Category Archives: New Releases

45 Reviews: The Dickies / Jack Ellister / Hater

Album: “I Dig Go-Go Girls” / “When an Old Cricketer leaves the Crease” / "Four Tries Down"

Artist: The Dickies / Jack Ellister / Hater

Label: Slope / Fruits de Mer / Fire

Release Date: August 09, 2019

“I Dig Go-Go Girls” (Slope: www.sloperecords.com)  / “When an Old Cricketer leaves the Crease” (Fruits de mer: www.fruitsdemerrecords.com) / “Four Tries Down “(Fire: www.firerecords.com)

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

I rarely get a chance to review 7” records these days, so when these three recently showed up I was beyond excited.

No need to rehash The Dickies’ long and storied punk history, but on this slab they decided to cover Cheap Trick’s “I Dig Go-Go Girls” and the results are stunning. This song, in The Dickies’ hands, rips and snorts with an aggression that is about as perfect a slab of summer as you can get. The vocals are bitchin with an extra bite courtesy of Monkey from The Addicts.  The infectious nature of a Cheap trick tune is amplified to stratospheric heights and buffed to perfection with a punk sheen.

B-side “The Dreaded Pigasaurus”, a Dickies original, is no slouch to its A-side brother. It’s a storming anthem replete with saxophone and what sounds like Hammond B3, stretched over a menacing throbbing bass line. Leonard Phillips vocals provide just the right dose of pop-punk to the proceedings that transported me back to the 1980’s. Short, sharp shock, just what the doctor ordered!

***

On Jack Ellister’s latest 7” he tackles two rather disparate tunes. The A-side, “When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease,” by the late British icon Roy Harper, is a nostalgic number that Ellister tackles, strikingly capturing the original’s somber beauty. Ellister’s voice, along with his old Polish piano, are as much a perfect combination as were Harper and his guitar when he first recorded it. Stunning!

The B-side sees Ellister turn his sights to Black Sabbath. Here his take on the super heavy “Supernaut” is to give the track a decidedly narco-haze and sing in an almost Mark E. Smith acid snarl. Every thud of the drums, drone of the bass, and wailing of the synthesizer is simply spectacular. A killer cover that sees Ellister not only inhabit the track, but modernize and push its boundaries a tad further.

Fruits de Mer have done it once again. Get this 7” from your local shop on colored vinyl with a fold-out poster.

***

Meanwhile, Malmo, Sweden, outfit Hater will drop their new single next month (September 6, to be precise) and it’s a lovely slice of pop that, to this reviewers’ ears, recalls elements of ‘90s era Tanya Donnelly and Lush, with a smidgen of Broadcast thrown in for good measure. Those may be the touchstones to convey to people what they’re in store for, but that’s not meant to say the band lacks creativity; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Side A’s  “Four Tries Down” is a mighty seductive slab of pop that is clear, effective, and memorable; it combines so many elements hitting sweet spots in my brain—from the deep female vocals at the opening, to the beat and catchy melody—that I played it over and over and over… okay, you get the message. The flipside’s “It’s a Mess” is another addictive gem. The understated vocals that border on whispers are seductively dreamy and left me under the singer’s pied-piper like spell. Me wants more!

***

DOWNLOAD: We here at BLURT recommend physical therapy, but if you must go digital, download all 6tracks from these two singles direct from the labels or the artists’ websites so they are guaranteed to get your dough!

 

CHRIS MONDAK – Eternal Youth

Album: Eternal Youth

Artist: Chris Mondak

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 01, 2019

https://chrismondak.com/music

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Eternal Youth hit my desk in June and has been on non-stop rotation on my stereo ever since. Chris Mondak, a bassist hailing from Venezuela ,hits hard on his maiden voyage. With nods to Dave Holland and a whole slew of classical jazz composers, the listener is treated to eight original compositions that are a true joy to behold.

Opener “Voyage Maid” wastes no time in showing us the goods Chris has in store for us. His virtuosity is a wonder to behold as are his compositional skills which soar to lofty heights throughout the album.  His players are exceptional and they add heft without overshadowing Chris at just the right moments.  Solomon Alber’s sax opens the beautiful tune “Abuelito” and captures a mournful beauty that sounds a dead ringer for Stan Tracey. “Dream Catcher” is a Bossa nova number that has some stellar guitar playing by Carlos Heredia. I really dig how the number takes a funky turn midway through the track. “Warriorld” is Chris’ homage to jazz greats like Clifford Brown and shows that his compositional talent has a dramatically wide scope.  If there’s one let down its “Swords on the wall” this track feels weak and slapdash and zig’s when it should zag.

This summer has been filled with meeting upcoming jazz player and listening to their music and I can say, with Chris Mondak, the future of jazz is bright indeed.

DOWNLOAD:  “Voyage Maid” “Dream Catcher” “Abuelito” “Warriorld”

 

CHUCK MEAD – Close To Home

Album: Close To Home

Artist: Chuck Mead

Label: Plowboy

Release Date: June 21, 2019

www.plowboyrecords.com

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It seems pretty appt that one-time BR5-49 member Chuck Mead would head to the iconic Sam Phillips Recording Studios in Memphis to make his latest, as few in the Americana world have come across as easily an instant classic as Mead. Even though the band first came out in the ‘90s, they had an instant timelessness to their music that you’d have been forgiven for assuming they’d cropped up in the original Sun Studios era. And, much like his former band’s output, Mead’s latest, Close To Home, is just as ageless. Crammed with twangy chords, steel guitar, mandolins, and Mead’s distinctive, melodic drawl (a Midwestern/Southern hybrid), this record is classic honky tonk for a modern age.

From the opening, charging chords on “Big Bear in the Sky,” Mead and crew reel through nearly a dozen country swing and barroom dance floor jams, slowing the tempo down ever so slightly now and then, but never for long.

The music is superb, but it’s Mead’s subtle, witty lyrics that really take center stage on this record (like all his previous solo offerings). Though there’s hardly a weak track on the album, the closing song, “There’s Love Where I Come From,” manages to be both remarkably simple, and simply sublime.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m Not the Man for the Job,” “Close to Home” and “There’s Love Where I Come From”

SUMO PRINCESS: When an Electric Storm

Album: When An Electric Storm

Artist: Sumo Princess

Label: Ruined Vibes

Release Date: May 10, 2019

https://www.ruinedvibes.com/product/sumo-princess-when-an-electric-storm

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

There’s a whole lotta heavy in them hills! All hail this hefty slab’o’wax from Sumo Princess a band made up of Abby Travis and Gene Trautmann both of whom have played with The Go Go’s and Masters of Reality. Abby Travis is a wicked LA bass player and an amazing vocalist who on tracks like “Crooked Plow” delivers some powerful emotions using her wonderfully expressive voice and swagger filled bass playing. “New Goth” had me rocking in me seat. Here Travis’ throb heavy bass recalls elements of Peter Hook and then there’s the drum beat which has “She’s Lost Control Again” written all over it. The song then sludges out into hallucinatory territory, a shot to the dome, that hands beat downs all the way to its glorious fade out. Trautmann’s skin smashing talent, lends a biting heft to all the songs on this record. “Kali Ma” me not really like, it’s part Helios Creed processed vocals and King Diamond operatic nonsense. That misstep aside the next track “You Will Rise” is as if Kate Bush began fronting a stoner rock band. The track bristles with an unsettling moodiness augmented by some clever percussive elements. The subtle nuances Travis is able to coax from her bass is visible on the ultra-heavy and hypnotic “Angel Dust”. The album closes with “Click Bait” an oddly structured number that conjures both elements of Therapy? and Elastica, stretched over some jarring time changes. Travis’ amazingly broad vocal range and bass playing is so compelling, it makes the case for getting this record on its own. That said I think that her best vocal moments are when she sings using a more standard delivery. The musical interplay between Trautmann and Travis when it connects makes for an absorbing experience that pulverizes everything in sight. I’d be interested to see how that translates to a live setting. The band is playing a string of east coast dates with the Meat Puppets beginning in early May.

DOWNLOAD: “Crooked Plow” “New Goth” “You Will Rise” “Angel Dust” “Kill the King”

 

OVER THE RHINE: Love & Revelation

Album: Love & Revelation

Artist: Over The Rhine

Label: Great Speckled Dog

Release Date: March 15, 2019

https://overtherhine.com/

The Upshot: There’s no denying that when you stick to what you’re good at, you get very good at it – and that’s just their marriage! Yet, this talented couple have managed to turn real life into a bona fide art form that inspires the spirit as it soothes the heart.

BY ERIC THOM

Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist (aka Over The Rhine) are hardly spring chickens at this stage. The Ohio-based couple released their first – Till We Have Faces – back in ’90 (cassette), while Love & Revelation marks their 15th recording. Despite the inevitable road rash and scar tissue one might expect over any 30-year relationship, the duo remains a fresh and largely unpredictable musical force, skilled at communicating their inner states of contentment and mutual respect with each musical outing. That’s some feat.

What had begun as, by their own definition, “post-nuclear, pseudo-alternative, art-tinged folk-pop”, has gathered maturity and insight over time, the two remaining just as hopeful and thoroughly optimistic as they did when they first began so many years ago. Fans of Over The Rhine (OTR) have grown along with each experiment they’ve ever made and seem the better for it, the duo transforming their ‘life as art’ notions into a burgeoning musical family, nestled into their 20+ acre Nowhere Else Farm near Martinsville, Ohio.

Although the eleven tracks contained on Love & Revelation address themes related to the aging process – with topics ranging from grief and loss to managing disappointment and even fatalism – the music manages to transcend any and all darkness, transporting the listener to the joyful, ever-positive state that has its roots in their Ohio home (also the site of their annual Memorial Day festival). It is here, with an earthy appreciation for each colorful strand of calming sunset, each bloom of fresh lilac and every sacred Killdeer egg (guarded by Porter the cattle dog), OTR might sound like some ostentatious social experiment that shouldn’t have happened, let alone survive. Yet it did and it has. And the result is a down-home, creative hotbed of songwriting and fresh musical ideas – as if they grow them out of the good soil itself. With maturity comes wisdom and a weathered perspective. They seem to own the category of ‘melancholy’ – the clouds and overall greyness of the dramatic cover photo seemingly representative of what might be found inside. Yet, just as blues music can prove uplifting, these sturdy originals are as packed with as much optimism as they are with distress.

Both songwriters possess a gift and Bergquist’s otherworldly vocals captivate as they stir the senses. The contribution of this powerful duo’s band – the Band of Sweethearts – cannot be overlooked. Masters of their instruments, their ability to create the atmospherics critical to OTR’s sound is without peer: Jay Bellerose (drums/percussion), Greg Leisz (pedal steel, guitars, mandolin), Jennifer Condos (bass), Patrick Warren (keyboards, piano, orchestrations) and Bradley Meinerding (guitars, mandolin, vocals). The multi-talented Detweiler adds vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, Wurlitzer and electric piano while Bergquist adds acoustic guitar to her robust, authoritative and highly distinctive vocals. The ambience that happens behind her voice only adds to the overall level of enchantment of the band’s sound, taking nothing away from Bergquist’s eloquent sense of expression. And lest this description conjure visions of utter gloom, doom and wet handkerchiefs, exactly the opposite is true. Consider Bergquist’s own “Los Lunas”, which begins with simple acoustic guitar and drums. As Bergquist’s delicate spell is cast, pedal steel further elevates the sad split between an incongruous couple. Detweiler’s piano and Patrick Warren’s soft keyboards underline the somber separation.

Likewise, Bergquist’s mournful tone persists throughout “Given Road” as subtle effects – Bellerose’s masterful percussive touches, Leisz’s weeping pedal steel and Warren’s gentle orchestration all serve to underline the heartache of long-lost love. Before sustained exposure to this much bleakness can become burdensome, the calibre of OTR’s collective songwriting saves the day. The next three compositions are nothing if not stunning examples of exquisite songwriting. Although the Bergquist/Detweiler duet of “Let You Down” somewhat breaks the intimate spell created by Bergquist’s solo efforts, the song touts the strength and dependability of their relationship and, fresh touches like Warren’s B3 and the electric slide of Bradley Meinerding, keep the commitment buoyant, sincerely so, rather than err on the sappy side.

One of the disc’s strongest tracks is the beautiful, co-written “Broken Angels” – a near-perfect song that’s all about healing in a world too big to control. Acoustic guitar and Detweiler’s simpatico piano join the subtle skills of this sensitized band to focus on the sheer beauty of Bergquist’s voice. Likewise, the title track is head-turning – benefitting from Bellerose’s percussive gifts as Bergquist turns up her feminine wiles, injecting a more upbeat groove, revealing another layer of her musical personality. Powerful stuff – built around its distinctive drum sound. Beautiful piano and acoustic guitar set up the beguiling “Making Pictures’ as the band builds a lush backdrop of strings, pedal steel and light orchestration resembling the gentle swells of the sea. The mould is broken somewhat on Detweiler’s own “Betting On The Muse”, his voice tending to cancel out Bergquist’s on this highly personal duet, one that further illuminates their special relationship. Bergquist’s own “Leavin’ Days”, with its love vs. hate struggle, is the lone weak link in the chain – melody-lite, despite the contributions of Leisz and Meinerding’s mandolins. Instantly redeemed, the couple’s “Rocking Chair” has a life all its own – an infectious, ‘electric piano-driven’ ditty that is instantly memorable and enhanced by both electric and acoustic guitar, delivered with a slight country edge by Greg Leisz. Originally tagged a Christian band, “May God Love You (Like You’ve Never Been Loved)”, is the only outward reference to faith and is, nonetheless, a dynamic, yet delicate statement written by Detweiler and sung beautifully by Bergquist, the band treating the very personal sentiments with gentle reverence. If there could be a perfect song to close on – especially in light of such an emotional work-out – it would have to be Detweiler’s achingly beautiful “An American In Belfast”. With keyboards and pedal steel subservient to Detweiler’s deftly-played acoustic guitar – and only a hint of Bergquist’s humming in the background, this is a mere two minutes you’d wish was closer to twenty. Insightful. Revelatory. Ever-hopeful.

Breathtakingly beautiful. Uplifting. Love & Revelation is an articulate and deeply intimate reminder that life is beautiful and, no matter how hard it might seem to get, it’s always worth celebrating – resilience champions over the dark side. Once these songs set their sweet, impassioned hooks, they’ll soon become the perfect complement to everything you do.

 

KEATS – Radio Sounds

Album: Radio Sounds

Artist: Keats

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 28, 2018

www.tonykeatsmusic.com

The Upshot: With summer, comes the need to kick out some jams and, given the mood, lighten the hell up. This is traffic-busting music for driving with the top down and one promising debut from a little-known journeyman with his eye on a prize.

BY ERIC THOM 

Sadly, the number of good power pop albums released these days can be counted on one hand or less. Then, out of left field comes Tony Keats and a strong first release, Radio Sounds. We wish radio sounded this good anymore.

To be fair, these eleven, fresh-sounding tracks lean more towards ‘pop’ than they do ‘power’, yet each perky composition is carefully thought out and expertly played – featuring Keats’ prominent vocals and guitar, joined by Brian Pitts (bass/vocals), Kyle Walsh (drums/vocals), Brian Rogers (pedal steel), Don Eanes (piano, organ, clavinet) and co-producer, Dave Coleman (guitar, percussion). It’s the energy that rises out of this combination of players that thrusts their sound into the power category. Each arrangement sings – even before Keats utters a lyric – and that’s the secret ‘power’ behind each song. You can feel the fact that these guys love what they’re doing.

“Radio Sounds” – the initial track – sneaks up on you with its gentle reliance on Eanes’ piano and Rogers’ pedal steel. Yet, it soon amps up at the 1:04 mark, thanks to a tougher, full-band sound that makes the most out of tasty guitar, pedal steel and some subtle B3. This lone track frames Keats as a bit of a Jackson Browne clone (I know…not known for his power pop) while the guitar, here, is distinctly Lindley-esque. That comparison is immediately dashed with the upbeat chords of a more playful “Love & Affection” as Keats and crew deliver something sounding more akin to early Graham Parker, its nicely Vox-ish,? and the Mysterians organ vamp updated by sharp-toothed guitar stings and an juiced-up rhythm section. This is clearly driving music. The equally feel-good “Something Changed” features horns, pedal steel and has an underbelly of guitar strength plus a killer chorus.

The lone cover on the disc is a surprising one. Imagine having the unmitigated gall to cover something as sacred as Van Morrison’s “Cleaning Windows”? Yet, thanks to its ramped-up production levels – including the same uncredited horn section, great B3 and clavinet from Don Eanes – Keats’ warm vocal fits the track perfectly, right down to cloning Van’s quirky asides. One of the disc’s strongest outings is found in the beautiful “East Nashville Fireflies”. And beautiful is more than appropriate, given the delicate intro of piano, pedal steel and acoustic guitar as Keats offers a gentler, kinder vocal to fuel this love song to his favorite place to live (although it may well be about something else…). Throughout, Keats’ voice is the album’s greatest strength and he uses it to alternate between the thoughtful and heartfelt and, as required, the half-crazed, energetic and committed. The somewhat surprising, over-the-top intensity of “The Getaway“ suggests an uncharacteristic display of muscle to offset the band’s softer side, demonstrating their potential as tougher, more guitar-oriented rockers. It’s a nice balance – as evidenced at the halfway point of this song, where things slow down to reveal the same strong chorus set to the backdrop of a more focused, but still-gnarly, guitar treatment. A mellow ballad in the form of “The Only Way I Know How”, Keats’ voice is showcased further, and it seems there’s little he can’t do, vocally, the background instrumentation always working to turn what might be ‘harmless ditties’ into serious contenders, compositionally. “To Be Happy” stands out for its powerful, singalong-worthy chorus – a Beach Boy-ready sunshine song boasting hooks to spare (especially in the song’s final minute) plus some tasteful use of pedal steel. Likewise, “Raining In New Orleans” is, perhaps, Radio Sounds’ strongest foot forward. Not unlike Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia”, it’s a soul-packed, slo-mo mood-maker which accentuates Keats’ abilities as front man, aided and abetted by his surprisingly tight band of fellow Nashvillians. It’s a warm, elegant track featuring great B3, the always-outstanding drum spark of Walsh (who, together with Brian Pitts’ quietly-powerful basslines, make this a rhythm section to reckon with), led by Keats’ confident vocal and some of his strongest songwriting. The somewhat jarring “Une Cerveza” (due to its sequencing after the exquisite “Raining”) is a fun, crowd-pleaser of a song, using punchy horns to drive it into Keats’ Jimmy Buffet moment, with another strong hook all its own.

The soft touch of “The Dream” serves as an appropriate coda to close this 11-track release. Another kinder, gentler treatment of the subject matter which – with thanks to some weeping pedal steel – picks up the pace enough for allow Keats’ to again rekindle the Parker-esque snarl in his voice to keep things interesting. As his band changes the instrumentation around him, all firm snare hits and swelling B3, the song proves a memorable closer – as Keats’ Dream, is still alive and far from over.

DATURA4 – Blessed is the Boogie

Album: Blessed is the Boogie

Artist: Datura4

Label: Alive Natural Sound

Release Date: April 05, 2019

www.alive-records.com

Available on digital, compact laser disc, and sweet colored vinyl (see below).

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Though best known as a power pop/garage rock god fronting the Stems and DM3, Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Dom Mariani got his initial inspiration from the original wave of his country’s bluesy hard rock bands: Coloured Balls, Buffalo, etc. Joined by ex-Drones drummer Warren Hall, Dave Hole keyboardist Bob Patient, and Jack and the Beanstalk/Majestic Kelp bassist Stu Loasby, Mariani turns Datura4 into a tribute to his youthful influences. Blessed is the Boogie, the quartet’s third LP, goes right for the jugular, putting Mariani’s formidable six-string chops up front of a set of songs that could have come from 1974.

The blues is at the heart of “Run With Lucy” and “Black Dog Keep Running,” but to equate these songs with John Lee Hooker—or even Led Zeppelin—is to do them a disservice. When it comes to writing memorable tunes, Mariani can’t help himself, and while this isn’t the Badfinger-meets-Foghat mashup of which some wags have likely dreamed, it’s not far off.

Plus, Mariani is no macho cock rock shouter – no matter what backdrop he stands in front of, he’ll always have that slightful soulful, melodic power pop voice, backed here, as everywhere, with creamy vocal harmonies. Check the folk rocking “Not For Me” and “The City of Lights” and the overtly psychedelic “Cat On a Roof,” breaths of fresh air that meld Mariani’s pop sensibilities with the period sounds he evokes elsewhere. Ultimately, though, the record is all about riffing, strumming and soloing guitars—that Mariani drafts his exceptional axepersonship to such indelible tunes makes Blessed is the Boogie all the more satisfying.

DOWNLOAD: “City of Lights,” “Run With Lucy,” “Not For Me”

Datura4 previously reviewed:

Hairy Mountain

            “Demon Blues

 

ARLEN ROTH – Tele Masters

Album: Tele Masters

Artist: Arlen Roth

Label: Aquinnah Records

Release Date: January 22, 2019

https://www.arlenroth.com/

The Upshot: Granted, it doesn’t take much to make a Guitar Nerd’s day – except non-stop guitar played by the masters. Fans of Arlen Roth’s output over the past 50 years are simply pre-sold, given his lofty standards and choice of musical partners. Tele Masters delivers the unexpected – and then some.

BY ERIC THOM

 Some artists are beyond reproach – to the point where reviews are barely relevant. Still recovering – personally – from the stellar Slide Guitar Summit from ’15, Roth’s Tele Masters will simply stop you in your tracks to fully concentrate on the rich beauty summoned by Leo Fender’s Telecaster. Good luck wiping that smile off your face.

Roth is no stranger to these smart compilations. Aside from his original solo releases, Roth issued Toolin’ Around back in ‘94, enlisting the support of giants like Danny Gatton, Duane Eddy and Jerry Douglas. A popular sideman and guitar teacher, Roth stayed out of the limelight, preferring to work when – and with whom – he wanted. This heralded Master of the Telecaster and King of All Guitar Teachers continued to release solo records but returned to Woodstock on a more relaxed, Levon Helm-themed ramble that also featured Sonny Landreth and Bill Kirchen. With the success of Slide Guitar Summit, Tele Masters zeroes in on a wider range of guitar sounds, as Roth assembles a varied template of guests (Joe Bonamassa, Steve Cropper, Jerry Donahue, Vince Gill, Johnny Hiland, Bill Kirchen, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Brad Paisley, Jack Pearson, Will Ray, Redd Volkaert and Steve Wariner) to stir the pot, adding their colourful shades to sixteen choice cuts. This is clearly a guitar party amongst the instrument’s brightest lights – and a joy to sit back and listen to. And, while you expect the most from Cropper, Kirchen and Albert Lee, there are some great surprises as well. Produced by fellow curator, Tom Hambridge (as was Summit), vocals play a key role on five tracks – notably, daughter Lexi’s haunting turn on Pee Wee King’s “Tennessee Waltz” and Jack Pearson’s inimitable work on both Charles Segar’s “Key To The Highway” and the sensational Pearson original, “I Can Fix It” (Pearson turning in exceptional guitar-playing on both). One expects country genius from Albert Lee who, in concert with Roth, recreates Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson” as it’s never been heard before but, it’s the country guitarists – in general – on this record who burn brightest: Vince Gill’s molten gold on Red Hayes’ “Satisfied Mind” is, together with Roth, simply beautiful music that also serves to remind us of Gill’s other great instrument, while the steam coming off the blistering workout by Roth, Steve Wariner (and Cindy Cashdollar) on Hank Penny’s “Remington Ride” opens the disc with the bar for Instrumental Excellence set to ten, if not eleven. Roth’s own “Roadworthy” underlines why both Roth and Brent Mason remain first-call session giants, the tune recalling The Ozark Mountain Daredevils at their most daring. Truly head-spinning. At the other end of the spectrum, Merle Haggard’s right-hand man, Redd Volkaert closes the record with Roth as they float down an old mill stream with the delicate, slightly jazzy, “A Minor Thing”, before turning up the tempo and going all Hot Club. Of special note is Hambridge’s other role as drummer on all but one track, together with his stalwart bassist, Tommy MacDonald. Not to be outdone, Steve Cropper’s own “White Lightning” is noteworthy, although Cropper’s gruff voice proves a slight deterrent. Will Ray’s muscular treatment in tandem with Roth on Link Wray’s “Rumble” pays dear tribute to fellow Tele Master Roy Buchanan, rekindling Roy’s appeal in seconds flat. Brad Paisley’s lightning-fast, speed-demon pairing with Roth on Roth’s own “Bunky” is further proof that these young country boys have a lot more going for them than inflated Stetsons. What can one say about the tireless, prolific Joe Bonamassa, making time to join Roth for his tribute to Albert Collins in “Joe’s Blues”, slowing things down in a bluesy tussle with Roth, Jack Pearson and Billy Panda on acoustic guitar? To his credit, he disappears into the Roth/Pearson original as all three conjure their magic as equals. Yet, there are three tracks on Tele Masters that rise above the rest. Roth’s revisited version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” is completely transfixing (he covered the Stan Jones classic on his first record, Guitarist, in ’63). Here, joined by the great Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar, Alex Saltzman on organ and Billy Panda on acoustic guitar, the song is bigger than legend itself. Johnny Hiland joins Roth in tribute to fellow session and Tele Ace, Danny Gatton, with Roth’s “Funky Mama” – and you can almost picture Gatton, elbow-deep in thick grease, underneath one of his vintage restorations with a smile from ear to ear. In addition, Jack Pearson proves why he deserves ‘household name’ status with – again – “I Can Fix It”. His near-perfect, bluesy voice teams with his scorching guitar as he and Roth roll and tumble like their sights were set on reinventing Lowell George’s Little Feat. If anything was broken, Jack Pearson just fixed it, with the powerful Hambridge/MacDonald rhythm section earning an assist.

Tribute to past masters or a celebration of current Tele superstars? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these are the best sixteen tracks you’ve ever heard in a row and Tele Masters will soon top your playlist, turning a typical drive into a fresh way to appreciate your surroundings. Such is the power of great music and the variety on display will keep it from burning out. Kudos to Roth, who has pulled this master Tele class together, rising above his personal challenges, to arrive somewhere something fresh and vital. So nice to see his daughter, Lexie, be a part of the plan.

 

NEXTGEN JAZZ QUARTET – Starlight

Album: Starlight

Artist: Nextgen Jazz Quartet

Label: self-released

Release Date: March 29, 2019

https://nextgenjazz.bandcamp.com/releases

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

One of the joys of reviewing music is you sometimes come across a band or musician that is so striking, that it just knocks you on your feet. Boston’s Nextgen Jazz Quartet consists of both current and former NEC (New England Conservatory) students who set the musical world on fire with their debut album. They are helmed by prodigy sax player Ye Huang, who has toured Asia with Mike Stern, and is a talent so startling that the world is his for the taking.

That’s not to say the other players aren’t killer either. On the album we are also introduced to pianist Gabriel Feldman, bassist Chris Mondak, and drummer (and NEC graduate) Mario Fabrizio. These guys are all uber-talented players that have the chops of musicians 30 years their senior.

Diving into the album, I was blown away by the tune “Slavic Blules,” its lyrical, sexy and provides the perfect entry into a record filled with numerous highlights. Here, the band shows a dynamism that is completely their own. “Hibernation” is a gem as well, written by Feldman, the track recalls the lyricism of Lyle Mays and builds into moments of micro crescendos that had me tapping my feet and hoping it wouldn’t end. “Always Smiling” is a wonderful homage of sorts that channels the likes of Sidewinder-era Lee Morgan and Dexter Gordon’s Our Man in Paris.

“On a Cloudy Day” is a cool breeze of a song where Ye, with some stellar backing, shows how he is able to infuse the proceedings with both emotion and grit. With “A Brief Dalliance” it became clear to me that Nextgen are risk takers. This song has some curious moments that aren’t always successful, but still shows that the palate of ideas they are working from could lead them in more experimental directions should they choose that on future albums. Closing track “Ask For More” is a musical tour-de-force arranged into sections that are funky and show how this well-oiled machine is ready to take on the jazz world.

This finely-honed debut is a bold statement percolating with promise that hopefully will propel these four young lads onto even greater musical accomplishments. A showcase in the Big Apple might not hurt their case either!

DOWNLOAD: “Slavic Blues” “Hibernation” “Always Smiling” “Ask For More” “A Brief Dalliance”

ROGER KUNKEL – Guitar Solo

Album: Guitar Solo

Artist: Roger Kunkel

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 01, 2019

https://rogerkunkel.bandcamp.com/releases

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

I’ve been a fan of Roger Kunkel and his previous band, Thin White Rope, for a long time and was excited to hear another side of Roger’s guitar playing on this deeply poignant record. It takes me back to a freer time in my own life, driving on a Sunday through the Stahmann pecan orchards of Southern New Mexico that bordered my hometown of El Paso, Texas. I loved how the warm sun would collide with the coolness of the orchards as I drove towards an unknown destination. This record captures that spirit and enables the listener to mate these beautiful tunes with memories from their own lives.

These ten acoustic numbers offer the perfect antidote to the squally feedback that I love yet sometimes need a break from. Opening tune “Big Fade” is akin to late afternoon sunlight bathing the farm fields in a sea of gold. “History Part 2” evokes Neil Young while calling to mind imagery from a bygone era. It’s too bad Johnny Cash is dead because “Blood Moon” would’ve been a great canvas for his baritone.

Riding on the darker edge of things, Roger is able to capture the narrative of good versus evil with his deft playing. “Minerva’s Daydream” would be my choice to be used in the PBS shows Victory Garden or New Yankee Workshop. I say that with the utmost reverence, because these programs hold a special place in my heart and this expressive yet brief tune managed to conjure that memory for me. ”Shuffle Kerfuffle” has a cool jazzy swagger to it and would not be out of character on, let’s say, a Tuck and Patti record. “Dream a Little Dream” closes the proceedings with a melancholic whimsy that is the perfect signoff for a record that gently coaxes you into its good graces and then softly vanishes into thin air.

DOWNLOAD: “Big Fade” “Old Man Longbeans” “Minerva’s Dream” “Blood Moon” “Dream a Little Dream” “Shuffle Kerfuffle”