Sam Outlaw 'Angeleno' - Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers

A lot has been made of Sam Outlaw’s stage name. Maybe it’s to do with expectations of the music that would emanate from such a moniker. Outlaw is not an outlaw in the mode of artists usually associated with that term; rather Sam Outlaw plays music that is influenced by traditional country music since the 50s. He takes elements of music he likes and creates something that is very contemporary and totally distinctive. Country music is about the voice and the song. Both are here and both are good. Prior to this collection he has released a debut album Nobody Loves Sam Outlaw and an eponymous five track EP. These recordings show that Outlaw’s voice and sound were established from the start. Country love songs are the overriding theme of his writing and indeed that is the title of a song that features on both albums.

The album was produced by Ry Cooder and his son Joachim something the two rarely do, so they obviously recognised something special in Outlaw’s music. Mentioned should be made of Ry’s refined and relevant guitar playing and Joachim’s steady and effectively paced drumming throughout. Both add much to the overall feel of the album and are alone a lesson in music made with understanding and feeling. The production is clear, warm and balanced giving the songs the right sense of mood appropriate to each. Outlaw also brings in harmony singer Molly Jenson along with steel player Jeremy Long, both long time members of Outlaw’s live and recording band, to give some continuity to his previous recordings - both of which are worth hearing.

Outlaw’s songs are the key to the success of this album from the opening Who Do You Think You Are? to the title song and such highlights as I’m Not Jealous, Love Her For  a While and It Might Kill Me all of which have an acute sense of melody and are memorable. Indeed, I have found myself returning to listen to Outlaw’s music more often than I have to other better know names. This album is not exception and is one that rewards listening. Angeleno has a broad base that sees strings, Spanish guitar and mariachi blended in a effective and enlightening way. The atmospheric guitar and banjo on Country Love Song enhance its sense of longing. In fact as I listen, each song is equally pleasing and makes for an album of timeless songs. 

As mentioned, it is the classic combination of song and voice that the makes this music work. It is not music that is likely to be embraced by mainstream country radio. It should be noted that Sam Outlaw is not doing anything that has not been done before, but he brings these elements together in a way that is interesting and deserves recognition. Equally this album is part of the resurgence of some real country music in California. If you don’t expect long beards, tattoos and a modicum of bad language, then this Outlaw’s music is something that will hold you captive and it is one of the year’s best releases.

Ry Cooder 'Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down' Nonsuch

Outside the mainstream Ry Cooder can make the music he wants to and he can also express his deeply held views. Ones that have run through his musical career since it began. There's no mistaking the mood of the album its right there from the opening track No Banker Left Behind. El Corrido de Jesse James follows and it Flaco Jimenez on accordion with a band of brass players to give a border sound to the track in which Jesse James tells his friends in heaven that he wants his trusty 44 revolver back so that he can "put that bonus money back where it belongs." Quicksand is about those refugees that come to cross the border into the USA getting caught in the quicksand of the title. After that he targets "rabble rousing politicians on the TV screen" (Humpty Dumpty World), scarred and mutilated soldiers (Christmas Time This Year), dead-end situations (Baby Joined The Army), the working man (Lord Tell Me Why) and the Republican party (If There's A God) amongst other topics and targets. All of this is done with integrity and compassion as well as truth and passion. Much of the music draws from a time when the various forms of roots music, American music were unsegregated. Cooder moves from simple but stately voice and guitar of Baby Joined The Army to the Tom Waits-like rough and tumble of I Want My Crown to the channeled blues of John Lee Hooker for President, a song that is as powerful as it is primal. Cooder is joined in this musical adventure by his son Joachim on drums as well as associates like the aforementioned Jimenez, Jim Keltner, and vocalist Terry Evans as well as other comrades to deliver these tales of a land as morally impoverished now as it was in the Twenties. There is much to admire here on Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down as there has been on his last three albums and in his work through the years. It is heartening to hear and feel the anger in these beautifully played songs that will find a place in the heart of any Ry Cooder fan.