Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues

Corb Lund built a time machine.  He took his long-time band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, down to Memphis and recorded a number of his live show staples and made them sound more original and rootsy than when they first laid down the tracks 8 – 10 years ago.  Retransmitting the ambience of the famed Sun Studios, Counterfeit Blues has all the lo-fi goodness and live energy that makes the best roots music so compelling.

The album starts with Counterfeiter’s Blues, alternating disgust at being fed fake goods at every turn and depressed acceptance that it’s the nature of the world we live in.  I think I can safely say Corb and his boys don’t use Auto-Tune.  Another set of wry observations on the world gone awry is Truth Comes Out, a lament on the damage of encroaching civilization that comes off like a good Fred Eaglesmith song.  Speaking of wry observations, (Gonna) Shine Up My Boots is the story of looking forward to girls and fun on a Saturday night, but realizing that maybe all you’re going to do is get drunk.  Any young man living on a farm or ranch in flyover country who can’t relate to this tune is kidding himself.

Some of Lund’s best material is full on, sing along, snap your fingers, rockabilly material.  Truck Got Stuck will stick in your brain, and this version takes a nice jab at Agriculture Canada.  Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle is a tongue twister that’s as much jazz as it it country.  My favorite is the under-appreciated Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer that needs a Wood Brothers cover to prove me right.

CorbLund-CounterfeitBlues Finally, I have to mention Hurtin’ Albertan, a classic Lund number, and a heart-on-my-sleeve anthem to his home province.  In many ways this tune summarizes Corb Lund and his band.  It’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s (North) Americana, it’s fun and upbeat and immediately likable.  There’s nothing counterfeit about it.

The Nighthawks – 444

DC-based blues-rockers the Nighthawks seem to be undergoing a late-career resurgence, winning their first Blues Music Award with Last Train to Bluesville (acoustic album of the year, 2011), and following that up with a solid effort on Damn Good Time! in 2012.  With 444, front man Mark Wenner and the boys continue to crank out high-energy, high quality blues and throw-back rock ‘n’ roll.

Nighthawks 444With origins in the 1970s, the Nighthawks gathered a loyal cult following, especially in the East. They toured relentlessly throughout the early decades. Of the band’s early offerings, Open All Nite in 1976 and Jacks & Kings in 1977 (with studio work by Muddy Waters sidemen Pinetop Perkins and Bob Margolin) represented their best work. The departure of gifted lead guitarist Jimmy Thackery in 1987 threw the band into a period of constant change, but harpist Mark Wenner held the band together through the years. Although the rhythm section remained relatively stable (until recently Jan Zukowski on bass and Pete Ragusa on drums), the Nighthawks had a succession of lead guitarists, including a brief stint by Warren Haynes, until Pete Kanaras’ nine-year stay in the early 2000s. By the time they entered the studio to record Damn Good Time!, Zukowski and Ragusa had been replaced by Johnny Castle and Mark Stutso, and Paul Bell had taken over as guitarist.  The same lineup, and its positive chemistry, was on hand for 444.

The Nighthawks have always featured a raw, unvarnished Chicago-blues style, but their latest albums, especially 444, feature as much throw-back rock and roll as blues, which, when paired with Wenner’s animated vocals, is a good fit for this talented outfit.  And with other capable singers in the lineup, the band can mix up their sound.   As usual with the Nighthawks’ recent albums, there is a mix of originals and covers on 444.  Among the originals, rock-a-billy tinged title tune “444 a.m.” was written by Castle.  “Honky Tonk Queen” was written by Wenner with contributions from the original Nighthawks.  The catchy “High Snakes” was written by Castle and DC guitar legend Bill Kirchen (formerly of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen),  “No Secrets” is a Wenner original, and the closing country ballad, “Roadside Cross,” is another gem by Castle.  But some of the covers, like the Du Droppers’ “Talk that Talk” (called “Walk that Walk” on 444), the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love” and Elvis tunes “Got a Lot of Livin'” and “Crawfish” inject the album with a throw-back flavor.  There are also a couple of blues covers, such as the Nighthawks’ excellent rendition of Gary Nicholson’s “Nothin’ But The Blues” and their gritty take on Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues’ with a rollin’ and tumblin’ vibe.  The album should please the Nighthawks’ followers and newcomers alike.

 

Audio Stream: The Nighthawks, “Got a Lot of Livin'”

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Photos that ROCK! Girls Guns & Glory

Over the past few months, I’ve gone on a bit of a Girls Guns & Glory binge. I saw them first at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, then at a Church coffeehouse in Franklin, then at an arts center in Natick, all in a fairly short amount of time. These boys are always on the move and I’m happy to catch them whenever they are in range. It’s always awesome when you go to a show and are completely blown away by a band you’ve never seen, which doesn’t happen to me often. I felt like I was hit head-on by GGG and I was addicted. The catchy retro-country-rock songs, Ward Hayden’s dreamy and crooning vocals, and the snappy outfits on each band member- damn, good stuff. If you haven’t seen or heard them yet, please check them out and you’ll be “shakin’ like jello” in no time! They are very fun to photograph and I’m looking forward to more opportunities!

The Howlin’ Brothers – The Sun Studio Session

Howlin-Brothers-Sun-Studios-10-15 The Howlin’ Brothers are a three piece acoustic band. I hesitate to call them a “String” band, because they don’t fit the stereotype. While they do play traditional music, their version has many facets. Beyond traditional and Bluegrass, they also employee Blues, Country and you may even hear a little Bourbon Street. Their music can be straightforward at times, employing one style, but that is atypical. The production of Brendan Benson, created a fusion of sounds on the much acclaimed “Howl”.

As a result of their recent attention, The Howlin’ Brothers get to show their talents in a new and very cool setting. They were asked to be the guest band on an episode of the “The Sun Studio Sessions”, a show that runs on select PBS stations around the country. It has to be a little intimidating to enter the same recording studio that launched Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, just to name a few of the heavyweights that got their start at Sun Records.

This is the house that Sam Phillips built, and it has changed little over the years. The studio is the same sweaty room with no air conditioning. I bet that sweat conjures up some powerful ghosts. In their session, the Howlin Brothers’ they add a slight rockabilly twist their their normal style. One wonders if they planned it that way, or if the magic of their surroundings took over. It really doesn’t matter, whatever their motivation, the result was a session that showcased a talented band that treated their surroundings with an appropriate reverence. I think Sam Phillips would have given The Howlin’ Brothers a contract and a Cadillac.

Monday Morning Video: The V-Roys

This week we’re gonna go back a few years to enjoy a classic Farm Aid performance from 1997. The V-Roys were a rocking quartet from Knoxville, Tennessee who married a rootsy sensibility with plenty of rock and roll guitars. They were briefly signed to Steve Earle’s E-Squared label. Look closely and you’ll see Earle make a cameo in this video.

The group ultimately disbanded but, fortunately for us, the members still ply the musical trade. Scott Miller is set to release his ninth solo album tomorrow, the mighty fine Big Big World.

Mic Harrison, who wrote and sings the song performed below, has released a handful of solid rock and roll albums. Listen to the guitars ring out on last year’s Still Wanna Fight, for example.

Even original member John Paul Keith, who left before the band released their first album, is back with not one, but two releases. The first is an ep recorded with Amy Lavere under the name Motel Mirrors (Check out the ep here). The second is a full-length — Memphis Circa 3AM — that hearkens back to the rockabilly-tinged early years of rock and roll.

Here’s a bonus video from the Farm-Aid show that finds V-Roys backing Steve Earle on “The Rain Came Down” and “I Feel Alright.”