NewTown- Harlan Road review   Leave a comment

It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)

With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.

Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.

newtown

NewTown Harlan Road Mountain Home Music Company

Three years ago, NewTown released their first label album having previously knocked out an independent project. That Pisgah release was notable for a decent cover of “Dublin Blues,” not an easy song to ‘grassify, and the songs of bandmember C.J. Cain, particularly the pairing of “Thin Red Line” and “The Widow’s Ghost.” It was a fine album in of itself one showing plenty of promise for the future.

As tends to happen in bluegrass and for a variety of reasons I’m sure, the only returnees from Time Machine are the fronting one-two singing punch of spouses Kati Penn (fiddle) and Jr. Williams (banjo.) New this time are guitarist Hayes Griffon, bass player Travis Anderson, and mandolinist Mitchell Cannon with Barry Bales producing. The chief songwriter on Harlan Road is Tyler Childers (a singer-songwriter from Kentucky you really should listen to if you haven’t) with four credits while Cain also contributes a pair.

A strength of the group is the diversity having two capable lead vocalists, and NewTown takes full advantage of this, allowing Penn and Williams to balance off each other throughout the recording. A contemporary-sounding bluegrass band, NewTown doesn’t wander too far from the core of the music—rural events, hard-living, simple pleasures. The instrumental “The Feast of the Gryphon” is expansive enough for the members to work together while showcasing themselves, including the songwriter Griffon. (Did you catch that? Nicely done, Hayes.) Key cuts: “Can’t Let Go,” “Harlan Road,” “The Crows and the Jakes,” and “Drifter Blues.”

Audie Blaylock & Redline- The Road That Winds review   Leave a comment

It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)

With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.

Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.

audie

Audie Blaylock & Redline The Road That Winds Patuxent Music

Audie Blaylock & Redline returns with their fifth album in eight years. Like the previous releases, The Road That Winds is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line—it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group—and obviously, Blaylock, too—have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution. Banjoist Evan Ward has returned to Redline, while the impressive Patrick McAvinue continues on fiddle and mandolin. Reed Jones is the bass player, and also contribute four original songs including the inspirational (co-write with Blaylock) “Life Without a Spare” and “The Ties That Bind.” Bob Amos’ “Where the Wild River Rolls,” previously recorded by Hot Rize a quarter century ago and Elton John/Bernie Taupin’s “Daniel” will be familiar to most. As typical of Blaylock albums, this one comes in around 34 minutes; one would think they could have squeezed out another couple songs. Key cuts: those mentioned and “Cousin Sally Brown” and “Ride and Roll.”

Swift Creek- Magnolia review   Leave a comment

It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)

With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.

Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.

magnolia-cover-art-final

Swift Creek Magnolia www.SwiftCreekMusic.com

An ambitious project that falls short, Swift Creek’s second album offers original material augmented by at least three songs with which most listeners of modern American will be familiar.

Instrumentally, the North Carolina group appears to be a competent bluegrass band, one capable of stretching out into other areas including the swampy country soul of “Rattle Them Bones.” Original material is always appreciated, and main songwriter Kevin Brown reveals that he has ability, as on the previously mentioned “Rattle Them Bones.” “Bluegrass Hurricane” is a fine little number of the music’s genesis, and “The Levee” offers an allegory of substance. The selection of Justin Townes Earle’s “Harlem River Blues” and Amanda Anne Platt’s (The Honeycutters) “Irene” are solid, and their interpretation of Fastball’s “The Way” elevates the song; it turns out there is an old-timey song to be revealed.

Unfortunately, the band’s harmonies are not quite there. Labelled a parody, “Life in the Slow Lane” falls flat, not biting, clever, nor amusing. The album’s lead song, “Wake Me Up to Drive” has the framework of a good road song and shows insight into the banality of commercialism (“The Applebee’s are Chili’s by a different name, that’s the reason why they ain’t part of our plan” is an apt line,) but suffers from dipping too often into a well of allusion. By the time a man in Winslow, Arizona makes an appearance, and the “highway is jammed with broken heroes’ sings the Boss” is sung, well…the song has faded like a late night driver. Key cuts: “Rattle Them Bones,” “Irene,” and “The Levee.”

O’Connor Band with Mark O’Connor- Coming Home review   Leave a comment

It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)

With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.

Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.

oconnor

O’Connor Band with Mark O’Connor Coming Home Rounder Records

One of the new acts gaining extended coverage this summer has been Mark O’Connor’ foray into leading a family band. O’Connor has long been one of the most recognizable fiddle voices in country and roots music, releasing a string of albums under his own name while guesting on countless recordings. In the O’Connor Band he is joined by his son Forrest (mandolin) and their partners Maggie (vocals and fiddle, and who has a little Alison Krauss in her voice) and Kate Lee (vocals and fiddle.) With three fiddle/violin players in the band, one isn’t surprised at the prominence the instrument has in this neo-bluegrass/Americana band’s repertoire. My advance copy of the album came with no credit notes, but the album appears to be a mix of original (“Coming Home,” a Forrest O’Connor composition is a highlight) and familiar material. Of the later, a stirring rendition of “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man” is a highlight, as is a welcome interpretation of “Jerusalem Ridge,” considered by some to be Bill Monroe’s finest composition. The album is enjoyable if a little staid for my tastes- more MOR than the fiery sounds that fuel my soul. No doubt, expertly played and acutely produced, it features a few too many numbers a bit too smooth for me to grasp onto. Key cuts: already mentioned as well as “Blacktop Boy” and “Always Do.”

Blue Moon Marquee- Gypsy Blues review   Leave a comment

It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)

With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.

Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.

BMM

Blue Moon Marquee Gypsy Blues www.BlueMoonMarquee.com

A refreshing platter of hardscrabble blues and roots music. Comprised of two Albertans now based on Vancouver Island (our dream most days), Blue Moon Marquee are A.W.  Cardinal (vocals and guitar) and Jasmine Colette (double bass, drums, and vocals.) If you can imagine David Johansen recording original music during his Harry Smiths phase, you are coming close to what Blue Moon Marquee accomplish on this riveting set of energetic, guttural blues. Lonesome Ghosts of a couple years ago was a fine introduction, but Gypsy Blues is that much darker, smokier, and satisfying.  With a hint of ragtime in their mix, Cardinal and Colette explore the back roads lurking in the listener’s mind, causing one to feel both trepidation and elation while experiencing one’s baser possibilities. Key cuts: “Double Barrel Blues,” “Hoodoo Lady,” and “Tossin’ and Turnin’.”

Maria Dunn- Gathering review   Leave a comment

MD_gathering_cover-hi-res

Maria Dunn Gathering Distant Whisper Music

One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians—I believe only John Wort Hannam is her equal—returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable.

There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. An overarching theme of community connection is woven into each number, ably achieved through Dunn’s soulful lyrics and the contributions of collaborators including long-time partners Shannon Johnson, Jeremiah McDade, and Solon McDade. As always, one comes away from this Dunn recording knowing more about the world than one was previously aware.

Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.

Beautiful stuff Gathering is, certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.

Video of “When I Was Young” from Gathering. Several other videos from other projects, too.

Frank Wakefield & Leon Morris review   Leave a comment

wakefield-morris

Frank Wakefield & Leon Morris Frank Wakefield & Leon Morris Patuxent Music

For those with an eye on its history, Frank Wakefield and Leon Morris are much revered members of the bluegrass community.

Frank Wakefield has long been one of the more colourful components of the bluegrass spectrum, having developed his own style of mandolin playing while spending time with Red Allen, Jimmy Martin, The Greenbriar Boys, and others before launching a well-regarded career as a featured artist.

Guitarist Leon Morris has been an integral member of the Washington, DC and area scene from the late 1950s onward, and his recordings with Buzz Busby (such as Honkytonk Bluegrass on Rounder Records) are greatly admired; for many years, he has led the group Leon Morris & the (Bluegrass) Associates.

Patuxent Music has brought together these two senior members of the bluegrass world on a generous self-titled recording. While the album has much to recommend it, it is a little strange in its composition. The principals receive equal billing, but Morris appears on only seven of the fourteen tracks. Wakefield, Nate Leath (fiddle), Stefan Custodi (bass), and Mark Delaney (banjo) comprise the core band with others including Scott Brannon and Bryan Deere taking lead vocal turns with Danny Paisley and Tom Mindte offering up harmony. Danny Knicely (guitar) appears on select tracks.

Given this, the album isn’t really a Wakefield/Morris album as much as a Wakefield & Patuxent Friends release. And, as such, is quite enjoyable. In my opinion, it just isn’t what it appears to be from the cover.

That out of the way, Frank Wakefield & Leon Morris is first and foremost a bluegrass album of  quality. While I may favour the Leon Morris songs (notably “Blue Monday,” “I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling,” and “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow”) there is no drop-off when Brannon (“Made Up My Mind”) or Deere (“I Don’t Believe You’d Do Me Wrong”) are featured. Wakefield’s mandolin playing is featured throughout, and this consistency is one of the album’s strengths. One appreciates his deftness on the previously mentioned Bill Monroe classic as well on the more expansive “Rondo.”

“Lena,” a Morris composition from the early 70s (if not earlier), is reprised to excellent effect, with Paisley singing the high harmony. Regard for Wakefield’s voice may not be universally positive, but his rendition of “Never Fall” (“I Thought I’d Never Fall in Love Again”) from his days with Red Allen is conveyed with sincerity.

Frank Wakefield & Leon Morris is a solid bluegrass release that leaves one heading to the shelves (and download sites) in search of more from Morris and Wakefield, two legends of the music quite frequently overlooked.

 

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