January 2014 Archives

Mark 'Bird Stafford - Live At The Delta

A harmonica master does it up right ...
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Toronto-based Mark 'Bird' Stafford is a harmonica player's player, seemingly capable of just about anything on that smallest of instruments. Here he leads a furiously swinging foursome through a set of standards recorded on a hot July night in Toronto. A traditionalist at heart, Stafford has the uncanny ability to sound like any of the masters who originated the sound, giants of the harmonica like Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker, and Slim Harpo. His tone is rich and full, whether he's playing raw and distorted or piercing and clean. (He uses famed Sonny Jr. Amplifiers, legendary

Blue Highway - The Game

An absolutely masterful collection that shows how relevant bluegrass can be
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Blue Highway aren't the typical bluegrass band. With the original lineup still intact since 1994 - a remarkable achievement in itself - they operate as something of a collective, a five-man 'family' that chooses to remain close to home and hearth. (They don't tour much - as banjo player Jason Burleson says, "We decided early on that we'd rather own our own homes than own a bus together"). Creative input from five individually brilliant musicians could be an unfocussed nightmare. But bluegrass is a rather traditional genre, and if all five respect the tradition while remaining adventurous enough to experiment

DeepSoul: Gwen Bunn - "Let Me"

Discover an emerging singer-songwriter through this beautiful ballad.
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One of the pleasures of music podcasts is discovering artists that receive little to no radio airplay. Gwen Bunn, a Decatur, Georgia native who has released music independently since 2009, serves as one example. A cross between Erika Badu and Jill Scott, Bunn writes and performs hip hop, jazz, and neo-soul, alternating her voice between whispers and bold rapping. The ballad "Let Me," a cut off her debut EP The Verdict, showcases her promising talent; even more impressive, she wrote that song and many others at 17 years old. After producing and releasing 2009's The Verdict, Bunn attended the prestigious
I was kind of a metal head in high school. Not hardcore mind you - I preferred Dinosaur Jr to Opeth and Soundgarden over Slayer. But I did like my loud guitars and booming bass. But I also had a secret, something I would have never told my guitar hero friends, I also really like acoustic music. I loved it when my big rock bands would sneak in a little acoustic ballad. I was an enormous fan of the whole Unplugged movement. But in those days I didn't really know where to find acoustic style bands. One time I purchased

A Novel Soundtrack: A Matchbox Twenty Double Play

"But if the bright lights don't receive you ... You should turn yourself around and come on home" Two Matchbox 20 Songs are included on my All That's Unspoken Playlist.
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My writing muse is closely tied to my love of music. For me, a big part of writing my novel is having a solid soundtrack that plays in the background while I'm writing. They are songs that speak of the theme of the book or perfectly reflect the characters journey. For my most recent novel, All That's Unspoken, I've already shared "Same Old Lang Syne" with you. Today, I would like to share two Matchbox Twenty songs that are also on the soundtrack: "If You're Gone" and "Bright Lights" "If You're Gone" One of the reasons this song has always

Doc Watson - Retrospective

An essential collection of Americana
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Our world turns quickly, and while he's a seminal figure in the development of the current 'Americana' musical movement, most modern listeners are more likely to be familiar with Doc Watson's name than with his music. There's no shortage of Watson material available, but The Essential Doc Watson is as good a starting place as any. A two-disc set focused primarily on his Vanguard years, with a few tracks from more recent recordings on the Sugar Hill label, it includes representative material from a catalog that spans the entire spectrum of early American music. By current standards, Watson was virtually

Bob Menzies - One More Highway

A fine collection rooted in a worldly wisdom
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One More Highway is a fitting title indeed for Bob Menzies' second recording. An inveterate wanderer who's learned his share of life's lessons on treks that have taken him around the globe, he remains a restless spirit. Many of the songs on One More Highway deal with the theme of travel, whether literal or metaphorical. Menzies' music would probably best be described as folk-rock, but the blues and good ol' rock 'n' roll are evident as well. Don't call it Americana, though - Menzies was born in Holland, raised in Montreal, and has worked in Germany, London, and California. So

James King - Three Chords And The Truth

Stone country done the bluegrass way ...
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"Three chords and the truth" is how famed songwriter Harlan Howard described country music. It's a little more complicated than that - artifice plays it's part in any popular genre - but as in all art, the stuff that endures seems to hold a nugget of truth larger than our own experience - something, indeed, that connects us in our joy and our (more often in country) grief. James King's latest collection, Three Chords And The Truth, features a dozen stone country classics - some standards, some a bit more obscure - done in pure bluegrass fashion. That means no

CD Review: Deep Purple NOW What?! Gold Edition

Deep Purple's latest gets the Gold treatment.
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Legendary British rockers, Deep Purple's 19th studio album, NOW What?!, was a successful one for the band. Their first album since 2005, it made the top 20 in the UK -- the first time the band had done that in 20 years -- and achieved gold status in Germany, Russia, Czech Republic and Poland. To celebrate, the album is being rereleased in a 2-CD Gold Edition with bonus studio and live cuts. The studio album, which was produced by Bob Ezrin of Pink Floyd, Kiss and Alice Cooper fame, among others, is a fine blend of sounds longtime Deep Purple

Studebaker John 's Maxwell Street Kings - Kingsville Jukin'

Old school done the old school way ...
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Kingsville Jukin' is the third of Studebaker John's collections exploring the golden years of Chicago blues. As with 2010's That's The Way You Do and 2012's aptly-named Old School Rockin,' John's quest for authenticity - the way it was done on the Windy City's famed Maxwell Street back in the day - results in a collection that packs a viciously visceral punch. First, the backstory - yes, John (real name John Grimaldi) really does drive a Studebaker (formerly a Lark, currently a 1963 Silver Hawk). And yes, he did come up on famed Maxwell Street, site of Chicago's gritty, open-air

The US Albums by The Beatles is the Pick of the Week

New Music Tuesday: One more way to re-package The Fab 4... and it's still the most interesting release for the week
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Contrary to the opinion of quite a few, and more than enough old farts like me, there really is an enormous amount of great music being made today. Sure, turn on the radio or watch a bit of American Idol or X-Factor or whatever new show springs up tomorrow with the exact same premise and you're likely to hear generic crap (but when hasn't that been true?) But if you know where to look, or rather listen, there are all sorts of interesting sounds being made, played and recorded. I just wish the record industry new how to keep up.

Tail Dragger - Stop Lyin'

The good stuff doesn't need to change ...
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Delmark Records have long been the torch-bearer for classic Chicago blues. True, the template doesn't vary much - Stop Lyin,' the latest result from Delmark's vault-dipping, comes from sessions in September of 1982, but sounds as though it could easily have been recorded in any decade from the 50's to the present. But while 'timeless' has become a bit of a cliché, that's exactly what this music is - basic, meat-and-potatoes blues. No frills, nothing fancy. But it works, as well today as it ever has, thanks to the sheer conviction and commitment of all involved. The band, all stalwarts,

Hans Theesink - Wishing Well

Another quietly masterful outing from Theesink
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If there's anything quieter than Hans Theesink song, it's silence itself. An exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much; Theesink, a veteran who's devoted much of his life to exploring blues and roots music, favors a muted, subdued delivery, both in his intricate yet delicate guitar work (he employs a veritable arsenal of stringed instruments) and his supremely relaxed vocals. Originally from The Netherlands, Theesink is currently based in Vienna, where this collection was recorded. The playlist includes a number of tunes from 'Americana 101' - standards like "Wayfaring Stranger," "Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor," and "Delia" are

Sugaray Rayford - Dangerous

With a band like this, Dangerous is a can't-miss proposition
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If you're at all familiar with the Delta Groove label - home to, among others, the Mannish Boys, the fluid aggregation Sugaray Rayford has been fronting for some time now - you'll know roughly what to expect from Dangerous. Delta Groove production is usually brassy and ballsy, and label honcho Randy Chortkoff - in addition to contributing harmonica to three tracks, he's listed as Executive Producer and Co-Producer - likes to mix things up with an extensive guest list - in addition to Rayford and Chortkoff, credits list no fewer than fourteen additional musicians. The thing is, though, that every

Candye Kane - Come Out Swingin'

It seems nothing and keep Candye Kane down ...
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It seems nothing can keep Candye Kane down. Her back story is remarkable - abused teenager, sex-trade worker, cancer survivor - yet there's an undeniable joy in her music that comes through loud and clear on Come Out Swinging. (An earlier album was called "Toughest Girl Alive" and spawned a stage play). Working once again with musical foil / guitarist Laura Chavez, Kane delivers a - forgive the cliché - knockout collection. The title track sets the pace, swinging furiously and featuring fleet guitar, muted trumpets, and a jungle-drum breakdown. And that jazzy-jump-blues feel predominates; though Kane does have her

J. T. Lauritsen & Friends - Play By The Rules

J. T. Lauritsen's music, in the end, just feels good.
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When in his native Norway, J. T. Lauritsen leads a band he calls The Buckshot Hunters. They're here, from sessions cut in Norway, but for Play By The Rules, Lauritsen also travelled to famed Ardent Studios in Memphis, recruiting a dazzling array of friends for additional sessions resulting in five of the disc's dozen tracks. Despite a diverse cast and the obvious geographical disparity, though, there's a pleasing consistency to proceedings. Lauritsen cheerfully mixes genres, anyway, seamlessly blending blues, soul, and zydeco, every player's contribution, regardless of studio, is absolutely spot-on, and having it all mixed and mastered at Ardent

Paul Gabriel - What's The Chance

Gabriel calls on old friend Duke Robillard for a romp through (mostly) familiar territory
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The ever-prolific Duke Robillard - the go-to producer for swing and jump blues artists seeking a professional sheen - puts his stamp firmly on Paul Gabriel's solo debut, What's The Chance. And that, as usual, is a very good thing indeed. Gabriel, an old friend of Robillard's (the two met in the early 70's), often treads the same territory as Duke at his swinging best, and with Duke's own band and first-call friends adding additional support to an already supple combo, the sound is frequently familiar. Much of the fare - Gabriel who wrote all but two of the tracks

DVD Review: Roy Orbison - In Dreams

Longtime fans and newcomers will enjoy learning more about the singer's unique art in this often fascinating documentary.
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It's hard to believe that 26 years have passed since Roy Orbison unexpectedly died of a heart attack. He had been enjoying a creative and commercial renaissance: he released the acclaimed TV special Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night; he recorded the first (and highly successful) Traveling Wilburys album; and he had completed his first original album in several years, Mystery Girl. His shocking death forever halted his plans to tour, and he never experienced the rave reviews and solid sales for his posthumous album. Nevertheless, his legacy endures through timeless classics such as "Oh! Pretty Woman,"

Lurrie Bell - Blues In My Soul

Bell returns to the blues
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Lurrie Bell's last outing, 2012's Devil Ain't Got No Music, saw him turning to his gospel roots, the results an absolutely riveting collection. An all-acoustic, primarily solo effort, the intimacy put his gruff vocals and stinging guitar in stark relief. Blues In My Soul marks Bell's return to the Chicago's venerable Delmark label as well as a return to hard-core urban blues. The results are typically stellar - Bell, son of the late harmonica master and blues icon Carey Bell, is as steeped in the blues as anyone alive, and he's seemingly incapable of a less-than-sublimely soulful performance. He's a

Blu-ray Review: The Doors -- R-Evolution

A visual evolution of this classic band.
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For all of Jim Morrison's poetry and The Doors' unique blend of the blues with the psychedelic music of the times, The Doors were equally innovative visually, pushing the envelope with their promotional films. That should come as no surprise as both Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek were graduates of the UCLA Film School. This combination made The Doors unlike any band before them and, arguably, since. While The Doors were making cutting edge music and films, American television hadn't quite caught up, still seemingly stuck in more milquetoast days. A number of these films and TV appearances are collected

Bryan Lee - Play One For Me

Lee's latest is a bit of a departure but one of his strongest collections yet
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New Orleans institution Bryan Lee - though originally from Wisconsin, he's spent enough years on Bourbon Street to qualify as a fixture - would seem to be a producer's dream, flexible enough to adapt to any setting and convey any mood. Lee's last outing, produced by Duke Robillard and featuring Duke's band in the background, found him swinging hard through a collection weighted toward jump blues and rollicking rock 'n' roll. On Play One For Me, his debut on Severn Records, he alternates between slinky, uptown blues and shimmery Memphis soul, the kind that's become something of a signature sound

Johnny Rawls - Remembering O.V. / Hank Mowery - Account To Me

Two posthumous tributes to singular talents
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Chances are that Gary Primich and O.V. Wright's paths never crossed - certainly not musically, at any rate. In ways they're vastly different. Gary Primich, who passed in 2007, was known for tough, working class blues driven by his probing, inventive harmonica work and featuring whip-smart songwriting. Overton Vertis White (1939-1980), revered as one of the deepest of the classic deep-soul singers, spent most of his time on the Chitlin' Circuit. He died of a heart attack en route to a gig, in the presence of Rawls, at that time Wright's musical director. Rawls, who's always been forthright in

DeepSoul: B. B. King - "So Excited"

Happy blues music? Only legend B. B. King could convincingly record an optimistic blues track.
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Think of a typical blues song, and words such as these normally do not leap to mind: "I'm so excited / I'm at peace with the world." Yet the legendary B. B. King kicked off his 1969 album Completely Well with such lyrics, and the song "So Excited" represents a career high point for the bluesman. This album and its single "The Thrill Is Gone" introduced King to a wider audience, sparking a wave of popularity he still enjoys. Boasting blaring horns, tasteful strings, and slicker production, Completely Well showcases King's emotive voice and deft guitar work while incorporating sounds

Bruce Springsteen's High Hopes is the Pick of the Week

2014 gets in gear this week with a huge week of great new releases!
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We are definitely back in business this week with a slew of great looking releases. I'm contractually obligated to make any new Bruce Springsteen my pick of the week (and by obligated I mean our notorious editor Josh Hathaway has threatened to kill me if I don't) and so I am proud to announce that High Hopes is this weeks pick.It probably would have been anyways. I've never been the world's biggest Springsteen fan, but after seeing him live a few years back I jumped on the bandwagon with both feet. Dude knows how to bring it in front of

Review: Mark T. Small - Smokin' Blues

Mark T.Small's Smokin' Blues brings familiar classics to vibrant life
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Mark T. Small explains in the liner notes to Smokin' Blues that he's "a live player, not a studio guy." His intent with this release was to replicate the experience of hearing him perform in an intimate setting, with the connection between performer and listener very much a part of proceedings. Small has been a performing musician for over forty years. Initially a fan of 'old time music' - folk and ragtime and, yes, the blues - he started out playing 'newgrass,' a catch-all name for adventurous music that expands upon traditional bluegrass. Delving deeper into the blues, he subsequently

Annika Chambers & The Houston All-Stars - Making My Mark

A fine and funky outing featuring absolutely sublime vocals
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Making My Mark proves an apt title indeed for the debut recording from Annika Chambers. Possessed of a powerhouse set of pipes, she's firmly in control through a varied set that ranges from self-penned declarations of defiant intent (opening manifesto "Move") to affirmative anthems of soul-searing regret (Bobby Charles' classic "Jealous Kind"). Chambers' command of the considerable resources on hand here should come as no surprise given her background. Rising to the rank of Sergeant in the US Army (including deployments to both Afghanistan and Kosovo), she left to pursue her musical dreams, and as of the release of her

Little Mike & The Tornadoes - Forgive Me

No surprises, but it's as raw and real as it gets ...
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New York-based Little Mike And The Tornadoes first came to prominence as the backing band for a pair of 1980's recordings by Pinetop Perkins (1988's After Hours) and Hubert Sumlin (1989's Heart And Soul). A few scattered recordings have since followed, but Forgive Me is the band's first new recording in quite some time. The template hasn't changed much - hard-driving twelve-bar grinders and belly-rubbers predominate, though there are a couple of original compositions that avoid cliché quite nicely. It's music that achieves greatness through the sum of its parts rather than individual instrumental excellence. Mike himself is no slouch,

Top 10 of 2013, Better Late Than Never Edition

These are your Top 10 albums of 2013 as well as four favorite re-issues...
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2013 is hours away from ending (well, it was when I started writing this) and no one will be happier to see it in the rearview mirror because this year sucked out loud for me; it did no such thing where music was concerned and for that I am thankful. Music continues to be the constant refuge for my mind and soul and many albums from 2013 will remain companions in 2014 and the years to come. There are many great albums I spent a lot of time listening to that didn't make my Top 10 but that's the fascist
Even the most rabid music fans may find themselves a bit flummoxed by the genre of Psychedelic (or Acid) Folk. It never caught on in a big way, although heavyweights like Robert Plant have been extolling the virtues of such artists as the Incredible String Band for decades now. Psychedelic Folk was definitely more of a British phenomenon than an American one, at least in the beginning. So it seems appropriate that the English Jawbone Books have published the definitive book about the music: Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk by Jeanette Leech. The book is
Apologies all around for missing the last two weeks. I was out of town for the holidays and the wife's entire family and I passed arounds all sorts of sickness back and forth and back again. Truth be told though the last two weeks kind of sucked for new music anyways. Nobody releases much of anything right after Christmas. Things are picking up a little bit now, but we're still a long ways away from a truly terrific week.I grew up musically in the early '90s alternative heyday. I lapped most of it up including Pavement to some degree. I
Deep Purple are one of the founding fathers of heavy metal, and by all rights should already be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were nominated for inclusion this year, but did not make the cut. The fact that they are still waiting is a travesty, but they have been honored in other ways. The most recent example is from the premiere CD company Audio Fidelity, who have just released The Deep Purple Audio Fidelity Collection. The set features remastered editions of the band's four greatest albums on 24K Gold CDs, housed in a numbered, limited edition

Review: North Mississippi Allstars - World Boogie Coming

So much to love borders on too much of a good thing on latest from North Mississippi Allstars...
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World Boogie Is Coming is the latest from the Dickinson brothers -- Cody (drums, keyboards) and Luther (guitars, vocals) -- and finds the band playing a host of songs by some of the Mississippi Delta greats as well as a few originals. It also finds them bringing in some heavyweight talents to support them on this sprawling 22-song set, among them Robert Plant, members of the Burnside family (R.L. Burnside's music is represented on the record three times), Lightnin' Malcolm, Otha Turner, and Alvin Youngblood Hart just to name a few. "JR" and "Goat Meat" open the record riding the