Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer – The Flower Of Muscle Shoals

They haven’t allowed smoking in years, but the rafters still have that slight air of stale cigarettes.  The Fire Department long ago made them sweep up the sawdust, but of course you can never really get rid of all it.  The Polaroids above the bar are too faded to know who’s in them, unless of course you know who’s in them.  The same brand of beer has flowed from the taps for 50 years, and it’s brewed in supertanker-sized vats in St. Louis or Milwaukee.  Aside from the beer, the most important thing to know about this place is that every Saturday night there’ll be a band that’s equally perfect for a two-step with your girl or getting lost in a longneck.  They’re a dying breed nowadays with the popularity of outlaw music and Jaeger shots, but thankfully the old-fashioned honky tonk still exists in wide swathes of America where soul is still more important than style.

While the jukeboxes in these wonderful havens of Americana tend to be loaded with George Jones and Merle Haggard, there’s a new album from Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer that fits in like a favorite pair of boots.  The Flower Of Muscle Shoals is everything you want in good old classic country music, but with all original songs from Morrison it’s like finding a time capsule full of new stuff that’s decades old.

Over And Over And Over Again is one of my favorites on the disc.  Morrison channels some of the sorrowfulness of Raul Malo into a lament about tying one on to forget, “if I tie it tightly, it won’t come undone.”  There’s a nice little Jones or Haggard fatalism in I’ve Won Every Battle, But Lost Every War.  It’s not all melancholy.  Nighttime Is Here On the Valley celebrates the annual event, be that a rodeo or harvest festival, or sometimes just another Saturday night, “they whistle and they cheer, and they guzzle their beer”.  San Luis and Hobbled And Grazing add some sweet Norteno swing from Morrison’s youth growing up in New Mexico.

Morrison cover In case you’re wondering, The Flower Of Muscle Shoals refers to Cahalen’s wife.  The song is a good microcosm of the whole album.  It’s romantic and redneck and twangy and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best records I’ve heard all year.

Nu-Blu – All the Way

Another in my string of bluegrass reviews, Nu-Blu’s new record “All The Way” manages to take the cheesy and make it memorable. Take leadoff track “That’s What Makes the Bluegrass Blue.” I couldn’t think of a less appealing title. Yet the first spin clothed in expert bluegrass picking and airtight harmonies, makes the song surprisingly enjoyable. Carolyn Routh certainly knows how to pull together a melody and Rhonda Vincent pitches in on harmony vocals as well.

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Instrumental “Black Jack” is a banjo workout to say the least and it certainly earns Levi Austin some cred for his quick picking. From there the metronome is turned down quite a bit in favor of a decidedly more acoustic sound on “Forgiveless.” “Jesus and Jones,” and “Heavy Cross to Bear.” These tunes focus a much more open arrangement that features the vocals.

“Rhythm of the Train” is a decidedly moving bluegrass train song. The rhythms of dobro and the subject of the train go together so well with the innocence of the narrator’s childhood story. “It’s Not That Cold in Montana” features vocalist Levi Austin as well. Austin laid back tenor brings the to life.

These guys really know how to pick, particularly on the upbeat numbers.

 

Duke Robillard – Calling All Blues

Duke Robillard is a blues guitar icon.  A multiple Blues Music Award winner and Grammy nominee, if Robillard had stopped at creating the jump blues revival outfit Roomful of Blues in the late 1960s, his contribution to blues music would have been sizable. Jump blues, an up-tempo form of blues often featuring horns that was popularized during the 1940s war years, has an old-timey feel that is a refreshing change from more traditional blues forms.

RobillardBut Robillard didn’t stop at helping to revive jump blues. Over a career spanning decades, Robillard has explored many avenues of blues, rock and even swing both in his solo work and as a member (replacing Jimmie Vaughan) of the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the early 1990s. Over the course of his career he has also worked with such artists as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Dr. John. To get a flavor of Robillard’s range, check out the snappy After Hours Swing Session from 1990, featuring Robillard channelling Charlie Christian’s swing-era jazz, and the tour-de-force Living With the Blues from 2002. There is also his 2005 collaboration with Ronnie Earl, The Duke Meets the Earl, which was the first collaboration between these two great Roomful alumni.  Last year’s Independently Blue was yet another in a long line of outstanding releases.  Robillard also puts on a great show in which his slick swing and jump blues playing distinguishes him from the many other excellent guitarists occupying the field.  After a recent concert at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, which featured a huge variety of styles, Robillard commented that he would be happy to play swing all night long if his audiences would go for it.

Calling All Blues is an electic mixture, but there are several outstanding tunes on the album.  Among the highlights are “Blues Beyond the Call of Duty,” featuring vocals by Sunny Crownover and Robillard’s awesome guitar skills; “Confusion Blues,” with vocals by jazzy vocals by Bruce Bears, provides a hint of Robillard’s jump blues and swing affinity; and “Motor Trouble,” with its slow vibe, could be interpreted as a metaphor for aging.  Robillard was joined on the album by the regular members of The Duke Robillard Band, which features Bears on piano and keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Texeira on drums.  Crownover and a horn section comprised of Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Woolverton put in guest appearances.

 

Audio Stream: Duke Robillard, “Motor Trouble”

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Readers’ Pick: And The War Came by Shakey Graves

You picked And The War Came by Shakey Graves as your favorite for the week of October 7, 2014.

Readers’ Top Picks (last 4 weeks)

  1. Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone by Lucinda Williams (9) [9/30]
  2. And The War Came by Shakey Graves (7) [10/7]
  3. Different Shades Of Blue by Joe Bonamassa (7) [9/23]
  4. Love & Logic by Sons of Bill (4) [9/30]
  5. Home Is Where the Hurt Is by Jp Harris & The Tough Choices (4) [9/23]
  6. Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn by Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn (3) [10/7]
  7. Standing In The Breach by Jackson Browne (3) [10/7]
  8. Saturday Night / Sunday Morning by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives (3) [9/30]
  9. Paradise Outlaw by Pieta Brown (3) [9/30]
  10. Blues Scars by Skyla Band Burrell (1) [10/7]

Don’t forget to vote in our weekly poll to help us make this list.