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Band of Brothers
Band of Brothers
Price: $11.49
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Willie Nelson returns to songwriting, July 10, 2014
This review is from: Band of Brothers (Audio CD)
Willie Nelson's having quite a renaissance. With Sony's Legacy division having broadened their scope from reissues to include new material from heritage artists, Nelson's settled into a surprisingly comfortable home. His turn to classic Americana with Country Music and Remember Me, Vol. 1 led him back to his longtime home at Columbia (now part of Sony) for 2012's Heroes, last year's stroll through a set of standards, Let's Face the Music and Dance and a set of duets, To All the Girls. On his latest, Nelson supplements his resurgent vocal and performing talents with a return to songwriting, penning nine new originals for this set of fourteen tracks.

At 81, Nelson still sounds remarkably fresh, and the cleverness of his lyrics is (as always) buoyed by deeper truths. The songs include the emotionally penetrating lyrics for which he's renowned, ranging from low-key introspection to the mid-tempo cheek of "Wives and Girlfriends" and "Used to Her." Nelson's hiatus from songwriting is the subject of "Guitar in the Corner," but in typical fashion there's more than one layer, as he could just as easily be singing about rekindling an interpersonal relationship as returning to songwriting. The selection of covers include titles by Vince Gill, Shawn Camp and Bill Anderson; the latter's "The Songwriters" is an apt selection for an album on which Nelson's own pen has reemerged.

Buddy Cannon's production and the hand-picked band (highlighted by Tommy White's steel and Jim "Moose" Brown's piano, and featuring the ever-present harmonica of Mickey Raphael) are spot-on, leaving room for Nelson's gut-string guitar and idiosyncratic vocal phrasings. Jamie Johnson is the album's only guest, adding a Waylon-like gravity on a duet of Billy Joe Shaver's "The Git Go." Nelson's artistry is no surprise, but his continued enthusiasm for recording, and his revived interest in writing, is producing unexpected dividends for his many fans. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blues-soaked soul, July 8, 2014
This review is from: Original (Audio CD)
Though Janiva Magness began her music career in the 1980s, she didn't move to Los Angeles and start recording until the 1990s. By that point, radio had fragmented, and the opportunities for soulful blues-based vocalists to break into the mainstream were a great deal more limited. Had she jump-started her career a decade (or two) earlier, she might have ridden the wave of popular blues that found Bonnie Raitt establishing herself commercially. But even with that ship having sailed, it's surprising that none of Magness' work broke through alongside the popular neo-soul success of Amy Winehouse, Adele and others. Her award-heavy career has made her a star in the blues world, though, and perhaps that's the best place for someone who wants to have a long career that stays true to their soul.

Magness picked up a lot of life's grit at an early age; orphaned in her teens, she spent time on the streets and became pregnant at 17. But she was saved by the blues, and working in a recording studio she graduated from technical work to background singing and eventually to the spotlight. She turned out performances that were tough, sultry and soulful, retooling other people's material (often surprisingly, such as her version of Matthew Sweet's "Thought I Knew You") to meet her artistic needs. But with her latest, she's dug into the emotions of recent turmoil (divorce, the deaths of friends, family and pets, and a neck injury that almost ended her career) to create her first full album full of original material.

Magness doesn't spare herself in the analysis, opening the album with an admission of fault and a quest for solid ground. She gives pep talks ("Twice as Strong" and "The Hard Way"), most likely to herself, but still feels loss and longing ("When You Were My King" and "I Need a Man"). The album's steps towards recovery include hard truths, commiseration and the slow return of trust. There are moments of bargaining ("Mountain") and recrimination ("Badass"), but the songs are surprisingly light on bitterness. The closer, "Standing," is sung with a vocal waver whose aching vulnerability brings to mind Ronnie Spector and Patty Scialfa.

Producer Dave Darling frames Magness' earthiness in arrangements that recall the warm instrumental voices of classic soul, but with a few production touches that lend a modern air. The music seems to buoy Magness willingness to expose herself firsthand, rather than through interpretation. It's a big step for someone who'd long-since talked themselves out of writing, a step that began with 2012's Stronger for It, but became a necessity with the past few years' personal trials. Perhaps she was too busy living her life to think about it as subject matter, but as she demonstrates on this new album, there's a unique connection to be found with one's own story. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Tomorrow Forever
Tomorrow Forever
Price: $15.09
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4.0 out of 5 stars Superb melding of acoustic roots, folk-rock and pop, July 8, 2014
This review is from: Tomorrow Forever (Audio CD)
Nashville's Farewell Drifters are often likened to the Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons, and though there's merit in these comparisons, lead vocalist Zach Bevill's earnest tone often has more in common with the uplift of Tim DeLaughter's Polyphonic Spree than acoustic roots acts. The group's anthemic unison singing, and the addition of drums and electric guitar, bring to mind the Spree's larger productions, and the Farewell Drifters' citation of Brian Wilson as a primary influence is heard in touches of 1960s harmony, such as the opening chorale of "Starting Over," and the instrumental production.

The opening "Modern Age" spins up from its plaintive start to a rousing mid-tempo awakening, with group vocals and an orchestral chime for extra lift. The acoustic strums of "Bring 'em Back Around" similarly build into a full-on rock song (with nostalgic lyrics that press many the same emotional buttons as Jonathan Richman's "That Summer Feeling"), and "Motions" turns from spare piano into a drum-and-strings crescendo, transforming the lyric's pessimistic premise into an optimistic expectation. The productions aren't as grandiose as Art Decade's orchestral rock, but they draw inspiration from the same pop-rock well.

The group's harmony singing and Americana roots show in the Band-like "Brother," as well as the martial drum and banjo of "Tomorrow Forever." The album's forward motion - both musical and lyrical - is often stoked by backward glances. The chime added to the shuffling drum of "Tennessee Girl" adds a modern sound to a classic rhythm, just as the protagonist's advance is connected to his past. There are threads of disappointment and hope throughout the album, suggesting that growth comes more often from studied failure than a safe lack of trying. It's an empowering message, and one the Drifters communicate winningly in both words and music. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Brass Tacks
Brass Tacks
Price: $17.49
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4.0 out of 5 stars Terry Adams' latter-day NRBQ keeps chugging along, July 6, 2014
This review is from: Brass Tacks (Audio CD)
The discussion no doubt rages on, as to whether founding member Terry Adams' reconstituted lineup should be using the NRBQ name. Even Adams wasn't so sure back in 1989. But with the band's long-time lineup starting to fray in 1994, and an official hiatus ten years later, a number of interrelated projects took the group members in various directions. Adams, who turned out to have been dealing with throat cancer, returned to full-time music-making with the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet in 2007, and four years later, with the rest of NRBQ still dispersed in other bands and projects, reapplied the NRBQ name to his quartet for the album Keep This Love Goin'.

Is it NRBQ? Many of the original band's fans would probably say 'no,' but Adams, guitarist Scott Ligon, drummer Conrad Choucroun and bassist Casey McDonough, certainly carry on the NRBQ ethos of musical taste, deep knowledge and an irreverent sense of adventure. You need a pack full of hyphens to describe their mosaic of R&B, jazz, sunshine pop, country, folk and rockabilly, and their topics range from sweet ("Can't Wait to Kiss You") to loopy ("Greetings from Delaware") to fantastical ("This Flat Tire"), and their music even stretches to a cover of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Getting to Know You" that's more California sunshine than old Siam. Call them what you will, just make sure to call their music really good. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Two Moons [Explicit]
Two Moons [Explicit]
Price: $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Former Silos bassist extends his catalog as a singer-songwriter, July 6, 2014
This review is from: Two Moons [Explicit] (MP3 Music)
Tom Freund is a songwriter who's something of a musical chameleon. His latest release opens with "Angel Eyes," a tune whose sharp edged lyric, "funny how when you leave L.A. you gotta drive into the desert / out of the frying pan and into the fire," is worthy of Randy Newman. Freund's lap steel further echoes Los Angeles with its David-Lindley-esque tone, and his guitar complements Al Gamble's organ on "Heavy Balloon" with atmospheric notes and a meaty solo that builds the track to its close. The latter is a fitting background to a lyric that graduates from ambivalence to skepticism to possibility to hope.

Such sophisticated, and often contrasting, shades of emotion are central to Freund's songwriting. "Happy Days Lunch Box," ostensibly a nostalgic tribute to childhood, is freighted with adult hindsight, and the anti-love song "Next Time Around" paradoxically embraces the missing embrace of a partner and wraps it in a 20s-styled tune. The album's bittersweet closer "Sweetie Pie" is an appreciation of a love that's ended, sung to acoustic guitar and bass. Freund has a nasally voice that suggests Dylan, songwriter Moon Martin, and on the riff-driven "Grooves Out of My Heart," Joe Walsh, with a nod to Led Zeppelin in the fadeout for good measure.

Freund phrases like Paul Simon on "Same Old S***Different Day," and his plea for acceptance "Let Me Be Who I Wanna Be" provides the same sort of rallying flag as Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me," but with a tone that's satisfied rather than reactionary. In addition to the deft songwriting and wide-ranging musical palette, Freund's production includes well-placed touches of strings, horns, ukulele and vintage keyboards, guest harmonica from Stan Behrens, and backing vocals from Ben Harper, Brett Dennen and Serena Ryder. Freund's imagination as a songwriter is matched by his reach as an arranger and producer, making this collection both varied and cohesive. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Price: $11.58
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nostalgic bluegrass, folk and blues with a shot of modern vitality, June 26, 2014
This review is from: Trouble (Audio CD)
The Howlin' Brothers continue to combine a formidable collection of Americana sounds, including country, folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel and Dixieland, with the moxie of street performance. Their latest works even harder to stop passerby in their tracks with banjo country, harmonica-and-slide blues, weeping fiddle tunes, steel-guitar waltzes, Cajun dance numbers and vocals that invite the audience to sing along. Their playing exhibits the best of two worlds, combining the energy of extemporaneous expression with the finesse of experience. It's as if they captured the essence of a Saturday night stage and an impromptu Tuesday-afternoon street corner in a studio recording. The track list also plays to the feel of a live set, with carefree numbers, rough plaints and sad tales taking listeners on a roller coaster of emotions. One can easily imagine this entire disc played on stage as-is, returning dancers from the whirl of "Monroe" to shed a few dizzy tears to the heartbroken "World Spinning Round." The trio's range is impressive, including upbeat bluegrass, spare folk and steel honky-tonk in a truly coherent mix; it's like listening to a day of Strictly Hardly Bluegrass in one band; even the reggae "Love" somehow fits easily into their set. Most impressively, the group instills new energy into classic roots forms, keeping this from turning into a nostalgia fest or even an exercise in progressive twists; it's just inspiring and fun. A lot of fun. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Our Year
Our Year
Price: $9.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Two great sounds that sound great together, June 26, 2014
This review is from: Our Year (Audio CD)
This married pair has appeared together on stage and on one another's solo releases, but it's only in the past few years they've focused on working regularly as a duo. Their duets on tribute albums, and what at the time seemed a one-off project in 2003's Happy Holidays (and its 2006 expansion), turned into a deeper collaboration with 2012's Cheater's Game, live shows and now a second album. As on their previous releases, they trade leads, backing and harmony vocals, supporting one another with a familiarity that makes duets more than the sum of their parts. Robison contributes a pair of original songs, Willis one, and they fill out the track list with endearingly selected covers.

The album opens with "Departing Louisiana," a biographical song whose emotional details suggest a Robison original, but it's actually from the pen of his sister, Robyn Ludwick. When you count in their brother Charlie, it's clear that songwriting runs in the family. Robison's "Carousel" evinces the resigned sadness of Roger Miller's "Husbands and Wives," but the mood is turned around by the rolling beat and hopeful longing of Willis' "Lonely for You." The album's covers include Buddy Mize's "Hangin' On," sung with the same enthralled powerlessness as the Gosdin Brothers' original, and a funky take on Tom T. Hall's "Harper Valley PTA" that's become a staple of Willis' live act.

The lead vocal on T-Bone Burnett's "Shake Yourself Loose" is so shot-through with emotion that you scarcely need the lyrics, and the duo's harmony work is as bone-chillingly effective as anything sung by Gram and Emmylou. The album closes with the Zombies' "This Will Be Our Year," aptly demonstrating how Willis and Robison's country roots inform everything they do. Like the best duet acts, this pair builds upon their individual talents as singers, forging a third voice that's the unique combination of the individual elements. Their strengths as singers and songwriters peek through at every turn, but it's the way their emotional conversation amplifies one another that sets this apart from their solo work. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

A Boy Named Charlie Brown
A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Price: $9.00
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 2014 reissue adds bonuses to Guaraldi's first Peanuts release, June 22, 2014
In animating the Peanuts comic strip for television, the music of Vince Guaraldi was as important a voice as that of the child actors who played the characters, as critical a story element as the plot and dialog, and as colorful a setting as the drawings themselves. The music of A Charlie Brown Christmas remains every bit as iconic as Charlie Brown's zig-zag sweater and Linus' blanket, and the soundtrack to that first-to-be-broadcast Peanuts special remains every bit as beloved as Peanuts itself. What many probably don't know is that Guaraldi had first engaged with Charles Schulz, producer Lee Mendelson and the Peanuts gang a year earlier with this soundtrack for the documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown (not to be confused with the 1969 film of the same name).

Not only did the original 60-minute program fail to find an outlet, but neither did the surviving 30-minute edit (which is available on DVD from the Charles M. Schulz Museum), which was not broadcast at the time. Unusually, Guaraldi's record label, Fantasy, had him re-record the soundtrack material and went ahead with a lavish gatefold release, initially titling it Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown to echo Guaraldi's earlier breakthrough with Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. Across the album's eleven tracks, Guaraldi and his trio (which included bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey) laid down both the template and many of the specifics that would blossom commercially in the following year's Christmas special.

Guaraldi's mastery of Latin rhythms underpins several tracks, but it was the mood of his earlier hit, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," that originally grabbed Lee Mendelson's ear. As Ralph Gleason's original essay points out, Guaraldi created something both original and empathetic to another artist's work. His playing is at turns sly, joyous, lyrical, confident, thoughtful and most of all, playful. Budwig provides a melodic foil with his bass, and Bailey swings his drums without ever intruding on Guaraldi's own rhythmic phrasings. Among the specifics first released on this title are two of two of Guaraldi's best-known compositions, "Charlie Brown Theme" and "Linus and Lucy." The rest of the album isn't as memorably tied to specific animated sequences, but the music is just as pleasurable and stands sturdily on its own. The 2014 reissue adds an alternate take of "Baseball Theme" to the previously included bonus track "Fly Me to the Moon." [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Porky's Revenge
Porky's Revenge
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A terrific Dave Edmunds-helmed soundtrack to a forgettable film, June 22, 2014
This review is from: Porky's Revenge (Audio CD)
If you don't remember, or never knew, the film Porky's Revenge, don't be surprised. As the third film in the Porky's trilogy (filled in the middle by Porky's II: The Next Day), its sophomoric humor was a tired rehash that had little of the original film's raunchy charm. What this sequel did have is an inexplicably fine period-influenced soundtrack piloted by Dave Edmunds and stocked with A-list talents that include Jeff Beck, George Harrison, Carl Perkins, Clarence Clemons, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, Phil Collins, Slim Jim Phantom, Lee Rocker and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Edmunds was initially hired to produce only the film's theme song, but he grew the project into a full original soundtrack - the only one of the series. And by selecting songs and then drafting friends and colleagues to perform (including a backing band of Chuck Leavell, Michael Shrieve and Kenny Aaronson), he elevated the soundtrack well beyond the artistic qualities of the film itself. At the time of the soundtrack's mid-80s recording, Edmunds was a few years past a commercial run that began with 1979's "Girls Talk." But he'd maintained his well-earned reputation for modern-edged roots music, and had recently worked on projects with the Everly Brothers and the Sun class of 1955, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.

The original album included two Edmunds originals - the bouncy "High School Nights" and the synth-laden instrumental "Porky's Revenge." The 2014 CD reissue adds "Don't Call Me Tonight" (which had appeared two years earlier on Edmunds' Information), and a Carl Perkins remake of "Honey Don't." The bulk of the album is filled with lovingly crafted covers, including Jeff Beck's impressive take on Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk," George Harrison's recording of the obscure Bob Dylan title, "I Don't Want to Do It," the Fabulous Thunderbirds torrid version of Lloyd Price's "Stagger Lee," Carl Perkins remake of "Blue Suede Shoes" with Perkins' guitar and the Stray Cats' rhythm section dialing up some real heat, and Clarence Clemons blowing his thunderous sax on "Peter Gunn Theme."

Edmunds finishes out his contributions with a bright, double-tracked cover of Bobby Darin's "Queen of the Hop," which was also released as a B-side to Harrison's track. The album included two tracks not overseen by Edmunds: a Chips Moman production of Willie Nelson covering "Love Me Tender," and a Robert Plant-led cover of Charlie Rich's "Philadelphia Baby." Other than the closing instrumental, everything here resounds with Edmunds retro sensibility and the talent of his guests. Perkins shines especially bright, with Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker stoking the rockabilly rhythm. If you missed this the first time around - and most probably did - here's a chance to get your hands on a truly unexpected treat.

Just Between You And Me: Complete Recordings 1967-1976
Just Between You And Me: Complete Recordings 1967-1976
Offered by MEGA Media
Price: $158.36
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A monument to one of music's greatest-ever duos, June 22, 2014
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner's partnership is remarkable even within a genre known for its venerable pairings. At the start of their professional relationship, Wagoner was an established star with dozens of hit singles and a weekly television program, and Parton was the new "girl singer" who had to win over fans of the departed Norma Jean. By the end of their partnership, seven years later, Wagoner's chart action was winding down, and Parton's stardom, which had begun its flight during her tenure with Wagoner, was about to go into hyperdrive. Parton said goodbye to Wagoner with "I Will Always Love You," and lawsuits followed, but their chemistry as a duet was strong enough to survive their separation, with previously recorded material continuing to chart.

Parton and Wagoner were each artistic forces to be reckoned with. They were A-list songwriters and performers, and the enormous volume of material they recorded together was paralleled by a wealth of solo releases. Early on, Wagoner wrote surprisingly little for their pairings, choosing to showcase Parton's material alongside that of other Nashville greats and a few adventurous selections, like Dan Penn's "The Dark End of the Street." Wagoner's songwriting contributions picked up in the latter half of their partnership, and the pair also wrote several songs together. One has to wonder if the increasing fortunes of Parton's solo career directed her original material to herself, and Wagoner was drawn to fill the void alongside his singing and producing duties.

Wagoner's craft was meticulous, and the sidemen he selected included members of his road band (led by Buck Trent and featuring fiddler Mack Magaha) and the cream of Nashville's session players (including Pete Drake, Lloyd Green, Hargus 'Pig' Robbins and Roy Huskey, Jr.). The catalog he produced with Parton is impressive for both its size and uniformly high quality. The songwriting, vocals, production and playing never wavers across the duo's seven-year partnership, and their commercial appeal lasted from an early cover of Tom Paxton's folk classic "The Last Thing on My Mind" through Wagoner's "Is Forever Longer than Always." Along the way, fans will find the hallmarks of both Wagoner and Parton's individual material, including the former's dramatic recitations, the latter's hard-scrabble roots and both of their religious faith.

Duet singing is ultimately more about the chemistry of conversation and the revelation of interpersonal dynamics than about the individual vocalists. Wagoner's spoken-word interlude gives Parton's lyric of family tragedy an extra shot of morbidity in "The Party," and the easy give-and-take of "I've Been This Way Too Long" could just as easily be the extemporaneous bickering of a long-time couple. Though neither family nor spouses, the pair sang with the sort of connectedness that marks blood harmonies - and feuds. In retrospect, the spark that brought even the most common romantic themes to life now seems freighted with foreshadows of their bitter dissolution, eventual detente and final emotional reunion.

Like all of Bear Family's box sets, this set's extensiveness is both a blessing and a challenge. The blessing, of course, are six discs of superb recordings and a lavishly illustrated seventy-eight page book; the challenge is in trying to absorb seven years of material without the division and pacing of the original singles and albums. Alanna Nash's lengthy notes and Richard Weize's detailed discography provide fans a guide to the duo's intertwined paths, and the compression of their career into a box set highlights the evolution of their pairing at fast-forward speed. This collection stands tall, even among the very tall field of archival releases Bear Family has produced since it's founding in 1975; start saving your pennies and dimes (and quarters and dollars), as this is a must-have for fans of Porter, Dolly and Porter & Dolly. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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