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Music Review - 'Same Shirt, Different Day' by Rodney Rice (dm)

Rodney Rice - Same Shirt, Different Day (Click to watch the video)

16 August  2020

 

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Rodney Rice explores familiar country territory in his new collection of songs, Same Shirt, Different Day. He sings of privation, unrequited love, and rural blues with the scenery of rivers in Texas and big skies over lush fields.

Rice is a clever lyricist, and he is at his best when depicting the everyday struggles of working people. “Ain’t Got a Dollar” – a swampy rocker, “Middle Managed Blues” – a whimsy country shuffle, and “Company Town” – a horn infused midtempo lament, measure the despair and frustration of low end employment, reminding listeners that there are curiously few songs about the activity that most people spend most of their time doing like it or not – working. Country has always most reliably and deftly broadcast-ed the despair and anger of blue collar grunts who, more often than not, “break their backs” for little pay and little respect.

The horns on “Company Town” add New Orleans emotive power to the song, but also demonstrate that the rest of the record would improve from similar creative touches. Many of the songs segue into one another, becoming nearly indecipherable. This is partially a result of Rice’s vocal delivery. Even when his sharp lyrics navigate diverse emotional and social topography, his inflections and phrasing remain the same.

Despite the shortcomings of Same Shirt, Different Day, Rice is able to strike a blow to the heart of listeners, showing a sensitivity for ordinary experience, and a subtle touch with his lyrical sense of the dramatic. It is real country music about real life – something in short supply on contemporary radio.

 

  

 David Masciotra

 

 

David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 

  

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Music Review - 'Summer in America' by Dana Cooper (dm)

Dana Cooper - Summer in America (Click to watch the video)

2 August 2020

 

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This summer in America, Dana Cooper has released a lyrically sharp and moving reflection on his country’s crisis with the aptly titled “Summer in America.”

The singer/songwriter takes the listeners on an emotional tour of history, beginning with a reflection on the 1967 Summer of Love, when social movements, shifting mores, and explosions of political activism

were signaling hope for a divided nation on issues of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmentalism, and war and peace. “That summer in America,” Cooper sings, “I loved you and you loved me.”

In the second verse, Cooper, like many Americans, is lamenting how so much promise could disappear so quickly. “This summer in America / I fear you and you fear me,” he sings after describing the resurgence of racism, and a politics that threatens to turn tyrannical.

Cooper plays a soft and tender acoustic guitar, and with the support of a steady drum march that matches the movement he delineates, he tells his story with a modest, effective, and plaintive vocal melody. When he concludes the third verse, predicting a resurrection of the summer of love spirit, the listener cannot help but sing along, and feel grateful that Cooper has captured our hope and dread.

 

  

 David Masciotra

 

 

David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 

  

 

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Music Review - 'Western' by James Hyland (dm)

James HylandWestern  (Click to watch the video)

15 June 2020

 

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James Hyland’s ambition with his new record is as big as the Montana sky. Throughout the 19 songs on “Western,” the singer/songwriter is attempting to give a richly detailed portrait of how the West was really won; providing listeners with a dynamic and enjoyable tour of American history. Referencing everything from the theft of Native land, the exploitation of Chinese railroad workers, and women’s suffrage, “Western” is one of the best history lessons a country and rock music fan is likely to find.

 

Hyland is an adept lyrical storyteller, using his gifts to describe the details of historical injustice, and pay tribute to the courage of people who had to fight to build their own home – in the personal and national sense. His songs feature the accompaniment of a tight and talented band with standout players bringing sonic and heartfelt power to Hyland’s story-songs. Warren Hood’s fiddle evokes the best of American country and bluegrass, while Johnny Moeller’s guitar puts one in the mind of Neil Young.

 

As one would expect, the music varies according to subject matter, but sometimes with a delightfully surprising results. “Swing it Your Way” swings with verve and whimsy as its duet singers demand the right to vote for women. The next song, “White Men in the Hills,” gives a dark country-rock depiction of the destruction of indigenous tribes and land.

 

Love songs, and more traditional country fare, provide occasional breaks from the historical sweep, and while there isn’t a bad song on the album, one cannot help but wonder if “Western” would benefit from more curation. Running at 19 songs, some of the more memorable songs fade into their surroundings.

 

Given Hyland’s gifts as a songwriter, it is easy to understand why he included so many songs, but the album does run the risk of falling underneath its own weight.

 

When it stands, it stands at great height – giving glimpse into the fascinating chronicle of struggle, protest, labor, and violence that constructed the fable of the American West. Hyland aims high, and like a mythic lawman of the Great Frontier, usually hits his target.

  

 David Masciotra

 

 

David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 

  

 

 


 

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Music Review - 'Hillbilly Love' by Scott Holstein (dm)

Scott Holstein- Hillbilly Love (Click to watch the video)

18 July 2020

 

Black

The unforgettably titled new single from Scott Holstein begins with a strum of an acoustic guitar that doubles as the tearing down of a gate for Holstein’s beautiful and effectual baritone to ride into the ether.

“Hillbilly Love” sounds like the singer/songwriter’s treatise on a life of productivity, generosity, and sensitivity. “They call it hillbilly love,” he declares with vocal thunder, “You can’t always win / but you can always do better.”

Like a great cultural ambassador from the Southern hills, he co-opts the derogatory term for his own edifying purpose: “When push comes to shove / Rise above / And show some hillbilly love.”

The song’s lyrical content is apolitical, and rather than public policy or electoral competitions, he makes Holstein focuses on the virtues of honesty, authenticity, compassion, and selflessness. At a time when there is particular focus on the errors and misdeeds of the American South, “Hillbilly Love” serves as a hopeful and necessary reminder that kindness, and as Holstein puts it, “a cultural evolution” can come in many forms from many different people. There is no monopoly on goodness.

Musically, “Hillbilly Love” is as inviting as its sentiment. Holstein sounds like Randy Travis, and with certain phrasing – Elvis Presley – as he leads an outstanding band, featuring the accents of excellent country-style guitar, through an instantly infectious, up tempo performance. No matter where you live, you can sing, dance, and raise a glass with “Hillbilly Love.”

 

  

 David Masciotra

 

 

David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 

  

 

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Music Review - 'Still Life' Dave Greaves (dm)

Dave Greaves - Still Life

22 May 2020

 

Black

One of the riches of the world is the abundance of moving, thoughtful, and evocative music. The challenge, given the variety of musical craftsmanship and the deluge of content, is that of discovery – How does one find music that should thrive, and tune out the songs that function as little more than noises in the cacophony of modernity?

Countless songwriters labor under the test of obscurity, admirably enhancing their artistry without fanfare or fortune.

Dave Greaves is one of those songwriters, and his new comprehensive collection of material, Still Life, aims to attract an audience worthy of his skill, intimate intelligence, and graceful touch when reaching into his archive of memories to find suitable inspiration for song.

Still Life assembles 22 songs over two discs, and as a consequence, suffers the detriments common among double albums. The stronger material has to compete for center stage with too many compositions, making the sheer volume more a liability than asset. Still Life would benefit from a tighter focus, and sparser sequence, especially given that many of Greaves’ songs closely resemble each other in sound and subject.

Despite the need for more disciplined curation, Still Life bequeaths many gifts and pleasures to its listeners. Greaves’ English-Folk style, which he imports from his coastal home of Scarborough, England, is a poignant and striking complement to the thoughtful confessions and recollections of his lyrics.

Greaves’ vocal and acoustic guitar dominate the aesthetic delivery of his material, but the effectual ornamentation of additional instruments often provide necessary color and texture. The saxophone on songs like “Rising Tide” and “I Love Ya Babe” evokes the subtlety and soul of Van Morrison’s brass accompaniment. Tender and faint backup vocals add necessary and helpful diversity to the dialogic articulation of Greaves’ understated singing.

The most resonant quality of Greaves’ music is their emotional intensity, but to access the depth of Greaves’ feeling one has to listen closely. His songs are quiet, requiring attention and focus from the listener, while promising entrance into a breathless exploration of life at the emotional edges – from falling in love to losing family and friends.

 

The length of Greaves’ release demonstrates an adeptness at writing, and offers insight into the depth of his catalogue. He is a songwriter worthy of attention and acclaim, and as the subtitle of his record would suggest, already constructing a legacy worthy of pride.

 

 David Masciotra

 

 

David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 

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