Paul Burch celebrates his tenth release, Meridian Rising, on Plowboy Records this Friday, February 26th. A musical journey if there ever was, Meridian Rising is an incredibly unique - perhaps even daunting - undertaking, that Burch triumphantly pulls off. A concept album, Meridian Rising is an imagined autobiography based on the life of Jimmie Rodgers, the legendary singer-songwriter of the 1920s whose music blended pop, folk, and blues as a precursor to rock and roll. Co-produced with Grammy Award winner Dennis Crouch, the album’s twenty songs, all told from the first person, share movie like vignettes from Rodgers’ life; from the delightful notes of the clarinet on opening track “Meridian” (Mississippi) which recalls the town he grew up to “Sorry I Can’t Stay” where Jimmie pens his “last letters home” as his time draws near.
In between, Burch recalls many moments including first loves, places and predicaments that comprised the Blue Yodeler’s short life (Rodgers died when he was 35 at the Hotel Taft in New York). Be transported to France in “To Paris (with regrets),” sense Rodgers’ surprise in “Baby Blue Yodel” and be a part of a card game in the bluesy “Black Lady Blues.” Adding to the overall charm and effectiveness of the record is the fact that the album is scored to the melodies of Rodgers’ time featuring songs that include jazz, country, blues, island and ragtime (think sax, tuba, trumpet, oboe!). “Cadillacin’” is straight up big band fun, the genial “US Rte 49” recounts time spent at a TB sanatorium (Rodgers died from the disease) while “Gunter Hotel Blues” carries you straight to a club in the deep south.
Interspersed throughout the album are multiple incredibly brief instrumental tracks that seem to pair with one of the story songs. “Sign of Distress” ominously accompanies “If I Could Only Catch My Breath,” “June” is paired with the weighty “Ain’t That Water Lucky” (both about the death of his infant daughter), while big top instrumental “Under Canvas” precedes the jazzy, ragtime feel of “The Girl I Sawed In Half” (a song of utter heartbreak), and the gorgeous title track ushers in “Back to The Honky Tonks” and “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble” which closes the album.
Jimmie Rodgers was a pioneer and an original, as is Burch, whose creative reimagining brings timeless melodies in tales of someone so revered to a modern audience. Not simply meant to be heard, Meridian Rising is an experience, a voyage into Rodgers’ life as a traveling musician saluting the man, the music and ultimately his impact throughout musical genres.
NB. The February 26, 2015 release also includes the issue of a limited-edition 10-inch EP of vinyl-only tracks featuring Billy Bragg, plus two songs recorded direct to the King Records cutting lathe at Third Man Records. The vinyl 10-inch includes a full download of Meridian Rising along with a poster by Country Music Hall of Fame artist-in-residence Jon Langford. In addition, don’t ignore reading the wonderful album insert, it’s an illuminating read.
One of the rising names on the Texas music scene, Sam Riggs is poised to continue that upward trajectory both in Texas and beyond with his new release, Breathless. Due February 19th, the Kickstarter backed album contains ten original songs all co-written by Riggs.
Breathless leads off with Riggs’ current single “The Lucky Ones” and continues with album standout “Gravity,” a personal song telling of the need to escape those things and places holding you back from your dreams.
Reflection and thought also are a part of the songs that center around the themes of love and relationships, where sharp writing and memorable melodies blend into songs you want to hear over and over again, like the rootsy rocker “The Heartbreak Girl,” the mid-tempo title track’s ode to that one special woman, “Just one kiss from your novocaine lips and you take all my pain away.” and the absolutely beautiful “Secondhand Smoke” which compares loving her to an addiction. “One more kiss is all I need to get through. I guess you’re just a habit I can’t break.”
While Breathless has poignant ballads, it certainly does not lack energy. “Wake The Dead” pulsates (although the rap portion may throw you for a loop at first listen), “Burn Me Down” rocks “Just another part of your game, girl you pull me into the flame, then you burn me down.” and the driving “High On A Country Song” has all of the makings of an anthemic crowd pleaser.
The album is rounded out with two ballads, the flawless “To Save Something You Love” and the delicate, sparse “One More Chance To Stay.” The former is about the fragility of love, realizing that if you do not value someone important to you, you can lose them, while the latter - one of those songs I like to call 'hit you in the heart ballads' – focuses on persevering despite difficulties. “So kiss you once to show you that I want you/And twice to show you I will not let go/And when you are lost out in the darkness/I will be the light to guide you home.”
The album concludes with an acoustic rendition of “Secondhand Smoke” which allows the song to elicit an even greater response from, and have a greater effect on, the listener. (Let the dead air play through to discover an acoustic version of “The Lucky Ones” as well).
Breathless finds Riggs capturing and further refining, yet also expanding, the songwriting and musicality that were displayed on his well-received previous album Out Run The Sun into a collection that is dynamic, heartfelt and satisfying.
Singer-songwriter Rich O’Toole’s prior single, “Talk About The Weather” rapidly climbed the Texas Radio Charts becoming his fifteenth top ten hit….a feat he is bound to repeat with his latest, the emotionally charged ballad “Back To Back,” which was released February 12th.
“Back To Back” is one of those special songs where melody and lyrics fit together perfectly to successfully convey the overall emotion of a song so that you truly feel it. Written by O’Toole and Evan Gamble, “Back To Back” tells the story of a couple who have just had a fight and like many, have gone to bed angry, turned away from one another, facing opposite sides of the room. It’s clear he did something (involving another woman) that deeply hurt her, but it’s unclear whether it was intentional or accidental; whether it was a simple glance or infidelity. Whatever the cause, one thing is certain - he realizes he made a mistake, is genuinely sorry and wants to make it right. It’s an impassioned plea delivered by O’Toole whose vocals communicate an ache and a genuine remorse that heighten the song's already strong impact.
"If you look me in the eye, I’ll take it back
I can’t do this another night
Well everything I did was wrong
I’d do anything for us to get along, but now we’re laying back to back
What can I do to prove to you that you’re my one and only girl?
If I turn around will you turn around?
You know I need that smile in my world
But I can’t look you in your eyes when we’re laying back to back"
Hailing from Alabama, The Vegabonds - Daniel Allen (lead vocals/guitar), Bryan Harris (drums), Richard Forehand (guitar/vocals/pedal steel/mandolin), Paul Bruens (bass) and Beau Cooper (piano/organ/vocals) - are preparing to release their fourth album, What We’re Made Of on February 19th. Produced by Tom Tapley (Elton John, Bruce Springsteen), this new project (their first since 2012) consists of twelve songs that relate true to life stories of heartbreak, love, and struggle delivered with a passionate, soulful rock n’ roll sound.
With it’s irresistible melody and sing along chorus, opening track and first single, "Oh My Lord" tells of the inner battles front man Daniel Allen experienced following the loss of his grandfather. That’s followed by the soulful, keys laden “Where We Used To Go” which simply yet realistically relates growing up and growing old giving up your dreams (and sometimes being miserable), losing touch and yearning for “the flame to burn like it used to.” In the same vein are “The Hammer” with its pulsating drums and electric guitar solos, detailing the fact that what you dream and what you have to do to get by are often two different things, and the poignant “Hard Road Home” disclosing the soul searching in trying to balance that need between the road and relationships. “I’m living this dream and I’m trying to find the grace to sustain me/The temptation’s too much and I give into the rush one more time.”
The notion of a journey, whether professional or personal, the past, present or future is woven throughout many songs including the hard-driving “Cruise On,” the southern rocker (a la Whiskey Myers) “Blood To Roam” where he relays how the need to ramble is part of who he is, “Take me as I come and release me when were done” and the mid-tempo “Take A Ride” which tackles life struggles, needing to get to those people and places that make your heart happy.
The varied aspects of relationships are also found on What We’re Made Of including the groovy “Best Of Me” and the bluesy rocker (with some snazzy organ), “Miss You Blues” in which he’s trying to ease the pain, wanting to find strength somewhere, anywhere, after she walked out. “Hope She’s Still Mine” tells the story of a man breaking out of jail to see his girl while “Ghost Town” centers on a plea to be together. The album appropriately concludes with the rootsy title track which narrates his youth and how that shaped him.
Relatable, heartfelt songs about life’s highs and lows accompanied by soaring harmonies, great melodies, and gritty guitar grooves….it’s the Vegabonds and it's what they’re made of.
Originally from California, but long based in Austin, Jimmy and the Mustangs have been playing rootsy rockabilly for generations. This past October, front-man Jimmy Haddox, along with Mustangs Jim "J.T." Trimmier (sax), Tom Coplen (guitar), Dylan Cavaliere (upright bass), and John Powell (percussion) released their first new album in decades, Another Round. Brimming with a fabulous retro rock and roll flair (the image of greasers and hot rods immediately come to mind) and filled with horns, electric guitars and lively irresistible melodies, Another Round is a record you won’t be able to sit still for.
Things kick off with the swingin’ sound of “Roll The Dice” and “Cherry Bomb,” and keep on pulsating from there with the straight up rock and roll feel of “I Won’t Cry for You” to the doo-wop sound of “Hotel San Jose” and the humorous, two-steppin’ melody of “Bourbon Street,” which finds him broken hearted “I’m livin’ on Bourbon Street go swimming in Tequila creek, wash my face in a bathtub gin, Southern Comfort is my best friend.” The album also includes “Ready, Set, Go!” and “Rock My World,” both of which will make you feel like doing the Hand Jive, and the ballad “Love Is Just Pretend” which finds him innocently praying for love longing to hear those three important words. The project closes with the driving “Long Black Train” about being off the rails because his baby left him leaving you ready to press repeat and take the record for Another Round.
Currently a student at Berklee College of Music, Mckenna recently released her first EP, Fuel Up, a collection of four songs all of which Mckenna either wrote or co-wrote. All four tracks relate realistic, insightful stories of relationships beginning with opening track “Kerosene,” which with its rootsy feel, tells of a relationship that doesn’t hold a spark anymore. “I wanna be like kerosene burnin' at a thousand degrees/I wanna feel the heat like how we used to be.” The melancholy title track follows, exploring a relationship that has spun off track and needs some work, with her realizing they can’t wait for the issue to “fix itself.”
Mckenna’s vocals are gentle, soothing (recalling Sarah McLachlan), yet effectively convey what they need to whether that is sadness, hope or even nostalgic longing, which can be found on “The Last Time I Was Me.” The shuffling, pedal steel laden track fondly remembers those days of happiness filled with “green fields and sunshine, button downs and bathing suits…..when sparks turned into flames” when she was truly herself. The EP is rounded out with “Lean On Love” where a daughter goes to her mother for comfort after experiencing infidelity, just as she did. It’s heartbreaking, incredibly honest and real - love hurts and for some it’s a fairy tale that won’t come true. “I found lipstick on his t-shirt/I guess this is a stain that won’t fade away/You can’t lean on love it it wasn’t really there/You can drown in lust for a little while but you have to come up for air.”
Feed your soul with Mckenna's heartfelt debut and Fuel Up.
Powerhouse. It’s the one word that will immediately come to mind (while your mouth drops to the floor and you stop in your tracks) when you listen to Julie Rhodes’ debut album Bound To Meet The Devil.
Not even two years ago, Rhodes was working in an ice cream parlor when she attended artist Jonah Tolchin’s show and by happy accident, Tolchin heard her singing along to one of his songs. Later they talked, and well, the rest is history. Soon after, Tochin was co-producing and playing guitar on Rhodes debut album, which will be released on February 26th. Recorded in her native New England as well as at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals and mixed by Grammy winner Sheldon Gomberg, the LP also includes contributions from Roll Hall of Fame inductee Spooner Oldham, Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins, and Greg Leisz (Paul Westerberg, Lucinda Williams).
The eleven track collection includes all originals - sans a rendition of the Son House standard “Grinnin’ In Your Face” - that will win you over not just with their melody and lyricism, but with the intensity of Rhodes’ vocals as well. Her powerful, assured voice – fiery, impassioned, somber, fierce- will obviously draw justified comparisons to the greats like Joplin, James and Franklin or even male contemporaries like Nathaniel Rateliff, but Rhodes remains uniquely her own. She possesses a voice, that no matter whether she’s singing soul, blues, funk or gospel, tells one thing: truth.
The collection kicks off with the stomping bluesy tale of rejection, “In Your Garden” and continues with the soul-funk of “Collector Man” (a relatable and real song about the working man) and the gospel hymn sound of “Faith” which sends the all-important inspirational message that you have to believe things will work out to be happy. Rhodes slips in some retro soul on “Holes,” reggae on “Hey Stranger” and funky soul on “Hurricane” where she growls, trumpets blaring “I don’t mind a little heartache sometime…thunder call me, lightning strike me down.” The beautiful ballad “See The Sun” (with its Righteous Brothers aura) encourages one to remember they’re not alone in this world, while the pedal steel in “End of The Line” lends a solemn feeling to that all too familiar theme of the dissolution of a relationship. The album is rounded out by with the weariness of “Skyscraper Blues” (amplified by a bluegrass arrangement) and album closer, the heated “Key Won’t Unlock My Door” a duet about locking that one person out of your life for good.
Bound To Meet The Devil is music’s gain with Rhodes delivering a debut that’s a passionate, assured gem.
Being called “the future of country music” by Bobby Bare is a pretty heady title to live up to, yet Andrew Pope seems up to the challenge. His latest single is the heartbreak ballad, “Stormchaser.” The guitar and pedal steel that open the track draw you into this man’s sorrow of the woman he loves infidelity. Pope’s traditional vocals are perfectly paired with lyrics and melody that combine effectively to convey the hurt of being cheated on and yet somehow accepting, even seeking out, the pain that accompanies it. He seems ignited by the “lightning and thunder” that comes with this woman and is willing to chase this “storm” acknowledging that his “friends all call me crazy, well I just may be.”
"Bring on the thunder, I’m addicted to the sound
Hit me with a lightning strike
I’ll ride it all the way to the ground
I crave the hunger
When it comes to danger
I’m a ten-foot-tall bulletproof caped crusader
Blowing in like the wind hammer down trail blazer storm chaser"
Vocalist and songwriter Jane Kramer is set to independently release her second solo album, Carnival of Hopes, on February 26th. Produced by Adam Johnson and recorded at Sound Temple Studios in Asheville, the album features Chris Rosser [piano and harmonium], Eliot Wadopian [upright bass] and River Guerguerian [drums and percussion], trio Free Planet Radio, and bluegrass multi-instrumentalists Pace Conner [steel string, high string and baritone guitars, ukulele, mandolin, and backing vocals] and Michael Evers [dobro, banjo, mandolin, and backing vocals] as well as Nick Sanders [fiddle].
Carnival of Hopes contains ten songs, nine originals as well as Kramer’s rootsy rendition of Petty’s “Down South,” which showcase her ability to write incredibly honest, reflective, emotional (sometimes wrenching) songs that she conveys so stirringly through her delicate, honeyed vocals. The album kicks off with “Half Way Gone,” a two steppin’ honky-tonk delight (with some snazzy fiddle work) where even though she may not be the typical lady (“I walk like a Clydesdale horse/I cuss and carry on”), she still wants her man physically and emotionally present. A similar sentiment continues in “Your Ever-Green Heart” which opens with “Don’t you go spending cash or buy me diamonds and gold.”
Kramer writes with an awareness of our (female) imperfections; realistically and refreshingly painting us as multi-faceted individuals who make mistakes, experience insecurities, regret and worry. This is particularly evident on album highlight, “Good Woman” where she finds herself kicked out by a lover for the final time truthfully telling him, “I tried to settle down my soul, but the damn thing just wandered away.” Relationship and internal struggles continue throughout the album including on the somber, impactful title track about a dissolved relationship, “You found some better arms than mine to call you home at night.”, the horn drenched “Why’d I Do That Blues” and the shuffling “Truck Stop Stars” telling of a woman’s journey to find her true self before closing with the optimistic, bluegrass-spiritual “My Dusty Wings.”
Like the title implies, Carnival of Hopes presents a festival of emotions from a woman who is cognizant of the fact that life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but one who embraces hope, knowing that through hardship often comes something of beauty.
Rising Texas singer-songwriter Melissa Ratley is preparing to release a new single from her 2015 album, The Lonely View. "The One That Said It All" is the relatable story of a marriage - beginning with the knowledge that at times, it can be difficult, yet having the resolve to work hard and make it last. The mid-tempo tune's emotions, conveyed by Ratley's vocals as well as pedal steel and fiddle, soon take a turn with the realization that the relationship is damaged to the point where she has to move on, and knowing eventually everything will be okay.
"I gave everything I could so maybe we would look back and be proud
It was just to much for both of us to handle
But if you came back I'd make sure it'd be enough to stand tall
I lost my way, I've lost my mind
I made mistakes and I really tried to let this torn heart know that it would be okay."