It's good to know, and hear, that out there in the regions of the U.S. there are still acts immersed in the sound of the honky-tonks. This tight Columbus, Indiana outfit play a set of original songs that recall the heyday of 50s and 60s country music without sounding like they belong in a museum. The very fact that Sellers is a strong writer with a warm and weighty voice that recalls, without mimicking, the great vocalists that have gone before him is enough to warrant him some attention and admiration. As with a lot of the best pure country Sellers is not re-inventing the wheel here. He is instead, with his band, re-affirming that there is a lot of life left in the music that so obviously in their lifeblood (if not on the radio or in the charts) . The Wagon Burners are Baylee Pruit on snare drum, Sippy Boulton on pedal steel and guitar and Justin Meier on upright bass along with guest Pat Fiddle on fiddle. They deliver a solid, rhythmic and righteous sound that runs from the instrumental Sippy's Lament to a whole slew of songs that live up to the title, a theme too often absent from the mainstream these days. The titles of these songs tell you what to expect; You Always Shut Me Down, Two-timing Mama, Bad Times Are Here To Stay. Most of these songs are short, catchy and eminently danceable, for the most part. The life blood of a honky-tonk band, the place where they still sound best no doubt. But if you can't get there then this, their first full length album, is the next best thing. This album contains exactly what it says in the title but it won't bring you down, rather it warms you up for another round and gets you ready for a Saturday night, no matter where you might be. As the opening songs says "If you've got the time (just stop on by)", you won't be sorry you did.
Dave Gleason is an example of someone who loves traditional country music, filtering it through many layers of related genres to produce music that is relevant to these times. Gleason is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. The latter skill is obvious from the opening instrumental All Morning Long. The title track is next up and Gleason is joined by harmony vocalist Cindy Wasserman, as he is on a number of other tracks. If You're Going Through Hell is classic heartbreak and features the fine pedal steel playing from long-time California country sideman Chris Lawrence. Pale Blue again highlights Gleason subtle Telecaster guitar skills with some extended playing. Gleason delivers some heartfelt vocals on songs like The Neon And The Wine another tale of lost love and doubtful dignity. Radio 1965 is a uptempo song that musically is rooted in the more free thinking broadcasting era of it's title's era, even if the lyrics again look at more emotionally troubled times. But for this listener a definite album highlight is the mournful lament for times, people and places now gone by, The Rails Don't Run Here is just on the right side of sadness, one that draws the listener into the songs and to allow one to imagine their own losses. The second instrumental The San Joaquin, has the flavour and styling that the title would suggest as well as referencing back to earlier times with echoes of Don Rich and the Buckaroos. So it's appropriate to mention the players on this album who along side Chris Lawrence include bassist Jason Chesney, drummer Justin Smith and second guitarist Rich Dembowski. Debra Tala play accordion on another slow meditative track Tonight, as well as on The Rails Dont Run Here. Collectively this team deliver. This is Gleason's forth album and arguably his best to date. The album closes with two more strong songs Wait For The Rain and Wishing I Was Here Tonight. The former a slow, guitar and voice lamentation while the latter a more robust band outing that rounds out a terrific album that highlights how far what passes as country in mainstream Nashville these days has gone. But then California country always seemed to be at odds with Music Row and always for the most part, produced the more interesting and lasting music.
Here is a man with a jukebox in his heart who over his three albums he's been writing songs to fill it. Both Jack Of All Heartache and Last Fool At The Bar are rooting in traditional honky tonk memories and mores. The bar is the place where you go when you have no where else to go or when you start looking to restart the process again. Stinson moved to Houston, Texas recently and this album was recorded there. Production, this time has been handled by Jesse Dayton, an renowned artist in his own right, and a perfect producer for Stinson. The players are those often used by Dayton himself with a couple of guesting vocalists such as Jim Lauderdale and Brennan Leigh. His song Late Great Golden State, already covered by Dwight Yoakam, was recorded appropriately enough in Los Angeles and in some ways is a tribute to the early part of his career spent as a stalwart of that particularly active West Coast country scene. Stinson is a fine traditional writer and a distinctive singer who is growing into both attributes. His voice, at times, reminded me of a young Willie Nelson and more than suggests that age will mature his voice into a something that's very much his own. The songs anchored by fiddle and steel and some telling twang (from Dayton) may not fit with everyone's idea of what they think contemporary country to be but this is, without doubt, from the heart and delivered with true feeling and style. Listen to Walk Away to hear a telling sense of loss. Stop The Bar is pure honky-tonk philosophy - a man, a bar, a memory that needs to be revived or lost. While I Will Live To Drink Again is self-explanatory positive pessimism. While No One To Drink With further emphasizes the neon-tinted nature of the loner looking for company for his misery. That may be the overall theme, but the music is delivered in a life-affirming way that makes this a thoroughly enjoyable slice of hardcore country philosophy. Mike Stinson is writing the kind of songs that were once described and delivered as "white man's blues" and it's as important as ever that there is someone, even on the fringes, making this music that will soon find a place in the jukebox in your heart.