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Music Review - 'Then and One More Day` by Westley Dennis (jh)

Westley Dennis -  Then and One More Day (click on image to watch video)

19 June 2021 

 

Every so often we get the refreshing sound of traditional country giving us reassurance that there are still a handful of artists making the kind of music that drew us in years ago that has since been replaced by the trite, overly produced, vacuous commercial variety that passes for “country.”  Wesley Dennis was once a big label act too, having signed with Mercury Nashville Records in the mid-90s. Somehow, despite the mentorship of Alan Jackson, Dennis never really caught on as a mainstream act. Listening to Then and One More Day makes this rather puzzling. He’s got the vocal chops, the sensibilities, and even the pen of real deal country artist. It’s in his blood and he’s stayed devoted to this music despite never reaching the stardom he so deserved.

Commenting on the perfect country & western song, David Alan Coe sang in Steve Goodman’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name”- “Because he hadn't said anything at all about mama

Or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting' drunk.” Dennis doesn’t hit all these proverbial touchstones either but does more than enough justice to ‘prison’ and indirectly to ‘getting drunk.’ ‘Cheating’ should have probably been included in that litany. We don’t hear those kinds of songs much anymore, but Dennis laments the loose women he used to hang out with in “Where Are All The Girls I Used to Cheat With,” featuring Caleb Daugherty. The theme of prison appears in his original “Alabama Dreams,” sung from the perspective of an inmate dreaming about freedom. Then, another highlight, “All My Friends Are Beyond Bars” (featuring Chris Keefe) details a long list of friends in that predicament. 

Of course, common themes of love, heartbreak, and blue collar struggles are found here too along with a genuine twangy sound filled with pedal steel, fiddles, honky tonk piano, and just the right amount of telecaster.  Some of it, however, becomes inevitably repetitive and predictable such that the middle of the album except for the Merle Haggard-like title track doesn’t hold up as well as the beginning and the end. Speaking of the latter, “Hey Pretty Baby” is an upbeat tune while “Little Things” is a tune that can vie with the best country ballads, as Dennis sings about how small acts and gestures can lead to a strong marriage. It’s sappy but in his hands, it still comes across genuinely. 

There are a couple of missteps though. He may have been better off keeping “This Song’s For You” as a tribute to unsung heroes and military vets rather than also saluting women that choose not to have abortions. The political stance seems misplaced on this kind of album.  The cover tune “If I Had Any Pride Left at All,” lacks the punch of John Berry’s original and is an unnecessary addition to an album that features mostly Dennis’ own material.  Those are minor quibbles though as this a fine classic country album and one worthy of plenty of airplay, which Dennis will sadly likely receive only from judicious hosts on non-commercial stations.  At the same time, Dennis deserves to be played alongside a few of the more straightforward country artists left in the mainstream such as Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Jamey Johnson.

 

 

Jim Hynes

 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - 'Overdue` by Severin Browne (jh)

Severin Browne -  Overdue (click on image to watch video)

28 May 2021 

 

To say that Severin Browne has been overshadowed by his older brother Jackson, is rather obvious. This might well be the first time you’ve heard of Severin, who also has the songwriting gift. His voice, while pleasant enough, just isn’t as distinctive and naturally warm as his older sibling.  The main reason that Severin has remained under the radar though, likely lies with career choices. In 1971 Severin signed on as a staff writer for Motown Records.  He did release two albums in the early ‘70s but his output has been sporadic at best since, the aptly named Overdue being his sixth.

To be fair, Browne has put his energy into a collective called the Tall Men Group for the past eight years, a collective of you got it, tall men who agree to write 10 songs each year to a common prompt and perform in the L.A. area. Browne though, is often prompted by his loyal fans to put out an album of his own songs every so often.  He is a natural storyteller, playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by 13 musicians in the credits, although some play on just one track, notably Freebo and Grammy-nominated Teresa James among them. Browne draw from soul, reggae, and jazz roots in a sound described on previous albums as “west coast pop” but it easily fits under the big tent of Americana. Edward Tree’s production is smooth and lean enough to allow Browne’s vocals and lyrics to come through clearly thankfully as Browne is a terrific lyricist.

The opening lines to the first track “Young and Free” begin with this verse – “I remember driving through the desert late at night, massive semis shaking my poor bug. A lightning storm was raging, lighting up the chaparral, like God was finally cleaning this old rug.” His use of metaphors to paint visual images is impressive. He tells the story of the nuclear disaster in Japan in haiku in “Fukushima Sunset” and uses the analogy in “Sparkling River” to describe to guide life’s many changes – “My life is not so clear to me. /I am a river, but I don't know how to find the sea./Every thought, every action, means more than we know./ Still I go with the flow.”

The title track is filled with liberating lines of the joy of playing music again after recounting all those classic artists of the ‘70s – “We all worked for years, we raised our families…The kids are gone, the amps are on, and we can play whatever songs we please.” Yet Browne is clearly aware of contemporary issues too as his “Miguel and Maria” describes the harrowing tale of a couple and their young infant traumatized by the violence of a local gang who murdered their first born.

Browne comes across a music veteran that knows his way around songs. Many of them are the typical subjects of love, unrequited love, character sketches, and self-reflections but his scope is wide. The easy listening, pleasant James Taylor-like pop musical veneer often masks the detailed lyrics, which add up to Browne not only being ‘overdue’ but too easily ‘overlooked’ as well for his natural writing gift.

 

Jim Hynes

 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - 'Rope the Wind` by Nick Justice(jh)

Nick Justice -  Rope the Wind (click on image to watch video)

28 February 2021 

 

This is singer-songwriter Nick Justice’s fifth album, and the third that this writer has covered on these pages. Yes, Justice has his usual themes of love gone wrong, misfits and the downtrodden. And, like his previous two outings, Justice seems to have settled into a relatively sparse backing helmed by producer and multi-instrumentalist, Richard Bredice. In addition to producing, engineering and mixing Bredice plays guitars, organ, bass and percussion. Richard Stekol provided a variety of strings while. Justice mostly sings and plays harmonica. So, the obvious question is there anything different about Rope the Wind?

Justice’s gift is his ability to relate to most of us in his tales and straight forward lyrics in a deep, resonant voice.  He’s got a knack for catchy hooks and melodic choruses that remain memorable. As you may glean from the title this one has a distinctly Western and Tex-Mex strains running through it, differentiating it from its predecessors.  Justice is the quintessential troubadour, putting that thought to music in his opening “Traveling Man.” His relatively simple and melodic song structure in rhyming lines is showcased in his love song, “Tears Disappear in the Rain.” He also has the natural ability to relate to common subjects, conjuring up the escapism and relaxation one feels perfectly in “Down at the Fishing Hole.”

The pace picks up considerably and the Western aura begins to creep in with “Run Away,” setting up “Billy the Kid,” which he half narrates and half sings in a compelling way, just as a wizened cowboy might deliver the tale to one of his children. The nomadic theme returns for the breezy “No Reason to Stay,” punctuated by jabbing electric guitar lines. “Love Is On the Run” and especially “After We Say Goodbye,” with its flamenco guitar lines, speak to the Tex-Mex strains alluded to previously.

“Rhymes and Reason” brings in the banjo and is chock full of clever wordplay, referencing nursery rhymes and such. Justice saves the title track for the closer, marrying romance and wanderlust, both so characteristic in so many of his songs. There’s some nice variety on this one; Justice keeps fine tuning his already well-crafted approach.

 

 

Jim Hynes

 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - 'I Ain't Your Momma` by Rhonda Funk (jh)

Ronda Funk -  I Ain't Your Momma (click on image to watch video)

28 May 2021 

 

I Ain’t Your Momma, an EP, is the fourth release from Nashville’s Rhonda Funk and the sassy, no-holds barred approach reminds of when Gretchen Wilson stormed the airwaves with her defiantly independent female anthems. As is the case with many too many female singers with these kinds of messages, Funk comes across as overwrought on the title track and “I Could Get Used to This” yet she demonstrates a more natural delivery and well-rounded vocals on her cover on Jon Bon Jovi’s “Whole Lot of Leavin’,” where her emotive vocals speak to the essence of heartbreak. 

“More Than a Table” is the best cut, with Funk offering a tender ode to one she truly admires. However, that vibe is erased immediately with the scornful, raging, all too loud “Liar, Liar” where she calls out the deceitful partner who did such a poor job of covering his tracks. She redeems herself somewhat in “Cumberland Falls,” a place that impressed her early in life and continues to exert its grip. Yet, this tune too suffers some from overproduction. 

Funk does have the star quality and radio-friendly approach that will likely produce several hit singles. She seems to have the production team and musicians in place to make that happen, calling on, among others guitarist Tom Britt (Vince Gill), multi-instrumentalist Joe Spivey (Time Jumpers) and B3 wizard Paul Brown (The Waterboys).  Production comes from bassist John Heithaus and drummer Pete Young.

So, if you favor the aggressive don’t-mess-with-me stance, Funk brings plenty of spit and venom but her artistry is best revealed in her more tender moments. 

 

 

Jim Hynes

 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - 'Another Sky,` by Kelly's Lot (jh)

Kelly's Lot -  Another Sky (click on image to watch video)

13 September 2020 

 

Another Sky, Kelly Lot’s 15th CD, marks another progression on the roots music continuum for The band is now celebrating their 26th year since founder Kelly Zirbes, a folk singer/songwriter, with a heart for the blues fronted the band for their first gig at the Roxy in Hollywood. In a larger sense, this recording represents a return to Kelly Z’s folk roots. Kelly Z met guitar player and sound man, Perry Robertson in 1996, who soon after produced Kelly’s Lot - Live at the Troubadour. Within a year he joined the band, started writing songs with Kelly Z and added the southern rock and Texas influences that have shaped their sound. Early on they toured as duo but in the last decade they have played as a 5-8 piece blues band. Robertson, who shares songwriting and band leader credits with Kelly Z, has recorded and produced most of the band’s music including the 2019 release Can't Take My Soul which featured Americana, blues, folk, and roots/rock creations. For Another Sky Kelly Z and Perry worked with Doug Pettibone to record a new selection of songs that stressed genres like contemporary folk, roots rock and alt country.  Six of the tracks on the album were inspired by words from fans on Facebook. Kelly Z challenged them to look in their hearts and share just one word. She then challenged herself to choose a word and write a song in two hours. 

The core unit for Another Sky is a five piece with Kelly on vocals, Robertson on acoustic guitar, Pettibone on electric guitars, pedal steel, mandolin, and supporting vocals; Art Mendoza on drums, and Matt McFadden on electric bass. Eleven other collaborators contribute to select tracks. Pettibone sings “Tangled” as a duet with Kelly and Rick Monroe takes a vocal turn on “Sleep On It.” The album opens with the folk song “Butterfly” ushering warm farewells to those we love as guitars and mandolin caress Kelly’s vocal which is augmented by the background harmonies. “I Will Find You Again” gives a good sampling of Pettibone’s melodic, stirring electric guitar work, (the same kind that served Lucinda Williams well for years). There’s an Irish feel to it with Aubrey Richmond’s fiddle which weaves in and out of a rich backdrop of B3 and pedal steel.

The interesting musical flourished continue as accordion and mandolin imbue “Foolish Try” while Richmond’s mournful fiddle colors the solemn “Freedom,’ one that really captures Kelly’s vocal nuances. The wailing aspects of Kelly’s vocals appear in angry, bluesy “Took It Back,” a standout. The accordion returns for “Tangled” as Kelly takes to the whistle and trades lines with Pettibone. “Irish Luck” sounds just as one would expect a reel and jig dance number complete with fiddle and accordion. “Simple Man” is another strong Kelly vocal and has Bill Johnston on a clarinet solo providing yet another new sonic touch, as Phil Parlapiano’s accordion is heard for the third song consecutively. “Lock Me Up,” like “Took It Back” was written by Kelly, Robertson, and Pettibone and has a similar theme but heads more in a country direction. 

“Christmas Is Calling” is a potent song of yearning and it reminds us how much most of us miss family and close ones during these stay-at-home times. “Sleep On It Tonight” is a folk song written by Kelly and Pettibone, like some of the others echoing British Isles folk, rather unusual for this California-based outfit. Monroe’s vocal proves the perfect complement to Kelly’s against Pettibone’s weeping pedal steel, making this another standout. The closer “Hurricane” opens with Frank “Cisco” Hinojosa’s harmonica and has a ‘big sound’ replete with B3, multiple guitars and a rave-up vibe befitting its title, as Kelly wails away.

Considering that this is a band that built its reputation primarily as a blues band, they demonstrate a facility for many roots forms with impressive vocals from Kelly, some outstanding songs, and stellar musicianship all around.

 

Jim Hynes

 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here

 

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