“I had a dream that we were doing hard drugs in a street alley” is a hell of a line to kick off a song, and seems emblematic of your typical rock and roll band. But SUSTO are far from the typical. The Charleston five-piece covers vast sonic ground on their new album & I’m Fine Today, swaying between country-tinged rock (“Cosmic Cowboy”), contemplative pop ballads (“Mountain Top”), and any number of other genres that exist somewhere within the expansive fabric of Southern music. But lead single “Hard Drugs” is perhaps most typical of their nakedly honest, narrative approach to songwriting, covering themes of heartbreak and loneliness with an added dose of creative flair.
“& I’m Fine Today is our most earnest effort to create unique emotional soundscapes…
…while speaking candidly and openly about the realities of existence,” the band tells Consequence of Sound. “We are a group of people, touring musicians, who feel privileged to do what we do and we have given all of our energy to create an album that captures both the pain and beauty of being human.”
It can seem like a pretty hopeless world out there sometimes, but this is the kind of music that just hits in the right way on those long, dark nights of the soul. Hell, it might even make you laugh when you’re done moppin’ up those tears.
…The single “Hard Drugs” is a Gram Parsons flavored number that is as painfully self-conscious as it is tongue-in-cheek wry. A song about the negative side of drugs hasn’t been done this well since “Sister Morphine.” “I’m just glad that I found you, sorry that I couldn’t keep you around” is a beautifully bittersweet line.
“Far Out Feeling” features soulful strings and backing vocals that harken to Philadelphia circa 1974, like an outtake from Young Americans. “Gay in the South” eschews subtlety for a hard-hitting take on a world that still can’t readily accept differences. “Tell the truth unless you think you should lie,” is a rather straightforward, non-judgmental, albeit resigned piece of advice for those struggling with self-identity issues. Hard to believe in today’s atmosphere that my fellow Yanks could’ve been so naïve as to think that the battle for civil rights was over, but we’re nothing if not a nation content with simple answers to complex problems.
“Mystery Man” has a feel like the Golden Age of laid-back SoCal music that would flourish into the adult contemporary genre. That’s not meant as an insult. Despite the stereotyped image of cheesy, overproduced, oft-misogynistic love songs by acts like The Eagles or post-Peter-Green era Fleetwood Mac, there were also a lot of really good songs made under that nauseating umbrella term.
On the uptempo “Waves,” Osbornes sings about “smoking weed with God,” a line that points at both the spiritual and hippie vibe that runs throughout this navel-gazing effort. & I’m Fine Today is not only a wink-wink cynical line but also a spot-on summary of the mood of this album.
Freedom & Dreams, a collaboration between Anders Osborne and North Mississippi Allstars, finds New Orleans’ preeminent guitarist and his colleagues from the Magnolia State effortlessly working their way through a series of blues and folk tunes with a sublime confidence that can only come from years of casual jamming. Make no mistake, these guys are more than just partners; they are friends. The album opens with “Away, Way Too Long,” a swampy, laid-back blues number that sets the tone for what’s to come. Like much of Freedom & Dreams, the opening track develops slowly, building up like a cloud of thick South Louisiana fog. Even the peaks are subtle here, with solos—on “Lonely Love,” “Shining (Spacedust)” and “Kings And Peasants”—that are at once soaring and restrained. Then there’s the record’s centerpiece “Brush Up Against You,” a more-or-less instrumental blues undertaking that teeters on the avant-garde. Finally, the whole thing wraps up with a tribute to Osborne’s New Orleans blues roots, a modern reimagining of James Wayne’s “Junco Partner.” It’s a solid effort all around that, more than anything, comes off as a testament to the power of the low-key, carefree jam session.
(And I thought the “train” theme was dead and gone… Jasmine)
Ever since he broke through to nationwide recognition with X‘s outstanding 1980 debut, Los Angeles, John Doe has been one of rock’s greatest triple threats. Doe is a brilliant singer with a gift for writing great melodies, and he’s an intelligent, evocative lyricist. Nearly all of Doe‘s albums find him displaying these talents in equal measure, but 2016’s The Westerner is an uncommonly strong set of songs that that ranks with his finest work. Doe has rarely meshed the depth of his material with the power of his performances as well as he does here. While it isn’t a thematically linked concept album, The Westerner‘s ten songs are all rooted in the American West, and there’s a strength and resonant consistency to their sound and feel. Doe was a poet before he became a lyricist, and there’s a poetic sensibility to the best tracks on The Westerner that sets them apart from much of his catalog. (“Sweet Reward,” “Sunlight,” and “The Other Shoe” are particularly effective in their impressionistic wordplay.) Doe co-produced The Westerner with Dave Way and Howe Gelb, and Gelb‘s influence is especially strongly felt on these sessions. The results don’t particularly resemble Gelb‘s work with Giant Sand, but the same dusty mood and sunburnt tone hovers over this music, and it suits the tunes perfectly. And Doe brings a welcome compassion and insight to these stories of people struggling to make sense of their lives under the unrelenting glare of the sun and sand. Doe has always been one of rock’s better storytellers, but The Westerner has a degree of heart, soul, and wisdom uncommon even for his work. Muscular but graceful, The Westerner is as effective as anything Doe has released in his solo career. It confirms that at the age of 63, he hasn’t run out of ideas and is not afraid to challenge himself.
Ted Z and the Wranglers deliver outlaw country-charged rock. Ted’s catchy story-songs are fully-realized tales of love, regret, getting older, and getting in trouble. The band stirs up its Americana influences, featuring quick picking and bluesy slide guitar over galloping train beats and swinging shuffles. In the span of a few years, Ted Z and the Wranglers have become one of Southern California’s most compelling and sought-after Americana/Country/Roots Music collectives.
The Wranglers are Dan Mages (bass), Mike Myers (drums, vocals), and Jackson Leverone (lead and slide guitar, vocals). The band has honed its sound on big stages and in biker bars alike, playing and performing in major festivals and venues throughout the country.Ted Z and The Wranglers are signed to Rip Cat Records. Their first label release, Ghost Train, was recorded at Yellow Dog Studios in Wimberley, TX and produced by Monty Byrom (Big House, Eddie Money).
“[I]t’s their brand of grassroots, southwestern country-folk that sets them apart… there’s an introspective feel to their music, a manner in which inspires thought and reflection. Not content to remain sonically low key, however, their music also spans grittier rock ‘n’ roll, making them a well-rounded group of musicians and artists.” Vickye Fisher – For The Country Record
“And though protest with a capital “P” was front and center during the seven-hour event… [for] protest rockers Ted Z and the Wranglers… it was [a] protest burning with love, and [they] demonstrated once and for all that we are all the same and different, and that is cause for celebration, not conflict.” Bruce Lyons – Hollywood Today
“If there’s such a thing as a high-functioning rock band, Ted Z and the Wranglers are it. Since getting serious as a band a couple of years ago, they’ve been on a creative tear…” Adam Levinus – OC Weekly
“Ted Z & The Wranglers got up and performed an amazing live set!” Jenavieve Belair – OrangeCounty.com
The trouble with blue-eyed soul singers, especially in the 21st century, is they usually seem convinced that in order to prove they’re worthy of singing R&B in the classic style, they have to try three times as hard as the folks who inspired them, and as a consequence they sound histrionic and over the top rather than honest and passionate. Thankfully, Anderson East (aka Mike Anderson) is smarter than that; on his 2015 album Delilah, the man clearly knows that dynamics are his friend, and in the manner of Joe South and Tony Joe White, he’s embraced the great Southern tradition of sounding committed and laid-back at the same time, an excellent fit for his rough but sweet vocal timbre. Delilah was produced by Dave Cobb, on a run after helping Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell make career-defining albums, and he’s done a splendid job with East on Delilah, setting him up with a studio band whose slightly swampy groove evokes the sound of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or the Fame Recording Studios crew, steeped in the traditions of vintage soul but sounding tight and aware of the notions of the present day. As a songwriter, East reveals himself as a good but not great talent on Delilah; most of these tunes sound like the work of a guy who loves Southern soul of the ’60s and knows how to emulate the sound, but the finished product suggests the songs were sometimes built from a kit providing the requisite melodic tricks and lyrical tropes rather than drawing from his heart, soul, and inspiration (there’s a reason why his cover of George Jackson‘s “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em” is a standout here). But if East tends to follow a template as a writer, the work is good despite the familiar building blocks, and when he sings, it’s easy to forgive his minor flaws as a tunesmith. East is clearly a talent to watch, and if you’re looking for retro-soul with a smoky Southern flair, Delilah is well worth your time and attention.
It’s autumn in North Carolina, and the southern sun is casting a golden filter onto the fiery-red dogwood leaves that scatter the roadside landscape. Phil is behind the wheel, one hand driving and the other gently holding mine as we turn onto an unmarked country byway. We’ve dropped our son off at school and are filled with a coveted sense of freedom for the day ahead. We start by setting our course to meander the open road.
This morning’s drive is not unlike ones we’ve taken in the past. For every project, album or other piece of music that Phil has created, we find a stretch of open highway, dial the volume knob to max, and drive the listening length of road. This particular trip holds more weight than those that have come before. Despite the autumnal perfection surrounding us, I can feel anticipation in my stomach and in Phil’s twitching fingers. Today he is sharing his newly completed solo record with me for the first time.
I’ve heard most of these songs before, or at least fragments of them. I had heard early versions when they came back from the mountains after being conceived. I hear them when Phil sings in the car between our otherwise monotonous errand runs, and I hear them as he sings our son to sleep at night. The majority of the creative process that went into this album, however, has happened within the walls of my husband’s prodigious mind and in a studio in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today’s listen to the full production signifies that he’s finally achieved the sync of what he’s been hearing in his head for the past few years and what listeners will come to know as his solo debut. He is thus filled with a duality of pride and requisite anxiety.
* * *
When we moved to North Carolina from Wisconsin in 2005, a specific era of our adult lives melted in the rearview as we crossed over the Mason Dixon. I remember clearly that the majority of arguments Phil had laid out for me when pitching this cross-country move were focused on the artists and music that came from this swath of land. He had just picked up the banjo for the first time and was diving deep into the used gospel bin at the record store. Appalachia, The Delta, and the Bayou were all calling to him.
As we settled into the state, Phil slowly began to unravel and wrestle with the region’s own complex dualities. He, along with an incredible collection of creatives in the area, have been finding their sounds and voices within a regional paradigm that shifts and shuffles, ever so slowly, with the passing of each sweltering summer. Now, over a decade into our stay, Phil has become a staple in the area’s studios. He has produced, composed, written for, and recorded on dozens of regional and national releases. He is enthusiastic, steady and humble in his work. He is a partner and an ally for other musicians, drawing people together through subtle alchemy. Phil Cook has become a conduit of American music.
“[Phil Cook] has influenced a lot of musicians that have played with him, and he’s influenced a lot of musicians that are pretty successful. He’s a populist, like Woody Guthrie. He’s never moved into the limelight, but all of these other amazing people learn from him. It helps them become successful.”— Amy Ray
It is only recently that Phil Cook’s story has turned from one of a departure, to that of an arrival. Southland Mission is a soundtrack of shared experiences and Phil’s purity in leadership is self-evident from the moment the needle hits the record. The songs have no prerequisite, no pretension. Instead, as a collection, they call on listeners to witness and immerse themselves in their own journey. Placing focus on the way the tracks make them feel in lieu of searching for superfluous descriptors and categories. With this album, Phil is offering up his claim that the industry labels and genre constraints are rendering themselves irrelevant. Each track is a palpable glance back at the heritage of a our shared musical culture, subtly encouraging what will be a vital shift in keeping true artistry alive. Things tend to come into focus after a long journey, and this record is no exception.
I have cursed this record throughout it’s making, raising hell about it’s interruptions and inconveniences, but above all else, I’ve missed my husband. I’ve spent many nights rolling over in bed only to find his side cold and empty with the faint sound of strumming coming from some corner of the house. On walks, as he holds my hand, I can feel his fingers fretting along to the song he’s humming. Being present means something different when you have music coursing through your veins, this is something I’m learning and growing to love. Because despite my intermittent feelings of bitterness or abandonment, I know that what is coming is worth it and quite frankly, there’s no stopping it. The gravitational pull that brought us here has resulted in a collection of life and career-affirming moments that, when looking back, makes the decision to move here seem laughably inevitable. He was always preparing the path, whether he knew it or not.
So, throw open your folded arms and embrace the anthemic reveal of “Great Tide”, a sound big enough to fill a stadium. Absorb the percussive heartbeat under Phil and Frazey’s poignantly resonant verses on ”Anybody Else”. Hop in the truck and blare “1922” out of some blown-out speakers, then find a quiet place to plug in your headphones to hear every peak and valley of the guitar solo on “Ain’t It Sweet”. The lyrics tell stories of loss, layered with sentiments of self-doubt and intermittent promises of change. The compositions are Phil’s testament to truth in music, integrity in creativity and reverence for those who paved the way for these sounds to fall on our ears. Southland Mission is certain to compel you to stomp your feet, pump your fist, and sway and spin with reckless abandon. Phil’s mission is far from complete, but for the first time in his life, it seems to be clear where he’s headed. Undoubtedly, with this record as our induction, we are all in for an epic ride.
* * *
Back in the car, Phil’s smile strains with anticipation. His eyes are tired and his hair has grown unruly. He’s poured himself out into this music, and while his reserves may be empty, his heart is brimming.
“You ready?” he asks, trigger finger on the play button.
I smile and nod. After all, it’s what we came here for.
I would highly recommend ‘Living Free’ to anyone, regardless of the ‘box’ they put themselves into genre-wise, since we get a bit of everything on the album. Regardless of whether you enjoy the heavier rock sounds, the more ‘country’ style of songwriting, as seen on ‘Drinks With Ghosts’, or the acoustic beauty found on album-closer ‘Storm Clouds’, I can almost guarantee there will be something you enjoy on this record, and more than likely there will be multiple tracks which take your fancy! Give The Plott Hounds a listen, they are super talented.
Formed in April of 2014 with an angst to revive the sound of such luminaries as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band, along with a tip of the hat towards twangy country, The Plott Hounds were born out of a common yearning for Southern warmth and rootsy rock n’ roll. We’re firm believers that good music and good times go hand in hand, that musical catharsis pairs well with Kentucky whiskey, and that we’ll give you a show you’ve never experienced before. Here’s a little bit about ourselves.
NOAH ALEXANDER – LEAD VOCALS, RHYTHM GUITAR Born in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for music from day one. Previously a violinist, one day picked up a guitar and never looked back. Raw vocals, filled with gravely undertones and writing songs about his life lessons learned down a windy, sometimes dark, sometimes sunny road. His passion for music, and the songs he writes, sings and plays bellow out through the microphone. His dream is to restore the sounds of old, back when songs were about stories…when they made you feel something. Noah is endorsed by Breedlove Guitars
JEFF POWELL – LEAD GUITAR Born and raised in Iowa, his thick buttered bacon tone and bawling leads are inspired by SRV and 60 hour work weeks. He has dabbled in music from cloth-eared AC/DC to string spanking blues from The Black Keys and strives to bring a fresh flavor to southern rock.
SHEA MARANA – BASS GUITAR Currently residing in Coon Rapids, MN, Shea has been a “low ender” for numerous years. He has a flavor for music which runs the gamut from Led Zeppelin to Johnny Cash, he looks to bring this diversity to the music he plays. When he’s not performing with the band, he is either helping his wife raise their two daughters or he’s out on his next hunting or fishing trip. ROSS SCHULZ – DRUMS Ross was introduced to basic groove and has been playing drums since he was 5 years old, and then got into a formal playing situation behind the drum kit at church when he was 12. Growing up Ross was exposed to a wide variety of great music as his dad is an avid collector of vinyl albums. Recently Ross Played and recorded with “The Josh Hoaby Band” from 2008-2010 and has maintained a busy house schedule in the modern worship circuit. He continues to work on his craft at the Risen Drum Studio in Northeast Minneapolis, working with re-known drummer – Steve Goold (Sara Bareilles, Owl City, Go Fish)
COLIN WYMORE – SLIDE GUITAR Colin was inspired to pick up the guitar as a teenager after hearing the likes of Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix. He quickly dove into all styles of guitar including traditional blues, country twang, and specifically the electric slide of guitar legend Duane Allman. As co-lead guitar, Colin’s searing slide work brings a fiery presence to the Plott Hounds’ brand of Americana Rock and Roll. Colin is currently involved in a number of music projects in the Minneapolis area both as a guitarist and recording engineer.
ZACH SERSHON – KEYS, ORGAN, VOCALS Zach Sershon is a seasoned keyboardist who has been playing professionally since 2006. Classically trained for over a decade and experienced in improvisation and composition, Zach brings a unique playing style that fuses classical harmony and technique with country, rock, jazz and blues. Zach has played in several bands including; Devon Worley Band, Chris Brooks and The Silver City Boys, Jugg and Iron Horse Group and he has opened for numerous national and acts including Joe Nichols, The Kentucky Headhunters, Thompson Square, Little Texas, Dale Watson, Turnpike Troubadors, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s and more. Outside of live performance, Zach plays organ for the Minnesota Timberwolves and teaches piano full-time. He also loves the outdoors, traveling and good coffee and beer.
GRACE BRAY – VOCALS Grace is a Twin Cities based vocalist originally hailing from the southern suburb of Rosemount, MN. Grace’s influences scale from classic Sunday school hymns all the way across the board to the Heavy Metal sounds of Pantera and Metallica. Her diverse spectrum of musical interest has allowed her to perform with a variety of Twin Cities groups over the past few years with experience in genres ranging from smooth jazz to R&B and Pop Rock. However, her heart lies with the nitty gritty sounds of the south. In her spare time Grace enjoys writing, playing, watching and attending hockey games, any and everything pertaining to the MN Wild, and ingesting excessive amount of Starbucks coffee.