Monday
Apr212014

Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Monday
Apr212014

Moot Davis 'Goin’ In Hot' - Crow Town

When Lonesome Highway started, it was to write about acts that were making great music but not exactly travelling in the mainstream. Moot Davis is exactly the kind of artist that fits the bill. His latest album, his fourth if you don’t count those he sold at gigs while playing on Nashville’s Lower Broadway back in the day, is the best yet. Davis’ first two were produced with Dwight Yoakam producer Pete Anderson and you can see what attracted Anderson to Davis. Davis has a great sense of direction, an understanding of where his music has come from and where he wants to take it; then there are the songs, considered and meaningful, and, not least, there’s the voice, which has both character and the capacity to deliver the essential message of those songs.

Davis’s last album Man About Town was produced by another guitarist/producer. This time it was Kenny Vaughan and it was a step forward for Davis. Goin’ in Hot is again helmed by Vaughan and they have built on their relationship. The press release tells us that the album is more roadhouse rock than hardcore honky-tonk. This is true, but is a distinction that may have little relevance for those who already know and love Davis’ music and the influences he draws from to create something genuinely rewarding. It may not exactly be pure Texas honky-tonk and it sure ain't Nashville lite but it does impresses on many levels.

Moot Davis has come through a relationship break-up that was the impetus for several of these songs. What you won’t find is the kind of “tail gate and tan lines” songs currently doing the rounds in Music Row. No, here we have material more substantial and stylistic. The album opens with the title song and immediately sets the pace and tone with an up-tempo beat and some incisive guitar, honking brass and solid beat group harmonies. Food Stamps is about surviving hard times in these modern times and it could have come from the canon of Merle Haggard. It highlights some fine playing from pedal steel guitarist Gary Morse.

The heart of this album is Davis’s road band of lead guitarist Bill Corvino, bassist Michael Massimino and drummer Joey Mekler, a tight and inventive combo that has worked these songs up on the road. They’re joined on the album by producer Vaughan, Gary Morse and keyboardist Micah Hulscher plus Chris West on brass and Luella Wood on harmony vocals who vary the mood, tempos and aural textures to deliver a very satisfying soundscape.

Made for Blood has a groove that is greasy and swampy. Used to Call It Love,  a song co-written with Helen V Estepp, has a more laid back feel and an emotional vocal about a love falling apart through different expectations of what it means to both parties. The song is built around steel and guitar that emphasise the sense of heartache while being set against an appealing musical setting that contrasts with the down emotions. It would easily fit on a classic Dwight Yoakam album. The second co-write Love Hangover, this time with Robert Mahaney, is a  tale of how a love hangover hurts more that any drink induced variation. It’s another uptempo kicker that is hard to resist.

The real rock ’n’ roll heart here is Ragman’s Roll with piano and slide guitar to the fore. The dobro in Wanna Go Back underscore the lonesome feel of the song’s sad tale of a man who has treated his family to a world of hurt and how he regrets his actions ands wants to go back to a better time. Davis gives a striking vocal performance on this, another album highlight. Yet another song filled with personal pain is Hurtin’ For Real, a mid-paced balled where Davis shares the vocals with upcoming star Nikki Lane. It again has a sound that reminds you of his links to classic country and roots music while creating something immediately distinctive. 

Things get a little spacier and reach for the outer limits on the closing track, 25 Lights which has producer Kenny Vaughan adding electric guitar, tone generator and theremin to create an otherworldly atmosphere to this tale of alien abduction, not a usual topic for today’s contemporary country performers. It does show the sense of openness this album’s makers take in delivering something hot and tasty.

What this proves is that, along with the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, Chuck Mead and many others, there is a healthy exploration of the real heart of country music out on the fringes in the independent sector and there’s where you need to look to find the music that makes you realise why you like this stuff in the first place. It’s not strictly retro rather it’s a living, breathing and feeling form that the powers-that-be have tried to kill. Well it appears that they haven’t succeeded!

Monday
Apr212014

The Redlands Palomino Company 'Broken Carelessly' - Clubhouse

This album was recorded in an old chapel in Gloucestershire and again highlights along with several other recent albums by My Darling Clementine, The Rockingbirds, Danny & The Champions of The World and Hank Wangford a number of acts making contemporary and very good country music in the UK. They are all distinctive and following their own paths, offering some very different takes on the broad church of country inspired music. 

This album was produced and mixed by Alex Eton-Wall who, along with his wife Hannah, heads up this fine band. It was recorded before their drummer emigrated and utilises the talents of all five members to good effect. The instrumentation included pedal steel, guitars of several styles as well as keyboards, fiddle and mandolin which bring a range of textures to the songs and provide a perfect backdrop for the lead and backing vocals. The lead vocals are shared between Alex and Hannah with the latter handling the lion’s share which is understandable as she is the main songwriter. The songs, while not fitting the tag of pop, have a melodic resonance and lyrically a strong singer-songwriter quality that’s sometimes oblique, sometimes obvious. 

The final song is something of a summation of the company accounts. The Band Song tells of being “married, broke and tired”;  of being “naive and dumb waiting for the break to come” but in the end wanting the band to live on. Given the strengths of this album and how they’ve grown over their three previous albums, one can only hope that they do continue to make their music and make it mean something to them and all their growing audience.

Monday
Apr212014

Amelia White 'Old Postcard' - White Wolf

Old Postcard was produced and recorded in Nashville,  and though there are touches of pedal steel it is leaning much more to the left than the centre. Producer Mike Poole has gathered together a bunch of independent and like-minded players to support White’s latest album of songs. There’s Ann McCue, Sergio Webb, Pete Finney and Poole himself with may others who have contributed to this rootsy and rounded album.

At its heart is the voice of Amelia White and her and songs. There are three co-written with John Hadley, who has written with and for the likes of David Olney, Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch and Trisha Yearwood.  Telisha Williams, Anne McCue and Thomm Jutz are others who had a hand in the writing of some of this album’s 11 songs. The opening track Big Blue Sun, Hollow Heart, River of My Dreams  and Get Your Cowboy On are all songs that immediately appeal. The latter has a sense of need for and nefarious thoughts about a bar-room opportunity with a cowboy object of affection.

Poole has fused these songs with some gritty and graphic guitars. They have a layered depth that give the songs a toughness. This would doubtless appeal to those who have loved,  lived and grown with Lucinda Williams. The themes are adult and concern with times that are hard.  White seems to feel that life is hard generally and there is a need to find sunlight where you can. That’s what these songs are about, the people whom you love, lose and learn from.

Not every song is completely lyrically clear and the lack of printed lyrics allows the listener to add their interpretation of the individual songs sense of truth and reconciliation. Suffice it say I like what I hear and, like an old postcard, it is a picture from another place, another time, filled with new memories

Monday
Apr212014

Grand Old Grizzly 'Grand Old Grizzly' - Self-Release

This is a rockin’ rootsy, what we used to call alt.country trio of the old school, who offer up eleven self-produced songs that are neither particularly subtle or sanitised. Rather, Grand Old Grizzly set out to mark their territory, which in their case is Houston, Texas. While there is nothing brand new here that you haven’t heard before, that doesn’t diminish the fact that you can enjoy it with a tapping toe and a hearty smile. Grizzly have added extras to the studio versions of these song with additional guitars, banjo and pedal steel,  all which make Grand Old Grizzly something of an undiluted pleasure;  a rowdy night in as opposed to seeing the band live at a rowdy night Inn.

The songs are snappy and run from Marvelistic Coward Band’s 2.34 to Indecision’s 4.22, so nothing outstays it’s welcome and the songs are additionally carried by the vocals which are led by guitarist Will Thomas and are impassioned and pivotal. There are hints of punk style crowd choruses that suggest earlier musical affiliations. But there’s as much Old 97s here as there is London Calling. Whatever inspired this trio,  the results speak for themselves. Not that everything is hell for leather as there are pauses for reflection and breath on Lament but they also consider Desperate Times and ways to get round them. This Grand Old Grizzly make give you a hug, but be careful of those claws and that fancy footwork. Either way,  enjoy the dance