Saturday, June 21, 2014

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado - Too Many Roads

2014 – Ruf Records

By Phillip Smith; June 21, 2014

Thorbjørn Risager was an unfamiliar name to me prior to hearing his spectacular new album, Too Many Roads, recorded with his band, the Black Tornado.   But I can tell you this much, I will remember his name from now on.  This eighth release from Risager, is a sheer delight and is sure to be a reckoning force on the blues scene this year.  In a nutshell, it’s twelve well-crafted songs delivered via a tight group of musicians operating together like a well-oiled machine.

Risager grabs the listener and pulls them in on the first few bars of the lead song, ‘If You Wanna Leave”, with gritty guitar riffs, reminiscent of George Thorogood , Eric Clapton-like vocals and soulful horn accompaniment. Title track, “Too Many Roads”, follow.  I feel like I’ve been dropped on the corner of the Crossroads in Mississippi when I hear this song about making the right choices.  The way it oozes that endearing swampy sound… it doesn’t get much better than this.

I love the way Risager’s strong gravelly vocals rides atop the killer guitar riffs in “High Rollers”, all with the attitude and energy of the Rolling Stones.  This track, about taking a chance in the game of love, makes me wants to break out the air guitar and play along.   

The beautifully remade “China Gate”, from the 1957 film, takes the listener to a quieter and more solitude spade.  Pouring emotion into every note sung and played, Risager and the Black Tornado make this exceptional song stand-out.   

With a touring schedule that consists of 80 – 100 shows a year, all that’s left to do is cross our fingers and wait for a U.S. leg of the tour.   

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Luke Tuchscherer - You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense

2014 - Luke Tuchscherer & The Little Red Recording Company

By Phillip Smith; June 7, 2014

Alt-rock drummer Luke Tuchscherer of the Whybirds, has ventured out with a little help from his friends, to record a dozen wonderfully written and beautifully performed treasures on his debut album, You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense.  Its title so aptly named after a book of poetry by Charles Bukowski, the album consists of extraordinary songs about ordinary people with ordinary thoughts and problems, performed in an alt-country, rootsy story-teller fashion. 

Tom Peters keeps a steady bass drum beat running in the background, while Chris Corney tackles dobro and banjo, accompanying Tuchscherer who plays acoustic guitar on opening track “(Lord Knows) I’m a Bad Man” about infidelity and maneuvering around the guilt-filled baggage tagging along. I love the thick swampy sound the dobro and banjo bring to the song.  This one is definitely one of my favorites. 

Tuchscherer shows off his song-writing chops on “One of Us” as fellow Whybird, Dave Banks joins in with both mandolin and banjo.  Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, comes to mind when I hear this poppy bluegrass tune that tells the despairing tale of an innocent youth from a broken home and the twists and turns which will lead him to a gangster’s life of crime. 

I love the ironic way Tuchscherer can set lyrics seemingly delivered by a henpecked, sad sack drunk directed at his nagging fishwife, to such a pretty melody.  This song of self-awareness, pent up feelings and unconditional love, “I Don’t Need You to Tell Me” features Edwin Ireland on cello and Zoë Robertson on both violin and viola.  

Tuchscherer walks a fine line between alt country and coffee-house rock.  I hear a lot of influence from The Traveling Wilburys, as Tuchscherer sports the songwriting skills of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, and possesses a voice that is somewhat of a cross between Roy Orbinson and Jeff Lynne. With credentials like that, you can’t go wrong.     ‎

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rich Mahan - Blame Bobby Bare

2012 -  Snortin Horse Records

By Phillip Smith; May 31, 2014

Listening to Rich Mahan’s ten track album, Blame Bobby Bare, is like hitching a ride on a time machine headed back to the ending of an era when country music was still raw and listened to on 8-track tapes.  Not only was the album inspired by the music of Country music legend Bobby Bare, it was recorded in Nashville using vintage analog gear.  This, along with Mahan’s brilliantly written verses make this a killer retro-country album.

Jimmy Buffet would be right at home performing Tex-Mex friendly, “Tequilla Y Mota”, an ode to the weekend bender. I love the sound of Steve Herman’s mariachi trumpet coupled with Robby Turner’s pedal steel and Arlan Oscar’s accordion. That musical combination ties the song up into one big, tasty tamale.  A strong Bruce Springsteen vibe is with Mahan as he moves the party to another state in ‘Overserved in Alabam’. 

Mahan has a great sense of humor, and it shines through on his song of karmic backlash, “The Hills of South Dakota”.  He finds out the hard way, drinking scotch and philandering with a bartender may just land him with a problem below the belt and trouble with his wife.  Another song of good times gone bad, “Mama Found My Bong”, is a coming of age country ditty.  The wah-wah provided by JD Simo puts a big ol’ smile on my face.  Mahan’s “Rehab’s For Quitters” is bound to be a country classic, with quirky lyrics that seem to have fallen off bumper stickers at a truck stop.  If I didn’t know, I would have sworn this song was written by John Prine or David Allen Coe.

Rich Mahan is the real deal, and Blame Bobby Bare is a hell of a good listen.  I highly recommend this album to fans of classic and outlaw country.‎

Monday, May 26, 2014

Levon Helm - Ramble at the Ryman : From the Archives #13

2011 -  Vanguard Record

By Phillip Smith; July 9, 2011
He’s over seventy years old now, and still nothing quite gets in the way of Levon Helm‘s tenacious desire to make music.  Arguably one of the two most notable people to ever call such a little place like Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, home.  The other being the legendary Robert Lockwood, Jr.  Ramble at the Ryman, the newest release from Helm, is a live album.   Capturing the essence of the old time medicine shows, he shares the stage with big name talent like Sheryl Crow, John Hiatt, Buddy Miller, and Billy Bob Thornton to name a few.  With Helm handling vocals, drums, and the mandolin, Larry Campbell on guitar, and (Little) Sammy Davis on harmonica, it’s quite an impressive arcade of musicians.  

Six of the fifteen tracks are oldies but goodies written by one of Helm’s original band mates from The Band, Robbie Robertson.  Kicking off the show, is a lively version of “Ophelia“.  It’s such a great song, and sets the mood for a swingin’ good time.  Wrapping up the album, we get to hear a fabulous rendition of “The Weight“, recorded with special guest vocalist, John Hiatt.   And in between, fabulous performances of  “Evangeline“, recorded with Sheryl Crow, “Rag Mama Rag“, and “The Shape I’m In“.

Harmonica aficionados should really enjoy the back to back tracks, “Fannie Mae” and “Baby Scratch My Back”. Davis owns the stage with his riveting harp playing.  It’s just great to listen to.  Other great listens include the chilling ballad, “A Train Robbery”.  Helm sings his heart out on this one.  Rounding out the rest of the album, is a very nice cover of Chuck Berry’s “Back to Memphis”.  

This event is also available on DVD, which I plan to picking up sometime soon, because I love the CD so much.  

Rating =  5/5

* Authors note:  Originally appeared on BluesRevue.Com's BluesWax online magazine.  Posting again, in honor of what would have been Levon's 74th birthday.   

* Levon Helm. May 26, 1940 ~ April 19, 2012 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The String Cheese Incident - Song in My Head

2014 -  SCI Fidelity Records

By Phillip Smith; May 24, 2014

Summer is almost upon us, and it is time to break out the jams.  One couldn’t ask for better timing than the tenth and newest offering, Song in My Head, from the String Cheese Incident.  The whole gang, with Michael Kang and Billy Nershi at the helm has returned to the studio for the sixth time, after waiting nine long years to bring us ten tracks of ear candy produced by Talking Heads’ keyboardist Jerry Harrison, to nibble on. These songs have been a part of their live shows, but have never been put to wax until now. 

One can surely expect the unexpected, when listening to The String Cheese Incident and imbibing of their special brew, which is infused with heaping helpings of bluegrass, and progressive rock along with dashes of country, calypso, and blues. This is certainly the case with “Colorado Bluebird Sky”.  With a countrified bluegrass beginning and ending, the bridge seemingly breaks free of those handcuffs, isolates itself from the rest of the song to toss out some spacy guitar licks and get a little trippy.

Feel good song, “Let’s Go Outside”, is launched from a poppy and funky launch pad in which the vocals are borderline rap, much like the Red Hot Chili Peppers are known for. This one is very catchy.  And speaking of catchy, the self-prophesizing song “Song in My Head”, with its old school SCI familiarity, is a very welcome addition to the album. 

“Can’t Wait Another Day”, one of my favorite tracks, and a perfect jam song, is Afro-groove at the core.  I love Keith Moseley’s bass line along with the interesting umbrella of percussion built by Jason Hann and Michael Travis that guides the song along its path.  “Rosie”, another favorite, is post-disco dance music served up trance style.  It has a splash of Latin influence as well.  Kyle Hollingsworth tackles the keys full force reminding me of the funky R&B Eighties band, Cameo.  

As mentioned earlier, one really doesn’t know what might be lurking around the corner as SCI advances from song to song.  That’s what makes Song in My Head so fun and interesting, and why a spot on my summer play list has been secured for it.‎