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

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

18 May 2021

 

Black

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 - Sins and Plagues- Mark Jungers (dm)

Mark Jungers - Sins and Plagues

12 February 2021

 

Mark Jungers-Sins & Plagues

The United States finds itself deeply emmeshed in “sins and plagues,” helping the aptly titled record from singer/songwriter Mark Jungers arrive like a psychospiritual postcard. The Americana artist leads his deft band through a strong collection of eleven songs, featuring music ranging from swampy blues to hillside country.

Acting simultaneously as a soundtrack and serenade of rural America, “Sins & Plagues” explores the frustrations, joys, and dramatic swings of experience in the bucolic precincts of a diverse nation. From tornados and floods to friendly neighbors and old dreams that die hard, Jungers gives an honest account the American, provincial, and ultimately, human struggle.

The downhome blues of “Only Avenue” eventually makes way for the country whimsy of “The Guy Down the Street.” Jungers’ harmonica is particularly effective, offering both the sound of authenticity and enjoyable musical ornamentation. A cover of “Dead Soldiers” closes the record with a moving tribute to the sacrifices that many nameless Americans have made, even as their stories often fall into the background of our ongoing national chronicle.

“Sins & Plagues” makes for fine accompaniment of America’s current troubles, but given the imperishability of the stories that Jungers tells through song, it will maintain its relevance for many years to come.

Listen here

 

 
 
 
 

 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

 

Black

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

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

16 August  2020

 

Black

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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