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Dustbowl Revival – With a Lampshade On

The Dustbowl Revival is at the forefront of yet another pre-rock ‘n’ roll revival, and don’t mistake this for a fad. Sure, everyone remembers the “Swing revival” of the late ‘90s with Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy leading the charge (while Brian Setzer Orchestra cashed the checks). The bands got hot and then got dumped into used CD bins. But, the thing is, there are always going to be artists taken with the sounds and styles of pre-World War II music, an era with pockets no less musically rebellious than our own subcultures, an era of racial and stylistic mingling, and of costumes no less gaudy than those of any glam-era apologist.
Taking inspiration from Louis Armstrong‘s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, Fats Waller, and, even, Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes, the Dustbowl Revival were named “Best Live Band” by L.A. Weekly in 2013 and are poised to win a national audience with their fourth album With a Lampshade On.
You may have seen them on your Facebook feed or as Huffington Post clickbait a few weeks back (time, and our collective attention span, does fly) when their video for “Never Had to Go”, featuring Dick Van Dyke and his wife, makeup stylist Arlene Silver, went viral. The Van Dykes were so taken with the band’s music after seeing them open for the Preservation Jazz Hall Band that they invited them into their home to record the video for With a Lampshade On’s first single. “Never Had to Go” is as infectious as Mr. Van Dyke’s fleet footed moves in the video, which has been viewed over two million times on YouTube, and the album’s other 13 cuts, mostly recorded live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and the Troubadour in Los Angeles, comprise an upbeat and stylistically diverse collection performed by a collective at the top of its game.
These revivalists are masters at melding diverse genres and time periods into a danceable stew. One travels from the moors to the bayou to the Blue Ridge in the space of three minutes during their dervish-like performance of “Old Joe Clark”. Follow up “Feels Good” opens with a riff straight out of Velvet Underground’s Loaded before sweeping horns introduce vocalist Liz Beebe’s sassy and commanding vocals. “Hey Baby” features powerhouse horns and call-and-response singing straight out of a Chicago blues house party. “Standing Next to Me” shuffles along with a doo-wop inspired R&B vibe.
The band consists of founder Zach Lupetin on guitar and vocals, Beebe on vocals and washboard, Daniel Mark on mandolin, Connor Vance on fiddle, Matt Rubin and Ulf Bjorlin on trumpet and trombone, James Klopfleisch on bass, and Joshlyn Heffernan on drums. With a Lampshade On gives each member a moment in the spotlight, be it Heffernan’s extended solo on “Ain’t My Fault”, Rubin’s French-cabaret inflected trumpet playing on “Bright Lights”, or Vance’s fiddle reel that opens “Cherokee Shuffle”. Lupetin and Beebe trade off on vocals throughout, each proving an expressive singer. Lupetin’s strong voice is cloaked in bayou brassiness while in Beebe they have a vocalist capable of bluesy sass, chatterbox nightclub swagger, and jazz-chanteuse sweetness. But it’s as a collective that they triumph, playing it loose but tight, the best way to win over a crowd, and they do. Album closer “Whiskey in the Well” is a tour-de-force of a band playing at full-speed, without-a-net joy.
Summer is the perfect time for this upbeat and foot-stomping album’s release. Dim the lights, put the drinks on ice, and press play: with With a Lampshade On, the Dustbowl Revival promises to be the life of the party.

Rayland Baxter – Imaginary Man

Some roots rock performers go far out of their way to convince you of their down-home bona fides, but Rayland Baxter‘s music sounds as easily and unaffectedly Southern as a glass of sweet iced tea enjoyed on the back porch on a warm and slightly humid day. There’s not a lot of twang in Baxter‘s music (or his voice), but his melodies and arrangements are evocative in the manner of a good novel, painting a vivid portrait of time and place, and there’s a laid-back but emotionally powerful vibe to his lyrics and vocals that’s smart but unpretentious, and generates a sense of drama that feels low key on the surface, but inside is as potent as vintage Tennessee Williams. Rayland Baxter‘s second album, 2015’s Imaginary Man, shows he’s not afraid of being a grand-scale romantic, portraying himself as a regretful heartbreaker on “Yellow Eyes,” painting regret in several different colors in “Mother Mother,” and opening up his heart on “Rugged Lovers” and “All in My Head.” Baxter‘s songs are supported by concise but colorful arrangements (with thoughtful string charts and occasional pedal steel work from Rayland‘s father, Bucky Baxter) that make clever use of echo and reverb to give the performances a rich, powerful sound that makes their case without weighing down the music. And if Baxter isn’t quite the virtuoso as he is a singer, he knows instinctively how to tell his stories and make his characters seem real and compelling. Imaginary Man presents Baxter and his material in a manner that’s vividly passionate and a little swampy while avoiding cliches as he offers these sketches on life and love in the American South; it’s a big step forward for Baxter, and will hopefully help him gain the audience he deserves.

 

Sledding With Tigers – Come on and Slam

To date, it has been retweeted 1,084 and the band has made good on their promise. They are releasing Come On and Slam, a seven-track concept album based on the Bill Murray/Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny classic. Man, the internet is an extremely powerful tool for either good or evil. Be careful what you do with it! Anyway, since this premise is ridiculous enough, let’s let Sledding with Tigers’ Dan Faughdner explain it:
“Halfway through this process, I think I really started to regret ever telling anyone that I would write an entire concept album about Space Jam, but now, I’m actually pretty stoked on it. I think I might be the only person self-centered enough to take the plot of a 90s children’s movie, and end up writing a bunch of songs that are secretly about myself. I really hope people like it, but the most important part is that my friends and I had a ton of fun making it.”
Well, folks, here’s your chance, do your dance, to this album about Space Jam. Listen to the song “Take It from Me, Michael Jordan.”

Pharis & Jason Romero – A Wanderer I’ll Stay

 

Haunting harmonies, deep truths
From my first ever listen of Pharis and Jason Romero it was evident to me that these were two extremely talented Americana artists. They sound like they could have been performing music literally at any point in the past century. The duo preserve the authenticity of the mountains, the sincerity of the olden days, and a kind of soothing harmony that is rarely found in any music, let alone such a vintage style. A Wanderer I’ll Stay is a fantastic album that avid readers of this blog will be thrilled to have.
The eponymous opener introduces listeners to the haunting harmonies of Pharis and Jason. There are well placed minor chords, creating just the right kind of tension. It’s not the kind of song we’d expect to hear on the top forty and that’s precisely what makes it great. “There’s time, honey.” It’s a song that highlights melancholy and simplicity; it’s about a lifestyle that rejects the ordinary and the hustle. It’s a wonderful way to begin the album.
“Ballad of Old Bill” has some great picking and engaging lyrics. It’s about how the world is “wicked’ when you’re alone. It’s also about trying to endure the difficulties of life by riding on. It has that quintessential Americana theme work about life retrospectives that tell a moral story. The song’s underlying lesson seems to be that life is hard. It’s definitely not uplifting, but it is a good song.
“There’s No Companion” has a different feel to it. Rather than seeming like a throwback, it seems like an update on an old fashioned style. The well-placed fiddle highlights serve to make the track have a bright coloring. The syncopated rhythm gives the listener a gentle sway at minimum and might just get some folks to dancing. In contrast to the preceding song, this one uses a generous sampling of “joy” and harmonies to provide a delightfully hopeful tune.
“New Lonesome Blues” are almost atmospheric in the way they hum along. It’s not a conventional blues song for sure. It looms with the brooding fear of “that judgement day” as one of the lyrics alludes. Sticking with the lonesomeness theme, the following track “Lonesome and I’m Going Back Home” has a totally different feel. It’s much more of classic Americana, with Pharis’s lead vocal absolutely stunning the listener. The harmonies from Jason in the second half of the song are just exquisite. It’s a timeless song about poverty and loss that just might be the best track on a really, really good album.
“Goodbye Old Paint” highlights the banjo from the very start. It’s a wonderfully rolling tune. It almost feels like plodding along on a horse. It’s a travelling song about “leaving Cheyenne.” The song has a genuine western appeal to it. It’s not just about a horse, though. It’s about freedom and love and commitment. What makes it work the most is that the song is old fashioned, but still feels really fresh. It’s definitely new and unique, even if it’s a tradition that is many decades old.
The moral high ground of “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” is not all that high. Listeners can tell from the playful melody at the outset. The steel guitar does great work to introduce the gorgeous harmonies about love. “Be sure it’s true when you say I love you. It’s a sin to tell a lie.” It’s quaint. It’s the kind of song you can picture the residents at the old folks home tapping their feet to. I say that with utmost respect to the song itself, too. It sounds like it could be a song straight from the 40s or early 50s… you know the type your grandma thinks you should know too, even though it was decades before you were born. It’s sweet-as-honey Americana.

<a href=”http://pharisjasonromero.bandcamp.com/album/a-wanderer-ill-stay”>A Wanderer I’ll Stay by Pharis & Jason Romero</a>

“Poor Boy” is as rough as some of the other tracks are smooth. That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong about the performance, but rather the character of the song has a coarseness to it. It’s about empathy to an extent, but it’s also about hard work and calloused hands. It’s a front porch tune, for sure. “Cocaine Blues” is a bit unexpected on this album. It’s not that country folk don’t do drugs; of course they do. But it’s surprising to have this sort of O’ Brother Where Art Thou timeless charm with lyrics about, essentially, buying drugs.
The final track “The Dying Soldier” is an old classic tune, given phenomenal and vibrant new life here. In fact, it really challenges for the best song on the album. It has this brilliant confluence of love and life intersecting with pending death. Beyond that, the steady banjo and again the incredible harmonies make the song really thoughtful and emotional. It’s an exceptional way to end the album.
This is a must-buy album for fans of Americana. From clever, well-composed originals to a few classic tunes, it’s the kind of album you can easily put on and enjoy without skips. It’s solidly in a musical tradition of Ameriana and roots country music, but it is extremely well polished. It is a product of two exceptional musicians with a real heart and passion for storytelling and breathtaking harmonies.