Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Truckstop Confidential Fool’s Rodeo Self Release

This alt-country band from Atlanta, Georgia capture the spirit of what they do on their second release which follows their debut ep The Secret Is Out from 2016. This band is made up of veteran players from the local music scene. Their lead guitarist also has studio experience and he engineered and produced the album, which features a selection of 9 band compositions and shows that they have a knack for taking traditional country influences and giving them a little spit and polish. The band also includes Steven Hicks on vocals and guitar, Linda Dixon on keyboards and the solid rhythm section of Cris McAvoy and Brooks Robinson. For the album they are ably augmented by Kurt Baumer on fiddle, the slide guitar of John Ferguson and pedal steel player Steve Stone. 

Everything is in place for a good night out (or in) without ever feeling that band are about to change your perception of country music. This is down-to-earth roots music that is a group effort and displays the members individual talents. The songs are not without a cheeky sense of humour. The opening Binge Watching takes the action of spending hours focused on one subject - in this case a girl! The title track has a good chorus that makes it one of the catchier songs on the album, a song about movin’ on and burning bridges. The ballad Angels Appear uses the pedal steel to enhance the overall slightly downbeat mood. Big Time is built around a slide guitar and an expression of right place, right time. Camille has a classic feel that reminded me of a song I can’t quite place right now but was none-the-less enjoyable. More alt in approach is Something About A Train which has a requisite sense of movement in both lyric and structure. The album ends with an up-tempo call out that kicks up the dust and has some fine twanging lead guitar and piano to drive the album and song to its conclusion.

Truckstop Confidential are likely to be prominent in the live roots scene in Atlanta and their home State. They have the chops to deliver their songs with confidence and clarity. They are one of many regional bands who have deservedly gained a reputation without ever really gaining notice beyond their home turf. However this album seems to be on all the streaming platforms and is worth checking out at the very least. 

John Lilly State Songs Self Release

A thoroughly enjoyable release from the talented Mr. Lilly. His albums have always been made with heart and soul and this album is no exception. Lilly has written 12 songs, each about a different State and given an individual musical flavour to each track that relates to the musical heritage of the State in question. This makes for an album full of variety and texture that is given focus by Lilly’s engaging voice and the sheer enjoyability of the contributions of his accompanying players who are excellent throughout. 

Lilly wrote all the songs (bar an arrangement of one and a musical quote in another) as well as acting as executive producer with fellow producers Tommy Detamore, Charlie Barnett and Joel Savoy. They have gathered a section of some of the finest players around them including all three producers, alongside names like Floyd Domino, Tom Lewis, Bobby Flores, Ric Ramirez, Sonny Landreth and Brennen Leigh, among others. Pedal steel guitar, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, tuba and euphonium are among the instruments that add sonic texture to his odes to the individual States featured. Which in the spirit of Johnny Cash are: Maine, Texas, Oregon, Mississippi, Arizona, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Wyoming, Louisiana, Idaho and West Virginia.

As with any such album, some tracks stand out initially more than others - though the album as a whole works as a musical journey - so Nothing Short Of Texas captures the mood of 40’s Western Swing, In My Dreams Of Oregan has great harmony vocals from Lilly and Leigh, as does the waltz New Arizona Waltz. Gotta Go To North Dakota benefits from some sterling slide guitar work from Landreth and West Virginia Hills as a great period mood with a strong layered vocal chorus. Goodbye To Idaho also works in its stripped back setting of just Lilly's voice and his guitar.

This is an album that should be loved by anyone who likes well-played, well-crafted songs that are rooted in traditional modes and are as relevant to a listener today as back some 70 years ago. In other words, timeless.

Blue Yonder Rough And Ready Heart New Song

As well as releasing albums under his own name John Lilly is also a member of Blue Yonder, a band that plays on Tuesday nights in a venue, Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston, West Virginia. The band are Lilly, electric guitarist Robert Shafer and bassist Will Carter. On this recording, to fill the sound out in the studio, they are joined by Tony Creasman on drums, Russ Hicks on pedal steel and John Cloyd Miller and Gar Ragland on harmony vocals. The latter also produced and mixed the album which was recorded in Asheville, North Carolina.

Again this is another set of Lilly’s original songs which deal in the complexities and simplicities of human relationships. With life, love, losing, loneliness and long roads ahead. These are all songs that are fixed on a dial that shifts between classic country, swing, folk with touches of rockabilly and blues. The songs are testament to the themes that are reflected in the titles like Standing By The Side Of The Road, Green Light, You Can’t Get There From Here, Tombstone Charlie, Rough and Ready Heart, Lonely Hour and Well Acquainted With The Blues.

As with all Lilly’s song writing there are some memorable songs in this set that again makes it an enjoyable and lasting listening experience. Nothing here is going to change your attitude to classic country overtones of the Americana music that is the Blue Yonder remit. Rather, this is a solid, simple realisation of the music that inspired and continues to enthuse Blue Yonder and their weekly audience, as well as those who have encountered their music in recorded form. One listen to a song like Lonely Hour will tell you all you need to know about the quality that these guys deliver. It is heartfelt and human with an eye on a heritage where music was an important part of a lot of peoples lives. It is just that for these musicians and those who hearts are in the right place to enjoy it. 

Luke Tuchscherer Pieces Clubhouse 

The  new album from the English, New York based singer/songwriter has by all accounts taken a turn towards the harder, rocker end of the Americana spectrum - that may well appeal to those who favour the rockier moments of Steve Earle, Tom Petty and Springsteen. Not that Tuchscherer sounds directly like any of these it is rather the attitude he exhibits here. Perhaps best exemplified by The MF Blues - no prizes for guessing what the MF stands for! - a hard driving guitar laden rock-out that suits the title. More in keeping with his previous albums and roots oriented direction is Ain’t That What they Say? a song that benefits from a startling vocal, a memorable chorus and a dynamic that builds with the song. Tuchscherer can also deliver a slow song that is appropriately regretful in mood with harmonica and keyboards adding to the melancholy.

A former member of rock band The Whybirds he took a turn towards Americana on previous albums but here returns to an angrier, robust rock sound. In order to capture the intensity Tuchscherer and his band recorded the rockier songs live in the studio in the UK. It works by capturing that energy. Something that bands can often loose when entering a studio. Tuchscherer produced the album and knew what he was aiming to capture here. But it is balanced with the slower more melodic based songs working alongside the rockier material. In that light, Ghosts, a song that recognises mistakes and metamorphosis as one achieves some sense of understanding of one’s past and hopeful future. Requiem has a similar thoughtful quality but this time it turns its anger on those who would mistakenly see greed and power as the ultimate selfish goals … the rich get richer, while the poor put in the hours … it builds up to a burning guitar shredding climax.

The title track is one that again manages to sound positive though the words suggest something more adrift from that outlook. The final track See You When I See You is dedicated to his former band and is something of an invitation to do it one more time together “let’s hit the road together, while the world goes up in flames”. It is an overview of a career filled with promise. A promise that was not fulfilled though Tuchscherer continues to make music and to hold that belief that music has the ability to allow change to happen, at least in a personal capacity, if not for everyone. Pieces may not be for everyone but if you like your music to have a rockier edge then these pieces will fall into place.

Lachlan Bryan And The Wildes Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music Self Release

Described as a country album thatb is influenced by Billy Bragg and Leonard Cohen as much as it is by Willie Nelson and Townes van Zandt. It is the Australian band’s fourth album. It opens with the song I Hope That I’m Wrong which was inspired by a newspaper headline about the the surge of stories of abuse that women faced in various industries. A Portrait Of The Artist As A Middle Aged Man in some ways continues the theme by relating how the older guy chasing the younger girl is something of an (middle) age-old pursuit. But one that is far less tolerable in these times. 

The band add guest vocals on The Basics Of Love, which seems like a song you have heard before (and not the Waylon Jennings related title) but is an original. Though it is difficult to say with no (writer) credits available. It is the first of two duets were the added female voice gives greater depth to the song. In this case it is fellow Australian Shanley Del. The other duet is with Lindi Ortega and fairly untypical of her usual type of song. A gentle piano led ballad that uses both voices to good effect. Bryan is singer and piano player and could be thought of as someone who took Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album as a template and followed it to a logical, more country route. However throughout the album there are songs that also feature backing vocals from Imogen Clark. She wrote In New York with Wilde member Shaun Ryan. Perhaps one track to highlight for it’s emotional, quiet strength is Peace In The Valley. A song that displays a van Zandt influence more obviously than others.

The album was produced in Melbourne by Damian Carfarella, a new addition to the band. The result is an easy, relaxed listen with thoughtful lyrics and a solid, purposeful playing that doesn’t sacrifice capturing the right take for something more polished and perfect. I have a feeling that some girls might quite like this country music. Men however are not excluded.

I See Hawks In LA Live And Never Learn Western Seeds

While I have listened to this band in the past I paid more attention to the lyrics on this album as they just seem to stand out from the music a little more. The concept and humour of My Parka Saved Me was an immediate attention grabber with the spoken female lyric being followed closely by that of singer Rob Waller. It is both effective as a story and as an example of the bands oeuvre. The opening song is an ode to environmentalism and Ballad For The Trees not only mentions a selection of trees but also the under threat honey bees. Known as purveyors of  “psychedelic country” in California you can hear where that tag has come from but they are also an accomplished group of players who are musically adept and aware.

Guitarist and producer (and band leader) Paul Lacques knows what he wants this album to sound like and over the 14 original songs manages to create a range of musical sketches that gives the listener the space to enjoy what I See Hawks In LA have to offer. Waller has a baritone voice that has enough resonance to give each song its focus. He is ably supported vocally by the remainder of the band whose harmonies are a reminder of many a Californian band and singer of yore. This and their individual musical talents, which are enhanced by some additional musicians on keyboards, pedal steel and fiddle, all helps to make these songs shine and this is perhaps the best album that this combo has yet produced. 

The songs that stand out for a number of reasons aside for the afore mentioned My Parka Saved Me where drummer Victoria Jacobs provides the female vocal are Stoned With Melissa (a simple tale of daily imbibing), Poour Me a word play on “poor me” and “pour me”, as in, another glass of wine!  Aside from the intentional humour these songs often have something of the element of truth to them. They can also rock out as they do on The Last Man In Tujunga with its odd yet intriguing chorus of “I’m almost out of minuets and I”m almost out of bullets” and on the boogiefied workout King Of Rosemead Boogie.

This is the eight album from I See Hawks In LA in a career heading for 20 years together and they are continuing to perfect their individual take on Californian country music. There is little here that sounds like filler and much to enjoy. Long may they live and never learn.