The Boxmasters Speck Keentone
The debut album from the Boxmasters, which set out their stall, was a double album that mixed original songs and covers. A muisial style best summed up by the title of their second double album set Modbilly where they combined two of their favourite musical influences Mod and Hillbilly - hence, obviously, the title. You again got one CD of original songs and a second of such covers as The Lord Knows I’m Drinking by Bill Anderson mixed with the Rolling Stones’ As Tears Go By. Some of their own titles were Heartbreakin’ Wreck and That’s Why Tammy Has My Car. The Boxmasters were then listed as Michael Wayne Butler, JD Andrew and W.R. “Bud” Thornton. The current album features the latter two but the trio are completed now by Teddy Andreadis - a gentleman who had played keyboards for the extended band since their debut in 2008.
W.R. is perhaps better know as actor Billy Bob Thornton and he is the vocalist and drummer with The Boxmasters. It has to be said that this is something that he takes very seriously and the band now have released 9 albums, with Thornton being the main songwriter for their original material. Looking over past reviews some were not that favourable, but all those I have heard have sounded pretty good to these ears. Essentially the group are an authentic beat group with their roots in the 60s but they keep the music in the realms of today rather than the past. For this album they worked with producer Geoff Emerick, a renowned studio expert who worked with George Martin on several classic Beatles albums. He also worked with such notables as Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick and Wings.
He passed away in 2018 so Speck would be among his last work. The album is dedicated to him and resonates with his understanding of the kind of music the band wanted to record. Again some critics may say the sound is derivative and, be that as it may, as it is intentionally seeking that sound the songs themselves stand up. Thornton’s singing is good with strong harmonies and solid melodies. The songs are all written by Thornton, mainly with Andrews and, occasionally, Andreadis. The scene is set with the opening I Wanna Go Where You Go and then over the next 35 minutes, they deliver another 10 songs. The production and mix is clear and precise making the most of the songs and the performances. The guitars stand out and there are times where brass and trumpets mix with the keyboards to deliver a layered sound that is inviting and memorable. It is a sound that is more focused on the overall vision of the album. Let The Bleeding Pray opens with a trumpet and Thornton’s solid vocals and a great guitar sound. There are many more moments that satisfy and Speck is an album that best exemplifies the way the band has developed from the first album, bringing one aspect of their sound to a logical conclusion.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Arroyo Rogers Single Wide Self Release
This is the debut release from the husband and wife duo Lisa Mendick Powell and Kim Powell. They are an offshoot of a previous band Forty Miles Of Bad Road. They recorded these original songs in New Orleans with Tom Stern acting as engineer and playing guitar. The end result is a humorous and entertaining EP of seven songs. Two are co-writes from the duo with the other songs by Powell solo. Both share the vocal duties. Also prominent on a number of tracks is the pedal steel of Dan Cooper.
Promised Land, Eleanor, Hitch Hike Home and Three Sheets To The Wind are examples of their memorable mix of classic country and high desert sound that is likely inspired, to some degree, by their current home base of Joshua Tree, California. The main stand out is Albuquerque while the final song was recorded in their house and is also representative of their overall sound and ethos. She Went Out For Cigarettes has the obvious next line in a sad tale of a relationship break-up. Both are talented players, with Mendick Powell playing keyboards and accordion and Powell on bass and some electric guitar. Their voices are a good and blend easily. They have worked in the music industry for some time and were previously based in Austin. Mendick Powell has three solo albums to her name - the first Artifacts of Love in 1994 - and Powell appears to have played with several different artists in the past.
This single wide need to be updated to a double wide as soon as they can, with a full album of songs to hear. I think, on the strength of these seven songs, it would be welcomed.
Review by Stephen Rapid
The Colonel J.D. Wilkes Will I see You One Day In God’s Land Arkam
This new album is a solo extension of the interests and music that Wilkes has made as a member of The Legendary Shack Shakers, and it is a good representation of his current solo performances. It is a mix of original and traditional songs such as his Tennessee Dog Attack and Coo-Coo Bird. It features his skill as banjo and harmonica player as well his distinctive vocal style. Very much in the spirit of earthy pre-bluegrass styles, it is front porch storytelling that takes in Liza Jane, and the murder ballad Willow Garden. He is a chronicler and collector of some of the older songs that emanated from deep in the Appalachians.
The album was recorded in three locations, including Jimmy Nutt’s studio in Alabama Nutthouse. Though essentially solo recordings, there is some fiddle from Jamie Barrier who also sings on Soldiers Joy and Are You Missing Me? His skill on harmonica is represented fully on his own Gob Iron Stomp. His pickin’ is on display throughout the album, especially on the instrumental Freight Train. Watching Wilkes live, you are aware of the energy in his performances whereas listening to these recordings they seem to have a greater sense of human vulnerability and, at times, indeed a certain melancholy. This is then a welcome addition to the recorded music that Wilkes has brought us through the years. It has heart, soul and integrity - something often sadly lacking in much of the music around today.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Lasers Lasers Birmingham Warning Self Release
This may be one of the more unusual names for a country music act but, be that as it may, it is a certified good one. The name is a front for singer/songwriter Alex Owen who also co-produced the album with multi-instrumentalist Jason Soda. Warning is one of those unexpected albums from an artist new to me that turns out to be a great listen, with the whole album working in its entirety. This is the first full length album from the act, following two previous EPs.
Owen has a warm and inviting voice that is well suited to the slightly relaxed 70s sound that seems to be at the heart of the band’s music. The lyrical content is worthy of attention, as Owen writes some intriguing words that may fall outside the normal themes for a mainstream country album. There is both an offbeat sense of humour and some insight in his songs that deserve repeated listening. It’s a shame there is no lyric booklet but the economics of self-releasing often exclude such a welcome addition. Though the duet with Sie Sie Benhoff follows a scenario that is not uncommon in country music wherein the two antagonists trade verses outlining the reasons why they don’t see eye to eye anymore.
Mention must be made of the contribution of the supporting players, including Dan Wistrom’s pedal steel contribution. All are excellent throughout and give the songs the kind of justice that they deserve. Whether this album would be easier accept if Alex Owen recorded under his own name is debatable, especially given the notion in some quarters that the likes of Daniel Romano and Daniel Peck are stylists and playing with the genre (though the former has moved on from his original musical and visual stance).You can make up your own mind about that. But be warned that this is an addictive album that provides a contemporary vision of a country music that gets harder to find these days, but this release is well worth the effort. Lasers Lasers Birmingham are another name to add to some of the fine country music that has emerged from Los Angeles in recent times.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Sarah Lucy Dole Tell No Lies Self Release
Born in Cheltenham, UK and a singer-songwriter with more than 20 years experience, Dole has delivered this second album as a follow up to Buckle Up, which appeared in 2013. She has a fine vocal style with a good range and confident delivery. Sadly, my review copy arrived with no information regarding the project, neither musician credits nor production information. Her website yields little additional information but the entire 16 tracks is a statement of some confidence, clocking in at just short of the hour-mark with plenty of variety in musical styles.
Starting out with the blues/soul of Tell No Lies and Rv Rocking, the tale of a family down on their luck is followed by a groove that reminds me of KT Tunstall, with references to 6 different country music legends in the repeated refrain. Mr Blue Man and These Arms Of Mine are further examples of Dole’s Blues leanings but she also shows a rockier side to her sound on Wild Woman, High & Low and A New Horizon. Across these tracks are a variety of highlighted instruments; the harmonica works well, as does both fiddle and slide guitar in parts, but the synth strings don’t always enhance and seem out of place on some arrangements.
The country-tinged songs work best with You Shine On, I Thought I Heard A Train, Without You (nice guitar), With This Ring and Ruby Slippers all scoring well. Closing track, What’s A Heart Supposed To Do has a strong country blues style with fine guitar and piano lines under the strong vocal delivery. Plenty for everyone in this lucky bag if you decide to dip in…!
Review by Paul McGee
TK & The Holy Know-Nothings Arguably OK Mama Bird
Taylor Kingman writes all the songs, fronts the band, plays guitar and lives in Portland Oregon. Drummer Tyler Thompson and multi-instrumentalists Jay Cobb Anderson (lead guitar, harmonica), Lewi Longmire (bass, guitar, pedal steel, flugelhorn) and Sydney Nash (keys, bass, slide guitar, cornet) make up the rest of this talented troupe. Their sound is that of a loose, yet tight bar band and their songs deal with much of the fall-out from lives lived in either quiet desperation or with the conviction of nothing left to lose.
This is a debut release and was recorded live at the OK Theatre in Enterprise, Oregon over a three-day period of intense playing and fine tuning the tracks. Kingman and Thompson shared the production and a very fine job they make of it too. Great songs, great words, great playing and a terrific sound.
Alone is the opening song and wears its heart on a solitary white flag of surrender. Emmanuel tells of a drug addicted dweller on the fringes of society who needs regular top ups to keep him functioning. Good Stuff is about living hard and in the moment; no time to waste. The slow groove of The Devil’s Point is undiluted self sorrow of a loser who drinks to forget in a strip bar while pedal steel soothes his troubled mind.
And on it goes, one song after another and all displaying the craft of this excellent band, led by the singular talent of Kingman. Desert Rose is a slice of rhythm and roots; a great work out with driving guitars. Hard Times is a dark tale of murder and junkie survival while closing track Lord, Why’d Ya Make me? is a plea to the great unknown to wash away all the frailties of man and bring peace to troubled souls. An interesting album with plenty to challenge and satisfy in equal measure.
Review by Paul McGee
The Golden Roses Terlingua Graveyard Self Release
Honky Tonk music played with great swing and swagger from a band who hail from Austin Texas and wear their credentials big and bold. The members are Johnny “2 Much” Mutchler (Vocals/Guitar), “Too Tall” Troy Wilson (Vocals/Bass), “The Revenuer” Shawnee Rose (Drums), “The Boy From Bell County” Sam Blumenthal (Steel Guitar) and “Rockin” Heather Rae (Vocals/Fiddle) ….
This debut release has eleven tracks and each one is a real diamond that shines and shimmers. Country music comes with so many sub categories that it can make your head spin but the sound of Ameripolitan music includes a mix of western swing, honky-tonk, rockabilly and outlaw attitude. It’s about upholding old traditions. From Buck Owens through to Dwight Yoakam, there is a wealth of rich sounds in the tracks here and the playing is such a joy. No doubt their residency at the White Horse in Austin is quite an experience and something that one hopes they eventually bring overseas to our European shores. All songs are written by John Mutchler and the tight sound is testament to the finely-honed ensemble that has paid its dues on the live circuit in the dancehalls and honky tonks of Texas over the past three years.
The title track is a fine example of the band in full flight and the guitar twang and steel guitar and fiddle interplay is quite addictive. Whirlwind is an instrumental that calls to mind the Sadies at full throttle and Life Of The Party is a salutary tale of a couple who can’t quit the high life and settle into something more sedate. The Usual Suspects is a country swing song that has a lilt and tempo that lifts the spirits while Room 302, Divorce Division shows the darker side of relationships gone wrong. Bad Habit and Lone Star Saturday Night live right up to their titles and the collective playing is very impressive. Big Black Cloud is a drinking song that is laced with heartache, the perfect ingredients for a country tune.
The closing song, Top Shelf Whiskey And Cold Lone Star Beer sums up the essence of the band as they play live to a Friday night local crowd and set the tone for a good time to be had by all with fiddle and pedal steel swooping around the strong rhythm section while Mutchler leads from the front with a fine vocal and engaging presence. Stirring stuff…!
Review by Paul McGee
Ana Tivel The Question Fluff & Gravy
This is the fifth release from an artist who is based in Portland and who explores soundscapes that fit into a contemporary folk arena. Her sweetly seductive vocals and the gentle accompaniment on these ten songs give a hypnotic, less is more, effect to everything. Wistful tunes, finely honed and reflective, whispered images and emotions play across the production by Shane Leonard. He is a multi-instrumentalist who provides drums, Wurlitzer, acoustic guitar, organ, synthesizer, violin, electric guitar and percussion.
There are many more players who contribute to the overall feel of this beautifully realised album but throughout, it is the sense of ensemble playing that captures the imagination as different sounds introduce themselves in the melodies, all driven by Tivel on guitar and violin to compliment her captivating vocals.
These are relationship songs from different perspectives and the observation in her words of the little things that frame and shape a feeling or a sensation are an integral part of Tivel’s skill. Figure It Out is the repentant lover who steps over a line and now reflects on what is important as her partner walks away. Minneapolis is a tale of isolation framed at night by lonely, stark car headlights on the blinds and an urge to leave in order to start again. Fenceline is an immigrant trying to keep a sense of dignity in a cold world that ignores his humanity.
Anthony is a tale of self sabotage and ending life in a burning apartment as memories of a lover come flooding in. Homeless Child is about a single mother, down and out, while the thin line between survival and capsizing blurs and disappears. There is empathy here but also a tired anger.
Velvet Curtain is a mini play of a cleaner singing alone in an empty theatre after closing time and a vagabond sneaking a peek in order to feel connection in an empty world. So beautifully conceived and delivered. Two Strangers is a last shot at love through the loneliness of city life, a glance and a chance to meet that extends beyond mere dreams into reality. If only.
The title track is a song about observing a cross-dresser and the empathy that arises in looking at a life half lived behind the dark of night and pulled curtains. Tivel is a songsmith of the highest talent.
Review by Paul McGee