I absolutely love this! The vocals remind me of Elana James, and the combination of guitar strumming, violin and bass picking, and horns (mucho awesome trumpet on 2) make for a truly enlivening, percolating experience (earning the band its name). It’s bouncy, upbeat country with jazz elements that are irresistible. Have fun listening to this one!
This release finds Kirchen working primarily with his road trio and a few friends. Nearly all of these songs have appeared on various earlier releases by Kirchen, or with the Lost Planet Airmen back in the ’70s, but these stripped-down renditions are pretty representative of how they sound at Kirchen’s current shows — a sort of a “greatest hits live in the studio” approach, easy on the overdubbing. This results in a perfect show souvenir for the merch table and a confirmation of what this group does well: truck driving songs, country weepers, substance abuse anthems, and in the case of “Hot Rod Lincoln”, the history of guitar as Kirchen salutes a parade of heroic axe-slingers both living and dead. Anyone who has seen Kirchen’s live show over the last 15 years or so has heard this routine, but it’s evolved over time to include a few piano players as well, with Austin DeLone adding the requisite riffs. Some may quibble with the recycling of so much old material, but these performances are tight and well-recorded. ((( crimes )))
Old timey folks songs from Michael Hurley, cohort of the Holy Modal Rounders. Originally recorded in 1965 as part of “First Sessions,” his freshman release. These are tracks released for the first time from the same session recorded by Fred Ramsey Jr. (same as the one who recorded Leadbelly’s last session, used the same reel to reel to record Hurley, too)
Feels like old time, early sixties folk music, solo acoustic, sweet and soft vocals at times. A little yodelling on Intersoular Blues. I guess The Tea Song, was one of his hits. Mississippi Records love….
A storm builds yonder, looming over hillsides on the horizon; a dark brooding yet delicate storm that seems to gently brush over in its ferocity. This is the sound of Ora Cogan’s haunting and ethereal brand of post-americana. Her somber, expansive style places her somewhere between Grouper and Gillian Welch though she grazes the same pastures as The Be Good Tanyas, even covering one of their songs (5). The back up band of bass, drums and bowed guitar provide a full backdrop for her songs to thrive without getting in the way, even helping build the songs into almost rock ballads. The Way??showcases especially her painfully beautiful vocal styling, singing so perfectly off-key that it tears at the gut and guts out tears while tracks like Summer Wine??allow her to show off her songwriting expertise without the band. She disappeared in the Canadian wilderness for two years after recording this, I kinda want to do that after just listening to it…
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.
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.
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
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>
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.
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 ))
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 ))
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.
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 ))
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 ))
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.
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 )))
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
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) )
John Fahey performs Christmas classics on solo guitar. Very nice virtuoso guitar work, very beautiful – nuff said.
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))