Tag Archives: ReviewShine

Nick Verzosa: She Only Loves Me

Solid Texas country ala Pat Greene and Cory Morrow

When country fans discuss Texas artists, they often limit themselves to the renegade stars, such as Willie and Waylon, who abandoned Nashville, and the songwriters, Townes van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver who defined Texas country song. But there’ve been a couple more generations of Lone Star singer-songwriters, and as the music’s grown within the state, many artists, including Pat Greene, Cory Morrow, Kevin Fowler and Jack Ingram have initiated, and in several cases sustained, careers within the state’s borders. Texas is a big place, and touring the honky-tonks, clubs, frat houses and bars promoting independently recorded albums can be a full-time job.

The music of these road-warriors is built for dance floors and summer fairs, with two-step rhythms and electric guitars whose twang mate country and rock ‘n’ roll without crossing over to the pop of Nashville, and vocals that invite audiences to share in clever lyrics of familiar situations. Nick Verzosa fits neatly into this tradition, with songs of lost love, broken relationships, new love, summer days and Texas delights. It’s standard fair, but Verzosa’s a convincing singer, and together with producer Walk Wilkins he’s crafted a compelling album whose songs will charm a Saturday-night crowd at Gruene Hall, and whose closing “7th Year Senior” is surely a favorite on Texas’ many frat rows. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Nick Verzosa’s Home Page

Amy Francis: Balladacious

Ten country classics in classic Nashville style

Numerous country stars, including Mandy Barnett and Sara Evans, have used Patsy Cline as a navigational north star. Newcomer Amy Francis follows the tradition with a full-blown countrypolitan cover of Jeannie Seely’s “Don’t Touch Me.” The music swells, the piano slips, and Francis hangs onto each note as if its end will break her heart into ever smaller pieces. Producer Tommy Delamore echoes the original Nashville sound of “Sweet Dreams” and “Fool Number One” without mimicking the original arrangements, and Francis is stalwart and convincing as she sings George Jones’ “Picture of Me Without You.” The ten selections combine classic ‘60s country tunes with a few contemporary selections, including Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name.” Francis is a talented singer with an ear for material that resonates with her voice, and she has a talented producer behind the board. This all makes for entertaining covers, but none stray far enough from the source material to reveal the depth of Francis’ own interpretive style or the unique charms of her voice. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Amy Francis’ Home Page


Jason Serious: Undercover Folk

Exceptional indie album of folk, country and trad jazz

To say that Jason Serious’ solo debut is accomplished would be to sell it short. Not only is it full of incredibly memorable original songs, but its evocation of American musical vernacular is all the more extraordinary for his ex-pat status and the talented band of Europeans with which he recorded. To write and record something so immersed in American folk, country and early jazz while living in the states would be difficult enough, but to do so in Munich is nearly unimaginable. If this was a homesick love letter trying to bridge the distance, its rootedness would be more easily explained, but these are songs from a rural Marylander whose roots seem unaffected by the change in firmament, and whose sentiments seem to have nourished his talented, widely-listened band mates.

The brassy shuffle “Met Jack Kerouac” and drunken melody of “Buckets of Gin” recall the goodtime music of the Lovin’ Spoonful, and the steel-lined “ESB” mixes hand-clapping upbeat country-folk, colorful imagery and a chorus (“everybody’s somebody’s beautiful”) that would make Mr. Rogers smile. Serious is a surprisingly polished artist, given that much of his woodshedding took place on the couch; it’s only in the past few years that he began sharing his solo work with others, and only in the past year that he began recording. The sessions themselves choreographed a dozen local musicians, adding deft splashes of banjo, violin, mandolin, steel, horns and harmony vocals across the nine tracks. Ausgezeichnet! [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Jason Serious’ Home Page

Chris Jamison: Cradle to Cradle

World-traveling Texan cooks up soulful, polycultural Americana

Chris Jamison is a native Texan whose travels eventually brought him back to Austin with a musical worldliness informed by time spent in Europe, South and Central America and Africa. He sings in an alto that momentarily suggests Lindsey Buckingham, but in longer form finds the polycultural soulfulness of Paul Simon. His third album moves between Latin-tinged organ-soul and gut-string Americana, with touches of tuba, trumpet and the rhythmic magic of New Orleans. The recordings were split between studios in Austin and Marfa, the latter of which Jamison says “seemed like a proper setting for the sound and feel I was going for; just the right distance from home and all the baggage it carries to let us get absorbed in the music and spirit of the songs as well as the open and charged energy of West Texas.”

The album opens in a soulful groove with “Bienvenidos,” but quickly strikes a melancholy tone with the wonder-wander “Going Down the Road,” salvational “Corpus Christi” and nostalgic “Lovelorn.” Jamison’s doesn’t sound fully settled until the closing “Out with a Bang” contemplates an end among the pleasures of his native Texas. His melodies are both sing-a-long immediate and earworm lasting, and the assembled players, including drummer Tommy Jackson, bassist Ronnie Johnson, accordionist Michael Ramon, fiddler Warren Hood, and guitarist Sebastian Cure add impressive instrumental color. This is a wonderfully rendered album whose charms are accessible but not simple. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Chris Jamison’s Home Page

Belles & Whistles

Mother-daughter vocal duo harmonize on country-tinged modern pop

Singer-songwriter Jaymie Jones is known as part of the sister harmony pop act Mulberry Lane. Signed to Refuge/MCA, they released a trio of albums and charted with the original song “Harmless.” Jones’ latest project is another family affair, but this time as a duo with her 14-year-old daughter Kelli. Produced by Don Gehman, and backed by top Los Angeles session players (including the rock solid drumming of Kenny Aronoff), the songs range from the twangy “River/White Christmas” to the bubblegum pop-rock “All I Need.” What ties them together are the elder Jones’ way with an ear-catching melody and the tight family harmony. Instead of sounding preternaturally mature, the younger Jones retains the tone of a teenager delighted to be singing, and her spiritedness blends perfectly with her mother’s voice and songs. The production is likely too mainstream-modern for the roots crowd, but this is worth a spin for anyone who favors sharply crafted radio pop that range from the Everly Brothers’ tight harmonies to Tom Petty’s AOR rock to Taylor Swift’s ‘tween anthems to Sarah Jarosz’s recent pop inflections. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Belles and Whistles’ Home Page

Willie Nile: The Innocent Ones

Willie Nile continues his rock ‘n’ roll hot streak

Willie Nile is clearly possessed by the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. Three albums into a renaissance that began with 2006’s Streets of New York, the sixty-three-year-old singer-songwriter continues to turn out arrestingly good music. At an age that most rockers have retired, resigned themselves to oldies shows or simply turned into lesser versions of their younger selves, Nile is enriching his work with age and experience. His voice remains charged with idealistic belief, and he propels his tight band forward as he unleashes anthems, pop songs and powerful ballads.

His latest album opens at full throttle with “Singin’ Bell,” the drums racing, the rhythm guitars building a wall of energy and Nile singing out like a twenty-first century Woody Guthrie. His populist mission is clear when he sings “I’m a soldier marchin’ in an army / Got no gun to shoot / But what I got is one guitar.” It’s a theme he develops through lyrics that gather the tribe and speak for unempowered. He lauds the decency of the commoner and shows pity for the insulated rich, he sings moaning Dylan-esque folk on “Sideways Beautiful,” tips his hat to Buddy Holly for “My Little Girl” and rouses the spirits of 1977 punk with “Can’t Stay Home.”

The album’s last song, a mid-tempo tune that suggests early Tom Petty, opens with the lyric “If memory were money, I would spend every penny thinking of her.” It’s a clever turn of phrase (as is the follow-up “If fire was her daughter, I would drink a pail of water just to kiss her”), but like most of Nile’s lyrics, it’s something more – it’s a memorable expression of a deeply felt emotion that’s turned into a shared with the listener. Shared experience is a hallmark of Nile’s songwriting, and the reason his fans remain so passionate thirty years after he debuted. This album was originally released in the UK in 2010, but is just now getting the stateside push it deserves. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | One Guitar
Willie Nile’s Home Page

Chip Taylor & The Grandkids: Golden Kids Rules

Famed songwriter sings with his granddaughters

Chip Taylor’s most widely known for his iconic rock, pop and country compositions, including “I Can’t Let Go,” “Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Country Girl City Man” and “Sweet Dream Woman.” His parallel recording career, including solo albums and a few charting singles in the mid-70s, never gained the renown of his writing, and spent most of the 1980s as a successful professional gambler. He crept back on to the music scene with a few albums in the ‘90s, and in 2002 he kicked off a series of collaborations with Carrie Rodriguez, which in turn led to the past decade’s recording renaissance. His latest, recorded with three granddaughters (Riley, Kate and Samantha), is the product of his long-term practice of writing songs for family events. On the occasion of his son’s marriage, Taylor wrote a trio of songs to sing with his grandkids, and the family’s response prompted this full album.

Taylor’s grizzled voice blends happily with the chirpy pre-teen tones of his granddaughters, and the songs he’s written (with co-writing from Kate on “Magical Horse”) fit their young years. The girls sing sweetly, shining on the humorous stories and confident on the more serious lyrics. The former will catch your kids’ ears for sing-along on first pass, but it’s the weightier lyrics that introduce the deeper pleasures of songs. Taylor’s songs allow his grandkids to be kids, suggesting they “learn stuff about stuff you don’t know,” take time to wander into their imaginations, and ask questions. There are messages for adults as well, reminding parents that kids have ideas and dreams that need to be heard, and that they can be empowered to care for others and for the planet.

The three songs originally recorded for Taylor’s son’s wedding close the collection, including the terrific second-line inflected soul of “The Possum Hunter,” a father’s clever and warm advisory “Happy Wedding,” and the hopeful “Now That Kristian and Anna Have Wed.” The album is charming and, particularly given Taylor’s depth as a songwriter, the quality of his assembled band, and the freshness of his granddaughters’ singing, a welcome respite from the bulk of purpose-built children’s music. The collection’s release on Smithsonian Folkways puts it in remarkable company, alongside classic albums from Pete Seeger, Ella Jenkins, Alan Mills and many others. Take a break from Barney and the Wiggles, and let Chip Taylor and his granddaughters entertain you. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Golden Kids’ Rules
Smithsonian Folkways’ Home Page

The Crags: Big Divide

Minimalist folk punk from Durango, Colorado

This trio from the Southwest Colorado town of Durango has a lo-fi sound that suggests new wave minimalists like Oh-Ok and Wednesday Week, as they might have sounded fronted by the rich voice of Pearl Harbour, Martha Davis or Lene Lovich. Vocalist Tracy Ford is backed by simple arrangements of guitar, bass and drums, and supplemented by short solos and simple harmonies. It’s surprisingly effective, as the basic rhythm patterns and uncluttered production keeps the focus on the expressiveness of Ford’s voice. These tracks have the finish of demos, but their lack of production polish is charming and honest, and the songs are catchy. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Big Divide
The Crags’ MySpace Page

Southern Culture on the Skids: Zombified

Southern-fried rock ‘n’ roll Halloween

Just in time for Halloween, this thirteen-track set expands upon a rare, like-titled eight-song Australian EP from 1998. The band mixes originals and covers, including a killer instrumental take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Sinister Purpose,” a psychotically-tinged version of Kris Jensen’s “Torture,” and a Las Vegas grind arrangement of Kip Tyler’s rockabilly classic, “She’s My Witch.”  Tales of demons, zombies, undertakers, witches and swamp monsters reanimate the exploitive nighttime feel of 1960s drive-ins, and musical nods to the Cramps, Lonnie Mack and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins make this disc a must-have for your next fright night party. The newly added tracks (#9-13) fill out the album with tales of the supernatural, nighttime shadows, and the Link Wray-styled instrumental, “The Creeper.” It’s a shame that American International isn’t in business, as SCOTS would surely be the studio’s house band. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Zombified
Southern Culture on the Skids’ Home Page

Butchers Blind: Play for the Films

Rocking alt.country from the heart of Long Island, NY

This Long Island trio dropped a few demo tracks in 2009 (reviewed here), promoting the catchy “One More Time” into a single and attracting some local attention. They’ve returned with a full album that leans on both their alt.country and rock roots. The Wilco influence is strong (unsurprising, given the band is named after one of Wilco’s lyrical creations), and Pete Mancini’s voice favors the reediness of Jeff Tweedy; but there’s also a melancholy in his delivery that suggests Chris Bell, and a soulful bottom end in the rhythm section that gives the band plenty of rock flavor. Mancini’s latest songs were inspired by travel journals kept by his father, as well as his own cross-country travels. From the opening “Brass Bell” you can feel the wanderlust, the urge to blow town, the expectation of the journey ahead and the confidence of someone young enough to enjoy (or at least react to) the moment.

The previously released “One More Time,” is repeated here at a faster tempo, adding a measure of urgency to the road’s opportunities and challenges. There’s discord and difficult choices, and emotional dead-ends magnified by the relentless closeness of travel. Communication shuts down, relationships split, and roundtrips don’t always end in the same emotional spot they began. The album tips its hat to Steve Earle, as “Highway Song” opens with the signature guitar riff of “Devil’s Right Hand,” but where Earle’s early work, especially Guitar Town, pictured small town inhabitants dreaming of escape, Mancini’s protagonists are looking back from the road. The album closes with “Never Changing Thing,” a letter home filled with the growing realization that a return trip may not be in the cards. It’s a fitting end to an album of emotional changes wrought by physical travel, and physical changes wrought by emotional travel. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Dice Were Down
Listen to more of Play for the Films at Paradiddle Records
Butcher’s Blind’s Facebook Page
Butcher’s Blind’s MySpace Page