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.‎

Sunday, May 18, 2014

John Butler Trio - Flesh & Blood

2014 -  Vanguard

By Phillip Smith; May 17, 2014

Flesh & Blood, the sixth studio album by Australian roots band, John Butler Trio is a sheer delight.  Filled with rich melodies and poignant lyrics, this eleven track album goes down smooth and refreshing like iced lemonade in the summertime.  Backing Butler this time around is bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Grant Gerathy.   

Butler creates a trippy environment for “Blame It On Me”, riding a wave of trance-inducing beats laced with spacy effects.  It’ s so fascinating, I find myself melting into the song, while imagining how enjoyable it would be to hear an extended version of it played live.   The use of steel pans gives the super-poppy “Only One” an infusion of Caribbean flavor.  This is one of those songs that can easily get stuck in one’s head. 
“Spring to Come”, the opening track, catches my attention with a rhythm reminiscent of Rusted Root, and a message of hope and encouragement reminding us that ‘out of the darkness, only the light can come’.  

Gerathy uses a very industrial sounding percussion to begin “Livin’ in the City” with. After a few measures, the song melts into a really funky rhythm accented with bluesy and psychedelic guitar riffs.  Like Anthony Keidis, Butler rolls his vocals out quickly and very pronounced.  I really like this one.  “Devil Woman” is another track I am infatuated with. Tribal beats set a foundation for a wild old-time spiritual romp intended to exorcise a different kind of demon.

A splendid album to listen to, Flesh and Blood invokes an assortment of emotions and feelings.  Some songs put me in my quiet space, as others make me want to dance.  I just can’t seem to stop listening.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jake Bugg - Live at Silver Platters , Seattle WA, January 20, 2014

2014 -  Island Records

By Phillip Smith; May 10, 2014

Although I didn’t venture out twenty-five miles to the nearest record store on Record Store Day this year, I did manage to find the RSD release of Jake Bugg’s four-track EP Live at Silver Platters disc on eBay.  Bugg beautifully performs each of his songs solo and acoustically, pulling one piece from his first and self-titled album, and two from his Shrangri La album.  This stripped-down performance offers yet another glimpse into how deep his well of talent goes.

The first thing that pops into my mind when “There’s a Beast and We All Feed It” plays, is uncanny observation of just how much Bugg reminds me of a young Bob Dylan tearing through “Subterranean Homesick Blues”.  If this is what he sounds like at twenty years old, I have a feeling we are in store for an explosion of great music in the future from this troubadour.  “Storm Passes Away”, also from his Shangri La album, is about trying to piece a relationship back together.  This one is very reminiscent of classic Hank Williams, both in song styling and performance.    

Bugg seems to draw inspiration from Paul Simon on “Lightning Bolt”, a magically fast-tempo song with quick rhyming lyrics laced with hints of blues and classic country. It’s so amazing how rich this song sounds, I quickly forget this is just one man and his guitar.   

Live at Silver Platters , Seattle WA, January 20, 2014, really has a lot going on for just being a four track live EP.  The only drawback is that it leaves me wanting more.‎

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Warrel Dane - Praises to the War Machine : From the Archives #12

2008 -  Century Media

By Phillip Smith; Written for , July 6, 2009

Praises to the War Machine is the solo effort of Warrel Dane, lead singer of  Seattle band, Nevermore.  Collaborating with Soilwork’s guitarist Peter Wichers, and drummer Dirk Verbeuren, Dane has constructed a new heavy metal opus.  Praises to the War Machine doesn’t just tap its needle into the heavy metal vein of decades past, but plunges that sucker right in there.  I definitely pick up shreds of Black Sabbath, Ozzy, and Dio to name a few.  And that’s not a bad thing. 

First out of the gate, the guitar-heavy and melodic “When We Pray”  drives home the point, which Dane sings ‘nothing ever changes when we pray’.   Other heavy tracks include, “Obey” and “Equilibrium“.  “Obey“, reminds me a bit of Disturbed, and pounces upon the listener with vigorous guitar riffs.    
And lets not forget the ballads.  One in particular stands out, “Your Chosen Misery”.   This one seems a little out of place, when compared to the other tracks, as the vocals are contrastingly deep  for the lion's share of this song. 
The most interesting track however, is a cover of Paul Simon’s “Patterns” from the 1965 album, The Paul Simon Songbook.  Danes version, although tons heavier than the original, is still recognizable.  Check out the original and then listen to Dane’s version if you get a chance.   And definitely check this CD out.