Dan Stevens Runnin’ The Backroads Gatorbone
This is a man who sounds comfortable in his own skin. By his own admission an old hippie who takes the values that accompanied that profession and has moderated them as time goes by. Stevens does this with a modicum of humour and happiness with lines like “I still love my darling wife, but now it takes a pill” (Another Sad Country Tale). The opening song Crush Hour Traffic is about a working man getting home through traffic - traffic often miss-referred to as “rush hour” which he felt need a new, more apt descriptor.
What Stevens does is not particularly new, musically outstanding or littered with contemporary clutter; rather it is a solid, satisfying, rounded take on one person’s life perspective that covers environmental issues (Blair Mountain), how a 60’s radical was reduced to selling cookies (Jerry Rubin);his drinking habits of yore (I Drink Gin) or the way established religious groups spend more time to destroy each other rather than saving souls (When Jesus Sang His Songs For Us).
Stevens has written all the 13 songs on the album which includes a fold out poster with the packaging that has an explanatory note on each of the songs and why they were written. Stevens co-produced the album and had a bunch of musicians around him who round out the songs to give them added depth and texture. The instruments involved include Irish Flute, Pedal Steel, Concertina, Clawhammer banjo, fiddle, accordion, harmonica and guitar, which makes for variety in both overall sound and tempo. Runnin’ The Backroads is roots music that takes on the view, goes for the scenic route with very little thought of ever getting to a big city Music Row. It’s all the better for that.
Bill Booth Some Distant Shore Wheeling
Born in Maine but now residing in Norway Bill Booth has a long musical and recording history that goes back to the mid-Eighties. He has been compared to Tom Russell and Tom Pacheco with a touch of Mark Knopfler and those comparisons are fair enough as far as they may help to delineate the overall territory that Booth inhabits musically. The music has a Celtic influence in both lyric and musical content. It is folk in form but with other influences, like roots rock, around the edges.
The opening song is a tale of Dublin born Arthur O’Neill who led a group of the Irish Brigade know colloquially as Wild Geese (as is the song). Booth notes that these songs were inspired by tales of Ireland, Scotland and England that he had heard back in his home state of Maine. So, Cliffs Of Dover is about emigration with a loved one from Aberdeen to Nova Scotia. This slow-paced ballad has an appealing setting based around Uilleann pipes which emphasize the melodic structure and Booth’s warm singing voice and interesting lyrics. Not all songs deal with purely times gone by and City Of Rubble is a powerful lament against war. Wars which turn cities and lives to rubble; from Berlin in 1945 to recent destruction in places like Fallujah.
Several of the albums songs hit a similar melodic mark that soon finds them rewarding repeated listening. No doubt that his experience and years give his voice some grit and gravitas. Booth has produced the album with an even hand and the music is largely understated but effective in allowing Booth to tell these tales. Musicians include Bill Troiani who was a member of the Tom Russell Band in the past alongside Paul McKernan’sdistinctive pipe playing and drummer Alexander Pettesen and Eddy Lyshaug accordion contributions. All can be heard on the driving instrumental Skerry Reel. Molly McKeen salutes a fiddle playing colleen with a foot tapping momentum.
Bill Booth is a new name to me but an artist deserving of some wider recognition and a performer who would likely do well on these shores with some decent exposure. Booth is a craftsman who has learned his trade through the years.
Mark Sinnis One Red Rose Among The Dying Leaves 9th Recordings
Sunnis, somewhat demonstratively calls his music “Cemetery & Western.” A mix of roots-rock country fusion that has hints of Johnny Cash, Elvis, rockabilly and on the title track a Celtic influence, with tin whistle and pipes, which offers something of a graveside sliver of hope on some dark days. Sinnis’ has a big voice and a big band behind it. The 825 has some eight players, several who are multi-instrumentalists. This gives the songs a wide range of sounds from the aforementioned Celtic tone to a more south of the border touches like on the guitar tango twang of Why Should I Cry Over You. While In Tupelo is a tribute to the Memphis King. Sitting At The Heartbreak Saloon is a throwback to some classic 50’s country and tear-stained beers. He changes his vocal delivery to match the mood and the era in which the song’s structure is sonically set.
That theme of rejection and dejection is further explored on the vibrant, horn and twang guitar laced Tough Love (Is All She’s Got) - an explanation of the reasons behind a failed marriage. In truth, a fondness for some classic country and country rock pervades many of the tracks. Something that Sinnis and George Grant’s production emphasises while also remaining on the right side of these influences and not outweighing the need to make the music relevant to who they are now. Even though the closing song is about listening to a radio station 1050 WHN back in the day.
Sinnis has a wide vocal range that serves his self-written songs well, giving these songs the kind of gravity that they need to make them reflect the way that his life took a down turn that ended with a divorce, but never sounds maudlin when it doesn’t want to. As the title suggests this music looks for the positive, for the rose among the dying leaves. In the end Sinnis has found that flower and hope.
Tim Grimm and the Family Band A Stranger In This Time Cavalier
Singer/songwriter Tim Grimm has been around for some time delivering his folk songs to live and listening audiences around the world. With more than 10 albums to his name he has been refining his music to bring it to the point where it is now. Grimm has been compared to such classic inspirations as John Prine and Guy Clark and on this album, I’d suggest that with songs like Gonna Be Great there is something of a passing resemblance in the direction of Lenoard Cohen’s delivery too. Not that in the long term it does much for an artist to be saddled with comparisons to artists of such stature without it sounding that they are somehow in their shadow.
Tim Grimm is following his own path and on this release, he is joined by three members of his family. Jan Lucas on vocals and harmonica, Connor on bass and Jackson Grimm on all things stringed. Additional guests include Hannah Linn on percussion and Diderik Van Wassenaer on fiddle. All in all, an accomplished team who bring life to the songs and their performance. But it is Grimm’s voice and songs that are the focus of the album and songs like Thirteen Years fit the classic storytelling mode of folk and country. It is a clearly observed tale of local family history that brings in logging and the use of the wood to create a guitar from a fallen tree.
The apple didn’t fall far from that deeply rooted tree it seems with a number of songs here being written by Jan Lucas and Jackson Grimm. Black Snake is a dark tale that is at times reminiscent of some of Sam Baker’s song writing. A song that looks at how progress has again infringed upon a small community’s lifestyle “the beast they call progress eats money and gasoline.” The songs have some hard electric guitar tones to underscore this sense of anger. Their Finding Home is a gentler evocation of trying to follow your heart and the road home.
Darlin’ Cory is traditional song done with an old-time expression of the ages. Banjo and fiddle are central to giving the song its off kilter sense of foreboding. As the title suggest these are songs of people looking at a changing world and trying to make sense of it in song. It can safely be said that Grimm and his family have given food for thought in something of a feast of words and music.
Sam Baker Land Of Doubt Self Release
Anyone who has followed Baker’s progress across his albums will have an idea of what to expect from a new album. Knowing his personal story and how he, at times, struggles with the making of his music following the injuries he received in a terrorist attack on a train he was travelling in. However, at this point that is water under his bridge as Sam Baker knows how to get the best out of Sam Baker. This is slow and nuanced reflection of a man looking at a land riddled with doubt and distrust.
For this album Baker has called in renowned producer Neilson Hubbard to helm the production and they have also brought in Will Kimbrough and Dan Mitchell along with string players David Henry and Eamon McLoughlin to add much to these restrained sonic landscapes. The album is a mix of Baker’s poetic songs and a number of instrumental interludes. These are songs put on a musical canvas in an abstracted way but with a subtle sense of beauty.
A song like Margaret is a gentle observation of how love can change a person and in turn those around them. The Feast Of St. Valentine also ponders a day when love is celebrated. The lines take a soft focus look at how a particular day may slowly evolve - “what is not to like, this kind of day, first it snows, then it rains like hell.” By way of contrast Leave asks one who has squandered a trust to go. For those who do not know Bakershis soft, almost spoken delivery may be disconcerting to listeners used to more overblown delivery that would do nothing for the delicacy of these songs. It is however Baker’s distinctive voice that is essential to making these songs what they are.
Land Of Doubt stands with Baker’s best and emphasises his singular vision for his musical endeavours and the musical team around him have further enhanced the placement of these songs in a (not) popular (enough) consciousness. It is an album that can leave little doubt about its worth for those who understand its underlying message of love and beauty.
Pete Sinjin The Heart And The Compass Hootenanny Arts
The title refers to Sinjin’s combining the two together to guide him through his life. Allowing that his heart is his moral compass and it leads him to explore the direction that his life and music may take him. His music is a combination of solid singer/songwriter observation that translates into melodic and multifarious views of everyday existence. Songs like Radio Tears and Stolen Afternoon, 1951 are reflections of some intimate moments that however fleeting have made an impression. Both feature notable vocal contributions from fellow singer/songwriter Michaela Anne. While another couple of tracks Breathing The Same Air and Goodbye Knoxville kick things up a notch with a solid beat and add to the overall mix of moods on the album. The Letters, sounds like it would fit right in with the science that developed on Lower Broadway back in the 90s.
Sinjin started his musical journey playing some more robust punk rock before he evolved his muse and reaches back to some of the classic rock and soul music he listened to growing up in Pennsylvania. To help him realise where he is currently, he brought Bryce Goggin in to co-produce the album with him. Then he put together a set of players that included bass, drums, violin, mandolin, pedal steel and electric guitar along with some harmony vocalists to deliver a sound that has warmth, space and spontaneity.
The essence of the songs is a wry look at love in all its aspects from Desperate Kind Of Love to That’s My Heart. Songs that are sometimes explicit in their thought process while others are more veiled. Overall though Sinjin delivers them with a committed and centred vocal that makes the album a very listenable and likeable experience. This is Americana with a strong country/folk-rock overtone that has enough among it’s 11 tracks to warrant placing Sinjin on the radar and wondering where his compass will take him next.
Michael Hearne Red River Dreams Howling
Hearne is a native of Dallas, Texas who now lives in New Mexico. He has been involved in the music business since the 70s and is both a writer/performer and promoter. He delivers what is essentially a gentle, genuine take on country, folk and Americana. He takes his classic influences and delivers them through a velvet voice and some introspective songs. This album mixes a number of co-writes (often with his friend Shake Russell) with some well know material like Gram Parsons’ Return Of The Grievous Angel, Michael Martin Murphy’s Drunken Lady Of The Morning and Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain.
Hearne is credited as co-producer also (with Don Richards) and they also form the core of the band. Both playing multiple instruments throughout the album where they are joined by a number of local players who add drums, piano and pedal steel to fill out the songs. Hearne’s own songs fit easily beside the aforementioned songs with titles like Blue Enough, The Highway Is A Friend Of Mine - a song that is directly related to a life travelling and playing. The nostalgic Back In The Day and the reflective and instructive Lesson To Be Learned From Love.
All of these songs are not far from the template of the early Eagles with a strong country undercurrent and warm harmonies. The have a pleasant, undemanding demeanour that sits comfortably - a peaceful easy feeling perhaps might best sum them up. It is the music of a man who is at peace with himself and his music and wishes only to find an audience who are equally at home with music that reflects on a wilder past but one that has settled down and fits like a well-worn pair of jeans.
While Hearne’s take on the better-known songs may not replace them in most people’s memories they still work in their own right and as reminders of when you first became acquainted with the original versions. Hearne’s music ability should not be overlooked either as his playing throughout contributes much to the album’s completeness. This is old school and proud of it and there are many who will applauded it sentiments.
Gerry Spehar I Hold Gravity Self Release
The inner sleeve of this album contains a sleeve note that is a dedication to his lost long-time love, his wife - Susan Nancy Miller. As a result, the songs have an edge, a sense of loss and longing. The opening song Dirt (co-written with Susan and Bobby Allison) refers to “it all comes down to dirt” and has an edge that suits that sentiment. There are other co-writes here with Susan as well as several written by Spehar solo. He employs the band I See Hawks in L.A. throughout the album along with a number of other guests who between them, play a wide range of instruments.
The title track is a pure and direct love song that is sung with obvious emotion. Holy Moses Doughboy tells of a World War 1 veteran who returned from the conflict to deal with the inner conflicts of isolation. The music uses martial drumming and trumpet to add to the overall soundscape. Closer to (everyone’s) home is Mr & Mrs Jones, about the need to compete with the titular couple idea of perfection. It has a groove with Hammond organ that somewhat lessens the pithy observations. How To Get To Heaven From L.A. has a Guy Clark feel (and Spehar has a similar vocal approach with sounding like the great man). The closing song, a Spehar original again, is Into The Mystic, a song that is about the open range and an open heart that asks “where are you going, why would you leave.”
Gary Spehar was a member of the Spehar Brothers Band who quit the live circuit when he had a family to raise. This is his return to the fray - even if the mood is more considered by personal loss. It is a labour of love in more senses than one but one delivered with conviction. Spehar is a songwriter who makes his points with some skill and produces an album that is musically rewarding for the listener as it must have been for him to make it.