Posts Tagged ‘Country’

NRBQ: NRBQ

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The 1969 debut of a polyglot music legend

Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the band’s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the group’s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the band’s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including “nearly anything,” and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.

This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly “C’mon Everybody,” Sun Ra’s avant garde jazz “Rocket Number 9,” Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s folk blues “C’mon If You’re Comin’” (which the group revisited on 1972’s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channel’s 1962 chart topper, “Hey! Baby.” Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.

The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll for “Kentucky Slop,” boogies hard on “Mama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,” captures the melancholy of Carla Bley’s 1964 jazz instrumental “Ida Lupino” with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led “Stay With Me.” Ferguson’s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of “I Didn’t Know Myself,” the gospel rocker “Stomp” and the country, folk and gospel flavored “Fergie’s Prayer.” Spampinato offers the album’s most ebullient moment with “You Can’t Hide,” a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.

The album’s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of “Stomp” substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. It’s a shame that the originally released second take of “Stomp” wasn’t included as part of this reissue, but that’s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Juliana Hatfield: Sings Olivia Newton-John

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Charming and heartfelt tribute to Olivia Newton-John

Born in 1967, Juliana Hatfield was seven years old when Olivia Newton-John scored her first U.S. pop chart topper, “I Honestly Love You.” Newton-John scored again with the follow-up singles, “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please,” and though she continued to chart adult contemporary, it took her three more years to climb back to the top of the pop chart with 1978’s John Travolta duet “You’re the One That I Want.” Hatfield, known for her work with Blake Babies, the Juliana Hatfield Three and solo has “never not loved Olivia Newton­-John,” and it shows in the endearing performances and song selection of this tribute album.

In addition to heartfelt interpretations of Newton-John icons that span 1974’s “I Honestly Love You” to 1981’s “Physical,” the song list includes several deep fan favorites. “Totally Hot,” which stalled out at #52 in 1979, is deftly recast as buzzing Suzi Quatro-styled glam rock, and the pop-country “Dancin’ Round and Round” is taken uptempo and backed by hard-charging guitar and drums. The album reaches an emotional peak with “Please Mr. Please,” as Hatfield pours every last drop of the emotion she must have felt as an eight-year-old bonding with her first artistic idol.

Hatfield has internalized these songs and their artist in a thousand bedroom and car singalongs, and filters them through the original artistry they helped inspire. The contentment of “Have You Never Been Mellow” retains its optimistic mid-70s introspection while being deepened by Hatfield’s additional decades of life experience, and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” could just as easily be Hatfield singing about Newton-John as it was Sandy singing about Danny. This is a treat for fans of both Newton-John and Hatfield, and the only thing missing are some Grease photo cards to stick inside your locker. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Juliana Hatfield’s Home Page

The Oak Ridge Boys: When I Sing For Him – The Complete Columbia Recordings & RCA Singles

Monday, April 16th, 2018

The pre- and post-MCA sides of the Oak Ridge Boys

Those who know the Oak Ridge Boys from the hit singles that began with 1977’s “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and ran through crossover icons “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue,” may be surprised to find the group’s Southern gospel roots stretch back to the 1940s. Starting out as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, they became the Oak Ridge Quartet, and then in the early ‘60s, the Oak Ridge Boys. The group’s best-known lineup came together in the early ‘70s when bass singer Richard Sterban and tenor Joe Bonsall joined mid-60s arrivals Duane Allen and William Lee Golden. It was this quartet that charted with Johnny Cash on the 1973 single “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup” and eventually expanded from gospel to country hit making.

By 1974 the group had moved from the Heart Warming gospel label to the secular Columbia where they recorded the trio of albums anthologized here: The Oak Ridge Boys, Sky High, and Old Fashioned, Down Home, Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Southern Style, Gospel Quartet Music. The self-titled Columbia debut cracked the top 40, but the remaining two albums, despite quality material and performances, failed to chart. The group’s Columbia singles fared no better, with the first six failing to chart, and the seventh, “Family Reunion,” barely scraping onto the charts at #83. A large part of the group’s problem seems to have been Columbia’s lack of service to gospel radio, but their stylistic range, which included gospel harmony, MOR ballads, country and soul diluted their identity as gospel singers without providing a ready hook for secular radio.

Which is a shame, because the singles and albums deserved an audience. The group’s debut single for Columbia, the Grammy-winning “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor,” could easily have fit country radio in 1973, but it was a year or two late to mingle with the God Rock pop hits of 1971-2. Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me” hasn’t the wasted soul of the original, but it was a canny pick for a cover, as was their non-charting take on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock.” The group turned soulful with Allen Toussaint’s widely covered “Freedom for the Stallion,” and the debut album’s “Give Me a Star” provides a powerful close to the debut Columbia album. Their sophomore effort opens with the album’s non-charting single “Rhythm Guitar,” featuring honky-tonk piano and a terrific bass vocal.

The opening verse of “Nobody Special” briefly shows off the quartet’s vocal blend in an a cappella arrangement that could have supported the entire track (or an album!). Porter Wagoner’s “When I Sing For Him” gave lead vocalist Duane Allen an opportunity to really soar, a performance so moving that Wagoner asked him to sing the song at his funeral, which he did in 2007. Beyond the album’s songs of praise, the group offers Christian life principles in “We Gotta Love One Another” and “Plant a Seed,” essaying the pitfalls of part-time faith. The closing “Mighty Fine” would have made a catchy second single, had Columbia been more interested in promoting the group. Disc one is filled out with six bonus tracks that include a pair of vault tracks from All Our Favorite Songs, the singles “Heaven Bound.” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup,” and the B-side “Look Away Mama.”

Disc two opens with the ten tracks of the group’s third Columbia album, and features a second collaboration with Johnny Cash on his original “No Earthly Good.” The non-charting single “Where the Soul Never Dies” and “Jesus Knows Who I Am” offer revival tent zest, but the album’s split between old-timey gospel, country-flavored numbers and middle-of-the-road ballads doesn’t quite live up to the collection’s home-spun title. As with the previous two albums, the breadth is admirable, but it plays more like a variety show than a group’s album. The final two Columbia singles, David Allan Coe’s “Family Reunion” and George Jones’ “All Our Favorite Songs” are included along with their B-sides.

The group moved from Columbia to Dot in 1977, then to Dot’s parent, ABC, and then to ABC’s parent MCA, minted the biggest hit albums and singles of their career. In 1990, with Steve Sanders having replaced William Lee Golden as the group’s baritone, the group signed with RCA and released Unstoppable and The Long Haul. Disc 2 is filled out with four RCA singles from this period, including a grandiose cover of Mann & Weil’s Brill Building classic “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration,” the country hit “Lucky Moon,” its bluesy B-side take on “Walking After Midnight” and the fine, but low-charting “Fall.” The set closes with a funky cover of “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” drawn from Sounds of the Season.

The Columbia sides show the group branching out from their gospel roots, but not yet fully committing themselves to the country market. As Joe Bonsall opines in Joe Marchese’s detailed liner notes, “Those were the days when we rode the fence musically trying to appease everyone… Although some of the songs were really cool, we just couldn’t seem to gain any real traction.” This set provides bookends for the group’s hit years on MCA, showing how they expanded their material and style from gospel to pop, rock, country and soul without ever dropping the thread of faith. Their Columbia material didn’t produced the mainstream fame they’d find on MCA, but it opened their ears to the opportunity that lay just ahead. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Oak Ridge Boys’ Home Page

6 String Drag: High Hat

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Long-lost 1997 Americana swan song finally back in print

By the time 6 String Drag caught the attention of Steve Earle and his producing partner Ray Kennedy, the band’s initial run was nearly over. Although they’d pioneered their sound in the middle of the Americana movement, this 1997 sophomore release on Earle and Kennedy’s E-Squared label would be their last album of new material until 2015’s reunion, Roots Rock & Roll, and the recent follow-up, Top of the World. With the band back in action, the time was right for a remaster and reissue of this classic, on CD, digital download, and for the first time ever, vinyl. The album finds vocalist Kenny Roby and the band stretching out across a variety of American sounds, including country, rock, southern boogie, rockabilly, bluegrass, trad jazz, soul and gospel, exploring the rootsy polyglot ground tilled by NRBQ, Rockpile and others. “Driven Man” has the meter and wordiness of an Elvis Costello song, and the addition of horns on several tracks gives the album a fuller sound than the group’s self-titled debut. The group’s abbreviated first life temporarily cut short a talented musical collective, but more lastingly seems to have consigned this shining moment to undeserved obscurity. Hopefully this 2018 reissue, augmented with a previously unreleased cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “Lorene,” will restore the album to its rightful place in the Americana canon, and point new listeners to the group’s renewed lineup. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

6 String Drag’s Home Page

Laura Benitez and the Heartache: With All Its Thorns

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

An album of country heartache and grief

Benitez’s 2014 debut, Heartless Woman, was a breath of fresh country air. Though she favored a classic sound laced with pedal steel and twangy electric guitar, her lyrics picked up and modernized the empowered themes of Tammy Wynette and other breakthrough women of country. She opens her third album with a twangy, accordion-lined two-step that admits that her efforts to sustain a failed relationship have only produced a broken heart and the scar of self realization. She looks forward to fondly looking back with the expectant “Our Remember When,” but when those memories finally arrive, they turn out to be the bitter pills of “Easier Things to Do” and the murderous end of “In Red.”

Guitarist Bob Spector lays down a fetching acoustic solo and accordionist Billy Wilson adds atmosphere as the wavering bilingual vocal of “Almost the Right One/Casi mi Cielo” offers the intensity of Joan Baez and the heartbroken longing of Linda Ronstadt. She sings of cheating lovers and endless romantic disappointment, yet remains optimistic and surprisingly trusting as she revels in the relationship of “The Fool I Am Right Now.” She’s often willing to take what she can get, and rather than growing embittered when what she can get isn’t enough, she finally takes off on the album closing “Nora Went Down the Mountain.” As throughout the album, the interplay of twangy electric guitar, steel and fiddle is perfectly balanced against Benitez’s vocal.

The album’s biggest heartache and most gripping moment is its memorial to the victims of the harrowing 2016 Ghostship fire. Benitez flashes the outlines of the horrific event and laments the emotional aftermath of those missing the missing. A strummed guitar, droning low notes and Steve Kallai’s mournful violin underline the grief that grew with each addition to the list of those caught in the conflagration. Four years on from Heartless Woman, Benitez’s band is tighter and her voice has found a deeper pocket in the mix. Like a moth circling a flame, she’s drawn to the glow of love, even as it singes her romantic wings, and that’s good news for fans of country music, as she delivers a strong album of original, twangy heartbreak – thorns and all. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Laura Benitez and the Heartbreak’s Home Page

Janiva Magness: Love Is an Army

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Award-winning blues soul singer explores wider roots

Janiva Magness had an artistic coming out with her self-penned 2014 album, Original. Though she’d dabbled in songwriting before, the album marked a turn from interpreter of other people’s stories to essayist of her firsthand emotions. She continues that direction with her latest, co-writing four of the album’s twelve tracks, and selecting material from collaborator and producer Dave Darling, as well as Paul Thorn and others. She also welcomes several guests to the album, including vocalist Delbert McClinton on “What I Could Do,” harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite on “Hammer,” and most surprisingly, Poco pedal steel player Rusty Young on the shuffle “On and On.” The latter, taken with Doug Livingston’s dobro on the Western-tinged “Down Below,” shows off the range of roots Magness has been exploring.

The album opens on an emotionally low note of romantic dissolution, but Magness doesn’t stay down for long. She admits her faults, pines, lauds the resolve needed to power through heartbreak, and continues to leap forward with a spirit whose optimism isn’t grounded by past falls. When knocked to the canvas, she picks herself up before the bell, and when serving as the cornerman, she provides unwavering support to those she loves. The 60s-styled soul of “What’s That Say About You” offers a moving message of community, but elsewhere she excoriates the divisions sewn by America’s leaders. The album closes with the gospel faith of “Some Kind of Love,” complementing the threads of Memphis soul and Nashville country that have inspired a winning display of songwriting and vocal versatility. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Janiva Magness’ Home Page

Doc Watson: Live at Club 47

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Newly discovered Doc Watson live set from 1963

At the time of this February 1963 appearance at Boston’s Club 47, Doc Watson was a regional country and pop performer, but not yet the international exponent of traditional folk music he’d soon become. Folklorist Ralph Rinzler had started Watson on the path to fame with home recordings issued by Folkways in the early ’60s, and as his renowned grew, he began performing for urban audiences in New York, Boston and other outposts of the folk revival. His career took off over the next year with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival and his debut record on Vanguard. The seeds of that success are all here, as Watson strums, picks and sings a widely drafted catalog of folk tunes, embellishing each with both the song’s history and his history with the song. Watson flat- and finger-picks guitar, plays the autoharp and harmonica, and entertains the audience with stories and stage patter throughout the set. This is a terrific document of a deeply talented musician on the cusp of turning his artistic mastery, encyclopedic knowledge and affable stage presence into long-lasting influence and stardom. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Doc Watson Fan Site

Zephaniah OHora: This Highway

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Brilliant evocation of Merle Haggard’s pathos

“Zephaniah OHora” isn’t the sort of name you normally expect to see on a country record. But this New England-to-Brooklyn transplant has obviously steeped in the classics, from the album cover’s allusion to Merle Haggard’s debut, to gently sung, pedal steel-lined songs that evoke the wistful, beaten-down-yet-still-faithful mood of the Hag’s classic Capitol albums. Eleven originals and a cover of Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” flow easily as OHora wistfully remembers lost soulmates, longs for lovers who are now out of reach, and is beaten down by the city. When he sings the New York City lyric “I was holding down a job, just south of Houston, for a while, serving time, making someone else a dime,” he mates the grit of big city life to the personal struggles that have always been at the root of country music.

The production puts the twang up-front alongside OHora, with electric guitar riffs that echo Roy Nichols, acoustic leads that have the gut-stringed tone of Grady Martin, and steel and fiddle that add potent emotion. But what really distinguishes the album is OHora’s ability to conjure honest, humble and tearful pathos. He leaves the door open for a love who’s moved on in “Take Your Love Out of Town” and patiently waits for a “High Class City Girl from the Country” with a gentle shuffle that might have graced records by Glen Campbell or Bobby Goldsboro in the 1960s. OHora’s protagonists find themselves looking out the door as someone leaves, hung up between accepting fate and begging a second chance. The emotions eventually turn dire as tears turn to threats with the dark lyrics and Ray Price beat of “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free).”

The album’s title track gives voice to the philosophical thoughts that rattle around a long-haul driver’s head, the highway continuously unspooling ahead as memories recede in the rearview mirror. And the closing “For a Moment of Two” is likewise contemplative, as OHora pairs his misery with a bottle that untangles the lies he’s told himself. Even the album’s cover of “Somethin’ Stupid,” sung as a duet with Dori Freeman, fits the album’s theme with its hesitant seduction. OHara is supported by Jim Campilongo and from Brooklyn’s Skinny Dennis scene, Luca Benedetti, Jon Graboff, Alex Hargreaves and Roy Williams, and their shared affinity for a time when country music surfaced in the mainstream without losing its hillbred soul has paid tremendous dividends here. A real sleeper. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Zephaniah OHora’s Home Page

Banditos: Visionland

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Southern rockers with twists of garage, psych and more

The second album from these Birmingham-to-Nashville transplants opens with a garage-rock sound that wasn’t as evident on their self-titled 2015 debut. Mary Beth Richardson’s bluesy vocals are given the context of San Francisco-sound powerhouses like the Jefferson Airplane, and though a banjo peeks through the haze, the ‘60s rock vibe is strong. The title track suggests a psych-rock Richard and Mimi Farina, the ballad “Healin’ Slow” has a ‘50s vibe, “Lonely Boy” might have been a country song written in the Brill Building, and the whispery “When It Rains” could be a fondly remembered ‘70s radio hit. The band seems to be democratic in exploring their influences, cross-pollinating without overwhelming the base flavor of each song. They’ve added new spices to the boogie, blues and soul of their debut and shown themselves to have both musical vision and reach. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Banditos Home Page

OST: Smokey and the Bandit I & II

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Soundtracks to legendary Burt Reynolds films finally on CD

Smokey and the Bandit was originally developed by stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham as a cheap B-movie with singer-actor Jerry Reed as the star. But with the signing of box office dynamo Burt Reynolds, Reed was demoted to second banana, Universal quintupled the budget, and the film went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide. The soundtrack was scored by Nashville legend Bill Justis, and includes three vocal titles by Jerry Reed. The latter’s “East Bound and Down” became a signature song, and is included here in a second variation titled “West Bound and Down.” Reed also detailed the Bandit’s earlier adventures in “The Legend” and sings Dick Feller’s ballad, “The Bandit.” Justis mixes original country instrumentals with covers of chestnuts, including Ervin T. Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” and Jerry Wallace’s 1972 hit, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry, with uncredited fiddle and steel players who are excellent throughout the album.

The 1980 sequel, Smokey and the Bandit II, didn’t have the box office power of the original, but its soundtrack spun off a number of hits, including Jerry Reed’s “Texas Bound and Flyin’,” the Statler Brothers’ “Charlotte’s Web” and Tanya Tucker’s “Pecos Promenade.” The Snuff Garrett-supervised soundtrack album also includes performances by Don Williams, Mel Tillis, Brenda Lee, Roy Rogers with the Sons of the Pioneers and Burt Reynolds, the latter of whom scraped onto the country chart with “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial.” The album’s two instrumentals, performed by the Bandit Band, included a mashup of “Dueling Banjos” and “Wildwood Flower” titled “Deliverance of the Wildwood Flower,” and an original co-written by Garrett and Nashville legend Jerry Kennedy titled “Pickin’ Lone Star Style.” Both of these soundtracks are good spins, though the sequel’s collection of vocal material will likely be more memorable for country music fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]