One Hell of A Ride Wayne & Wildroot Featuring the Midnight Horns
Reconciled

Author:
KF

This debut release from veteran vocalist Bobby Wayne and equally seasoned slide guitarist Jimmy Wildroot Dolan also marks the arrival on the scene of thier label Reconciled Records. Both the group and the label hail from Pittsburgh and, from the look of things, things are looking up for that city that steel built and steel abandoned.

We'd expect some rehashed blues tunes and maybe even some melancholic emo shit to be festering in the dive bars and college kid clubs along Carson Street, but who in PGH would not be thrilled to walk into their corner pub and discover a full-fledged funk band laying down music that varies from Motown to Americana to, with tracks like "Curiosity," what sounds like the melting pot that Prince and P-Funk were born from.

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Screaming Bloody Murder Sum41
Island / Def Jam

Author:
Kyle Forrest

It seems that Sum 41 had wished to release three songs from the middle of this album as a free download EP at some point during the last year. Their label, Island / Def Jam probably didn't like the sound of that too much and the idea was ruled out. That's a shame, as it's those three songs—which appear on the final record under the heading "A Dark Road Out of Hell"— are the closest thing that Sum 41 has as a defense for the three years of stalling in putting this album on the shelves.

 

This is nominally punk rock, after all, and in such subcultures what artists need is fans who believe in their work, not the nickles and dimes associated with ranks on the charts. If "A Dark Road Out of Hell" had been released as Deryck Whibley (the front-man and driving force of Sum 41) wished, it might have given fans enough of a hook to excite them about the full album. Better, it might have succeeded in introducing the new, heavier sound of Sum 41 to those thirsty fans. Though Sum 41 is known for changing their tone with each record, the combination of post-grunge rock and emotive hardcore gone pop presented here bares so little resemblance to the band's pop-punk origins that it seems like an entirely different animal.

Though the opening track on the record is the most likely to please fans, it is only with  "Happiness Machine," that Whibley rescues an otherwise monotonous album from familiarly frenetic doldrums. With this track, which closes the aforementioned "A Dark Road Out of Hell" section, embraces fully the late-grunge tendencies that emerge on throughout the album. It is similarly reminiscent of later-day Green Day, which is a good way of thinking about Sum 41: these guys got famous before they had grown up, and though they may legitimately care about punk rock in the abstract, they've spent their adult lives insulated by their minor stardom. Their desire to connect with fans is utterly sincere, but the relations of production that structure their lives make such connection, where it does exist, extremely shallow.

Editor's Note: Sum 41 is a band that can offer sheer joy of jumping in the air and landing on that one power chord over and over again.

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Give the Drummer Some... Travis Barker
Interscope / Universal

Author:
KFM

In 1997 when I was a wee, geeky high school kid, I remember watching Travis Barker play ska-beats for the Aquabats. In ridiculous outfits and performing ridiculous antics with the rest of the band, Barker had few opportunities to demonstrate his copious skills with the sticks. Still he made a distinct impression on the crowd, even then.

Most of his work since then has been completely unpalatable to this reviewer. I'd sooner listen to the paint peel than Blink-182. So if you come to this album as a fan of pop-punk turned pop trash, you've been forewarned: don't trust my opinion. Many such fans will find little to like on this hard-hitting hip-hop record built mainly of rap heavies.

But if you like dirty beats and experimental production in your rap music, and you're not too proud to listen to big names collaborate from afar, then this record has a lot to offer you. The lineup, it must be mentioned, is absolutely unreal. There's barely a name in hip-hop that isn't here: Lil Wayne, Snoop, Ludacris and the RZA are just the a-list appearances, fleshed out by rappers as diverse as Bun-B and Cypress Hill. I mean, Rick Ross and The Game appear together on the the opening track: don't those two still have beef from fallout of 50 Cent calling out Ross's time as a prison guard? Even the notable absence of Jay-Z, who graciously contributes a verse to almost every record released from Universal Music these days, is barely felt in the whirlwind of talent that Barker calls in.

But rappers, like singer-songwriters gone electric before them, are just fodder for Barker's cannons of boom-boom-bat. He's been a producer for years, but this record witnesses him coming into his own, with a sustained sound-scape of gritty textures and kicking beats. It is impressively eclectic as well, with several tracks of tightly produced hard-rock thrown into the mix of a record otherwise driven by flow. If you're going to lay down ten dollars for this record, the extra couple to purchase the "Deluxe Addition" are likely worth it (for once). My only complaint is that Barker and friends fill the record so completely that they leave little for DJs and MCs to do with this as raw material: a few instrumental tracks would surely have circulated, productively, in the internet mix-tape world, and provided unknown rappers with some quality tunes to spit to.

Editor's Note: The drummer from Blink-182 has created more tuneful, snotty, barely legal music, but now with a beat for dancing too instead of moshing.

Best Album of the Week!

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Live The Todd Wolf Band
psychedelic blues / American Home Entertainment

Author:
KF

What at first glance looks to be yet another vanity record from yet another aging white guy with a blues band proves to be hard to judge by the cover. Todd Wolf is that—just another white guy with a blues band—but he's also got more than hot licks and a rhythm section: on this live album Wolf presents ten tracks of original songwriting that shimmer with vitality while bespeaking a thorough steeping in the history of electric blues.

Often such bands are so eager to prove their allegiance to the roots of blues—either bayou stuff or the Chicago brand—that they play down their own roots in rock 'n' roll. While Wolf is known, in live sets and on previous records, for killer covers of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, he makes no secret of his profound debt to Hendrix and the British Blues that the guitar great was in conversation with.

The Wah-wah sound of Wolf's distorted mastery is fairly well captured on this recording, though sections of the audio have so much gate and EQ that Wolf's vocals fall out entirely, and the band seems to provide a fun show in their native Mid-Atlantic States and beyond (they tour Europe frequently, where they have developed a sizable fan-base in Germany and Italy). For fans of cosmic, stony deconstruction of fundamental blues riffs the true treat comes at the close with a fourteen minute jam session titled "Shame."

Single of the Week: "Cold, Black Night"

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Mondo Amore Nicole Atkins
Razor & Tie

Author:
KF

Smart, stong and sexy, Nicole Atkins is rapidly gaining notoriety for her staggering voice. Her sophomore album, "Mondo Amore," capitalizes on that voice as the featured instrument, but has thus far failed to captivate critics and fans alike.

Much ink has been spilt regarding the period of tumult and loss that this record reflects in Atkins life. It would seem, to put it bluntly, that she got dumped by her boyfriend, her band, and her label, in short order. Such rejection might send a lesser talent into a period of introspective paralysis. If her performance on this record is any indication, Atkins' response was nearly opposite: howling, vengeful, anger simmers on tracks such as "My Baby Don't Lie," and "You Were The Devil," in strokes that are as much of the Riot Grrl era as they are crooner era that Atkins often evokes. Such seething anger is tempered by tenderness on other tracks, and culminates in a truly beautiful vocal performance when the album closes with "The Tower."

For all its sophistication, this record is frustratingly confusing or confused at moments. Its title, "Mondo Amore," ("Big Love") might refer to her love of the music, of the aging biker dude on the cover, or of the HBO series of the same name. It is unexplained by the content of the album. Similarly obstructed is the direction that Atkins is trying to go in. With a newly assembled backing band after "The Sea" walked out on her, it is difficult to fully trust in the swooping keyboard crescendos and the wanky guitar solos; are these her collaborators for the long haul, or simply glorified studio musicians? For the answers to such questions, however, we'll simply have to take "Mondo Amore," witha  drop of generosity, as some crumbs dropped on the trial to greatness, and, of course, for the access it gives us to Atkins' unique talents.

Editor's Note: She captures punk rage and alienation with grace and style.

Single of the Week: "Hotel Plaster"

Artist to Watch

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Dynamite Steps Twilight Singers
Sub Pop

Author:
KE

So, when I was 10 or 11 I had vivid dreams about entering the world of adolescence.  I would wander off the playground into some mysterious previously unknown part of town, go down some stairs in a creepy abandoned building that would lead to a horizonless underground dance floor crowded with black clad, lithe, ambiguously gendered figures that might or might not be vampires.  Dynamite Steps by the Twilight Singers captures that dream-like premonition of a romantic, sinister nocturnal world.  The dream figures dance in a swirling sea of wailing guitars, strings, undefinable electronic sounds, all underlain with a steady pulsing beat that keeps the dancers moving in synchrony.  It’s sometime near twilight, but you’re not quite sure the sun will ever rise again.

Former Afghan Whig frontman Greg Dulli’s atmospheric voice communicates a tortured familiarity with the underbelly of a ratiocinated everyday life.  In Dulli’s world the only hints of light are “dynamite” explosions of emotion and anguish, though the final track, bearing the name of the album, fades into a more reflective mode as if the demonic celebration is settling down and the first strains of sunlight are starting to peak through.   Was it all a dream?  Can we ever know?  “You’re never gonna feel like you felt last night/…Wake up in a field with a second sight/You’ll love me”

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Fire Away Ozomatli
Mercer Street / Downtown

Author:
KF

Ozomatli puts on a great show. For a decade and a half now they've been laying down the most eclectic mix of funk, cumbia, hip hop and rock in the country. And it never fails to make everyone dance, never fails to please the crowd.

If your job is to please crowds, it's hard to take seriously criticism of being "too poppy." And if your music is all about hybridity, it's hard to take seriously criticism for taking in new directions. Those are the two prevailing threads of critique for Ozomatli's 2010 release "Fire Away." "Fire Away," does include some tracks that are penned with a clear eye to FM radio play; the first three songs on the record are not so much a departure from their previous work as a watering down. The stand alone low moment (probably the low moment in their otherwise illustrious career) is "45." On first listen it had me thinking, "oh, no: they're doing that horrible Jack Johnson thing." Then I realized that it actually is Jack Johnson sitting in. Yuck.

Most of the rest of the record has the group in fine form, and though the band has shrunk from ten members to seven in recent years, you'd sweat that they are an even dozen in the most kinetic moments. "Vatos in Love" is adorable and plays nicely with the hyper-masculine stereotypes that damage straight and gay Latino / Chicano men equally. "Nadas Por Free," harkens to Ozo's early hits with a tale of money and power in the Angeleno culture of beauty. Nobody ever took Porée seriously as a rapper, but in settling into a comfortable posi-core he has carved out a place for himself as an ambassador of left coast politics to a world that loves multi-culturalism; indeed, Ozomatli have made repeated appearances in recent years as cultural ambassadors on behalf of the state department (which seems odd for a band that has, at points, declared support for the Zapatistas and anti-globalization movements).

Ozomatli are appearing this weekend at Cochella, which is practically their hometown. It's a good test for whether these new "poppy" songs can continue to please their throngs of fans: this reviewer suspects that they'll manage to keep the crowd dancing.

Editor's Note: A band as an avenging grenade against the invasion of youth culture by bloodthristy corporate goons.

Late But Great!

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Kitty Fur Kermit Lynch & His Mean Bloodhounds
Lynchmusic / DualTone

Author:
Karen Eliot

Google Kermit Lynch and you will see that he is a prominent wine distributor and that his life as a musician is a low profile labor of love.  His biography indicates that for the duration of the album we are spending our time with a man who has figured out this life thing, he spent the sixties fronting various bands in the bay area, creating a little model of utopia filled with nothing but wine and song.   Those who frequent my living room know that I wholly approve of these pastimes.   But here’s the thing with this album, it is mostly blues songs and not to use the ad hominum argumentative fallacy, but I don’t think this guy has ever had the blues.  This would explain the lack of the degree of grit I prefer in my blues music.  That said, in the two songs that aren’t pure blues, a cover of the Rolling Stones Winter,  Cole Porter’sEvery Time We Say Goodbye and  Bob Dylan’s “Mighty Long Time”  are really satisfying.  Here, a warm, wistful, dreamy personality shines through. 

Lynch’s mellow attunement with the songs  is evident in his languid voice, his original, low-eyed phrasing choices  heightened by the warm instrumental accompaniment of  Rick Vito on guitar, Michael Omartian on piano, Dennis Crouch, Michael Rhodes on bass, Glen Duncan on fiddle and Lloyd Green on pedal steel.  I hope Lynch continues expanding his palette of genres, keeps living the good life, and perhaps reconciles to the fact that he isn’t all that blue. 

Editor's Note: This music is a tale of a drifting heart on the road.

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The Taking Duff McKagan's Loaded
Armoury / Eagle Rock

Author:
KF

No one will ever doubt McKagan's cred as one of the true bad-boys of rock. The guy suffered sever internal burns when his pancreas, which had swollen to the size of a football from all the vodka and cocaine, leaked digestive enzymes into his body cavity. Gross, huh? That was in 1993, close to the end of McKagan's long tenure as the bassist and sometimes vocalist for Guns 'n Roses. To this day one of the greatest rock bands ever to grace the stage, G n' R were known equally for their prima donna fits, unexpected cancelations and wild partying.

By the time G n' R disintegrated, flagging under the pressures of constant touring, constant partying, and waning influence, it was hard to imagine that anyone in the band would do much outside of state fairs and nursing homes. But Slash led the way with "Snakepit," and over the last ten years McKagan has followed with good-faith offerings from his band "Loaded." The mixture of post-grunge Seattle hard-rock and glammy hooks that has characterized Loaded's releases thus far is back on "The Taking," but with darker intonations and, arguably, a more fully convincing project. The record is conceived as a soundtrack for an as of yet unreleased full-lenght quasi-narrative motion picture a la "Hard Days Night."

McKagan's greatest moment of fame will always be his place as Axl's and Slash's bassist, but with "The Taking," and with his recent contributions to Jane's Addiction records he demonstrates that he is more than a washed up star: Duff's love for the music runs deep, and this record deserves a serious listen.

Editor's Note: Duff's lyrics are blatant and furious assaults on U.S. propriety.

Mighty Mighty!

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Imitate the Sun Chris Bergson Band
2 Shirts

Author:
KE

Chris Bergson has a venerable history as a singer, songwriter, bandleader and producer.  His blues songs on Imitate the Sun are comprised of six original pieces and four covers, but all of the songs have a classic feel.   He often collaborates with famed drummer Levon Helm of the Band, and this influence is strongly present in his straightforward style and storytelling.

The opening song, “Goin’ Home” has all the pleasures of those Americana maestros, The Band. It’s a good natured, funky blues tune with equal parts nostalgia and celebration, a hopping honky tonk piano and full voiced gospel choir.   Tunes like “Hello Bertha” evoke the pleasures of slumming in the company of a down home, nurturing straight talking lady, what The Band would call  “A drunkards dream if I ever did see one.”  “Shattered Avenue” is the album’s highlight, a haunting country blues tunes evoking the eerie psychogeography of a slummy part of town, looking out your rundown apartment at a garish Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.  In this song I really feel a connection with what Greil Marcus sees as the heart of folk culture, that “old weird America,” a place haunted, intrigued and obsessively, beautifully lamenting its failures and myths.

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Tuxedo Blues Roy Gaines and his Orchestra
Black Gold

Author:
KF

Roy Gaines has been at it for a long time, and his dedication to blues music is unsurpassed, but though he has many fans in France, Germany and Japan, he has remained little known in his home states. According to his liner notes, in 2006, entering into his sixth decade in the business, Gaines decided to throw everything he had into one last big band blues record: he re-mortgaged his house, borrowed from friends and family, and even took out a loan against the value of his car to bring together the cash to produce the album. The result is "Tuxedo Blues."

"Tuxedo Blues," seems like an odd title: the blues is traditionally a dressed-down affair. If a bluesman is wearing a tuxedo, in my mind, it's probably because he was either a) left at the alter or b) finished a long day's work as a maître d’. In either instance, his tie is sure to be loosened, and his lips wetted by more than a few strong drinks. "Tuxedo Blues" is another animal entirely: it's gritty and even, at moments, funky, but also carries all the dignity of the heyday of big band. With songs that play on that big band jazz era, swing, and electric blues with quirky twists and Gaines's masterful guitar hooks, "Tuxedo Blues" serves as a testament to Gaines lifetime of song making and all the great musician who he has played along side.

Let the Good Times Roll

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Sparkle City David Ball
Red Dirt / EntertainmentOne

Author:
KE

In “Sparkle City” David Ball does sparkle.  This jazzy, swingy, smooth country album is delivered with finesse and flourish.  Most of the songs are somewhat formal odes to rambling and travel, sometimes uptempo, sometimes ballads and will elicit in some listeners a pleasant day dream of taking off on mild, bucolic flights.  I have to admit though, this version of the country-ramble genre doesn’t really work for me.  I am more of the Woody Guthrie school of rambling, which requires less “sparkle,” more earthiness and solitude.  Its personal, but I prefer country folk to this more glittery version of country.

However, I am totally on board for the song “Hot Water Pipe.”  Dear reader, do not judge me too harshly but I just love songs with dirty, extended metaphors and “hot water pipe” is a stellar example.  The guitar is groovy, the singing gritty, the lyrics funny, not too gross but unashamed.  My project here is to petition Ball to make a full album of penis songs.  In order to aid this process I have consulted an online “dicktionary” to suggest some evocative key words such as: baloney pony,  albino blacksnake, rodzilla, oyster probe, magenta mushroom, beefy mcmanstick, custard cannon, the solicitor general, spackle hammer, spam javeline, knobgoblin, Herculean lizard, gravy maker and cycloptic milk spitter.  So, for now listen to “Hot Water Pipe” and look forward for more good things to come!

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The Folkways Years (1944-1961) Cisco Houston
Smithsonian / Folkways

Author:
KF

Unlike the legacy of his close companion and collaborator Woody Guthrie, whose most important work is undeniably collected on the four discs of recordings with Folkways (written about extensively on this site recently), Cisco's most treasured tracks appear on the collection of his work for Vangaurd in the late fifties. That collection, "Best of The Vanguard Years" is important in its own right, as it was those recordings (collected and packaged differently) that would have been most widely distributed in bohemian circles at the dawning of the folk revival. At the same time, when one listens to those recordings, the rank commercialism of the labels desires is shockingly apparent, pairing Houston's resonant but sparse voice with orchestral accompaniment better suited to would-be Sinatras.

With "The Folkways Years" you'll get none of that crassness. Houston is stripped down and presented as the straight-forward folk singer that we are accustomed to hearing backing Guthrie. Surely his recordings, even here, are more accessible and less quirky than Guthrie's, but they are, none the less, songs that speak to the central tenet of folk-music in that tumultuous era: that the very act of telling stories, and listening to some in turn, was a political act that would, eventually, bring about a better world. Certainly the world was made a little better for Cisco Houston having passed through it: and this record is the best way to remember those contributions.

Editor's Note: The man's repertoire is filled with masterpieces. He sings with precision intensity all the way through.

Single of the Week: "I Ain't Got No Home"

Political Album of the Week

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To Hear From There Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet
Patois

Author:
KE

To Hear From There is complexly arranged but simply pleasurable.  Horn player Wayne Wallace, accompanied by Paul van Wageninen and Michael Spiro on percussion, David Belove on bass and Murray Low on piano keep the energy high throughout the album with a blend of Latin, African and West Coast styles.   Numbers like Tito Puente’s “Philadelphia Mambo” are upbeat and exuberant Latin expressions.  And these pleasures are complemented nicely by explorative gentler tunes such as Golberto Valdes’  “Ogguere” a sensitive and emotional piece, reminiscent of Nina Simone’s dramatic and exotic ballads. 

The guest vocalists, Kenny Washington and Bobi Cespedes, provide welcome surprises.  Washington’s singing on Juan Tizol’s “Perdido,” is full and bright with crisp timing. Cespedes’s deep resonant voice beautifully complements the sultry Cuban rhythms on “The Peanut Vendor.”   The whole album is expansive and encompassing, meriting the title’s pun on hear/here.  Wallace’s album makes hearing a place, a place I want to be. 

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S/T Brandon Adams and the Sad Bastards
Melodic Undertone

Author:
KF

When Brandon Adams says of his music that it's "west Texan," the image that might come to mind is some hokey-twangy honky-tonk stuff. But what he means is a music that's informed by country traditions, local and otherwise, but takes cues equally from the place itself. Dark and brooding in tone and lyrical arrangement, Adams seems to be walking alone in the Lubbock twilight when staggering violin and electric guitar solos bowl him over with the ferocity of sunset on the high desert.

The best tracks on this record recall the cowpunk impulse of Drive By Truckers or Hank III but with a tendency for showmanship and bravado that is uniquely Texan.

Debut Album of the Week

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Choices Charley Pride
Music City

Author:
KE

73 year old legend Charley Pride returns with Choices.  The album starts off with a lyrically off-putting song “America the Great,” a preachy call for an American return to God.  It came off as sinister in the wake of the religious patriotic discourses that have come to the fore in recent US invasions.  And I won’t be surprised it if becomes an anthem for the religious right.

But the rest of the album is a much more benign form of American nostalgia, with such songs as “The Choices She Made” about a sacrificial but loving marriage and paeans to the simple life of small town America such as  “Hickory Hollow Times and County News” and “Guntersville Gazette.”  “Maybe Love Will Come and Save the Day” harkens back to the more traditional country Pride was known for in the eighties.  Songs like this last will be enjoyable for long time fans of Pride’s six decade career.

Editor's Notes: As the only black Nashville star Charley Pride and his 36 No. 1 hits has given fans hope that taste will overcome race in future of country music.

Single of the Week: "Bottom Line"

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Exitos New York Latin All-Stars
Chicago

Author:
KE

Okay, this one’s easy.  Either you want it or you don’t.  Twelve of Chicago’s Greatest Hits done in Spanish with Latin rhythms.  The numbers are performed by the New York Latin All-Stars.  The  songs are interpreted in a diverse mix of Latin styles such as Latin Pop, Bomba , Afro, Songo, Cha Cha, Mozambique, Joropo Mambo, Merenggue and Dancon echoing the eclecticism of Chicago’s mix of rock, jazz, blues and classical. 

Who is this for?  Hard core fans of Chicago of course will want this, and it is mostly being targeted toward Chicago fan clubs and mailing lists.  The album will include a jewel case CD with specialities and multimedia extras, increasing its appeal to the fan.  I have to admit that I like it because it’s funny, but I think that is a perfectly legitimate reason to buy this album.  Saturday in the Park especially struck my nostalgia funny bone, and is also extremely catchy.  Some of the songs will also appeal to people who appreciate diverse Latin stylings, as they are expertly done by an all star ensemble!

Single of the Week: "Another Rainy Day In New York City"

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Ain't Goin Back to Jail JB and the Moonshine Band
Lex / Average Joe's / Full Scope

Author:
KE

I like Ain’t Goin Back to Jail for the same reason that other reviewers don’t.  Ill-advised and juvenile as it is for me and my liver, booze still has some romance for me, and a whole country album about booze, also, has some romance for me.  Other listeners have doubted that this album will ever get a shot at radio play or if it will get much traction at family friendly events.  Exactly. 

The songs are sometimes sad, sometimes defiant, and sometimes even promising (perhaps hopelessly) reform, such as on “Whiskey Days,” which is all about saying goodbye to those good times and begging a certain lady to take the poor sinning speaker back.  All that said, the album doesn’t have many moments of striking originality nor many vertiginous boozy sonic effects or lyrics to really elevate it to a true paeon to the highs and lows of a booze drinker.  Still, the cumulative effect can be sad and  moving, especially on “Doin Fine,” a melancholy song that registers the dwindling ability to experience emotion even under buckets of the influence.

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The Family Secret John Carter Cash
Cash House

Author:
KE

Okay, so I’m having trouble finding words for my deep attraction which may soon develop into love for The Family Secret.  Every song feels terribly old and bizarrely new.  The songs can be read as cryptic allusions to the overexposed genealogy of the singer, the only son of Johnny Cash and June Carter, but you can also read into this album a dismissal of that overdetermining history, and rather see it as a turn to a more epic, grandiose genealogy of music from indigenous folk to 90s metal. This problem is made all the more uncanny and unsettling by the fact that John Carter Cash has his father’s gravelly, storied voice and a self-deprecating sensibility evident in his general preference to stay behind the scenes of music, working diligently in the studio for  names like Loretta Lynn, Elvis Costello, George Jones, Mavis Staples, Kris Kristofferson, etc.  . 

For me, the song that gets at the humor and the bizarre beauty of this album is the album’s namesake, “The Family Secret.”  Of course the title sets up great expectations—the monumental, tragic tempestuous history of the Carter/Cash trifecta is at the center of all country lore.  So, we are thrown for a total curve when the song launches as a goofball ode to the Ramones that explains the family secret is simply this, “Daddy is the wolfman.”  So, now it seems like a self-deprectaing way of blowing off Cash/Carter self importance, or an even more pointed punk “fuck you” to the family shrine  But then the tempo slows down to a slow bluesy lament, and the lyrics go from cartoonish to folk-ballad.  The character of the mother is brought in to explain the implications of this wolf-child’s legacy.  It means, in short, the speaker will never be human or loved:  

Oh, Take this for your pocket/ a silver bullet for your love when she has finally had a enough,/how love can make you feel like a human/ but there is bloodlust at her touch, and as she sleeps you’ll eat her up/  Child, child I hope you understand/  That you carry in your veins the blood of the wolfman. 

The song is not just funny and dismissive, it’s also kind of hopeless.  And this confusing blend continues throughout the album.  We don’t know what Cash is doing with this mix of punk, metal, old-school country and sad rock ballads, including covers of songs by Louden Wainwright and Tom Wainwright, but with moments that could be compared to Metallica, Blue Oyser Cult, Old Bruce Springstein, Meatloaf, Led Zepplelin, and on.  All this chaos  comes off as intentional and scarily intelligent, but infinitely mysterious.  And always the question lurks, am I imagining the whole thing?  Is this just a novelty album in the tradition of Johnny Cash’s covers of, among other things, Depeche Mode?  Am I falling in love or setting myself up on a doomed blind date with the wolf man?

I’m stumped so I am doing something here that I have never yet done in  a review.  I’m recommending that everyone who reads this, buy this album.  Maybe it’s because I don’t know who this is for, but I kind of think it’s for everyone.  And if not, let me know why. 

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Rare Bird Alert Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
Rounder

Author:
KF

Steve Martin is a renaissance man: comedian, actor, magician, playwright, and, here, banjo player and songwriter. Martin's performances have involved music since his early days doing stand up at the Troubador, but it is only in the last few years that he has focused on a musical career as such. "Rare Bird Alert" is his follow up to the Grammy award winning 2009 album "The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo." On that record Martin's banjo stylings and vocals are supported by a fabulous backing band that is joined by such luminaries as Vince Gill, Earl Scruggs and the devine Dolly Parton. 

On "Rare Bird Alert," Martin is again assisted by a stellar backing band and joined by a few famous friends: the Dixie Chicks and Paul MaCartney. The Dixie Chicks contribution to "You" is particularly lovely (better, I'd say, than most anything they've done on their own in several years), a song to, and plainly about, Martin's beloved wife Anne. But the band demonstrates their own capacity for lovely with impressive multi-part harmonies on "More Bad Weather On the Way."

Having proved to the world that this comic-actor could make some serious music with "The Crow," Martin has allowed more humor to sneak into this album. That is likely to please fans, not simply because Martin's first hat is "comic," but because of the long tradition of comic singing and comic inter-song patter in bluegrass. The record on the whole is, shall we say, hardly strictly bluegrass, but where it is bluegrass they nail that too.

Editor's Note: Steve Martin once said that a banjo can't make sad songs. Well, that may or may not be true, but when this old comedian picks up a banjo you're as likely to cry as laugh. And you just can't sit back but enjoy as his textural exploration and emotional release.

Song of the Week: "Atheists Don't Have No Songs"

If You Like Music, You'll Love This!

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Kickin' Up Dust Grasstowne
Rural Rhythm

Author:
KF

The third release from ensemble bluegrass group Grasstowne features an artful collection of original songs by band members, standards of folk and gospel, and tunes penned for the band by professional songwriters. Grasstowne is known on the festival circuit for supplying the virtuoso mando solos of Alan Bibey, but this record may surprise some fans for the egalitarian mixture of instrumentation.

The combination of melodic crescendos and down-to-earth folkiness that mark Grasstowne's arrangements leave them equally at home with the gunrack and bible crowd and the picnic-blanket and NPR crowd alike, and though their songs follow well worn paths and familir themes, they have an air of freshness that makes me want to keep listening. "Kickin' Up Dust" kicks off with a song titled "Blue Rocking Chair" that recalls George Jones's "Rocking Chair" in more ways than one, the band rolls into home plate with "Waves of Sorrow," a track that is uniquely jubilant and uniquely Grasstowne.

SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE! (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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