JW-Jones – Belmont Boulevard

JW-Jones is one slick guitar slinger from north of the border.  Cut from the mold of a Jimmie Vaughan or the late Johnny Winter, Jones hails from Ottawa, Canada, an unexpected cradle for an artist sure to be recognized for his impressive guitar skills.

Somewhat of a prodigy, Jones recorded his first album, Defibrilatin’, in 2000 when Jones was not yet 20 – and that was after only receiving his first electric guitar in 1996 when he decided to switch from drums to guitar.  Within a few short years of taking up the guitar Jones (whose initial song-writing credits were for “Josh Wynne-Jones”) was winning regional competitions on the instrument.  Among Jones’ earlier albums, 2008’s Bluelisted stands out as an example of what this young man could do.

Belmont Boulevard, Jones’ first release on the prominent blues label Blind Pig, shows what a mature artist can do.  There are some great songs on the album, including the opener “Love Times Ten,” which was written by album producer and drummer Tom Hambridge and Colin Linden; Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step,” which features some searing guitar work; Jones and Hambridge’s “Don’t Be Ashamed,” with more hot guitar work; Jones’ monumental instrumental “Magic West Side Boogie,” with Jones’ guitar prowess on full display; “What Would Jimmie Do?” by Hambridge and Jones, an homage to Jimmie Vaughan employing a style reminiscent of the former Fabulous Thunderbird and solo guitar icon; and Buddy Guy’s “What’s Inside of You,” on which Jones demonstrates his ability to capture the musical soul of the blues.

Jones’ band features Reese Wynans on keyboards, Rob McNelley on guitar, Dave Roe on bass and Hambridge on drums, with Laura Greenberg on bass on four tracks and Jamie Holmes on drums on those tracks.  Give a listen.

Audio Stream: JW-Jones, “Magic West Side Boogie”

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Mayer’s Playlist for Oct 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Boxers, by Matthew Ryan

Matthew Ryan

Boxers is an album of discontent. Life, love, work — you name it — the characters that inhabit this collection of songs are dissatisfied. There is rage, resentment and restlessness. Through it all, however, Ryan manages to find a glimmer of hope — sometimes it’s a lyrical cue, other times it is a shimmering melody. It isn’t always bright but it’s there if you want to find it.

Ryan sets the tone early with the blaring guitars and pounding drums of the title track. “How do you say goodbye to a dream that just won’t die,” he asks. While some might view this as a song of resignation and defeat but I consider it a more an acknowledgement that the road is rarely easy. “You’re a boxer against the ropes & there’s blood running down your throught,” he continues, “but this is the fight you chose… Here we go.”

“Suffer No More” tells the tale of a couple dealing with job loss and economic hardship. “All we want today is something like a fair shake,” Ryan sings, “and all we want tomorrow is a ladder that won’t fall away.” An acoustic guitar and a sauntering beat convey at least a touch of hope.

Ryan recalls painful early lessons in love on on the boisterous “The First Heartbreak.” I’m sure that many a listener can relate to the line, “I was there the night you got that tattoo, some scars got nothing to hide and everything to lose.” It is a line that is vivid, raw and meaningful, a hallmark of Ryan’s writing.

Songs like the noisy “This One’s For You, Frankie” and the potent “Heaven’s Hill” showcase the exceptional band that Ryan assembled for Boxers. Producer and guitarist Kevin Salem left the rough edges intact as musicians Brian Bequette, Joe Magistro and Brian Fallon (the Gaslight Anthem) unleashed a sonic fury across most of the album.

In the midst of all the bruising rock songs are occasional quiet moments such as the stunning acoustic ballad “A Song to Learn & Sing (Until Kingdom Come).” In many ways it plays as the album’s musical centerpiece as Ryan quietly reflects on hardship and pain yet still remains optimistic.

So let’s sing “Dirty Old Town” at the top of our lungs
Don’t look now here comes the sun
Your head is a map and your heart is a drum
And the road is the road you’re on ‘til kingdom come.

Boxers also contains “An Anthem for the Broken,” a song that Ryan released earlier this year to raise funds for longtime friend of Twangville John Anderson as he battles ALS. You can read more about it here, but I challenge anyone to not be moved by the song’s furious jolt of electricity and optimism.

An anthem for the brotherhood
The light in the dark and the lean for good
The knowing not which way to go
But here but for the grace of the unknown I know
Adollar’s not a peace nore end
I’d do it all and all again
An anthem for the broken hearts
That made it worlds from where they’d start.

Even in its darkest moments there is a message that resonates across Boxers – life may be harsh but it needn’t be bleak. We all have the power to find satisfaction and contentment, even if it isn’t in a way that we originally intended or expected. We just need to find it. Leave it to Ryan to craft a raggedly beautiful album to remind us of this fact.

Audio Download: Matthew Ryan, “Boxers”

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THE PLAYLIST


Words From a Letter The Far West (from the Medina River Records release Any Day Now)
I caught this Los Angeles-based quintet play an afternoon show at the Americana Conference and was damn impressed. They skillfully mine the Southern California brand of Americana, recalling Gram Parsons and the legends of the Bakersfield Sound. Singer Lee Briante has an appealing melancholy to his voice. It lends the right country feel to their more rock-laced songs while giving added depth to the country-oriented ballads.

Audio Download: The Far West, “Words from a Letter”

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Jailhouse, Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives (from the Superlatone Records release Saturday Night/Sunday Morning)
Marty Stuart’s latest release borrows a title and concept from Dr. Ralph Stanley. The impressive double album celebrates the decadence of Saturday night and the penance of Sunday morning. While some might frown on reproducing the concept, Stuart is one of the few who has the credentials to pull it off. Stuart is a rightful heir of the country music tradition, an honor that he wears with pride with this release.

Joined by a crack band dubbed the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart romps, rumbles and strolls through the 23 glorious tracks on Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. They infuse every song with an enthusiasm and joy that is infectious.


I Wasn’t the One, Joshua Black Wilkins (from the self-released Settling the Dust)
It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the Nashville-based Wilkins is a phenomenally talented photographer. He approaches music in a similar manner, creating songs that have an evocative appeal. The musical arrangements are minimal without being sparse. They are often punctuated by a wistful pedal steel. To these ears it conjures up images of a drifter riding the rails, singing songs that are dusty, weathered and downright intoxicating.

Audio Download: Joshua Black Wilkins, “I Wasn’t the One”

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Domino Sugar, Luke Winslow-King (from the Bloodshot Records release Everlasting Arms)
I’ll openly admit that I have a bias towards New Orleans musicians. It’s not because they live in one of the world’s greatest cities. Rather it’s because they are often musical scholars versed in genres from jazz to rock to rhythm and blues. The best ones bring that expertise to life in their music.

Put Luke Winslow King in that category. His latest release shifts with ease from the New Orleans jazz of “La Bega’s Carousel” to the Southern rock-tinged boogie of “Domino Sugar” to the bluesy folk of “Traveling Myself.” We’ll call it eclectic in all the right ways. We’ll also say that, perhaps reflective of the city that Winslow King calls home, this album makes for one hell of a listening party.


Coffin Black, The Pine Hill Haints (from the K Records release The Magik Sounds of the Pine Hill Haints)
Although the Pine Hill Haints have been around since circa 2000, the Twangville introduction to the Pine Hill Haints came via our Muscle Shoals series. Their self-described “Alabama Ghost Music” blends is a potent mix of folk, rockabilly and bluegrass. The group shifts with ease from the down-home roots of “Scarlet Fever” to the fuzzed-out guitar rock of “Coffin Black.” If you’re looking for some music that overflows with a raw and rootsy enthusiasm, you’d do right to check out the Pine Hill Haints.


A Waltz For Old Jeppson (Carl’s Theme), Archie Powell and the Exports (from the single A Waltz for Old Jeppson)
I’ve never tried Chicago home-grown liquor Jeppson’s Malört, whose motto is apparently “Malört is not for the faint of heart.” Nor do I expect the lyrics of this song to change that fact. “Be it your drug of choice or a big last resort,” Powell proclaims, “the results are the same if you’re drinking Malört.”

I am certain of one thing, however. I’ll be listening to this rockin’ song for a long time to come.

(Check out the band’s entertaining video tribute to Jeppson’s Malört here.)


Nothing Left, Elliott Brood (from the Paper Bag Records release Work and Love)
This Canadian trio fall on the rock end of the Americana spectrum. Their songs overflow with catchy melodies propelled by jangly guitars and carefree harmonies. There’s a breezy Sunday afternoon vibe to their music, albeit a breeze that packs a playful and energetic punch. If you enjoy this track, you’ll undoubtedly find plenty more to your liking on their latest release.

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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The Roys – The View

As a recently inducted fan of bluegrass, I’ve come to know that the genre has the ability to turn the cheesy lyrics into an earnest and emotional tune. The Roys (brother and sister duo of Lee and Elaine) use their tight harmonies and musicianship to do just that. With a song like “Live the Life You Love” can only be saved in the right hands and it seems like Lee’s vocal (which sounds quite a bit like Ricky Skaggs) manages to transform corny lyrics into a heartfelt tune.

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But Lee really shines on the tune “Those Boots.” In other hands, the tune would fall flat, but the tight harmonies and picking lift this song. I find myself humming along to the patriotic message. Can’t help but enjoy Lee’s ability to keep the lyrics simple and elevate the delivery.

Sister Elaine is certainly no slouch either. Her pristine country drawl is in full force throughout the record. Leadoff track “No More Lonely” features her bluegrass pipes. The tight harmony vocals provide the perfect backdrop for Elaine’s simple and clear delivery.

“No More Tears Left to Cry” has a bit more of a traditional bluegrass feel with prominent banjo intro and breaks. Elaine’s voice is again in the forefront and she belts out the notes after note over the tight arrangements.

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The Roys also pulled in mandolin ace Doyle Lawson for “Mandolin Man.” There’s no doubt that the band knows how to pick and sing and have the transformative power of an seasoned set of bluegrass pickers.