry - Complicated Game

This week James McMurtry releases Complicated Game, his first studio album in six years (that was Just Us Kids). I'm probably one of a very few set of people who love McMurtry's music, but am not a big fan of his protest songs. Yet, I can say, I love everything about this release. McMurtry's strength is story telling, I guess you can say he's a fiction writer like his father, just a different media. Produced by C.C. Adcock and Mike Napolitano, Complicated Game is full of stories of the working man and catches your attention with the opening lyrics: "Don't yell at me while I'm cleaning my gun" and Copper Canteen continues with a vivid account of the song's hero.  The album proceeds in a similar vein - vivid storytelling. You Got To Me is another remembrance song, while How'm I Gonna Find You Now is vintage McMurtry staccato rap. My favorite track is Carlisle's Haul, a song about fishermen, which apparently received its inspiration from McMurtry spending time on the southern Potomac where it meets the Chesapeake. Deaver's Crossing has a great melody and the album concludes with Cutter, a slow, serious, song of introspection. I think this is his best overall album yet - perhaps not an individual hit like Just Us Kids or Levelland, but the overall quality of each song makes this a classic album.

The musicianship is also first rate; completely expected when you examine the cast of players. McMurtry's traveling band consists of Daren Hess (drums), Tim Holt (electric guitar) and Cornbread Traylor (bass), and all perform on the album, but McMurtry had loads of assistance recording Complicated Game. Producer Adcock plays the electric guitar on most tracks and there are appearances by Curtis McMurtry (Banjo), Rick Nelson (Violin, cello), Sam Broussard(Strings), Derek Trucks (Slide guitar), Sam Broussard (Electric guitar), Richard Comeaux (Pedal steel), Kevin Smith (Upright bass), Benmont Tench (Hammond B3, Wurli, Piano), Danny Barnes (Banjo, Ivan Neville (Moog bass), Dirk Powell (Mandolin, fiddle, banjo, upright bass, violin, harpsichord), Donald Shaw (Piano, accordion, harmonium), Warren Storm (Drum kit), Dustin Welch (Banjo), Dave Rosser (Bass), Denny Freeman (Bari guitar), and Doyle Bramhall II (Backing vocals). Now, that's some talent.

Evidently, McMurtry and the band are fans of Lagunitas Brewing Company so pair Complicated Game with a Little Sumpin' Sumpin' or Hop Stoopid Ale. Cheers. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Album Review: Elle King - Love Stuff

Here's a very interested album I found while perusing the New York Time's Press Play; Elle King's Love Stuff. Part, rock, part, pop (I won't call it Power Pop because it's more sophisticated then that); I found this album completely enjoyable. King comes through with her raw vocals, punk delivery, great guitar work, and even the banjo takes center stage on a few songs. I Told You I Was Mean portrays these attributes in a jazzy - bluesy setting. American Sweetheart is a song that seems better than anything Katy Perry sang during the Superbowl. Want to hear the banjo? Start with Kocaine Karolina. The album concludes with See You Again, which we hope is the case with King's career. We recommend pairing "Love Stuff" with Brooklyn Oenology, a great spot to enjoy New York wine and spirits. Cheers.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Album Review: Punch Brothers - The Phosphorescent Blues

The Punch Brothers have always been a leading force in progressive bluegrass and in their latest album, The Phosphorescent Blues, they are expanding the boundaries - perhaps too far. No one can ever question the musicianship of Chris Thile (mandolin),  Gabe Witcher (violn), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Paul Kower (bass) and with the album having been produced by T Bone Burnette, the musicianship is tight. However, for my tastes, the songs are too pop-ish and theme, if there is one, too disjointed. It's not until Boll Weevil, when the group returns to their bluegrass roots, is there a song I enjoy. Fans of the Punch Brothers will no doubt add this one to their collection, but I'm waiting for a more bluegrass feel. Cheer.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Album Review: Anders Osborne and North Mississippi Allstars or N.M.O. - "Freedom & Dreams"

Southern bluesmen Anders Osborne and North Mississippi Allstars have teamed up as N.M.O. and released an new album: Freedom & Dreams. I mean just image, two of the best guitarists, Osborne and Luther Dickinson, playing the guitar together as they did in the Southern Soul Assembly tour with JJ Grey and Marc Broussard. According to Dickinson, "Freedom and Dreams is extremely honest and captures NMO's relaxed chemistry so well, most of these songs did not even have a proper count off or beginning. We were interested in combining Anders' singing and songwriting with NMA's groove and aesthetic to create something unique that neither of us could do without the other — a type of modern Southern folk rock." And they get pretty close to this. There is obviously great guitar work; soulful vocals, and Cody Dickinson on drums - pretty tight. You can hear for yourself as the album is streaming on Osborne's site. I think the album hits its stride in the middle with Shining (Spacedust), Brush Up Against You, and Annabel - this being my favorite track. On Saturday (Feb 21), I'll be pairing N.M.O. at the Jefferson Theater (Charlottesville, VA) with Champion Brewing Company and on Monday (Feb 23) at The Birchmere (Alexandria, VA) with Port City Brewing Company. Cheers.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Album Review: Ryan Bingham - Fear and Saturday Night

Last month Ryan Bingham released his 5th album Fear and Saturday Night and I just got around to listening. Idiot. Lost of month of listening to the first entrant to album of the year. This album is stellar - from the lyrics, Bingham's hoarse vocals, and the musical arrangements. Evidently Bingham secluded himself in a trailer in the California mountains without amenities and wrote songs based on his life experiences. The result is songs with feelings and meaning set to a classic rock theme played with an alt-country sound. The album was produced by Jim Scott and features a new band of Shawn Davis (bass), Daniel Sproul (lead guitar), and Nate Barnes (drums).  Pair with Bingham's new hometown L.A.'s Angel City Brewery. Cheers.
  • Nobody Knows My Trouble - Bingham's biography set to a classic alt-county sound
  • Broken Heart Tattoos - waltzy advice
  • Top Shelf Drug - bluesy rock of wonderful love
  • Island in the Sky - epic -> flying high
  • Adventures of You and Me - rockin' TexMex
  • Fear and Saturday Night - demon's going to town
  • My Diamond is too Rough - Bingham's talent for storytelling
  • Radio - swamp music evolves into pounding rock n' roll
  • Snow Falls in June - love the musical arrangement
  • Darlin - love sentiments we can relate to
  • Hands of Time - Steppenwolf meets Bingham
  • Gun Fightin Man - finally, the harp in this sad ballad

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Album Review: JJ Grey & Mofro - Ol’ Glory

On February 24th JJ Grey & Mofro release their newest album Ol' Glory. I listened to an early stream and can say Grey has recorded a winner. You can be sure there's plenty of Grey's signature bluesy and soulful vocals, lyrics based on his northern Florida home, and a great backing effort by Mofro (Anthony Cole - drums, Andrew Trube - guitar, Anthony Farrell - organ, Todd Smallie - bass, Dennis Marion - trumpet, and Jeff Dazey - saxophone). In fact Grey gave the band more freedom to arrange the music by not recording the songs before hitting the studio. He'd vaguely describe what he wanted and let band members improvise. The result is killer. Every Minute is vintage old school Grey and A Night To Remember is where the horns take over combining with Grey's soulful vocals to form one funky song with an extended guitar solo to boot. Turn Loose is complete 70's funk and Brave Lil' Fighter falls within another era. And if you haven't danced by the time Ol' Glory is over, something is wrong. For those in the D.C. area the band plays the Nightclub 9:30 tonight February 18th. Pair with Jacksonville's Bold City Brewery. Cheers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Robert Earl Keen Goes Back to Bluegrass Roots in Happy Prisoner

As Dallas Wayne was introducing a song on Outlaw Country, he mentioned the Robert Earl Keen had started out playing bluegrass - an anecdote I had never heard before. Whether true or not, REK is hardcore on bluegrass now having just released Happy Prisoner - The Bluegrass Sessions.  I've heard several of the songs on Outlaw Country - principally the opening track "Hot Corn Cold Corn" and "East Virginia Blues". Even with the bluegrass arrangements, REK's unique vocals and demeanor are clearly recognizable. . The song choices also standout with "Vincent Black Lightning" (compare with Del McCoury), "Long Black Veil", "Wayfaring Stranger" (w/ Natalie Maines), and "T For Texas" (w/ Lyle Lovett). And Bluegrass favorite, Peter Rowan, joins in on "Walls of Time". I mean, what's not to like. Looking forward to listening for another 30 years of REK. Pair with College Station's Blackwater Draw Brewing Company or New Republic Brewing. Cheers.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Album Review: The Vespers - Sisters and Brothers

It's been a long time since I first heard The Vespers when they opened a show for Cadillac Sky. The young quartet has just released their third album, Sisters and Brothers - which I listened to a Brite Revolution.The title is relevant since the band is comprised of two pairs of siblings - the Cryar sisters and Jones brothers.  The band started out as a roots folk band with some bluegrass; but their latest expands into more of a rock-pop sound. A perfect example is "Cynical Soul" with it's acoustic instruments, but pop melodies. I like how the album begins, with the slow opening in "Break the Cycle" and "Signs" has a rockin' Black Keys feel. I suspect one power-pop song that will be popular is "You Leave Me" - but for my tastes - I like the old Vespers sound. Cheers.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Album Review: Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow Is My Turn

A Facebook post by Breezy Peyton (The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band) reminded me that Rhiannon Giddens just released her debut solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the album features former Carolina Chocolate Drops partner Hubby J. Jenkins (banjo, guitar or mandolin), Malcolm Parson (cello), Rowan Corbett (bones & banjo), Jamie Dick (drums), and Jason Sypher (bass).  That's quite a supporting cast and Ms. Giddens augments their sound with  Just take a listen to "She's Got You".  This reminds me of the "wow" factor when sipping an extraordinary wine.  Strong, bluesy, sexy vocals - would make Patsy Cline proud.  Another song that speaks to me is the Celtic influences in "O Love is Teasin'". Must be Rowan Corbett's influences. The talent of the backing band is in full display on the opening track "Last Kind Words". Pretty tight. And stay to the end with "Angel City" to hear how they can also slow it down with a fine, soft ballad.   Pair with western Carolina's Calaboose Cellars. Cheers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Album Review: Pops Staples - "Don't Lose This"

If you are familiar with Mavis Staples, then you need to educate yourself on her talented father: Roebuck "Pops" StaplesWilco's Jeff Tweedy is making that effort easier by producing Pops Staples' posthumous final album, Don't Lose This - available February 17th. The sessions were initially recorded in 1990, and at his passing in 2000, the tapes fell to daughter Mavis, who handed them off to Tweedy. And why not, with Tweedy's impressive collaborations with Mavis Staples in You Are Not Alone and One True Vine. The album is mostly Pops Staples gravelly vocals and electric guitar while Tweedy provides some bass and guitar and his son Spencer drums. Sisters Mavis, Yvonne and the late Cleotha Staples enrich the recordings with lead and harmony vocals as displayed in "Sweet Home", "Better Home",  and "Love on My Side". Blues enthusiasts will love "No News is Good News" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine". There are also excellent versions of the traditional gospel "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "Will The Circle Be Unbroken". NPR is currently streaming the album so check it out and then add to your blues and gospel collection on the 17th. Cheers.