Album: Purple Caps EP

Artist: Primitive World

Label: R&S

Release Date: December 04, 2015

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The Upshot: Primitive World manages to be riveting without offering much entertainment. It feels hard, visceral and necessary. No frills but lots of excitement.


Primitive World’s hard, beat-driven music is monochromatic but urgent, using the sparest, most austere sounds to construct driving, pulse-racing rhythms. This brief but mesmerizing EP sounds best turned up loud and accompanied by intense physical action. Run with it and you’ll run faster. Dance to it and you might hurt someone.

Sam Willis, who composes as Primitive World, used to be in a duo called WALLS with Alessio Natalizia. His work here is far less melodic and synth-driven, relying on adrenalized big beats to carry his ideas forward. You can hear the difference in the two “Purple Caps” tracks. This first, with Willis flying solo, twitches with dry, syncopated rhythms, an eighth-note scratchy foundation punctuated with brief glitchy eruptions of sound. The barest hint of non-percussive sound comes in at about three minutes, brief watery washes of sound lapping over the cadences, but they soon fade. There are very few concessions to melody or even tonal variation. The Not Waving Remix which closes the EP was recorded by Willis’ sometime partner Natalizia. It is immediately thumpier and more hedonistic, with huge reverberating upbeats punching out visceral space. Yet though the beat is still primary, more is happening around it. Synths burble and swagger, hinting at melody, even a kind of funk. The sound grows denser as it goes on, with Space Invaders bleeps arcing out over robotic strut, thick ribbons of synth winding in and through percussion. It is fatter, solider and more welcoming than the original track, but it loses a bit of the urgency.

“Purple Caps” and its remix suggest the direction that Willis has taken, but the best tracks are the ones where he fully realizes his beat-centric vision. I like “Q Tip” the best for its hypnotic (but still blood-pumping) use of repetition. This is a track that sound very much the same at the beginning as in the middle or the end or anywhere in between, but resists stasis. It feels like it is always moving hard, even if it never goes anywhere. Cymbal-swishing “Tides of Lust” is more varied and lush, but still disciplined. It sounds like a disco beat stripped naked.

Some listener might like more to hear in their music – more notes, more themes, more change and fluctuation – but Primitive World manages to be riveting without offering much entertainment. It feels hard, visceral and necessary. No frills but lots of excitement.

DOWNLOAD: “Q Tip” “Tides of Lust”


Album: Chiliando

Artist: Joe King Carrasco

Label: Anaconda

Release Date: August 07, 2015

Carrasco 4-7

The Upshot: He’s the friggin’ King of punk-Tex Mex Any questions?



Joe King Carrasco’s redefinition of Tex Mex music has made him a staple in that ample arena for the better part of the past 45 years, thanks to a catalog boasting more than 20 albums and a solid reputation for mixing things up whenever the opportunity arose. Part punker, part rascal, part raconteur, Carrasco has maintained his rowdy reputation despite changing trends and a fickle public.

Consequently, Chiliando provides an apt summation of those skills in its fusion of rock, blues and, of course, the south of the border sounds that have always been his primary stock and trade. In that sense, it’s also a varied effort, one that veers from the relentless rock of  songs like “My Ding Dong Daddy (Don’t Daddy No Mo),” “Oaxaka” and “Who Put the ‘P’ en Pendejo” to the bluesy shuffle of “No Way Jose” and “Adios Terlingua,” with ample doses of funk and Tejano music tossed in besides.

It’s rare to find an album that seemingly makes room for Chuck Berry, ZZ Top, Prince and Richie Valens as part of the same set-up, but the former Joseph Charles Teutsch does so seamlessly and without pretence. There’s no reason to doubt that this King still rules.

DOWNLOAD: “My Ding Dong Daddy (Don’t Daddy No Mo),” “Oaxaka,” “Who Put the ‘P’ en Pendejo”

THE PINES – Above the Prairie

Album: Above the Prairie

Artist: The Pines

Label: Red House

Release Date: February 05, 2016

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The Upshot: Featuring a guest spot by late Native American poet-rocker John Trudell, it’s one of the young year’s most haunting and beguiling albums to date.


It would be hard to imagine an album more haunting and beguiling than this fifth opus by the Minnesota-based band who refer to themselves simply as The Pines. Co-produced by Bo Ramsey, the man frequently behind the boards for Greg Brown, Above the Prairie unfolds as a series of shimmering, seductive soundscapes that effectively convey the other-worldly imagery asserted in its title. Within this beguiling set of songs, a dream-like scenario with a nocturnal gaze unfolds; on songs such as “Aerial Ocean,” “There In Spirit,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Hanging From The Earth,” these elusive entries resonate with an unworldly allure capable of stopping listeners in their tracks. The brooding chorus on “Here” — a gathering that includes guest appearances from Ramsey, Brown, Iris Dement, and Pieta Brown among others — is as solemn, somber and moving as any hallowed cathedral choir, adding to the celestial feel that permeates the proceedings overall.

However the most moving sequence of the entire album emerges with the final entry, the mystical “Time Dreams,” which fittingly features the late Native American singer, poet and fearless activist John Trudell and his band Quiltman. (Listen to the track HERE.) Trudell, who passed away just this past December, seals the spiritual set-up with a final spoken narrative that not only illuminates the song’s quiet embrace, but also raises the emotional bar overall. Indeed, for all the hushed musings, the reverence accorded and afforded this indisputable icon is as inspiring as it is affecting.

DOWNLOAD: “Aerial Ocean,” “There In Spirit,” “Time Dreams”

BUDDY MILLER & FRIENDS – Cayamo Sessions At Sea

Album: Cayamo Sessions At Sea


Label: New West

Release Date: January 29, 2016

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The Upshot: Live album captures the multi-talented Miller and his special guests hanging out and playing a set of great old (or semi-old) country tunes out on the high seas.


Listening to this CD is like eavesdropping on an all-star picking party. Recorded at the most recent Cayamo music cruises, the disc captures the multi-talented Buddy Miller and his special guests hanging out and playing a set of great old (or semi-old) country tunes.

Miller recreates some classic Nashville duets by teaming up with Lee Ann Womack on “After The Fire Is Gone,” Nikki Lane on “Just Someone I Used To Know” and Elizabeth Cook on “If Teardrops Were Pennies” although their renditions shed some of the originals’ Countrypolitan gloss. He also creates a new one by turning Don Williams’ “Come Early Morning” into a charming duet with Jill Andrews.

Ever the considerate host, Miller frequently cedes center stage to his guests. Kacey Musgraves lights up the Buck Owens’ honky tonk gem “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” while Shawn Colvin gives a spare, soulful reading of “Wild Horses.” Lucinda Williams’ stirring version of “Hickory Wind” wrings the blues out of that Gram Parsons’ songs. Another of the disc’s real treats is hearing Richard Thompson put his distinctive stamp on the Hank Williams hit “Wedding Bells.”

Not every performance is a cover, however. Kris Krisofferson’s craggy vocals well suits his hangdog classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” while Doug Seegers leads a spirited run through his “Take The Hand Of Jesus.”

The disc ends on a high note with Brandi Carlile and the Lone Bellow joining Miller for a rousing version of that Americana “spiritual” – John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Then, all too quickly, the party is over. Like many a good party, you wish it would have last longer (the other minor qualm is that there isn’t a mention of when the specific songs were recorded). But hopefully this disc will be first of an ongoing series of Cayamo recordings.


WEBB WILDER – Mississippi Moderne

Album: Mississippi Moderne

Artist: Webb Wilder

Label: Landslide Records

Release Date: September 25, 2015

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The Upshot: The Full Grown Man roars back with his strongest collection since Doo Dad, proving wine is not the only thing that improves with age.


Webb Wilder shouldn’t be an acquired taste, but since he hasn’t sniffed significant airplay since…well, ever, you more than likely have to do quite a bit of rock-flipping to find him. It’s not his fault that a man who seamlessly blends roots rock, country, blues and soul is penalized for his versatility rather than celebrated for it. Always an old soul, Wilder sounded like a grizzled veteran when he first appeared thirty years ago. Now at 61 – sounding exactly the same – do we say he sounds revitalized? Put simply, six years since his last record (*More Like Me*) Webb still hasn’t strayed far off his path.

Wilder’s beefy baritone voice is emotive and brash without approaching sandpaper, and for the most part that power is required to sail above the barroom bluster his quartet produces. But no stranger to heartfelt slower songs (ballad being too tame a word), Wilder can knock a gem like R.S. Field’s “I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool” out of the park on cue. Ditto “Only a Fool”, his collaborative effort with Dan Penn, complete with guitar tones that echo Penn’s work with B.J. Thomas and The Box Tops.

Wilder always throws some borrowed chestnuts on the fire, and one need only look at names like Charlie Rich, Ray Davies, Jimmy Reed and Otis Rush to see his confidence (and reverence) for good songwriting. He’s also smart enough to know that limiting his own output to co-writes and one solo effort allows an eccentric effort (the gospel-blues “Stones In My Pathway” sounds like it was recorded in 1932) to be a side dish and not the main course.

DOWNLOAD: “Rough and Tumble Guy”, “Yard Dog”, “I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool”



Album: The Cardinal


Label: self-released

Release Date: January 22, 2016

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The Upshot: Erstwhile Divine Horse-woman and Leonard Cohen vocalist finally leads her own outfit, bringing songwriting excellence and a passionate voice.


Julie Christensen has a hell of a resumé, from bouncing around the Austin music scene in the early ‘80s to joining then-paramour Chris D. in the wooly and wonderful Divine Horsemen to a quarter of a century singing for Leonard Cohen. It’s taken decades, but now she’s finally leading her own band: Stone Cupid. Joined by guitarists Sergio Webb (David Olney) and Chris Tench, drummer Steve Latanation and bassist Bones Hillman (formerly of Midnight Oil), Christensen makes essentially styleless rock, guitar-oriented and loud but rarely raucous.

Craft dominates, with all arrangements circling the song – not unexpected, given her many years with Cohen. Which isn’t to say that Christensen doesn’t cut loose when she feels necessary – her quavering wail sometimes injects a bit more passion than is really necessary. But she generally keeps herself in check, serving the songs – mostly original, and it’s a testament to her writing that she’s on par with tunes by Kevin Gordon and Chuck Prophet – with aplomb, whether she’s singing ballads (“Broken as I Am,” “No Mercy”), rockers (“Shed My Skin,” “Gasoline”) or epics (“Live and Not Die Trying,” “Saint on a Chain”). Solid and soulful.

DOWNLOAD: “Shed My Skin,” “Live and Not Die Trying,” “Broken as I Am”


CACTUS BLOSSOMS – You’re Dreaming

Album: You're Dreaming

Artist: Cactus Blossoms

Label: Red House

Release Date: January 22, 2016

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The Upshot: JD McPherson-produced platter channels Brothers Everly and Louvin via spot-on harmonies and terrific countryish arrangements.


The Cactus Blossoms’ debut disc boasts an apt title. Dreaming? Dreaming that somehow Phil Everly was able to make one final appearance with brother Don and this was the result. This sibling duo sound every bit like their famous predecessors in both their delivery and t choice of material, and emulate them so convincingly, a novice would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Jack Torrey and Page Burkum may not share the same last name, but they’re both blessed with a gift for spot-on harmonies, and their songs, which veer from the tenderest of ballads to a sound akin to a honky tonk revival, mine an archival approach. Written mostly by Torrey, these tracks appear ageless even on an initial listen. Songs like “Stoplight Kisses,” “You’re Dreaming” and “Powder Blue” would certainly have found the Louvin Brothers nodding their approval, while finding favored status in the classic country firmament.

No small wonder then that JD McPherson produced You’re Dreaming, the brothers’ ultra impressive debut. Wisely, he didn’t clutter the arrangements with unnecessary garnish, allowing the brothers’ voices to take the spotlight atop melodies that flow in a seamless sway. Their tenderest tunes dominate this set, and given Torrey and Burkum’s combined vocal caress, it’s all too apt. They encourage the listener to lean in, with results that are simply sublime.

DOWNLOAD: “Stoplight Kisses,” “You’re Dreaming,” “Powder Blue”




Album: Loves You

Artist: Reverend Shawn Amos

Label: Put Together

Release Date: October 16, 2015

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The Upshot: Roots/Americana veteran who subsequently became an ordained minister proves he can focus his energies and still produce a strong album that’s a fitting tribute to his current inspiration.


Before he became a reverend (ordained by the Universal Life Church), Shawn Amos had a couple of other lives. In the early ‘aughts, the son of cookie magnate Famous Amos released three excellent solo albums that mixed rootsy Americana with strong melodies and exceptional lyrics for a body of work ripe for rediscovery. Following that, he spent several years as an A&R executive, guiding projects for Rhino and Shout! Factory. After a stint running Quincy Jones’ Listen Up Foundation, the newly ordained Reverend Amos found a new calling: the blues.

Having freely mixed and matched American music forms on his earlier records, it’s refreshing to hear Amos stick to one genre on Loves You. Backed by a band led by producer/saxophonist/fuzak star Mindi Adair, Amos eschews frills for simple (but not simpleminded) numbers that sound timeless. Rugged electric blues tunes “Hollywood Blues,” “The Outlaw” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I Get Home)” keep one foot in Chicago and the other in Texas, showcasing Amos’ easy mastery of the form. The brash boogie of, erm, “Boogie,” the slinky groove of “Put Together” and the raw R&B of “Brand New Man” add textural variety without being showy about it. A cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” with Adair demonstrates a solid grasp on a style that sounds easier to master than it actually is. The country blues “Days of Depression” invites the Blind Boys of Alabama to add gospel harmonies, while the walking blues “Brothers Keeper” expands its message of harmony beyond person-to-person to the wide world in general.

Old school Amos fans might miss the variety of his older work – he was truly a distinctive artist in the first years of the new millennium. But Loves You proves he can focus his energies and still produce a strong album that’s a fitting tribute to his current inspiration.

DOWNLOAD: “Brothers Keeper,” “Put Together,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Home)”


THE MIKE HENDERSON BAND – If You Think It’s Hot Here…

Album: You Think It’s Hot Here…

Artist: Mike Henderson Band

Label: EllerSoul

Release Date: March 24, 2015

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 The Upshot: Deep-down, impassioned, roadhouse blues with a sophisticated edge that can only result when seasoned, master players use their combined talents to blend smart covers with crafty originals, forming a seamless whole.


 If Henderson’s name sounds at all familiar, it should. He’s been the somewhat undercover guitarist-of-choice for many a Nashville session before breaking out on his own, with an equally under-the-radar solo career in ’94. From the Bel Airs to the Bluebloods, his sixth solo release complements his countless sidebar projects, including the notable bluegrass-meets-country-meets-soul hybrid, The SteelDrivers. A key partner/player back when the Dead Reckoning label formed back in ’94, it’s no surprise that Henderson’s version of ‘country’ is laced with slide, smiles and a raw collision of simpatico genres – blues, bluegrass, rock – smartly bound together under the weight of his beefy vocals, lethal slide guitar-playing and occasional, smoldering harp. A gifted, well-cured songwriter, he contributes 5 tracks to this tasteful collection of blues-based covers, bringing things down to the level of a par-boiled, roadhouse rumble.

Beginning with his self-penned “I Want To Know Why”, the listener gets an earful of low-down, stripped-down blues – lone electric guitar, barrelhouse piano and the skintight rhythm section of Pat O’Connor (drums) and Michael Rhodes (bass). Henderson’s gruff vocal is nicely contrasted by the artful flourish of Kevin McKendree on piano. Speaking of secret weapons, what this guy contributes on piano across these 11 tracks shines a light on his instrument like few before him. And then, as you warm to Henderson’s tough, papa bear growl, he applies the slide guitar that’s been his main meal ticket for so many years. The net result is a raw, hard-driving effect that’s as close to roadhouse as you’ll get without being there. Covering multiple blues guitarists, Hound Dog Taylor’s “Send you Back To Georgia” begins as a rollicking, piano-based boogie until Henderson throws down his patented slide torch, transforming the rocker into a full, foot-kicking workout.

The comparatively gentler slide intro to Taylor’s “It’s Alright” takes this simple barroom shuffle, given McKendree’s strong piano work, into familiar turf until strong guitar and piano solos merge to elevate the original. The title track, co-written with R. S. Field, provides a spirited highlight – slowed down and extra-soulful, complete with piano, B3, backup singers and added guitarist Don Underwood for an R&B finish. His own “Weepin’ and Moanin’” provides a solid blues punch, slowed to a lethal pace as McKendree and Henderson trade off their rich instrumental abilities. Yet, it’s Muddy Water’s “Mean Red Spider” which cuts deeper than most, as Henderson serves up his best vocal and stinging guitar like you’ve not heard before, combined with a powerful piano performance as the rhythm section ups their game at an upbeat, almost funky pace.

Likewise, Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession” enjoys an extended slide and vocal intro before Henderson and McKendree turn up the heat, carving out a grinding, blues-based rocker that could make Derek & the Dominos blush (and that’s with a single guitar) – the perfect vehicle for both men’s gifts. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Unseen High” enjoys a darker, more foreboding treatment that benefits from their single-room recording process, warts’n’all, from Henderson’s extended solo intro through to McKendree’s menacing piano attack. A reworking of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” finds the band grafting rockabilly to rock’n’roll bedlam across a piano-based barroom boogie while Melvin “Lil’ Son” Jackson’s “Gamblin’ Blues” turns from its lackadaisical beginnings towards higher ground as both piano and guitar take extended flights.

Henderson and McKendree’s “Rock House Blues” acts as palate-cleansing coda, with solo harp opening the door to McKendree’s slow-burn piano, as if trying to cleanse the air of stale beer and cigarette smoke – which is about all this disc is missing.



Album: Fireball

Artist: Western Star

Label: Saustex Media

Release Date: November 20, 2015

 Western Star 11-20

The Upshot: Taking the noise from Frank Black and gang, the twang from Rhett Miller, and the classic ‘70s rock and roll sing-alongs from Thin Lizzy, these garage/alt-country newcomers have cobbled together a pretty unforgettable debut.


Baltimore’s Western Star have pooled together their collective influences, using Thin Lizzy, The Old 97’s and The Pixies as their template, and the result is a pretty sweet cheat sheet for the band. Old 97’s guitarist Ken Bethea was even tapped to produce this one.

While they still manage to make their own original contributions to the sound, they have taken the noise from Frank Black and gang, the twang from Rhett Miller and the classic ‘70s rock and roll sing-alongs from those Irish lads and have cobbled together a pretty unforgettable debut. “Ghostchaser” and “The Difference” could both easily pass as long-lost Thin Lizzy B-Sides.

This 12-song offering serves as a pretty solid calling card for the garage/alt-country newcomers. There are a few moments on the record where the band borrows a bit too much from Thin Lizzy, but it’s excusable when the music is this much fun. Fireball is hopefully just a prelude to bigger things.

 DOWNLOAD: “Ghostchaser,” “The Difference” and “Aeroangel”