Country Doesn’t Get Much More Countrier Than This Anymore.
I don’t have to give you three chances to guess who Casey Kristofferson’s Dad might be, do I? Yup, it’s Kris and her Mum is none other than Rita Coolidge, so the pedigree is certainly in the genes; but I’ve lost count of the number of albums I’ve received over the years from children/siblings/cousins twice removed of famous Rock Stars. One or two have stood the test of time, AJ Croce and The Chapin Sisters spring to mind, but the rest? PAH! Now I’ve had this album for a week or so, I’m happy to report young Casey sits in the former camp; taking her looks and gorgeous voice from her Mother and to some degree her writing skills from her Father. That said; DIRTY FEET is very much a ‘band effort’ with Casey herself and ‘guest’ Andy Buckner sharing singing duties as Aaron ‘Woody’ Wood supplies some mean Country guitar too, giving everything a ‘Classic Country Rock’ feel about it, Opening song Blessed & Cursed errs on the side of Classic Country in the way Casey sings her little heart out, but boy can these cats Rock and Boogie too, when they put their minds to it. On Feeling More Like Myself and Only Thing I Can’t Do Without Buckner takes the lead and somehow criss-crosses the gung-ho Southern Rock sound I loved as a young man with modern ‘Trucker Country’ that the kids love today; and to my untutored ears ……. it’s a marriage made in Heaven! So far I haven’t researched the band’s videos; but I hope the pictures live up to the sultry way Casey delivers Drown, with its perfect mix of bitterness and heartfelt sadness; and like so many other tracks here; really comes to life whenever Jim Aaron blows his harmonica and Woods makes his guitar weep and wail. So far I’ve played DIRTY FEET in the car a few times, and also in the house too, and both scenarios work, as you can blast the hell out of them if you want, but get just as much enjoyment listening on headphones. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why Casey includes Me & Bobby McGee here; and I’m sure it’s a fan favourite when sung live; but here it only distracts from her own efforts which are pretty damn good in their own rite. One song in particular jumped out the first time I played this album; but there are a couple of others that are now running it a close second; Buckner’s heartbreaking ballad Bad Side of Me and the epic grungy finale Dirty Feet which sounds like Casey and Buckner spent 48 hours listening to Skynard and Jason Isbell non-stop before writing and recording this absolute monster! But there is also that ‘special song’ I alluded to; Quit Drinking Less, which ticks every box we have here; with the dynamic duo swapping verses on a love-lorn heartbreaker that is as Country as a Nudie suit or a Stetson hat. Casey’s voice aches with sorrow as Buckner takes on the role of the ‘done wrong’ man as the band sound like they have tears running down their cheeks as they keep time behind them. It’s a genuine gold plated belter. These songs thankfully never, ever approach that Heavy Rock Country that breaks my heart when I try to watch the CMA Awards, Ms. Kristofferson, Mr Buckner and friends give us the type of Country Rock that is full of melodies, pathos and occasionally sizzling guitar solos, but most of all…… 21st Century HEART!
I was watching a musician on stage once and between songs, while tuning up, he was talking about his influences. Blues, classic rock, 1970’s pop. And then he made this announcement: “I pretty much skipped over the 1980’s and 90’s. Never listened to ANYTHING from those decades.” At that point I knew he had nothing he could show me. If he was that dismissive about twenty years of rock ‘n’ roll’s musical heritage — two decades of highly influential artists, bands and people who made a huge difference, and changed pop music as we know it today — then I could no longer take him seriously. Where would we be without the Replacements? R.E.M.? Black Flag, Prince, Sonic Youth, Run-D.M.C., Nirvana, the Cranberries? Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Madonna, Radiohead, the Smiths? I could go on, but I think you get my point. Those tumultuous years where pop and rock and rap and country all changed significantly, seemingly overnight, were a huge influence on musicians and music lovers in general the world over. As much as I love many bands from the 1950’s through the late-1970’s I’m glad we had the cosmic shake-up of post-punk and the changing of the guard of what was on the radio back then. It made most of us appreciate a broader range of musical genres than we had before. You like some blistering distorted guitar with your Country? Go for it. Rapping over samples, beats, and sound effects? Sure, no problem. You want to play slide bass with slamming drums and saxophone? Yes, yes, yes! So I am glad to tell you all that Massy Ferguson’s album Great Divides is full of tasteful influences from the 1980’s and 90’s from the lead guitars, to the crisp snares and hi-hats and boomy tom-toms. But they also have the guts to throw in some rather tasty organ swells and rocking piano on several of these cuts too; try Maybe The Gods; to hear what I mean. These cats come across as “Americana” (they are named after a tractor company after-all) but, despite the southern drawl, at heart they’re indie rockers at heart, and it shows on songs such as “Mama’s in the Backseat” and “Drop an Atom Bomb on Me.” They come right out of the gate running fast and hard with “Can’t Remember” which has the obligatory catchy chorus and they hardly let up except for the occasional softer song such as “Saying You Were There” and “Saddest Man” (which has some nice pedal steel and a good walk-down melody and some of the better emotional lyrics on the album.) Massy Ferguson reminds me of the band the Refreshments with more green pastures and country creeks than lonesome desert highway. More workingman, less holidaze. Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t rocket science and the Massy Ferguson contingent knows this well. Don’t think too hard, just rock out. You can sort out the details later.
Review by The Legendary Roy Peak CBE & Bass. Released May 17th 2019
Lowdown Drifters Last Call For Dreamers Edgewater Music Group/Sony Music
Top Quality Classic Twist on Modern Country Rock
I was initially intrigued to find that Lowdown Drifters come from Washington, where I too live, but I’d never heard of them or the clubs they’ve been playing in for years…… then I dug deeper; and discovered that there’s another Washington……in America! Who knew? This is the band’s second album; following the release of WOOD & WATER in 2016; and right from opening track Red Rock I just feel that the time is right for them to conquer the English speaking world. A weary sounding man drawls over a steel-guitar and a drum that sounds like a pumping heart; “Fifty miles from town and the needles on empty I let her coast to the side of the road Nothing around but a memory and me And that West Texan sun hanging low.” As it progresses and builds to an epic finale, a swirling electric guitar adds to the melodrama in the narrators sad, sad story …….. and you know you have invested both your money and time very wisely indeed. This is followed by the enigmatic single We Three Kings, which confirms the absolute class these guys bleed in their words and music; combining great blue-collar storytelling with a majestic Country Rock melody that will stand the test of time. To some greater or lesser degree Lowdown Drifters fill a gap somewhere between Little Feet, Poco, Alabama and even Lynard Skynard; welding smooth Rock guitars to an intrinsically Country set of songs and stories. Nearly every song here conjures up it’s own imagery without the need for a video; especially Diesel Smoke and This Old House. The ‘drinking songs’, Empty Bottles Between the Bottom and the Bottle and the very danceable Barstools my be staple themes for Country; but the way these two songs are delivered feel like a punch to the jaw and are worthy of serious play on the American radio stations; and will surely be crowd favourites when played live? While this is very much a cracking album from start to finish; reminding me of the sheer thrills I felt when I first discovered Toby Keith and Poco many years ago; but there are two definite songs that stick out and make Lowdown Drifters rise above their contemporaries. Diamonds and Rust is one of those amazing songs that you can’t exactly pin down; but has you tapping your toes and mumbling the chorus even when you don’t exactly know the chorus; and the other is the one I’m choosing as my Favourite Track, the slinky acoustic ballad Fire in Her Eyes; a song that has echoes of Springsteen circa Darkness at the Edge of Town and Vince Gill at any time in his single days. This is as Cool as Modern Country gets……. check it out ASAP. Foe the likes of me living in the UK, what Lowdown Drifters do is something akin to ‘Fantasy Country’ as they tick every box I have and sing about ‘The American Dream’ (and the anxiety type too) with care and love, plus they sound like they haven’t just lived the songs themselves; but are still living them today…… which isn’t exactly true of many of today’s Trucker cap and torn jean wearing ‘heroes’.
# Sadly my review copy only lists the band members names; so I can’t tell you who sings or plays what…… but you can find that out yourself when you buy your own copy!
Lone Justice Live at The Palomino (1983) Omnivore Recordings
A Very Early Alternative to Alt. Country.
Most Live Recordings don’t stand the test of time and are generally a snapshot of where that particular artiste or band were at that time in their existence; and the latter is very true of this exciting 35 minute long Album from a nascent Lone Justice in 1983 who still hadn’t released their groundbreaking debut album yet. When you hear Maria’s reverential pleading on opening track You Are The Light, you are hearing a woman not yet finding her voice; but still leading her band from front and centre with more confidence than her tender years should have allowed. There’s a youthful swagger to Drugstore Cowboy and The Train that I should have expected, but somehow didn’t …… those old Lone Justice albums never sounded this exciting; nor how could they? It’s interesting to read in the accompanying sleeve-notes that it was after seeing Elvis Costello playing the Country songs that would make up Almost Blue, at The Palomino Club that turned Ryan Hedgecock’s head towards Ye Olde Country Music and away from Rockabilly. It was that very same album that was the gateway to what has become an obsession for me here at RMHQ. There’s a delightful innocence to the way the quartet approach their collective songwriting on Dustbowl Depression Time and The Grapes of Wrath and maybe I See It, but simplicity has paid a lot of bills in Nashville over the years and these songs all have a magnificently danceable beat supplied by Don Willens on the tiniest drum kit I’ve seen in years….. but size isn’t everything, is it? Baring in mind their peers and probably friends too were dressing like extras in Dallas or Magnum PI the night this was recorded in 1983; Lone Justice were treading a very dangerous and lonely path covering Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash songs while Maria McKee was undoubtedly channelling her inner Dolly Parton; but in her Honky Tonk years! My favourite track here and it’s also one that sounds like it should be an actual Classic Country tune; is Marvin Etzioni’s Working Late; an audience request on the night and a song worthy of everyone from Dolly through Reba and it wouldn’t surprise me if Margo Price was to ever cover it….. it’s a doozy! It’s all over far too quickly; but they played two shows that night; as was the way back then and they had to allow for two sets from their support act….. guess who? Only bloody Dwight Yoakam! That’s who. This is being released as part of the Record Store Day 2019 shenanigans; but it’s a keeper in many ways so don’t you let it get lost in the madness of April 12th……. order a copy now; you won;t regret it.
Shane Dwight No One Loves Me Better Red Parlor Records
Southern Rock With a Hefty Dash of Blues and Country.
There’s no special formula when it comes to choosing albums to review, and it can sometimes be a minefield; especially when I don’t recognise any of the names in the pile. In this particular case it wasn’t the fairly interesting artwork that caught my attention; but the guy’s name ….. Shane Dwight. It sort of sounded like a character from the TV series Nashville to my addled mind; and as if by magic Shane’s fascinating Southern Rocking Country/Blues hybrid could easily have fit into that show just perfectly. The title track No One Loves Me Better kick-starts the album like turning the key in a new Porsche Boxster…… a delightful rumble that foretells a classy ride is in store, preferably with the top down. Dwight has a ‘worn around the edges’ sound to it; and the glorious female backing vocalists coupled to some cool rolling piano and guitar that accompanies Dwight sounds like it could all have been appropriated from Muscle Shoals back in it’s heyday, as opposed to Kevin McKendree’s studio in Franklin, TN. Dwight wears his influences proudly as he throws caution to the wind on the Roadhouse boogie of Stand Up and on If You Ain’t The Devil he gets low down and dirty in a way that makes you feel all hot and sweaty. Even though it’s all too easy to just sit back and wallow in Dwight’s demonstrative and expressive voice; there’s a lot going in both the background of his songs but the detail in his fairly edgy subject matter too. While most songs will be most at home when played out in full, in concert there’s more than enough to enthrall the listener at home or in the car when you hear Levy Girl, She Likes to Ride and the awesome Sucker, with it’s nod in the direction of Bozz Scaggs, but with a Hip-Hop beat. I’ve been torn between two entirely different songs for my title of Favourite Song; Trial of a Poet is a very modern twist on traditional Country Blues and features some sizzling Resonator guitar as Bekka Bramlett wails like a haunting siren in the background. The other is a straight up ‘cheating’ Country Rocker; Bullets & Gasoline; but the way Dwight and the band pull it together makes it rather special indeed and is sure to be concert closer supreme! It appears Shane Dwight has been around the American Blues scene for a decade or so; but this album so classy and well constructed I think the time is right for him to break out into the rest of the World; which will welcome him with open arms.
Sadly a few really good releases are falling by the wayside these days at RMHQ, and this belter nearly did too, bizarrely as I wrote another review recently I was reading this Press Release while listening to something so very and completely different! ‘Everything happens for a reason’ my Sainted Mother used to say; and today I have now immersed myself in the correct music and I now feel a whole lot better than I did when I got out of bed. I’d love to think that the raw Alt. Country Rock of opening track Lucinda is at leased dedicated to Ms. Williams if it’s not exactly about her, as singer Casey Shea drops a musical time bomb of Springsteen or maybe early Bon Jovi proportions…… so I guess there might be more New Jersey than LA where the band come from, in the mix . With that in mind it’s all too easy and a little lazy to describe this as ‘Classic Rock’ when it’s nothing of the sort. OK there is more than a hint of Bruce and Jon in New Yorker Shea’s singing drawl; but it’s quite distinctive in its own rite too; as is the Masterclass in Rock Guitar from Joe Guese on every track from the restrained beauty of Heaven and the all out, head down boogie of Kansas City which will sound even better coming from the speakers on a 58 Camero rather than my ’58 plate Laguna. Listeners of my vintage will obviously pick up on the band’s inspirations and influences; of which there are many; but hey…. if you are under 30 and out for a good time on a Friday night then the likes of Shangri La-La Land and Made in LA will most likely be the most exciting music you’ve ever heard in your life; and will be just as thrilling the following Tuesday on the drive to work. Two songs in particular have stood out for me; and both showcase not just Casey Shea’s singing and songwriting alongside Joe Guese; but the multi-faceted talents of all of the musicians that actually make up Grand Canyon. The piano led Theory of Everything finds Shea and Amy Wilcox swap verses in a way not bettered since Meat Loaf was top of the Pops and the other, Standing In the Shadows ticks every box I have for a truly great modern Rock & Roll song, from the clever duet between Shea and Wilcox through the power chords from Guere’s guitar and a bass n drum combo that could grace any musical troupe from the Heartbreakers through the Pretenders and even the E Street Band! There’s not a bad track here and nor is there a duplication either; and for all of the grey haired and grumpy music fans out there sporting Neil Young, Bruce, Dylan or Fleetwood Mac t-shirts there really is new, interesting and exciting music in the Classic Rock format if you are only prepared to scratch the surface and look for it…… Grand Canyon are the perfect starting point.
Hahahahaha…… there was very nearly an embarrassing mix up with this review; as I was reading a Press Release for something completely different as I played the album; and for the life of me couldn’t hear ‘duelling guitars’ or ‘duets of Gram and Emmylou proportions’…….. in any of the four songs I had written about! Thankfully I’m back on track now; and this album and review are both ‘The Real Deal’! As soon as you hear Bolander’s ‘world weary’ and greasy voice when it enters the fray on opening track Closer to the Flame you know you are in the presence of a really special singer. A claustrophobic Rock Ballad that straddles everyone from the Allman’s through Fleetwood Mac and Bob Seger with consummate ease; and he even throws in a cello just to give it some double-extra pathos too! In today’s market Eric Bolander is 100% Americana, with epic tales of life’s struggles, drug addiction, love, losing and winning back, as well as being ‘on the road’ but this guy most certainly has one foot back in the Classic Country Rock world I first inhabited back in the 1980’s and proudly wears that on his big heart. Bolander’s songwriting is extraordinary at times; as his use of metaphors spun my head at times; but also made me take copious notes for future reviews (wink). Check out Fly and Maybe I and you will hear words and melodies that defy the Kentuckian’s lowly place in the world of Country Music. While there’s a ‘big production’ on many of the songs here; it only ever supports Bolander’s stories and characterful voice; with The Road and Ghost being perfect examples of a singer and Producer being in perfect tune with each other. This also gives the album a sense of the highs and lows in his and our lives with some of the simpler acoustic songs really, really tugging on the heartstrings; with Whisper and the brooding and almost Southern Gothic Ghost both being worthy contenders for my Favourite Song accolade; perhaps one will get that title next week, when I listen again. I didn’t want to do this; especially as Eric Bolander is an exceptional songwriter in his own rite; but the actual winner of the Favourite Track stakes is his adaptation of Purple Rain; turning it into a belting Country Rocker without ever losing or tampering with any of Prince’s delicate nuances. I had been lost in the first four verses before I realised what song I was actually listening to; which is testament to Bolander’s richly expressive voice; and anyone who thinks adding a banjo to a Prince song should listen to this; and realise the diminutive one missed a trick on the original! There’s not a lot else to say really; I’m so happy that Eric Bolander and his album THE WIND are now in my life and I have the opportunity to share it with you guys and girls……. enjoy; you’re welcome.
I’ve been having ‘one of those mornings’ doing grown-up things, like sorting out my Embezzled Pension, finding a new Life Insurance Policy, finishing off some ironing and reminding Son #1 that it’s his Mam’s birthday next week….. making me all harassed, when this belting slice of Southern/Country Rock arrived in the e-mail. It’s pretty much exactly what I needed and will go straight into the Summer ‘Driving’ playlist for the car. Being busy I didn’t read the Press Release until I’d played it three times…… WHAAAATTTT? These guys are from London? London, England? No way dude! If it’s true; and I have no reason to doubt the source……. Brit -Country has some Stars in the Waiting! This is pretty damn authentic Classic Country Rock that sounds like it comes from Alabama or Memphis, not Croydon or Kensal Green! Apparently there’s an album in the offing, and if this is the starter then the main course is going to be like a red raw T-Bone steak; and I can’t wait.
Admit it; if you were in a record store and saw an album called Tennessee Alabama Fireworks by a guy called Boo Ray you’d pick it up, wouldn’t you? I thought so…… and then you’d probably ask the assistant if you could hear a couple of tracks? Trust me, as soon as you hear the pedal-steel that opens the catchy Truckin’ Tune; A Tune You Can Whistle it would have you reaching for your wallet; and when Boo Ray’s raspy vocals trample all over the Twangy geetar you would be throwing your cash across the counter and not waiting for the disc to put in a bag! Well; that’s how I felt. Boo Ray? I’ve not heard of him before; but that’s obviously my loss as he puts the Americana into Ameripolitan or whatever we are calling Country Music these days. He’s got a mighty clever way with words, as he croons all over the mellow ballad Honky Tonk Dream, then kicks up a storm on the apologetic love song 20 Questions without letting you catch your breath. I haven’t checked, but I picture Boo Ray hiding behind a big ole pair of Aviator glasses; possibly even the Elvis type as he hides his tears on Gone Back Down to Georgia and the heartbreaking We Ain’t Got The Good too. To all intents and purposes Don’t Look Back and Out Run the Wind is the type of Country Music you pray to hear in a bar on a Tuesday night, when there are more people on stage than in the audience, and those who are there, are there because they don’t want to go home; and Boo Ray sings from the heart just for them. All of these songs could easily find their way onto those shiny albums that those guys with designer stubble and made to measure Stetson hats bring out every few weeks; but none of them can find the pathos in She Wrote the Song the way Boo Ray does; and when he sings, “it’s the pain pills that took away my sweetheart/ it gives me cold chills/ I think I’m gonna leave a star.” you will have cold chills yourself. The biggest surprise for me here; is that the songs come in at 6, 7, 8 or even 9 minutes long; but don’t worry that this is a Prog whig out….. not in the slightest; Boo Ray just lets his songs breathe and develop in a way very few others are allowed these days; and my own favourite song Skin & Ink which closes the disc is a mighty 8 minutes and 19 seconds long; but like everything that has gone before it…… not a single word or note shouldn’t be there. If you are of my generation and discovered Country Music via the Country Rock acts of the late 70’s and 80’s like the Allmans, Skynard or Creedence then this album is meant for you. Great songs, sung with passion and from the heart by a leathery voice and a band that has the ability to stop your heart on a whim.
Fiery Country-Punk With a Side Order of Kick Ass Mariachi!
I really don’t know how they do it; but the home of Insurgent Country, Bloodshot Records has found another gem here……The Vandoliers! Even before I’d read the Press Release I correctly guessed that these, self proclaimed ‘Converse Cowboys’ must come from Texas; because where else would this fearsome hybrid possibly come from, and indeed they actually hail from Fort Worth. Last week I played 5 or 6 tracks over a couple of days in the car; and today dressed in a Trucker Cap, a Big Damn Band t-shirt, mirrored Wayfarers and not having shaved for two days I was looking for something to play on a road trip to ‘oil country’ in Teeside, when I remembered this album. So metaphorically pushing the cassette into the player (my trusty i-phone actually) I set off on my journey; and within two minutes of Miles and Miles my Renault Laguna morphed into a Dodge Ram and I was now travelling along the blacktop of Texas with the machine cranked up to TEN. With a million Alt,Country Rock bands on the circuit you have to be pretty special to stand out these days; and The Vandoliers do that not just with some great songs but they incorporate a good old fashioned fiddle player and a Mariachi style brass section to compliment a singer with a voice that you aren’t born with; but comes from a hard life fronting bands in noisy bars, and a guitarist who out Slash’s Slash, plus a rhythm section that can slide seamlessly between romantic balladry and full on machine gun RAWK with consummate ease and skill. That’s the background; but what about the songs? Every one is a 24 carat diamond! All on Black and Bottom Dollar Boy are both very clever takes on the ‘bad luck’ theme we know and love; but you ain’t heard nothing like this ‘sound’; and they add fresh ‘magic dust’ to a tale of life on the road with Shoshone Rose; making being in a band playing dive bars sound quite romantic. I guess that’s what I love about these songs; lead guitarist, singer and songwriter Joshua Fleming brings a new spirited and even spunky approach to all the things we take for granted in Country Music. Sixteen Years appears to detail the band’s or at least singer Travis Curry’s torrid and tragic career to get to today fronting the coolest band this side of the Rio Grande. There was no better soundtrack to today’s car journey that Nowhere Fast, which now sits alongside Bruce and Chuck Berry on my ‘driving playlist’. Not everything here is fast and furious; The Vandoliers can do ballads too, with Travis Curry making his fiddle gently weep on Tumbleweed and using the metaphor Cigarettes in The Rain for a fragile and troubled relationship is almost genius, and certainly tear inducing. Then there is my Favourite Song…… one which caught my attention last week; and because of events during the intervening few days made Troublemaker my current anthem! Combining the Mariachi brass of Ring of Fire, the fiddle from the Devil Went Down To Georgia with a backing band that sound like something from Sun Records on Meth and a singer who sounds like Billy Idol in a Cowboy Hat on a song about someone who could get into an argument in a phone box, only goes some of the way to describe this amazing track! In these complicated days when it’s hard to know what really constitutes ‘Country Music’, I’m going to point you towards this album…… it will appeal to Cow Punks and Old School Cowboys and Cowgirls, Hipster Alt. Country fans and anyone who just vaguely likes quality, well written, interesting and classy but righteously ragged Rock and Roll!