Concrete and Mud is the sound of an artist hitting stride. Sam Morrow’s previous two albums were solid outings but there was a certain restraint, a tentativeness of an artist in the process of finding his voice.
This latest release finds Morrow leaning into the outlaw country tradition of Haggard, Paycheck and Jennings. One can hear it clearly on songs like “Quick Fix,” in which offers up a counterpoint to Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down.” As a swaggering groove reminiscent of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” ushers the song along, Morrow offers “Say hey Mr. Haggard got to disagree, yeah the bottle ain’t let me down, sometimes that all that walkin’ and all that talkin’ needs a little bit of drownin’ out.”
“Heartbreak Man” and “Paid By the Mile” are straight out of the 1970’s. Both rumble with southern boogie and tasty electric guitar pickin’. Morrow may be singing about the trials and tribulations of a musician’s life but the songs ring out with a universal appeal. “East Coast, West Coast, in-between don’t get in the way of a man chasing his dream,” he cautions on the former before declaring “If I only had a dime for every line on my face, I’d buy a drink for every fool in this place” on the latter.
Concrete and Mud also contains some darker moments. “Good Ole Days” may share the rhythmic strut of the aforementioned tracks but offers some sharp social commentary. The song considers the progress made on several social issues while reminding that we still have far to go. “Tell me how you love them good ole days,” Morrow sings as both sarcastic reflection and contemporary warning.
The steamy ballad “Weight of a Stone” is a bit of a musical outlier but is also among the strongest and most adventurous tracks on the album. Morrow sings about facing down some demons, insisting that he do it alone lest it will “drag you down like the weight of a stone.”
BJ Barham is a new man these days. Getting both sober and married, as well as becoming a father, is bound to change one’s life perspective, right? Things Change provides a window into Barham’s world view in light of these transformations. The songs reflect his current life perspective, looking back on years of alcohol-induced hardships even as he looks forward with a new-found maturity. The constant is a boisterous attitude and a willingness to fight for his beliefs.
There are so many fierce yet endearing moments on Things Change. “Tough Folks” is the kick in the ass that we all need at one point or another. “Life ain’t fair, saddle up boy and see it through,” he sings as the band pulses behind him, “Tough times don’t last, tough folks do.”
“Crooked + Straight” is a meaty rock song that imparts some wisdom that Barham garnered from his father. “You gotta learn how to take the bruises with the breaks, the love with the heartache, the crooked with the straight.”
Several songs, such as the title track and the acoustic ballad “One Day at a Time,” address his recent life changes. He does so, however, in a way that puts his personal experience in a broader context. In the stirring album opener “The World Is On Fire,” for example, he questions what kind of world his daughter is about to join. “When did the land of the free become the home of the afraid?” he asks.
True to form, however, he’s ready for a fight. More to the point, he wants the same for his daughter. “If anyone builds a wall in her journey,” he declares, “baby bust right through it.”
Take My Love With You, Eli Paperboy Reed and the High & Mighty Brass Band (from the Yep Roc Records release Eli Paperboy Reed Meets High & Mighty Brass Band)
Great soul and R&B always goes better with horns right? Well, Eli Paperboy Reed takes it to an extreme on Eli Paperboy Reed Meets High & Mighty Brass Band. Reed hooked up with Brooklyn’s The High and Mighty Brass Band to revisit selections from his impressive catalog. The songs were good before, but they’ve got special swagger now.
The group slows down the tempo on most songs, giving the horns extra room to bob and weave their way around Reed’s powerhouse vocals. There’s plenty of solo time as well. The trombones let loose on “Well, Alright Now”, the trumpets enliven “Come and Get It” and a tuba saunters through “Walkin’ and Talkin’ (For My Baby)”.
Not to be left out, an electric guitar provides a snarling counterpoint to the horns on “I’m Gonna Getcha Back” while drums and percussion, not surprisingly, power the intense “Explosion.”
It all comes together in a glorious cacophony on the New Orleans-juiced “Take My Love With You.” Eli Paperboy Reed Meets High & Mighty Brass Band is one hell of a party from start to finish.
Go Farther in Lightness is an ambitious album with a powerful story. Singer-songwriter Dave Le’aupepe overcame depression and hardship and emerged with a tenaciously positive outlook. That message rings out loudly, figuratively and literally, on Go Farther in Lightness.
One need look no further than opening track “Fear And Trembling.” A gentle piano opens the song but gives way mid-song to furious electric guitars and Le’aupepe’s emphatic vocals. The song is a sort-of coming of age saga, if coming of age means regretting experiences missed and being somewhat fearful of what is to come. “And now I’m terrified of loving ’cause I’m terrified of pain and of missing out on human things by cowering away,” he sings before proclaiming, “So light ‘em up, those shadows in my blood.”
Many of the album’s finer moments are similar anthemic odes to pursuing happiness. “The heart is a muscle and I want to make it strong,” he sings on “The Heart Is a Muscle” while he decrees “So if time is predicated on abstractions in a void do not subjugate yourself capitulating to the noise” on the closing “Say Yes To Life.”
Optimism is balanced with realism, as “Let Me Down Easy” reminds. “Sometimes life sucks, everything is lame,” he sings, “Not everything’s as easy as making lemonade.”
Le’aupepe and the band rail against the philosophies of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the ferocious “Atlas Drowned.” “In the heart of redemption, there’s some furious song and the herd is no place for the brave and the strong,” Le’aupepe declares.
Even the ballads flow with intensity and determination. “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” finds Le’aupepe advising”
Get the fuck out of your head if it says
“Stay cold and be deathly afraid”
Do not let your spirit wane
Do not let your spirit wane
Go Farther in Lightness is both sprawling opus and glorious testament to the power of rock and roll.
For many, the idea of a “quiet” album would involve a singular acoustic guitar. Not so for Beach Slang singer-songwriter James Alex. His version, aptly dubbed “Quiet Slang,” surrounds the piano with a beautiful string section to reimagine selections from the Beach Slang catalog. The results are something special.
The arrangements provide a thoughtful and nuanced canvas, maintaining the angst in Alex’s writing but transforming it into a profound sense of melancholy. The emphasis is particularly strong on the more confessional moments. “The songs that I make, I barely rehearse them. They’re hardly mistakes, they’re meant to be honest,” he sings on “Noisy Heaven.”
Even those not familiar with Beach Slang will find it hard not to revel in the beauty of the songs in these arrangements.
There’s something to be said for craftsmanship. Moore knows his way around an electric guitar-driven hook and can skillfully package them in taut arrangements. Moore’s guitar, not surprisingly, is the clear centerpiece on the six songs collected here but the rest of the band more than make their presence known with a pounding rhythm.
There are more than a few nods to Jimi Hendrix – the appropriately titled “Rock N Roll” and the bruising “You Gotta Know” in particular. Elsewhere he references other classic rock touchstones like T Rex and Big Star on “1000 Blackbirds,” “Satellite,” and the relaxed “Looking For the Sound.”
Toronto is a powerful guitar-fueled adrenaline charge. Perfect for what ails ya.
LA singer-songwriter Rachel Cantu serves up a plush ode to finding and celebrating love. Cantu has a pitch perfect pop sensibility, contrasting restrained verses with resounding choruses. The focal point is hersoaring vocals, which sit atop a wash of lush synthesized sounds. While it certainly isn’t twangy, it is most decidedly good.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.