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Music Review - 'Kieran Ridge & the Moonrakers' Kieran Ridge (dm)

Kieran Ridge & the Moonrakers

27 Nov 2021

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Kieran Ridge is not playing games. On his new album, recorded alongside his energetic and deft band, The Moonrakers, he delivers 11 original compositions with sincerity and urgency. Leading the band and his listeners through a forceful set of rollicking country, he reaches for territory familiar to Steve Earle, Chris Knight, Ryan Bingham, and Dan Baird.

Ridge is armed with an emotive and muscular voice, and a clever turn of phrase. On the latter, he routinely delivers lines like, “She feels good about her bad reputation,” and on the former, he is perfectly at ease rasping and shouting through hard luck tales of love, loss, and life at the bottom of the bottom of the bottle and top of a tough climb.

While Ridge’s vocal is mostly an attribute, there are times when more down tempo material call for less strident delivery. Songs like the opener, “The Last One to Know,” and “Wasted” become the highlights as the band’s performance, and the lyrical content, pair perfectly with Ridge’s hard singing. 

The Moonrakers provide a skillful tour of emotional variety channeled through the aggressive country of Ridge’s composition. The most valuable player is easily Hannah Rose Baker, whose soulful backup vocals and beautiful fiddle, allow the songs to stretch into higher artistic and emotive heights. 

Most impressive about Ridge’s writing is that his tough exterior, while immensely enjoyable in musical form, masks sustained lamentation of loneliness and regret. In creating a complex voice, he joins the best writers of the country tradition.

Despite the solemnity of some of the subject matter, it is a joy to hear Ridge and the Moonrakers play with efficiency and enthusiasm. One won’t need any persuasion when hearing Ridge call out for whiskey to join him and the band in raising a toast.

 

  

 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 - 'Overdue' by Severin Browne (dm)

Severin Browne - Overdue (Click to watch the video)

27 June 2021

 

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Severin Browne writes songs with emotional resonance and lyrical creativity. His stories of ordinary life made dramatic, tearful, and evocative recall the work of similar soft rock, slightly country singer/songwriters, such as James Taylor and the non-synth Kenny Loggins.

His new record, Overdue, is an exercise in vulnerability and intimacy. “On My Way to Play,” a moving tribute to his father,” is a particularly adept example. Browne writes about how his father always encouraged his exploration and ambition, and it is still his the face of his father, now deceased from Alzheimer’s, that he sees in his audiences in the bars of California.

Browne has assembled an impressive variety of musicians to accompany his performances, often giving his songs a surprising range. Rather than simple and sparse singer/songwriter arrangements, he welcomes the sounds of trumpet, Hammond B-3, and backup singers. When he does drift back to familiar singer/songwriter territory, such as on the sentimental ballad, “My Friends are All Around Me,” he writes and sings with a clarity of emotional resonance.

“Miguel and Maria” brings a predictable, but enjoyable Latin-flavor to a story-song about Mexican immigrants seeking refuge in the United States. The song humanizes the people who risk life and limb for the safety and freedom that Americans take for granted, giving necessary pushback to right wing hatred and demagoguery.

Browne’s voice is thin, and in certain moments when he stretches to the limits, his vocal limitations distract from the songs themselves, but his voice is an honest and thoughtful one all the same.

  

 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 - 'Ain't Your Mama' by Rhonda Funk (dm)

Rhonda Funk - Ain't Your Mama (Click to watch the video)

18 May 2021

 

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Rhonda Funk’s surname is truth in advertising. The country singer/songwriter gives the sing songs on her new album, Ain’t Your Momma, an attitudinal injection of passion and spunk. Her charismatic vocal approach has an unshakable scaffold – her strong, raspy and effectual voice. With the ability to shift from country tenderness to a bluesy shout, she leads the listener through five original compositions, and a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Whole Lot of Leavin.’”

 

Ain’t Your Momma is a joy. The up tempo numbers, “Liar, Liar,” and the title track, are middle finger anthems to selfish and unfaithful men – a country tradition that Funk delivers with plenty of energy and heart. Balancing the sonic palette is one midtempo song, “I Could Get Used to This” and an original ballad, “More Than a Table.” The latter demonstrates Funk’s ability to write a moving story-song of country authenticity. The Bon Jovi rendition, reworked into a country iteration, acts as its fitting companion.

 

“Cumberland Falls,” the album closing original, is a country stomper, transporting anyone within earshot to the river in Kentucky, but by the final notes, any loud and noisy bar where extra rounds and dancing are unanimously encouraged.

 

Rhonda Funk’s band rises to the occasion of her high quality songs and powerful vocals. Featuring veterans who have previously played with Vince Gill, the Waterboys, and Melissa Ethridge, they perform with strength and style. The arrangements keep it country, placing Joe Spivey’s beautiful fiddle up front, and often giving it the wonderful backing of Paul Brown’s B-3 organ.

 

The International Singer Songwriters Association nominated Ain’t Your Momma for album of the year. It is easy to understand why. Rhonda Funk’s new collection of songs is one best country records of the year.

 

  

 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 - 'Then and One More Day' by Wesley Dennis (dm)

Wesley DennisThen and One More Day (Click to watch the video)

12 June 2021

 

BlackWesley Dennis demonstrates a joyful capacity for traditional country music on his new record, Then and One More Day. Offering a delightful exit out of the gimmickry and imbecility that dominates contemporary country radio, Dennis is a straightforward and effectual songwriter, whose band is welcome at any honky tonk or country dance in the Heartland.

Dennis’ vocal makes for a fine docent through songs of familiar subject matter: falling in love, heartbreak, and pains to the blue collar worker.

Original material comprises most of Then and One More Day, and Dennis demonstrates a clever acuity for country music humor, as evident on “All My Friends are Behind Bars.” His friends, of course, are Jim, Jack, Forester, and other species of whiskey. The record-closing, “Little Things,” joins the country music tradition of world-weary wisdom balladeering. Dennis croons his way through instructions on how to maintain strength and affection in a marriage through small acts of kindness and care.

Upbeat numbers, such as “Where Are All the Girls I Used to Cheat With?” and “Hey Pretty Baby,” are lusty and fit for a party.

The slick production technique, along repetitive arrangements, creates a flattening effect in the middle of the record. Better use of dynamics or tempo variety would have prevented otherwise avoidable redundancy. Dennis’ cover of John Berry’s mid-1990s hit, “If I Had Any Pride Left at All,” was similarly ill advised, given that country music fans will recognize it as Berry’s operatic showstopper – one that earned him a long standing ovation at the Country Music Awards. Dennis’ vocal is sufficient, but cannot compete with the original.

Despite these flaws, “Then and One More Day” is a fine record – one that simultaneously serves and enhances the proud musical tradition of genuine country music.

 
 
 
 

  

 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 - 'Rope the Wind' by Nick Justice (dm)

Nick Justice - Rope the Wind (Click to watch the video)

4 March 2021

 

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Nick Justice is a self-declared “obscure traveling troubadour.” In the earliest of times, troubadours were all obscure, and all consigned to a life in transit. Telling stories through song so that the audience could more easily remember them, troubadours brought news good and bad, tragic and triumphant, and full of fright and promise.

Rope the Wind, Justice’s newest collection of songs, contains stories set to song providing Justice’s unique vantage point of a world and human species counting each heartbeat. With every thump, there is equal measure of gratitude, love, fear, and regret.

“Run Away” tells the story of a murderous couple brought to the explosions of violence by the catalyst of their passion. The next song in the sequence, “Billy the Kid,” resurrects a familiar name and story of gunfire and assault.

Justice’s voice struggles in some of the songs, but the words he sings, the tales he tells, and the portraits he sketches with the simple but effective tools of his guitar, a small backing band, and his honest vocal delivery, leave a wound. “Love is on the Run” is a heartbreaker for those who “sleep next to a stranger.”

That is a line of characteristic Justice quality, who knows how take a crowbar into the listener’s spirit with a well-timed and worded phrase. He showcases a similar skill when he sings of “tears disappearing in the rain.”

“After We Say Goodbye” has a Latin influence, and with it a resonant sense of romantic disappointment.

Rope the Wind would benefit from more variety in tempo and musical ornamentation. The first up tempo song – an effective and funny play on nursery rhymes, “Rhymes and Reason” – is the ninth song on the record. The bending notes on an electric guitar deeply register on song six, but also make one wonder why they weren’t there before. 

Despite these minor complaints, Justice excels in leading his audience through meaningful vignettes of life. The profundity of his troubadour vision sneaks up on the listener, leaving a lasting mark, and giving plenty of inspiration for deep thought – thoughts that will remain long after Justice has moved down the road onto the next stage, prepared to break more hearts.

 

  

 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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