Jason Wilber Reaction Time Wilber Tone
Jason Wilber is best known as John Prine’s trusted side kick and guitarist of the past two decades which often overshadows his impressive solo musical output. Reaction Time is his tenth album despite spending much of the past twenty years on the road touring with Prine or in the studio recording with him and the many collaborators that have featured on Prine’s albums over the years.
It’s also Wilber’s first full studio album of self-penned songs in eight years, following his covers album Echoes (2016) and Live And Otherwise Volume recorded seven years ago.
When considering Wilber’s music I’m reminded of both Rodney Crowell and Nick Lowe for a number of reasons. His output, and no more so than here, is a blend of both these artists mixing Americana with British Roots and Soul music to perfection. Equally similar to Lowe and to a lesser degree Crowell, his back catalogue includes many top-notch albums that should have and probably would have been better recognised had he concentrated on a solo career without the diversions as a band member and session player. His 1998 debut album Lost In Your Hometown was Americana before the term was conceived and Behind The Midway released two years later was equally impressive.
The title and opening track of Reaction Time sets the benchmark for what is to follow, a slick breezy guitar intro, pounding drums and controlled vocals combining to give the song an early REM feel. Love Me Now heads down a slightly funkier path, Jealousy and Envy kicks in with a Rolling Stones’ Miss You riff, perfectly paced and infectious. Something Somewhere and Shame On You bring to mind much of what his fellow Nashville resident Jason Isbell is writing these days, both artists possibly inspired to some degree by John Prine, the latter song a flowing piece of music that connects on first listen. I’d Love Another Saturday Night, is the liveliest song on the album and possibly a good choice for "the single". It’s a topic that has been written about by endless of musicians over the decades yet Wilber’s effort sounds refreshingly crisp and original. Heaven, the most traditional country track on the album finds Iris DeMent adding harmony vocals and Allie Summers on violin. A gorgeous song conjuring up heavenly scenes and images of old farm houses, dusty paths, country cooking and simple living, it closes the album in style.
As can be expected the playing is elegant and faultless throughout with Wilber joined by bass player Glenn Myers, percussionists Ben Lumsdaine and Devon Ashley, Chris Erbacher adds pedal steel.
This latest album is another welcomed diversion from the day job by Wilber and one that will undoubtedly continue to be revisited by me in the coming months.
Rachel Baiman Shame Freedirt
When considering current female singer songwriters who also excel as fiddle and banjo players the names Gillian Welch, Rhiannon Giddens, Abigail Washburn, Alison Brown and more recently Kaia Kater immediately spring to mind. Well it’s time to add Rachel Baiman to the list and near the top at that. The 27-year-old Nashville resident and multi-instrumentalist has most certainly hit the ground running with her debut solo album Shame.
Baiman is a member of 10 String Symphony, a duo with Christian Sedelmyer, both five string banjo players whose 2015 album Weight Of The World featured on NPR’s listings of newest and most promising voices in Americana on it’s release. For her debut solo album Baiman engaged Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange as producer resulting in a less stripped down and fuller sound than that of 10 String Symphony. It hardly needs noting that the quality of the playing is dazzling, from Baimans banjo and fiddle to the guitar and keyboard input by singer songwriter and session player Josh Oliver and bass player by Marlin.
Raised in Chicago, both her parents were political activists, her father a radical economist and her mother a social worker, she is the co-founder of Folk Fights Back, a political organisation who perform benefit concerts and events in response to the current political administration in the States. Not surprisingly a number of the tracks visit and question social issues, religion, politics, racism, inequality and abusive relationships.
Getting straight down to business by questioning religion on the opener and title track Baiman probes "Well old white men write books about faith and healing love, And old white men look happily onto others from above, In the name of sweet religion they would lay their claims on me, And ask me to be grateful for triumphant jubilee." Acknowledging both the joy and responsibility of love and relationships Something To Lose simply drifts along with Baimans banjo perfectly placed in the background.
Echoes of Gillian Welch surface particularly on I Could Have Been Your Lover Too and Wicked Spell, written by Michael Bowman alongside eight self-written songs by Baiman. Fittingly the other song covered on the album is Never Tire Of The Road written by Andy Irvine, chronicling the struggles of the underprivileged and left behind.
The greatest accolade I can suggest in respect of Shame is that much of the material is everything you would hope for in a Gillian Welch album and praise hardly comes higher than that.
Carter Sampson Queen Of Oklahoma and Other Songs CRS
Carter Sampson’s 2016 album Wilder Side was hailed as one of the finest releases of that year at Lonesome Highway and her performances at The Kilkenny Roots Festival earlier this year confirmed her status as yet another outstanding artist that had remained under our radar despite having released four previous albums.
It’s also fair to say that despite Wilder Side deservedly receiving rave reviews in Europe her back catalogue equals the high standard of that album as evidenced by Queen Of Oklahoma and Other Songs which gathers material from all four earlier albums. Released to coincide with her European tour earlier this year its sixty minutes feature fourteen tracks in total.
Mockingbird Song, released in 2011, is represented by five tracks including the zappy opener Be My Wildwood Flower followed by her signature tune Queen Of Oklahoma. Jesse James, Sanctuary and Better Ways also feature from this album which truthfully should take pride of place in any serious collectors’ catalogue. Much fuller, rockier, rousing and less country than Wilder Side, think Kathleen Edwards and you’re on the right page.
I Am Yours and Wild Bird are included from her acoustic EP Thirty Three recorded in 2014, both delightfully melodic country folk. A fuller version of Wild Bird features on Wilder Side. Six tracks are presented from Good For The Meantime, released in 2009, the aching love song Let’s Get Back and the snappy Payne County Line are particularly impressive. Annie is the only inclusion from her debut acoustic album Fly Over The Moon recorded in 2004.
The album is a welcomed roadmap of Sampson’s career as a young songwriter to the present day. Weaving seamlessly between folk and country it’s indicative of a self-assured and extremely talented artist who without doubt will have lots more to offer going forward.
Chris Jamison Mindless Heart Self Release
The cover of Mindless Heart features a non-descript hand drawn red heart depicting I Love You which, not being familiar with Jamison’s previous albums, drew expectations of an acoustic based album of love songs and the like. However, this assumption transpired to be miles off the mark. Currently based in Ashville North Carolina, this the sixth studio album recorded by the Texan and it’s a cracker. A splendid mixture of country, soul and blues across eleven tracks it features an impeccable group of Texan players who joined Jamison at Whiteroom Studios in Austin Texas for the recording which was co-produced by Jamison and Sebastian Cure.
The title track showcases Jamison’s exquisite vocal, intoxicatingly soulful on a track that is thankfully uncluttered, a feature that repeats on All In Good Time and Lovers Lane both also benefiting from a less is more approach. Wanderin’ adds some funk bordering on reggae to the mix and Blue Cadillac laments the passing of Hank Williams.
The pedal steel guitar playing by Simon Page on Wanderin’ and Blue Highway manages to exquisitely enhance Jamison’s self-assured vocal delivery. Deadstring Brothers and Israel Nash spring to mind as references on both tracks whereas on some of the lighter moments on the album comparisons could be made with Josh Rouse.
Prinz Grizzley Come On In Shedmusic
Honky Tonk, pedal steel guitar and country waltzes are not exactly what you might expect from an Austrian artist but Prinz Grizzley, the brainchild of Chris Comper, manages to combine all three as if they were in his bloodstream in his debut album Come On In.
Comper made a considerable impression with his live shows to packed houses at The Kilkenny Roots Festival early this year and Come On In (to be released in Europe this September) is further testimony that Americana and Country Music of the highest quality exists and survives beyond the U.S.A.
Comper formed the Indie Rock band Golden Reef in 2001, recorded two mini-albums and four full albums but despite positive recognition in the Austrian music press they failed to light a fire. A further diversion saw Comper form Grizzley & The Kids who released an album titled Temporizer in 2014, aimed more at the commercial pop market.
However this album recorded between November 2015 and February 2016, finally found Comper hitting his sweet spot, writing and performing music from the heart, eleven self-composed and cohesive songs that work remarkably well together.
There’s so much to love about the album, not least the absolutely stunning Walls, the standout track on the album. Think Ryan Adam’s Jacksonville City Nights period, gorgeous layers of vocal, harmonies, searing guitar and wicked pedal steel combining to create a sound that you do not want to end. Tell Me Why, a stripped back heartbreaker closes the album, a lament to love slipping away, melodic country folk, its recipe out of the Neil Young cookbook.
The opening track Wide Open Country sets the scene for much of what is to follow, harmonica joined within twenty seconds by weeping pedal steel and Comper’s vocals dipping and soaring between chorus and verse. I May Be Late is no nonsense honky tonk featuring the standards – bars, wasted relationship, and unrequited love- all brought to life by lashings of twangy guitar and pedal steel.
Produced by Comper and Oliver Varga at Green Hill Studios in Rohrbach Austria, Come On is a joy from start to finish, nothing new or ground breaking, simply good lived in music that hits the spot from an unexpected source. High praise also for the wonderful no frills yet striking artwork and packaging. Well worth checking out.
Front Country Other Love Songs Organic
Front Country made quite an impression on the writer when they performed a rousing set at The Station Inn in Nashville last September on the opening night of The Americana Music Association Festival. The quality of the playing, energy, vocal harmonies and full on performance brought the house down, even though they played the graveyard shift from 12am to 1am after a long day of music and festivities. Difficult to categorise, contemporary Bluegrass or more accurately Soulgrass might best describe their sound, a direction that many young bands have travelled to get a foot in the door of an extremely crowded market. What raises Front Country above the parapet is the input of lead singer Melody Walker whose gutsy soulful vocals take centre stage much like that of Brittany Howard as part of Alabama Shakes. On receiving the album I wondered how the high quality of their live act would transfer to my living room via the studio and it’s fair to say that it does capture their dynamics particularly well.
Brought together as a professional outfit having won open mic contests at both The Rockygrass and Telluride Festival in Colorados the band consist of Adam Roszkiewicz ( mandolin, banjo, vocals), Jacob Groopman (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Jeremy Darrow (bass), Leif Karlstrom ( five string violin) and Melody Walker (vocals, guitar and percussion).
Of the twelve tracks on the album eight are written by Walker, two instrumentals composed by Roszkiewicz with the two remaining songs being covers of David Olney’s Millionaire, a song they felt compelled to include given the political climate when the album was being recorded and The Carter Family’s Storms Are On The Ocean. The playing from start to finish is flawless, particularly on the instrumentals T.H.A.T.S and Sometimes It Does where Karlstrom’s violin work simply soars above Roszkiewicz‘s clever banjo picking. Good Side is performed a Capella with Roszkiewicz and Groopman resplendently accompanying Walker opening vocals.
Front Country have managed to cherry pick old timey and soul with a dusting of FM rock to present a body of work that is sure to appeal to a wide audience and deservedly so.