Auburn Game Of Faith Scarlet/Gonzo
This artist is Liz Lenten who is based in England and who recorded in Nashville for this album. She is joined by the legendary Thomm Jutz, (Nanci Griffiths, Mary Gauthier), who produced and played guitars, Mark Fain on bass (Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs), Lynn Williams on drums (Delbert McClinton, Lee Roy Parnell, The Wallflowers) and Britt Savage on harmony vocals (Garth Brooks, Crystal Gayle). Quite a line up and the song themes focus on a range of reflections around trust. Lenten lost her voice some years ago and in rebuilding her career she has had plenty of reason to put her faith and trust in the power of music to pull her through.
The new release features a strategy-based card game which is something of a departure from the normal promo props one is used to seeing – mind you, my advance copy didn’t include the card game so I can only ponder its powers! Lenten has an unusual vocal delivery which may not suit all tastes but she certainly sings with a unique character and conviction and songs like I Drank and Misshapen Fruit show a quirky edge. This is her fifth release since 2011 when Auburn reunited after taking a career break in order to raise families.
There is a range of influences here, from the Western swing of Trinidad to the roots groove of Red Velvet Pillow, I Don’t Love Him and Float To Blue. Spoke In The Wheel and It’s Not Love carry a more commercial, contemporary sound while the Country feelof Like I Do and the acoustic atmosphere of His Arms both soothe the senses. The title track is influenced by the blues, as is the Bad Girl, Good Woman song arrangement. The playing is superb throughout with understated feel supporting the song structures and a ‘less-is-more’ touch on the entire project.
Review by Paul McGee
The Feralings Self-Titled Self Release
A Folk trio based in Iowa City who launched this debut EP towards the latter part of 2018. The Feralings are Nicole Upchurch (banjo and vocals), Benj Upchurch (mandolin) and Patrick Bloom (upright bass and vocals).
At 23 minutes and six tracks, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and by the end of the final song there is a feeling of wanting more – a very good sign! The musicianship on banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, slide guitar, upright bass, fiddle and piano is full of bright playing, coupled with harmony vocals that are very alive and organic in feel.
The group co-produced with Ben Schmidt and Patrick Bloom also engineered, in addition to writing 2 songs, with Nicole contributing the other four. Also present is the superb touch of Stacy Webster on guitars with David Zollo on piano and Jakob Brietbach on fiddle. The songs are all very enjoyable and both Weeds In The Wall and Humming Machines have a restrained tempo with some impressive ensemble playing and plenty to admire in the arrangements.
Maybe Maybelline, has a fast rhythm with some dextrous solo runs, while Lila and Perennials are given a slide guitar addition to compliment the superb melodies. I Shall Bring You Flowers (Sun God) has an easy groove and tempo which is yet another example of the gentle intimacy captured by the band. A very engaging release and looking forward to more from this talented troupe.
Review by Paul McGee
Flagship Romance Concentric Self Release
Shawn Fisher and Jordyn Jackson are the musical duo that steer a steady course for their Flagship Romance project, something that has been an increasingly successful adventure since their debut EP surfaced back in 2013. Kickstarter and crowd funding campaigns has since led to further releases and their strong touring ethic sees the duo spending much of their year bringing their music to audiences across America and beyond.
They have a commitment to planetary awareness which extends to an involvement in the Clean Water Music Fest in Florida, where they helped generate funds for use in providing safe, clean drinking water in Ethiopia, Rwanda and regions of Africa. Jordyn also makes jewellery out of Shawn’s used guitar strings, together with beads and stones they find on their travels.
So, a self-sufficient couple in every sense of the word and the title of this new record refers to having a common centre. Most appropriate too, given that the heartbeat of the songs pulses to the theme of universal sharing. The twelve tracks were written over a 6-month period and the entire process was captured at the Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas by Lee Miles Buchanan. He also adds lots of colour on the song arrangements, playing various instruments, to augment the acoustic guitar playing of Fisher.
The vocal harmonies of this duo are really inspiring and uplifting, providing real depth and drive to their largely self-penned songs (there are a few co-writes). They remind me of the passion generated by The Lone Bellow or indeed the Indigo Girls in full flow, when the crescent of the human voice blends perfectly with the melody of the song arrangement to produce moments of real magic.
Crossroads is a song about self growth and taking the chance to leave doubt behind and embracing your inner self. (Love Is) Running Me Ragged refers to the division between people right now and Julie Wants To Go To War is a thoughtful song about transgender military personnel and the policy taken by the US Army to ban any such individuals from serving their country. It is the first social statement on the record but not the last, with This Land Is Your Land hitting hard as a cutting indictment of American policy, both at home and overseas, as an aggressor and despotic ruler with no moral compass.
The title track is a love song to the relationship shared by the couple and the inner bond created. Two up-tempo numbers are very radio friendly with Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll & Kitties sounding all bright and cheerful with just a hint of Sheryl Crow’s All I Wanna Do, together with California Mansion, and its wry swipe at fame and the illusion of happiness.
Chardonnay is an excellent song about a broken relationship with both sides reflecting on what went wrong and drinking to numb the pain. Fluorescent is about facing some old ghosts and of forgiveness, while Dorothy is a song along similar lines and speaks of growing up, marriage and dealing with death; a life lived where regret is all too hard a reality to bear…Belly Of The Beast is about grasping life in the now – how procrastination is the enemy of time and living large is the key to embracing change. Closing track, His Town, is a tribute to their community and friends in New Mexico. Originally from Florida, Fisher & Jackson found this little town in New Mexico, a place of true contentment and peace for the couple and it is called Truth or Consequences; now how cool is that? Highly recommended music and a tribute to the talent and vibrancy on display here.
Review by Paul McGee
John Kilzer Scars Archer
This much-admired artist died in March of this year and it came as a real shock to the music community of Memphis who embraced his talents and celebrated his music over many years.
John Kilzer began his career on Geffen Records with two releases back in 1988 and 1991. He was stable mates with quite a few big hitters and, over time, his traction and tenure saw him slip out of view. Kilzer never went away however and he kept at his music with two more albums, more recently, in 2011 and 2015.
His Memphis base was vital to his longevity in the business and for this 2019 release, he used the considerable talents of Grammy winning producer/engineer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price, Drive-By Truckers, John Prine, Jason Isbell). Scars was recorded at Music & Arts Memphis Studios and he called upon some of the top session players in the city; Steve Selvidge (guitar) Rick Steff (keyboards) Dave Smith (bass) and drummers Steve Potts and George Sluppick.
The eleven tracks run to 40 minutes and the mix of blues, folk and soul sounds makes the listening experience one of great joy, given the quality of the playing and the song-writing.
Musicianship of this level does not always find its own reward, but on this project the big winners are the label, Archer Records whose faith in the artist was more than returned in songs that really stay in the memory, such as The American Blues, Dark Highway, Woods Of Love and Rope The Moon.
It is on the track, Memphis Town, that you hear the true essence of John Kilzer as he sings with conviction and passion in a voice filled with character and nuance. This is a fitting tribute to an enduring talent that will be greatly missed. R.I.P.
Review by Paul McGee
Matt Woods Natural Disasters Lonely Ones
Fourth album release from East Nashville resident Matt Woods. A hardened industry survivor and an artist seldom off the road, Natural Disasters is both the name of his latest album and his backing band. It’s closer to southern or indeed full on rock than his previous recordings and checklists bad life choices, heartache and dark corners across the ten tracks on the album.
Drive-Thru Town is an all too familiar tale, bringing to mind boarded up shop fronts, closed mills and mines and memories of a thriving community of yesteryear. The Jason Isbell sounding Cold Civil War reflects on the current political unrest and sabre rattling, a frightening reverse in direction to more racist and inhumane decades. The autobiographical Blue-Eyed Wanderer is a full-on rocker created from endless miles of road touring. Things shift down a gear or two on My Southern Heart, a gentle and brooding song reflecting on a failing relationship. Empty lives stolen by a false misapprehension surface on the Springsteen sounding Sitcoms and the radio friendly and album stand out track Hey, Heartbreaker is on a similar page.
With the increasing difficulty of creating a livelihood through album sales, artists such as Woods have little option but to pack up the van and hit the road to survive. More and more albums are constructed around the trials and tribulations of the road weary artist and Natural Disasters is no exception. It’s also an album that works best in the car cd player, playing full blast on your own personal road trip.
Review by Declan Culliton
Chuck Mead Close To Home Plowboy
BR549’s sound was a musical brew that drew mainly from Western Swing, rockabilly and honky tonk. Their early career residency at Nashville’s Robert’s Western World in the mid-90’s kick started a revival in live country music in Broadway, a tradition that continues healthily to the present day.
Since the demise of the band, Chuck Mead has covered practically every patch of the industry, including working as a musical director, producer, musicologist and songwriter. He has also released four solo albums, the latest being Close To Home, produced by Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, John Prine, Margo Price) and recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis. It’s his second solo release on the Independent Plowboy Records label, following in the footsteps of his 2015 release Free State Serenade.
The moody My Baby’s Holding It Down is classic roots, recalling the BR549 sound. The title track is also straight out of the BR549 songbook, name checking Hank Williams on the toe tapping tale of potential domestic strife. Big Bear In The Sky is a lively rockabilly flavoured opener with driving guitars and thumping bass lines. Daddy Worked The Pole is on the same page. It’s a tongue in cheek pitch that finds Daddy working the electricity pole so that Mamma could abandon her ‘pole’ career. The Man Who Shook The Hand is high octane and delightfully full on, most likely referencing Sam Phillips given the Memphis connection. A Chuck Mead album wouldn’t be complete without a country tear jerker and the drinking and crying Tap Into Your Misery fills that slot perfectly. I’m Not The Man For The Job is closer to Kingstown than Memphis, a funky reggae beat laced with slick pedal steel courtesy of Carco Clave. The album is bookended on a more serious note with There’s Love Where I Come From - a contemplative gospel tinged song, with an appeal for empathy and consideration in a world gone somewhat mad.
Close To Home is precisely what we’ve come to expect from Mead, an uncomplicated and fun album that ticks so many boxes, from a maturing artist that never appears to put a foot wrong.i
Review by Declan Culliton
Rod Picott Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil Welding Rod
This is the most intimate album that Picott has yet recorded and is not dissimilar to listening to him playing a live set in a small venue. The difference here is that, following a diagnosis and time spent in recovery, Picott turned his talent to write songs that were often more inward looking and contemplations on his life to the present time. Now in his 50s Picott has his own tale to tell and it displays as keen a sense of the songwriter as ever.
This is simply a hard-bitten, weathered voice, guitar and harmonica, delivering a set of new songs. There are twelve songs on the album and they set up a one to one listening environment that allows the listener into the thoughts of the songwriter. As well as a lyric sheet there are notes for each song from Picott that further gives you insights into the inspirations behind these songs. The simplicity of the delivery means that the words are the heart of these songs along with Picott’s expressive voice.
So, the opening song Ghost considers mortality while A Guilty Man asks why he was alone during his illness and beyond. Later in the collection Spartan Hotel tells of a venue he played back at the start of his career in a cover band. Mark is about the suicide of a young man of that name. Not all these songs were written by Picott alone. There are there songs that he has co-written with other talented and worthy of your attention sparing partners in Slaid Cleaves (Mama’s Boy), Stacy Dean Campbell (‘80s John Wallace) and Ben De La Cour (Beautiful Light).
This album will appeal to those familiar with Picott’s work. Maybe not so much for those who are looking for something less stark. However, it is a testament to his belief in the restorative power of his chosen profession and one can only applaud his conviction to deliver what are at times difficult songs but which in the end result are both powerful and persistent.
Review by Stephen Rapid
Doug Seegers A Story I Got To Tell BMG
Something of a back story here as Seegers was discovered in Nashville in what was a homeless situation. He played on the streets and in small venues until he was videoed singer one of his songs. But Swedish singer and presenter was making a documentary on Nashville and was recommended she listen to him. He played his song Going Down To The River and impressed her enough that she took him to a studio to record his debut album of that title. Will Kimbrough produced that album using some of Nashville finest players and it is well worth seeking out.
This new album has been produced by Joe Henry and he has done a superb job. He has expanded Seegers’ horizon without taking so far from his traditional base that he alienates his existing fanbase. From the off you are aware of the power and expression of Seegers’ voice. White Line has veers towards a yodel at the end and shows his range and delivery. It also has Jackson Browne on backing vocals. It is one of the few outside songs and was written by Willie P Bennett, the other is the Johhny Rivers’ song Poor Side Of Town. Elsewhere the assembled musicians, including Russ Pahl on pedal steel and Jay Bellerose on percussion. Demon Seed touches on Blue Velvet territory with its striking vocal and arrangement. There is a judicious use of brass on Falling Star and Rockabilly Bug. The later a 50s style throwback with deep vocals and that infectious beat that shows Seegers would be well capable of making a whole album in either of those genres. In fact, he would be capable of picking up several of the other strands in his music and running with them.
Producer Joe Henry has recently been coping with serious illness and it can only be hoped that he fully recovers and is again able to sit behind the desk and produce other such individualistic artists as he has done in the past. He has made a great album with Doug Seegers that explores Seegers’ songs and voice in a way that makes a perfect pairing. One that we hope can be continued. This is a story that everyone should listen to.
Review by Stephen Rapid