At 72, Morrison can still belt the blues with passion and swagger. The opening title track is an original that pays homage to Willie Dixon‘s “Hoochie Coochie Man” riff. He elaborates on the wrongs in life and love, but exhorts listeners to get up and move on without self-pity. He follows with the single “Transformation,” a trademark Celtic R&B tune and the set’s outlier; his vocal interaction with Beck‘s tasty slide guitar is irresistible. “I Can Tell,” with Beck and Farlowe, is the first of two Bo Diddley tunes, and offers a fantastic lead-in to the medley of T-Bone Walker‘s “Stormy Monday” and Doc Pomus‘ “Lonely Avenue.” Morrison has cut the former several times dating back to Them, while a version of the latter appeared on 1993’s Too Long in Exile. Beck shines, unfurling his guitar wrangling with fire as Farlowe (who had a hit with “Stormy Monday in the early ’60s) and Morrison exchange verses effortlessly, making these the singer’s definitive versions. Fame vocally opens the original “Goin’ to Chicago” with a jazzman’s swing, accompanied only by double bass. Harmonica, electric guitar, and drums follow his organ on the second verse and Morrison enters on the third in a fingerpopping slow burn. Morrison first recorded “Bring It on Home to Me,” for the live It’s Too Late to Stop Now…. While that version was far more animated, this one offers the soulman’s nuanced best as a vocal stylist and he sings the hell out of it. Beck‘s solo on the tune is his own watermark on the set. Morrison‘s “Ordinary People” is a stomping, textbook case in how to write classic-style blues in the 21st century. A stride piano is the engine for the growling read of Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s gospel blues “How Far from God,” and Morrison‘s passionate delivery makes every word believable. “Teardrops from My Eyes” was Ruth Brown‘s first number one hit; led by Fame, the band lays down swinging R&B, creating a solid backdrop for Morrison to wail. Little Walter‘s “Mean Old World” was once an oft-covered standard, and Morrison reminds us why by reviving its fiery spirit. A rowdy, raucous take on Bo Diddley‘s “Ride on Josephine” closes out this party on a proper note, with Morrison letting the backing chorus and the tune’s trademark boogie riff guide him. On Roll with the Punches, Morrison revisits his roots without nostalgia or overt reverence. For him, these songs are as vital and important to him as his own songs. The spontaneity on this set is more akin to a live record than a studio effort, making it a most welcome entry in his catalog.
Kelly Z’s solo album, “Rescue,” is a collection of 60’s Funk, Rock and R&B produced, mixed and recorded by the acclaimed Chuck Kavooras. The eight tracks of inspired cover songs were recorded in 2011, but because of a set of fortunate and unfortunate events, never completed. When Chuck and Kelly Zirbes started talking about doing another project together, Chuck remembered the abandoned tracks and played them for Kelly. Both decided they were just too good to sit in a box, where no one would hear the power of these songs and skillful effort of the musicians. Kelly was brought in to sing on the tracks and finish the project. The whole album was recorded on analog at Slide Away Studios, recreating that big vintage sound, and featuring a full horn section, special guests – Teresa James, Shari Puorto & Lisa Orloff Staley – and the core studio band of Rick Reed, Bryan Head, John Marx, and Mo Beeks.
Kelly’s powerhouse rough and ready vocals draw instant comparisons to fellow blues belters, Lydia Pence, Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner and Irma Thomas. She rips out the scorching plea, ‘What Do I Have To Do,’ on the James Brown funk and fury opener, then dials it back for the smoldering soul of ‘Baby It’s You,’ and digs deep into her emotional tool kit for the slow blues ‘You Don’t Realize.’ Guitarist Perry Robertson plays Kelly’s foil on the Ike and Tina standard from 1963 ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,’ complete with “Ikette” backups from Teresa, Shari & Lisa. Kavooras himself adds greasy slide guitar to the swamp rocker ‘Trying To Find My Mind.’ Soul classic ‘He Called Me Baby’ is given a tender but robust treatment and you can sink your teeth into the sexy groove of Isaac Hayes’ ‘Do Your Thing.’ The folk chestnut, ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ is given the full “Funky Broadway” treatment of a thundering jungle beat and blazing horn jabs to bolster Kelly’s steamy vocals. This collection was so worth every effort needed to complete the “Rescue.”
Rick J Bowen
Kelly Zirbes and her band Kelly’s Lot have been playing and recording in Los Angeles since the mid 90’s, and have recorded eleven albums and toured nationally and internationally, amassing a strong following. Currently, the full band is Kelly Zirbes on vocals, Perry Robertson and Rob Zucca on guitars, Matt McFadden on bass, Sebastian Sheehan on drums, Bill Johnston on sax, Dave Welch on trumpet, Bobby Orgel on keys and Frank Hinojosa on harmonica.
“Test Drive” gave the band its first official release. Through the first ten years they recorded three live albums, “Live At The Troubadour,” “Stop And Make A Difference” and “Trio,” headlined local festivals, toured regionally and embarked on two national tours. Many radio stations, have played their albums including their seven-song EP “Come To This,” which was recorded to showcase the band’s journey towards more blues.
Kelly’s Lot has been featured on many media outlets for the music and charity work the band has embraced. Some of the appearances include ABC Perspectives, Channel 4 in Milwaukee, Rock City News, LA Times, Pasadena Weekly, Independent Songwriter Magazine, Mixdown Magazine, The Debra Duncan Show, Good Morning Texas, The Gordon Keith show and Fox TV Houston to name a few.
In 2008 “The Light” was released, which showcased more of the rock and blues the band was getting known for. Their next release in 2009, “Pastrami and Jam,” included a list of covers the band enjoys playing.
Kelly and her band have opened for Tommy Castro, Shemekia Copeland, Marcia Ball, John Mayall, Curtis Salgado, Coco Montoya, to name just a few, and have hosted blues events for charities and for fellow blues musicians. With the support of European fans, the band toured across Belgium, France, Germany, England, Scotland, and The Netherlands. In 2011, they released a live album from Brussels, “Live in Brussels,” which was released both in Belgium and the U.S. “Plain Simple Me” came next and brings the listener back to the roots of this band, when Kelly was playing solo shows as a singer/songwriter.
“Don’t Give My Blues Away,” the next studio recording, was released with a horn section and keys with guest artists Teresa James, Robert Dill and Fred Mandel lending their musical genius to the project, which helped book new gigs for the group including the Valencia Jazz Festival and The Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival. “Bittersweet,” their early 2017 release is a mix of many genres and features a new side of the duo’s songwriting. Kelly and Perry have written songs for a 2018 blues release.
The 14 new tracks were recorded at the famed Blackbird Studio in Nashville by a production team led by Grammy-winning producer, drummer and songwriter Tom Hambridge. The group of A-list players involved also includes Michael Rhodes on bass, Reese Wynans on piano and Hammond B3, Pat Buchannan and Rob McNelly on guitar, and the “Heart Attack Horns,” led by Bill Bergman and Lee Thornburg. If this wasn’t enough fire power, Allchin and Hambridge recruited Niki Crawford, Wendy Moten, Seattle soul man Mycle Wastman, and international blues super star Keb’ Mo’ to join in on vocals, rounding out the all-star team.
The core quartet opens the album on the rockin’ blues shuffle “Artificial Life,” with Allchin extolling the turmoil and tribulations of the modern day working man blues. The team then heads south of the border on a rollicking trip to “The Mexican End,” an easygoing four-on-the-floor groove with hot horns and blistering lead guitar. Allchin then cranks up the volume for the heavy-hitting track ‘Bad Decisions,’ featuring more molten fret work and organ from Wynans on one of several songs co-written by Hambridge. The mood mellows for the introspective ‘Healing Ground,’ with Allchin trading verses with Keb’ Mo’ speaking to the precious gift of life that surrounds us and the power of healing available to all, if we will only listen.
The house-rockin’ shuffle “Blew Me Away” features the “Heart Attack Horns,” who bolster Allchin’s guitar chops on a good old-fashioned song about falling in love at first sight. The piano driven “She Is It” continues the theme as he testifies to the virtues of the love of his life during the easy pop ballad. The gang whips out all the Nashville cat tricks on the blazing boogie woogie instrumental “Just Plain Sick,” trading hot licks like old pros. The barn-burning “Friends” rolls out like a staple from the B.B King songbook, with Allchin delivering a sermon on trust and being wary of fair-weather toady’s and sycophants. Allchin dons an acoustic guitar to emphasize his point and our need for peace and understanding delivered via the easy-going country blues of “You Might Be Wrong,” celebrating our differences in a party atmosphere to sell an important life lesson.
The second instrumental on the record centers around soaring guitar melodies and intertwining harmonic lines that ebb and flow with emotion. The edgy “Don’t Care” finds Allchin playing the role of a man done wrong and standing his ground while his guitar does most of the talking. He then digs deeper into the blues for the torch song “Stop Hurting Me,” featuring dulcet piano from Wynans and a solo from Allchin that rips like Gary Moore. The tender tribute “My Father’s Eyes” will touch the hearts of anyone who lost a parent at an early age and longs for them to know how much they are missed and still loved. The album closes with a third guitars-driven instrumental simply titled “Destiny,” with Allchin pouring out the passion he feels for this magical instrument through his fingertips.
Jim Allchin describes the collection in the album notes as a study in the decisions we make in our life about identity, relationships, and “how to live life authentically.” Themes reflected in the lyrical content and in the choice of every note from his cerebral guitar work and soulful vocals. This is quite an album; the stuff dreams are made of.
Fifteen years and seven studio albums into a career hovering at the edges of the music business, fighting for a seat at the table, Ron Pope is now in the midst of flipping that table over. It took a decade to become an overnight success. Hundreds of millions of streams, millions of singles sold, concerts packed out into the street all over the world; all of a sudden Ron Pope is part of the discussion. “At the very least, now I don’t really have to give a shit what anyone in the business expects from me. That’s pretty liberating. It’s like ‘Everyone’s making music that sounds like such and such this year’ and I can say ‘Cool. I don’t give a fuck; my fans just want me to do something good and they’ll stick with me as long as what I record is real and honest and full of songs that are worth listening to. So I’m just gonna keep doing what I do.’ That’s the freedom that holding onto my independence for so long and finding real success has bought me” Pope says from the East Nashville office of Brooklyn Basement Records, the label he runs alongside his wife and manager, Blair Clark.
For his newest album “Work,” Pope once again co-produced with Grammy Award winner Ted Young (The Rolling Stones, Grace Potter, Sonic Youth). The duo decided to record in Nashville at Welcome to 1979, an analog-centric studio. For Pope, this album marked his first recorded to tape. “It forced us to make choices. Digital recording allows you to do a limitless amount of takes. In the past, we could do five or ten takes of everything and pick and choose, but on this record, if we wanted to record another take of something, we often had to erase what was already there. Those decisions influenced us to play like we meant it on every take. Our friend Charles Ray, who’s my favorite trumpet player, came in to help on the record and what you hear on ‘Dancing Days’ is his first take, no editing, no fixing, no reconsidering. That’s just what he played and we all just yelled ‘Next’ and moved on! The spontaneity and looseness flavored this album in a way that feels really exciting and new to me.”
“On some of these songs, you can hear Nashville. On others, we’re walking down the street in New Orleans giving away beers to strangers, or I’m down on the Florida panhandle at 19 arguing with a frat boy when my blood ran a little hotter than it does now, or I’m back home in Georgia playing the bars I grew up in or singing quiet songs in my bedroom, looking back and looking forward; you find us a lot of places on this record.”
The concept for this album came into existence one afternoon in Texas. “The boys and I were playing a daytime party in Austin, packed into the corner of this little bar on the east side of the city. Everybody was on top of each other, sweating through our boots, amps turned up, day-drunk. The horn players were almost touching the drummer; the stage was so small that the guitar players and the keys were on the floor. We only played for about an hour, but we murdered that gig! I was playing guitar solos on my tiptoes, dancing with the people who were standing in front of me; they were sweating on us, we were sweating on them, it was madness! It felt like when I was back playing the bars as a kid. The only difference was, we were just playing my songs (and people actually wanted to hear them). I wondered what it would be like to make a record that was driven primarily by those kind of songs, tunes that your favorite bar band could play, that felt new but somehow also familiar. And that’s what this new record ‘Work’ is all about.”
“All of the best characters from my own life pop up on this record; girls who burned me down and threw the ashes out the window as they drove away, the 7th grade teacher who told my mother that I’d end up in prison, my father who usually speaks in parables like the Bible, Grandpa who’s taught me a lot about how to grab life by the throat, different versions of me, both from today and as a much younger, more dangerous version of myself, my stupid friends of course, my brother who keeps me honest…the gang’s all here. Some of it is serious, some of it is playful, but all of it is honest. Whether I’m screaming over booming Memphis flavored horns or whispering an acoustic love song, I’m just trying to tell you who I am and what’s on my mind without any bullshit.”
“We ended up using a bunch of the rough mixes that I put together in the studio; they just captured the vibe right and I didn’t want to over-mix and ruin it. Sometimes ‘better’ is the enemy of ‘good’ or whatever that expression says,” Ted Young commented.
“Paul Hammer and I sat down to write but we’d gotten as drunk as two shithouse rats the night before and were the worst versions of ourselves that morning. He looked like he might cry or fall asleep at any moment and I could barely sit upright. We started talking about how we can’t really drink like we used to, but we’re not ready to hang up our dancing shoes just yet and before you know it, ‘Dancing Days’ was born. There’s lots of little snapshots like that, from different moments in my life all over this record. Like the song says, I’m just gonna keep on dancin’. I’m dying to put these songs on wheels and get out on the road to work up a sweat with the fans every night.”
“I had a teacher, she told my mother that she better find me a trade/because boys like me well, we all grow up to be long term guests of the state,” Ron Pope reveals to us in the title track from his upcoming album Work. From that inauspicious childhood memory, Pope was inspired to take up songwriting and has established himself as a soulful force in the Americana scene, even creating his own record label, Brooklyn Basement Records. The album’s title track, while touching on the dire predictions of his teacher, is a testament to Pope’s refusal to be trapped by the expectations of others. “Sometimes at night I wake with a shiver/sweat soaking clean through my sheets/but then I remember I am who I am, not who they said I would be,” Pope sings with his trademark velvety voice, tinged with sadness but brimming with relief.
While Work is inspired from an emotional turning point in Pope’s life, he refuses to allow the album to be a dreary soul-searching endeavor. Instead, it’s an unabashed celebration of his life, which is full of sentimental memories, yearning, troubles avoided, and a few confessions. On “The Last,” Pope reflects upon a fleeting romance and only remembers the best. Knowing that his lover will one day leave him, but refusing to be heartbroken, Pope embraces the beauty of his partner and the thrill of passion, all glorified over a toe-tapping beat and jaunty banjo. On “Can’t Stay Here,” the romantic tables are turned when Pope pushes an ex-love out of his life. With driving guitar and resolve in the voices of Pope and guest artist Katie Schecter, it’s more a statement of freedom than a mournful breakup song.
Reflecting on where Pope is in life, “Dancing Days” recognizes that he has aged a few years, but he’s not going to let that slow him down (even if he might regret some of his decisions the next morning). Drawing instant comparisons to Beggars Banquet-era Rolling Stones, “Dancing Days” features a bluesy rock growl in Pope’s voice, and lively acoustic guitar, jangling keys, and jazzy horn. In album opener “Bad For Your Health,” Pope channels his dangerous side as he rails against fake cowboys, loves wildly, and lives on the edge. You can’t help but wonder if the song’s anti-hero is Pope’s alter-ego—maybe the person he might have been if he hadn’t focused on songwriting. Downright infectious with its Bruce Springsteen vibe, “Bad For Your Health” is a bold departure from Pope’s more stoic pieces—full of horns, southern rock swing, and powerful vocal grit.
Work is a lyrical celebration of Pope’s life—where he started, the missteps he avoided, the whims and beauty of love, with some hell-raising thrown in for good measure. Having rolled up the sleeves on his blue-collared shirt at a young age, Pope has deliciously defied those early expectations and built the creative life he envisioned for himself.
Few things are as pure as the sound of a solo vocal and sparse acoustic accompaniment. That singularity of purpose led to the latest collaboration from veteran blues man Steve Howell and his partner, Jason Weinheimer; “A Hundred Years From Today.” The wonderful ten song collection of rural country blues and traditional jazz offerings in the intimate setting of guitar, bass and vocals is set for an August of 2017 release. Texan Steve Howell provided the melodic and seasoned finger style guitar and soulful vocals while Jason Weinheimer lent his considerable and widely recognized skills on bass, engineering, mixing and mastering. The album opens with the jaunty trad jazz tune, ‘Lulu’s Back In Town,’ that was a staple of Fats Waller’s repertoire. The old-time country blues tune from 1927, ‘Kansas City Blues,’ shows off Howell’s adept finger picking skills and the inspiration he drew from Mike Bloomfield. Howell then digs deep into the songbook of fellow Texan Lightnin’ Hopkins for the share cropper’s blues ‘Going Back To Florida.’ The loose yet tight two-step feel of ‘Louis Collins,’ cleverly disguises the dark beauty of the great American murder story from the 1920’s, first recorded by Mississippi John Hurt.
Howell pays tribute to another one of his heroes, and Texas legend, jazz man Jack Teagarden, on the sweet lilting title track, ‘A Hundred Years From Today.’ Weinheimer keeps the bass walking as Howell trades rhythm, leads, and verses on the country blues boogie ‘Got The Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied,’ another standard from the catalog of Mississippi John Hurt. The duo then pays tribute to the Crescent City, (New Orleans) the birth place of Jazz on a loving reading of ‘Basin Street Blues.’ Howell deftly merges the jazz standards ‘Limehouse Blues’ and ‘After You’ve Gone’ into one with an extended instrumental intro of more finger picking magic that sets up his easy swinging vocals. Bo Carter and The Mississippi Sheiks wrote and recorded some of the most varied Delta Blues material and are well known for bawdy songs such as ‘Who’s Been Here?’ that would have been considered “blue material” back in the day. Howell delivers here with the light hearted, tongue-in-cheek humor that was intended. The much-loved standard, from the great American songbook, ‘Rocking Chair,’ closes out the set with Howell slowing the tempo and imbuing the motif of a dialog between an aged father and his son, with the deep melancholy from someone facing mortality.
“A Hundred Years From Today,” from Howell and Weinheimer, offers an interesting and accessible set list, recorded with an eerie clarity missing in the quality of most audio production, that breathes new life into gems from the past and taps the depths of the human condition.
by Rick J Bowen
When Steve Howell first heard Mississippi John Hurt’s happy style of fingerpicking country blues in 1965 at the age of thirteen, he immediately knew that the tame, folky style of strumming the guitar was a thing out of the past for him. As his journey progressed, Mississippi John Hurt begat Blind Willie McTell and Leadbelly, who begat Robert Johnson, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake and a host of other black acoustic guitar players and vocalists. His interest in rural, folk-blues styles and the history of the music led him to learn more about how this music came to town and melded with the horn-oriented bands prevalent in the cities, creating a strong affinity for him with the traditional jazz and New Orleans music of the first half of the twentieth century. This led to a journey through music which, of course, included the pop, country, rock and blues music of the times, as well as the music of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Chet Atkins, Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Pass, George Van Eps, Lenny Breau, and many other great jazz artists. Although very interested in many other music styles (bebop, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and others), the heart of his playing and singing is very much rooted in the rural acoustic blues and traditional jazz genres born in the American South.
Born in Marshall, Texas, Steve lived in Kilgore, Texas, until the age of seventeen, when his family moved to Shreveport, Louisiana. Upon Steve’s graduation from Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport, he lived in Dallas, Arlington, Austin, and spent some time in Pennsylvania during 1972-1973. Late 1973 brought the beginning of a hitch in the U.S. Navy which took him to Key West, Florida, and then to Havorfordwest, South Wales, for 3 1/2 years. During this time, he played folk clubs in South Wales, as well as in the South of England with his partner, fingerstyle and slide guitarist and mandolinist, Arnie Cottrell. They also played several folk music gatherings including the Pembroke Castle Folk Festival in the spring of 1976.
Upon his return to the United States ‘77 and back to Shreveport, Louisiana, Steve performed through the late 70’s & 80’s, with numerous gigs around East Texas, initially as a duo with guitarist David Dodson in 1977 and then with his partner, Shreveport restauranteur Jim Caskey. Since 2006 Steve has recorded the music he loves so much as well as continued to perform, oft times with his Mighty Men. Steve is the Recipient of the 2012 Academy of Texas Music Historical Significance Award.
A veteran songwriter and performer, Jason Weinheimer has spent the last decade focused on recording and producing albums for other artists at his studio, Fellowship Hall Sound www.fellowshiphallsound.com. He has recorded albums by John Moreland, Buddy Flett, and Jim Mize, among many others. In addition to his studio work, he plays bass in a few bands, most notably Steve Howell & the Mighty Men. His solo album “Skies Are Grey” was released in 2016 under the name The Libras.
Featuring members of Social Distortion and Bad Religion
Greg Graffin, frontman of the iconic Los Angeles punk band Bad Religion as well as a renowned author, will be releasing a brand new solo album entitled Millport this March 31st via ANTI- .
Millport delivers a stirring though perhaps unexpected reinterpretation of the classic Laurel Canyon country-rock sound alongside Graffin’s insightful lyricism, all propelled by some esteemed colleagues from the LA punk scene including Social Distortion members Jonny ‘Two Bags’ Wickersham, Brent Harding and David Hidalgo Jr., with Bad Religion co-founder Brett Gurewitz producing. The resulting record is less a reinvention then a creative liberation – a group of Los Angeles musicians at the peak of their game, playing a brand of music they genuinely love.
As Graffin explains, “This feels as exciting to me as when we made the Bad Religion record Suffer. Like everything had been leading up to the songs and they just happened totally organically in this short intense burst. I’m really just doing what I did back then, which is write songs that mean something to me and deliver them in a way that is completely honest.”
Album producer and Graffin’s longtime Bad Religion collaborator, Brett Gurewitz, adds, “It’s the two songwriters from Bad Religion and the rhythm section of Social Distortion, two influential LA punk bands, getting together to do an authentic country rock album, a genre most would think is the absolute antithesis of punk rock. But I think it sounds great. Both are iconic Southern California genres. It’s like the Laurel Canyon sound played by the kids who were smashing up the clubs a few years later.”
From Greg about the album:
My musical roots go back decades. It’s interesting when I take a long view of them. Like a huge tree with broad limbs, you can never predict what the crown will look like from the time that the roots are embedded in the soil. Music takes unpredictable paths — like the many directions that Southern California punk has taken over the years — but the roots are always there, providing nourishment and foundation to the ever spreading branches.
This album represents three distinct historical trends that came together in the span of only 10 days during recording at Studios 606 and Big Bad Sound in April of 2016. The most obvious one is the musicians themselves. The rhythm section is composed of players from Social Distortion. 36 years ago, Bad Religion and Social Distortion shared a stage in Santa Ana, California. Well, it wasn’t really a stage, it was an abandoned warehouse made into a punk concert/party place. That was my first concert, as the singer/songwriter in Bad Religion. Our styles over the years diverged, but one consistent element remained – our love of American folk-rock and old-time music continued to grow.
The second root apparent on this album is that of the sound and musicianship itself. No mere hacks, these musicians are masters. Vintage wood, having been crafted into musical instruments, produces the sound of history when played by virtuosos such as those collected here. An old guitar, a vintage fiddle, drums and bass, clawhammer banjo, and a combo of electric guitar and tubed amplifier, create a sound that can only be described as classic. When you add the beautiful harmonies of these most excellent background singers, there is no doubt that this music comes from a deep-rooted expression of American experience.
The final historical root is a personal one. The people who introduced me to Old-Time music are now old-timers themselves. My family roots go back to Indiana and Wisconsin. The Indiana folks sang a-Capella in the old country chapel at my Grandma’s funeral. Her children taught me to sing and the songs they chose came from the 30s, 40s, 50s, and of course the folk revival tunes of the 1960s. This was the sound I brought forth to my own band starting in the 1980s. It’s the only kind of lyrical style I know. And hopefully this album will add another strong branch to my music. Thank you all for continuing to water the tree.
For more information please contact James at Prescription PR on firstname.lastname@example.org
“Cabbagetown” is the new music project from the Atlanta-based blues and roots rock quartet,
a long and successful European tour in spring 2016, the band reconvened
in Marlon Patton’s studio in Tucker, Georgia, to strike while still red
hot from playing six nights a week for the past several months. The
atmosphere was relaxed and fun, in a rural setting surrounded by great
gear, a Pyrenees pup named Leo, woods, chickens, vegetarian food and
lots of session ales.
Award-winning songwriter Tom Gray had several new Delta Moon classics ready to go – ‘Rock And Roll Girl,’ ‘The Day Before Tomorrow,’ ‘Just Lucky I Guess,’ and ‘Coolest Fools.’ Full-band renditions quickly followed with a few twists, Mark Johnson playing lap steel on ‘Rock And Roll Girl’ and Gray playing Spanish-style guitar on several songs. The rest of the original songs were written by the band in the studio, including ‘Refugee,’ ‘21st Century Man,’ ‘Cabbagetown Shuffle,’ ‘Sing Together’ and ‘Mad About You.’ This method of writing led to some interesting results with new emphasis on Franher Joseph’s rich bass voice, some non-slide lead playing by Johnson and Gray’s piano playing. In Johnson’s home studio Susannah Masarie and Kyshona Armstrong added backing vocals. Jon Liebman played harmonica on ‘Death Letter.’ Finally, the band headed to Bakos Amp Works to finish overdubs and mix the album in their old studio, now inhabited by the talented Jeff Bakos.
The opening track, ‘Rock and Roll Girl,’ is an autobiography of roots-rock dreams with a Springsteen like appeal. The free-flowing acoustic-driven groove of ‘The Day Before Tomorrow’ has an ultra-optimistic sensibility and alt-country flair. Franher Joseph moves to upright bass for the mostly acoustic introspective tome ‘Just Lucky I Guess’ and Gray picks some sublime lap steel guitar on the happy-go-lucky love song ‘Coolest Fools.’ Delta Moon are not ones to shy away from hot topics, taking on the viewpoint of the silent victims of the world’s problems on the provocative track ‘Refugee’ recounting their plight in multi-voiced narratives over a soulful groove. Gray switches to electric piano for the driving ‘Mad About You’ and drummer Patton lays down a phat hip hop beat to open the ultra-modern reading of ‘Death Letter’ with Jon Liebman adding greasy blues harmonica, sparing with Gray’s lap Steel. Another deep groove is at the center of Gray’s satirical look at our gadget-obsessed world on ‘21st Century Man,’ while the back-porch blues that inspired the album title ‘Cabbagetown Shuffle’ is a lively duel between Gray on Hawaiian guitar and Johnson on bottleneck slide. Gray leaves us with a lesson about our shared humanity on the gently rocking ‘Sing Together’ with Johnson preaching to the choir with more of his glistening slide guitar.
Rick J Bowen
Tom Gray and Mark Johnson met many years ago now in an Atlanta music store when Tom tried to sell Mark a Dobro out of the back of his van. Mark didn’t buy the guitar, but the two soon got together to swap slide guitar licks. That summer, on a pilgrimage to Clarksdale, Mississippi, Mark saw a huge yellow moon rise over Muddy Waters’ cabin and said, “That’s the name of my next band — Delta Moon.”
The idea of two slide guitarists in the same band is an unusual approach, but it works phenomenally well for Delta Moon. Tom and Mark started playing regularly in coffee shops and barbecue joints around Atlanta. In the early 2000s Delta Moon added a rhythm section and quickly gathered a wall-full of local “best” awards. After winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2003, the band widened its travels to include concerts and festivals in the US, Canada, and Europe. They have been touring ever since. Delta Moon’s music has been featured in television shows on Showtime, Lifetime, the Food Network and more.
The American Roots Music Association named Tom Gray 2008 Blues Songwriter of the Year. His songs have been recorded by Cyndi Lauper (including the hit “Money Changes Everything”), Manfred Mann, Carlene Carter, Bonnie Bramlett and many others.
Tom Gray: vocals, lap steel, guitar, keyboards, harmonica
Mark Johnson: guitar, banjo, backing vocals
Franher Joseph: bass, backing vocals
Marlon Patton: drums
Delta Moon. It’s the band’s 8th studio album and the follow-up to the award-winning 2015 release, Low Down, named one of the best blues records of the year by both Downbeat and Blues Music Magazine. The new album consists of nine original compositions and one cover of Son House’s timeless classic, ‘Death Letter.’
It’s hard to call the Georgia quartet Blackberry Smoke Southern Rock revivalists. Rather, they work in a tradition carved out by Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band back in the ’70s. Gregg Allman sings on “Free on the Wing,” the closing track on Like an Arrow, the band’s first album for Thirty Tigers, and Skynyrd is often used as a comparison point for the band, but Like an Arrow makes it plain that Blackberry Smoke is a close cousin of the Black Crowes — a band that sifts through the past to pick its favorite rock, not necessarily pledging allegiance to sounds made south of the Mason-Dixie line. Often what impresses on Like an Arrow are the songs and passages that don’t sound strictly Southern — dexterous, wah-wah-fueled breakdowns, lean three-chord rockers, and sun-kissed ballads designed for a Sunday afternoon. The latter reveals one of the tricks in Blackberry Smoke‘s quiver: whether they’re writing a brawny rocker or a delicate ballad, they’re good songwriters, sculpting sturdy songs that can withstand both the road and the years. That’s why Like an Arrow doesn’t quite feel fresh, despite a few funky flairs: it’s a record that’s deliberately part of a tradition, so it seems like it could’ve been released at any point in the past four decades. That is also its strength — from the songs to the slyly sinewy performances, Like an Arrow doesn’t simply feel like it’s built to last, it feels like it’s been kicked around the block a few times and has emerged all the stronger for it.
Veteran roots songsmith Stephen Fearing has achieved real prominence over the past 20 years as a member of super-trio Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, but he’d already made a mark as an eloquent solo folk artist prior to BaRK. He has continued to regularly release solo albums, as well as a couple of fine duo collaborations with Andy White.
Every Soul’s a Sailor is his first solo effort since 2013’s Between Hurricanes, and it’s a strong and varied collection. Working with Blackie seems to have widened Fearing’s stylistic range, while his skills as a lyricist, fluent guitarist and warm-voiced singer remain sharp. The rock-solid BaRK rhythm section of Gary Craig and John Dymond is on hand, co-producer David Travers Smith contributes horns and Rose Cousins adds effective harmony vocals to “Gone But Not Forgotten” and “Red Lights in the Rain.”
Their subtle musical touches keep things interesting, though the focus remains clearly on Fearing. He gets overtly political on “Blowhard Nation,” a scathing condemnation of Trump’s America written prior to the U.S. election (“The fat cats are gaining ground”). That’s something of an outlier, with the other material returning to more familiar reflections on love and life. Fearing saves the best for late, with the title cut being a lovely meditative piece (“Every soul’s a sailor, rolling out to sea”) that glides as smoothly as a yacht under sail in a light breeze.
“Fearing (is) a king amongst minstrels.”
Halifax Chronicle Herald
Stephen Fearing was born in 1963 in Vancouver, British Columbia and grew up in Dublin, Ireland where his schoolmates included future members of U2. In 1981, he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and immersed himself in the music scene, learning the fundamentals of song writing and performing, while washing dishes to stay alive.
By 1984 he was back in Vancouver, determined to become a professional musician. In the years since, he’s been named as one of the finest songwriters in Canada and has built a national – and international – audience for his music, doing it old school through countless performances at intimate venues and on the concert stages of festivals and theatres across Canada, the US, the UK, and Europe, with appearances at major events like the Reading Festival and WOMAD, to name just a few.
“Fearing’s music crackles with ideas and collaborative energy… masterful guitar work from acoustic rock rhythm to elegant finger style.”
Acoustic Guitar Magazine
In 1996, Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson formed a new band called Blackie and the Rodeo Kings to record a tribute album of songs by Willie P. Bennett. Nine albums and one JUNO Award later, the band has become one of the most respected names in North American roots-rock-Americana music.
“The best roots-rock band in Canada, period.”
Their musical collaborators are many, but to name a few – Emmy Lou Harris, City and Colour, Keb Mo, Exene Cervenka, Holy Cole, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Sam Phillips, Pam Tillis, Vince Gill, Cassandra Wilson, and Serena Ryder.
In 1998, Stephen Fearing met Andy White backstage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and a fast friendship was formed. In addition to his own work, White is known for his collaborations with Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, and Sinead O’Connor. As the duo Fearing & White they have released two critically-acclaimed albums and toured throughout Canada and the UK.
Fearing moved from his home in Guelph, ON in 2008, and headed to Halifax, NS. He completed work on Blackie and The Rodeo Kings’ Polaris Prize-nominated Kings and Queens (which featured duets with 14 iconic female singers including Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Roseanne Cash). He also got remarried, became a father, and still managed to tour relentlessly.
Fearing has released ten albums as a solo artist, featuring musical guests including: Bruce Cockburn, Margo Timmons, Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, and Sarah McLachlan. When not working behind the microphone, Fearing spends time producing records including Suzie Vinnick’s JUNO Award-nominated album Happy Here. “With producing, I really enjoy collaborating with other artists. It’s a blast and, as a bonus, gives me a chance to learn and expand my skill set.”
Like the guests on his albums, the many awards and nominations that have come his way over the years speak to the respect he has earned among his peers, presenters, and critics.
“Blackie and The Rodeo Kings’ ‘Black Sheep’ (penned by Stephen Fearing) is one of my favorite songs from 2011. Meticulously crafted with deep, resonant writing and featuring vocalist Serena Ryder. Kind of like The Band recording with Joni Mitchell back in 1970.”
Brew Michaels, OM KRVO, Kalispell, MT
The JUNO Award-winner also shares his knowledge and experience with fellow musicians through songwriting workshops. “The classes dovetail nicely with performing,” he said. “My students are from all walks of life and I enjoy helping to coax them out of their comfort zones to create songs they might not have otherwise found.”
“A master of the finely-turned phrase and the perfectly-pitched line.”
Through a life of many relocations and countless months on the road performing, Fearing has become a gifted storyteller and true musical nomad with the ability to enthrall audiences of all sizes and attitudes. “Getting on stage is the fun part, especially when the adrenaline kicks in,” he says, with a broad smile. “People want to escape and be taken on a journey. I build my shows so they do just that.”
If Steve Earle wore a dress, this is what he would sound like. Chelle Rose is Appalachian tuff. You can hear her hardscrabble raisin’ in her voice. There’s enough barbed wire twang in her voice to snap a fencepost in half should it be bold enough to try and block her way.
But Rose’s pain is our gain. Although she calls it “Appalachian rock and roll,” old fashioned heartache and sorrow music is more like it. It’s a hurt to treasure, a pain to renew an acquaintance with to help banish your own. Take as needed.