Ted Russell Kamp

Walkin’ Shoes

Self-Released

2018

“May you live in interesting times”, the apocryphal Chinese curse, could have been written for us as we approach the third decade of the century. With so much political strife flying around and tech meglomerates controlling our very thoughts, it comes as no surprise that some of us want to get off the grid. Country music in general seems to be having a bit of a moment in the UK, even Radio 4 are telling me that young people are turning on to twang in one form or another. The diverse styles of country music that we love at Whiskey Preachin are enjoying an upturn, certainly, as we appear to be in a golden era of this music, with excellent albums being released on a weekly basis. Ted Russell Kamp’s new album, Walkin’ Shoes, is a case in point.

 

As he will tell us later, Ted does not regard himself as a country singer, and, in the purest sense, he isn’t. A native-New Yorker with a deep love of Southern music, be it from Texas or Tennessee, Kamp moved to Seattle as soon as he finished his studies. By 2001 he was in LA, and it wasn’t long before he had hooked up with Shooter Jennings, for whom he has been holding down bass duties ever since. So, country and country-rock music infuse Walkin’ Shoes. Even if the album doesn’t wear no Stetson, I’m willing to bet, son, that Kamp knows something about honky tonkin’ and the outlaw state of mind (not only does he play bass for Shooter, he has performed the same role for WP favourite Whitey Morgan, original Outlaw Jessi Colter, the legendary Wanda Jackson and Rosie Flores, to name a few.  

 

Maybe he wasn’t born in Tennessee, and he may not be as big a Texan as you are, but there are plenty of cowboys in California, and this is an LA record, after all. There’s a welcoming strum and twang to the opening bars of Home Away From Home that lets us know we are in safe hands, before the California country-funk struts in to the room to the sound of Paid by the Mile, which WP regulars should be familiar with from the Sam Morrow version we have been spinning regularly (Kamp and Morrow wrote the song together, and Kamp played bass on Morrow’s 2018 album, Concrete and Mud, also co-writing the album’s opening track Heartbreak Man, just issued as Morrow’s new single). Ted bares his country soul with the next tune, This Old Guitar, as the Hammond organ and fat back drums bring a taste of Muscle Shoals to LA; “If you play rock and roll long enough, the blues is what you get”.

 

Walkin’ Shoes moves ahead deftly, managing not to put a foot wrong as the music weaves in touches of west coast AOR and power pop (reminiscent of Brent Redemaker’s GospelBeach project, or maybe Brendon Benson, occasionally with a whisp of Tom Petty or even Rod Stewart in Kamp’s delivery). By the time we get to Tail Light Shine, we’re into WP prime-time choogle, with a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on QCNH, the new album form Quaker City Night Hawks. Then Get Off the Grid leans in the window with its easy-going charm and infectious Tulsa groove. Oh yes, baby!

Another WP favourite, Jamie Wyatt pops up on Heart Under Pressure and Freeway Mona Lisa, returning a favour, possibly, as Kamp played bass on Wyatt’s excellent 2017 debut, Felony Blues (produced by Eric Corne, who also produced Sam Morrow’s Concrete and Mud – starting to see a pattern here?).

 

That Kamp has produced such a confident and accomplished album should come no surprise, once you hear more of his story. Let’s hear from him in his words word…

 

Listening to your back catalogue, it seems that you started to focus your music towards the country soul sound around 15 years ago. Was there a point at which you decided you were a country musician? Did this coincide with hooking up with Shooter Jennings?

 

I started making music in the 4th grade playing trumpet in school bands. I enjoyed it right from the star and got pretty good, fast, so I started joining a bunch of jazz and big bands. Then in high school I got into some rock bands with my friends and started playing bass and guitar. We were doing mainly pop and classic rock and songs we loved from hearing them on the radio.

 I really started getting into roots music and country when I was around twenty-seven or 28, when I discovered the Last Waltz by The Band. They are not country, per se, but they combined rock, soul, country and songwriting in such an honest and compelling way. They helped me understand country as something that was personal and not just a foreign genre. Then, about a month later, I was on tour with a band, it was late at night after a gig and we were watching late-night TV in our motel in Salt Lake City, Utah. I saw The Old 97s and Whiskeytown on an episode of Austin City Limits. Both of those bands were so young and rock & roll, but still inspired by country music. They made country feel relevant in a way that I hadn’t really felt it before. That was when I started finding other artists like Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and the country side of The Rolling Stones and Little Feat. I had been on the country path for about three or 4 years on my own, playing in bands and starting to be a band leader and write in a similar way that The Band blended genres. At that time, Shooter was putting together a new band and looking for players. Two different mutual friends of ours recommended he call me because I loved Waylon and Willie and the country side of things, as well as the Southern rock and Zeppelin, all influences he had.

I don’t consider myself a country musician, although I love country music and often play and record it. I love combining rock, country, soul, blues and singer/songwriter music. For me, the song and story drive it all, which is why it often comes back to the songwriter or country roots. When it’s time to play country music, I love doing it and take pride in making it authentic, or blending it with other styles and my instincts.

 

It feels as if there has been a natural progression towards Walkin’ Shoes. Is this the album you’ve been wanting to make? How do you feel about the new record?

 

I’m very proud of this new record. I feel good about the songs on it as well as the arrangements and production. Every record I’ve made is the record I wanted to make at that time, and I feel I’m getting a little better at all the skills that enable you to make a great album with every record I’m a part of. As I was writing and compiling the songs for this record, I started to notice a bunch of the songs were either about traveling, about life on the road, or used the road as a metaphor. Some were directly about making music or missing my family while I’m away from home. All of those are all very current and honest themes for me in my life now. 

 I then shaped the rest of the record to work within those themes or expand upon those ideas and feelings. I decided to name the  album Walkin’ Shoes because if you want to go out and explore or make a change in your life, the first thing you need to do is put on those shoes, get out of the house to get out into the world to make it happen. Most of the songs on the record have to do with the journey, the travels and experiences that make you who you are, rather than focusing on reaching any destination, even though we are always striving for one. I also feel I’m in the middle of my professional life now and, as much wisdom and confidence as I have gotten, I still get thrown curve balls regularly and I still need to learn and grow. This makes me proud of being in the middle of the bigger journey we are all on.

 

You have released two compilations of tracks form your earlier albums, California Country Soul Vol.1 - Rockers and Vol.2 – Ballads. Soul music informs a lot of the best country music and vice versa. How do you see the relationship between country and soul?

 

Often, musically, country and soul are quite similar. The difference between the genres has more to do with the singer’s vocal inflection, local vocabulary and the little choices they make when they sing or play. I didn’t grow up in the South, which I feel is really the birthplace of country, soul, jazz, blues and rock & roll, for that matter. I love them all and love combining those sounds and genres the way I feel them. I have always gravitated to artists like Leon Russell, Delbert McClinton, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, The Band and artists who just make music they love, regardless of whatever genre you want to call it. I feel it’s all American music and, as long as you do it authentically, you should make it your own and not label it.

 

In his book Sweet Soul Music, Peter Grualnick writes that, in his opinion, rhythm and blues became soul music when the white kids got up and danced. When does country become soul?

 

I like the idea of that because it focuses on the infectiousness of great music, but I think that’s more of a quotable soundbite than the truth. Any artist, whether in music or writing or painting, always wants to grow, change and explore. Once you do a something for a while, it’s natural to experiment and want to evolve. Artists hear another artist do something and they want to emulate and tweak and shift it and make it their own. As this happens over and over, new styles and trends are born (and, at some point, the white kids started to dance to traditionally black music). America really is a great melting pot of cultures that are constantly changing and interacting. Technology changing and new instruments being invented in the last 100 years has also changed things a lot too. I think classic rhythm and blues evolved into soul as many musicians tired of playing 12 bar blues and got more excited about other chord progressions, some from jazz and some from traditional white forms of music like country and folk. I think young people (the dancers, as well as the players) are naturally inspired to find something new and, after generations of this, the music evolves, and we need a new name for it because it’s no longer what it used to be.

 

You’ve been involved in recording a lot of different styles of music, both in your solo career, with Shooter and .357, and Hierophant, as well as with others. Country, soul, disco, heavy rock… Did you ever expect to end up playing on a cover of The Never Ending Story?

 

No. I’ve done a lot of sessions where my job is to help the artist do whatever they want to do but I had no idea that after years of knowing Shooter Jennings, he would one day show up and want to do a Georgio Moroder tribute album, or that Brandi Carlile would be singing The Never Ending Story with us. Like I was just saying, we all want to keep growing and experimenting. One of the reasons I love working with Shooter is that his tastes are as eclectic as mine and he’s not afraid to try things he’s never tried before, not just to keep things interesting but more to follow his passions and keep saying what he wants to with music.

 

The 2016 album Countach (For Giorgio) was a tribute to the Munich disco machine, the legend, Giorgio Moroder. As a bass player, where do you see the link between disco and country? What’s your favourite country disco tune?

 

Even though a lot of Georgio’s music is thought of as disco or technology inspired, his music is also very blues based. As we got to making that record, I was surprised how close to blues rock or The Velvet Underground or John Spencer Blues Explosion some of the songs were if you were to simply change the instrumentation and the approach a little. A big link and discovery for me while we were making that record was Shooter’s idea to have real musicians play a lot of what was keyboard and synth and drum machine on the original records. Jamie Douglass, who is our drummer, and I have both played a lot of soul and dance music over the years. We almost combined that shared background with some of the acid jazz we’d played mixed in with a little John Bonham on the drums and a little Soul Coughing on the acoustic bass. 

 Tulsa Time is a very disco influenced country tune that is not out-and-out disco, but it has enough of those elements as well as being a great country or rock song that is just as powerful if you play it solo on acoustic guitar.

  

Walkin’ Shoes is a fine example of how healthy today’s country music scene is. A lot of commentators are as keen to point out the faults of today’s mainstream pop “country” material as they are to celebrate what they consider authentic. What is your view on the health of country music today (in LA and in America in general)?

 

Mainstream music (especially mainstream country) seems to be less and less inspiring and relevant to me each year. It’s big business, so I’m sure it’s providing some people with a healthy living and giving a lot of people music they like. Once-in-a-while, I hear a popular song I am moved by, but that doesn’t seem to be that often. I chose a long time ago to make music I like, that I can get emotionally attached to, even if that means I take a pay cut or play to a smaller audience. There are a lot of more independently minded folks out here making soulful and quality music once you scratch beneath the surface. One joke I say to friends on recording sessions and gigs sometimes is that we are here to make adult level rock & roll. It may be too complex for “the kids” to get or enjoy, but we do it and try to make it high quality and deep. Thankfully there are enough people out there with good record collections that they respect and enjoy what we are doing.

 

What is your view of “authenticity” in music generally, and in country music specifically?

 

Authenticity is the most important thing. I guarantee you that there are better singers, guitarists and song writers out there than I am, but I am the only one who can say what I want to say. If I strive to say things honestly and eloquently and record them well, I believe there will be an audience. That’s what I look for in music and that’s what I try to put in my music hoping that other people will enjoy it.

 

Does the message delivered by Willow the Wisp on Hierophant’s 2010 album Black Ribbon seem ever more prophetic today? Is it already 13 o’clock?

 

In a way, yes. Our world is getting more and more complex and crazy each year. Politics, technology, and questions about how to deal with our growing population and global warming are creating more hatred and confusion with each passing year. I’m realizing that I write more and more songs each year dealing with how we can comfort each other and help each other through these overwhelming and lonely times.

 

Other than Walkin’ Shoes, what project are you most pleased to have been involved with?

 

I’ve been proud of many of the records and bands I’ve worked with over the years. Here are some of them:

All the records I’ve done with Shooter: Put The O Back IN Country, Electric Rodeo, The Wolf, Live at Irving Plaza, Waylon Forever, This One’s For George, Countache, a new one that we already recorded that should come out later this year. All my own records, which I really feel are getting better and better with each new record. I have eleven solo records now.

 

Some of the records I produced that I really love are:

 

AJ Hobbs - Too Much is Never Enough

Funkyjenn - Rock and Roll Voodoo Queen

Creekwood - 2000 Miles West

Richie Albright - Poets, Prophets, Heroes and Friends 

Grant Langston - L.A. Duets

Lars Kolberg - Sort Blod (Black Blood)

Nate Smith - Around and Around

Robin Wiley - Texicali

 

A new one I’m in the middle of producing now for a super talented woman Emily Zuzik, a new one I’m in the middle of producing now for Clay DuBose, a new Tanya Tucker record which is getting mixed now and should be out later this year, an artist named Brad Raisin.

 

Some records I’ve played on:

 

Sam Morrow - Concrete and Mud

Jaime Wyatt - Felony Blues

Calico the Band – Rancho California

 

 

What was it like recording the posthumous Waylon Jennings album, Waylon Forever, with his son?

 

That was a truly awesome experience. Shooter recorded eight songs with Waylon when Shooter was maybe 16 years old, on a home recording set up. Waylon was not doing well, health wise, and was not making his best records at the time, but he was truly excited to be making home recordings with Shooter, his son, so he really gave it his all and sang is heart out. Because Shooter was more into rock & roll than country at the time, they recorded most of the songs at slower rock and roll tempos. It then became our job to make new and powerful music to support Waylon’s vocal takes, and I think we were all proud of how we did that. It was pretty amazing to be recording with our band at the time and hearing Waylon’s vocal come through the headphones as we played. I’ll never forget it.

 

What do you like to listen to when you get the chance?

 

I usually listen to classics when I’m not making my own music or working with other people. Van Morrison, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Cole Porter, Gerry Mulligan, Ahmad Jamaal, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Waylon Jennings and Bob Dylan are some of my go-tos. Some newer artists I really like and listen to are Jack White, Ryan Adams, The Band of Heathens and Andrew Combs. I listen to music for inspiration and to learn something. When I listen to these artists, I enjoy it and feel it and learn things I can apply to the music I’m making.

 

Who would you have performing at your fantasy festival?

 

All the ones I just listed. We’d have to invent a time machine and away to prevent my head from exploding.

 

In your opinion, which new country artists should we be looking out for?

 

I love Sam Morrow and Jaime Wyatt. They are both current L.A. Americana / Country inspired artists I work with and have played with and written with. They are both smart and soulful and have a lot to say. I also really love The Band of Heathens and the South Austin Moonlighters out of Austin, neither are country per se, but are great and eclectic and have some country and a lot of Texas musical roots.

 

Is it difficult to find time to write, record and promote your own music while holding down the role of bass player for Shooter Jennings?

 

Yes, but it’s worth it. My hobby became my job. There is a lot of organizational stuff to do and traveling to organize and do, but making music is what I love. When I’m not touring with Shooter, I am touring on my own or writing, recording or producing a record.

 

Millions of people will have seen you in the opening scenes of season 2 of Punisher. What was it like getting to perform in such a prominent TV series?

 

It was a fun experience to go to NY for two days to shoot those scenes. It was also really great to get noticed and thanked by fans of the show who maybe were not such big fans of my music or Shooter’s music. That opportunity really turned a lot of people onto what we are doing.

 

I have recently caught up with listening to your considerable solo output, of which I wasn’t aware of before Walkin’ Shoes. Have you had much interest form Europe and the UK?

 

Yes, I love playing in Europe. I have been coming to Europe to do a three-week tour every year for the last 10 years or so. Thankfully I’m getting some good radio play on the Euroamercana stations and there is a wonderful community of friends and promoters who love independently released singer-songwriter and roots music.

 

 

What's next? Any plans to come you Europe to tour this album? 

 

 

Yes indeed. I’ll be coming back to Europe; I already have three or 4 shows booked for a tour I am planning this November and December. For most of the rest of this year, I’ll be touring with Shooter. We will also become the backup back for Duff McKagan (from Guns n’ Roses). Shooter has produced his new solo record that comes out soon. I’ll be playing bass in Duff’s band and it’s looking like we will be doing a short tour of Europe in August or September.

As for my stuff, The Walkin’ Shoes European CD release tour was in November and December of 2018 and I flew over to play a three-week tour of shows in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. I’ll be back again to play for three more weeks this coming Winter. Here are the shows I already have booked (and I’m looking for more)…

 

4th December 2019 - Soest, Germany

6th December 2019 - Steendam, Netherlands

13 or 15 December 2019 - Uddevalla, Sweden

14 December 2019 – Uddevalla, Sweden (private party)

 

 

So, folks, if that hasn’t made you want to go and listen to Walkin’ Shoes, you are dead inside. If like me, you don’t have an invite to the private party in Uddevalla in December, we can take heart that Ted Russell Kamp will be returning to these beleaguered shores some time in the not too distant, and we will all have a chance to catch him performing his music then. If you happen to know a friendly promoter in your area, maybe you could have a word in their shell-like.

 

Tony Sexton

 

 

Quaker City Night Hawks

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QCNH

Lightning Rod Records

2019

 

Texas music, like Texas oil, is the result of sedimentary processes. Laid down over time,  the constituent parts undergo a transformation, occasionally bubbling up to the surface or bursting forth as something potent, part of the landscape .

Think of the music of Lightnin' Hopkins, ZZ Top, Townes Van Zandt, Buddy Holly, 13th Floor Elevators or Willie Nelson; they're all different, all hugely influential, and yet all totally Texan. Quaker City Night Hawks, hailing from the Lone Star city of Fort Worth, started out as another talented and entertaining country rock band. Then, after a couple of low-key releases, something special happened. With their first recording for Nashville’s independent Lighting Rod records, El Astronauta, a damn-near perfect album, the band added to their mix a slew of 70's influences, including the funky rock of Aerosmith, the heads-down boogie of ZZ Top and the expansive psychedelia of Pink Floyd. Eschewing the traditional tropes of country rock lyrics, they embraced sci-fi themes and other-worldly tales, creating what is probably my favourite album of 2016. Now it's 2019, and the band are back with their new album, QCNH. So where to next for our intrepid explorers?

With QCNH, Quaker City Night Hawks once again deliver a fine collection of songs, building on their earlier sound, but expanding their colour palate even further. Things kick off with Better In The Morning, with its catchy, swinging, loose-rolling rhythm and a nagging hook that recalls the J Geils Band. There’s a lyrical nod to the supernatural subject matter of the previous album, but this time it is vampires frequenting the dive bar on the corner, "where the whiskey makes the blood so thin". Then things get decidedly funky with the strutting Suit In The Back - imagine Lynyrd Skynyrd down the disco, if you can - with Sam Anderson’s falsetto vocals occasionally edging towards modern R'n'B, it's got style and it's self-assured. The following track, Colorado, sees the vocals delivered by main QCNY singer David Matsler, taking us back to more familiar territory, but the music here might be associate more with the West Coast sound, rather than the Rocky Mountain state of the title. It's the kind of hazy, lazy sound that Californian studio maverick and uber-hippy Jonathan Wilson conjures up, with a lilting guitar line that could have been gently wept by George Harrison himself. More Californian influences are up next on Pay To Play, where Aaron Haynes’ intriguing drum-intro gives way to tight Eagles-like harmonies. It's a shiny, sun drenched sound that producer, ex-White Demin guitarist Austin Jenkins, conjured up with the band at his studio, Niles City Sound, and this tune wouldn't be out of place in a Balearic DJ set.


 

If all this sounds like the Night Hawks have left their rockin' roots far behind, fear not. In fact, they've brought some of them along from a previous album. Fox In the Henhouse was one of stand out tracks on an earlier album, Honcho. Clearly the band felt they had unfinished business with this one, but the newer version is not a million miles away from the one laid down in 2013, still greasy and ragged but sounding like it has been schooled by a million miles on the road. The rock is ratcheted up another notch with Hunters Moon, the heaviest track here. A headbanging gallop with Sabbath-style drums and swirling Hammond organ, this one would tick most boxes on any stoner rock fans check list. It would be nice to think that it takes some influence from original Fort Worth proto-metal act, Bloodrock



A tongue-in-cheek nod to the lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For the Devil starts the cautionary tale of messianic war veteran Elijah Ramsey, although the music itself is more akin to the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, or late-era Black Crowes’ mellower moments. You can almost smell the joss sticks and incense burning as the track eventually gives way to a creeping analogue synthesiser arpeggio, leading into yet more psychedelia and atmospheric drums in the form of Grackle King. Unlike previous records, this album definitely feels like the band have been paying attention to some of their contemporaries. Jonathan Wilson is recalled once more, as well as Nashville psyche-rockers All Them Witches, and even fellow Texans, Midlake. Possibly, the only misstep on QCNH  is the track Tired Of You Leaving, not a bad song in itself, with its intricate drum pattern and Sly Stone licks, but there's something about the overall sound that is too akin to the Acid Jazz vibe of the early 90s, and that just feels out of place in this selection of songs. The band gets back on track immediately, though, with the albums closer. Freedom is a stomper with a Pump-It-Up rhythm and the kind of bluster that reminds us how exciting the Kings Of Leon sounded, back before they were jaded by their own success.

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All in all, then, this may not be as definitive or bold a creation as their last album, El Astronauta, with its laser-focused sound, but QCNH is packed full of great songs and is clearly the statement of a band still hungry and full of desire, needing to explore boundaries, drilling down deep, looking for that next oil strike.

Michael Hosie

Tylor & The Train Robbers

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Best of the Worst Kind

Self-Released

2019

Best of the Worst Kind, Tylor and the Train Robbers’ second album, is named for a lyric in the song The Ballad of Black Jack Ketchum. A relative of Tylor Ketchum, whose band of guitar-slingers pay tribute to the outlaw’s escapades, Blackjack Ketchum was eventually caught and hanged in 1901 for a series of train robberies. In 1892, Texan Tom Ketchum and a group of friends robbed the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway at a water station just outside Nutt, New Mexico, making off with a large payroll. Over the next decade or so, Ketchum was involved in numerous crimes and shootouts, joining the famous Hole-in-the-Wall gang, a loose conglomerate of outlaw gangs which included Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, operating out of the Hole-in-the-Wall pass in Wyoming. Ketchum was caught in 1899, after being hit by a shotgun blast fired form a moving train he was attempting to rob. The Ballad of Blackjack Ketchum details the outlaw’s exploits, his robberies, eventual capture and hanging, albeit avoiding the particularly grizzly outcome of the final drop. A brilliant piece of wild west storytelling, the song fells like it must have been around for decades, rather than being the recent output of a songwriter not yet in his thirties.

 

Tylor Ketchum writes songs that belie his twenty-seven years. From the very first listen, I knew Best of the Worst Kind was an album that would be calling me back for repeat listens. There is a maturity and wisdom to the songs that lets you know you are in safe hands, even though this is only Ketchum’s second album. His prowess as a songwriter is backed up by the experience of his band, The Train Robbers. Ketchum’s brother, Jason Bushman, plays bass. The two of them moved from their home town of Helix, Oregon, to Boise, Idaho, some years back, in search of a music scene to get involved in. In Boise they met with a pair of older musicians, drummer Flip Perkins and guitarist Johnny Pisano (also father of Ketchum’s fiancée, Jennifer Pisano, who sings on the album) and formed The Train Robbers. So, this band is not just a second family for Tylor, it is family. Keeping duties in the family seems to be important. The portrait of Blackjack Ketchum which has been used on the sleeve of Best of the Worst Kind was created by Gary Ketchum, Tylor’s grandfather, so that’s four generations of extended family being represented here.

 

Tylor and the Trian Robbers’ first album, Gravel, released in 2017, showed Ketchum’s talent for blue collar country, influenced by Oklahoma’s red dirt rock and a whole heap of Texas song writing. Best of the Worst Kind expands on that promise, tightening up the production, delivering a deeply satisfying listen. I asked Tylor Ketchum a few questions about the album, how easy it was to write a song about the hanging of an outlaw relative and why he chose to move to Boise, Idaho.

 

Listening to both your new album and your first one, Gravel, you clearly knew from the start the type of songs you wanted to write and how you wanted them to sound. When did you start writing these songs?  

I got my first guitar to learn on when I was about 12 years old, it wasn’t anything fancy, but it was perfect for me at the time. It didn’t take long for me to move on from learning other people’s songs to trying to write my own. Some of the songs from Gravel, “Mom’s Old Fender” and “I Got You”, were written when I was pretty young. Like a lot of first albums, Gravel was a compilation of the best of all the songs I wrote up to that point. Best of the Worst Kind is mostly songs that I wrote since Gravel was released, but I did bring back a couple older songs. “Fumblin For Rhymes” was one of my fist songs and I re-worked it a little and decided to put it out on this album. “Storyteller” was written back in 2012 when my Grandpa passed away. I wrote it to help cope with the loss but couldn’t finish it for over 5 years after his death. Sometimes I feel like that song and the time it took to write it are a literal representation of the time it took me to grieve. 

 

Your press release states that you were in your mid-twenties when you recorded Gravel (released in 2017). I assume that means you are still in your twenties? The songs on Best of the Worst Kind (and Gravel) sound like the compositions of someone with more years behind them (not sure why, thinking about it. Hank was gone at 29). Maybe it’s because the artists that these songs remind me of tend to be older. What’s your view on maturity and song writing? Do you understand what people are trying to convey when they say that these sound like the songs of an older man? Is it because so much music produced today is throw-away? 

Thank you! Yes, I am still in my twenties, just turned 27 in February. My Mom says that I’ve always been kind of an old soul. Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and they introduced me to the classic country greats at an early age, so I feel like I had good musical influences from the beginning. Spending that time with them helped me to recognise the value of listening to your elders, their stories and their advice. Since then, I’ve continued to connect to older people in my life and have great respect for their input, so I think that I’ve been able to take that voice and bring it into my writing. 

 

How much do you think the maturity of your sound is down to your fellow band members? I understand a couple of them have a few years on you. Do you think this influences you in your song writing? Have they influenced you directly, with the music they listen to and share with you?

I feel fortunate to have been able to work with Johnny & Flip, they have opened so many new doors to music I was never exposed to growing up. It really broadened my horizons of musical influences. By having them as my sounding board for my writing, it has helped me raise the bar.  

 

Your band has become somewhat of a family affair. Does this make things easier, or potentially the opposite?

It’s definitely a little of both, ha ha! There is a real sense of security having my family next to me on stage. Since they know me so well, on and off stage, we can connect musically in ways that I don’t think a lot of other musicians can. I know I can trust them, and I also know that they are in this with me for the long haul - and that is valuable in this business, I think. On the other hand, it can be hard because there’s not much separation between work life and family life. We are all working on building this together and it can be a lot sometimes. 

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You moved to Boise, Idaho, from Helix, Oregon, in search of a music scene. Looking at the map, Helix looks like a very small town indeed, but it looks like it is equidistant between Boise, Portland and Seattle. What made you choose Boise over the two bigger cities, both of which have established music scenes? Why did Boise attract you? How has moving to Boise affected your music, compared to how moving to Portland or Seattle might have done?

Honestly, I had always planned to someday move to Austin or Nashville because I felt like those were the places where the music I wanted to be involved with were thriving. I was introduced to the music scene in Idaho after I went to the Braun Brother Reunion in Challis, Idaho, when I was 18 years old. It was the first time I had been around that much of the music that I loved all in one place, which probably made the Idaho music scene seem a lot bigger. I met George DeVore in Challis and then he ended up playing a music festival in my hometown later that summer. I got to talk with him there and he gave me that classic advice, “get out of this town!” I moved to Boise three weeks later. Honestly it was the easiest place for me to go to get me out of Helix. I am thankful that I landed here because the music scene isn’t as saturated as it might have been in a bigger city. I was able to grow and stand out here, which created a lot more opportunities like opening for some big names that tour through this area. In a larger market those gigs would have been a lot harder to get, so I feel like I was meant to land here first. 

 

The title of the new album, Best of the Worst Kind, is a line from your song about Black Jack Ketchum, a distant relative of yours. Is this a song you’re had in mind for some time? How does it feel to have a had an outlaw in the family, especially one who was hanged for train robbery? Did you find this song easy to write?

Ever since I named the band the Train Robbers, I knew that I needed to write this song, I just didn’t know how I wanted to approach it. So, it kind of simmered in the back on my mind for a few years. A western song about a train robber isn’t particularly hard to write, but I wanted this song to be different. I didn’t want it to be cheesy or too theme-y. Since Black Jack is a relative, I wanted to be able to tap into that story and kind of go into character both when I was writing it and when I perform it live. The more research I did on him, the more I felt like I could tap into his persona and once I did that the words just flowed. I was up in Stanley, Idaho, for a month-long residency at the Kasino Club, I was spending my days on the front porch of a little cabin at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains and the song just started to course through me. I let it all come through and put everything on paper - I didn’t want to cut it short. I threw out all the song writing “rules” and just went with what was coming. So, in some ways it did come easily, but it has also been cooking in the oven for several years. It just took me being in the right place and in the right state of mind to bring it out and get down on paper. 

 

Your music has a lot of Texas and red dirt in it. Are you happy to be associated with those traditions, or do you feel that such categorisation is a distraction? How would you describe your sound?

I am happy to be associated with those genres/categories of this music. Almost all my musical influences come from those styles. However, I do think that Idaho country music is kind of its own genre that has never really been recognised on a large scale. Reckless Kelly and Micky & the Motorcars are now known as Texas bands, but the Braun family hails from Idaho and they brought a lot of the Idaho music with them to Texas. They grew up around a lot of great Idaho musicians including their Dad Muzzie Braun and Pinto Bennett and the Famous Motel Cowboys - which both bands have recorded songs from. I have also been heavily influenced by the greats of the Idaho music scene and I’m thankful that I have had the opportunity to work with a lot them over the past few years. 

 

To my ears, I hear shades of James McMurtry and Guitar Town-era Steve Earle, among others. Who are the biggest influences on your song writing? Who do you like to listen to most?

Wow, thank you so much! James McMurtry and Steve Earle are both huge influences on me and have been big inspirations for my song writing. My influences are wide ranging, from Townes Van Zandt to Brandi Carlile, I gravitate toward any songwriter who can put words together in a way that no one else could. Tom Petty was a major influence early on, Guy Clark, John Prine, Nikki Lane, Jason Isbell, BJ Barham, Turnpike Troubadours, The Byrds, Emmylou Harris, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Eagles, Hayes Carll, Chris Knight, Todd Snider, Corb Lund… this list could go on and on, but those are some of my favourites. Oh yeah, and Blaze Foley

 

What new music are you enjoying? Are there any artists I might not know yet that you would recommend I check out?

We are lucky to get to cross paths with a lot of great bands on the road and experience their music. A few of my current favourites are Jonathan Tyler, The Black Lillies, Paul Cauthen, Shane Smith & the Saints, and Jeff Crosby

 

You’ve been on the road, taking the new album to the people and sharing the stage with the likes of Shooter Jennings. Who have you enjoyed playing with most and who are you looking forward to playing with?

Playing with Shooter Jennings was a dream come true, the first song I learned to sing and play on guitar was 4th of July off Shooter’s first album. Getting to hang with him and the band on the bus felt like a big personal accomplishment coming full circle. We recently played a show with Johnathan Tyler who I really look up to as a performer and songwriter. Also, we got to play a sold out show here in Boise with Turnpike Troubadours last January, that was amazing. We did a sold out show in Montana with Corb Lund and had a great time with them. We got to open for Reckless Kelly a few months back for a sold-out show - every time we get to do one of these shows I feel like I’m living my dream. Coming up we are excited to play the Braun Brother Reunion this summer, where we’ll be sharing the stage with Steve Earle, Randy Rogers, Cody Canada & the Departed and a ton more. Also, we’re on the bill at the Jackalope Jamboree with American Aquarium, Lilly Hiatt and Shane Smith & Saints. Plus, we are playing the Wild Hare Music Fest with Jason Boland, Whitey Morgan and Micky & The Motorcars and bunch more. So, we are really looking forward to this summer! 


Who would you have on the bill at your fantasy festival, dead or alive?

Definitely Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Tom Petty, Blaze Foley, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Nathaniel Rateliff, Nikki Lane, Margo Price, James McMurtry, Sturgill Simpson, Jerry Jeff Walker, CCR… is this a one-day festival or can it go all week?

 

Any other business? Anything you’d like to add? 

 Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to both this new album and our first album, Gravel. We really appreciate the feedback! We hope that we’ll be able to make it over to your part of the world in the future, we’d love to come to tour over there! 

Best of the Worst Kind by Tylor & The Train Robbers will be released on 26th April 2019. Until then, check out their first album, Gravel.

Tony Sexton

 

BB Palmer

Lee County’s Finest

Self-Released

2019


Lee County’s Finest, the new album from Alabama’s BB Palmer, expands on the themes explored in 2016’s debut EP, Belle Fontaine, named after the area on the west coast of Mobile bay, where singer/song writer Bernard Breitung grew up. Breitung, who goes by BB Palmer, writes songs that tackle big topics, subjects that main stream country artists tend to shy away from, such as mortality, addiction and environmental catastrophe. You could call it cosmic country, but I’m not sure that goes far enough. Rather pretentiously, I have chosen to describe it as existential honky tonk.

The music is comprised of classic honky tonk elements, with twanged, strummed and plucked guitars, weeping steel and a sweet fiddle scratch behind Palmer’s distinctive, idiosyncratic voice. Lee County’s Finest is somewhat of a trip, a listening experience from start to finish, with samples and ambiances linking the tracks in a continual sonic flow. When I first contacted BB, asking to hear the new album, he was most definite that this was how the album should be considered, as a cohesive whole, rather than as a collection of individual songs.

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On repeated listens, the songs unfurl as the lyrics sink into your consciousness, suggesting questions as much as revealing answers. The depths of these songs seem to plunge further away as you become more familiar with them, until you are staring into the abyss of pain and struggle that is the human condition, wrestling with the facts of reincarnation, resurrection and Armageddon. As I said, this is existential honky tonk. I decided the best way to get a handle on where Palmer was coming from with this album was to ask the man himself.

 

Listening to this album, I get the feeling that there is a narrator delivering these songs, that there may be a theme to the album. What are your thoughts about the album? How do you want it to be understood? Or is it just a collection of tunes?


Right. From the narrator’s perspective, there is a story line, The band set out to do this record to flow like one entire piece, broken into eleven sections. There are many themes (lyrically and sonically). Without getting too deep, the three broad themes are; The battle or balance between Good and Evil, Struggle versus Triumph, and Conscious Mortality versus Eternal Life, all classic themes that have been done many times before throughout history, but done in a way that’s interpreted through the scope of life and culture in Alabama, the south in general, and in a broader sense, the US and the world. There’s no particular way we would like it to be understood, we leave that up to the listener.

 

You released a great EP a couple of years ago. Was that your first release, or are there others I have missed?


Yes sir. That was the band’s first release – the new album will be the first music to be released in a little over three years.

 


Listening again to your previous EP, and to this album, there are certain themes that are prevalent. There is a sense of the cosmic, something ethereal, talk of reincarnation, resurrection, drug use, addiction, deformed fish, Armageddon, death and the minimum wage. Your lyrics are existential, if I can use that word. Where do you feel your music fits in today’s country music scene and who do you regard as your contemporaries?


That’s a good question, I’m not sure where it fits personally. I’m not sure if it even fits at all in today’s country music landscape, but people tell us it falls somewhere between the genres of “Alt. Country” and “Psychedelic” (whatever that means). As far as contemporaries go, personally, there’s not much I compare or relate to nowadays (maybe I have yet to hear them).

 

Country music is a term that covers a very broad spectrum, whether you like that breadth or not. Is it important to you to be entertaining and challenging at the same time?   


What’s most important to us, is to make the music that we want to make and do it blissfully. If being entertaining comes along with that as a bi-product, then so be it. It’s not something we focus on when constructing an album or composing the songs. As far as challenging goes, from a personal standpoint, I think it’s important to challenge and question everything, so I’m sure some of that ideology subconsciously or consciously leaks through

 Who is playing on the new album? Is this your core band, the same players who played on the EP?

 

A bit of both. We tour primarily as a four piece. We cut the EP straight to tape at a place called The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, so nearly all of it (minus vocals on a couple tracks) was done in the live room straight to 2 inch tape.

Here’s who performed what On the EP:

Josh McKenzie – Telecaster Lead Guitar

Matt Alemany – Rhythm Electric, Lead, and B3 Organ

Tyler Wallace – Drums, Vocals

Jordan Walker – Bass Guitar

Myself –  Vocals, Acoustic Guitar

And here’s who played what on the LCF album:

Josh McKenzie – Telecaster Lead Guitar

Matt Alemany – Fuzz/Ambience Guitar, Acoustic Lead, and Rhythm Electric

Tyler Wallace – Drums, Vocals

Dylan Norgard – Bass Guitar, Vocals

Myself – Vocals, Acoustic Rhythm & AC Lead, Sitar Guitar

Jimbo Leach – Fiddle

Dan Campbell – Fiddle

Blake Reams – Pedal Steel / Lap Steel

 

How long have you been playing together, how long as BB Palmer? Anything else I should know about?

 

I’ve been playing music in bands since I was 15/16 years old, same with the other fellas. Tyler Wallace (drummer) and I started BB Palmer back around 2013-2014. It was initially a five piece (acoustic, bass, drums, lap steel, and fiddle) but around end of 2014, the couple who played fiddle and pedal steel (Lindsey and Ross Wall) moved to NC and we picked up Josh McKenzie on Telecaster and shortly after, Dylan Norgard on Bass, that’s when we started the BB Palmer that you know today.

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To these ears, this is some of the best country music I have heard in a very long time. How have you been received at home? Are you getting good reviews, radio and press? Is it difficult to get people to pay attention? Do you want to find a label that will allow you to reach more people? What’s your ideal situation?



That’s some high praise friend, thank you. We get mixed feelings here at home (in Alabama at least), Either people really like us, or they really don’t. We are still fairly unknown to the general public here in AL, but have small groups of followers/fans/listeners in towns like Chattanooga TN, Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, Tuscaloosa AL, and a few places in TX & OK.. (and a few in the UK thanks to Whiskey Preachin!).

As far as press goes, it’s in and out. We get played on a few stations across the Southeast/Southwest, but we are fairly new to reviews. When the EP came out, we had no idea that you even had to send your stuff to get reviewed or how it all worked. This time around (with Lee County’s Finest) we have learned a little more. Finally, with articles and other press, I think we have been on a few lists (AL.com) of upcoming bands, and have been featured in a couple magazines

Our philosophy on press and the Ideal situation is this: We try not to seek out press but rather let it come to us, because it seems more sincere that way. If people like it enough then it will happen, if not, then it won’t. There’s already so many bands and groups that are constantly in your face “Look at me, look at this”, not saying that’s an invalid way of going about it, or that we are even above that, but we try and take a more laid back-hands off approach when it comes to self promotion and press (for better or worse). If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and if it’s not, then it’s not. Regardless of what happens in that realm, we’ll continue to make the sounds that we want to make as a band and focus on what’s most important, which is the music.

Finally, As far as record labels go, I feel that most are obsolete nowadays, simply for the fact that you can record an album, sell it, and distribute it all from a computer. What we are looking for currently is the right person to handle booking, representation, and management. We have been on a couple agency’s in the past, but they haven’t worked out. At the moment we are a working band so we do everything ourselves, booking, press, distribution, media, and everything else, which really is a pain in the ass!

 

Which artists do you find yourself listening to the most? Whose record would you reach for after getting in from a gig?



That’s tough to say. I have a variety of different things I listen to, but I’ll pull up what I’ve been listening to lately and ramble off…

Kurt Vile, Willie Nelson, Charlie Parker, George Gershwin, Lucero, Nas, JJ Grey, Mario Lanza, Leah Blevins, Marty Robbins, Brandi Carlile, Beatles, Sex Pistols, Bach, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Todd Snider, Willis Alan Ramsey, Bob Wills, Lou Reed, Sufjan Stevens, Skynyrd, Guy Clark, Al Green, Louvin Brothers, Ravi Shankar, Vieux Farka Toure, Beach Boys, David Byrne, Gene Watson, Wanda Jackson, Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, Jimmie Rodgers... the list goes on…

As far as records go, Personally I love listening to any Brian Wilson composition.. Typically, Pet Sounds or Smile, but as far as post-gig music goes, that we listen to as a band after shows on the road, a common one is The Green Album by Willis Alan Ramsey (only record he ever made, but it’s a masterpiece).

 

Which new artists would you suggest I should check out? Has anyone made you sit up and pay attention recently?

 

I usually don’t get too stimulated by contemporary artists or bands that often.. But here are some that I’ve been listening to lately: Shannon Shaw, Brent Cobb, Banditos, Robert Ellis, and Kelsey Waldon

Heartache Highway, from the Belle Fontaine EP



So there you have it, ladies and gentleman. BB Palmer, in his own words. All I can do now is entreat you to go and buy a copy, put it it on repeat and see if you’re not coming back to it weeks later, amazed that it has still more strange and beautiful things to announce from its occulted depths.


Tony Sexton

 

 




Joshua Ray Walker

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Wish You Were Here

State Fair Records

2019


The arrival of a new year puts us all in a reflective mood, but 2019 seems more than averagely uncertain. It’s only natural to feel some anxiety, hopefully mixed with eager anticipation, when the storm clouds are gathering. Here, at Whiskey Preachin, the new year turns our thoughts to the treasures that await us, the sounds that will flip our wigs and the grooves that will define our good times for the next twelve months. How long will it be before the first big album of the new year hits our speakers and fills our hearts. Well, not long at all, it turns out.

 

The year had hardly got under way when this beauty of an album came a’knocking. I’d been looking forward to hearing more from Joshua Ray Walker since playing the first single, Working Girl, from his up-coming debut album, Wish You Were Here, on the WP radio Show back in September (www.whiskeypreachin.com/radio). The song shows up as the third track on the album, a bopping slice of 21st century country rock that manages to put an infectious groove and a jaunty attitude to the story of a young woman who has found it necessary to do “what she gotta do to get by”. Appetite whetted, I was keen to get stuck into the full meal.


Wish You Were Here is an album that might usually be expected from an artist with something of a back catalogue to stand on, rather than an opening gambit. The truth of the matter is that Joshua Ray Walker has been honing these songs for the last decade, only now delivering them to the wider world. Worth the wait? Most definitely, yes. Walker’s story telling is first-rate, gifting emotionally articulate songs penned by a craftsman and delivered with a voice that mesmerises the listener. Listen to the purity and clarity of Walker’s delivery on Lot Lizard, the latest single to be pulled from the album, the way his voice flips to the higher register so effortlessly. This is a performer who has spent serious time perfecting his art, his writing and his performance. Pure class.

 

I asked Joshua Ray Walker about his songs, his band and why he called the album Wish You Were Here.


There is already an album called Wish You Were Here. Why did you decide to use this title for your album?

I wanted to find a title that summed up the songs on the album, not just my name, a song title, or a lyric from one of the songs on the record. While brainstorming, the phrase 'Wish You Were Here' popped into my head, with no relation to Pink Floyd. The songs on this record deal with being disconnected from someone or something, so 'Wish You Were Here' just made sense to me.


Who is playing on the rest of the album? Is this your band, friends, people you have played with for years?

Drums - Trey Pendergrass: Trey has been a part of the music scene in Dallas for decades, but this was our first time working together. He was brought in by my producer John Pedigo. Tery was amazing to watch in the studio.

Bass - Billy Bones: Billy and I co-hosted a songwriter night in Dallas back in 2012 where I sang and played my original songs to people for the first time. Billy is an incredible songwriter and Bass player.

Rhythm Electric Guitar - Nathan Mongol Wells: Nathan and I have known each other since middle school, and I've played lead guitar for his band Ottoman Turks since 2012. Nathan is one of my best friends, and I think you can tell how much time we've spent playing together, based on how our guitar parts blend together on the record.

Producer - John Pedigo: John Pedigo produced the record and I can't imagine working with anyone else now. He also played banjo on the record and brought in other staples of the Dallas music scene for auxiliary lead, such as Accordion player Ginny Mac, Pedal Steel from Ward Williams, Organ by Chad Stockslager and Keys and Trumpet by Cory Graves. There is also an appearance by the talented songwriter Van Darien singing a duet with me on the track "Keep". The bulk of the tracking took place at Audio Dallas, where Willie Nelson recorded 'Red Headed Stranger'.

 

It’s an accomplished set of songs for a debut album. I have seen you quoted as saying you are glad that you got to do this record now, rather than earlier in your career. How many of these songs were written recently, or for this album? Which of these songs have been with you the longest?

Thank you. The oldest song on the album is Fondly, written in 2009. It’s the first song I ever finished. Last Call, written in 2012, is probably the song I've played the most. All the other songs trickled in between then and now. "Love Songs" was finished in the studio, so this record really is a selection that spans almost a decade of writing.

 

Who would you say is your biggest influence?

I have lots of influences but have never fixated on one for too long. I would say my grandfather, Ray Cheek, was my biggest influence because he introduced me to a lot of good music at a young age, encouraging me to play the instruments that were laying around the house.

 

 

When asked, I wasn’t surprised by the list of artists, old and new, that Walker listed as among his listening, a list that included Roy Orbison, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Jerry Reed & Chet Atkins, Foggy Mountain Boys, Jack White, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver and Sam Baker, as well as Colter Wall, Tyler Childers, John Moreland and Paul Cauthen. He’s also enjoying the new Vandoliers single. If you’re reading this and like any of these artists, you need to listen to Joshua Ray Walker.

Walker’s empathy with his characters allows him to mine emotional depths through his song writing. Embellishing his protagonists’ experiences allows him to explore their situations, as well as feelings that he may share. In Walkers own words, “If it’s by poor decisions or circumstances beyond their control, I find inspiration from the downtrodden and destitute. I see myself in these characters. I use these characters to explore things about myself in songs I’d otherwise be too self-conscious to write about”.

 

2018 was a great year for new music, and especially so for the type we like to play here at Whiskey Preachin. My cynical side can’t help but wonder how long we can live in this sunny upland before the magic starts to bleed away, the productions get more bloated, the cocaine takes hold of the song-writing talent and the stock of albums that make the grade starts to dwindle. I had been pondering this in the first week of January, hoping that I wouldn’t come to lament the passing of 2018, struck by some sick nostalgia for the music it brought us. Then Wish You Were Here turned up, gave me a big hug and made everything all right. 2019’s not the year I need to worry about. Not yet, at least.

Tony Sexton

 

 

 

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood

CRB Album Cover.jpg




Betty's Midwestern Magick Blends Vol. 4

 Silver Arrow

 2018

There are two bands it's hard not to mention when talking about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. One is, of course, the Black Crowes, the group Chris Robinson formed with his brother Rich, a band that brought some much-needed roll to the 90's rock scene before their volatile relationship and sibling rivalry finally became too much for both to continue in the same outfit. The other is the Grateful Dead, who's example of constant touring, while changing the set list every night for their travelling fans, and then releasing those shows on a multitude of live recording, seems to have been taken as an instruction manual of how a modern band can not only survive, but prosper on their own terms in this age of something-for-nothing streaming services.

 

The Grateful Dead references don't end there, either. This live recording, and several others CRB have released on their own label, Silver Arrow, since 2013, was captured by the legendary Betty Cantor-Jackson, a recording engineer who taped hundreds of Grateful Dead concerts during Garcia & co.'s peak years. Her ability to capture the magic(k) of a band in full flight has certainly not faded with time.

 

This set kicks off with rolling ivories, heralding Forever As The Moon, a keyboard line that bares more than a passing resemblance to the intro of the Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker). The snaking slide guitar of Neal Casal that soon accompanies the piano vamp does nothing to dispel the Stones comparisons, although the lyrical poetry owes more to Dylan than Jagger in this instance. In fact, most of the tracks selected here represent the more rootsy side of CRB's recent output. Psychedelic interludes and flourishes still remain, though, and the bands ability to stretch out and jam is shown off to fine effect, especially on the barnstorming 11-minute version of the Jerry Leiber-penned, southern soul hit, Down Home Girl, originally recorded by Alvin Robinson. Peppered with some deliciously funky Sly Stone clavinet, it would almost be worth the price of the concert ticket just to see this performed live. The yearning cowboy melodies of Shadow Cosmos follows, then lead on to possibly their biggest song yet, the epic Narcissus Soaking Wet. A-10 minute monster jam that definitively answers the question "What would it have sounded like if Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder had got it together in their mid-70's pomp. Robinson spits out a couple of bad-ass honking harmonica solos before Neal Casal lets rip with a stratospheric guitar solo.

 

Casal originally started off playing for Rickey Medlockes' southern rockers Blackfoot, before making a name for himself in Ryan Adams backing band the Cardinals. Apart from his role in CRB, he also currently plays with Hard Working Americans, The Skiffle Players and Circles Around the Sun. His quality guitar playing and song writing always add a real touch of class to every project he's involved in. But back to the gig, and the soul/prog experiments continue on Precious Precious. originally a hit for Jacksonville soul diva Jackie Moore and here featuring a mammoth Moog solo that I'm certain was never envisioned by the writers when the song was first composed. For Black Crowes fans yet to experience Chris Robinsons current direction, the most Marmite aspect will most likely be those keyboards. The bending analogue sythesizer lines of Adam McDougall play a prominent role in much of the music made here, which can be a shock to those used to the Humble Pie / Faces grittiness of those early Crowes releases. There can certainly be a fine line between the Mothership funk of Bernie Worrell and the theme from Grange Hill and, although the combination of sounds at first seemed like very odd bedfellows to me, I have really grown to love the qualities that sound brings. Quite often it's the grit in the oyster that elevates the CRB output into something truly unique. Another cover follows in the form of Magic Carpet Ride, a faithful, if more fleet-of-foot, rendition than the Steppenwolf original. Those feet well and truly leave the ground when the band ignite their rocket boots and launch into full wig out mode (twice!). Then it's back to the original compositions with the desert blues of Somewhere Past the Sunset, recalling Texan guitar god Joe Ely, amongst others. This is followed by a magnificent version of one of my favourite CRB tunes, New Cannonball Rag, which, at nearly 13-minutes, takes the Deadhead boogie of the studio version right out to the edge of the Solar System and back.

 

Robinson’s vocal dexterity is on fine display all throughout these recordings, but especially during It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Most of Dylans' compositions have been covered several times and this one is no exception, yet despite the rarified company, Chris more than holds his own, as the band add shades of Leon Russell to this spin on this old classic. I've always been a big fan of Robinson’s delivery, right back from when I got to see them in Manchester on their first UK tour waaay back in 1990. Considering his herbal requirements and his relentless touring schedule, his voice has survived remarkably well in a way that belies his age. The register is maybe a fraction deeper and the edges a little more grizzled, but he was, and remains, a rock singer of unique quality and soul. Backed by a band that plays with all the assurance of The Band, the audacity of the Allmans and is free of the shackles of expectation that comes with having to play songs you first wrote nearly 30 years ago, you can just tell that Robinson is right where he needs to be at this point in his career, and enjoying every minute of it. You can hear it in the assured delivery of the last two CRB compositions, Ain't It Hard But Fair and California Hymn, and, as if to silence those blinkered old Black Crowes fans who just won't be happy unless Chris Robinson is shaking his moneymaker to a Stones back-beat, this quality collection finishes with a dynamite rendition of Let It Bleed that could only come from that wily old Crowe.

 Michael Hosie





 

JP Harris

Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing

Free Dirt Records

2018

J-P-Harris-Sonetimes-Dogs-Bark-At-Nothing

I’ve been a JP Harris fan for some time now. I was lucky to spin a handful tunes at a gig he played in Brighton a few of years back. I picked up his two albums and soon started playing Gear Jammin Daddy (form the JP Harris and the Tough Choices album I’ll Keep Calling, 2012) in our Whiskey Preachin DJ sets. When, soon after that gig, we started the Whiskey Preachin Radio Show, Gear Jammin Daddy took pole position as the opening tune on the first show.

Photo by Giles Clement

Released on Maryland’s Free Dirt records (who also brought us top notch albums form Western Centuries, The Hackensaw Boys and Porky LaFarge, among others), Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing was always going to be of interest to the WP ears, naturally. It was only a matter of seconds after the first track started that I knew it was going to have to open one of our shows (it’s the first track on the September 2018 Pt.2 show, there’s a link at the bottom of the page).

JP’s Florida Blues #1 opens the album, riding an organ groove and insistent drums, with backing singers reminiscent of an Elvis comeback show and lyrics that should draw attention form FHP.  JPH spins a tale of losing his mind out on the highway, when it’s 85 degrees and snowing. This one is guaranteed to be heard in WP sets for years to come. In fact, there are several track from this fine album that are sure to be getting plenty of WP attention, including Hard Road and Jimmy’s Dead and Gone (both up-tempo numbers suited to our favourite Friday night whiskey joint) as well as Runaway (a dobro-drenched head-nodder) and When I Quit Drinking (a lovely slice of mid-tempo honky tonk).The dobro forms the backbone of the title track as well, allowing Harris to show of his singer-songwriter credentials, while I Only Drink Alone drops the lights and the tempo for a gently swinging honky tonk lament.

Now based in Music City, Harris is originally from Montgomery, Alabama, one of the few cities in AL I am lucky to have visited, where Hank Williams is buried and where, 28 years before Harris was born, Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus. In his decade-long career as a country singer (outside of his day job as a sought-after carpenter), Harris has released three fine albums and the Why Don’t We Duet In The Road EP (which features Nikki Lane, Kristina Murray (whose recent album Southern Ambrosia has been playing on the WP show), Kelsey Waldon and Leigh Nash. Harris’s performance at the 2018 Americanfest in Nashville was well received by the critics, as was his choice to work with a slew of talented female country artist, when female artists seem to have been overlooked somewhat in the awards themselves. At the Sunday Morning Coming Down party that he hosted at the end of the festival (which I would love to have been able to attend), Harris shared the stage with Elizabeth Cook, The Watson Twins, Erin Rae and Kristina Murray. Fair play, although I find it odd that this should be the exception. Why wouldn’t a talented male artist want to share the stage with a bunch of talented female artists? He got to hang out with female artists he clearly respects and made himself look good into the bargain. Surely that’s a win-win?

Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing should certainly see JP Harris reaching a broader audience. This album provides the latest example of just how good today’s country music can be. First rate stuff, all we need now is some UK tour dates, please, hopefully at a slightly bigger venue.

 Tony Sexton

Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro-Escovedo-The-Crossing

The Crossing

Yep Roc Records

2018

“Bang Bang! There’s trouble in America” shouts Alejandro Escovedo on Fury and Fire, a blast of angry 21st century rock and roll protest, a stand-out lyric from The Crossing. A concept album built on the story of Salvo and Diego, two kids, Italian and Mexican respectively, who meet in Texas and decide to start a band, to make music just like the great records that started them on their separate crossings to the USA. As our two protagonists travel further into America, dreams are shattered by experiences as the harsh reality of America bleeds in. Fertile ground, indeed, for a song writer of Mexican-American heritage such as Escovedo, whom No Depression magazine have already declared artist of the decade. No pressure, then. I was weary when I approached the album for my first listen.

Alejandro Escovedo has had a diverse career since he first appeared as a founding member of the San Francisco punk band The Nuns, back in 1975. Prior to his recordings under his own name in a more alt.country style, Escovedo wielded his guitar for several notable bands, including Austin Cowpunk pioneers Rank and File, and The True Believers. Never one to be pinned down by musical borders, Escovedo is not easy to fence in.

Having already played the lead single, Sonica USA, featuring the guitar work of MC5’s Wayne Kramer, on the Whiskey Preachin radio show several months prior to the albums release, I had been expectantly waiting to hear the full work. Reviews I had read in the intervening months had been unanimous in putting the album on a pedestal, using words like “cinematic” and “masterwork”, describing Escovedo as one of the great songwriters of our time, in a genre of his own. I’d learnt that, alongside MC5’s Kramer, James Williamson of The Stooges also plays on one track, Teenage Luggage, that Joe Ely appears on two tracks, writing one of them, as does Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin. With such a build-up, I was worried that I wouldn’t like it, that maybe the artfulness and the concept would get in the way of the listen. There was no need to worry. On first listen, it was clear we were dealing with a very fine album indeed.

From a Whiskey Preachin perspective, there are a handful of tracks on The Crossing that we might choose to play in DJ set, more that would work well on the radio show. Outlaw for You is a tune that occupies a space in the musical Venn diagram where Whiskey Preachin and our friends Stay Sick could happily co-habit without squabbling over the stereo, a slice of classic garage rock Americana, like a cross between The Sir Douglas Quintet and ? and The Mysterians. Brilliant. The Aforementioned Sonica USA is all driving rock and roll, as is Fury and Fire, full of anger and political angst that many of us are feeling, no matter where we live. One of the strongest tracks comes towards the end of the album, the penultimate tune, MC Overlord, a mightily impressive No Wave post-punk workout.

The album’s slower tracks are where many of the guest singers appear and, if anything, give the album the structure necessary to navigate the story around the bigger, brasher rock and roll numbers. Joe Ely, who’s song Fingernails turned Joe Strummer onto Texas music, contributes the song Silver City, adding a touch of classic Texas songwriter to the sprawling kaleidoscope of musical influences and styles displayed on The Crossing. Ely returns to voice the spoken-word title track, The Crossing, closing out the album with a lament for broken dreams and broken lives, scorched along the Mexican border.

“The border crossed me, I didn’t cross it. If you really want to think of it, you’re the wetback, coming across the Atlantic”. Rio Navidad is another track where the story is exposited in spoken-work, this time written by Willy Vlautin (Richmond Fontaine, The Delines) and spoken by fellow Richmond Fontaine member, Freddy Trujillo, taking the reins to expound Diego’s story in Vlautin’s words. Another highlight of the album is the wonderful instrumental, Amor Puro, which opens with an almost Casio keyboard-style bossa groove before expanding into the sort of sleazy popcorn joint Calexico might bring to the party, if they had just come back form a desert surfing holiday.

The Crossing was recorded in Italy with Antonio Gramentieri and his band Don Antonio. Gramentieri is also credited with having written much of the album with Escovedo. The two travelled between Italy and Texas for their writing sessions, to soak up the atmosphere of both locations, home landscapes of the two characters in The Crossing. After all, the essence of south Tejas will always be Mexican. Gramentieri’s previous band, Sacri Cuori (Sacred Hearts), created music influenced and inspired by Italian film scores, having written music for film themselves. On The Crossing, it feels as if the soundtrack influence allowed for the diversity of styles to hang together as a single album. The very idea of a concept album could almost be imagined as a film made in music, so a group of musicians with experience in soundtracks makes perfect sense. There is something about The Crossing that made me think of the soundtrack created by Frank Black for a 1920s silent film called The Golem. For those of you with an interest in reading sleeve notes, Gramentieri also played guitar on Giant Sand’s 2015 album Heartbreak Pass.

The Crossing is a big album, seventeen tracks, covering lots of ground, myriad styles and influences; punk, rock and roll, Americana, ballads, spoken-word, surf and twang. It’s an ambitious work that shouldn’t really hang together as well as it does. It’s a melting pot of sounds and styles, just like the man whose name is on the sleeve. 

Tony Sexton

Cliff Westfall

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 Baby You Win

Independent

2018

We are lucky today to be in a world where quality independent country music is the strongest it has been for decades, possibly ever. Whether you lean towards outlaw, cosmic, countrypolitan or singer-songwriter, honky tonk or bluegrass, there’s something out there for everyone. You can add Cliff Westfall’s album, Baby You Win, to that list. Packed with classic honky tonk sounds, with a production that manages to fell fresh and bygone at the same time, Baby You Win is reverential without falling into the trap of pastiche. Westfall’s lyrics are finely honed, at times wonderfully humorous, at others heart breaking, as only real a country songs can be. The press release helpfully prompts the busy reviewer that they should make some time for this album if they like Dwight Yoakam, Robbie Fulks or Rodney Crowell, and these are certainly good markers. Baby You Win does remind me of Fulks’s Georgia Hard album and Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., both albums I have gone back to time and time again, so I didn’t need much convincing.

Photo by Rosie Cohe

Westfall is a son of the south, hailing from Kentucky, the bluegrass state, although he calls New York home now. His band boasts so much experience, it’s no wonder they make such a fine sound together. The roll call of artists that members of the band have played with is impressive, if not daunting; Shooter Jennings, Norah Jones, Valerie June, Laura Cantrell, Ronnie Spector, Danger Mouse, Bruce Springsteen. Add to that producer Bryce Goggin, who has worked with The Ramones, Pavement and Antony and The Johnsons, and you have some serious talent in the studio.

Photo by Rosie Cohe

When deciding if an album should be reviewed here, the main considerations is whether it would fit in a Whiskey Preachin DJ set, or on the radio show. So, with that in mind, I was keen to find out if Westfall would deliver on our terms. The album gets off to a good start with a chirpy bopper, It Hurt Her to Hurt Me, followed by the twanging rock & roll of the title track, no surprise that Westfall cites Chuck Berry as a big influence. Till the Right One Comes Along drops to a shuffle, with a piano sound that brings to mind Patsy Cline, or Charlie Rich. So far, so good, all sounding very nice. I could play a lot of this on the radio, or when DJing in support of a band, but I’m not sure any of it would work in a full-on Whiskey Preachin DJ set. The next track, More and More, firms up my resolve that, while this is a solid, nice album, I won’t be needing to splash out on a vinyl copy.

Just as I think I’ve got this one pegged, the next track, Off the Wagon, kicks in. A lovely funky twang is soon under-pinned by a rolling train shuffle and an infectious guitar line that pricks my ears up immediately. As the lyrics unwind themselves, I can’t keep my smile under control, I know I’ve found a WP winner. Then the lead guitar does its thing and the steel rips it up and I’m gone.  No more evidence, your honour. A couple of tunes later, I’ll Play the Fool pulls a similar stunt on me, and I’m starting to hope that this album is being pressed up on vinyl, after all. Two sure fire WP tunes earns an album a place in the record box. I’m sold, even before a third winner, The End of the Line, kicks in to make this a three-spin album, making it all but essential.

Photo by Diego Britt

There are still two more songs to go, but, frankly, I’m happy for this baby to coast out, nice and easy, after all the hard work that has been presented so far. Well, I should know better by now, of course. Westfall closes out the twelve tracks of Baby You Win with a lovely drop of country funk, titled The Odds Were Good. That makes four solid Whiskey Preachin spins on a single album, and a body count that high raises a few eyebrows around here. But don’t get me wrong, just because there are four tracks that could happily grace any WP set, that’s not to say the rest of the album is a slouch. Far from it, this baby is packed with honky tonk goodness, from the first note to the last. Baby, we’re all winners here.

Tony Sexton

Jason Eady

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I Travel On

Old Guitar Records

2018

 

A Jason Eady album is always easy on the ear and I Travel On is no different. You don’t get a huge amount of grit or rough edges from him, just well written tunes and cleverly constructed lyrics. In fact, his voice and songwriting style reminds me of early 90’s country star Clint Black, and that’s no bad thing.

If you’re new to Eady, 2014’s Daylight & Dark is especially worth checking out, a nice mix of honky tonk stormers and late-night laments, but this album takes a slight detour from his previous outings. Eady's earlier sound was fairly well set in the country-hony tonk arena, with a backbone of thoughtful acoustic tunes. ‘I Travel On’ has a more bluegrass feel to it, with a few swampy, bluesy tracks thrown in to mix it up. In fact, a couple of the songs have a Tony Joe White groove about them. Now or Never and That’s Alright especially. The more ‘present’ sound of the band also makes this feel different. In the past, Eady has sometimes felt like a solo artist working with backing musicians who are almost incidental, as if the songs were more important than the delivery. Here it sounds like a true ‘band’ effort, and adding a couple of bluegrass musicians, Grammy-nominated Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, has also made a big impact.

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The fact that the songs were captured live in one take shows the cohesiveness and skill of all concerned. The opener, Lost My Mind in Carolina, sets its stall out pretty quickly, with a melange of bluegrassy licks before Eady’s distinctive vocals kick in. It’s a lively, driving tune that leads into the swampy grind of Now or Never, with its unusual, picked-out, twangy refrain. 

Eady’s wife, Courtney Patton - a brilliant songwriter and singer in her own right - joins in on backing vocals on a couple of tunes, while the band proves its credentials with some lovely licks and solos to fill out the sound. Everything flows nicely, with ballads leading into country shuffles and bluesy grooves. Below the Waterline stands out a little from the rest, with its feel of a more traditional folk song, its pace and atmosphere acting as a nice palate cleanser. Your sensibilities now soothed, you’re headed straight into the frenetic Pretty when I die, which has the energy and thrust of a full-throttle Turnpike Troubadours track.

Jason Eady delivers with a conviction and authority that has you believing that his tales are based on personal experiences. A great example of this is She had to Run, which has the feel of a more countrified Jason Isbell ballad. Eady is one of those guys who seems to just get better and better, and this album gets better each time you hear it. I Travel On offers a slightly different flavour to Eady's usual output, but one that really tickles the taste buds, for sure. Get it on the menu at your local honky tonk today.

Pat Comer

D.T. Buffkin

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning

Shotgun House Records

2018

I love music that keeps me coming back, that makes me want to understand where it’s coming from, to see the recipe between my ears. Where are these guys coming from? What have they been getting up to? What made them concoct a sound like this? I remember the first time I put the needle on a Doug Sahm record, how I was transported to the Texas boarderlands, by way of Haight Ashbury. Sahm’s band, The Sir Douglas Qunitet, mixed the influences they heard around them in San Antonio, Texas, blending the local honky tonk and Chicano conjunto with rhythm and blues, rolling it all up and setting light to it. I took a deep breath, the sound was intoxicating.

D.T. Buffkin

DT Buffkin has a lot in common with Doug Sahm, including his home town, some of his fellow musicians, and his proclivity for melting cultural influences together in a way that would seem to be a hallmark of San Antone music. Augie Meyers, original founding member of The Sir Douglas Quintet, plays organ on the song Houston St. on Buffkin’s album, a gentle, rolling rumba that might conjure up thoughts of old Havana, possibly even Parisian boulevards, as much as it does south Texas. You can see Meyers playing organ with Buffkin on his righteous cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet hit She’s About a Mover, backed by Garrett T Capps on drums and Flaco Jimenez on accordion. Buffkin is label mates with Capps, both calling Shotgun House Records home. In fact, if you are lucky enough to own the excellent 7” version of Capps’s Born in San Antone, you will already have a DT Buffkin track on the other side.

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning is a slow-burner of an album. Allow yourself to wallow in these songs and you will soon find that they have crept inside your consciousness. It’s an album for the elegantly disheveled, for those who know what it is to have lost love, for the no-account boozers and the can’t-help-but losers. It’s an album for poets and dropouts, for smoky late nights and rainy-day mornings, for the coming down that probably wasn’t worth the going up, for those of us resigned to reaching for the bottle after the horse has bolted. If you want touchstones, you can take your pick, but, suffice it to say, not one of these artist sounds like DT Buffkin. They are all reference points I stumbled upon while trying to place Buffkin’s music: early Willie Nelson, The Shirells, Billie Holiday, Nashville Skyline-era Dylan, Howe Gelb, even Amy Winehouse, if she had been born male and in Texas. I guess you could argue that Charlie Crockett is a fair comparison from today, but, to these ears, Buffkin is making music that will weather the vagaries of time far better. This album is already timeless, where as Crockett’s latest sounds like it has been produces for today’s market. I know which album I’m more likely to return to in ten years.

Cover of D.T. Buffkins split 7", which he shared with Garrett T Capps.

Some reviews naturally take longer to write than others. Maybe this is down to struggling to find an in, a hook to hang it all on, the right words. Perhaps, you think, one more listen will help you do justice to the artist whose work you are toying with, one more spin to see what comes to mind this time. Saturday Night, Sunday Morning is a case in point. The subtlety of the playing, the world-weary lyrics, the soulful melancholy of the vocal delivery, the aching resignation at the core of every song, combine to produce an ethereal haze around the music that makes it difficult to recall when the album ends, in a way that bothers you until you play it again. There is much beauty here, and it is through the acceptance of life’s little tragedies that it is revealed.

Tony Sexton

Cordovas

That Santa Fe Channel

ATO Records

2018

Looks can be deceptive. Cordovas have the rough and ready look of a bunch of prospectors from the California gold rush, but while they rock that 49er chic, there's a real sophistication to their classy take on the Americana sound. Bandleader Joe Firstman's previous experience, as musical director on NBC's late-night show Last Call with Carson Daly, has certainly stood him in good stead. Performing nightly alongside first-rate musicians, such as Thundercat and Kamasi Washington, can only create the highest of standards, and Firstman has corralled a crack troupe of musicians, capable of delivering a tune as slick and polished as any pop act, but never sounding plastic.

This is real, heartfelt roots music, never overblown but, despite its confidence, often displaying a certain fragility. Expertly captured by producer Kenneth Pattengale. opening track This Town's A Drag is a case in point. Many touring bands have written about killing time while stuck in Anytown, USA, but few manage to convey the feelings of yearning and resignation as eloquently as Cordovas. It's also one hell of an earworm. Check out the footage of them performing the track live at Toe Rag studios, when they were last in London. Selfish Loner is a tale of a charming lowlife sleaze accompanied with quicksilver slick pedal steel and angelic three-part vocal harmonies. In fact, the vocal harmonies really are key to the success of this album. Firstman insisted that all vocal parts be recorded at the same time, until the perfect take was achieved, and it pays off, embellishing every track, from the funky roots-rock of Talk to Me to the soulful Santa Fe, with a quality few acts can manage.

Of course, there are influences here, too, with a nod to the Allmans on occasion, and I had to check that I'm The One That Needs You Tonight wasn't an obscure Dylan composition I was yet to discover. The album is also infused with a world-weary tenderness, recalling Gram Parsons solo recordings, but it's really The Band and Little Feat that are the most obvious comparisons, not only in the songwriting but also the sheer quality of musicianship.

Although Cordovas eponymous debut album was released in the UK in the last couple of years, it was actually recorded six years ago, and a couple of its strongest compositions make a reappearance on That Santa Fe Channel. Standing on the Porch originally had more of a stomping beat, but here it has a skip in its step that allows it to swing and shay in a more danceable way, while Step Back Red, previously heavily indebted to The Band and still containing Robbie Robertson's DNA, has been embellished with playful jazzy elements after years of jamming on the road. Still love that original version though.

Michael Hosie

 

If you get a kick form seeing talented, tried and true musicians performing first class, original material with a passion and verve that ignites an enthusiastic sympathy in the audience; if you like songs to be crafted and honed, to be worth the time it takes to write them, not just to listen; and if you like your country music filtered through the musical strata of the decades, lightly wearing influences from old time mountain harmonies to classic California country-rock; if you like the sound of a band that might make you think of Little Feat, The Band, Steely Dan, even, at times, White Denim, then you need to check out Cordovas.

Tony Sexton

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers

Years

Bloodshot Records

2018

 

A few years ago, I was trawling YouTube for some country music and came across a track called Dwight Yoakam. The video was a black and white, homemade-looking affair of a dishevelled, possibly drunk, probably hungover girl who belted out the first line of the song in a throaty, yodely draw “I’m drinking water tonight cos I drank all the whisky this morning…”. I was hooked. Now, a few years later, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers have released their second long-player, Years.

Years treads a similar path to that first album, Sidelong, which was a raucous affair of fuck-ups, one-night stands who sound like Dwight Yoakam, and redemption through rye whisky. This latest effort, though, has a slightly less desperate air about it. It’s still a breaking-up-moving-on-unlucky-in-love-get-me-a-drink-quick affair, but Sarah seems more in control of her demons. The songs are more rounded and less edgy than before; with the writing and lyrical wordplay undeniably living in the world of country, they have that quality of sounding familiar the first time you hear them. The band deliver a fuller sound too, with the not-too-overdone solos giving the tunes a nicely balanced feel. The Disarmers sound like they’ve travelled thousands of highway miles together.
 

A rockabilly beat flavours a couple of the tracks, especially ‘Damned if I do…’, and there are a couple of down-beat, tears-in-your-beer tunes thrown in for good measure - ‘Parting words’ and ’Heartache in Hell’ - but generally this album whips along. Sarah’s smoky, hillbilly drawl is truly distinct and adds a level of authenticity to her tales of all-night drinking and all-day heartache, differentiating her from the retro-hued tones of Margo Price or Nikki Lane. You tend to believe the tales she’s telling, but, o be honest, it sounds like she doesn’t really care if you believe her or no - no apologies are offered or accepted.
 

The noir-esque ‘The bottle never lets me down’ sets this unapologetic tone, preferring the company of the always reliable bottle to her obviously not very reliable, soon to be ex. How very country. The final track, ’Years’, is the stand-out for me, a plaintive tale, regretting how the good times were over before the protagonists even realised.

If you like your country full of hungover heartache, with regrets thrown out like yesterday’s empties, then this may be the album for you. I suggest you check out Sarah Shook’s first album, ‘Sidelong’, as well. In my opinion, it grabs you that little bit harder than its slightly more polished, younger sibling. If ‘Sidelong’ was drinking straight from the bottle, ‘Years’ has opted for the slightly more refined, but equally as effective shot glass. Cheers.

Pat Comer

Jesse Daniel

Jesse Daniel

Self-Released

2018

 

Now we’re talkin’! Another great self-released country album, the sort of record that takes you by surprise, barrelling around a dangerous curve at 100 mph. There’s so much to like on Jesse Daniel’s eponymous debut; the songs are strong, the production has just the right amount of grit and the vibe’s up-beat, like a Saturday night in a California roadhouse, with lashings of electric twang, witty lyrics and a real good thump to the drums. With titles like Hell Bent and Comin’ Down Again, it’s not difficult to imagine what this album has in store. That said, few new artists can tell it as straight and true as Jesse Daniel does on Soft Spot (for the Hard Stuff), a confessional of sorts. Daniel’s story of substance abuse is no mere lyrical conjuring of romantic fantasy, rather a first-hand expression of a life he has thankfully managed to escape.

Starting out as a drummer for several punk bands around his home in Ben Lomand, California (north of Santa Cruz), Daniel found himself on the road and increasingly out of his head on various substances, graduating to the queen of the main line. Life followed a pick-n-mix of rehab, jail and homelessness. Daniel’s story of how he found his path to becoming a country musician is almost prophetic. Passing by a thrift shop on his way back to a motel room for a fix, he saw a group of homeless watching a TV in the window. Stopping to see what they were watching, he heard one of the men exclaim “hey, they’re pretty good”, before realising that one of the musicians on screen was his own father. Jesse and the other men went off to fix up in another motel room, where there was a TV set in the corner playing Buck Owens singing Act Naturally. Jesse Daniel hadn’t exactly seen the light, but the seeds of his redemption had been sewn.

A few years later, while in rehab in Oakland, Jesse heard the strum and twang of someone playing a Hank Williams tune in the next room. Wandering in to investigate, he sat to listen, later making his mind up to kick his habit, lay down the needle in favour of the guitar. Daniel hdd found his path at last, eventually managing to get on his feet, save $50 to buy a battered old Fender and start writing songs.

Soft Spot (for the Hard Stuff) doesn’t pull any punches in the story it tells, as the protagonist packs his life into a glass pipe and burns it down to the ground, all to a solid outlaw groove that adds the song extra credence. It’s a sure-fire Whiskey Preachin winner, as is SR-22 Blues, an up-tempo romp of a tale of a guy who has lost his driving licence for DUI and now walks twenty miles to his SR-22, the light aircraft that has replaced his car! The Banker is another highlight on this gem of an album, like a modern-day remake of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, spinning the yarn of as banker who has been run over, resulting in thousands of dollars blowing down the street from his busted briefcase. If only…

Jessie Daniel has released a record that I expect will be at the front of the Whiskey Preachin record box for years to come. My LP copy can’t turn up soon enough.

 

Tony Sexton

The Sheepdogs

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Changing Colours

Dine Alone Records

2018

 

 

It's been a long, strange trip for Canadian band The Sheepdogs. After a succession of self-released records in the late noughties, in 2011 they became the first unsigned band ever to make the cover of Rolling Stone, consequently scooping a deal with Atlantic Records, releasing the Five Easy Pieces EP and a self-titled album, both produced by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney. They hit the road far and wide, getting to support one of their all-time heroes, John Fogerty, in the process (the tour later described by drummer, Sam Corbett, as "probably the cushiest ever for us"). Following the departure of guitarist Leot Hanson, friend-of-the-band Rusty Matyas stepped into the breach, eventually joining as a full-time member in 2014.

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The Sheepdogs' fifth studio album, Future Nostalgia, came out in October 2015 on the independent label Dine Alone Records and Warner Music Canada, and shortly after they changed line up once again, this time picking up award-winning blues guitarist Jimmy Bowskill from Ontario, really moved things up a notch. By this point, the Sheepdogs were already a road-hardened act who knew how to write a mean tune and rock a sweaty room, over time their tastes having broadened to include more country, folk and blues, even elements of jazz into their classic rock mix. The addition of Bowskill was akin to adding a turbocharger to their engine power. Things feel like they have been leading to this point.

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The first three tracks of Changing Colours sock you right on the jaw with a robust, punchy production courtesy of Thomas D'Arcy. Opening salvo Nobody is a CCR-style feelgood radio hit with added Allman Bros. licks and some exquisite slide guitar, setting the tone for the next 50 minutes of music. Hot on its heels is Hole Where My Heart Should Be, and it boogies like Skynyrd tangoing with the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. On record it rocks hard enough, but after witnessing it live I can honestly say it was one of the highlights of this year’s Black Deer festival. In a blink of an eye we're into Saturday Night, driven along by relentless piano and slashing guitar chords that recalls Joe Walsh in his prime. Its super catchy chorus, sang by Ewan Currie, is laid back yet to the point, with minimum gravel and plenty of melody, very much like Steve Miller's vocal delivery style.

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After the opening trio of big-hitters, it's almost a relief when the band ease their foot off the gas for the sweet country-pop singalong Let It Roll, and the Steely Dan/Santana smooth groove-athon The Big Nowhere, layers of Hammond organ and brass supplied by the younger Currie brother, Shamus. The self-effacing I Ain't Cool and the mean and moody glam chug of You Gotta Be A Man then leads us back into the more Latin-tinged rhythms of Cool Down, with lashings of Doorsy rhodes piano liberally sprinkled over Ryan Gullen's delicate bass lines. 

 

The Sheepdogs ace in the hole, though, is their precision-tooled twin guitar harmonies. Duane and Dickey set the template for this style of guitar playing, but Ewan and Jimmy have picked up the ball and they’ve ran with it. It's a sound very few bands attempt these days. Maybe that’s because it takes a hell of a lot of practice to develop such a telepathic sounding synchronicity, flitting from hard and tight riffs to jazzier motifs in a flourish, such as on Kiss the Brass Ring. Cherries Jubilee is short and sweet and supplies a celebration of country funk as juicy as the name suggests. The weirdest left field turn on the album is I'm Just Waiting for My Time, in some ways the most affected, yet affecting, song on the whole album. Changing Colours is a record steeped in the sounds of America, but this one track stands alone with a vibe that comes from the other side of the pond; psychedelic British blues channelled with the Celtic spirit of Rory Gallagher.

 

The album finishes with a six-song medley, kicking off with the plucked banjo intro of Born a Restless Man, before leading to an explosion of big southern harmonies. The Bailie Turnaround has classy country guitar licks straight out of the Clarence White playbook, while Up in Canada could be the alternative Canuck national anthem, especially since the country has just decided to legalise the use of pot. In fact, I can see Jimmy Bowskill standing on the roof of the Canadian parliament in his bright yellow hemp leaf cowboy suit playing this now, (sure beats Brian May on the roof of Buckingham Palace, anyway, someone should start a petition). HMS Buffalo rolls into Esprit Des Corps, bringing more Allman style twin guitar lines, surfing a waterfall of ivory tickling. Finally, the journey ends with the Latinate yacht rock of Run Baby Run, which could have slotted in seamlessly on Stephen StillsManassas album. Yes, The Sheepdogs wear their influences on their sleeves boldly, but they also bring plenty to the party themselves, playing their music with such aplomb that few, if any, contemporary bands can beat them in the good time rock'n'roll stakes. This big-hearted record can't help but bring a smile to your face.

Michael Hosie

SVVAMP

Svvamp 2 Cover.jpg

SVVAMP 2

RidingEasy Records

2018

 

It may be nearly 6000 miles between Jönköping, home to Swedish band Svvamp, and Hemosa Beach, California, where RidingEasy records is based, and no doubt the weather couldn't be more different, but despite the distance there's clearly a strong affinity linking the ethos of this band and the record label that signed them. Long-time friends Adam Johansson, Henrik Bjorklund and Erik Stahlgren were drawn together by a love of jamming the type of fuzz heavy blues rock that was all the rage in the early 1970s. If you've checked out any of the RidingEasy compilations, Brown Acid (a series focusing on rare as hen’s teeth hard rock and heavy psych, now on its 6th trip), then you might understand that this is a match made in heaven.

Justas the Brown Acid series features an array of private-pressed and self-released underground rock music from way back when, so there's a definite homespun quality to the kind of music Svvamp make. The band’s first album was self-recorded on a 4-channel cassette deck and their second album continues very much where the previous one left off, despite the band having indulged in the decadent luxury of recording on a 6-track system. Oversized mixing desks aren't really needed here, though, as this is music that keeps things nice and simple. Eschewing unnecessary bells and whistles for a classic sound that is simultaneously heavy and rocking, yet lazy and loping, Svvamp have the confidence to let their music take its time in much the same way that the music of Free refused to be hurried. 

 

There's certainly a rollcall of classic rock influences here, from the sleazy slide guitar and Mountain-esque riffs to be heard on Queen, which could have been picked from Leslie West's extremely large pockets, to the Zeppy crunch of Hillside and the weighty Sabbath blast of Alligator, which closes the album. It's not all heavy stuff though, Sunshine Street is reminiscent of Hendrix at his most poppy and playful, while How Sweet It Would Be builds on a Canned Heat choogle, with bassist Erik Stahlgrens softer vocal approach sounding a little like Marc Bolan after a hit on some killer weed. Guitarist Henrik Bjorklund also gets to sing on the beautiful solo spot Blues Inside, too. It's usually drummer Adam Johansson who takes care of vocal duties, though, also contributing the bubbling synthesizer lines which lace Surrender, probably the most psychedelic track on Svvamp 2. It's the gritty Out of Line, though, that confirms this LP as a record for Whiskey Preachers. It has Lynyrd Skynyrd's bad boy groove written all over it and the band build up a real head of steam that is impossible to resist.

The only criticism of Svvamp 2 from me is that sometimes the vocals are a little lost in the mix. I can’t help but wonder what this band would sound like with a designated singer up front, belting out these tunes. But then again, maybe that would all be a little too showy for these guys, a band who clearly like to just get their heads down and rock. I reckon this band will be riding easy for a long time to come.

Michael Hosie