Archive for CD Reviews

Whiskey Shambles’ cover of blues classic will haunt your dark thoughts

Whiskey Shambles

Whiskey Shambles

by George Francis

In December, Cincinnati-based “Garage Rock/Basement Blues” quartet, The Whiskey Shambles, released their latest song to the Interwebs…  “Mother Earth.”  Originally written and made famous by Memphis Slim in 1951 as a plinky, slow, twelve-bar blues piano number with a down-tempo feel and solemn lyrics, The Shambles have taken the unusual descending chromatic and replicated it with a slide guitar riff, played on a fuzzed-out and overdriven acoustic(!).  Shambles’ bassist Brother James plays an adaptation of Slim’s left hand on his five-string bass — also slightly overdriven and gritty — which adds a deep tone to the entire piece, and helps underscore Aaron Tyree’s steadily growing and increasingly manic drum part.  The result adds a heavy and somewhat psychedelic rock feel to a song that always had weighty lyrics, but only mildly dark instrumentation in its original and most-well known recordings. Read more

CD Review – Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys – Pick

Written by Bill Whiting

  The Travelin’ McCourys team up with fellow bluegrass troubadour Keller Williams on the dazzling recording, Pick. Beginning with the sweet sounds of “Something Else,” Williams and The Travelin’ McCourys create a potent formula of high lonesome harmonies, razor sharp musicianship and engaging humor. It’s all performed tongue in cheek with a full, rich sound that breezes through without the assistance of percussion. Rob McCoury stretches his banjo flourishes alongside Alan Bartram’s anchor driven bass lines on “What a Waste of Good Corn Liquor.” Ronnie McCoury shines on mandolin, fleshing out the inner nuances of the Steve Earle penned, “The Graveyard Shift.” John Hartford’s “Sexual Harassment” receives a subtle workout from the gently moving passages of fiddle maestro Jason Carter. Read more

CD Review – “Aquatic Hitchhiker” by Leftover Salmon

Written by Bill Whiting

Boulder Colorado’s favorite sons, Leftover Salmon, return with the beguiling masterwork, Aquatic Hitchhiker on LoS Records. Since their formation in 1989, Leftover Salmon has been in the forefront of the jamgrass movement, creating memorable recordings and legendary live concerts. Aquatic Hitchhiker is one of their very best projects, full of sweet harmony laced compositions, and instrumentally diverse passages. Each song is a keeper on Aquatic Hitchhiker, from the deep southern leanings of “Gulf of Mexico” to the glistening, improvisational title track to the cajun seasonings of the fiery “Bayou Town.” Read more

CD Review – Ben Sollee, Inclusions (2011)

ben sollee, inclusionsReview by Bill Whiting

Lexington, Kentucky native Ben Sollee follows up his 2010 collaborative project with Daniel Martin Moore on the riveting new recording, Inclusions. Sollee, who began playing cello at an early age, has an easygoing appeal that transcends generations on the echoing ballad, “Embrace.” A member of The Sparrow Quartet with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Sollee brings an enticing sense of rhythm and harmony to “Close To You.” Jordon Ellis contributes sweeping percussion, and Duane Lundy adds atmospheric rhythm guitar to the barn burner, “Hurting.” Sollee’s unique acoustic style of bass playing permeates the sound scapes of Inclusions, and his lilting vocal delivery inhabits daring improvisational material, such as the expansive mid tempo number, “The Globe.” Recorded and mixed by Lundy at Shangrila Studios in Lexington, Kentucky, Inclusions is a bracing, inventive masterwork from Ben Sollee. It is easily one of the best discs of 2011. Ben Sollee plays the 20th Century Theater, 3021 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH on June 5, 2011. Read more

CD Review – Lucinda Williams, Blessed (2011)

lucinda williams, blessedReview by Bill Whiting

Lucinda Williams continues a winning streak of quality recorded output on her longplayer, Blessed. With a tight backing band consisting of Butch Norton on drums, David Sutton on bass, Rami Jaffee on keyboards and Val McCallum and Greg Leisz on electric guitars, Williams slams forward on the biting opening track, “Buttercup.” Kicking back in a hushed, laid back country twang, Williams impresses on the heart rendering classic, “I Don’t Know How You’re Livin’.” “Copenhagen” stretches her seamless storytelling style, taking the listener on an expansive, yet internal emotional journey. Elvis Costello adds his trademark gritty guitar lines to the epic “Soldier’s Song,” and the albums cresting masterwork, “Convince Me.” Whether it’s on the plaintive declaration, “Born to be Loved,” or the disc’s closing ballad, “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” Lucinda Williams writes, arranges and performs with a heightened mastery that ranks her as one of America’s national treasures. This is one of those rare albums that connects straight to the soul, and truly makes us all feel “Blessed.” Read more

CD Review – Wild Carrot & The Roots Band, Live – Crowd Around The Mic (2010)

wild carrotWritten by Bill Whiting –

A natural, relaxed atmosphere and flow pervades Live, Crowd Around The Mic, the bracing new album from Cincinnati roots pioneers Wild Carrot & The Roots Band. Wild Carrot has played for many years in the tri state area, and was selected by the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile to represent the United States as Cultural Ambassadors to Chile in 2006. Adding the husband and wife team of Brandt Smith and Brenda Wolfersberger as The Roots Band to their unique cornucopia of bluegrass and folk based harmonies has enhanced Wild Carrot’s performance dynamic as evidenced on Crowd Around The Mic. Think the Manhattan Transfer with string instruments, and you have a bit of the unique flavor that exists within the broad reaching material that Wild Carrot & The Roots Band successfully covers. Beginning with “Pan American Boogie,” the quartet soon switches gears, taking stabs at “When You’re Smiling/ You Are My Sunshine,” “There Is a Time,” and the classic, “I’ve Heard That Song Before.” Spencer Funk and Pam Temple make it swing with a vengeance, and the Temple-Wolfersberger duet on “Adieu False Heart” gives goosebumps aplenty with their beautiful vocal tones. Recorded on July 15 & 19, 2009, and mastered by Dan Murphy at Group Effort Sound Studios in Erlanger, Kentucky, Live, Crowd Around The Mic is destined to make many instant converts to the winning high and lonesome sounds of Wild Carrot & The Roots Band. Read more

CD Review – Jennie Arnau, Chasing Giants (2010)

jennie arnau, chasing giantsWritten by Bill Whiting –

Chasing Giants finds Carolina native Jennie Arnau rediscovering her folk and country roots with a backing band of top notch players. Drawing from a broad canvass, Arnau opens the disc with hope and yearning on “For the Winter,” accompanied by the acoustic guitar mastery of Rod Hohl . “Bouncing Ball” intermixes delicate rhythms courtesy of bassist Skip Ward ( Bela Fleck, Steve Martin) and drummer Alan Lerner (Zen Tricksters). “Savior” explores the transitional, dark world of being lost and searching via the added instrumental assistance from guitarist Kevin Kinney. The title track and “Safe Tonight” flirt with both shared experience and periodic introspection aided by the nimble fingerpicking of Moe guitarist Al Schnier. Banjo master Noam Pikelny also contributes to Arnau’s bluegrass based sound throughout Chasing Giants. Recorded in New York, and mixed by Trina Shoemaker at The Red Barn in Franklin, TN, Chasing Giants swings mightily with quality song writing and fluid, yet daring, jazzy influenced musical themes. Read more

CD Review – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Self Titled (2010)

grace potterWritten by Bill Whiting –

Opening with the hard edged drive of the radio ready “Paris (OOH LA LA),” the self titled album from the Vermont based unit, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, takes the road hardened veterans in new directions that are openly accessible to the casual listener. Potter has steadily built up a dedicated following with her improvised blues based standards. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals retains a strong compositional framework as the ensemble dives into a tighter soul oriented pop music landscape via the hook laden explorations of “Medicine” and “Goodbye Kiss.” Bassist Catherine Popper and drummer Matthew Burr provide a propulsive, interlocked rhythm structure on the wailing workout, “Tiny Light.” Scott Tournet’s sinewy guitar licks add color and depth to the Eastern flavored “Oasis,” and party anthem, “Hot Summer Night.” Potter, however, is the main attraction, and she wields her instrumental prowess on keyboards and projecting vocal attack with brute force on the short but sweet track “Only Love,” and the condensed rocker, “Money.” Produced by Mark Batson and mixed by Andrew Scheps, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals elevates the quintet to rarefied heights that recall the best of Stax and Motown. Read more

CD Review – Martin Sexton, Sugarcoating (2010)

martin sextonWritten by Bill Whiting –

The fifth release on his independent label, Kitchen Table Records, Sugarcoating brings the wide variety and depth of Martin Sexton’s talents alive with a rare vibrancy. Putting together the cohesive backing band of Duke Levine on guitar, Dave Mattacks on drums, and Marty Ballou on bass, Sexton seems more at ease on Sugarcoating than on previous studio discs. A free flowing interplay between Sexton’s deft songwriting skills, and his impassioned, improvised vocals, exists on the album’s closer, “Just To Be Alive.” As on 2007’s impressive project, Seeds, Sexton chooses to begin Sugarcoating with a standard pop based number, the irresistible, hook filled, “Found.” Sexton seeks out the compromising artist inside that yearns in the lyrics to be “searching for the common ground, seeing likeness in strange faces.” “Boom Sh-Boom” is a distant cousin to 1998’s The American gem, “Diggin Me,” and Sexton reveals a playful and engaging side on the danceable track. Sugarcoating’s radio ready “Livin’ the Life” explores the philosophical themes and questions of choice and determination with a steady, but light approach that highlights the singer’s fuzz guitar like vocal solo contributions. The title song is an acoustic country throwback that features Levine’s lap steel playing, and Sexton’s retro “cowboy” harmonizing. Produced by Sexton with Crit Harmon, and recorded and mixed at Camp Street Studios in Cambridge, MA, Sugarcoating is an enlightened folk statement that transcends, and pushes the barriers of the genre. As Martin Sexton takes risks not heard since 2000’s seminal group influenced Wonder Bar, the listener is the humble, yet happy beneficiary. Read more

CD Review – Trampled By Turtles, Palomino (2010)

trampled by turtlesWritten by Bill Whiting –

Hailing from Duluth, Minnesota, Trampled By Turtles returns the kick to front porch swing on their alluring new release, Palomino. An acoustic quintet consisting of Tim Saxhaug on bass, Ryan Young on fiddle, Erik Berry on mandolin, Dave Carroll on banjo and Dave Simonett on guitar and lead vocals, Trampled By Turtles pioneers new ground on Palomino while paying homage to the past. It’s an exhilarating trip that pays big dividends on the punk laced opener, “Wait So Long.” Simonett’s solid singing accelerates in tempo as TBT reaches a fever pitch of fire brand pickin’ and grinnin’ during “Wait So Long’s” central melody. “Victory” turns on the interactive talents of Berry’s mandolin runs and Carroll’s colorful brush strokes on banjo. “It’s a War” is an appropriate title for the third number, as Young’s fiddle shreds along furiously to the ensemble’s power driven improvisations on the instrumentally volatile track. There are endless gems on Palomino including standouts “Separate,” “New Son/Burnt Iron” along with “Gasoline”, and Trampled By Turtles’ arrangements and pacing on the album move along with a breezy, effortless feel to them. Bringing down home country back to the high and lonesome tones of bluegrass is the successful equation that Trampled By Turtles achieves on Palomino. Largely written by Simonett, and engineered with the assistance of Erik Koskinen, Rich Mattson, and Chad Weis, Palomino is a masterful blending of quality song craft and punchy, aggressive musical blow outs. Read more

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