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.

Americana 2014, The Sounds, Part 3

Every fall, The Americana Music Association gathers members, artists and music fans together in Nashville for its annual conference. Starting with the annual Americana Music Awards and continuing through four days of showcases and panel discussions, it is a tremendous celebration of Americana music.

Here are my highlights among the many live performances I saw over the 4 days I was there.  You can also check out Mayer’s favorites.


Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives.  I’ve written about how good Stuart is in a live show before.  But he’d kind of drifted off my radar the past few years.  Then I scored a ticket to a taping with Stuart and his band for Mojo Nixon’s SiriusXM radio show.  What an incredible hour of entertainment.  From trading jabs with Nixon, “stand up Mojo…if you still can”, to country rapping about the weekend, to playing along note for note with every song on Outlaw Country while waiting for the show to start, Marty entertained us at every point.  Oh, then there was his actual set of music.  Drawn mostly from his new album, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, it covered everything from rock and roll to gospel a cappella.  Along the way we also were reminded just how fine a guitar player Stuart is.

Carlene Carter.  I also caught a taping Carlene Carter did for SiriusXM.  With a career that stretches from her early teens in the 60’s to present day, she has a rich heritage of just her own musical path.  Then throw in the Carter family experiences and it’s a microcosm of country/Americana music.  The highlight was when Jeff Hanna, of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and half a dozen other musicians who had gathered in the XM studios reprised 1972’s seminal Will the Circle Be Unbroken.


Trigger Hippy.  Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene.  You don’t really have to say anything more to know it’s going to be a good show.  And yet that generates expectations with many that would be hard to meet.  Yet they and the other band members put together a potent combination of virtually every style of music you can imagine and blasted right through those expectations.  The worst thing for me is realizing this might be a one-time-only project.

Cory Chisel’s Soul Obscura.  I was leaving a venue with a vague plan for the evening when I ran into a couple of friends just coming in.  When I told them I was leaving because I hadn’t heard about Cory Chisel, they gave me that are-you-really-that-stupid look.  So I turned around and went back in and got the surprise of the week from Cory Chisel’s Soul Obscura.  In case you’re like me and not familiar with this project, Cory and his band do covers of obscure 60’s soul songs.  And dare I say improve on them all.

Bradford Lee Folk.  Another fortuitous decision on my part.  Without a particular next destination in mind I stuck around for a set from Folk and his Bluegrass Playboys.  With a brain full of heavy lyrics and indie sounds from earlier in the day, the old school bluegrass from these guys was a breathe of fresh air.  Flawlessly executed and with a focused sound, I have no doubt they replicate that experience regardless of your frame of mind.


Joe Fletcher.  Without his band on his latest album and tour, Fletcher underscores his songwriting ability.  His gravelly voice and almost laconic stage presence somehow work in combination to pump excitement into the room.  His was the last set I saw of the weekend, and put a proper exclamation point on all the great music I heard the previous 4 days.

Americana 2014: The Sounds, Part 2

Every fall, The Americana Music Association gathers members, artists and music fans together in Nashville for its annual conference. Starting with the annual Americana Music Awards and continuing through four days of showcases and panel discussions, it is a tremendous celebration of Americana music.


Matthew Ryan

MATTHEW RYAN

This was, hands-down, the highlight of the week for me. Ryan’s live performances in recent years have been solo acoustic, so I was thrilled that he put together a band for his Friday evening showcase.

To say that he didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. This was a rock show of the finest order, scruffy and authentic. The set featured a few songs from Boxers, his forthcoming electric guitar-fueled album, plus a number of classics from throughout his career.

Rumor has it that he will be doing additional band shows to support the new album. Do yourself a favor, don’t miss him when he comes to your town.


Kevin Gordon

KEVIN GORDON

One of the nice things about visiting Nashville is the chance to see some local artists in their natural habitat. Local-boy Gordon took time out from recording his next album to play an outdoor afternoon show. He has a knack for telling vivid and entertaining tales of Southern life that are set to music that mixes healthy doses of boogie and blues. It’s a recipe for music goodness. I, for one, am eagerly and impatiently awaiting his next release!


THE GREYHOUNDS

I missed the Greyhounds at SXSW earlier this year and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. The trio played the famed Blue Room at Third Man Records where they served up their distinctive style of classic R&B. I’m still not sure why there was someone in an astronaut outfit dancing on the side of the stage, but I’ll save that question for another day. They closed their set with a killer cover of Nilsson’s “Jump In the Fire.” (See ‘em play the song in this video from SXSW.)


Mike Farris

MIKE FARRIS

Farris doesn’t tour much so I made sure to catch him for a Saturday afternoon set. He and his band, including a horn section and an animated keyboard player, got the joint jumpin’ with their distinctive blend of gospel and soul.


The Silks

THE SILKS

Sure, I’ve seen these guys any number of times around Boston. It was great to see the local boys making their Americana Conference debut. They clearly brought their “A” game – they always do – as they blasted through a raucous set of bluesy rock. They even threw in a ferocious country jam mid-set for good measure.


DAVID RAMIREZ

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a beautiful collection of songs, the Austin-based singer-songwriter engrossed a Saturday evening crowd. His music is often filled with melancholy and is always emotionally charged.


Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.