Review: The Mastersons’ “Transient Lullaby”

By Paul T. Mueller
Transient Lullaby, the most recent album by The Mastersons – singer/guitarist Chris Masterson and singer/multi-instrumentalist Eleanor Whitmore – reads as an account of the couple’s musical and personal lives. Marked by well-crafted lyrics and beautiful harmonies, these songs form an insightful look at the highs and lows of a life of almost constant togetherness, on and off the stage. They’re backed by Masterson’s excellent guitar playing and Whitmore’s fine performance on pretty much anything with strings, including but not limited to guitars, violin, cello and mandolin.

The album’s sequence seems to track the arc of a relationship; the 11 tracks cover a lot of emotional ground, and easy answers are in short supply. The first track, “Perfect,” sums up the beginning of a relationship, with a mix of wariness – “You seem like a great find/But I’m broken, so please be kind” – and optimism – “We’re not perfect, but we’ll turn these tears to gold.” Conflict surfaces in the title track, in the struggle between personal bonds and professional demands: “It’s time to go/It’s been great, but I can’t stay long.”

Several of the songs that follow explore, with sometimes painful honesty, the everyday conflicts that challenge relationships. The titles hold clues: “You Could Be Wrong,” “Fight,” “Don’t Tell Me to Smile,” “This Isn’t How It Was Supposed to Go.” But it’s not all darkness. “You are my light,” the couple sings on “Shine On.” “We’re gonna shine on/Gonna shine on.”

By the end of the album, restlessness seems to have won out. “The time has come for us to part ways,” Masterson sings on “Happy When I’m Movin’,”the last “official” track. “ ’Cause we both know/I’m happy when I’m movin’.” That would make for a sad ending if not for the bonus track, “Anchor,” which closes a lyrical circle by echoing a line in the opening track – “Can’t you feel me? I’m your anchor” – with a similarly upbeat sentiment. “ ‘Cause I want to be right by your side,” they sing. “I promise you/In a world untied, you’re my anchor.”

Instrumental support comes from Andrew Pressman and the late George Reiff on bass, David Boyle on keyboards, and Falcon Valdez, Cully Symington and Conrad Choucroun on drums.

Reissue: B.J. Thomas’ complete Columbia singles

By Ken Paulson

We’ve written in the past about B.J. Thomas’ continuing vibrancy as an artist, most recently during his appearance at the Franklin Theater in greater Nashville this spring.
His concert longevity has been fueled by multiple decades of hits, as we’re reminded by the new Real Gone Music release New Looks from an Old Lover: The Complete Singles.
Thomas had his first hits on Scepter Records in the ’60s, piled up more hits in the ’70s on MCA and ABC and then gracefully moved to Columbia in 1983, where he had several more hits, largely on the country charts. On top of all of that, he had a highly successful career in Christian music.
None of this new collection is “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On my Head,” but it’s well-crafted and throughly enjoyable pop music by one of the genre’s best vocalists.
Highlights include “As Long as We’ve Got Each Other,” (Yes, from Growing Pains), “New Looks from an Old Lover,” “Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned-Love,” “Two Car Garage” and “Rock and Roll Shoes” with Ray Charles.

 

New releases: Slaid Cleaves, Calico

Review: Gurf Morlix’s “The Soul & the Heal”

By Paul T. Mueller

On his latest CD, The Soul @ the Heal, Austin-based singer-songwriter Gurf Morlix celebrates humanity in all its flawed glory. These 10 songs comprise an unsparing examination of what’s good and what’s not so good in people, all seen through Morlix’s critical but sympathetic lyrics and conveyed in his familiar gruff voice.

Now in his mid-60s, Gurf Morlix has had the opportunity to observe a wide variety of people, from his early years in upstate New York through his long musical career in places like Nashville and Austin. It’s a safe bet he’s known the subjects of these songs, or people much like them. Some of his characters aren’t very likable – for example, the narrator of the ominous “Bad Things,” who insists, not entirely convincingly, that he’s “a good man who may have done some bad things.” Some, such as the wounded-by-love protagonist of “I’m Bruised, I’m Bleedin’,” come across as more victim than perpetrator.

But amid the darkness, there is also light. “Love Remains Unbroken” celebrates the emotional connections that help us through tough times; “Right Now” is an ode to focusing on the present instead of dwelling on the past or the future; “Quicksilver Kiss” recalls the first flowering of new romance; “Move Someone” is a plea for human interaction.

The contradictions of life are neatly summed up in “The Best We Can,” the album’s closing track, which is built around what Morlix has described as a “pretty chord” of the kind he rarely uses. “Ain’t none of us are noble/We lead tawdry little lives/We’re animals roaming the land,” he sings matter-of-factly. “We might be made of stardust, but that don’t make us special/And we gotta do the best we can.” It’s not exactly a rousing pep talk, but Morlix’s gentle, jazzy guitar and restrained optimism make for a welcome message for anyone dealing with the daily grind.

The songs’ thematic contrasts are echoed by the artwork of the CD cover – on the front a cross-section of a cherry, bright red and shaped like a heart, and on the back an amorphous splatter, also bright red, that looks a lot like blood.

In addition to producing, Gurf Morlix handled all of the singing here and much of the playing – guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion. Other contributors include Rick Richards on drums, Ray Bonneville on harmonica and Nick Connolly on B3 organ.

New release: Two Tracks’ “Post Card Town”

Americana Music News – Coming May 19 is Postcard Town , the new album from the Wyoming-based Two Tracks. It’s clearly a tightly-knit band with comfortable harmonies and a fun approach.

They reached out to Will Kimbrough to produce this set and that has paid dividends.

Here’s their mini-documentary on the making of “Postcard Town”:

Review – Rodney Crowell’s “Close Ties”

by Paul T. Mueller – There’s a little looking forward, a lot of looking back, and more than a hint of unfinished business in Rodney Crowell’s latest collection, Close Ties. The last comes courtesy of a couple of songs that reference Susanna Clark, wife of Guy Clark, Crowell’s early mentor and later peer (and competitor). In “Life Without Susanna,” Crowell describes her as “the most near perfect woman I’d ever seen” and “the most worthy opponent that I’ve ever known.” But he also talks about the darker days that followed. “Life without Susanna started when Townes Van Zandt died,” he sings “She made the bed inside her head a shelter… Nothing pierced the fortress inside her mind.” In “Nashville 1972,” Crowell describes his arrival in Music City and the beginnings of his complicated relationship with the Clarks: “I found my way around this town with a friend I made named Guy/Who loved Susanna and so did I.”

Falling into the “looking back” category, in addition to the above, is “East Houston Blues,” which recounts Rodney Crowell’s hardscrabble childhood and adolescence. A glimpse of the future comes in “I Don’t Care Anymore,” in which the singer contemplates life with less concern with the trappings of success and more comfort with the man he’s become.

Crowell’s introspective bent manifests itself in “Reckless,” in which he describes a dream fueled by the tension between temptation and guilt. In “Forgive Me, Annabelle,” he sings of belatedly coming to terms with the end of a relationship, and with his responsibility for that event.

One of the album’s more interesting tracks, in terms of both subject matter and songcraft, is “It Ain’t Over Yet,” which seems to take the form of a three-way dialogue between Crowell, Guy Clark and Susanna Clark. The song features John Paul White and Rosanne Cash as stand-ins for the Clarks, imparting such wisdom as “Here’s what I know about the gifts God gave/You can’t take ’em with you when you go to the grave” (Guy/White) and “I’ve known you forever and it’s true/If you came by it easy, you wouldn’t be you” (Susanna/Cash).

Close Ties works pretty well as a summing-up of an illustrious career. But there’s also the sense that, at 66, Rodney Crowell has much more to offer.

Other notable guests include guitarists Steuart Smith, Tommy Emmanuel and Jedd Hughes, bassist Lex Price and Michael Rhodes, drummers Ian Fitchuk and Jerry Roe, and singer Sheryl Crow.

The Whiskey Gentry’s new album “Dead Ringer” released

The Whiskey Gentry have just released their first album since 2013 and it marks a vibrant step forward for this Atlanta-based band. The talented Lauren Staley remains at the forefront, singing songs that draw on the joys and travails of playing music for a living. “Dead Ringer” captures the hunger for affirmation – “Everybody tells me I’m a dead ringer for a more famous girl on the radio” and the English degree left behind – “If you want to talk Shakespeare, then now’s your chance.”

“Dead Ringer” highlights include the blistering “Paris,” “Rock & Roll Band,” “Following You” and a wonderful cover of Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache.”

The Whiskey Gentry are on tour this spring, with upcoming dates in Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. – Ken Paulson

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Re-issue: Lesley Gore’s “Love Me By Name”

By Ken Paulson

Real Gone Music remains a great friend to fans of ’60s pop music queens, with a fine catalog recognizing the legacies of Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Jackie DeShannon, and recently,  Lesley Gore. Following up their reissue of her Someplace Else Now, Real Gone Music has issued an expanded edition of the 1976 album Love Me By Name.

This adventurous album with a sci-fi cover reunited Lesley Gore with producer Quincy Jones, who recorded all of her early “It’s My Party”-era hits. Lesley hadn’t had much success in the ’70s, and this was a stab at giving her a contemporary sound.

It succeeded in doing that, though the album didn’t find an audience. Love Me By Name features an all-star group of players (Herbie Hancock, Harvey Mason, Jim Keltner and  Dave Grusin among them) , and includes “Sometimes,” a performance with the then-emerging Brothers Johnson.

Lesley co-wrote the songs with Ellen Weston, and they ‘re well-crafted. I’ve long admired “Immortality,” the single from the album. It’s about reincarnation or more precisely bouncing back from death. It is the peppiest song ever about the afterlife and features an 11 syllable hook: “Im-im-im-im-im-mo- mo – Imortality.”

Lesley Gore had a rich writing and recording career long after the “party” was over. This new collection captures some of her most ambitious later work.

New: Mavericks, Rodney Crowell, Drew Holcomb

Delbert McClinton’s “Prick of the Litter”

Americana Music NewsDelbert McClinton is about to release “Prick of the Litter,” his 19th album. We spoke with him on board his annual Sandy Beaches music cruise, a weeklong music festival at sea that features the Mavericks, Marcia Ball, Teresa James, World Famous Headliners and many more country, blues and Americana artists.

New releases: Paul Thorn, Kimbrough & DeMeyer

Americana Music News – New and recent releases:

Review: John Egan’s “Magnolia City”

By Paul T. Mueller

egan_magnolia_150On his latest collection, Magnolia City, Houston-based singer-songwriter John Egan goes back to the basics – a stomp board, a couple of National steel guitars, and a voice well suited to a 10-song mix of classic blues and folk songs and well-crafted originals.

Although Egan seems comfortable fronting a band, he’s more often to be found playing on his own, and he has said that Magnolia City is an effort to reproduce the feel of those solo gigs. It succeeds, fueled by Egan’s skilled picking and slide work and his minimal but effective percussion. His singing is improving with age; here he demonstrates a range of styles, from the howling and growling of an old-time bluesman to more contemporary crooning as the material dictates.

The original songs include the soulful blues of “Harder Than a Stone,” the gentle lament of “Looking for a Place to Fall” and the more raucous blues-rock of “Where the Angels Fly.” The quiet tone of “It Ain’t the Gun” contrasts with its tough-minded message, denouncing the violence that’s become all too common in Houston and elsewhere. The introspective “Man I’ll Never Be,” also on the quieter side, deals with love and expectations.

John Egan pays tribute to a predecessor and fellow Houston bluesman with fine renditions of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Once a Gambler” and “Mojo Hand.” He also takes on Townes Van Zandt’s “Marie,” and if his matter-of-fact reading of that ballad’s sadder-than-sad lyrics doesn’t quite match the pathos Van Zandt brought to them – well, whose could? More successful is a lively reimagining of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” featuring a little less twang in the vocals and a little more in the strings.

Clean production by Egan and Steve Christiansen complements the music, as does the CD’s simple sleeve, featuring monochrome images by Houston photographer Ray “Texas Redd” Redding.

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Guy Clark’s Dualtone work collected

New: Molly and Me’s “Old Friend”


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New release: Farewell Milwaukee’s “FM”

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Carolyn Sills Combo’s ‘Dime Stories Vol. 2″

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New: Balsam Range’s “Mountain Voodoo”

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Review: Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Silver Tears”

 

silvertears_160By Paul T. Mueller – With his new album Silver Tears, Aaron Lee Tasjan nails an impressive achievement – channeling a roster of worthy influences while remaining true to his own voice and vision. Tasjan, an accomplished singer-songwriter and guitarist based in East Nashville, leads off with “Hard Life,” which does in fact deal with difficulties, but in a bouncy pop style that brings to mind Harry Nilsson. “Little Movies” casts life in cinematic terms – “Watch the day unfold in little movies / With silver tears that sparkle from my eyes” – recalling John Lennon in both its arrangement and its lyrics. The dramatic “Ready to Die” evokes Warren Zevon in its fatalistic lyrics (“I’m ready to die / For a worthy cause / It’s ’cause I’m tired of feeling bad”).

Tasjan, who’s done stints with the New York Dolls and drivin n cryin in addition to his solo work, is a master of many musical styles, as shown here on the introspective ballad “Refugee Blues,” the soulful twang of “Memphis Rain,” the quiet folksiness of “On Your Side,” the bluesy New Orleans vibe of “12 Bar Blues,” and the exuberant R&B of “Success.” All of it is driven by richly textured instrumental support, not least of which are Tasjan’s excellent guitars. It’s also peppered with lyrical wisdom. “One day, they said the future / Was flying cars and a ride on a rocket,” Tasjan sings in “Till the Town Goes Dark.” “Time passed and all I got / Was America today and a TV in my pocket.” Credit to producer Eli Thomson and a fine group of supporting musicians.

In “Success,” Tasjan observes, “Success ain’t about being better than everyone else / It’s about being better than yourself.” Given that Silver Tears is his strongest and most consistent effort to date, that makes Aaron Lee Tasjan, by his own lights, a success. Listeners are likely to agree.

New release: Kacey Musgraves’ “Very Kacey Christmas”

kacey-christmasAmericana Music NewsKacey Musgraves has a new holiday album, aptly titled A Very Kacey Christmas. She talked about the unconventional collection of Yuletide tunes in an interview on WMOT Roots Radio at the Family Wash in East Nashville yesterday.

There are standards – “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” among them – but plenty of surprises as well. There’s the obscure 1953 hit “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and a cover of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late.)”

Guest appearances include Willie Nelson on “A Willie Nice Christmas,” plus the Quebe Sisters and Leon Bridges.

First-person: Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Silver Tears”

Americana Music News – Aaron Lee Tasjan dropped by the Family Wash in Nashville today to sing a few songs on a WMOT Roots Radio broadcast in support of his new album “Silver Tears.” Here he talks about the new recording and an unusual promotional tour.

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