New Releases: Alabama Shakes, Susie Glaze

alabama shakes 2New in our mailbox this week:

Sound & ColorAlabama Shakes – ATO Records – Alabama Shakes’ second album is a statement of extraordinary confidence from a young and ambitious band.

It would have been so easy to echo the sounds and success of debut release Boys & Girls. Instead Sound & Color is a bold amalgam of soul, psychedelia, rock and electronica.

For every heart-rending ballad like “Give Me All Your Love,” there’s a punk-propelled “The Greatest” or Stones-influenced ‘Shoegaze.”

Brittany Howard’s vocals are stunning throughout, giving these far-flung sounds a soulful core. Alabama Shakes are in it for the long run.

The LightUncle Lucius – Boo Clap/Thirty Tigers Due June 9, the fourth album from the Austin-based band will be their first independent release since exiting a label deal.

glazeNot That Kind of GirlSusie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band – Produced by Herb Pedersen – Suzie Glaze’s website touts her band as a “Newgrass Americana Folk Fusion Quartet,” but that’s probably working too hard. As Not That Kind of Girl firmly establishes, this band plays engaging bluegrass and Celtic music, eagerly drawing on a wide range of influences and inspirations. A highlight: A sweet cover of J.D. Souther’s “Prisoner in Disguise.”

Melancholy SeaThe Pinder Brothers The opening few seconds of Melancholy Sea bring  “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” to mind, an apt influence for the Pinder Brothers, whose father Mike Pinder was a founding member of the Moody Blues. Deft melodies and harmonies abound on this third album from the duo.

Rediscovered: Dusty Springfield’s “Faithful”

By Ken Paulson

DustyAfter a wait of 44 years, Dusty Springfield’s third album for Atlantic Records is finally available.

That’s actually pretty extraordinary. She was one of the premier song stylists of her era and was elected to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, the year she passed away. And now we have a new album set for release on April 28.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s not her finest work. There are a lot of reasons for shelving an album, and underwhelming content is often a factor.

She was teamed with pop producer and songwriter Jeff Barry, hot off his work with the Monkees and the Archies.

Dusty generally had impeccable taste in song selection, but Faithful features ten songs written by Barry and his staff of writers , including Bobby “Montego Bay” Bloom. I’m sure that’s how you built an Archies album, but Dusty deserved more distinctive material.

That said, there are some gems here.  “All the King’s Horses” is a hook-laden slice of soulful pop that should have been a single, while “Natchez Trace” is an ambitious rocker that brings Bonnie Bramlett to mind.

Two classy covers – Bread’s “Make It With You” and Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” – outstrip the album’s original material.

Faithful was never going to be Dusty in Memphis, but this release is  a gift to Dusty Springfield fans everywhere and a valuable addition to her recorded legacy.

New: Spirit Family Reunion, Honeycutters

New releases in our mail this week:

Hands TogetherSpirit Family Reunion – The Spirit Family Reunion is on tour throughout April in support of their second album, including a date in Nashville on April 20 with Blitzen Trapper at the City Winery. Here’s their memorable NPR Tiny Desk concert:

Me Oh My – The Honeycutters – Organic Records – Me Oh My is the third studio album from the Asheville-based Honeycutters, a self-described “Appalachian Honky Tonk” band, They’ll be in Nashville this Wednesday, April 22, to appear on Music City Roots.

Americana AshWhite Owl Red – J.J. McManus fronts this San Francisco-based band on their first album.

Loser AngelsJim Pelz  – The Kentucky-based guitarist for Hickory Robot has just issued his first solo album.

 

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Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “The Ruffian’s Misfortune”

by Paul T. Mueller

rwh_ruffians_cover_150Ray Wylie Hubbard doesn’t break a lot of fresh ground on The Ruffian’s Misfortune, his latest collection of dispatches from the dark side. But that’s OK, because Hubbard’s bluesy tales of misplaced priorities, bad decisions and tragic characters are always entertaining, even when they’re not exactly new.

“All Loose Things,” the opening track, starts off as you might expect, with loud guitar chords and the martial beat of a drum. “All loose things end up being washed away” is the song’s apocalyptic message, and that tone carries over to the next track, “Hey Mama, My Time Ain’t Long.” “I’ll tell you a tale about the songs the bluesman sings,” Hubbard begins in his weathered, raspy voice, later elaborating: “Some say it’s the devil jingling the coins in his pocket/I’d say it sounds more like a pistol when you cock it.”

Ray Wylie and Lucas Hubbard

Ray Wylie and Lucas Hubbard

The blues often deals with the opposite sex, and so it is on Misfortune. “Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten” is a kind of gentle elegy for a woman who’s lived her life by her own lights and is dealing with the consequences.

“Chick Singer, Badass Rockin’ “ could be the story of the same character in her earlier years – “short dress, torn stockings/That chick singer is badass rockin’.” Mississippi country blues singer Jessie Mae Hemphill gets an affectionate tribute in “Jessie Mae,” which features some nice fiddle by The Mastersons’ Eleanor Whitmore.

Hubbard is known to take on loftier themes at times, and here he does so on “Barefoot in Heaven.” “Well, it ain’t no secret, oh if you know me/that I’ve been no-’count most of my life,” he sings, backed by the McCrary Sisters, among others. “But I’ve been converted, oh, I got the spirit/Just a chance I’m gonna see this paradise.”

Hubbard closes with “Stone Blind Horses,” whose rueful tone seems to sum up the late-life regrets of “wild young cowboys, old drunks, paramours and thieves.” Hubbard’s weary voice is well matched with his words: “My only hope is somewhere in that heaven/Someone says a prayer for me.”

All this fun comes courtesy of some familiar names – Hubbard’s son Lucas on guitar, George Reiff on bass and Rick Richards on percussion. Other players include Conrad Chocrun on drums, Gabe Rhodes on guitars, mandolin and piano, and Brad Rice on guitar. The playing is good and the production – by Hubbard and Reiff – is sharp throughout.

 

 

New releases: Boxmasters, Sam Lewis

By Ken Paulson

boxmastersThe BoxmastersSomewhere Down the Road – 101 Ranch Records – It’s not every album that has its own built-in mood swing. The Boxmasters – “Bud” Billy Bob Thornton, Teddy Andreadis, Brad Davis and J.D. Andrews – will release a new two-CD set this week, each disc with a distinctly different tone.

The first disc features their brand of “Modbilly,” an amalgam of jangly pop and country that emulates everyone from the Searchers to the Mavericks. It’s breezy, melodic and often amusingly quirky, as exemplified by “Kathy Won’t Share,” a song about adding another woman to a couple’s lifestyle.

The second CD is considerably darker. Sample lyrics: “As much as I hate myself, I love you.”

“Who Can I Tell” is the saga of a man with a burning secret about a lover who is later found “on the rails, in pieces in the rain.” “Long Black Veil” it’s not.

Sam Lewis – Waiting for You – Brash Music  – Sam Lewis must have spent a lot of time listening to Moondance. The influence is unmistakable on his soulful second album, which includes performances by Will Kimbrough, Darrell Scott, the McCrary Sisters and Kenny Vaughan. He’s on tour now, with a Nashville date set for April 23 at the 5 Spot.

Monty Byrom100 Miles South of Eden – Due on April 14 is the new album from Monty Byrom, a member of Big House and the co-writer of the Eddie Money hit “I Wanna Go Back.” It includes a 1998 live performance of Buck Owens’ “Big in Vegas” by Owens and Big House.

Matt Lax and Nearly Beloved – Attaboy Records – The fourth album by Matt Lax and the Nearly Beloved, a Northern California band, is set for release in May.

Rob NanceSignal FiresRob Nance follows up Lost Souls & Locked Doors with a more musically adventurous second album, set for release on April 21.

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Tony Joe White: Complete Warner Bros. Recordings

Tony Joe WhiteBy Ken Paulson

Tony Joe White will always be associated with his swamp-rock hit “Polk Salad Annie,” but a new collection from Real Gone Music reveals an artist of greater depth and breadth.

The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings includes 40 tracks released between 1972 and 1974, including three albums and six songs issued on singles. White had enjoyed his greatest commercial success on Monument Records, and these recordings were largely overlooked and underappreciated.

You can’t say Warner Bros. didn’t try. They paired him with some of the hottest producers of the era and sent him to three iconic music towns to record.

Tony Joe White was produced by Peter Asher in Memphis in 1970. It’s a mixed outing, with “Polk Salad derivatives (“They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas”) and the autobiographical “A Night in the Life of the Swamp Fox.”

“The Change” could have used one more draft. The drawled narrative: “It’s about a time of the year we call the fall.”

The gem here is “The Daddy,” a message to a teen-aged girl about finding an understanding with her father.

The Train I’m On found White in Muscle Shoals working with Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd. “Take Time to Love,” written with Donnie Fritts, reminds of us of White’s way with a ballad, exemplified by his earlier “Rainy Night in Georgia.” The album also features “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby,” a Top 40 hit in Elvis Presley’s hands in 1974.

Another Presley single – “For ‘Ol’ Times Sake” – is a highlight of Homemade Ice Cream, a 1973 album recorded with Dowd in Nashville. It’s the most satisfying of the three albums, with a laid-back feel and a fine collection of songs.

White continues to tour and record, a testament to his enduring talents as both a performer and songwriter. The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings is compelling evidence of both.

New releases: Allison Moorer’s “Down to Believing”

MoorerAllison MoorerDown to Believing – eOne Music – We first heard the songs from Allison Moorer’s new album Down to Believing at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville six months ago. Her performance was riveting, supported by a stellar band that included album producer Kenny Greenberg on guitar. The new material was vibrant and soul-baring, and the recording fulfills the promise of that September night. Down to Believing reflects Moorer’s personal story, from her divorce from Steve Earle to her son’s autism diagnosis. With all respect to Moorer, those aren’t necessarily themes that would invite repeated listening. The power in Down to Believing comes from marrying intimate and confessional lyrics to compelling musicality, exemplified by soaring album opener “Like It Used to Be.”

Other new and recent releases:

Red Heart AlarmHammer Anvil Stirrup This Seattle—based band calls its music “Gruntry,” an amalgam of country and the region’s grunge history.

Little Texas – Young For A Long Time – Cleopatra Records These early ’90 country hitmakers are back with a new studio album and a national tour that begins at the Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville, Florida on April 12.

Vanish Valley – Queen of the Concert – Hard Bark Los Angeles band Vanish Valley is set to release its second album Queen of the Concert on May 12. The project, recorded in less than a week, is fueled by the songwriting of Andrew McAlister.

Stacy Jones – Whiskey Wine & Water Stacy Jones, named best female vocalist in 2014 by the Washington Blues Society, has a new studio album, released March 27.

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Review: Robert Earl Keen’s “Happy Prisoner”

keen_coverby Paul T. Mueller

Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen returns to his bluegrass roots with Happy Prisoner – The Bluegrass Sessions. There are a few rough spots among the CD’s 15 covers, and the playing might not be quite pure enough for bluegrass fanatics, but it’s well done and enjoyable.

Keen is no stranger to bluegrass, having developed a love for the genre despite growing up in Houston, not exactly a hotbed of Appalachian string music in the 1960s and ’70s. In “The Bluegrass Widow,” a song from his second album, 1988’s The Live Album, he describes learning about bluegrass during high school and playing in a bluegrass band during college. The song, which Keen describes as “quite possibly the worst bluegrass song ever written,” includes his account of being fired by his bandmates because he lacked “that high and lonesome sound that bluegrass music requires.”

Having seen his budding bluegrass career derailed, Keen regrouped and went on to forge a successful career as a songwriter and performer. Decades later, his voice is, if anything, even less high and lonesome, but that didn’t keep him from recording this belated tribute to his first musical love.

Standout tracks include “Long Black Veil,” the much-covered ballad about crime, love and the price of loyalty; “T for Texas,” with help from Lyle Lovett; “East Virginia Blues,” a lost-love song by A.P. Carter; “Walls of Time,” sung with Peter Rowan, who wrote the song with Bill Monroe, and the classic spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger,” featuring vocals by ex-Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.

Not as successful is a cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” one of those songs that are performed so definitively by their writers that there’s little point in trying to cover them. Keen’s version also suffers from the lack of an instrumental bridge, leaving an abrupt transition between the happy early verses and the sad later ones.

Along with his longtime band – guitarists Rich Brotherton and Marty Muse, bassist Bill Whitbeck and percussionist Tom van Schaik – Keen gets help from a talented group of players including fiddlers Sara Watkins, Dennis Ludiker and Chloe Keen (Robert’s daughter), mandolinist Kym Warner and banjoist Danny Barnes. Lloyd Maines handled production and other technical duties.

New releases: Lily Hiatt, Joseph Wooten

Americana Music News – New releases include albums from Lily Hiatt and Joseph Wooten, both artists with strong  Nashville ties:

LilyRoyal Blue Lily Hiatt – Normaltown Records   We first saw Lily Hiatt years some ago as a solo songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar on a side stage at the CMA festival in Nashville. It’s a more mature and musically adventurous Hiatt on the just-released Royal Blue, a dynamic recording produced by Adam Landry with pedal steel, synth and a rock foundation. The lyrics reflect broken relationships, but the sound is bold and confident.

Stumpjumper – Charlie Parr – Red House Records   Set for release on April 28, Charlie Parr’s Stumpjumper release is the first album he’s recorded with a full band. The Duluth-based artist is on tour now, with dates this week in Pittsburgh, Maumee, Ohio and Milwaukee .

Gill LandryGill Landry – ATO Records  Gill Landry , best known as a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, is joined on his third album by guests Laura Marling and Robert Ellis. Landry is touring in support of the album, with dates this week with Justin Townes Earle.

WootenSoul of FreedomJoseph Wooten Joseph Wooten’s latest solo album Soul of Freedom is both familiar and fresh, melding the influences of Steve Wonder and Sly Stone with very contemporary takes on the world around us. Wooten is the keyboardist with the Steve Miller Band and a member of the musically rich Wooten family (his brother Victor guests here.) He also clearly embraces music for its capacity to inform, engage and elevate. From “Life Love Truth” to “Unity” and “I Matter,” Wooten delivers affirmation and reflection in a consistently ambitious musical setting.

Head for the HillsMarkus James – Firenze Records – Head for the Hills continues Markus James’ collaborative blues recordings, teaming him a with a number of drummers from the North Mississippi Hill Country.

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New releases: Brandi Carlile, Ray Wylie Hubbard

Americana Music News – New releases in our mailbox this week:

Basic CMYKThe Firewatcher’s Daughter Brandi Carlile – ATO Records –  Fresh off the Cayamo cruise, Brandi Carlile is touring the country in support of this new album, including a March 4 date at the Troubadour, March 7 in Atlantic City and March 11 in Brooklyn. Carlile continues her impressive work with Tim and Phil Hanseroth on this album (out March 3) that reportedly consists primarily of first takes. The first single is “Wherever is Your Heart.”

Twice Told Tales10,000 Maniacs – Cleopatra Records The current generation of 10,000 Maniacs has a new album set for release on April 28. It’s a return to the band’s core musical influences with renditions of traditional folk songs from the British Isles, including “She Moved Through the Fair” and “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

Ray Wylie Hubbard RuffianThe Ruffian’s MisfortuneRay Wylie Hubbard – Bordello Records – Ray Wylie Hubbard is following up The Grifter’s Hymnal (reviewed here) with The Ruffian’s Misfortune, described in press materials as “the tightest and most focused” of his career. The album is set for release on April 7, and is to be followed by an autobiography.

Another Rising Sun Jon Chi  The former member of Rainmaker recorded his second solo album in Milwaukee with Ken Krei. The album ,described as “a blend of folk, gospel and jam” is set for release on May 5.

Old Ways vs. New DaysJ. Tex and the Volunteers –– Heptown Records This Copenhagen-based Americana band is fronted by Detroit native J. Tex.

 

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