When there is so much buzz around a new artist and their debut record, it can typically go one of two ways: live up to the hype or fall flat. When Americana newcomer Dori Freeman’s self-titled album releases February 5th via Free Dirt Records, it will be clear that the buzz was indeed warranted….and deservedly so. Seeming to emerge on one’s musical radar from out of nowhere, the Galax, Virginia native’s album is truly a bright star in the year’s releases thus far.
Freeman’s album contains mature, insightful songwriting on ten well-written tracks. All self-penned, these songs represent Freeman’s musical upbringing and span various musical styles on songs dealing with broken hearts, unfaithfulness, disappointment and the feelings of wavering between wanting someone to stay and wanting them to go. With strikingly simple production, Freeman’s vocals are the centerpiece of the album; pristine, pure and clear, calling you to listen and conveying words and emotions with ease and to great effect.
Starting off with the classic country sound of “You Say,” Freeman sings with a resigned sadness of wanting a relationship, but also affirming “I’ll be damned if I need any man to come to my rescue.” Beautifully haunting with wrenching lyrics of a relationship unraveled, “Where I Stood” asks “Can you really hurt somebody if nobody saw?.......You’re wastin’ my love & I’m wastin’ your time.”
Heartbreak (amplified by pedal steel and keys) abounds on the shuffling “Go On Lovin'” “How am I supposed to go on lovin', how am I supposed to go on love, how am I supposed to go on lovin', when you left me feelin’ like I don’t know how?”; then takes a different tune on the du wop style of “Tell Me,” where although she pretends it doesn’t matter if he leaves, she admits honestly that she would do anything to make him stay, as well as the soulful “Fine, Fine, Fine” where after offering her heart unguarded, it becomes clear she’s the one “paying for your crimes.”
There are songs reflecting on lost love (“Any Wonder” and “Song For Paul”), and those that offer vignettes of hard working lives (the gospel-blues acapella “Ain't Nobody”) before the album closes with “Still A Child,” a kind of kiss-off, if you will, where she finally realizes the man she has been torturing herself over isn’t worth it. “Burn all your bridges I don’t really care…You say you’re sorry, but don’t know what for ‘cause you are still a child.”
Perceptive words from a woman wise beyond her years, Dori Freeman is a stunning debut.
In honor of the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary, Town Mountain recorded and released Bluegrass renditions of two of their favorite Dead tunes. Released in November, The Dead Session was recorded at Echo Mountain Recording Studios in Asheville and contains versions of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” and “Big River."
“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter and originally released on Wake of the Flood in 1973 while “Big River” was written by Johnny Cash in 1958 and often covered by The Dead. Jesse Langlais [banjo and vocals] explains, "The Dead kept the sentiment of ‘Big River’ but translated it to make an audience who may not have known what country music was love it. That audience for them was typically a younger more rock or jam influenced fan but they still ended up knowing the song and singing along.”
Admittedly, I do not know much about The Dead, but what Langlais says of them is exactly what Town Mountain does here: taking songs originally by others and making them accessible and loved by a new audience. Filled with fiddle, bass and mandolin, the two songs are done the Town Mountain way: rollicking and hard-driving, with a made for dance hall feel, that will have you on your feet or tapping your toes in sync to the melody.
Both Bluegrass fans and Deadheads alike should enjoy The Dead Session.
Fearless, foul-mouthed filthy…..and down-right funny. We were given a taste of Wheeler Walker Jr’s unabashedly frank music back in the Fall when he released his three-song EP, Fuck You Bitch. Now, on February 12th, Walker unleashes his debut album, Redneck Shit. Produced by Dave Cobb and featuring top notch musicians including Leroy and Chris Powell and Bryan Allen, the album is eleven tracks of melodically pure country. The subject matter on the other hand....be prepared to hear language so dirty that you may find yourself needing a bath afterwards, either from wetting yourself from laughing so hard or feeling utterly disgusted.
The opener (and title track) details antics that may be far out there even for a true hillbilly while the waltz of “Family Tree” and bluesy jam of “Eatin’ Pussy/Kickin’ Ass” proves that he sure isn’t discriminatory when choosing a hookup partner. While some of the songs can be straight up gross, others (grossly & humorously) present reality. “Fightin’, Fuckin’, Fartin’” and “Can’t Fuck You Off My Mind” are both insanely catchy and funny as all get out while “Beer Weed Cooches” and “Drop ‘Em Out” have melodies that make you want to repeatedly slap your hand on your knee. The album is rounded out with the twangy pedal steel of “Sit On My Face” and the rockabilly “Which One O’ You Queers Gonna Suck My Dick?” on which Walker Jr. seems to channel Elvis, wanting to scratch his itch any way he can.
Then there are moments too, that have the potential to make you actually feel (in an emotional, not sexual way). The duo of “Fuck You Bitch,” and “Better Off Beatin’ Off” honestly say what many of us want to when a relationship we were invested in is over, and Walker Jr’s seemingly sincere delivery makes you feel sympathetic for the guy.
Redneck Shit is a ballsy album that’s not for the easily offended. Give it a pass and make your own decision. Like it or loathe it, there’s one thing for sure: there’s certainly no one else out there like Wheeler Walker Jr.
Up-and-comer Ben Bradford released his debut EP Alright this past December 4th. Two years in the making, Alright contains seven tracks including his single “Just A Little Bit.” Produced by Grammy-nominated Greg Archilla (Collective Soul, Matchbox Twenty) and Illya Toshinskiy (7 time ACM “Player of the Year”), the album is full of up-tempo contemporary country songs. The trio of “I Put It On Ya,” “Alright,” and “I Need A Cold One” will surely have a crowd on their feet singing along while “Million Miles of Free” and “Even On A Bad Day” take a romantic turn. The former has that nostalgic feel, yearning for carefree times and young love, with the latter telling of a love so strong that nothing can bring him down. If you like Jason Aldean, Justin Moore or Dustin Lynch, then give Bradford a listen, you might find a new favorite.
One of Billboard's 2014 "Top Ten Artists to Watch" Ryan Broshear recently released his new single, “Spin Me," to country radio. Coming from his 2015 six track EP Paint It Red, "Spin Me" is contemporary country with a bit of a rock edge. The song, co-written with Dan Agee, tells the tale of a guy who is absolutely head over heels for a girl; with lyrics cleverly comparing her to a record that he just can't get out of his head.
"You turn me on like a radio
I hear your song everywhere I go
I sing along and get lost in your melody
Your beat is strong straight to my heart
I feel it even when we're apart
Your record plays and that's where I wanna be"
Give it a listen, it's a tune you just might be spinning on repeat.
It’s a glorious thing when a melody draws you in like a magnet, and the six songs on the album from Clay Parker and Jodi James do just that. The singer-songwriters pursued careers apart from one another, but after touring together in 2014, decided to merge their talents and become a duo….and our ears are better for it. Their self-titled EP, simply produced to great effect, was released this past December. It contains five original songs as well as one traditional folk tune, “Moonshiner.”
There’s an overall peaceful feel to the instrumentation of the album which allows Parker and James’s vocals to be forefront. Apart, those voices are quiet and heartfelt conveying much, but when they harmonize they blend like honey in tea for a soothing combination; whether on the toe tappin’, put a smile on your face “Meditation Blues” or the old-timey “Showboatin”, a song about that one we know who has no problems grandstanding. The EP also contains the poignant, gentle acoustic of “Come Back” which reminds one of the Proverb, “If you love something set it free” and the tender, yet sad “What It Knows” in which hints of pedal steel echo wondering whether things will be “moving in close or flying away.” Closing the album is the ethereal “After The Smoke Clears” which leaves you anticipating, and wanting, to hear more from the duo.
Released on December 11th, Darius Holbert’s solo side project DARIUSTX V. ANGELS OF GOLIAD is a personal, and entirely original album filled with unexpected, yet always welcome turns. Holbert, who is an acclaimed composer for television and film, has worked with numerous artists including Wu-Tang Clan and Bobby Brown. You won’t, however, find those styles represented here; Holbert leans heavy on his Texas and Louisiana roots…and they hold him up nicely. The seventeen tracks, all self-penned, deal with life, imperfections, redemption, and relationships. Melodically diverse (Holbert mines blues, country and more), the songs are written with a creative pen. One feels the songs via melody (told via fiddle, piano, and pedal steel), yet experiences them more deeply by actively listening to the sometimes abstract, yet impactful and honest lyrics.
The album opens with the frenzied “In The Shadow of The Death Bird” and continues with the solemn, lament filled and lovely, “The Dirge” (“I’m a bundle of scars and badly healed breaks”) and the slightly ominous “Dark Blues” which ponders “Where do we go when we die?”
While Holbert sings lead, he is accompanied throughout by Nicole Britton and Caroline Wilson, whose angelic voices flawlessly capture and convey so much on songs like the dreamlike “Back Of Beyond,” the romantic “Wildfire Waltz,” the tenderly sad (“Walk These Floors”) and the Tejano-flavored “El Dream Cancion.” Things are spiced up with the throwback feel of (a la Holly Golightly) of “A Good Horse” which pairs nicely with “Dancing Shoes,” both pondering love with, a favorite word of mine, a dirt bag. There are also story songs telling of a special family place (“Grandmother Erline’s Kitchen”), one far away (“Paris”) and some close to home (“West TX Moon”).
Rounding out the collection are “Those Wildest Minutes With You” and “Goodnight Buckaroo.” The rootsy former, which opens with “Armadillo on the highway tied to a Mylar balloon” reminisces of a former love, while the latter perfectly (and serenely) closes the album, with the sense that all of the relationships' struggles have since settled, finding peace and love.
Open your ears and give it a listen.
Austin-based singer-songwriter Bill Carter’s ninth self-produced record, Innocent Victims & Evil Companions, is set to be released February 26th via Forty Below Records. It's an album that's thoughtful, reflective, real, dreamy, optimistic and jarring; with unblemished production, often poetic songwriting, adept instrumentation, including his six- and twelve-string acoustic guitar, harmonica and percussion work, not to mention a who’s who of guests (Charlie Sexton, Denny Freeman, John Mills among others) all present in spades.
Bluesy (and slightly hazy) lead off track "Black Lion" conjures a drug induced paranoia that can be partnered with the retro-flaired, horn filled “Bughouse In Pasadena” that invokes unsavory characters in an equally unsavory setting. “Under lock and key twenty-four seven, like an animal in the zoo staring at the wall, talking to myself ain’t really nothing else to do blood stains on the ceiling, black widows behind every door.”
Finger snaps and harmonica provide the atmosphere to the changing musical landscape in “Feel Town” while "Last Tear (Delaney’s Song)” is that impactful, hit you in the heart tune, that deals with whether a relationship is over or can stand the tests it endures. “Maybe time and a little space will bring us back to where we belonged in the first place.”
Melodically recalling great heartland rock (Springsteen, Petty, Mellencamp) “Recipe For Disaster” wonders how the “hope and the harmony” of the 60’s turned into the present while there’s a 70’s influence in “Missing Guru” which focuses on the swami convicted of abusing minors in an Austin ashram, a Spanish flair seeps into the story song of “Moscow Girl” while there's an overall optimistic tone to the roots rocker, “Livin’ In It.” Rounding out the record is the groovin’, laid back “Fisherman’s Daughter,” “Solar Powered Radio,” an ode to the Austin radio station that inspired it and “Sooner Or Later” which details how whiskey and wine, guitar and blues influence getting his life on track.
During the fourteen tracks and fifty-nine minutes of Innocent Victims & Evil Companions, you take a journey through not only various musical landscapes, but emotional ones as well, becoming acquainted with characters as they deal with assorted issues in the past, present and future. There’s sadness, uncertainty and questioning, yet the album closes with the hopeful “No More Runnin’”, reminding us that when you encounter life’s difficulties you can persevere…...something we all need to remember from time to time.
2015 was a very good year for music and if the first two months of 2016 are any indication, the same will be said by year’s end, with Bill Carter’s latest making an appearance on many a “best of” list.
Having spent over two years writing material for this, their seventh studio album, Randy Rogers Band’s new release, Nothing Shines Like Neon, will emit its glow on January 15th. Recorded at Cedar Creek, produced by Buddy Cannon and released on Rogers own Tommy Jackson Records (in conjunction with Thirty Tigers), the sextet is a well-oiled machine – but one that has yet to show signs of becoming rusty or tired.
Firmly steeped in tight musicianship (pedal steel, guitar and Brady Black’s fiddle) alongside Rogers’ identifiable, warm, smoky vocals, Nothing Shines Like Neon showcases why they have remained atop the Texas scene for fifteen years. Things kick off with the Keith Gattis penned “San Antone” a shuffling ode to the town you love, despite spending time away. Of course, it wouldn’t be a RRB album without love songs…the sad and optimistic…and they’re both duly represented here. The latter in the beautifully romantic “Old Moon New” as well as in the sultry sexiness of the bluesy “Rain and The Radio.” The flip side is present on the immensely relatable, “Things I Need To Quit” about a woman at the top of his list of habits he needs to break. “I keep that song stuck on repeat/Something ‘bout the words and melody/Takes me back to the way it used to be/Even with you gone you get the best of me.” (Who hasn’t experienced that?!), as well as “Tequila Eyes,” which exudes a realistic sadness that finds him wanting to rescue her from a pain that even alcohol cannot disguise. “Girl the trouble with the past/You can’t kill it with a shot glass once it catches up with you,” and finally on the sad yearning of “Meet Me Tonight” with pedal steel conveying that longing for her to look at him in that special way, be with him one more time….even if it means his heart will break.
It’s not all melancholy, however. There’s the rollicking, rebel rousing “Taking It As It Comes” with Jerry Jeff Walker and the rowdy, sure to be a crowd-pleaser “Actin’ Crazy” (feat. Jamey Johnson), where he sings, “The rent's as high as Willie.”
The eleven-track collection is rounded out with two standouts, “Look Out Yonder” and “Pour One For the Poor One.” The former, written by Bud Earl Lee and featuring Alison Krauss, is a tender and affecting nod to Roger’s mentor Kent Finlay who passed in 2015. The latter is a “tear in my beer” song if there ever was. Left by the one he loves (in the middle of the night no less), he finds some solace drowning his sorrows in alcohol a pitiful and "sad sight to see.”
Nothing Shines Like Neon is unmistakably Randy Rogers Band. Full of earnest lyrics and meaningful (and occasionally downright fun) melodies, it’s traditional, it’s country and it’s about to become your new favorite Randy Rogers Band record.
New York based JD & The Straight Shot’s new, all acoustic record, Ballyhoo!, is set for release on January 15th. The eleven track set, produced by Chuck Ainlay, was recorded in Nashville and New York and merges elements of the blues, folk, roots and Americana. The songs are all originals sans one, a beautifully done cover of Spirit’s “Nature’s Way” - a song about the environment which remains current today.
Throughout the album, but particularly on the honest-as-can-be opener, “Empty,” founder and front man Jim Dolan’s weathered vocals exude experience. He is memorably joined on vocals by violinist Erin Slaver on the standout “Better Find A Church” which not only has a straight up groovy chorus, but a perfect guitar interlude. “Perdition” and “Ballyhoo” both feel like songs that would be heard in a blues joint in the deep South, while “Glide,” an ode to youthful joy, has an incredibly unique Bluegrass/70’s feel and “Don’t Waste My Time” puts forth a sad, noir vibe courtesy of violin and Byron House’s bass. Rounding out the collection are two personal favorites that are both sad, yet hopeful, “Hard To Find” and “I’ll See You Again.”
Merriam-Webster defines ballyhoo as "talk or writing that is designed to get people excited or interested in something," if that’s the case, then Ballyhoo! definitely lives up to its title with songs that are interesting, memorable and refreshingly done. Give it a listen.