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

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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

Dalas Moore

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Mr Honky Tonk

Sol Records

2018

What makes a great outlaw country record? It’s highly subjective, of course. There are certain tropes that signpost an outlaw country tune; tales of the late nights and the road, hard drinking, whiskey and women, honky tonks and musical heroes are all reasons we love to listen to this music, great stories of love, loss and excess told with a wry sense of humour and lyrical inventiveness that is seldom found elsewhere. All of these elements are important, but it is not a simple matter of ticking off a list. You can have all these factors in place and still be missing something. The voice, of course, is vital, but so is the attitude, the way the material is approached, not only by the singer, but buy the rest of the band and, importantly, the producer. For all these elements to align perfectly, in a way that suits your own personal, subjective taste, it a wonderful thing. Should any one of them be even slightly off mark, the overall result is diminished. Many a lovely album has been spoiled by the way it was produced, while a good album may be let down by some of the material. Not every record can be on the money from start to finish, that’s where having your own personal taste in music comes in. As someone who loves records and lives to discover music, new and old, there is nothing quite like finding an album that really takes you there, where everything has come together to generate a sum greater than its parts. Dallas Moore’s Mr Honky Tonk is one of those records.

 

The album opens with Home is where the Highway Is. No heartache or road-weary longing for home here, just pinning for the open road, unfettered horizons and the next gig in the next state, fresh adventures down the road. A steady kick and shimmering strum let the easy rolling chords of the B3 lead you to the lonesome harmonica and the story of a wandering minstrel ranging over the land of the free. This is classic stuff, nothing new, naturally, but played so deftly and produced with such taste that you are instantly transported by the singer and his song, letting the musical backing carry you along the road with him. It is only when you tear yourself away from Moore’s peripatetic ramblings to focus on the music that you start to realise how well recorded the song is. You’re in for a treat. The album’s title track, Mr Honky Tonk, is next up, and by now you know you’re in safe hands. This is the real deal, 21st century honky tonk that wears its heart on its sleeve, somewhere between Johnny Paycheck and Moe Bandy; “He don’t know how to two-step, but he sure can cut a rug”, this is good-time, Saturday-night bar room music with tough drums, gutsy steel lovely piano flourishes, but it’s Moore’s voice you’ll be concentrating on. Killing Me Nice and Slow rocks up proceedings, upping the outlaw quota with a tale of empty whiskey bottles and ending relationships, while You Know the Rest switches to waltz-time, bringing the harmonica in to back to Spanish guitar and ringing steel; “I went to bed in a mansion, I woke up on the floor”.

 

Before you know it, side one is done. Mr Honky Tonk is a short album, but that works in its favour; it’s the same trick as the three minute 7” record, give them just enough to get them hooked, to keep them coming back. Its time to flip over to side two, and we’re back on the road with Texahio, albeit at a slower pace, as Dallas recounts his tale of relocating his woman form Ohio down to the Lone Star state – “Texas, I’m gonna sing my song for you”. Somewhere Between Bridges picks up the tempo a little, kicking off with a fiddle and we’re back in bar room territory again, plenty of crying guitar licks and a fiddle lamenting the state of this relationship, “somewhere between bridges, a million miles form being lost”. Kisses From You takes us straight to the end of a relationship; “I don’t need your hand-me-down heartache, I don’t need no second-hand blues”. We’re in  a world of resignation and acceptance, this is grown-up country music that knows that the pains of love and life are simply part of the journey, where the road takes you; “Freedom tastes sweet like the whiskey, but it burns like those kisses from you”. The closing track of the album, Shoot Out the Lights, ramps up the Southern rock side of Moore’s outlaw performance. Bringing in the backing singers for added Stones effect, this is pure roadhouse rock and has already become a Whiskey Preachin sure-spin, a braggadocio-piece well suited to closing out such an enjoyable ride of an album; “and I always deal in danger, I something deal in death, no I don’t mind the long white line but I can’t stand that meth”.

 

 Dalls Moore

Dalls Moore

 

Moore was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, just over the river form Kentucky, half way between DC and KC. In an interview with No Depression, Moore made the point that Cincinnati has a proud history in country music, with the Herzog studios having been responsible for such landmark recordings as Hank Williams’s rendition of Lovesick Blues and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, as well as Flatt and Scruggs’s Foggy Mountain Breakdown, known the world over from the soundtrack to Bonnie and Clyde. The Delmore Brothers's Freight Train Boogie was also recorded at Herzog Studios, helping make Cincinnati a recording center before Music Row, when Nashville was still a radio town. Getting to university on a jazz scholarship to study classical guitar, it wasn’t long before Moore was playing in country bands around the bars of Cincinnati. By 1991, Moore had released his first album, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, staking his claim and pronouncing his right to follow the trail of Willie, Waylon and David Allen Coe. Since then, Moore has shared the stage supporting many of the greats of outlaw country and Southern rock, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and later incarnations of The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

 

 

Mr Honky Tonk was recorded in Nashville, with a crack band of Music City session musicians brought together by producer Dean Miller (son of Roger), a talented song writer who worked with the great George Jones, and more recently with Jamey Johnson and Hank 3. Moore’s surprise upon walking into the studio to find such a pool of talent gathered for his session is refreshing; “ We walked in to the studio and saw all these incredible players lined up, I thought they were there to play with someone else!”. Luckily they were there to play with Dallas Moore on Mr Honky Tonk. The combination of such fine players and a talented and savvy producer worked to bring out the best in Moore’s songwriting and vocal performance, giving the album that extra something that separates a great record form all the rest. This one's staying in the record box for quite some time, believe me.

Tony Sexton

Brent Cobb

 

Providence Canyon

Low Country Sound/Elektra

2018

Why do so many people slag off The Eagles? For some, maybe it is as simple as not liking their music. For others, I expect it is more complicated, that there are people who don’t dislike the music, but find it hard to like because of the influence and effect the bands success had, because of the number of times they have heard it on the radio, year after year. Everyone has an opinion, for better or worse, on Hotel California (which went 16 x platinum!), but you would have to be cold-blooded not to have a place in your heart for Take It Easy. So, maybe it’s not the songs themselves, but the dominating success the band achieved, and the perceived commercialism that can be attributed to that success, that puts some people off. But who can really blame a record label, or a band or producer, for that matter, for having a hit, for succeeding? The music business is just that, a business. No one enters the studio trying to make a flop. The Eagles's well-honed brand of country rock infused their music into the psyche of seventies California in a way most bands can only dream of. Times have changed, today's music buying public have a wider choice of styles and formats than ever before, but that doesn't mean someone won't come along to take today's Americana/country rock sound to a larger audience.

Georgia-born Brent Cobb has spent time living in LA, where he moved in 2006 to work on his first album with his producer cousin, Dave Cobb (another Georgian), and Shooter Jennings. A couple of years later Brent moved to Nashville to see if he could turn a dollar with his songs, initially working at a Walgreens developing snapshots of other people’s lives, strangely apt for a singer-songwriter. The proceeding decade saw Cobb sign with Carnival Music as a song writer (his songs recorded by Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney and The Oak Ridge Boys, among others) and record his second and, now, third solo albums.

Cobb’s new album, Providence Canyon, named after a local landmark in Georgia, was recorded in Nashville’s famous Studio A, since 2016 the home of Dave Cobb’s Low Country Sound imprint for Elektra. It is a record that feels familiar straight out of the gates; the opening incantation of pedal steel, the jangle of the high-strung guitar, the easy, sunny groove of the title track, Providence Canyon, leads to Cobb’s soft vocal delivery; “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?” Well, maybe somebody did, but let’s do it again.

The album rolls on through track after track of immaculately played and produced expressions of funky seventies-style country rock, and what’s not to like. As the album progresses, you might get a sense of déjà vu, as your brain is lit up by strains of Skynyrd (High in the Country has a hook not dissimilar to Sweet Home Alabama), JJ Cale (If I Don’t See Ya) or Little Feat (30.06 wouldn’t be out of place on Feats Don’t Fail Me Now). The tunes are catchy and well written, highly polished down-home nuggets of country souls and swampy Southern rock crying out for a cold beer and a barbecue. My favourite track, album closer Ain’t a Road Too Long, suggests Cobb may have been listening to the Bay Area’s Blackalicious, as his lazy Georgia delivery takes on a conscious MC style.

There is a familiarity and an immediacy to Providence Canyon that is sure to win over many a new fan to Cobb’s music, generating both commercial success and award nominations along the way. Brent Cobb’s last album, 2016’s Shine On Rainy Day (Low Country Sound), was nominated for a Grammy, while Dave Cobb, producer of both that album and this one, has won more awards than he can possibly know what to do with, including two Grammy wins each with both Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton albums, as well as Grammy nominations with Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Jamey Johnson’s The Guitar Song.

 

You don’t have to be much of a profit to predict that Providence Canyon is going to be one of the biggest Americana albums of 2018. The interesting thing, from my perspective, will be to see what cross-over appeal the album has. It’s hard not to enjoy listening to Providence Canyon’s easy-going, good-time grooves, but I can’t help but wonder if the immediacy of this music may lead to it wearing thin all too quickly, as the ear starts to crave a bit more grit, guitars that dig in that bit more, songs with more pain and anguish, something that affords more danger - more smack, less Prozac. All said and done, Brent Cobb’s career is going places fast. Without doubt, we will be hearing his songs for years to come, as sure as we will be hearing the work of his super-producer cousin, Dave Cobb, the Mark Ronson of Americana.

Tony Sexton

 Brent Cobb photographed by Don Van Cleave

Brent Cobb photographed by Don Van Cleave

Ben Bostick

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Hellfire

Self-Released

2018

 

Back in 2017 I interviewed Ben Bostick, the LA-Based, South Carolinian-raised Outsider country artist about his then new album, the eponymous Ben Bostick. No Depression described Ben’s performance on that album as coming on “like an unholy alliance of George Jones and Merle Haggard”; praise enough for any man, but I was convinced that Bostick might be capable of something even more incendiary, something to warn people about. It turns out I was right, so please take this review in the way it is meant, as a warning to impressionable minds and those of a fragile disposition. We wouldn’t want to offend anybody now, would we. Hellfire, Bostick’s new album, to be released at the end of June, gives us a glimpse of where he likes to venture with his music, down dark alleys full of human wreckage, to solicit or commit carnal musical acts.

The songs on Hellfire have been tried and tested by Bostick over the last year, using his band’s residency at a downtown LA bar, The Escondite, as the perfect opportunity to road-test new material. By the time the band went into the studio to record with John Would (Warren Zevon, Wanda Jackson), they were able to record the album live, sitting in a circle with just stage monitors to hear Bostick's vocals. Producer Would had extensively mic’d up the room, giving the recording an immediacy and energy that is at once primal and infections. The album opens with Bostick’s strained vocal searing out of the speaker, the sound of a man in pain; “I’ve got a job in the valley but today I didn’t go”, the story start, “I’m gonna go to the bank and cash out my account, drive straight to the tavern and drink a disgusting amount”. We know how you feel, Ben. Dirty rock and roll ensues, with a touch of Credence twang leading to some blistering guitar work (Kyle LaLone), building to a crescendo as Bostick’s story kicks back in with a flourish of Jerry Lee-style honky tonk piano (Luke Miller). The title track, Hellfire, plays next, opening with a dash of Burton-ish chicken pickin’ guitar, and before you know it Bostik’s getting drunk as hell again, this time on a bath tub of gin. The third track in, No Good Fool, uses the piano to full effect, barrel house boogie full of funky swagger, you can expect to be hearing it in our Whiskey Preachin DJ sets from now on.

 

 

The pressure keeps building as Bostick and the band crank up the tempo with Blow of Some Steam, coming on like a train wreck waiting to happen, good luck keeping up with this one on the dancefloor as Bostick declares he’s a Jim Beam drinking, Paycheck singing, dancing machine… Hell yeah! The tempo drops for the outsider’s lament on modern living, It Ain’t Cheap Being Poor, sounding like a hungry Rusty Weir desperately in need of a good cobbler. Tornado sounds like JJ Cale playing at a hoedown, The Other Side of Wrong combines a dash of Diddley with a flourish of that Jerry Lee piano, allowing Bostic to wallow in his righteously outlaw lyrics; “If I didn’t make bad decisions, I wouldn’t make no decisions at all”. Work, Sleep, Repeat gives us a little respite from the frantic boogie woogie onslaught, but that doesn’t mean it’s not packed with Bostick’s gravely grow and lashings of swagger, like Jim Morrison spliced and diced with Howlin’ Wolf; “Tonight I’m gonna drink like daddy does”. The Outsider closes out the album with the most straight-up rock track of the set, albeit one channelling a Jon Lord-style organ groove (, something we at Whiskey Preachin have always been partial to.

I asked Ben a few questions about his Hellfire, here’s what he had to say:

What has led you to the darker sound on this album? I wrote dozens of songs in the year leading up to recording this album, usually about one per week. I would bring the songs into the band for our Sunday night residency, and sometimes they would work right away and sometimes it was clear I had penned a real stinker. When it came time to record the album, I chose songs that all seemed to fit thematically, all from one perspective. I can’t say that I consciously wrote a darker album, so maybe the darkness had me without me knowing it. I’ve become more interested in writing albums than writing songs recently, so this is a baby step in the direction of putting together a fully cohesive album.

Any records you’ve been listening to that have influenced you in this direction? Honestly, not really. I try not to be influenced by records I’m listening to, because I just wind up copying the stuff I like. I was in a hardcore jazz listening period during the year I wrote this. Lots of hard bop, lots of Coltrane and Miles Davis. I was obsessed with forming a kind of improvised music that incorporated Americana elements with true musical freedom. Something that sounds like Astral Weeks, but less composed. I haven’t gotten around to trying any of those ideas yet. I was also listening to a lot of Springsteen. I don’t know why the songs that emerged are the way they are. Probably has more to do with me subconsciously writing for the venues I play. I’m not pandering to the crowd, per se, as much as seeing if I can whip them into a frenzy. That’s the Springsteen thing rearing its head. My next album is very Springsteen influenced.

Have you got a personal favorite from this album? I love them all, but my current favorite is “No Show Blues.” I think the recording of that song turned out just right. Just shot a music video for that one, too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we give you Ben Bostick’s Hellfire, an album to show love and respect, especially at 4am when you stagger in form a heavy night on the town. If you find yourself in LA, see if you can catch one of the band’s live performances, or perhaps catch Ben spinning tunes at Shoo Shoo Baby, an LA bar that looks like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel. If you can play records in bars that look this good, I’m gonna move to California and see if Hollywood will have me.

Tony Sexton

James Scott Bullard

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Full Tilt Boogie

Big Mavis

2018

The adage would have us believe that a leopard never changes his spots. So, I guess, James Scott Bullard must be some other kind of cat altogether. A collection of his earlier tracks titled The Rise and Fall of… (recently released on Big Mavis, remastered and repackaged) presents tracks from his first four albums, all now out of print. The music on The Rise and Fall… would never knowingly upset the neighbours in the way that Full Tilt Boogie promises to do. The Rise and Fall… is a strong collection of songs, showing influences from the classic country rock of Gram Parsons and the Rolling Stones to modern Americana singer-songwriters such as Justin Townes Earle and Ryan Adams. In fact, Bullard released an EP titled Oh This Land (A Tribute to Gram Parsons) in 2015, which may see its way to being reissued at some point, but listening to Full Tilt Boogie for the umpteenth time, the same question arises again and again; just what happened to this guy in the intervening years between his first records and this new one? The love songs have soured, the gentle country rockers have become distorted and amped up, the general vibe is far greasier and hungover. In short, the new album has got a whole lot more Whiskey Preachin. I worry that Bullard may have started carrying a flick knife instead of a comb.

Full Tilt Boogie kicks in from the very first distorted guitar chord of Lord, Have Mercy, like a heavy country gospel tune gone to the dark side, a cry for a soul to be saved before it’s too late. When the second track, Wicked Ways, kicks in, we know it’s already too late. The guitars are still distorted but the drums are pounding a much faster tempo and the organ is squeaking out all that damn honky tonk rock and roll. Then you get to the breakdown you know you’re in for a real good time! All to Pieces lays off a little, but only a little, allowing you to regroup before the Chuck-Berry-on-steroids of Hey Hey Mama kicks in, with lyrics like “I’m gonna love you mama like it’s against the law” stoking the fires. Track six, Jesus, Jail or Texas, has to be my favourite, possibly the most country track on the album, with a nice shuffle beat and fantastic lyrics telling of the different ways that women have managed to escape our protagonist: “One girl she went to Texas, two that went to jail, there or four found Jesus and the rest can go straight to hell”. The guitars are still distorted and there’s plenty of nice slide action, like ZZ Top fronted by Kinky Friedman. Leavin’ on My Mind ramps up the tempo to a furious, demented, pace, taking us on a break-neck tour through Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Carolina, anywhere but here.

Is this a country album with pretentions towards being a rock record, or a rock album masquerading as a country record? Isn’t that just a stupid question? Does is really matter, if it sounds this good? At Whiskey Preachin, this is what we would describe as 100% bona fide Gumbo Rock, music that mashes up its influences and comes out with something fresh, a new sound made up of recognisable parts but for which no one signifier is sufficient to describe it. Bullard was raised up in South Carolina with a country and bluegrass musician for a father. As a kid, he grew up loving heavy rock but was surrounded by the music that later influenced him to start making the music on Full Tilt Boogie; the Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynrd, Tom Petty and The Allman Brothers (whose influence shines on the album’s closing track, Back to You), the classic rock and roll of Little Richard and Elvis and pure honky tonk of the world’s first punk rocker, Hank Williams; all these influences can be heard when listening to Full Tilt Boogie, so it’s little surprise that we love it at Whiskey Preachin. After all, these are the same artists that form the bedrock on which we built our shack. Why would we want to hear anything else?

Tony Sexton

Ole Whiskey Revival

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Ole Whiskey Revival

Ole Whiskey Music

2018

It's not every day that you get to rack up a global first, but that's just what we managed to do with the May 2018 Whiskey Preachin Radio Show. Without even realising it, we became the first radio show anywhere to play a track off the eponymous debut from Ole Whiskey Revival. You can give that show a listen right here, just click play on the link below, Ole Whiskey Revival are the third tune in. It wasn't easy picking a track to play on the show, the album is packed with gems, but, after listening through half a dozen times, I eventually chose to play Ramblin', a funky slice of Waylon-esque outlaw boogie that closes the album, inviting you to press play again.

Ole Whiskey Revival hail form Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the Louisiana Hayride back in the fifties and now home to this band of bourbon-soaked rabble rousers. Formed just four years ago by four old school friends, Alex Troegel (lead guitar and lead vocals), Trent Daugherty (guitaer and vocals), Steve Hensley (bass) and Ryan Alexander (drums and percussion), this is their first release, but you wouldn't think so to listen to it. Their command of the material and their confidence with it's presentation would suggest that these guys have enough albums behind them already. The four of them are all involved in writing the songs on the album, but Trent explained to me that Moonshine Melody was actually written by Alex while he was still in high school and that Ryan has been on a roll recently, writing the bulk of their newer material.

 

OWR's masterful combination of good time Southern rock and seventies outlaw country is so well conceived, played and produced that it's possible to think someone is having a joke at your expense, playing you a long-lost classic that you've somehow missed out on for decades. It's a short album, clocking in at just under 34 minutes, but that is just another one of its charms, drawing you back to the beginning one more time. 

I'm hoping we rack up another first with this review, but, more importantly, I hope more reviews and radio play are just around the corner. This band deserve some recognition and plenty of sales. Do yourself a favour and hunt down Ole Whiskey Revival where ever you like to get your music form. If enough of us buy a digital copy, maybe the band will be able to press up some vinyl, I for one would happily buy it again.

Tony Sexton

Western Centuries

Songs from the Deluge

Free Dirt Records

2018

It’s a beautiful thing, waiting for the follow-up to a favourite album from a band you’ve already decided to love. Even better is hearing that highly anticipated second album and knowing it will be a strong contender for your album of the year, in February! Songs from the Deluge is that album and Western Centuries are that band, five extremely talented and modest musicians whose diverse musical backgrounds and tastes have coalesced into the best damn country band around, if they don’t mind me saying so. With a sound that is at once classic and modern, part Saturday night and part Sunday morning, Songs for the Deluge sees Western Centuries take their song craft to the next level, with the three songwriters and vocalists, Jim Miller (Donna the Buffalo), Ethan Lawton (Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers) and Cahalen Morrison (Country Hammer) sharing duties and bringing their own flavour to proceedings.

 

Kicking off the album is Lawton’s Far from Home, a tale of conscription and Vietnam dressed up as a Cajun-tinged dancer, with the added spice being brought by Grammy-winning producer Joel Savoy’s fiddle and Roddie Romero’s sweet accordion. (I was lucky enough recently to catch Savoy and Jesse Lége playing an intimate gig with their Cajun Country Revival band, and what a joy it was. Check out Savoy’s Valcour label for plenty of tasty Cajun treats). Lawton brings several of the albums highlights to the table, including the goodtime party tune Own Private Honky Tonk (a WP favourite Friday night spin) and the hungover, heart-breaking Southern soul of Three Swallows, the sort of country music you might expect to come out of Muscle Shoals.  Morrison’s Earthly Justice keeps the groove solid for the second song on the album, funky drums, licking steel and rippling Rhodes combining in a head-nodder that keeps the groove in the pocket nicely when it hits double-time. The third track in, Wild Birds, sees Jim Miller step up to the mic for his tale of a band on the road, trying to get home. By this point, if you’re not hooked or converted, you’d better call an ambulance baby, somebody needs to check your pulse. By the time you get to Warm Guns at the end of the album, with Morrison’s Spanish vocal bringing the South-western vibe, you’ve been on a road trip for the ears, taking you through the venerable musical landscape of American roots and country music.

 

There is a lot of great music being released right now. Sometimes it is all too easy to move on to the next album, then the next, failing to allow yourself time to become fully immersed in one record for long enough to become truly familiar with it. Having lived with Songs from the Deluge for nearly three months at the time of writing, it is safe to say that this is one album that has bucked that trend, and, I feel sure, will continue to do so. It is kept at the front of the record box, in easy reach of the turntable, regularly receiving repeat spins. I suggest you all do the same, this is one of those records that makes the world a better place to be.

Tony Sexton

HANS CHEW

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Open Sea

At The helm records

2017

Just as the waves of the Atlantic touch both the American coast and lap against the shores of merry old England so the exchange of musical influences between these two nations is an eternal source of inspiration. The music of American blues artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf inspired Keith Richards and Brian Jones to pick up their guitars and just how many American bands did the Rolling Stones, in their turn, spawn? So, the musical ebb and flow, like the tides, continues to this day. Chattanooga-born, New York-resident Hans Chew has always exhibited a limey loving streak in his star-spangled roots music. His story telling and piano playing on previous releases clearly owed as much a debt to Elton John as Leon Russell but on Open Sea, his latest album, the synthesis seems complete. Opening up with a track that has a running time of over 6 minutes may seem like a bold move, but this whole record is bold and opening salvo Giving Up the Ghost (actually the second shortest tune of the album) simply rolls along driven by pounding Mick-Fleetwood-esque drums. Yes, it's a jam-heavy platter and this well-oiled band stretch out, tight but loose. It's a real pleasure to hear a band this good nail these grooves. Second track, Cruikshanks, switches so seamlessly from a folk-rock melody Fairport Convention could have written into a Southern rock chorus tailor made for Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zandt that I'm surprised no one has tried it before. The album’s title track bundles the melody of Blind Faith's Can't Find My Way Home into the back of a van and dumps it in the middle of a funky, dirty hoedown. Who Am Your Love? is steeped in paranoia and menace while Freely inhabits the woozy carnivalesque vibe The Doors used to visit. The album wraps up with Extra Mile, a tale of humanity's travails where Hans finally lets rip with the kind of ragtime barrel-house piano lines he's best known for, (his in-demand keyboard skills featuring on records by D. Charles Speer, Jack Rose, Endless Boogie, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Steve Gunn) but it's his vocals that really shine on this record. At his most passionate, his voice has the quality of a razor blade so jagged and rusty that you'd need a tetanus jab if it cut you. Coupled with David Cavallo's mercurial guitar licks, this makes Open Sea the best Hans Chew album yet and I for one can't wait to experience these songs live. Catch them while you can.

Michael Hosie