Showing posts with label Album Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Album Reviews. Show all posts

Dec 10, 2021

Album Review / Jason Boland & The Stragglers / The Light Saw Me


By Megan Bledsoe

The idea that Jason Boland’s latest album is a concept record about alien abduction will be polarizing to many. It will be met with varying degrees of curiosity, suspicion, and skepticism. There will likely be those whose first inclination is to ignore it, if not because of its December release date, then certainly because of the strange narrative of a cowboy who is abducted by aliens in the 1890’s and transported a century into the future. But to overlook this album would be a disservice to both the listener and to the project itself, for not only has Jason Boland succeeded to pull off something entirely unique to country music with the telling of this story, he has also managed to do so in a remarkably accessible and compelling manner. This album is special both because it dares to tackle these subjects at all and because it is about much more than UFO’s and time travel; rather, this is simply the lens through which our narrator examines the world as he embarks on the existential search for truth and meaning that is common to us all.

As noted in “Transmission Out,” many of us are confronted, at some point in our lives, with the unexplainable. These confrontations can come in the form of religious experiences, visions, or, in our narrator’s case, the life-changing encounter of a mysterious light shining through the trees one night. “I saw the light, but more importantly, the light saw me,” Boland explains in the title track. The narrator is forced to reevaluate his view of the supernatural, and despite his warnings in “A Tornado & the Fool,” no one around him seems to pay attention. Nevertheless, he remains convinced of the things he saw, at once awed and horrified by this new reality, as conveyed in the stirring opener, “Terrifying Nature.”



Our hero, however, is concerned with far more than just convincing us of his encounter with the supernatural. Perhaps most troubling are his observations of modern society. Once he has arrived in the future, he is dismayed to learn that it is not the paradise he had imagined it might be. He comments on the ghosts of people “staring down at their phones” in the atmospheric “Straight Home” and on “Here for You,” he laments the people’s lack of care for the amount of oil they burn. On the same track, he asks himself, “Could humanity be in decline?” The future, it seems, is a lonely, godforsaken place, and this characterization of it by an outsider from the past paints a much starker picture than that which might have been conveyed had Boland chosen to write more directly about these subjects.

Throughout the journey, however, the one thing that seems to remain constant and true, even across the barriers of space and time, is love. The narrator promises that he will always be there for the ones he loves on “Here for You,” as he journeys away from them into the unknown. On “Straight Home,” he is simply looking for a way to reverse this course and return to the world he knew and the people he loves. The cover of Bob Childers’ “Restless Spirits” fits flawlessly into this narrative as well, as if the account of a wandering soul who is strengthened by the vision of his wife in the kitchen so that he can go on another day without her was especially written for the lost, lonesome cowboy of The Light Saw Me.

Sonically, this album contains some of the most engaging material from Jason Boland & the Stragglers in many years. Such a tale as this one is rarely communicated through the medium of country music, but, like all Jason Boland albums, this one is decidedly traditional, with plenty of fiddle and steel to go around. However, The Light Saw Me is also unique in that it captures more of the live feel of a Boland concert, with more extended solos and participation from the Stragglers than what is found on most of their studio albums. The Shooter Jennings influence in the production is evident and welcome as well, adding a darker edge and more of a country rock element to certain tracks. The extended outro of "The Tornado & the Fool” perfectly captures both the chaos of a tornado touching down and the battle raging within our narrator’s mind about the reality of what he has seen. The electric guitar riff on “Terrifying Nature” cannot be described as anything other than catchy, and the atmospheric feel of “Straight Home” enhances the desperation and loneliness conveyed by the lyrics. It is as though Boland, the Stragglers, and Jennings recognized instinctively that in order to draw listeners in, given the subject matter, extra care would need to be taken to ensure the songs were accessible musically, and indeed, that extra care is the intangible thing which elevates this album from a good one to an excellent, rare piece of art.

The endeavor to produce a concept record about alien abduction and time travel is something to be commended in and of itself, and especially the aspiration to render such a record within the scope of country music. Jason Boland & the Stragglers not only succeed in their endeavor, but also manage to deliver an album that is highly accessible, both musically and lyrically. The Light Saw Me is more than the story of a hapless cowboy forcibly being uprooted from his homeland and thrust into an uncertain future; rather, it is the universal, compelling tale of all who have wandered through this life searching for meaning and of the kind of love which, beyond all reason and across oceans of space and time, somehow seems to endure.

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The Light Saw Me is available everywhere now.

Nov 12, 2021

Josh Grider’s LONG WAY FROM LAS CRUCES is Pure Texas Enchantment

By Travis Erwin

Las Cruces sits less than thirty miles from Texas in the far South, Central part of New Mexico. Josh Grider hails from Las Cruces and the city, as well as his personal journey is at the heart of his new album, Long Way From Las Cruces. Now firmly rooted as one of the Texas music scenes most talented songwriters, Grider is almost the Jack Johnson of Texas music. Offering heartfelt lyrics that rely on softer emotions and tender observations, he doesn’t need to roll around in beer and smoke or flaunt his Texan-ness to try and be authentic. Grider simply opens his heart and soul and shares what’s inside and brings his music to life with genuine believability. This album, like his career speaks softly but deliberately and for me Grider is the poetic country voice the world needs more of. 


His delivery often reminds me of classic George Strait, except Grider is a far stronger songwriter. Relying on the creation of his own words more than his ability to find great songs to sing, Grider offers an emotional vulnerability that adds an extra depth to his work. I’ve had the pleasure of catching an intimate Grider show and hearing him talk about his music and perform it in a way that makes you the listener feel as if you too lived it. 


In many cases we have indeed lived it, because the writing is often universal, but the opening and title track of this album is more about Grider sharing his own journey than his attempt at uncovering broader truths. The swinging track, “Long Way From Las Cruces,” is a thank you to the life Grider’s been able to enjoy, thanks to his talents and those of us who appreciate them. 


 “Thank God It's Raining” is the type of track that brings those soft engaging emotions out all the more. Smooth and tranquil in ways many musicians run from while trying to entertain the masses, Grider is able to rely on simply and true emotions to keep you on the hook rather than false party narratives that rely more on commotion than emotion to sell the words.  


To that end, “Life's A Party” offers a contradictory feeling that truly makes you stop and think. Given the title, you expect a more raucous arrangement and vibe, but Grider takes a reflective look on that phrase. The vocals on this track certainly have a Strait edge to them, but the twist of a tired old refrain is what makes this track work. 


The slow almost melancholy run continues with “Can You Feel Me Missing You” and again Grider is a master at making you feel the emotion behind his words with an emotive delivery. This track did not quite hook me as well as the others on this album, but so much of music depends where the listener is in their own life so I have no doubt this track will speak more strongly for others than it did me at this time. 


Much of this album owes a nod to the 90s, back when Mainstream Country still had some soul and genuine emotion. “Two Truths And A Lie” certainly feels like a throwback to that era and yet, it doesn’t feel dated or out of step with contemporary ideals and thoughts. This makes it a strong almost timeless track that simply feels like the internal struggle we’ve all faced after a tough breakup. 


Grider shrugs off the sadness with a more up-tempo track about appreciating life. Despite the shift in energy, “Wanting What You Get” is not a party song, but a gratitude song about simply taking the time to enjoy life as it comes rather than fixating on all the things that haven’t gone as planned.  


We live in a world full of conspiracies and way-out-there ideas that seem to have no logical basis. Love has always been just as outlandish, and “I Know I Love You” plays with the comparison of trusting something you can feel, without truly seeing or knowing in the same way we know other things for certain.


The overall arc of Long Way From Las Cruces is one of discovery, admittance, and perhaps resolve as you accept life as it comes. We all tend to fight the current and try hard to hold on to the ideas and goals that are perhaps beyond their expiration date. No, life doesn’t follow the path any of us lays out along the way, but the truly happy and content recognize and adjust as detours come their way. The final track, “Boots On My Feet” really bring that point and this album home. 



Grider’s latest collection bucks the norms of most popular music that relies heavily on raucous feel-good vibes. Long Way From Las Cruces instead offers beauty and truth grounded in reality. This is no easy feat as, we often look to escape reality when being entertained, but Grider took a different approach by sharing his own experiences and takes on life. Much of the album was written in the build toward Grider’s 40th birthday, and the album certainly has this wise reawakening feel that we all go through as we adjust to what life is rather than what we once thought it might be. 


Maybe Long Way From Las Cruces is less about entertaining and more about enlightening, but in the end, the album and Josh Grider manages to accomplish both.  


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Long Way From Las Cruces is available today most everywhere you purchase or stream music.

Nov 5, 2021

Album Review / Charles Wesley Godwin / How The Mighty Fall

By Matthew Martin

Once you've heard Charles Wesley Godwin's voice, it's hard to forget. It's immediately recognizable and it carries a weight unlike many of his contemporaries. When I first heard CWG's debut album, Seneca, I was immediately hooked. The album was rich with Appalachian music and storytelling. Godwin's voice singing about coal and mining mishaps felt intimate to him and his background as a West Virginian. I saw him numerous times over the years when he would come to DC. I would tell as many friends as I could about him. These friends were usually also hooked at first listen. Needless to say, I needed more and more and it felt like the new album was going to never come soon enough.


Now, 2 years after his debut, we are getting that follow up, How The Mighty Fall. And let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. On CWG's sophomore effort, we get everything we loved about that debut but amped up. We get an album that only CWG could make for the times. Songs filled with death, love, and hope but with that Appalachian spin. 


The album opens up with a soft, mountain tune about traveling and constantly being on the move. When the fiddle begins, you know this is not the same style of country music you may get out of OK or TX, or TN for that matter. This is Mountain music. This is real Appalachian music. The scratch of the fiddle is an incredible sound that evokes so much emotion. I really appreciate the touch of that fiddle throughout the album. We then get a strong set of songs that includes the lost-love masterpiece, “Jesse.” CWG can make a mountain out of a mole hill. And this song is proof of such. Taking a graffiti covered bridge and turning that on its head to lament lost love and thusly turning a blind eye to that lost love. This is my favorite song on the album. 



The album never lets up from there. The two most surprising songs I found on the album were "Needle Fall Down" and "Cranes of Potter" showing off CWG's ability to craft a beautiful song around tragic topics. "Needle Fall Down" depicts a man at the end of his rope reflecting on the song playing before taking his life. Then we get "Cranes of Potter" about a mad man killing the woman he loved. They are stunningly beautiful songs only made more painful and striking by CWG's powerful voice. It's possible someone with a lesser voice would not be able to pull off "Needle Fall Down" but CWG does so deftly and with grace. 


But, don't be fooled into thinking this is a low-key affair. CWG also has a crackerjack band on this release and they let loose for a few songs that absolutely make me pine to see these songs live (when I'm going back to shows since I have a dang 2 month old now y'all!). "Gas Well,” "Blood Feud,” and "Strong" are blood pumpers. Also, bonus points if you knew who Prefontaine was (I did not...). Again with "Strong" we get that scratched fiddle that sounds like it was made for CWG songs. The lead guitar licks on this one are compelling as well. 


This is the album I was waiting for from CWG. I don't know that he could have followed up his debut with a stronger album. I know this dude is going to be huge. He's got the songwriting chops, the voice, and the backing band to really make a name for himself and he's well on the way to doing so. If you aren't on the bandwagon, hurry up and hop on. Go ahead and buy this album and everything CWG touches. It's all proving to be gold.


How The Mighty Fall is available today everywhere you purchase or stream music.


Nov 2, 2021

Album Review / The Kentucky Headhunters / …That’s a Fact, Jack

By Bobby Peacock

I honestly did not expect to be reviewing a Kentucky Headhunters album in 2021. Usually by the time rockers hit their 60s, they mellow out, phone it in, retire, or die. Not so with the Headhunters, who continue to find new ways to keep their Southern rock stylings fresh after all this time with …That’s a Fact, Jack.


What strikes me the most about this album is the variety of moods. Songs like "Gonna Be Alright,” "Watercolors in the Rain,” and the title track have various degrees of gloom to them, but all three times the gloom is lightened by a message that it's not too late. Even if it's raining in your town, the sun is still shining somewhere, promises the first of these three; "Watercolors in the Rain" emphasizes the desire to leave a good example for those who follow, and "That's a Fact Jack" offers a message to cross sociopolitical boundaries in favor of unity. The Headhunters haven't historically been the types to get topical (the excellent "Crazy Jim" off the last album being a noteworthy exception), but their execution is both poetic and hopeful.


"Watercolors" in particular pops with a softer than usual vocal turn from Richard, combined with an entire verse accompanied by just bass and finger snaps. This is all the more surprising in contrast to his harder-edged snarl on "That's a Fact Jack,” extremely well-suited to lines like "Since man has walked on this earth / Greed has held his hand.” I could easily see this song slipping into a Sturgill Simpson album.


Richard Young's son, John Fred, brings in his bandmates in Black Stone Cherry to add a more modern songwriting edge to "How Could I.” While the lyrics look simple on paper, the turns of phrase and derivations from verse-chorus structure pop out of the contemporary cadence in telling of a guy who messed things up and wants his relationship back to the way it was. The fact that the song has a lively groove inspired by "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" doesn't hurt, either.


"Susannah" almost seems like a shout-out to the Tom Wopat song of the same name in its subject matter of a traveling man and his lonely wife. Unlike that song, this one gives us more detail about how they met, and about what keeps the man on the road (his love of music). It's a great little character sketch the kind of which has been missing from country for so long. Also on the more conventionally country-rock side is "We Belong Together.” Greg Martin skillfully uses some iv chords, always a favorite of mine, to lead us into this understated little winner. Sometimes a good thing works out despite the differences in ingredients -- the rebellious man and the wise woman being a common example. I especially like the line "Never make me believe this is wrong.


That song finds Doug expanding his range with some well-placed falsetto, which returns for good measure on "Lonely Too Long.” From the title, it's not hard to tell what it's about (finding the perfect soulmate), and the lyrics are the least original on this set ("climb any mountain / swim the deep blue sea"). But there's no denying this song's groove. "Heart and Soul" moves back to the rockabilly side of things with a great four on the floor beat and no shortage of guitar. The lyrical content is more nuanced than you'd expect: the narrator's had an argument with his wife and is embarrassed because everyone knows... and worse, he knows that it was all over nothing but a passing glance at an ex. (As Clay Walker said, "I ain't saying that lookin's a crime.”)



For the first time since "Dry Land Fish,” drummer Fred Young gets to sing too. "Cup of Tea" has a chill and quirky vibe that brings to mind Jimmy Buffett. Its use of Cockney rhyming slang ("what's the lemon and lime") is extremely inspired in its description of that perfect woman. Let me say that again: a Southern rock-Buffett hybrid with Cockney rhyming slang. I told you these guys haven't run out of ideas. He returns to give a spacey blues-rock read of "Cheap Tequila.” Now, covering a song that's been done by such legends as Rick Derringer and Johnny Winter is a high bar to clear, but their take on this well-worn yet well-aged tale of "wash[ing] yourself away" shows that they're far from out of ideas when it comes to dusting off cover songs, either.


Next is "Shotgun Effie.” They originally cut this back in the 1970s when they were known as Itchy Brother. It's also the first time we get to hear Greg on lead vocals since then, and I'm surprised he didn't get a crack sooner. He's got a nicely rough-edged shout well-suited for a simple but effective look at a feisty woman (the Youngs' grandmother, in fact). Between that greasy slide guitar and the driving tempo, there's little change from the original 1974 cut -- but it's such a winner that almost nothing needed to be changed.


With just about anyone else, closing with a novelty song about a family fighting at Christmastime would be a tired old joke at best, and trolling at worst. But lyrics like "You know it wouldn't be Christmas without black eyes /  There's too many cooks in the kitchen / And too many kinfolks bitchin’,” combined with the laid-back and self-deprecating tone, make it a winner. This seems like a family that takes its brawls in stride, and perhaps there's a deeper message to that. We can't get along all of the time, but if we can roll with the punches and enjoy ourselves regardless, then what's wrong with that?


I've followed the Headhunters long enough to gain an ever-growing respect for their consistently high quality. Because they've been together for so long, they know how to make their sounds and influences work together. Even better, they still manage to do it in a way that yields new and interesting results on every subsequent album, and they still sound as energetic as they did on Pickin' on Nashville. The fact that so many songs on this album made me say "Huh, I've never heard them do that before" is a testament to their seemingly undying talent and passion.


I used star ratings back when I still wrote for Roughstock, so I'll do the same here. This one gets a full 5/5.


Sep 10, 2021

Album Review / RC & The Ambers / Big Country

By Megan Bledsoe


In order to fully understand and appreciate the debut album from RC and the Ambers, one thing must first be firmly established: this is not, nor is it attempting to be, a Turnpike Troubadours record. It is not even akin to the solo album by Kyle Nix, which carried many stylistic similarities to the Troubadours even though the lyrical content was quite different. This album presents a sound and style quite apart from anything yet recorded by either Turnpike or Nix. You won’t find a horn section on any Turnpike record, but the horns are a prominent feature of Big Country. Turnpike albums don’t generally employ zydeco rub boards either, but Amber Watson brings this to the band’s sound and gives the album a unique Cajun flavor. Perhaps RC Edwards himself described this project best when he said: “It was a chance for me and Hank [Early] to get weird and record some songs that I had been playing live.” This idea of “getting weird” must be accepted and embraced by the listener; then the true beauty of Big Country will shine forth.

This album never takes itself too seriously. The title track is an ode to former Oklahoma State University basketball player Bryant Reeves, complete with clips from Reeves’ days on the court. “Oklahoma Beach Body’ is at once a Red Dirt satire of bro country and a fun little number that might have found traction on 90’s country radio. “Drunk High and Loud,” often played live at Turnpike Troubadours shows, is much the same, managing to be fun and catchy without compromising the lyrics or insulting the intelligence of the listener. Even when the record opts for a deeper sentiment, it is in the form of songs like “Astronaut,” wherein RC Edwards muses about being a jigsaw puzzle and his lover being the missing part, and “”Oologah,” in which the heartfelt story of the circumstances surrounding a marriage proposal are offset by the description of the Oklahoma college football team beating “the “ever-livin’ dogshit” out of Missouri State.

But for all its humor and lighter moments, Big Country still captures a few moments of more serious introspection. “Fall out of Love,” first recorded on the Turnpike Troubadours’ self-titled album in 2015, strikes a different chord altogether when Edwards and Watson perform it as a duet. The horns provided by Cory Graves of Vandoliers also serve to add something new to the song. The horns bring a new dimension to the band’s cover of “Blues Man” as well, one of the highlights of the album.



A Turnpike record this is not, but it does bring some of the same  sense of place offered by many Troubadours releases. In addition to the aforementioned Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys being featured on this record, the album is sprinkled with references to Tahlequah and to the Cherokee people and captures the kind of charm that Tyler Childers brings to the mountains of Appalachia or that Red Shahan brings to the desolation of west Texas.


In short, Big Country is a unique and enjoyable listen. It is generally a lighthearted affair, and in some ways, this kind of album is exactly what the world needs at the moment. However, there are enough intervals of seriousness to add some weight to the record. With the horns and the zydeco elements, this release carries a sound unlike anything from Turnpike Troubadours and unlike almost anything in the current country space. Big Country is a solid debut from RC and the Ambers, and it will certainly be interesting to see where they will go in the future.

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Big Country is available today everywhere you purchase or stream music. 


Aug 27, 2021

Album Review / Grayson Jenkins / Turning Tides

Review by Trailer

A fast-learning late-bloomer, Grayson Jenkins wrote his first song at 21 and now 7-8 years later is releasing Turning Tides, his third full album. Its writing was completed before the pandemic and recording took place just a few months in but Jenkins decided to hold off on releasing it, leaving him on hold, mentally and career-wise. He considered hanging it up more than once in 2020, but thankfully he did not.


If you’re a first timer like myself, Grayson Jenkins has a warm, reedy voice that welcomes you right in. His bio mentions Eric Church and Keith Whitley as descriptors, but I’m hearing more Bruce Robison. None of those are comparisons he’d turn his nose up at, I’m guessing. The music is much the same - enveloping and hospitable, a chilled out honky-tonk experience.


There’s a lot of what I’d call ‘soothing darkness’ sonically on this record. - a low key, soft approach, that while far from sparse musically, gives Jenkins a lot of room vocally. What he does with that space is croon to us of lonely nights, anxiety, hard work, and glimmers of hope. 


The title cut is a main example of that sound of soothing darkness. Lyrically, though, it’s a ray of sun through drawn curtains, seeing hope after a hard time. Though written before these “crazy times,” one wouldn’t be wrong to apply the song to our current state. 


“Low Down Lady” is a shuffling bar room toe-tapper that seems custom made for a Texas dancehall. It never gets around to explaining why she’s a “bad low-down lady,” but you know he’s crazy for somebody he ought not be, and it really doesn’t matter with a song this damn fun. Piano, steel, and a guitar solo fill this one out to perfection.


One of the highlights of the album for me, “Picket Fences” was co-written with Nicholas Jamerson (he of much independent country affection and also half the duo Sundy Best). It’s a fiddle-heavy look at the life of a musician compared to that of the average thirty-something. “I’ll take my rambling, keep your picket fence,” sings Jenkins, more than satisfied with the path he picked.


Turning Tides is yet another entry in the seemingly endless parade of excellent albums out of the Bluegrass State. At this point I’m surprised burgeoning musicians don’t move to Kentucky to get a dose of whatever’s in that water. Anyway, this record, it’s a good one and with it, you can still get in relatively early on another artist who’s gonna be a stalwart in the scene for years to come. 


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Turning Tides is available today everywhere you get music, but especially right here. 


Jul 16, 2021

Album Review / John R. Miller / Depreciated

John R Miller’s, Depreciated, is an Album we can all Appreciate

Review by Travis Erwin


Time eventually comes for us all, but long before the Grim Reaper calls in our fate, we face diminishment in countless ways. John R Miller has taken both he tangible losses we see, as well as the ones we merely feel, and given us a collection of songs aptly titled Depreciated.


Th album opens with “Lookin Over My Shoulder,” a song that gives off a vagabond outlaw sense of wry humor. Sometimes you gotta sneak out of town, and sometimes you gotta tiptoe back so as not to face the wrath of an ex you left behind and this track brings that out with fearful tale about a man desperate to keep his whereabouts hidden from his ex, and the result feels like pure Honky-Tonk anxiety in all the best ways. 


The sad refrains of a life hard lived continues with “Borrowed Time” a track about the way fragility of our place in the world as well as the things we spend our time and money on. The bluesy down on your luck vibes work well here and the track reminds me of both Sturgill and vintage Waylon with a vocal style that also conjured thoughts of Billy Joe Shaver. This mix leaved Miller with a sound that is all his own, but still honors the voices who have obviously inspired his journey. 



There is a subtle shift with the third track, “Faustina.” This track has a meandering quality like that a lost, yet interesting soul puts off. This mirrors the up and down emotions of life and the songwriting pulls you in, but it is the honest, earnest delivery that brings the words home as you take on the miles alongside a road weary traveler. Lyrically this was my favorite track on the album.


Miller also devotes a lot of attention to his home region of West Virginia and the track “Shenandoah Shakedown,” reminded me a bit of the John Prine in its ability to capture the essence and lost paradise of a geographical area. “Comin Down” is another song about the urge to go back home amid the rut of adulthood and all the rote bits of responsibility that comes with it.   


Romances come and go for most of us, and “Old Dance Floor” takes us on a trip that conjures up the nostalgia of sawdust floors, cold beers, and the flicker of neon lights amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke. A classic two-step vibe carries the tune along and makes it feel like one you might have heard before even though you know that you have not. 


“Motor's Fried” is a fun ode to perseverance. To pushing on even when life hits those potholes a bit too hard. Saying to hell with it and burning it all down is a urge we’ve all fought and this track is sort of the motivational speech we need to not let the trials and tribulations wear us down and throw in the towel.  


Guy Clark was always one of my favorite writers and Miller’s track, “Back And Forth,” was a nice reminder that there are other strong writers out there capable of giving us music that falls in line with Clark’s brand of wit and wisdom. Clark is gone but John R Miller is part of a young guard who has picked up the torch and their talent pledges to carry it forward.  


“What’s Left Of The Valley” is an instrumental with a sort of a dark brooding undertone that contrasts the higher and lighter guitar melody over the top.  The piece conveys good emotion in its build and progression. 


“Half Ton Van” is another tongue in cheek ode to life’s mistakes. Every musician I’ve ever known has made purchase of a road dog at some point. Sometimes it turns out to be a greyhound that gets the band where it needs to go, and sometimes it turns up to be a mongrel that bits you at every turn. 


The last of the eleven track on the album is “Fire Dancer,” and lyrically this one was right there battling for favorite status. The progression of the word play pulled me along and I felt every emotion of a tale about things turning out differently than imagined. The mix of disappointment and nostalgia can be a sad one and it can lead us to take a destructive position but all we need s something to ground us or pull us back and this song very well could serve that role for those of us who have traveled down dark and dusty roads.


John R Miller is no newbie to the music world, but Depreciated, his debut with Rounder Records certainly puts his name up there with some of the best to ever pick up a pen or a guitar. No, there is nothing here that is likely to find great commercial success by Billboard or radio standards, and that is a true shame, but these are songs with grit and meaning, and in the end, those are the things that truly hold their value. That means this body of work will not depreciate, making the name of the album wryly ironic.      

 

Travis Erwin is an author and music reviewer. 

To find out more about his work follow him on Twitter @Traviserwin.  

Jul 9, 2021

Album Review / Tylor and the Train Robbers / Non-Typical Find

By Matthew Martin

When I was introduced to Tylor and the Train Robbers a couple of years ago on their album The Best of the Worst Kind, I fell in love with the band's particular brand of country music. The way Tylor Ketchum's voice has particular inflections that almost sound like a countrified Bob Dylan was unique. And the band was tight. They felt like they had a connection and of course they did and do- the band is made up of brothers (Tylor Ketchum, Jason Bushman, and Tommy Bushman) as well as Ketchum's father-in-law (Johnny Pisano). That unique connection makes the music feel connected and loose all at the same time. Everyone is on the same page making for a tight listen. 

 On the Trainrobbers' newest album, Non-Typical Find, we find the boys a bit more introspective than on their previous album. Considering this album was written and recorded during the nation-wide shutdown of 2020, that's no surprise. Partnering with Cody Braun (of Reckless Kelly fame), this album also has a really great production with a loose, familiar feel. The music let's Ketchum's words take center-stage with flairs along the way to add emphasis to the song. 

 The album kicks off with three really great songs that are going to be in heavy rotation for me over the next year. The standout here is "Worth The While." A song about feeling a little lost or out of touch and taking a different approach and/or point of view to try to gain new perspective, this feels like an almost anthem for where the country is at the moment. Yeah, sometimes we aren't going to get along, but if we can just try to see it from the other side's point of view, maybe we can learn to live for each other instead of ourselves.  

 The title track chronicles the discovery of bones by one of Ketchum's friends. Ketchum supposes what events may have transpired that may have led to this woman's remains ending up in this particular spot. The music almost belies the true nature of the song. At the base, this is a song about a death and the terribly sad discovery of the remains long after the death. But, the song is an uptempo, almost hopeful tune. It's the best song on the album, especially musically. The fiddle, the telecaster, and the pedal steel thread and weave together so perfectly.
 

The second half of the album is anchored by the song "Staring Down The North." With a crunchy slide guitar and menacing chords, this one tended to get under my skin and stay there a while after each listen. This one jams and showcases the Train Robbers' diverse, yet connected styles. The remainder of the album finishes with songs about trying to figure out your path and facing fears and depression ("Back The Other Way") and trying to always look for positive spins on current situations ("Silver Line"). 

Tylor and the Train Robbers are a band to keep watching. With their previous album and Non-Typical Find they are building the kind of catalog that is sure to keep people interested and I believe will continue to grow their fanbase. They are a tight family band with a hell of a songwriter at the helm. This album is worth your time. It's everything you want and need at this moment in time. I'm on the Train Robbers bandwagon. I think you should join me. Their magnum opus is still to come and I'll be here with open ears eagerly awaiting. 
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Non-Typical Find is available today everywhere you buy and stream fine music.

Apr 9, 2021

Album Review / Dallas Moore / The Rain



By Matthew Martin

There's something comforting about hard hitting country music. It feels like comfort. It feels like the songs are oddly specific to you or about you. Maybe I'm just projecting but, for me that's how it feels. It reminds me of home, of hearing someone like Hank Jr. or Marshall Tucker Band blasting from the pick-up trucks of either my high school or my Granddad's farm. Dallas Moore picks up the reigns from those 80s/90s artists who so deftly mixed honky-tonk country with just enough rock and roll to get the blood pumping.


Dallas Moore's lyrical abilities are on display on The Rain. Sure there are the same old country tropes of drinking and having a good time, but this album is so specific to this time and place we are in that it really feels brand new. On the title track, Moore uses water and rain to signify rebirth and starting over. It's a hell of a catchy tune and sets the tone of the rest of the album. It feels like after the year we've all had, a rebirth is necessary. We're going to return to normal hopefully very soon and it's going to really be something else. 



Where I think Moore's songwriting prowess truly shines are on the back to back songs "Better Days" and "Locked Down and Loaded." "Better Days" shines a light on the rather interesting people that we all have in our lives- the doom and gloom people, the conspiracy theorists, and the eternal optimists. Moore stares down these folks and recognizes there's room in the middle and there's always reason to keep pushing forward. Again, it feels like this song comes from a place of longing to be back to normal after the past year. This rolls into the next song, "Locked Down and Loaded." This is probably my favorite song on this album. The anxiety and fear of the unknown are all over the song. Not knowing exactly what is happening and the constant change in tone and medical advice near the beginning of the pandemic really had an effect on everyone. Moore paints his picture of being locked-down in Las Vegas vividly. I can't stop listening to this song.


Moore also sings about not having an exact place in this world, of being a drifter so to speak. I think "California Highway" and "Ain't No Place In The Sun" are songs that Moore uses to celebrate his status of not being part of the in-crowd. These are songs you can't help but believe are going to sound better on a hot, Summer day with the windows down. 


Lastly, on "In My Last Days" Moore really tugs at the heartstrings with a song from the point of view of a man who is on his deathbed and is trying to live out his last days as best he can, telling everyone how he feels and doing things he may have missed out on in the past. It is an incredibly effective song and it's hard to not get a little choked up on this one. We've all lost something or someone in the past year and the song just ties everything together in a beautiful melody of peace and acceptance.


I think the best thing about music is that we can all interpret it in many different ways. Maybe The Rain isn't so much steeped in the pandemic world we live in right now. But, it certainly feels like it to me. And I can't help but feel comforted by that. By knowing that we're all affected in one way or another, but we're all going to figure out a way through because that's just what we do. 


The Rain is available today everywhere you purchase or stream music.


Apr 2, 2021

Senora May's Second Release Has Her Dipping Her Toes Into Darker Water

By Robert Dean


Senora May's new record All of My Love is light years departed from her prior effort, 2018's Lainhart. I don't know if the pandemic affected the mood of this release, but let's say it's plenty darker, whereas its predecessor was relatively light and, well, homey. Weaved throughout All of My Love is a definite through-line of tangible atmosphere offering the listener a glimpse into the real songwriter, which May gives us that when things feel a little bleak, she delivers the goods. 

 

No two songs on All of My Love sound the same. It's always fascinating to hear an artist take risks, play with styles and see what sticks. The record has a variety of flavors with some Very Good Country Music. But, by and large, the darker songs on the record are the ones that shine, despite their inherent murk. The album's intro, "Intertwine," is haunting, moody, beautiful, and easily the album's strongest song. This is the Senora May I want to hear more from.



"Love you More" features a dirty guitar that conjures up Grunge-era feelings, and it works. It’s got serious “child of the 90’s vibes” and I’m here for that all day. Senora May's wheelhouse is playing with the songs that aren't so downhome country, but instead, the more she drifts into the rock and roll, the darker melodies, there's a sense of real identity. "Colors" is another strong track on the record, with its Cure-like guitar riffing. 


Again, playing outside of the lines is when May does her best work. The record is strong. Experiencing whatever void May is capable of sticking her toes within allows the listener to make an unspoken agreement of “Yes, I know that feeling, too,” and that space is something we all can universally relate to, given the year we’ve all day. Some sunny music is great and all, but we’re still shaking off the frost and it’s going to take a little bit before we’re all feeling 100% human again. Till then, those bitter pills can taste like a candy we need. 

 

Whenever Senora May is allowed to get out there and play this new batch of songs live, I'm positive they'll jump, All of my Love is a solid record. But, moving forward, I'd love to see Senora May release a few e.p. 's dabbling, just giving us a taste of what her darker side is capable of offering. I bet the results would be incredible. With a few hints present on All of My Love, we could be experiencing the crucial stepping-off point for a flower that grows in the moonlight.


All of My Love is available everywhere you consume music.

Mar 18, 2021

Album Review / Morgan Wade / Reckless


Review by Trailer

Buzzing, passionate, vibrant. That’s what Reckless sounds like to me. There’s an indefinable quality to Morgan Wade’s music that goes beyond those three descriptors. Just a certain something going on between her voice and my mind…an electricity…an “it” factor. She’s got it in spades. 


The opening song “Wilder Days” kicks off the album with a yearning. It’s a really early song-of-the-year contender that finds Morgan intrigued by her man’s past. While she doesn’t necessarily want to find out every detail, just knowing he used to be a wild one invigorates the present relationship. The song falls somewhere between Americana and late-90s alt-rock to these ears, and that’s an ‘in the wheelhouse’ space for me.



“Other Side” is almost literally the other side of that song’s coin. She sings of a friend or lover who’s seen the crazy days with her in tow. It’s reassuring knowing someone has seen you at your lowest, knows all your flaws, and still has your back. 


The closing track “Met You” strips back the electric buzz and it’s just Morgan and little else. It finds her in one of those dark moments, alone and regretting someone left behind, and considering what that’s driven her to. “I’m well aware that I might not ever find glory, but like Hemingway and Hadley, it’s not the end of our story” she sings, keeping hope alive. 


There are notes of Lucinda and Elizabeth Cook …and Garbage and Matchbox 20, oddly enough, in Morgan Wade’s presentation, and I can’t get enough of it. There’s a knowing tone of confidence mixed with a questioning undercurrent of sadness all through the album. She’s enough of the way through the journey of finding herself to have an air of comfort taming the tension. The balance of those two feelings makes Reckless a real winner.


Reckless is available everywhere you buy or stream music tomorrow.

Feb 12, 2021

Album Review / Mac Leaphart / Music City Joke

Wry Smiles for this Serious Album -- Music City Joke by Mac Leaphart


by Travis Erwin

 

I’ll start this review with a confession. I had never heard of Mac Leaphart when I took the assignment to write this review. I took the assignment and frankly put off diving in until he eleventh hour of my deadline. Three tracks in I regretted my procrastination because I could have first listened to this album weeks before I did. 

Music City Joke is an album that is sneaky good with simply intelligence and honest observation at the heart of the writing and a traditional sound to the music. “El Paso Kid” is a classic storyteller song delivered in that tender space between spoken word and Folk ballad. There are hints of John Prince and Robert Earl Keen in this story of an abandoned baby which ushers in this album quite well. Leaphart’s vocals are not going to wow those looking for the shiny, but it will wrap around those who appreciate honest emotion. 

Remind me of Jason Isbell singing an old Mac Davis track, “The Same Thing” is a nicely written unpretentious song from a songwriter who knows what he wants to say. The whiskey burn of a classic 70s Country song, and the smooth delivery of a songwriter’s intellect will quench your thirst on the track, “Blame On The Bottle.” The Honky-Tonk vibes give way to more a Hillbilly Rockabilly with a dash of Zydeco on “Honey, Shake!” This faster tempo track would be welcome on any dance floor come Saturday night, and while this track comes with a bit more vocal grit, it still feels like the kind of fun that you regret the next morning.

I tempted to describe “Ballad of Bob Yamaha or A Simple Plea in C Major” as Hayes Carll meets Blaze Foley, but the fact is Mac Leaphart sounds like so many different artists at once that you have no choice but to realize he is an artist all to his own. Sure, the influences are there but it is the overlapping, swirling whirls of these venerated influences that produces Mac Leaphart’s own voice and style. This is a track that will both make you smile and think, and in fact you can say the same for most of the songwriting on this album. 

Music City Joke” utilizes the power of honest observation and a genuine point of view to deliver words that talented writers make seem so simple but are in fact, ever-so-hard to distill down in a meaningful way. Leaphart does with ease through the album and here on the namesake track. “That Train” is the most commercial song on the album, but also my least favorite cut on the album. I think perhaps the metaphor and glory days of the train have been tackled in so many songs that it is a tough land for me personally, but for others this relatable metaphor will no doubt be their favorite as it is the most likely track to gain radio play. 



The writer in me, fell hard for the imagery and metaphor of “Window From The Sky.” This is the kind of truth we all need to hear from time to time as we avoid flying after and into the wrong thing. The grind of daily life is a toll we all pay and “Every Day” is relatable because of that. The smooth progression and emotional turning of the wheels gives this track a pulse uplifting in its honest relevancy. The entire album has a Kristofferson kind of vibe and it is especially strong on this track. Even if you’ve never been to Nashville’s actual “Division Street,” you can appreciate this track about chasing your shiny dreams in a place where the sparkle is hard to find by the harsh glare of morning light. We all tend to fool ourselves that the underbelly of what we want is all too often a reality rather than a mere speed bump. 

I do regret the weeks I could have been listening to this album and it is an early favorite here in 2021. I love hearing threads of influence from so many of my favorite artists, and I appreciate Mac Leaphart’s ability to tip his hat to them, without losing his own voice and style. This is an album I will listen to for years to come and that makes him far from a Music City Joke in my eyes.  



Music City Joke is available everywhere today.





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