Caleb Elliott Forever To Fade Single Lock
Produced by Alabama Shakes keyboard player and Single Lock Records co-founder Ben Tanner, Forever To Fade is the debut recording from Caleb Elliott. The Muscle Shoals and classically trained sideman captures an impeccable breezy soulful sound across the ten tracks on the album. The music is described as swamp art rock – another new genre for me – but readers would be better considering the pace and melody of Jonathan Wilson and Dylan Le Blanc as a benchmark. Not surprisingly, he has toured with Le Blanc and played cello on his recording and though there are similarities, Elliott is anything but an imitator. He also drew songwriting experiences by observing how other Muscle Shoals artist friends such as John Paul White and Donnie Fritts create material. The son of a preacher, Elliott’s upbringing included an extended time spent inside a cult style religion before attending college where gained a degree in biology. I’m unsure if tracks titled Get Me Out Of Here and opener Makes Me Wonder drew their inspiration from either experience, but they possess an early 70’s West Coast vibe. It’s a sound visited by endless artists in recent years, some capturing it more satisfyingly than others, without totally regurgitating Neil Young. Don’t Go Losing Your Head and Till The Tide Turns point to brighter days ahead in moments of darkness, delicate strings on the latter advising calmness and forbearance in difficult times. He saves the best until last with the gorgeous closer Black Lungs which recalls Israel Nash – and indeed Radiohead - at their most relaxed and melodic.
Forever to Fade is all about abandoning dark places and existences and moving forward into brighter, simpler times and experiences. It certainly transported me to sunny beaches with scorching sands and cool sea breezes. It’s a collection of songs that I could stretch out on that sun bed, slip on the headphones, chill out and drift into another world for a short while. Pass the sun cream.
Review by Declan Culliton
Josh Gray Songs Of The Highway Self Release
Three years in the making, the title of the debut album from country/folk singer/songwriter Josh Gray is drawn from the 30,000 plus miles of travelling he covered during the year 2015. His rugged baritone and sometimes semi-spoken vocals tell tales of hard times and love won and lost. Though San Francisco born, he moved to Nashville in 2016, formed his band Josh Gray and The Dark Features and concentrated on raising the funds to record his debut album. The opener and title track recalls that journey to Tennessee and the resulting sacrifices. Take Her By The Hand is a gentle rocker, considering life on the road and the constant motion, whether it be searching for the next location or searching for the elusive love partner. Love carelessly lost is brought to bear on Woodland Rose. Recognisable are the influences of the country legends Cash and Nelson but even more noticeable is the imprint of Leonard Cohen on the most impressive All Out War, the aforementioned Woodland Rose and Ghosts. All three of these songs are delivered with a semi-spoken rugged drawl. Second Chances is a spoken poem, a nod towards the marginalised, its only accompaniment being the East Nashville street noise in the background. The up-tempo Two Hearts is Johnny Cash territory with lots of Bonnie And Clyde menace, the tale of two runaways and their short but doomed adventure.
Gray’s primary skill is his ability to create lasting landscapes with simple language. The packaging is also impressive with the benefit of a lyric book, often missing from albums of late. You are left with the impression of an artist that has put his heart and soul into every chapter in the storybook album.
Review by Declan Culliton
Terry Klein Tex Self Release
What a gem of an album from a Texan artist that follows in the storytelling footsteps of his Lone Star luminaries and peers! You’re reminded of the legends that have left us such as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, together with those that continue to carry the torch as classic American songwriters. Robert Earl Keen, Sam Baker, James McMurtry and Mary Gauthier all came to mind while savouring this absorbing collection of songs. Klein delivers matter of fact lyrics with a vocal drawl that creaks and hums across the ten tracks. It’s fair to say that those gritty vocals sound like a singer many years or decades older than Klein, and boy do they draw you in instantly.
What kicked off as a casual first listen soon stopped me in my tracks and drew me in with the opening track Sagamore Bridge. Acoustic guitar and fiddle are soon joined by Klein’s clear-cut vocal, articulating every day hassles of traffic chaos, and queues at the local deli. However, a darker picture emerges with the words ‘There’s a suicide fence on the Sagamore Bridge.’ Parallel lives of the privileged and survivors emerge. It’s quite a dynamic opener which succeeded in capturing my undivided attention. Further sagas emerge on the accompanying songs, not unlike a novel you can’t put down.
Family matters come to the surface on a number of the tracks. Childhood memories of a broken marriage surface on Every Other Sunday and a return home by a wayward and unstable son to attend his mother’s funeral is recounted on the powerful Oklahoma. Daddy’s Store tells the tale of two sons, one of whom shoulders the responsibility of running the family business at the age of eighteen, as his father’s health fails. It’s more out of a perceived family loyalty than any commercial ambition that ties the son to his small-town birthplace, as his older brother bails out in search of brighter lights and more action. Too Blue To Get That Far is a heart harrowing account of an individual on the edge of despair as he considers self-harm or worse. It’s delivered with a bluesy stomp, made all the more impressive by some moody keyboard playing by Bart De Win.
When The Ocotillo Bloom is a simple love song, complemented by some chipper accordion playing by Robert Casillas, giving it a distinctive Tex Mex flavour. The album closes with Steady Rain, Klein’s vocals alongside a heavy bass line and jazzy percussion. As the track tails off additional spoken vocals are added by Arianne Knegt across a cracking guitar break by Corby Schaub.
Every word on the album is meticulously enunciated and the playing throughout the album is both subtle and atmospheric, never dominating or competing with the unfolding lyrics. Particularly impressive is the pedal steel by Kim Deschamps and fiddle by Warren Hood. Jaimee Harris also contribute backing vocals on a number of tracks. An unveiled treasure that has hardly left my CD player over the past week.
Review by Declan Culliton
Bob Livingston Up The Flatland Stairs Howlin’ Dog
This is the first studio release in almost seven years for music legend Bob Livingston. As a founding member of the Lost Gonzo Band who appeared in 1973 and were influential in the Austin, Texas music scene, Livingston was nicknamed “Cosmic Bob”, while playing a central role in the progressive and outlaw country movements of the time and the development of the ‘Austin Sound’.
Whether appearing as a band leader, solo artist, session musician or sideman, Livingston has spanned genres in Folk, Americana and Country music and collaborated with the likes of Michael Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, Ray Wylie Hubbard and David Halley. His recorded output is huge and over the years he has attracted only the best musicians to perform with. Livingston was inducted into the Texas Music Legends Hall of Fame and into the West Texas Music Walk of Fame.
This project spans seventeen tracks and the quality of playing is of the highest order. Co-production is shared by Livingston and another legend, Don Richmond.
Don Richmond has been a professional musician for more than forty-five years. He regularly performs and records on more than a dozen instruments and percussion and is an award-winning songwriter. He has released 6 solo CD’s, with other projects totalling a further 14 releases! Don also owns and operates Howlin' Dog Records, which has recorded and released this record along with hundreds of other recordings by many local, regional, and national artists. Wow…!
This release has Bob Livingston on acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass, piano, percussion, harmonica, lead vocals; Don Richmond on bass, electric guitars, banjo, accordion, organ, pedal steel, lap steel, dobro, harmony vocals; Warren Hood on fiddle, Jimmy Stadler on piano, Bradley Kopp on guitar; Phil Bass, James Doyle and John Michel share drums; Kelley Mickwee on lead & harmony vocals, Robin James on harmony vocals and Eliza Gilkyson on vocal (That’s The Way Things Go).
So much to enjoy - Western Swing is here with Public Domain, Cowgirl’s Lullaby and The Early Days; rockabilly on You Got My Goat; reflective folk on Can’t Get Enough Of It, It Just Might Be Your Lovin’ and We Should Have Stayed; Country groove on A Month Of Somedays, A Few Things Right and Caution To The Wind; soulful blues on That’s The Way Things Go and Shell Game; plus a rock workout on The Usual Thing … Wonderful, sprawling and very impressive.
Review by Paul McGee
Josh Ritter Fever Breaks Pytheas
An artist of some substance since he first emerged in 1999, Ritter has continuously delivered music of a high standard. Here the goalposts shift a little as Ritter decides to take on some new directions, courtesy of producer Jason Isbell and his deft touch at the controls. Having the talents of Isbell (guitars, vocals) and his band, The 400 Unit, of course is a big help and the superb playing that informs these ten songs is expertly delivered by Amanda Shires (violin, vocals), Derry Deborja (piano, organ and Hohner accordion), Jimbo Hart (fender electric, ukulele & upright bass), Chad Gamble (drums, percussion) and Sadler Vaden (electric guitars, acoustic and 12 string guitars).
There are fine examples of country-tinged quality with I Still Love You (Now & Then) and All Some Kind Of Dream. The folk leanings of songs such as On The Water, A New Man and Blazing Highway Home are balanced by the harder edge of band-driven arrangements like Old Black Magic and Losing Battles.
The murder song, Ground Don’t Want Me and the rape and murder core of Silver Blade are both peppered with revenge and a restless spirit for what has been lost. Running through the project is a sense of self examination and reflection that there is a darker side to our personalities, a sense of dislocation and a dichotomy between forgiveness and sin. The disillusionment of All Some Kind Of Dream and its look at modern American policies, displays a crushing lack of empathy at the root of its mighty power; a theme also explored on The Torch Committee, an attack on bigotry and persecution of freedom and truth. It is nicely summarised by the lines “the only cure for fear is blame” and could just as easily be aimed at the ancient Witch Trials, Guantánamo Bay, the current Immigrant Policies or that infamous Wall.
This is a record of hidden depth that marks yet another strong statement in a career that has seen Josh Ritter continue to progress down his chosen path.
Review by Paul McGe
Dan Krikorian Grandeur Self Release
This is the fifth release by an interesting writer who has quite a few arrows to his bow. As well as being a talented singer-songwriter, Krikorian is also a college basketball coach, professor, and podcast host.
This release clocks in at 16 tracks and just over one hour of listening time. By far his most expansive project to date, Krikorian co-produced with Shawn Nourse, who also contributes on drums & percussion. The studio line up also features Ron Dziubla on saxophones, Jimi Hawes on upright bass, Carl Byron on keyboards, Bob Boulding on guitars & mandolin, Probyn Gregory on trumpet, trombone & french horn, Danny Ott on electric guitar, Gideon John Klein on mandolin, cello & pedal steel, Storm Rode on guitars, Taras Prodaniuk & Jason Chesney on bass, a backing vocal team of Deb Tala, Mike Teague & Dustin Robinson, all gathered together in delivery of a rich and varied studio sound.
There are a number of styles across the project and the sweet soul sound of The Lucky One and Need Me Bad is balanced by the Folk leanings of Baby’s Got the Blues, 59th Street and Monday Morning. Ulanga is a big powerful Rock song with plenty of dynamics and the gentle acoustic strum of Angels Sing, complete with subtle strings, is followed by Joe Purdy, a song which also appeared on the last release, Bloom… complete with soulful sax playing.
The Country feel of Lyla and Don’t Look Like You also add to the variety on display while Crazy Love is a Blues workout with some nice piano and harmony vocals. Lots of music on offer, much of it very easy on the ear and worth investigation.
Review by Paul McGee
Drivin n Cryin Live The Love Beautiful DrivinNCryin
A new album from the Atlanta formed band who’s debut Scarred But Smarter came out back in 1986. Founding member Kevin Kinney is again the centrepiece of the band and has kept himself busy through the years with solo releases, band tours and a series of Drivin N Cryin EPs. He is joined on this new album by Dave V Johnson, Tim Nielsen and former Sturgill Simpson guitarist Laur Joamets.
This album is a consolidation of the band’s hard rocking Southern influenced rock. Producer Aaron Lee Tasjan is perfectly placed to realise the album’s intentions having previously played with the band as well as delivering his own take on roots rock. Tasjan adds keyboards and guitar while Matt Rowlands’ synth is also effective on tracks like If I’m Not There I’ll Be Here. Alongside the more raucous moments are some more thoughtful moments like the title track. Likewise, the song Ian McLagan is a tribute to the late Faces/Small Faces Austin-based keyboard player, as well as any number of committed players who love playing for the right reasons.
Joining Kinney on vocals are Dan Baird, Elizabeth Cook and the McCrary Sisters, among others, a strong point on the album alongside the layered arrangements, which give the songs their additional depth. Fans of either Kinney or Drivin N Cryin will be happy to see the band active and sharing the love so beautifully. Special mention for the final song, Sometimes I Wish I Didn’t Care, which is graced with an infectious vocal chorus that builds to a sentiment of understanding the nature of these times. An album summed up by one of the song titles, What’s Wrong With Being Happy … well absolutely nothing.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Liar’s Trial Friends In No Places Bob Lunch
If you’re looking for some more outlaw country then this Milwaukee band will fit the bill. They have the look and the sound. The touchstones of David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings are apparent in the sound they deliver which, while it is constant and clarion. The band’s first two albums were reported to be more punk rock with country influences. The third then moved more towards outlaw country and this their fourth fits that bill to a tee. Using just Christian names, Bryan, Johnson, Andy and Patrick are joined by a number of guests, most crucially Leroy Deuster on pedal steel who adds a lot of that essential country feel to the overall sound. Singer Bryan's full name is revealed in the writing credits. He has written all the songs apart from the cover of Diablo’s Highway, written by Billy Don Burns, Hank Cochran and Jeff Williams.
They are songs about love, self loathing, being lonesome and heroes. That really is the thing at the end of the day - how listenable are the songs in themselves? The answer here is that these songs stand up to repeated play, with strong vocals, solid playing and variety in the arrangement and temps. Walls Come Down has the sound of regretful anticipation. Just Me And The Silence, I Don’t Deserve Love and I’m Too Lonesome (To Play Those Lonesome Songs) all consider the way that relationships can fail even though the will for them to succeed is there. Diablo’s Highway fits right in with that overall theme.
The final song is tribute to a major influence. It starts with a hangover and ends with the makings of one and then some - it is David Allan Coe's Put Me Back On The Wagon. The song closes what is the sound of a band coming to terms with itself. Producer Shane Hochstetler has got the best out of the band, who have made this positive statement of intent, and it places them alongside some of the best of the current outlaw exponents. While it may not be a leader in this field, it will find them friends.
Review by Stephen Rapid