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Music Review - `Matamoros ` by James Kahn (bm)

James Kahn - Matamoros  (click on image to watch video)

 21 February 2020

 

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Author and musician James Kahn’s latest album Matamoros doubles as the soundtrack of his Civil War novel of the same name. The interconnected projects showcase Kahn’s talents while painting an honest picture of a contentious time in American history.

Various characters cast in a story set in 1862 and occurring in the Rio Grande border towns of Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas get their own theme songs suiting their backstories. For example, an Irish folk song helps us meet an Irish immigrant, a blues song accompanies a starving Rebel deserter’s plight and the band plays a waltz for a genteel Southern lady.

As for the songs, Kahn paints vivid pictures through such old-timey folk songs as the harmonious “La Llorona,” gorgeous acoustic number “Rio Allie,” galloping string band number “Mighty Fine Texas Rangers” and “Mildred’s Waltz,” which sounds like the moment when Kahn’s alternate history gives birth to country music.

The album stands on its own for those who haven’t read the book (or potential readers wanting a feel for the world in which Kahn’s characters reside).

Past projects for Khan included novelizations of popular films (Return of the Jedi, Poltergeist, The Goonies) and television writer-producer gigs (Melrose Place, Star Trek: Voyager).

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Music Review - `I'm into Now ` by Shoebox Letters (bm)

Shoebox Letters - I'm into Now  (click on image to watch video)

 10 February 2020

 

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It’s become increasingly obvious in recent years that Americana isn’t just a term for country music beyond what gets played on commercial radio stations. Such guitar-slingers as Aubrie Sellers, Aaron Lee Tasjan and Lilly Hiatt get stamped with the same label because the mainstream overlooks rock music that’s neither over-the-top aggressive nor overly pop.

Lesser-known acts proving that Americana’s the new home for rock storytellers include Shoebox Letters. The Portland and Vancouver-based band’s new album I’m Into Now fits in with the before-mentioned artists’ struggle to bring substance to rock ‘n’ roll through stories that should appeal to fans of twangy singer-songwriters.

Songs like “Please You,” “Running,” “Turn to Stone” and the title track favor rich stories over rock subgenres, comparable to the timeless approaches of Neil Young and Tom Petty. As the band name implies, these songs feel like they began as deeply personal memories before becoming something relatable to more than the letters’ writers or intended recipients.

So, if you’re delving into the current Americana scene to discover acts that should also be labeled as rock ‘n’ roll, you’re in for a treat once you discover Shoebox Letters.

 

 

Bobby Moore

 

 

 

Bobby Moore

 

 

 


 

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Music Review - `What Kind of World? ` by Arlan Feiles (bm)

Arlan Feiles - What Kind of World?  (click on image to watch video)

 30 January 2020

 

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The title track from singer-songwriter Arlan Feiles’ latest album asks an immensely important question through the lens of gospel music and its secular counterpart, soul: What kind of world will we leave behind for our children?

Feiles’ query crosses political aisles in these polarizing times and impacts folks from all walks of life. It also sets the tone for his multi-genre exploration of American music, What Kind of World?

Beyond asking a universal question, the song “What Kind of World?” allows us a peek at how fatherhood changed Feiles’ outlook as a lyricist.

Aside from “Homeward,” most other songs sound more like they belong at a songwriter’s night than at church. Such tracks as “Layla,” “I Know a Song” and the piercingly political “50 Years of Kavanaugh” establish Feiles as a workman-like wordsmith more akin to fellow New Jersey artist Bruce Springsteen than the typical Americana act.

Beyond Feiles’ gospel-inspired and folk material, there’s a couple of noteworthy songs embracing other styles. The part socio-political question, part quirky allegory “If I Were a Dinosaur” mixes equal parts jazz and blues-rock while shedding more light on Feiles’ mindset as a father and a free-thinker. Elsewhere on the album, “This Broken Heart” sounds like an orchestral ballad while accentuating Feiles’ calm, inviting voice.

Overall, the 10-song collection further establishes Feiles as a great songwriter while posing a question relevant to more than just new parents.

Bobby Moore

 

 

 

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Music Review - `Superman ` by Jay Ryan Beretti (bm)

Jay Ryan Beretti - Superman  (click on image to watch video)

 31 January 2020

 

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French rock ‘n’ roller Jay Ryan Beretti shines bright as a singer, guitarist, and lyricist on his latest set of songs, Superman.

Album cuts penned by Beretti include the vulnerable, melodic “I’m Down;” potential prom night playlist entry “Without My Baby;” guitar-slinging showpiece “Hear My Call;” and “Don’t Cry Baby,” a Memphis rock throwback co-wrote by the late Big Al Dowling. Each establishes Beretti as knowledgeable about early rock music and its blues and hillbilly roots and, more impressively, capable of incorporating those influences into fresh, forward-leaning material.

There’s also a handful of covers that reveal Beretti’s talent as a song interpreter while allowing us all to remotely flip through his record collection. Examples include a piano ballad version of The Cure’s “Lovesong,” a rockabilly reimagining of French producer David Guetta’s contemporary hit “Lovers on the Sun” and “Life Fades Away,” an operatic offering by two obvious influences, Glen Danzig and Roy Orbison.

Beretti’s voice, song selections, and stage presence suit Southern soul, blues, gospel and rock in a way that further shatters misconceptions that regional sounds from America should only be performed by locals from specific socio-economic backgrounds. Or you could say that Beretti’s as Americana as they come, despite hailing from France instead of rural Mississippi or Arkansas.

 

 

Bobby Moore

 

 

 

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Music Review - `Hot Chicken Wisdom ` by Rich Mahan (bm)

Rich Mahan - Hot Chicken Wisdom (click on image to watch video)

 22 December 2019

 

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Rich Mahan’s Hot Chicken Wisdom covers a wide swath of musical styles through colorful characters and equally vivid imagery.

Mahan and an impressive cast of collaborators, including Johnny Paycheck’s harmonica player PT Gazell and Bonnie Bramblett’s daughter Bekka, explore the overlap between country storytelling and classic rock. For instance, Mahan and friends crafted funky ZZ Top homage “Boots Off,” hazy desert journey “Stoned as a Roman Slave” and a twangier take on Chuck Prophet’s introspective songs, “Open Up Your Heart.”

Other tracks capture a twisted sense of humor, likely learned by listening to Bobby Bare and Kinky Friedman. Boot-scooter “Tick on My Taint” is as absurd as you’d hope, and “I Smoke Pot” pulls off the type of dead-end loser that even Toby Keith can’t quite master. 

Beyond bugs grabbing hold where the sun doesn’t shine, Mahan sings about such evergreen topics as not fitting in (“Hippie in the City”) and mealtime decisions (“Day drinking,” “Coffee in the Morning” and “Hot Chicken & An Ice Cold 40”). He even covers the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” and the Grateful Dead’s “Loose Lucy” in such a way that they suit a colorful collection of stories and sounds.

Per its liner notes, the album pays homage to the late Nashville producer Brian “Brain” Harrison. Many of these songs either made Harrison laugh or took shape after Mahan heard one of his friend’s crazy stories or nuggets of wisdom.

 

 

Bobby Moore

 

 

 

Bobby Moore

 

 

 


 

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