ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Hard Working Americans, by Hard Working Americans
‘Ya gotta love this album on principle. A veritable super-group of Americana and jam-band artists* get together for, well a jam-session. They forgo writing their own songs and instead champion some of their (and my) favorite songwriters. Like I said, how can you not love it?
A brawny version of the mighty Will Kimbrough’s “Another Train” serves as a shot across the bow – these guys came to rock. They transform the Bottle Rockets classic “Welfare Music” into a rousing rock anthem and inject an extra dose of feistiness into Hayes Carll’s “Stomp and Holler” that will make you want to, well, you know.
The band’s take on Drivin n Cryin’s “Straight to Hell” starts with a heavy melancholy feel but builds in intensity as it moves along. Neal Casal’s slide guitar instills a sense of longing on the Kevin Gordon-penned “Down to the Well.”
Yet they also know when to play it straight, as they do on their tender version of the Gillian Welch and David Rawlings gem “Wrecking Ball.”
One listen and you’ll be convinced: these boys make hard work sound exhilarating.
*The Hard Working Americans are Todd Snider (vox), Dave Schools of Widespread Panic (bass), Neal Casal of The Chris Robinson Brotherhood (guitars/vox), Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi (keys) and Duane Trucks of Col. Bruce Hampton’s band (drums).
Audio Download: Hard Working Americans, “Stomp and Holler”
Stagger’s latest release is among his finest, bringing together incendiary rockers like “Cities on Fire” and “Have a Heart” with tender ballads like “Jackie” and “Sold Down the River.” Every song rings of authenticity, written with a matter-of-fact realism. “Mister,” for example, portrays a working class father passing time at a bar. The singer reflects on his own life in comparison to the other bar patrons:
I got a steady job at the hardware store, I make six bucks an hour, I started at four
I got a piece of shit parked out in the back, anyway mister can you cut me some slack.
And how could any Americana fan not appreciate the perspective that Stagger offers at the end of the song. “So turn up the jukebox and play a Willie song,” he sings, “yeah Willie’s got a way of figuring out if you’re right or wrong.” Amen, brother Leeroy.
Audio Download: Leeroy Stagger, “Mister”
If anyone had any doubts about Malone’s raw talent, this release should put it to rest. She entered a studio with an acoustic guitar and quickly recorded an impressive collection of originals and covers. The aptly titled album conjures up images of sitting in a rural cabin staring out at gently falling snow. Her cover of the Rolling Stones “Wild Horses” is a favorite, as is this Malone original.
Audio Download: Michelle Malone, “Beyond the Mountain”
Scar That Never Heals (She Runs Guns), Jeremy Fisher (from the self-released Live at Catherine North)
I’ve lost touch with Fisher since his enjoyable 2007 release Goodbye Blue Monday. His just released live album is welcome reminder of the acoustic troubadour’s talent. His melodies shine bright even on the downhearted songs; his lyrics sharp adn pointed. Here’s a favorite, originally released on Goodbye Blue Monday.
You can download the live album free/pay-what-you-want here.
Audio Download: Jeremy Fisher, “The Scar That Never Heals (She Runs Guns)”
The band’s bio talks about their evolution from a rock and roll outfit to a jam band to a bluegrass quartet. You’ll hear elements of that history percolating on the group’s latest release. I’m partial to the charming pop melody and sparkling harmonies on this track.
Audio Download: Driftwood, “The Sun’s Going Down”
How’s this for a power pop pedigree? Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub got together, recruited Mike Belisky from the Sadies and, voila, the New Mendicants were born. It’s hard to go wrong with their sugary melodies, as evidenced on this gem (plus two more from the release).
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.