Monday, February 27, 2017

The Soulful Mavis Staples and Loveblock 2013 Pinot Noir

This is the second consecutive vintage of Loveblock Pinot Noir 2013 ($37, 14%) that I've received as a sample and this New Zealand wine captivates me. The grapes are grown in Loveblock's high altitude "Someone’s Darling" Vineyard (Central Otago), which owners Erica and Kim Crawford have had accredited with  Sustainable Winegrowing (SWNZ). The wine is powerful, yet classy; exhibits fresh fruit, yet dusty herbs; and finishes with bright acids, yet smooth tannins.  A very complex wine that's a gem to drink. Another gem is R&B gospel singer Mavis Staples.  With each sip of the Loveblock, Staples's soulful, smooth, yet dusty vocals seemed to emanate from the wine, whether the gospel sound of One True Vine or the soulful R&B of Livin' On A High Note. And when the band breaks out the electric guitar and horns while she's singing gospel, that captivates me as well. And by chance Staples is traveling through New Zealand and Australia this spring. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cusumano Nero d'Avola, Pizza, and Sarah Jarosz's Undercurrent

This month I received a unique sampling package of the 2014 Cusumano Nero d'Avola ($15) packaged with a pizza making kit. The obvious message is that this Italian red wine from Sicily pairs well with America's favorite food. The Cusumano Winery is operated by brothers Diego and Alberto Cusumano with the vineyards for the Nero d'Avola located in the dry and hot climate of southern Sicily - the grape's historic homeland

The Cusumano Nero d'Avola is a palate pleaser with it's strength due to its relative simplicity. You will not be overwhelmed from any one characteristic; instead the simple and straightforward nature of the wine works wonderfully. The nose is fresh and jammy, the palate red fruit and leather with light texture, and the tail comes across with light and tannins. And the wine's relatively high acidity provides the bond to pizza - cutting through the cheese and tomato. Here's W. Blake Gray explaining why at WineFix.

Sarah Jarosz had a big last week when her fourth album, Undercurrent, was awarded the 2017 Grammy for Best Folk Album. (Jarosz was awarded a second Grammy for Best American Roots Performance as well.) I immediately downloaded the album and soon realized that, like the wine, the strength of this release is also in it's simplicity. Most of the song's are simply Jarosz and her guitar, showcasing her sweet vocals and picking skills. When the electric guitar appears, it is present, but not overwhelming. My favorite tracks are House Of Mercy with Jedd Hughes, Everything To Hide, and Still Life with I'm With Her band mates Aoife O'Donovan and Sara Watkins providing exceptional harmonies. All songs worthy of a Grammy. Cheers.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Otis Gibbs - Mount Renraw and Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey

I've been following folkster Otis Gibbs since hearing The Darker Side of Me - a song I was convinced was done by Johnny Cash. This year Gibbs released his seventh album, Mount Renraw, which includes similarly meaningful songs - simply performed but complex in thought. The mid section is the strength of this album starting with Sputnik Monroe - another Johnny Cash style ballad. This song tells the story of wrestler Roscoe Monroe Brumbaugh who single handily desegregated sporting events in Memphis. One night he refused to wrestle unless the black patrons could sit anywhere and not just in the balcony.  Empire Hole honors all working fathers  and contains the enshrining line:  "there's a graveyard my Daddy now calls home". The song also references how Gibss' native Indiana was the source for the limestone used to build the Empire State Building (Indiana limestone is the nation's stone as it was also used in building the Pentagon, Washington National Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the Biltmore Estate, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Ellis Island -- among many other notable structures). The album continues with Blues for Diablo and its haunting fiddle and 800 Miles with the soothing fiddle and simple guitar.

I paired Mount Renraw with the Maryland produced Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey ($40) - a working man's whiskey despite the fact that the distillery is owned by Maryland native and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Eventually the rye will be sourced from Plank's Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland and distilled in Baltimore but for now they are bottling from the infamous MGP of Indiana located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The 4 year aged whiskey is a blend of "two rye recipes (one that is high rye-based and another that is low rye-based)" and is cut to 83 percent using Indiana limestone rich water. The nose is noticeably spicy and caramel which carries over into the middle mouth where it remains through the smooth finish.  A very nice pairing of music and rye whiskey.

Update: The post was revised to state that the Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey is aged 4 years instead of 2 years.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cris Jacobs - Dust to Gold with Heavy Seas 21 Anniversary Ale

Many of you may be familiar with Chris Jacobs as the front-man for the jam band The Bridge. However, since that band went on hiatus five years ago, Jacobs has segued into a successful solo career as showcased by his latest release Dust to GoldAlthough the album was released a few months ago, I revisited it while consuming theHeavy Seas Brewing 21 Anniversary Ale. This is a high octane (10.5% abv) Imperial Rye ESB which was aged 60 days in  used Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey barrels. The result is an incredibly smooth beer, malty but balanced and the heat dissipates with a slightly spicy finish.

Dust To Gold is also mellow and spicy containing a mixture of soul, gospel, and acoustic and electric blues punctuated with Jacob's "whiskey soaked vocals". I enjoyed all the tracks but pay special attention to Kind WomenHallelujah HustlerCold Carolina, and Leaving Charm City. Cheers to Baltimore's string music and beer scene. .

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Infamous Stringdusters - Laws Of Gravity & Devils Backbone Brewing Company

Grammy nominated The Infamous Stringdusters (Andy Hall - dobro, Andy Falco - guitar, Chris Pandolfi - banjo, Jeremy Garrett - fiddle, and Travis Book - upright bass) -- are synonymous to good music and good beer. Their music is a fusion of what I would call campfire dancing music and contemporary newgrass. As for beer, think the Charlottesville beer scene and Devils Backbone Brewing Company - host venue for The Festy Experience music festival. Here's a video of Travis discussing both beer and music at the inaugural Festy many years ago. And if you plan to attend the 2017 addition in October expect to hear plenty of music from Laws of Gravity, The Stringdusters latest release which dropped January 13th.

In this release the band returns to bluegrass roots with a theme of the freedom as a result of life on the road. Something they should know rather well.  Rotating lead vocals, solos, and tight harmonies provide an expected and consistent bouquet. But there's also a touch of soulful blues with This Ol’ Building and Back Home, which in addition to Soul Searching and Sirens, lift the mid palette and are the strongest section of the album. The tail finishes with high energy effervescence with Let Me Know and I Run To You. Classic Stringdusters.

The one problem with this release, and for that matter all the Stringdusters' seven studio releases, is that it can never capture the spirit of their live performance. Case in point is Sirens. The instrumentals are tight - but I'm sure the band blows away audiences performing this song live. Fortunately there are plenty of upcoming tour dates to experience a fantastic live show. I'm targeting the January 27th show at the 9:30 Club.

My favorite pairing option for Laws of Gravity is this DBBC Adventure sampler twelve pack. It includesthe Flor De Luna Belgium Blonde Ale, Berliner Metro Weiss, Smokehouse Porter, and Single Hop IPA. I hit all cylinders when fueled with a Berliner Weiss or Smoked Porter - as do the Stringdusters often in Laws of Gravity. Cheers.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

It's Not Too Early to Plan for the 2016 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Frequent readers will know that the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is one of our favorite music festivals. (See past coverage.) Where else can you enjoy live music at a large outdoor pavilion or inside a coffee shop or perhaps an historic theater or a billiards hall. Only in Bristol Tennessee and Virginia. And the price for a 3 day ticket ranges from an early bird $50 for three days to only $100 at the gate. In addition to headliners Loretta Lynn and Buddy Guy, the lineup is spectacular as listed below with special attention to Cracker, Hayes Carll, Darrell Scott, Scythian, Blair Crimmins & the Hookers, Mike Farris, and The Tillers. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Delfest Single Day Tickets Now Available

Delfest, the three day music festival running over Memorial Day Weekend is now selling single day tickets ($60) as their 4 day package is sold out. This Bluegrass-Americana based festival is held at the Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, MD (2.5 hrs from Baltimore and DC). The lineup is crazy good with Del McCoury and The Travelin' McCourys headlining as usual. Then I'd be following
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Wood Brothers The Infamous Stringdusters feat. Nicki Bluhm, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Cabinet, Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers, Dale Ann Bradley, Elephant Revival, Aoife O’Donovan plus many more excellent artists.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Album Review: Hackensaw Boys - Charismo

The last two days I've listened to an advanced copy of the Hackensaw Boys upcoming album Charismo. It is produced by Larry Campbell who was the ringleader of Levon Helm's band it's last few years. The album will drop on Tax Day by Free Dirt Records and I recommend using your refund to procure this release. The band has evolved over the years with the current iteration a trio consisting of founder David Sickmenn, who returned after a long hiatus in 2012, festival favorite Ferd Moyse, and Brian Gorby, who inherited the album's namesake - the Charismo - from Justin Neuhardt. 

The songs on Charismo are all original written by Sickmen and Moyse and a good ear can distinguish them. There's more sophistication and maybe more seriousness to the songs, and not the jamming thrillers we loved at festivals. But the harmonies are still killer. The opening track "Don't Bet Against Me" is in my opinion the best track with "Happy For Us in the Down" and "Flora" two more favorites. Festival goers will want to listen to "Limousin Lady". As much as I'd like to pair this album with Veritas Winery, where the band plays often, but Starr Hill Brewery seems a better option. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Does Christmas Remind Me of Johnny Cash - ' Hurt"

For some reason every Christmas season I think of Johnny Cash and lately his last few albums produced by Rick Rubin like the Grammy Award-winning American IV: The Man Comes Around.The second track, Hurt, is a powerful song written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, but seemingly fit more for the Man in Black.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Album Review: Mipso - Old Time Reverie

I'm still rather troubled that this year I missed all the major music festivals I usually attend like Merlefest, Floydfest, and Bristol Rhythm & Roots. However, I've found a North Carolina quartet that is helping alleviate that pain. Mipso is a modified bluegrass band that should be part of Floydfest's Emerging Artist Series. And I say modified since they are not a traditional bluegrass band - and not newgrass either. Their latest release Old Time Reverie showcases this unique Appalachian sound. My favorite track is Bad Penny, shades of Americana fused with old time country. Everyone Knows is close behind. Mipso consists of Jacob Sharp (mandolin), Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (bass), and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle). The album showcases their tight harmonies and individual instrumentation. Pair with Chapel Hill's Top Of The Hill Brewery. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Album Review: Jason Boland & The Stragglers - Squelch

Based on attendance from shows in the DC area, Jason Boland & The Stragglers must have a solid national audience which should only increase after the band's eighth album, Squelch. Boland's signature gravelly vocals and the pedal steel guarantee a solid country sound; although there are other genre's mingled in. See The First To Know and the rockn' It's Alright to Be An A*Hole. Yet, the Texas Country vibe is what shines the brightest, songs like the opening track Break 19, Heartless Bypass, and Do You Love Me Any Less. And listen to the end, Bienville is a fine Texas waltz. Pair Squelch with Stillwater Oklahoma's Iron Monk Brewing Company. Cheers.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Album Review: Tellico - Relic And Roses

I'm an admitted dobro and pedal steel junky, so it shouldn't be surprising that I totally enjoyed Tellico's dobro and steel laced debut release: Relic And Roses. Of course there's more to this album then just Aaron Ballance on the aforementioned instruments; Jed Willis contributes solid  mandolin and clawhammer banjo; Jon Stickley (producer) of the Jon Stickley Trio; and then there's Anya Hinkle (guitar, fiddle) and Stig Stiglets (bass). You may be familiar with these names from their Dehlia Low days and the two wrote all tracks except the Neil Young White Line-River of Pride medley. Their songs are rootsy and full of life, whether uplifting or sorrowful. The album starts with an authentic Appalachian sound in Backstep Blues but its Can't Go Home Again where the album hits its stride. Just hear those instruments. Would love to hear the playful Hawkeye Pierce and Honeycutt Blues live, and Farewell Winds is the most powerful track - until you hear Mexico 1995. This is a tremendous debut effort; suburb orchestration and songwriting. Well done. Pair with Blonde Whiskey from Asheville Distilling Company. Cheers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Album Review: Sour Bridges - Entertaining Americana Rock

Austin-based band Sour Bridges proves that Americana-rock bands need not fear the banjo or fiddle. Brothers Bill and Matt Pucci have combined their love of bluegrass with electric guitar and bass and an occasional keyboard to create a funky, vibrant sound. Last month the band releases their self titled album, the third in their portfolio. My favorite songs are those where the fiddle and banjo are prevalent such as Teddy, Cocaine Lorraine, and Workin' Boy.  Kat “Mama Kat” Wilkes (fiddle), Dalton Chamblee (drums), Jack Bridges (vocals, bass guitar) and "hired gun" Ben Morgan (keys) round out the team. The waltzy Meet You There showcases the band's tight harmonies and Bumble Bee their rustic pickin' ability.  This is an impressive release; all songs diverse and entertaining. Pair with Richmond Virginia's Hardywood Park Craft Brewery where the band performs June 28th. Cheers.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Album Review: Robyn Ludwick - Little Rain

Last year the "Queen of Modern Texas Country Soul", Robyn Ludwick, released Little Rain and recently I finally got around to purchasing a copy. The descriptor is spot on, as the album combines a bit of bluesy soul to that Texas Americana sound. The album was produced by Gurf Morlix who also featured his considerable talent on the guitar, keyboards, banjo, pedal steel, and backing vocals. Husband John Ludwick (electric and upright bass) and Rick Richards (drums) round out the musical cast. The opening track,  Longbow, OK, sets our high expectations for this release with it's tale of love gone bad. Seems like a constant theme as the Heartache continues with her soulful vocals - at times backed by haunting music. Lafayette is a favorite track where Ludwick displays more range and Little Weakness all Americana. If you are still not convinced, consider that Ludwick is the sister of Charlie Robison and Bruce Robison. Would love to hear the singing at that family reunion. Pair Little Rain with the Lost Maples Winery, the closest winery to Ludwick's Bandera Texas hometown. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Album Review: Kym Warner - Everything That Brought Me Here

Last month I attended another great house concert, this time featuring Kym Warner and Warren Hood, where the duo thoroughly entertained the captive audience. You should know Warner as a founding member of the Grammy nominated bluegrass outfit The Greencards. And Hood has an impressive following among The Waybacks fans as well as anyone from the Austin area. The duo were brilliant; entertaining with stories, humor, and music - many of these derived from Warner's debut solo album "Everything That Brought Me Here". Simply, this album is fantastic - the all acoustic release displaying Warner's mastery of the mandolin as well as the impressive musicianship of his guest musicians: Andy Hall (dobro) of the The Infamous Stringdusters, Tommy Emmanuel, Jedd Hughes, Carl Miner, Jake Stargel, Bill Whitbeck, David Beck, Brian Standefer, Jeff Taylor, Eric Darken and Dan Dugmore. I've had the album running continually during the day for the past few weeks and never tire with particular standouts in City to the Bay, El Paloma, Start Your Engines, San Leanna, and the highly relevant Great Falls. You won't be able to see Warner solo or with The Greencards this summer as he is touring with Robert Earl Keen as a member of his bluegrass band. In any event, pair Everything That Brought Me Here with Austin's (512) Brewing Company. Cheers.