Monday
Dec082014

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

 

Monday
Dec082014

Ryan Bingham 'Fear And Saturday Night' - Humphead

          After his Oscar award winning song The Weary Kind from the film Crazy Heart many listeners have wondered if Ryan Bingham would return to that understated and reflective mode that contrasted with the full-on band sound of his live shows and of his last album. For them the good news is that, in part, there are songs here that stand alongside that acclaimed song. The opening Nobody Knows My Trouble has a great mix of acoustic and electric guitar over a subtle brushed rhythm under Bingham’s older than his years seasoned and gritty voice. It's a telling song about a man who carries troubles with him through life. It has an believable autobiographical feel that makes it a great opener and an album highlight. Broken Heart Tattoos continues the theme with another top notch song that speaks of what can lie before you in life and end up marking you.
         Things get heavier on Top Shelf Drug a “love is the drug” song that highlights its addictive nature. Islands In The Sky offers hope with a mid tempo song laced with harmonica and features another strong vocal performance. There is a border feel to the accordion-led rocker Adventures Of You And Men, it gives a call out to Flaco Jiminez and the Texas Tornados. it’s a further album highlight and a instant toe-tapper. Next up we’re back in that contemplative mode with the title song. It is a reflection of a life lived as best one can under what would be a set of adverse circumstances. My Diamond Is Too Rough is a fairly self explanatory title for how the world treats and outsider and underdog. It incorporates some subtle organ and maraca playing before the electric guitar cuts an emotive shard into the song.
          A in-car radio is causing some static for a man driving to or from his girl in Radio. Next up, Snow Falls In June, seeks solace in love and offers true love if reciprocated. Darlin’ is a pure declaration of love and need. this is again give a soulful underplayed backing, perfectly reflective of the song's mood. Hands Of Time kicks up the dirt again with a Bo Diddley styled beat and a guitar driven lively bedrock. The album’s final track is Gun Fightin’ Man a tale that underlines a “live by the sword die by the sword” ethos of the title. A brooding mid-tempo song it closes what is a powerful and primal album.
         Produced by Bingham and Jim Scott it is arguably the best album from Bingham yet. It’s cast of players include guitarists Daniel Sproul and Jedd Hughes and a rhythm section of Nate Barnes and Shawn Davis. By making changes and bring in this new set of players Bingham has found a sound that is both rewarding and relevant. His voice is his own and his songs tell tales of hard worn lives and tainted love.

 

Monday
Dec082014

Whitey Morgan and the 78s ‘Born, Raised and Live from Flint’ - Bloodshot

         Whitey Morgan’s third album captures him on home territory turning the venue into a partisan hometown honky-tonk and evoking the outlaw spirit of the likes of Waylon et alv. The thirteen songs are a mix of originals and covers. The themes are what you would expect from a man steeped in the pleasures and power of this gritty, genre specific music. Songs with titles like Buick City, Cheatin’ Again, Turn Up The Bottle, Honky Tonk Queen and I Ain’t Drunk sum up an attitude and a lifestyle.
         Behind the exuberant and effusive frontman are a tight, focused and musical adept band that included at the time of recording guitarist Benny James Vermeylen, steel player Brett Robinson, bassist JD MacKinder and the keyboards of Mike Lynch. This set of seasoned players are right behind Morgan’s big voice giving the songs they kind of depth they need. Throughout Morgan gives these players the time to shine with plenty of space for the guitar, keyboards and steel to stretch these sound beyond the more restrictive needs of the studio recorded versions.
        The choice of cover songs is equally instructive you get Johnny Paycheck’s Cocaine Trail, Bad News from Johnny Cash, the Dale Watson song about Billy Joe Shaver Where Do You Want It and Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire, the closing song is Hank Snr’s Mind Your Own Business. Though it has to be said that the set runs smooth and these songs are just part of the overall set with no difference in content and quality between Morgan’s own songs and the outside songs. A testament to his and the band's delivery on what was obviously a good night for all on both sides of sides of the stage judging by the audible response.
         This live album marks a perfect introduction to this hard workin’ honky tonker. He will be back next year with a new studio album and also has a solo album, just him and guitar, available. Whitey Morgan is representative of a whole slew of bands  and singers who have remained true to their notion of country music as espoused in Nashville and those who are enticed by the notion of the outlawisms of the mainstream would do well to check this out as it never falls into the trap of diluted metal rock. Rather it stays true to Morgan’s vision of the music he so obviously loves.

 

Monday
Dec082014

Bennett Jackson ‘Texana’ - Self-Release

          Based in the Lone Star State Jackson recorded this roots rocking set of songs in New York. The songs though largely have their sights set further down South. The eight songs feature a host of guest musicians but Jackson takes guitar duties throughout, playing the lead on two and delivering solid vocals throughout. The songs often take a physical location as their starting point as can be gauged from many of the titles. The most country song here is Denver which has some flowing pedal steel to emphasise that. It’s a song of travel, about following the trail of a lady. Which may also lead on to the next uptempo and more rocking number Leavin’ Town. In fact the fairer sex (along with a variety of locations) seem to be at the core of many of these songs and the places they might be found if the previous titles and Girl From Galveston are anything to go by. Then again it the lack of such contact may be the inspiration behind Oklahoma Loner
         For the most part these are full sounding songs that have as much roots rock as anything with loud drums, big choruses and a wall of guitars. However overall that doesn’t make for a overall sound that hasn't got it’s merits. But in the end it tends to be the quieter less upfront songs like the previously mentioned Denver and Girl From Galveston. These have the most overall resonance for this listener. The title track is a nicely atmospheric guitar instrumental that sounds like it needs a place in a Western movie. The album closes the Oklahoma Loner a song that mixes the rock and country elements and highlights Jackson’s storytelling with a story of further travels and life a man destined to live up to the situation outlined in the title.

 

Monday
Dec082014

Faren Young ‘Wine Me Up - The Best Of The Mercury Years’ - Humphead

         This is a two CD compilation of Young’s material recorded for the Mercury label after having success with Capitol Records. These songs are a mix of honky tonk and a more cosmopolitan sound that includes such songs as the title track and Walk Tall (Walk Straight), a song perhaps better knowover here for the 1964 version by Val Doonican. These songs were recorded between 1962 and !979. From the latter year comes I Guess I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night a song co-written by Young that may be a country cousin of the Electric Prunes similar titled song - but without the psychedelics. It is one of his smoother songs with strings well to the fore. The collection also includes three of the songs he recorded as duets with Margie Singleton. These have a period charm but it is in fact the harder material he made in his fifteen year stay with Mercury that shows he could still bring the fiddle and steel to thye mix with the material he recorded in that period.
         City Lights, Unmitigated Gall, Occasional Wife, Goin’ Steady or If I Ever Fall In Love (With A Honky Tonk) all offer a sound that is right up there alongside some of his more determined country contemporaries of that era. They prove he hadn’t lost faith with the music that originally inspired him. With 50 songs on two CDs there is much to admire here. It updates a Westside compilation covering the same timescale from 2002 that had half the songs here, but a more attractive cover.
         Throughout Young displays his vocal talent and why he is a respected performer and occasional songwriter. Much of the writing on the double album comes from such notable writing talents as Merle Kilgore, Mel Tillis, Tom T. Hall. Dallas Frazier, Shel Silverstein with Kris Kristofferson and Bill Anderson, to name a few. The playing was also done by the hottest session players of the day and still stands up. Given that it was all recorded back in the day it has a sound encapsulated by the predominant sounds emanating from the studios of Music City back then. But, as mentioned, often more die-hard that a lot of what his associates were recording then.
         This is a collection of songs that won’t fail to be appreciated by anyone who listens to and likes country music that, for the most part, lived up to its genre classification. Good value and good music that will remain forever Faron Young.