Mark McKinney: World in Between

February 18th, 2017

Texas troubadour’s fifth album

Austin-based Mark McKinney inhabits that special nation of singer-songwriter that is the Texas music circuit. Though he’s gained recognition outside the Lonestar State, notably through song placements with NASCAR and ESPN, it’s his home state that supports the bulk of his extensive annual touring. His fifth solo album (he’d previously led the roots-rock band Cosmic Cowboy) will remind you of circuit stalwarts like Jack Ingram, Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Charlie Robison and Kevin Fowler, the latter of whom McKinney’s written for. Produced with his brother Eric, the record is both rootsy – acoustic, electric and slide guitars, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica and drums – and modern at the same time. It’s a clever sound that could hook Nashville fans without alienating the Austin base.

McKinney opens with a bluesy version of the Cosmic Cowboys’ “90 Miles,” the lament of a lifer musician who’s always got another gig just down the road. It’s not a revelatory sentiment, but one that rings with an authentically weary smile, and he celebrates the road in “Stories,” highlighting its personal impact and lingering memories. The music slips into strutting modern country anthems in a few places, but establishes real intimacy through the emotional strength of “Sunshine.” There are love songs and broke-up songs, and the romantic models of “Bacon & Eggs” include the unlikely duo of Bonnie and Clyde (though, to be fair, they did stay together until the very end). No doubt these songs will play well as McKinney entertains 90 miles at a time. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Mark McKinney’s Home Page

Gerry Rafferty: The Best Of

February 18th, 2017

Rare single edits of 1978-1982 hits

When you first pop this disc in the player, you’re braced to hear Raphael Ravenscroft’s iconic late-70s saxophone riff on “Baker Street.” But before you get that, you’re treated to Rafferty’s other Top 10 hit, Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Rafferty had actually exited the group by the time the single made its way up the charts, leaving co-founder Joe Egan to mime the video. The song’s breakthrough persuaded Rafferty to return, and the band carried on into 1975 without further commercial gains. More importantly, when the band broke up, amid disagreements, managerial problems and lawsuits, Rafferty was left to ponder his future.

Sidelined by legal issues, and commuting from his native Scotland to London for court dates, Rafferty stayed in a friend’s Baker Street flat, mulling over his stalled career, and, as detailed in the last verse of “Baker Street,” eventually finding resolution and an optimistic return to work. Though he’d released the solo album Can I Have My Money Back? in 1971, his solo career really began with 1978’s City to City, topping the U.S. album chart and garnering a platinum record. The album’s hits included “Baker Street,” as well as “Right Down the Line” and “Home and Dry,” but despite the commercial breakthrough and continued artistic vitality, Rafferty’s success, particularly in the U.S., quickly decayed.

His second album, Night Owl, stalled at #29 and its singles, “Days Gone Down” and “Get it Right Next Time,” grazed the Top 20. His third album, Snakes and Ladders, was the last to crack the U.S. charts, and its sole U.S. charting single, “The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin’),” missed the Top 40. His last album for Liberty/UA, Sleepwalking, is represented here by the UK single of the title track. Varese’s 16-track set covers Rafferty’s commercial years of 1978-82, featuring six U.S. and two UK singles in their original edits, along with non-charting singles, B-sides and album tracks. The eight-page booklet includes photos, label and picture sleeve reproductions, and liner notes by Larry R. Watts. This is a good introduction to Rafferty’s hits, and those who’ve already bought the albums will enjoy the rare single edits. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Gerry Rafferty’s Home Page

Austin Hanks: Alabastard

February 14th, 2017

A country-rock album with a soul singer’s heart

Austin Hanks may set his music in country, rock and blues settings, but at root, he’s a soul singer. After leaving his native Alabama, he had a cup of coffee in Nashville before a writing deal with EMI turned him into a Los Angeles-based expat. But he brought his Southern roots with him, and they shine brightly in the blue soul of the opening “Toughest Part of Me,” as Hanks realizes that scar tissue can patch a broken heart. He lays himself on the line with a cover of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy,” but he’s more regularly prone to seeking second chances, doubling back on “Delta Torches” and grasping for emotional ignition on the Springsteen-ish “Worth the Fight.”

Hanks doesn’t wallow, but neither does he make starry-eyed pronouncements. There’s self awareness, and perhaps even optimism in “Rise Above” and the blues-rock “Savior Self,” but Hanks is pushing his way forward rather than celebrating his arrived. The album’s title, which abbreviates “Alabama Bastard,” hints at the in-between place of cultural emigrants and the outsider emotion it creates. He turns nostalgic for “Alive & Untied,” with a warm organ intro that develops into a full-blown Muscle Shoals sound, and though there’s a party vibe to the New Orleans roll of “Lakeside,” there’s more here than pickup trucks and beer. Fans of ZZ Top, the Allmans, Skynyrd and Sons of Anarchy (for which Hanks penned “Sucker Punch”) will enjoy this one. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Austin Hanks’ Home Page

Joe Goodkin: Record of Loss

February 12th, 2017

A singer-songwriter’s contemplative view of loss

On the second of a planned three-EP series, singer-songwriter Joe Goodkin continues to mine a deep streak of observation and self awareness. The first EP, Record of Life essayed a catalog of loss, regret and memory, rendered in detailed, personal images. This follow-up segues with the emotional fallout of its predecessor, recounting his losses nightly on tour, suffering additional bereavement, and finding that success doesn’t fully fill those voids. This time out he continues to sing of those he’s seen suffer and those he’s lost, but framed as celebrations of the remarkable and eulogies of the beloved, rather than lamentations of difficulty or loss. He’s mindful to appreciate what’s in front of him, rather than lament what’s gone, and to use each loss as an opportunity to refocus on what remains. The powerful closer, “For the Loss,” provides a rarely heard man’s viewpoint on the emotional consequences of abortion. Goodkin’s production, using only a 1963 Gibson ES-125T for backing, is remarkable as well. His multi-miked and overdubbed guitar creates a multitude of sounds, and vocals mixed from close-in and room mics build atmosphere around his singular voice. The third EP in the project, Record of Love, is due Summer 2017, but the first two parts stand strongly on their own and pair nicely as two-thirds of the full project. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Joe Goodkin’s Home Page

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 2 – Pete Jolly

February 3rd, 2017

1980 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and now being reissued individually by Omnivore with bonus tracks. The first volume, a double-CD headlined by Sonny Stitt, is joined by this volume headlined by pianist Pete Jolly. Originally issued as Strike Up the Band, the original seven tracks are augmented by two bonus takes of Pepper’s original “Y.I. Blues,” one previously unreleased.

Recorded in February 1980 at Sage & Sound in Hollywood, Pepper and Jolly were joined by bassist Rob Magnusson and drummer Roy McCurdy as they worked through a selection of standards from the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Pepper had played all of these tunes in the 1950s, so the value here is what this quartet could do with them on these dates. Pepper and Jolly are melodic and lively as they fly through an up-tempo take on the Gershwins’ “Strike Up the Band,” and McCurdy is crisp as he pushes with his cymbals and fills with his full kit. Pepper’s stretches out on the ballad “You Go to My Head,” bridging the lyrical sections with quick runs and giving way for a reflective solo by Jolly. Pepper and Jolly get more conversational on the chestnut “I Surrender Dear,” with Magnusson and McCurdy vamping the ending.

The album’s lone original is Pepper’s “Y.I. Blues” (named after the session’s producer) a piece that inspires Pepper and Jolly, and gives the rhythm section an opportunity to groove with snappy fills from McCurdy and a short solo for Magnusson. Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” opens with a Latin beat, and though the backing starts out supper-club subdued, Pepper gets more passionate and the rhythm section swings as the song plays out. Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and detailed liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 1 – Sonny Stitt

February 3rd, 2017

1980 Japan-only releases reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. The first volume, a double-CD headlined by Sonny Stitt, combines two albums, Groovin’ High and Atlas Blues: Blow! & Ballade, and adds three previously unissued takes mixed from the original multitracks.

Recorded in July 1980 at Sage & Sound in Hollywood, Pepper and Stitt were joined by pianist Lou Levy, bassist Chuck DeMonico and drummer Carl Burnette for Groovin’ High, and pianist Russ Freeman, bassist John Heard and Burnette for Atlas Blues. The former leans on jazz titles from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie Bernie Miller and Morgan Lewis, while the latter takes in the standards “Autumn in New York,” “My Funny Valentine” “Lover Man” and “Imagination” alongside Stitt’s “Atlas Blues” and Lester Young’s “Lester Leaps In.” The quintet swings with quotes from “Rhapsody in Blue” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” but the first session’s rhythm section tends to the frenetic, and Pepper and Stitt sometimes seem to be blowing at each other as much as with each other.

There’s unison playing to kick things off and pull them back together, but the uptempo pieces can feel like a boxing match of jabs and counterpunches. The ballads cool things down, with the quintet finding a tender groove for “My Funny Valentine” and Freeman offering a lyrical solo to close out the set on “Imagination.” The quintet finds a tender groove for “My Funny Valentine” and Freeman offers a lyrical solo to close out the set on “Imagination.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and detailed liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Peter Holsapple: Don’t Mention the War

January 29th, 2017

A powerful new song from Peter Holsapple (dB’sContinental Drifters) about the emotional ripples that from a favorite uncle’s post-traumatic stress. Available on February 4 as a vinyl 7″, digital download and stream.

Peter Holsapple’s Facebook Page

Whitney Rose: South Texas Suite

January 27th, 2017

Superb EP from retro-inspired country singer-songwriter

Crossing paths with the Raul Malo for 2015’s Heartbreaker of the Year appears to have been predestination. Rose’s retro sensibility first showed itself on her debut album, but with Malo providing amplification, Heartbreaker showed off the ways in which classic country and pop sounds can be reborn into new music. And unlike artists who flirt with the past only to heed the siren call of the country charts (I’m looking at you Sara Evans), the sounds that fire Rose’s imagination aren’t a passing fancy. She even offers Brennen Lee’s “Analog” as a thesis statement, with its jazzy style and relaxed tempo lauding the simpler, slower times of a pre-digital world. That said, Rose is also perfectly at home with the advances women have made, declaring her freedom of footwear in “My Boots” as a marker of independence, and lending the spotlight to Redd Volkert for a stuttering guitar solo that certainly would have made Merle Haggard smile.

Her adopted Austin offers both the Tex-Mex flair (courtesy of Michael Guerra’s accordion) and social inspiration for “Three Minute Love Affair.” Rose romanticizes the brief assignation of a spin around the dance floor with a vocal that’s lost in the possibilities of a partner’s embrace. A similar romanticism fuels the crooning on Teri Joyce’s “Bluebonnets For My Baby,” with Erik Hokkanen adding wonderful fiddle lines throughout. As a Canadian ex-pat, Rose was pulled to Texas by country music and the culture that fueled it, making it something more personally fundamental than music that happened to be on the radio. She imagines a hill country pedigree in “Lookin’ Back on Luckenbach,” but it’s the strength of her emigrant’s choice that is the real draw. The EP closes with a rousing band jam that hung so far off the end of “My Boots” that it was given its own track. It’s too short, just like the EP, but with a second Malo-produced album on the way, this will have to hold you. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Whitney Rose’s Home Page

England Dan & John Ford Coley: The Very Best Of

January 18th, 2017

Poster boys of smooth ‘70s soft rock

Alongside Seals & Crofts, it’s hard to think of a duo more representative of 1970s adult contemporary soft rock than “England” Dan Seals and John Edward “Ford” Coley. The duo first performed together in a series of high school bands, including Theze Few and Southwest F.O.B., and debuted as a duo in 1971 on A&M. This collection picks up with their 1976 move to the Atlantic subsidiary Big Tree, and their breakthrough pair of Parker McGee-penned tunes “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and “Nights Are Forever Without You.” They continued to mint Top 40 singles throughout the rest of the 1970s, including Todd Rundgren’s “Love is the Answer” and several self-penned hits, and topped the AC chart four times.

Varese’s sixteen-track set collects nearly all of their Big Tree singles, including the Japan-only “Keep Your Smile.” Omitted are “You Can’t Dance,” and the non-charting “If the World Ran Out of Love Tonight” and “Hollywood Heckle & Jive.” Filling out the track list are album- and B-sides, and a pair of tracks from the film Just Tell Me You Love Me, including the duo’s last single “Part of Me Part of You.” This stacks up well against the shorter Essentials, I’d Really Love to See You Tonight & Other Hits and the period Best Of. Superfans may want to indulge in the import The Atlantic Albums+, but for most, this set will hit all the radio high points, and provide just the right amount of smoothly produced, touchingly sung ‘70s pop. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

John Ford Coley’s Home Page

Michigan Rattlers: Michigan Rattlers

January 17th, 2017

Confessional folk-tinged country-rock

The debut from this Americana duo – guitarist Graham Young and bassist Adam Reed (with guest drummer Mike Avenaim) – pops with urgency and confessional intimacy. Produced by Johnny K (Plain White T’s, 3 Doors Down), Young shares confidences through his lyrics and the exceptionally moving tone of his voice. He sings of midwestern boys discovering themselves and building the confidence to ask for a date, but the story is far from ordinary, as the discovery is bittersweet and the date is with a widower in need of emotional rescue. Young’s vocals are mixed a half-step forward of backings driven by bass and drums, and the lyrical emphasis turns the closing “Strain of Cancer” into a harrowing recitation of a divorcee’s dismantling by a vindictive ex. Relocated from Petoskey to Los Angeles, the duo recorded the EP live at North Hollywood’s NRG Studios, giving the set an energy that’s hard to achieve piecemeal. Five songs, fifteen minutes, great debut. RIYL: Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Gin Blossoms. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Michigan Rattlers’ Home Page