Category Archives: Free Download

Butchers Blind: A Place in America

ButchersBlind_APlaceInHeavenSuperb EP of pop-inflected Americana

This Long Island band just gets better with each release. The early demos of their debut, One More Time, were accomplished and perfectly unpolished, and though the songwriting, playing and production has matured over the course of five years, songwriter Pete Mancini hasn’t lost the emotional wear that makes his singing so appealing. Their last full-length, Destination Blues, explored the realizations and disappointments that set in with age, but this new EP gets up from the couch to seek action. Mancini doesn’t leave his new found knowledge behind, but uses it to prompt forward motion rather than wallow in place.

The addition of keyboards gives several songs new timbres, and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s mix puts everything in balance. The band balances country, rock and pop, with “Black & White Dreams” suggesting both Jackson Browne and Matthew Sweet, and the whistling organ of “Twisting in the Wind” adding a soulful touch to the electric guitars. The album’s title track is a centerpiece that builds from snapshots of a tattered American dream to a refrain whose yearning wish is spurred by ever more insistent guitars. The arc of Butchers Blind’s catalog is the sound of a band finding themselves, and this EP is their best self yet. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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Raging Fire: Everything is Roses – 1985-1989

RagingFire_EverythingIsRosesMid-80s post-punk from the heart of country music

From a vantage point on the West Coast, Jason and the Nashville Scorchers seemed to be an anomaly – a rock band from Nashville – and when they dropped “Nashville” from their name, the connection between Music City and native-born rock music grew even more tenuous. But the Scorchers turn out to be both the nationally known emblem of and an inspiration for a lively Nashville rock scene that was broader than the mating of country and punk. A less widely known darling of that scene was Raging Fire, whose mid-to-late ‘80s catalog is sampled for this 22-track anthology.

Fronted by vocalist Melora Zaner, Raging Fire could pull back and give hints of their Nashville origins, but the band’s dynamic rock ‘n’ roll rage was more in line with the barking poetry of Patti Smith, post-punk of X and new wave studio sounds of the 80s, than southern rock or country twang. Even the band’s acoustic numbers, such as “After Loving One Man From East Texas,” have some bite. Had they been in San Francisco or Los Angeles, or five years later in Olympia, things might have been different; but as it played out, they attracted attention from record labels, but never closed a deal.

The group toured the midwest and south, and gained college radio play for their EP A Family Thing and album Faith Love Was Made Of. The former is included here in its entirety, the latter sampled alongside demos and tracks drawn from compilation albums. Without a label deal, the band’s momentum stalled, the members’ lives moved in different directions, and the group drifted and broke apart. With this first-ever reissue, it’s still hard to imagine this music coming out of Nashville, but even harder to imagine there wasn’t one label who could get this band signed. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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Paul Thorn: Too Blessed to Be Stressed

PaulThorn_TooBlessedToBeStressedOptimistic album of soul and funk

Mississippi singer-songwriter Paul Thorn returns with his first album of originals in four years. His previous album, What the Hell is Goin’ On?, was stocked with cover songs that essayed Thorn’s finely selected influences and showed off his talent for interpretation. Returning to his own pen, Thorn’s taken a broader tack in his songwriting. Where his earlier albums tended to autobiography, his latest collection makes a purposeful reach for more universal and upbeat themes. There’s personal inspiration in each of these songs, but rather than telling the story of a specific situation, Thorn’s dug to each story’s roots to express thoughts and feelings that resound easily with each listener’s own life.

These songs show Thorn to be an optimist, rather than a Pollyanna. His protagonists look to the sunny side, but they see storms and expect a cloud break rather than an endless stretch of clear weather. He anticipates the healing cures for loneliness rather than cataloging its pains, and he’s a clear-eyed romantic who sheds no tears with his goodbyes. As the album’s title states, Thorn is “Too Blessed to Be Stressed,” and he advises that you “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy.” That latter message neatly extends into a self-directed resolution as the moral lapse of “I Backslide on Friday” is redeemed by Saturday’s reprieve and Sunday’s repentance.

The optimism fades into the exasperation of “Mediocrity’s King,” as Thorn laments the commonness of superstores and oppositional politics, and in its unstated subtext, an apathetic electorate whose dreams of progress have turned into a voracious appetite for cheap prices and mindless entertainment. Thorn’s gruff, blue-soul vocals are weary but hopeful, and the album’s potpourri of soul, funk, gospel, country and rock recalls the hey-day of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, without ever imitating either one. The road-hewn band finds many deep grooves, and Thorn sings with a smile that shines on you with an optimistic glow. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Paul Thorn’s Home Page

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs: All Her Fault

HollyGolightlyBrokeoffs_AllHerFaultAnother winning set of idiosyncratic blues, folk and country

The latest collaboration between Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave doesn’t really break any new ground, but when you’re in a solid groove, new ground isn’t necessarily the place to plow. Golightly herself says “I’m not looking to achieve something that hasn’t been achieved before. We just do what we do. The songs are really all that changes.” But changing the songs turns out to be enough, as the idiosyncratic combination of folk musics they’ve developed over the past seven years still has new things to say. As before, the tracks are assembled in the studio instrument-by-instrument and voice-by-voice, but the productions aren’t overworked, and their unfinished edges retain the vitality of performance.

The duo’s interests in country, blues and R&B continue to dominate, with vocals that range from sing-out hootenannies to cooler moods that recall solo albums like Laugh it Up. Golightly sings girlish country on “No Business” and adds 50s-styled harmonies behind the resigned lead of “The Best.” The former includes terrific electric guitar, and the latter has a drifting piano that signals the album’s newest instrumental member. Piano is heard tinkling behind the blue waltz “Pistol Pete,” and rolling riffs along the edges of “Bless Your Heart” and “Pefect Mess.” Lawyer Dave picks and strums throughout the album, with plenty of slide to give things twang.

The duo’s penchant for clanking percussion remains a major element of their music, and the blue-folk “Can’t Pretend” once again brings to mind their modern-day take on Richard & Mimi Farina. Tracks that really highlight the pair’s musical ethos include the rough-and-ready stomp heard on “1234” and “Don’t Shed Your Light,” and the slow-moving organ-stabbed blues of “King Lee.” The album’s lone cover is Richard Jones’ “Trouble in Mind,” taken upbeat from its earliest incarnations [1 2] and goosed by a yowling vocal. This is an imaginative album of songs whose roots are yet again twisted and turned into something original. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Holly Golightly’s Home Page

Steve Dawson: Rattlesnake Cage

SteveDawson_RattlesnakeCageOutstanding blues, folk and jazz solo acoustic guitar

Canadian guitarist Steve Dawson has often treated his concert audiences to solo acoustic performances, but his albums have always supported his picking with a full band. On his latest album, Dawson gives listeners an opportunity to hear a conversation between his imagination, fingers and guitars (including 6- and 12-strings, traditional wood bodies and a National tricone), unadorned by other instruments or even vocals. Listeners will quickly realize how easily the rich particulars of a guitar’s sound are subsumed by other instruments, and that freed from the competition of a band, each guitar sings with a unique and detailed voice.

In these eleven performances, Dawson keeps meticulous time, but the tempos and changes flow from each song’s internal rhythms. Dawson is a well-rounded player who weaves together blues, folk, country and jazz, finger-picking ragtime on “The Medicine Shows Comes to Avalon,” playing slide on “Flophouse Oratory,” and adding lovely rolling lines on “Butterfly Stunt.” His originals range from contemplative to up-tempo, ending the album with the 12-string “The Alter at Center Raven.” Fans of Fahey, Kottke and Cooder will recognize Dawson as a kindred soul. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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Dutch Barn: About Time EP

DutchBarn_AboutTimeInventively marketed free EP of tuneful fuzz-pop

Dutch Barn is neither Dutch (they’re English) nor a dutch barn (they’re a five-piece pop band), but their new three-song release – two originals and a cover of Tearjerker’s “So Dead” – is both a good record (they call it as a single with two bonus tracks, but you might consider it an EP) and an original piece of marketing. Working with EardrumsPop and illustrator Estelle Morris, the band’s put together a rich digital package that augments the three new recordings (available as either high-quality MP3s or lossless FLAC files) with original cover art and a PDF booklet. The latter includes profiles (of both Dutch Barn and Tearjerker), an interview with the  illustrator, and an inventive band interview in which the group answers questions by composing photos. Musically, Dutch Barn produces the sort of fuzz-heavy pop-rock that first found favor in the early 90s – think Teenage Fanclub and Stereolab – and continues to thrive on Slumberland, spinART and (of course) EarDrumsPop. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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Vince Gill & Paul Franklin: Bakersfield

VinceGill_BakersfieldSterling tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard

Tribute albums are a tricky proposition. Play it too close and you add nothing of your own; take too many liberties and you lose touch with the object of your affection. Finding a middle ground that honors the original performances, adds something new and echoes both the celebrated and celebrant is one of the most delicate balancing acts in music. To best accomplish this, you need to have absorbed an artist’s music into your roots, so that your own path of discovery carries the DNA of these influences even as you develop your unique variations. Recorded country music has a long history of meaningful tips of a ten gallon hat, and such is the case for this heartfelt tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard from singer-guitarist Vince Gill and steel guitarist Paul Franklin.

Both Gill and Franklin took to the Bakersfield sound and the songs of Owens and Haggard at very young ages, spurred to dig deeper into music by the revolutionary sounds coming out of Bakersfield in the 1960s. Between Gill and Franklin, they’re able to cover three of the key elements of Owens’ and Haggard’s records: vocals, guitar and steel. Gill’s always had one of the sweetest voices in contemporary country music, but it’s still surprising how easily and equally it lends itself to both singers’ music. He sings his own harmony on the Owens’ tunes, just as Owens had done on his own studio recordings, and adds telecaster sting, including the chicken pickin’ and stuttering leads that bring to mind James Burton and Roy Nichols.

Franklin’s steel provides Gill the perfect partner, adding the twangy instrumental voice that gave Owens’ and Haggard’s music its unapologetic country sound. He pays tribute to Tom Brumley and Ralph Mooney, as does pretty much every player who touches a steel guitar, but with his own twists to signature solos such as Brumley’s masterpiece on “Together Again.” The song list combines several of Owens’ and Haggard’s most familiar hits – “Foolin’ ‘Round,” “Branded Man,” “Together Again,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me” – with well selected catalog gems. The latter are highlighted by Owens’ 1966 two-stepping album side “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore” and Haggard’s pained 1974 “Holding Things Together.”

Gill has recorded many great records, both as a chart-topping hit maker in the ’90s and as an album auteur in the last decade. Franklin’s been one of Nashville’s most prolific session players, spreading his commercial and artistic successes across hundreds of records. But playing the material that fueled their imaginations as youngsters clearly lights a spark in each of them. Their balance between fidelity and liberty is just right, with the heart of each song filigreed with changes that are often small, but meaningful. Gill and Franklin each bring their own style to the record, but they are styles which grew partly in Bakersfield soil. The album’s only disappointment is the short ten track song list; a number that’s particularly small when drawing from the lengthy catalogs of two country music giants. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Vince Gill’s Home Page
Paul Franklin’s Home Page