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Civil War Naval Songs [coll] – [Smithsonian Folkways]

The subtitle of this release is “Period Ballads from the Union and Confederate Navies, and the Home Front,” and it is the baby of Dan Milner of Irish Pirate Ballads fame. The authentic flavor of this CD shines through in each of the songs, which feature vocals, concertina, piano, fife, drum, fiddle, dulcimer, banjo, and other instruments. The extensive liner notes detail Civil War naval history, as well as the story behind each song. 2 and 13 are my favorites.

  • Reviewed by humana on January 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Windy Hill – “Let’s Go to The Fair” – [New Wine Recording Studios]

    Listening to this made me feel like I was in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. Downhome picking from a local band (Windy Hill refers to the “golden hill separating the SF Bay Area from the Pacific Ocean”). It’s chipper bluegrass featuring mandolin, banjo, guitar, and bass. Ask our resident bluegrass expert Sally Goodin what she thinks, but in the meantime play it and decide for yourself.

  • Reviewed by humana on January 13, 2013 at 11:22 am
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Saddle Cats, The – “Herdin’ Cats!” – [EastLight Records]

    Western swing revival acts can take many forms, from a stripped-down trio like Hot Club of Cowtown to bigger bands like Don Burnham’s Lost Weekend. ??The Saddle Cats run lean — a four piece plus a guest drummer for these sessions — but they wield a secret weapon — steel guitar master Bobby Black, a long time Nashville session player and former member of road warriors such as Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen and Asleep at the Wheel, just to name a couple. ??Black lends authenticity to the overall sound here, with an eye to the past rather than an update of the western swing template. ??Bakersfield-bred Richard Chon leads the group and takes the lead vocal here on a few tracks (with instrumentals making up the rest of the repertoire), and he demonstrates exceptional taste in choosing western swing classics and obscurities, as well as appropriate jazz and pop standards. ??Chon plays the fiddle throughout and shares solos with Bobby on nearly every song. ??Although Bob Wills is a huge influence here, the Saddle Cats are a little less wild and know how to take their time, excelling especially on ballads like “Stardust”, where Black provides a master class in steel dynamics. — crimato

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on October 4, 2011 at 4:09 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • You Ain’t Talkin’ to Me: Charlie Poole & The Roots of Countr [coll] – [Columbia/Legacy]

    Charlie Poole (1892-1931) was a hard living drunk with jug-handle ears with a wild performing style. ??He wrote no songs of his own, but absorbed influences ranging from then-current pop ditties, marches, spirituals, minstrel songs, vaudeville, novelty numbers, Civil War songs, fiddle tunes, and whatever else you got… mixing them all up into a repertoire he would take on the road with his three piece crew, the North Carolina Ramblers. ??In addition to his unhinged vocal style, the 5 string banjo style Poole used (despite his lack of virtuosity) helped set the stage for what eventually would become bluegrass, with finger picking and melodic inventions rather than the more rhythmic frailing style heard we know from old-time and rural sources. ??Poole’s recordings for Columbia in the late ’20s are still echoed today via contemporary artists who found Poole’s larger-than-life performances inspiring, with Loudon Wainwright III among them. ??This three-disc collection puts the Poole repertoire from those Columbia 78s in context with other artist’s recordings side by side with Poole’s versions of the same songs (although often retitled, rewritten, and rearranged by Poole). ??The result serves as a great overview of popular American music from around 1900 to 1930. A nice booklet with this set provides biographical detains on Poole and his influences. ??<crimes>

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on June 1, 2011 at 4:47 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Frazer, Paula and Tarnation – “Now It’s Time” – [Birdman Recording Group]

    This March 2007 release, “Now It’s Time,” from Paula Frazer and Tarnation takes me back to the early 1990s in San Francisco, when Frazer was the toast of the town with her unique take on country-ish music (she started Tarnation in 1991). It always impressed me that with her genre-spanning musical history (from church choirs to jazz groups to the punk band Frightwig) she was able to turn goths and romantics on to a country-tinged project. This release from 2007 continues in that tradition. Frazer’s wavering vocals might remind you more of her former 4AD labelmates from back in the day (think Cocteau Twins and Throwing Muses) than of a traditional country singer. It’s a subtle, gorgeous sound, accented with pedal steel, violin, viola, cello. slide guitar, auto harp, banjo, hammer dulcimer, pump organ, etc. She’s working on new material, so this LP from a few years back is a lovely taste of more to come.

  • Reviewed by lombard on May 31, 2011 at 3:30 pm
  • Filed as 12-inch,Country
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  • Kirchen, Bill – “Word to The Wise” – [Proper American]

    Seems like every artist gets to a point in the career when they think, “Why don’t I invite all my friends to guest on my new album?” This is usually followed by the sound of a thousand phone calls from lawyers, resulting in historic mismatches such as R.L.Burnside with Kid Rock, Alison Moorer with Kid Rock, and probably an inevitable exhumation of Ray Charles’s corpse to appear with Kid Rock. Fear not, Bill Kirchen not only ignored Kid Rock’s poke on Facebook but instead did duets with people he actually knows, respects, and has played with before. It does make for some stylistic leaps here and there, but the default setting is classic country weepers and honky tonk with side trips to swing, blues, and whatever it is that Elvis Costello does. (“Man In The Bottom of The Well” is a nice throwback to Elvis’ “angry young man” sound, and Kirchen gets to do some biting guitar heroics). Some original tunes are made to order for the guests, and suit them fine, and the cover tunes are thankfully so obscure you won’t immediately think, “Oh, this was much better done by Merle.” Among Kirchen’s own numbers here, “Time Will Tell the Story” is a swampy country-soul number (and may be my favorite here), “I Don’t Work that Cheap” is a goofy, mid-60s-era Dylan pastiche, and “Valley of the Moon” apparently features Norton Buffalo’s last recording session. (( crimes ))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on May 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Bolotin, Jay – “Jay Bolotin” – [Locust Music]

    In the category of “lost albums,” the release of jay Bolotin’s 1968 recording more than fills the bill. He was briefly contracted to record this LP in New York City, but the 18 year old Kentucky native had some culture shock on the way (as discussed in the LP’s insert, written some 40 years after the LP finally was released in 1970). Coming a few years too late for the folk boom and just a couple of years too early for the singer-songwriter craze to come, Jay Bolotin’s LP will perhaps bring to mind better known artists like Leonard Cohen (although Bolotin has none of Cohen’s verbal grace, only a bit of his vocal tonality), the earliest of Jackson Browne’s albums, the tasteful ensemble work of Lovin’ Spoonful, and the non-comedic works of Arlo Guthrie. These aren’t folk songs as much as they are confessionals, windows into his troubled young mind, trying to grapple with what seemed to be “real life.” The arrangements are spare but intelligent, with lead guitar that never takes over but is certainly of structural importance in each song. Bolotin is still around, working as an artist and composer of film music, and was surprised as anybody to find there was interest in his earliest work. (( crimes ))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on April 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm
  • Filed as 12-inch,Country
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  • Stonemans, The – “All In The Family” – [Mgm Records]

    A compact LP of tunes that The Stonemans put out the year they won the CMA “Vocal Group of the Year” (1967). Group patriarch “Pop” Stoneman had Country music’s first million-seller in 1924 with “The Sinking of the Titanic”. Here, with five of his offspring, are 11 cuts, witha a mixture of blugrass, “traditional” (1960′s) Nashville sound & A few current songs of that time: “Early Mornin’ Rain” by Gordon Lightfoot & “Rita” by Doug Kershaw. Two singles were culled from this release: “West Canterbury Subdivision Blues” (reached #49 on Country charts) & a smokin’ version of “Cimarron”. A fun LP, predating the demise of “Pop” and Ronnie’s regular slot on Hee Haw by a few years.

  • Reviewed by Hawkeye Joe on March 24, 2010 at 4:41 pm
  • Filed as 12-inch,Country
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  • Hurley, Michael & Nichols, Betsy – “Michael Hurley & Betsy Nichols” – [Mississippi Records]

    Four tracks of Hurley originals, some being older songs in new versions, with Betsy Nichols singing harmony. This was their very first time singing together; they had apparently never met prior to this session. The first track “Jocko’s Lament” is a very short a capella piece, and the rest feature Hurley on acoustic or electric guitar. “Don’t let Me Down” is NOT the Beatles’ song. No other instruments, it’s very casual. This is a much more “folkish” release than his recent “Ida Con Snock” release with a full band, but the songs, vocals, and guitar work are very much as per Hurley’s usual: distinctive and odd, funny but maybe not ha-ha funny… and sometimes strangely moving for unknown reasons.
    PGM: track order on sleeve is WRONG, check vinyl label for correct info. This plays at 33-1/3. (( crimes ))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on March 9, 2010 at 11:53 am
  • Filed as 7-inch,Country
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  • Hurley, Michael & Ida – “Ida Con Snock” – [Gnomonsong]

    Now in his fifth decade of recording, Michael Hurley (code name, Snock) has recorded for Folkways, Warners, Rounder, and any number of small labels (like Gnomonsong), in most cases without much label interference, yielding a truly idiosyncratic and sometimes shambolic catalog of distinctive original tunes and covers of folk, country, jazz and standards. Constantly working with different sets of musicians, this release finds him supported by Ida, a group with varied instrumentation but roughly hoeing the same ditch Neil Young and others dug in the early 70s, with pedal steel, some fiddle, light drumming and bits of pretty background vocals. The covers this time out include “Rag Mopp,” the silly hit by the Ames Brothers that’s a perfect fit for Hurley, and a medley of Scottish/Irish folksongs, “Loch Lomond / Molly Malone”. Meanwhile, “It Must Be Gelatine” and “Hoot Owls” are typical of the more oddball fare he’s served up all these years. “Wildegeeses” and “Valley of Tears” are slower, prettier tunes. (( crimes ))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on March 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
  • 1 comment
  • Cash, Johnny – “American VI: Ain’t No Grave” – [Lost Highway Records]

    These were the last recordings Johnny Cash made before his death in 2003, but you’ll know that the minute you hear his voice – a bit husky and trembling, every bit as affecting as ever. This album is about the end of life and what lies beyond and more. Even the old chestnuts like Cool Water and Aloha Oe are stunning and moving.
    PGM: Watch out for having a lump in your throat when you take a mic break right after one of these tracks.

  • Reviewed by Cousin Mary on February 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Asylum Street Spankers – “Gods Favorite Band” – [Yellow Dog Records]

    Live recordings made in their hometown of Austin TX in 2006 are the source for this new release from the ever-changing Asylum Street Spankers, still led as ever by Christina Marrs and Wammo. Founding member Guy Forsyth is present here as well, along with longtime hipster Stanley Smith on clarinet, retired from the road but still making it to hometown gigs when he can. The group had done “Gospel Brunches” in its earliest days, and they have returned to that repertoire here. You gotta have big voices to belt out these classics, and they have that covered. Two originals by Wammo touch on other religious issues: “Volkswagen Thing” is a country pastiche about what God might drive in to avoid detection, and “Right and Wrong” is more blues-oriented and venturing outside pure Christian thought. But the core material here comes from country blues, spirituals, a neo-gospel selection by Gordon Gano, and one Gershwin classic, “It Aint Necessarily So”. Tune in to KFJC’s webcast of the Asylum Street Spankers’ LIVE MIC at KFJC on FEB. 23! ((( crimes )))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on February 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Wainwright, Loudon III – “High Wide & Handsome” – [2nd Story Sound Records]

    Loudon Wainwright III is not someone we usually associate with the performance of other people’s songs, but he’s long admired the songs of old-time banjo picker Charlie Poole’s catalog, which serve as the starting point for this collection of new and old songs, all songs either performed by Poole during his short (but at points, hugely successful) career in the 30s, or newly-composed songs by Wainwright and producer Dick Connette (who also sings & plays here) which are informed by Poole’s colorful, tragic life. Joining Wainwright are various singing members of his extended family (a sibling, three children, two ex-wives, and numerous ex-sisters-in-law) as well as session players from the folk, jazz, & bluegrass world. The new material here often comments on songs Poole himself did, or provides a narrative to incidents in his life. This is not so much a traditional music album as it is a soundtrack for a never-made docudrama about Poole’s life, with enough bumps and turns for a mini-series or two (and Wainwright confesses to having envisioned a screenplay for a film about Poole many years ago, in which he would take the lead role). ((( crimes )))

    PGM: CD2 #6 instrumental

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on December 8, 2009 at 1:24 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Muldaur, Geoff, and The Texas Sheiks – “Geoff Muldaur and The Texas Sheiks” – [Tradition & Moderne GmbH]

    Geoff Muldaur has a long, long history with the jug band sound, having been in Jim Kweskin’s jug band group 40 years ago, which was to spin off three or four future bandleaders after disbanding. (That’s where he met his ex-wife to be, Maria.) He’s got the right voice for this material (he sings about half of the leads here), understands the terrain well, and has a crackerjack band of musicians from Austin and beyond (including Berkeley old-timer Suzy Thompson). Steel guitar all-star Cindy Cashdollar is a standout, as well, and Jim Kweskin himself is here too, singing lead on “Fan It,” “Under the Chicken Tree,” and “Blues in the Bottle.” This project was built around giving support to Stephen Bruton, longtime lead guitarist for Kris Kristofferson and many others, during a period when he was suffering from cancer (he passed away May 2009). The sessions were pretty relaxed and exactly what this music needs in terms of polish. It’s all cover tunes, with jug band, hokum, & country blues sources. Skip James’ “Hard time Killing Floor” is as chilling as it ought to be, with a falsetto vocal from Johnny Nicholas. Between this and Maria’s new release, “Garden of Joy,” the jug band scene is in good health for another few years. ( (crimes) )

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on November 30, 2009 at 4:11 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Fahey, John – “New Possibility: Guitar Soli Christmas Album, The” – [Takoma Records]

    John Fahey performs Christmas classics on solo guitar. Very nice virtuoso guitar work, very beautiful – nuff said.

  • Reviewed by Cousin Mary on November 28, 2009 at 9:36 pm
  • Filed as 12-inch,Country
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  • Muldaur, Maria – “and Her Garden of Joy” – [Stony Plain Records]

    Once upon a time, Maria Muldaur (then named Maria D’Amato) was a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band, along with John Sebastian in his pre-Lovin’ Spoonful days, and she also spent some time in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band. Here we are some 40 years later and she’s once again playing with Sebastian, Kweskin, and a cast of other jug band enthusiasts (Taj Mahal, David Grisman, and Dan Hicks among them). With a mixture of covers from the jug band era and new tunes written somewhat in that style, as well as a couple of new swing tunes by Dan Hicks, it’s a bit of a way-back machine but a nice change of pace. Some of the topical tunes from the (first) depression are still relevant today. Muldaur has always had a great voice for this kind of music, and it’s clear she has considers this music, and American blues in general, to be a big influence for her. ((crimes))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on November 25, 2009 at 7:36 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Guthrie, Woody – “My Dusty Road” – [Rounder Records]

    Rounder has collected about 50 newly-remastered Woody Guthrie tracks from 1944 for this 4 CD box. The consumer version comes in a little suitcase full of paper ephemera as well as session notes, but we’ll make do with a single sheet of track titles! It’s not intended as a definitive set of Guthrie’s 1944 sessions… that would be the 100+ tracks on “The Asch Recordings,” which draw on the same set of sessions with perhaps slightly lesser sound quality. Woody Guthrie’s influence over a broad swath of American Folk, Country, Rock and even Pop music is undeniable… even if you can’t stand Woody’s monotonous voice and the rudimentary guitar accompaniment. But he knew how to deliver a story – or a call for social change – and that’s what will hold your attention, if anything. His original tunes speak directly, and his versions of traditional songs (several of them made popular by the Carter Family) are sometimes more detailed and coherent than better known versions. The discs here are sequenced with themes, grouping many of his best known songs on one disc, his topical songs on another, traditional songs on the third, and the final disc with songs arranged for the threesome of Woody, Cisco Houston, and Sonny Terry (although Houston and Terry do appear on the other discs as well)… some of these are instrumentals, party songs, and uptempo dance tunes, like “Guitar Rag” and a medley of square dance favorites which manages to insert yet another version of Woody’s own “Going Down the Road”. (((crimes)))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on November 2, 2009 at 10:24 am
  • Filed as CD,Country
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  • Last Kind Words [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

    Old weird Americana from Mississippi Records. Deep, lost, or long buried blues and gospel records from the old days — creaky 78s that creep deep into the soul. Just as amazing as all the other releases from this label. These guys know how to collect and present the best of the most obscure. Don’t miss! AArbor

  • Reviewed by aarbor on October 14, 2009 at 10:25 am
  • Filed as 12-inch,Country
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  • Rose, Jack & Black Twig Pickers, The – “Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers” – [Klang Industries]

    The Black Twig Pickers have been playing old-time traditional (and new songs in that style) for a few years. Although known for his solo work in improv-oriented expansions of John Fahey’s “American primitive” approach, Jack Rose has also played a more traditional repertoire with Twigs member Mike Gangloff for both recordings and gigs, and in this recording (made in 2008), he integrates himself into the Black Twig Pickers lineup, adding his solid fingerpicking (with some slide work). They do several trad. blues and old-time tunes here, along with a few new versions of Rose’s original instrumentals… but nothing too exploratory; they play his tunes largely as if they were traditional. Not all the songs are done with vocals, but the vocals that are here are very much done in an old-time style as well (although the first track has a somewhat distorted vocal sound that could have been intentional). Rose has always been a forceful player in his solo work, but it’s also interesting to hear him serve as the rhythm section much of the time here. (((crimes)))

  • Reviewed by ArtCrimes on September 22, 2009 at 1:41 pm
  • Filed as 12-inch,Country
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  • Handsome Family, The – “Honey Moon” – [Carrot Top Records]

    Country: This is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of love songs celebrating the 20th year of marriage of Rennie Sparks (who pens the amazing lyrics) and Brett Sparks (who composes the lovely music). Lap steel, dobro, violin, guitars, drums, and occasional keys accompany the rich deep voice of Brett (joined on some songs by Rennie). Exquisite nature images imbue the songs, making this an album as much about love of place (Albuquerque) as about love of another human being. Track 8 is the only anomaly in its vaguely electronic setting. Track 11 is a waltz about a preying mantis. All are worthy of a listen.
    Picks: 2, 5, 12.
    PGM: Most tracks end around :05.

  • Reviewed by humana on April 10, 2009 at 8:42 pm
  • Filed as CD,Country
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