The Howlin’ Brothers continue to combine a formidable collection of Americana sounds, including country, folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel and Dixieland, with the moxie of street performance. Their latest works even harder to stop passerby in their tracks with banjo country, harmonica-and-slide blues, weeping fiddle tunes, steel-guitar waltzes, Cajun dance numbers and vocals that invite the audience to sing along. Their playing exhibits the best of two worlds, combining the energy of extemporaneous expression with the finesse of experience. It’s as if they captured the essence of a Saturday night stage and an impromptu Tuesday-afternoon street corner in a studio recording. The track list also plays to the feel of a live set, with carefree numbers, rough plaints and sad tales taking listeners on a roller coaster of emotions. One can easily imagine this entire disc played on stage as-is, returning dancers from the whirl of “Monroe” to shed a few dizzy tears to the heartbroken “World Spinning Round.” The trio’s range is impressive, including upbeat bluegrass, spare folk and steel honky-tonk in a truly coherent mix; it’s like listening to a day of Strictly Hardly Bluegrass in one band; even the reggae “Love” somehow fits easily into their set. Most impressively, the group instills new energy into classic roots forms, keeping this from turning into a nostalgia fest or even an exercise in progressive twists; it’s just inspiring and fun. A lot of fun. [Â©2014 Hyperbolium]
Though this Los Angeles band’s second album includes eight tracks, it clocks in at only twenty-two minutes. With an average song length of 2’45, you might expect music that’s a throwback to Top 40 pop, but the Coals are a folk-flavored Americana band, with road-weary vocals, acoustic and resonator guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and accordion. Vocalist Jason Mandell is an economical writer, and the band’s instrumental breaks provide accents rather than extended solos. Mandell is also a man in search of romantic redemption, brooding over unwanted farewells, pining for unrequited love, seeking the renewal of second chances and gently shedding the skin of failed relationships. He starts several songs in a shell-shocked monotone reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, but as the lyrics gain emotion, so does his voice gain melody. The band takes a New Orleans turn for “Dirt Road,” heads south of the border with Ryan Ross’s trumpet on “Maria,” falls into an easy country groove for “Steal My Heart,” and gives some old-timey twang to “Lord Lord Lord.” That’s a lot of range for eight short songs, but other than the hanging ending of the opener, none of the tracks feel incomplete. Mandell likes to make his point and move on to the next, which gives the album a jaunty pace. [Â©2013 Hyperbolium]
This three piece (Ben Plasse – upright bass and banjo; Ian Craft – fiddle and banjo; Jared Green – guitar and harmonica; all three on vocals) performs its mountain bluegrass, Dixieland and late-night blues with a busker’s verve. Plasse’s bass holds down the rhythmic core on many numbers, but gives way to light drumming (courtesy of Gregg Stacki) for a few, such as the second-line shuffle, “Gone.” Brass and clarinet add a flashy touch to “Delta Queen,” but it’s the group’s unabashed, live-wire energy that draws your ear. The trio’s fifth album mixes a wide variety of originals, including fiddle tunes, family-styled harmonies and driving banjo folk, Â with covers of John Hartford’s “Julia Belle Swain” and Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers’ raucous “My Dog Can’t Bark.” The strings are augmented by touches of whistling, kazoo, wordless vocalizations, and a few guests – including Warren Haynes on slide guitar. These live-in-the-studio sessions capture the spontaneity of group performance and the pull of a street corner show. [Â©2013 Hyperbolium]
Rather than picking an artist or label or scene or sound, Legacyâ€™s pulled together thirteen original hit recordings that show the range of music that AM radio brought to its listeners. Collected here is New Orleans R&B (â€œYa Ya,â€ 1961 and â€œWorking in the Coal Mine,â€ 1966), Dixieland Jazz (â€œWashington Square,â€ 1963), Easy Listening (â€œA Fool Never Learns,â€ 1964), Folk Pop and Rock (â€œWeâ€™ll Sing in the Sunshine,â€ 1964 and â€œIn the Year 2525,â€ 1969), Garage Punk (â€œLittle Girl,â€ 1966), Soul (â€œIâ€™m Your Puppet,â€ 1966 and â€œCherry Hill Park,â€ 1969), Bubblegum (â€œSimon Says,â€ 1968), Trad Jazz Vocal (â€œThe Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,â€ 1968), and Vocal Pop (â€œWorst That Could Happen,â€ 1969).
Even within these individual songs you can often hear more than one genre exerting its influence, such as the steel guitar and horns that provide accents to the superb pop production of Merrilee Rushâ€™s â€œAngel of the Morning.â€ In this day of highly balkanized music channels and individually programmed MP3 playlists, itâ€™s hard to imagine such variety inhabiting a single mass-market playlist, but that was part of AM radioâ€™s power to attract and keep a broad swath of listeners. Playing this collection will remind you how good record and radio people were at picking and making hits â€“ the winnowing process disenfranchised many, but what got through the sieves, particularly what got to the top of the charts, was often highly memorable.
Legacyâ€™s disc clocks in at a slim 35 minutes, but whatâ€™s here is a terrifically nostalgic spin whose songs stand up to repeated listening forty-plus years later. True, Andy Williamsâ€™ â€œA Fool Never Learnsâ€ might wear out its welcome before the other tracks, but itâ€™s part and parcel of the ebb and flow of 1960s AM radio. This set isnâ€™t meant to be an all-inclusive compilation of any one thing in particular, but a reminder of the breadth that once graced individual radio stations across the land. There was a unity to AM radioâ€™s audience thatâ€™s been replace by the free choice of the empowered individual. That personalization carries with it many benefits, but the range of this set may remind you of whatâ€™s also been lost. [Â©2010 hyperbolium dot com]