Monday, February 20, 2017

Album Spotlight: Eliza Neals - 10,000 Feet Below

There is no such thing as a perfect album. But there are good albums and great albums. Eliza Neals' 10,000 Feet Below falls into the latter category.

Neals' latest record is 11 songs of fantastic music. 10,000 Feet Below is a rocking blues album with more texture and nuance than you would expect. Neals' powerful, sexy, sultry voice is complemented by a wide array of excellent musicians to make a cohesive yet diverse album of musical genius.

If you even only think you might like blues, check this record out.

This was one album I was genuinely looking forward to this year. So many times, I'm disappointed. 10,000 Feet Below exceeded all expectations. Seriously, I don't know what songs to choose to put here, so I'm just gonna put out a couple that resonate with me the most (and of course, they won't be the traditional ones).

Monday, January 30, 2017

Album Spotlight: Cris Jacobs - Dust to Gold

A veteran of the Baltimore music scene with his former band The Bridge and then as a solo artist, Cris Jacobs is no newcomer. My fist introduction to Jacobs was his most recent album Dust to Gold, released in late 2016 and finding my ears in early 2017.

Jacobs' smooth vocals compliment perfectly his musical style that is reminiscent of The Guess Who and a laid back Allman Brothers.

The big take away from this album? It's good songwriting combined with excellent vocals and fantastic instrumentation.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

Album Spotlight: Susto - & I'm Fine Today

There is some heady stuff on Susto's most recent album & I'm Fine Today. I'll leave that for listeners to parse out. I'm not qualified to comment on social commentary.

Musically and lyrically, it's a mess. And I mean that in good way. Susto lilts their way through difficult subjects, making one think while not coming across as preachy or divisive or angry. Maybe it's in the way the lyric is delivered, Much of it deadpan and nonchalant.

And then you have the music, which is all over the place. Not just throughout the album, but within songs. Just when you think you're locked into a song, it takes a hard left and takes you to another place.

You have to be an album listener to fully appreciate & I'm Fine Today. One or two songs won't do it.

Where does & I'm Fine Today fit in the today's music spectrum? Hell if I know. It checks off the one line that matters to me; good music. Other than that, I don't know, Americana? maybe. But that seems too much of a catchall. I'll just say this; if you like Houndmouth and HoneyHoney, then this album is for you. If you don't know who they are, just listen and decide for yourself.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Album Spotlight: Caroline Reese and the Drifting Fifth - Tenderfoot

Photo by Lisa Boehm
Tenderfoot is the fourth release from Pennsylvania native and independent artist Caroline Reese, either as a solo artist or with her band the Drifting Fifth. To be quite honest, I had never heard of her until a week ago. I'm sorry I have missed out.

Ranging from hook-laden pop rock to introspective acoustic singer/songwriter songs, Tenderfoot is a great listen from start to finish. From the atmospheric "Stormchasers" to the stripped down acoustic "Unlocked" to the catchy "Airshow" to the swampiness at the end of "Beast", Reese and her band deliver an interesting journey through and amongst genres that all flows and never seems disjointed.

Fans of pop rock, Americana, and country can all find something to like, but the real winners fans of good music, because Tenderfoot is chock full of good music.

Check out some music:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Retro Album Spotlight: Stevie Nicks: Bella Donna

Stevie Nicks' first solo album Bella Donna was released in 1981, 36 years ago in July. I listened to it again recently and wanted to revisit how good it actually is and how the music landscape has changed so much in the past 35 years.

Bella Donna went platinum (one million album sales) within three months of its release and has sold over six million worldwide since its release. What different times we live in now.

Bella Donna also spawned four songs that hit the top 40 or better of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Listening now, this album would be thrown into Americana, because it belongs nowhere else in today's musical spectrum. It was pop rock in 1981. And believe it or not, it's too country for country radio in 2017.

All the songs on the album were written or co-written by Nicks except for the Tom Petty duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" (written by Petty and Michael Campbell) and seven of the 10 songs penned exclusively by Nicks.

Then there was the other duet on on the album with the iconic Don Henley, "Leather and Lace".

"After the Glitter Fades" was the fourth single released from Bella Donna and later covered by Glen Campbell. This is the vibe of most of the rest of the album, save "Edge of Seventeen" (see below) and I'm surprised it hasn't been covered more by country artists.

And finally, probably the most known song from Bella Donna, at least among people who listen to classic rock radio, "Edge of Seventeen". I could put the official video here, but this live version from 2011 is twelve minutes long and features long time Nicks guitarist Waddy Wachtel. Gotta give some love to the musicians.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Album Spotlight: Eliza Neals: Breaking and Entering

If I had 2015 to do all over again Eliza Neals' Breaking and Entering may have made one of my year end lists. Unfortunately, I didn't hear this album until a couple of days ago. That's the beauty of music, there is no expiration date on good. Whether it be 2015 or 1995 or 1965, good music is good music. And that's what Eliza Neals provides: good music.

Hailing from Detroit, Eliza Neals borrows heavily from the Mississippi delta and combines it with the upper midwest blues style with just a touch of rock. Neals has vocals reminiscent of Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks. That combination makes for an enjoyable listen for those that like the blues but not too pure.

Listen to this, and tell me I'm not right.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Album Spotlight: Shelly Fairchild - Buffalo

Apparently Shelly Fairchild had released a couple of albums in the past. And had some minor success. Of course this was between 2005 and 2011, a dark time when I had relegated myself to listening to pretty much classic rock only (not that classic rock is bad, just that I wasn't seeking out new stuff).

Therefore I had never heard of her before a few days ago. Fairchild's latest album Buffalo made my year end honorable mentions and might have been higher had I known about it earlier. It's that good.

There is a lot of early Miranda Lambert attitude on Buffalo with more years of introspection. There's also the bluesy, swampy, Southern rock sound that you know I like. And then you get the hymn-like vibe on a song about addiction with "Unholy Spirit".

Buffalo is eleven tracks, two of which are remakes from her 2005 debut, "Ready to Fall" and "Down Into Muddy Water" (which is repackaged as just "Muddy Water"). Both remakes are edgier and dirtier, and in my opinion, better.

The new tracks are all swampy, edgy, torchy and fabulous.

For me, the only misstep on the record is "Start Walkin'". It just feels out place on an album with such feeling. Antiseptic and formulaic.

Other than that, the album delivers.

Here is my favorite song from the album, "Mississippi Turnpike":

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Honorable Mention Albums For 2016

These are the albums from 2016 that did not quite crack my top ten. Don't read anything into the order, because I didn't even order the top 10. Everything here is number 11.

These are non genre specific. Just albums that I heard and liked during 2016. A mainstream album will never make my top ten even if it is the best, because that's not what I do. But mainstream albums can make the honorable mentions list.

Also, it's my list. It's not right or wrong, it's just my list. And if I left out your favorite, it means one of two things, either I haven't listened to it or I didn't like it that much. If the latter, just my opinion, not a judgement.

Lori McKenna - The Bird and The Rifle
This is a good album. There is no reason it should not make a lot of country/Americana lists, just not mine. Oh and that Tim McGraw song "Humble and Kind"? Yeah, that's really a Lori McKenna song which is on this album.

Monster Truck - Sittin' Heavy
In my quest to prove that "rock ain't dead" Monster Truck exemplifies what I mean. They borrow from the 70s, 80s and 90s hard rock scenes and meld it all together in something that sounds classic but not dated.

Bonnie Bishop - Ain't Who I Was
A return, a redemption, a reinvention. Whatever. It's a heartfelt, soulful album. And if you like music, good music, you'll like this.

Dolly Shine - Walkabout
If this is indeed the swan song for Dolly Shine, they went out with their best album to date. Walkabout is a fantastic red dirt country/Southern rock album. I had dismissed their earlier stuff as generic red dirt, which it was, this album was not. Hope these guys come back in some incarnation.

Kate Vargas - Strangeclaw
Kate Vargas' second album Strangeclaw is jazzy, torchy, trippy, hipster-ish, quirky, kitschy while not losing the southwestern roots that Kate came from. The New Mexico native, now residing in New York, has put together eight songs that take the listener on a journey, not just through the album, but sometimes within a song.

Chelle Rose - Blue Ridge Blood
There are more aesthetically pleasing albums released this year. Rose's Blue Ridge Blood has no soaring vocals or slick production or flashes of instrumental virtuosity. What it does have is grit and groove and Appalachian swamp. Blue Ridge Blood is too real to be comfortable, too good to be ignored.

The Amorettes - White Hot Heat
The Amorettes second album White Hot Heat is a lot like their previous album Game On. And that is not a bad thing. When you hit upon something that works, why deviate? AC/DC has been doing it for years. The Amorettes are a trio from Scotland that has stripped everything down to guitar, bass and drums. And attitude. Straight up, no-frills, punch-you-in-the-face rock. For anyone old enough to remember, think Fastway. It's got that kind of vibe.

Diana Rein - The Long Road
Diana Rein's The Long Road is blues. It's rock. It's sultry. It's sweaty. It's unashamedly and unabashedly all Diana Rein all the time. It's good music. If you're a blues purist, this won't be for you, but if you're like me and like a little rock and pop and country in your blues, your can't go wrong with this album.

Shelly Fairchild - Buffalo
This is a late entry that almost didn't make because I didn't hear it until a couple of days ago. Released in late November, there will be an album spotlight coming out on this in a few days.

And finally, a couple of mainstream/well-know artists who released outstanding albums in 2016:
Eric Church - Mr. Misunderstood
Metallica - Hardwired...To Self-Destruct