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Music Review - 'Gratitude` by Dan Imhoff (jh)

 Dan Imhoff- Gratitude (click on image to watch video)

03 October 2022 

 

Gratitude is the fifth solo album for California singer-songwriter Dan Imhoff. Wait, that doesn’t do this creative artist justice. Imhoff is also an activist, a podcaster, and the author of ten nonfiction books about farming, conservation, and eco-design., the latter of which play in just slightly to the uplifting music found here. Most of these songs were written during the pandemic lockdown and even though there’s a distinct roots-rock thread running through them, the album was recorded in Spain with a host of Spanish musicians. As it turns out, Imhoff lives in Spain part-time and often records there. The album was recorded in two separate studios, outside of Valencia and Girona, with two different teams.

Imhoff calls his songwriting “cosmic gospel.” Cosmic references the roots of northern California tradition of folk rock, blues, and jazz but performed by Spanish musicians. Gospel indicates that most of the songs have strong background choruses and rich harmonies. Imhoff confesses to the fact that most of these songs took a long time to write as it took a while to get to that place mentally and emotionally when optimism would flow naturally. We could have used these hopeful tunes during those weary pandemic months, but joyous music never arrives too late. The hook in the titular opener is infectious from the outset. “There There” is a snappy mid-tempo tune that alludes perhaps to the struggle in the writing process (“Gotta find a way to keep believing”).

“When a Great Tree Falls” employs a great use of echo effects and likely points to his environmental activism, coupling sequoias in his native Northern California with this teeming chorus “Will we be strong enough to fight for what we believe?”)  The lightly strummed, banjo infused “Coming Into View” rings with the insistent chorus “Love is the only game.” The perky, jug band-like “So Good To Be a Dog” hits at a thought most of us have likely had as we admire the oft-relaxed state of our favorite pet. There’s a similar tongue-in-cheek vibe to the piano ballad “Why I Drink The Wine” suggesting it’s “to get closer to Jesus.” Although there are some common threads to Imhoff’s lyrics, no two songs sound alike as he adeptly shifts tempos and instrumentation.

Case in point is “Dark Side,” another mostly acoustic tune, but one where the lyrical tone shifts too. He’s being honest. Even the most upbeat people have moments of sadness and frustration. This kind of balancing act, which he turns to again later on “Crazy Town” of course, gives the uplifting tunes even more impact, such as the inspiring, celebratory nature song, “Lie Down With the Wild Things.” He follows with an ode to the comfort of his part-time home in “Accidentally Valencia.” Bassist Jaume Guerra Menue, the co-writer of “Factory of Tangled Dream,” adds a jazzy touch to the carefree tune. Following the bleak “Crazy Town” it’s only fitting that Imhoff end on a high note, and though he points to ultimate satisfaction in “Angel Touching Down” he does so pensively, not with the rollicking hooks heard on some of the tunes, but it is the most vocally expressive tune of the strong dozen he penned.

Imhoff paints hope as a goal one must attain. It’s not readily available to those who don’t struggle and aren’t stoic when called for. When earned however, it’s rewarding. As the title suggests, he’s thankful and we should all share in that glee at least for a few moments. We’ve made it through the difficult pandemic months but just the same, we’re living in troubling times and should remain on guard. 

 

 

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 - 'The Sidemen` by Nick Justice and Peter Martin Homer (jh)

Nick Justice and Peter Martin Homer -The Sidemen (click on image to watch video)

7 July 2022 

 

You’ve seen reviews of a couple of Nick Justice solo albums on these pages but now Justice is collaborating with blues guitarist and fellow singer-songwriter Peter Martin Homer to form The Sidemen. This is their eponymous debut – drawn together as Justice says, by their shared love of folk music. They operate mostly as individual writers but increasingly in the vein of Lennon-McCartney with Justice writing the lyrics and Homer penning the music although each takes credit – Homer for four songs and Justice for six and just two co-writes. This is an informal session, basically recorded live with assistance from ace fiddler Gabe Witcher, long-time Justice producer Richard Bredice on organ for one track, and upright bassist Alan  Deremo.  Justice plays guitars, mandolin and harmonica.  Homer plays the lead guitar parts and banjo. Both deliver lead and background vocals. 

Witcher’s fiddle introduces the opening “Come Dance With Me,” with Justice quickly joining on mandolin before Justice and Homer deliver the singalong, feel-good lyrics, perfectly suited to an informal back porch gathering. Homer’s “This Storm Shall Pass Away” presents his deep voice to the steady guitar strums to the lyrics of a conversation with an older man.  With these two openers, we have already settled in comfortably to these two storytellers. Homer gently plucks the banjo to Justice’s “Meet the Train” while “Lady of the Roses” is a true duet, the first song they wrote together, adding a western touch at the end. The song was written in Tucson and Justice relates that he had an idea of a mysterious lady who died but whose spirt lived in the forest and would appear every so often surrounded by blooming roses. – “She floats in the night like a spirit in a dream.” The other co-write, one that came together quickly is “Light as an Angel,” about those in your life that don’t have a care nor take responsibility. Some of the thoughts here are wrapped in the kind of guilt we associate with childhood - Do we need to forgive ourselves and others and do repentance in order to get into heaven.

Homer’s “Arise” has some sparkling acoustic guitar playing, the addition of Bredice’s organ, and some of best harmonies, faintly echoing British Isles kind of folk. Justice’s “Let’s Get Out of Here” rolls along smoothly, with Witcher’s fiddle perfectly complementing the acoustic picking of the duo, before delivering his own fine solo. Homer’s “Early Sunday” has more strong harmonies, along with mandolin while Justice’s “Secret Soul” keeps the vibe intact, as the two singers alternate selections and Witcher provides the melodic fills. The closer, “Virginia,” penned by Homer, moves toward the mournful side but stays in synch with casual, unhurried nature of the project, another providing strong picking and affecting harmonies.

This is real folk music, the kind that’s rarely heard any more. 

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 - 'Flight Risk` by Shoebox Letters (jh)

Shoebox Letters -  Flight Risk (click on image to watch video)

16 May 2022 

 

Within a mere twenty minutes and a half dozen songs, the Portland, OR foursome Shoebox Letters continues to prove they know their way around a song. Leader and co-founder Dennis Winslow is the main songwriter, having penned or co-written all but one of the tunes. He’s a multi-instrumentalist joined by fellow versatile musician Greg Paul, co-founder and bassist Dave Stricker and vocalist Stephanie Cox. All three of the musicians have impressive resumes with Winslow having a background as a staff writer in Nashville and a writer for films and television, which he continues to do. Stricker has played with many of the great musicians in Portland and Paul is also an engineer and producer who works in film, television and theater. He has also recorded with notable artists Dave Alvin, Amy Farris, and Alejandro Escovedo, to name a few. Susan Lowery contributes harmony vocals on “A World Out There.” Guest Brian David Willis fills in on numerous instruments and is the writer for the pulsating rocker “I Drink Too Much” and the co-writer on “Bed of Roses.” 

The defining element of their sound is the lush three (or four) part harmonies heard in Winslow’s tunes. In the ‘70s, we would have branded this bucolic style country rock. The opener features the dulcet tones of Cox singing with Winslow and backed with harmonies from Paul and Stricker as the guitar reverberate convincingly. The aforementioned “I Drink Too Much” may be the most rambunctious, levels up rock the band has ever laid down. “Up and Down,” though is more characteristic of their past work, a gentle harmonious folk tune, imbued with terrific pedal steel from Stricker and keys from Winslow, as if the music just refreshingly washes over the listener, it’s and ideal pandemic song with its chorus “one step at a time.”  Cox breaks out on “Red Handed in Love,” soaring above muscular guitars and animated backgrounds.  Back and forth we go, with “A Bed of Roses” settling into their textured, soothing approach.  Cox and Winslow sing yearningly on “A World Out There,” with Willis providing searing lap steel. 

Shoebox Letter is the essence of Americana, marrying country, folk, and rock with superior harmonies and impressive textures.  They deserve wider recognition, and one senses it won’t be long before they are a staple on the diminishing number of stations and outlets that program quality music. 

 

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 - `By the Risin’ of the Sea` by James Kahn (jh)

James Kahn-  By the Risin’ of the Sea (click on image to watch video)

25 May 2022 

 

James Kahn, Emmy-nominated TV writer-producer/novelist/singer-songwriter is a storyteller across many different media but his latest recording, By the Risin’ of the Sea, is unlike previous works. It’s not a series of stories but instead a series of admonitions about the dangers of climate change sung in old timey sea shanty style. It’s a bit of a conundrum as we think of old pirates telling tales about impending weather disasters, or recounting them in a boastful way, having made it through the storm. As the subtitle indicates though, these are “Shanties For Our Time,” a time of crisis. These songs address not only global warming and melting of the ice caps, but the recent proliferation of violent storms, the pandemic, the refugee crises, global pollution, and personal meaning. Had it been recorded a bit later Kahn may have thrown in the Ukraine war.  Suffice to say he’s got plenty to rant about and the sea shanty style takes the edges off, or at least mitigates the direct messaging somewhat. Commensurate with pirate lore, he mixes in some black humor and sprinkles in a few beams of hope.

While the issues are contemporary, they are not new, but the concept is one that no one else has tried and for that Kahn deserves kudos. It’s still a bit puzzling why he informs us of the melting ice, the wildfires, and global warming. We’re all aware of these issues and most of us turn to music as an escape from these looming signs of doom.  Do we need to be reminded of “the year that Covid ran amuck”? Yet, in many cases where it seems he is getting too preachy, he brings a song such as “Landfall” where some of the lyrics profess a true love for the ocean. He follows that with “Ship of Fools,” which says we can get through this mess with a profound sense of determination.  In any case the accompanying voices and spare instrumental support on some delivers a strong emotional, authentic punch. 

“No More a Whalin’” comes across as missing the yesteryears rather than decrying our current state. The banjo here, the fiddle on the protest of pollution, “Bucket O’ Bones,” the tres on the immigration oriented “O The Ocean Rolls,” and the hammered dulcimer on “Cast on the Water” are all nice additions to the heavy balance of a cappella tunes. “On the Other Side” speaks cleverly to loss of jobs to overseas companies as well as yearning for the old days. “Cast on the Water” points existentially to the need for all of us to find our way, whether we metaphorically follow the small boats or continue our own lonely search for the first sign of the horizon. “Island of Dreams” plays with the age-old colloquialisms “red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” and similar sayings but addresses the loss of species and the environmental cost of plastic and trash. “Sundown,” the closer covers similar turf, (or in this case, water) 

Kahn finds a creative way to unleash these messages but most of his potential audience is likely well-informed while the others tend to shun overly political messaging.  Musically, though it’s a terrific listen that unfortunately for most will happen only once, and not repeatedly.

 

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 - 'Threadbare` by Honey Don't (jh)

Honey Don't - Threadbare (click on image to watch video)

2 March 2022 

 

Honey Don’t is a five-piece string band that originally formed in Colorado but now call their home central Oregon.  They have a relaxed, comforting acoustic sound driven by its two principals – Bill Powers (vocals, guitar, mandolin) and Shelly Gray (vocals, upright bass). Benji Nagel (vocals, dobro), CJ Neary (fiddle), and Don Hawkins (snare) round out the quintet for their third release, Threadbare, after an eight-year hiatus. As such, many of these songs were either written while based in Colorado, or that locale is indelibly printed in their approach as indicated by “Red Mountain Pass,” “Big Water Ahead,” “Ain’t No Damn Up on Yampa,” “Daybreak on the Muddy,” and “Denver Ramble.” 

While the instrumentation reads as bluegrass, theirs has elements of folk, country, western swing, and yes, bluegrass too. It’s timeless music that fits as easily in the early to mid-twentieth century as it does now. Like bluegrass though, it seems that the three vocalists are all sharing one mic as Powers voice is just slightly more prominent than the others, giving it a carefree approach that becomes instantly infectious in a just-pull-up-your-chair way. They have kind of a sneaky way of making this ageless music fresh.

The bulk of the songs are theirs except for the opening “Eight More Miles” form Kieran Kane and “Wrong Way to Run” from Willy Tea Taylor. The Kane tune proves to be the perfect introduction as it creates the relaxed, harmonious vibe. At times the band grows more enthusiastic, almost giddy on tunes such as the rather raw “Denver Ramble” and the brimming “Big Water Ahead,” the latter as if sung as a half cautionary warning/ half presaging excitement from a white-water rafting guide on the Colorado River. “Red Mountain Pass” downshifts the tempo as the instruments mesh well to create a sustained energy behind a more serious cautionary stance although the chorus still exudes a carefree attitude – “The Lord’s gonna take me when he wants me.”

The opening to the ballad “Ain’t No Damn Up on Yampa,” evoked The Band’s “Ain’t No Cane on the Brazos” but quickly moved away from that riff as the Nagel and Neary deliver a superb dobro-fiddle combination that paints the sorrowful backdrop.  From here the album kicks into more upbeat fare with the clever wordplay of “Five Foot Four from Fort Worth,” the easy rolling singalong “Anything for You,” the confessional, steadfast title track, and the celebratory “Wine, Whisky, Beer, and Gin.”

Rather than sustain the blissful pace, they step back with more sensitive fare in “For the Roses” and fiddle/dobro imbued “Wrong Way to Run.” Yet, “High Country News Girl” has the band flying at their gleefully fastest of all with outstanding dobro picking from Nagel. There’s little choice but to take a breather after that one and the band closes with a touching instrumental, “Daybreak On the Muddy,” with solos from mandolin, dobro, and fiddle.  As the tune fades out, they leave us wanting more, attesting to a job well done.

 

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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