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Music Reviews

Buried Country [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

Thurston Hunger   8/8/2018   12-inch, Country


Outsider sounds from the Outback? Nah, this’ll fit just
dandy in your Country Music set (Australia *is* a country
after all). Note the Cash and Hank refs on the cover art.
The album pretty much begins and ends in the Dreamtime.
Black Allan Barker leads it off with a stirring hypnotic
spiral of a song, and Harry Williams summons Dreamtime on
the penultimate cut as well. Williams’ wife and musical
partner mentioned that Harry was buried with his guitar,
the Dreamtime Allstars band is surely legendary. Several
artists on this have died, recordings here span the years,
all the way back to 1958. The song at the very end of this
collection aptly is called “The Resurrection” recorded by
Bobby McLeod in 1987 having been reborn from his time in
jail. He and his bandmates The Kooriers also close the
first side. Prison time, literal and emotional, is a
recurrent theme. Civil wrongs and rights keep on spinning
beyond the confines of these grooves. Didgeridoo pokes
through on “Gurindji Blues”, spoons cut in on the instro
“Black and White Cat.” The Warumpi Band inject electric
boomerang boogie into the mix. Maisie Kelly’s a cappela
number is captivating, and a stellar example of song as
historical oracle. Timeless. The photos/interviews put
together by Clinton Walker for Flippin Yeah in conjunction
with Mississipi is the real gift here, even the precision
of Walker’s track ordering is striving to tell this story.
He has revived memories and music that would have otherwise
been lost. -Thurston Hunger

Reed, Ola Belle – “Rising Sun Melodies” [Smithsonian Folkways]

humana   3/17/2018   A Library, Country

You’ll want to read the liner notes on this classic. Reed, who grew up in Rising Sun, Appalachia, picked up a banjo at an early age and learned to pick out tunes herself. Looking at herself in the mirror, she declared her theme song (“Look Down That Lonesome Road,” track 12) and fulfilled her goal of singing on the radio someday. Bully for her, I say! Her voice is as hearty as they come, and her music reflected her values and life–no hypocrisy in this woman’s blood. This selection of her music comes to us through time and allows Reed’s example to shine on for generations of women musicians to come.

Drag The River – “Losers/ Marooned” – [Last Chance Records]

humana   1/14/2018   7-inch, Country

Well, this Colorado country band is pretty mellow, and the downtempo songs go along quite well with their band name. The studio versions are on Side A, and the live versions are on B. They aren’t that much different, although the live ones sound a bit grittier and more affecting. Great for a grey, overcast day. Just have some ice cream on hand to pick you up.

Trickett, Ed/Bok, Gordon/Muir, Ann Mayo/ – “All Shall Be Well Again” – [Folk-Legacy Records, Inc.]

Naysayer   12/8/2017   CD, Country

Folk trio, Ed Trickett, Gordon Bok and Ann Mayo Muir have been making and performing folk music since the early 1970’s and before. Hailing from the New England states, the three sing of places and events belonging to the East Coast and it’s history with Great Britain. Songs of sailing (Bok is also a boatman), ancient English mystics, life in the country, children’s ballads and more fill the 12 numbers with quiet, sadness, an overwhelming sense of memory, and an almost painful longing for the past. With just acoustic guitar and vocals, harmonious vocals playing with and around each other, the songs remind me of how quality folk music is the true predecessor to so much of the music of sadness that we love at the station. Just really one of my favorite recordings. Beautiful anytime of the day or night.

Dusty, Slim – “Singer From Down Under” – [EMI Records]

Naysayer   12/3/2017   CD, Country

Australian cultural icon and superstar of Australian country music, making popular the style known as “the bush ballad”, and having recorded 106 albums up to the time of his death in 2003, Slim was a unique brand. The 12 songs on “Singer From Down Under” all feel very familiar. The playing style is simple with Dusty’s straight forward drawl. Songs about drinking and drinking, and then drinking with colloquailisms thrown in for good measure. The whole thing is a hoot. Worthy of some good down home fun. Play it then get a drink in the lobby.

Four Lost Souls – “Four Lost Souls” – [Bloodshot Records]

humana   10/28/2017   CD, Country

“These songs aren’t going to sing themselves” (from “Poor Valley Radio”). And count your lucky stars that Jon Langford (who wrote and sings the songs along with Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome) and his band (rounded out by skilled guitarist John Szymanski) found themselves in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to sing the great Americana songs contained on this CD. Yes, the sobering election of 2016 made them feel lost, but they stepped up to the plate and responded with these sometimes rocking, sometimes ballad-y songs. Be sure to read the poem in the sleeve.

Pennington, Eddie – “Walks The Strings… and Even Sings” – [Smithsonian Folkways]

Naysayer   7/30/2017   CD, Country

This is a true treat: 20 tracks, mostly instrumental, by the stunning guitarist, Eddie Pennington. Hailing from Kentucky, he plays in the parlor movement style of Kentucky thumbpicking. (Read the booklet for an in depth explanation.) His skills are ever apparent. The notes float by ever so delicately, with intricate twists and turns that captivate the listener. His playing in so smooth, so perfect it is almost unreal. You can just see him sitting on a porch, picking away, telling stories, singing, and playing for hours. A joyful listen.

Devil Makes Three, The – “Redemption & Ruin” – [New West Records]

humana   9/7/2016   CD, Country

This is simply spiffy music organized into “Ruin” songs (such as “I Gotta Get Drunk” and “I’m Gonna Get High”) followed by “Redemption” songs (“There’ll Be a Jubilee” and “Down in the Valley”). Pete Bernhard sings lead vocal and acoustic guitar, with Cooper McBean on electric guitar and background vocals and Lucia Turino on upright bass and background vocals. There are also spoons, banjos, and other instruments involved in these mostly upbeat songs.

Dezurik Sisters – “Yodel and Sing Their Greatest Hits” – [Mississippi Records]

mouthbreather   5/24/2016   12-inch, Country

Minnesota weirdos yip-cackling their way through these 26 selections. these farm girls hit their stride in the late 1930’s, buck-bucking their yodels to urbanites, radio listeners (WLS-AM’s National Barn Dance), and other audiences who had cut ties with their rural upbringings.

yodel yer scrotal; bock-buck yer flock, Chuck; chip-chiperry, Marie; try to sing with the birds.

Hillbillies In Hell [coll] – [Omni Recording Corporation]

Naysayer   2/23/2016   12-inch, Country

You know how someone is always yet again discovering some lost tapes of some unknown garage band that becomes touted as THE new missing link to punk and suddenly everybody says, “Oh yeah that group was so important to me”? I proclaim that the sub-genre of country music on “Hillbillies In Hell” is THE missing link to what would become death metal and now you can get a jump start on proclaiming how important these songs were to you. Eighteen songs by eighteen different artists playing and singing about suicide, drug addiction, satan, murder, serial killers, satan, satan and satan definitely have a sentiment and feel for all the darkness infused in some sounds today. This hillbilly country recorded from 1957 to 1970, most of it in the late ’60’s, has that glorious twang that is the beauty of this period of country music. The tales are sad, desperate, woeful and so full of longing…. and full of Satan. The liner notes wonderfully tell the stories of these mostly small time performers. Their tales are sad, desperate, woeful and so full of longing. It’s like Outsider Country music. Omni Recording Corporation has come up again with another instant hit for those twisted enough to find songs such as “Jesus Is My Pusher” and “Satan’s Chauffeur” giddily entertaining. Go to Hell.

Gentry, Bobbie – “Ode to Billie Joe” – [Capitol Records]

Naysayer   2/5/2016   12-inch, Country

The commercial success and subsequent mystery over Billie Joe and his death caught the imagination of listeners worldwide when the song “Ode to Billie Joe” was recorded in 1967. Almost taking on mythic status, it often outshines the other nine tracks on Bobbie Gentry’s first album of the same name. Bobbie Gentry’s disappearance from the entertainment industry in the mid 1970’s had the same sort of effect at the time. Though now fairly obscure to listeners, Gentry is still viable for a book written about “Ode” on the 33 1/3 series and commented by people in the know as highly influential.

-Born Roberta Lee Streeter in Chickasaw County, Mississippi.
-Initially self taught multi-instrumentalist.
-Philosophy major at UCLA.
-One of the first females to write and produce her own music.
– Release of “Ode” knocked The Beatles out of number one place for four weeks.
– First female country artist to be awarded a Grammy for best new artist.
– Designed, produced, choreographed, etc. her stage shows including her major stays in Vegas.
– Left performing and whereabouts is basically unknown.

The album is usually a quietly produced series of songs with Gentry playing acoustic guitar, finger picking each track in the familiar plunk plunka plunka beat. Background strings arranged by Jimmie Haskell and Shorty Rodgers fill out the sounds that accompany the tales of young country women and their exploits and desires while dealing with life in the backwoods and deltas of the deep south. The instrumentation mixed with her singing often gives you the feeling of that slowed down southern life. Gentry’s rich voice, which really takes on a solid level of quality in the song “Hurry, Tuesday Child”, moves throughout the compositions and never feels forced. Sonorous is the word to describe it. The songs are so enjoyable you just want to eat some poke salad annie with her while shooting the breeze, sitting on the porch. And then there is “Mississippi Delta” which may be one of the top underground club dance LOOSE IT songs from my twenties. It is one of the true definitive examples of country swamp rock. You’ll pull some muscles dancing to it. BOBBIE GENTRY RULES!!!!!!!!

Shook, Sarah & Disamers, The – “Sidelong” – [Self Release]

humana   1/11/2016   CD, Country

These are gritty tunes in the country style of telling woes that can be met with strong, hard liquor. The track titles pull you in, as do the lyrics. This isn’t feel-good country, but rather tell-it-like-it-is, warts and all. You come out from the catharsis feeling like you’ve grown a backbone.

Wainright Sisters, The – “Songs In The Dark” – [PIAS]

humana   12/7/2015   CD, Country

This album is a family affair, with Martha and Lucy, daughters of Loudon Wainwright, joining voices and guitar strums to bring you lullabies sung to them by their mothers (they are half-sisters) and written by their papa and their mamas. Other family members and friends join them in the music production. It’s haunting country folk in a minor, nostalgic key, beautiful and evocative. The feeling is akin to that you get when you listen to Marissa Nadler.

McLeod, Andy – “Forge The Valley” – [Dying For Bad Music]

abacus   8/12/2015   CD, Country

by way of German label, Appalachian folk music from Andy McLeod: seasonal farm hand, musician and visual artist. inspired by Jack Rose, John Fahey and others, and especially by his home landscape of Chester County, Pennsylvania, these warm fingerpicked melodies (guitar/banjo) are all original (except for one Carter Family tune – with vocals) and incorporate field recordings (3-5), spoken word (4) and drone (6,7,10). the tracks get more spacious as the album progresses, with the brief Lost track at the end losing all trace of country for foggy introspection. collaborations from friends and an homage to the late Robbie Basho, this beautiful album can find its way onto any show, and deserves just that.

Romano, Daniel – “If I’ve Only One Time Askin'” – [New West Records]

humana   7/27/2015   CD, Country

Steel guitar, smooth country, songs written by Romano himself. His lyrics are included in the CD insert, as is his take on how “to create a song from the ashes of humanity.” The music goes down easy, and the topics range from love that’s died down to embers, to a guy so wronged by his exes that he’s only able to utter two words at a time, to, well, just read the track titles and you’ll know.

Rock Ridge – “Drifter’s Prayer” [Self-produced]

Sally Goodin   4/2/2015   CD, Country, Format

Rock Ridge is a 4-piece bluegrass band – guitar, bass, banjo, and mandolin, based in the Chico area. This is their debut album, from 2011, which is self-produced. It includes traditional and contemporary bluegrass, gospel, and some originals. The singing and playing are good; it is well produced. The female lead is especially good.?? Reviewed by Sally Goodin
Faves: 4 5 9 11

Gunn, Steve and Black Twig Pickers – “Seasonal Hire” – [Thrill Jockey Records]

abacus   3/15/2015   CD, Country

Steve Gunn leads the Black Twig Pickers through some old-time traditional tunes carrying forward into a modern colloquial. initially staying true to form with the opener jamming on a simple tune, letting the different players take turns in front. Sally Ann Morgan really carryies that country twang on fiddle and vocals whereas when Steve takes over singing on Trailways the mood shifts to that of some sort of Appalachian raga, Mike Gangloff on the jaw harp and tanpura giving it a more esoteric flavor. the side-long title track really lays in and spaces out into an expansive rustic drone, drifting like a heavy fog through the narrow hollows. true music to lay back and drink moonshine to while smoking cigarettes on empty mountain roads (don’t try this at home).

Three Thirds – “Buffalo Skinner: a Tribute to Woody Guthrie” – [Self Released]

Thurston Hunger   3/27/2014   CD, Country

Sweet harmonies, sour tales…four people make up Three Thirds, living
in the Woody Guthrie songbook and working in Southern California.
Cowboys and outlaws dot the landscape, along with the bleached bones
of a crooked drover. The chamber saloon approach works exceptionally
here, Alex Wand while at the forefront with guitar and his innocent
man’s vocals in a guilty world, truly needs his accomplices. Claire
Chenette may be the secret weapon with oboe and english horn, one
can sputter with blood, the other shine like an angel’s halo.
Similarly, Heather Lockie’s viola can careen like a getaway car
on “Pretty Boy Floyd” or skip blythely through the willows to
her jilted lover’s grave. Both ladies pitch in singing with campfire
purity. Jake Rosenzweig is forbidden from singing on this, but
gets some whooping in and his bass is a backbone that brooks no
shivers. Listen to him bow open “Ranger’s Command.” The title
track will given Cormac McCarthy night terrors, it’s a hauntingly
beautiful cautionary tale. Thoroughly enjoyable listen, and best
of all it artfully illuminates Woody Guthrie’s genius. High
praises at noon, or anytime. This band is your band.

-Thurston Hunger

78 Project – Volume 1, The [coll] – [78 Project, The]

Naysayer   3/11/2014   12-inch, Country

What makes a musical project really exceptional and surprising is a lack of smarminess, a lack, or at least a reduction of, ego, and a level of sincerity and care that is not overblown, but meets the right balance. This is a difficult place to arrive at but when it’s done—- wow!
So along comes “The 78 Project – Volume 1”, a collection of artists large and small who are covering traditional songs. Sounds good. But the real draw is that “with just one microphone, one authentic 1930???s Presto direct-to-acetate disk recorder, and one blank lacquer disc, musicians are given one take to cut a record anywhere they choose.”
Hmmm…. My initial reaction was split- half ready to embrace, half ready to toss. Is it all just a little too charming? Well I hunkered down to listen and, boy, was I surprised. I was smiling by the first 30 seconds and continued throughout the whole two sides. What we have here are artists, professionals who understand music, the making of it and the recording and production of it, but who have tossed aside the contemporary experience for a basic, old time recording. Being faced with the technological limitations of using this old style 78 recording system, the musicians must stretch themselves to let go to get to the heart of what they do. It is a superb project and process to listen to. The recordings are strong in their simplicity. Acoustic instrumentation makes for a warm sound. Vocals shimmer. It is all so rich. The Presto recorder makes the music and vocals sound distant, like playing with memory. The noises of street sounds, animals barking, background noises, as well as the scratches and skips in the recording make it like a time machine listening party and the Presto recorder is that machine. Bravo for this project. Just pick a song and listen and think and feel and enjoy.

Wanderer’s Swing: Texas Dance Hall Music [coll] – [Krazy Kat]

humana   12/4/2013   CD, Country

Reading the impressive liner notes for each of these songs is a must! The lowdown is that these 25 songs were recorded in the 40s and 50s primarily in Texas dancehalls, which were the sites of entertainment and music post-WWII and pre-TV and other distractions. Some dancehalls still feature this Western Swing, which is upbeat and downhome fun, mixed with polkas, rags, two-steps, and other types of folk music. The lyrics are entertaining, and you need only look to the titles for some inspiration.