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Music Review - `Western` by James Hyland (lz)

James Hyland -- Western   (click on image to watch video)

 27 February 2020

 

Black

James Hyland is a seasoned singer/songwriter from Austin, Texas who sings from a knowledge perspective. It’s evident in his sometimes sinewy vocals and the evocative emotions embedded in his songs. He’s also prone to convey a certain cynicism that’s well suited for these tempestuous times. His latest album, simply titled Western, mostly stays true to that tact and helps center a sprawling set of songs based around a loose frontier theme. His skepticism is evident in several of the more auspicious offerings — “The Edge of Comancheria,” “Texas Ranger,” “Today’s a Good Day to Die” and “White Men in the Black Hills” specifically — but even when he recalls the desperation and despair that accompanied this nation’s western expansion, there’s more resolve than resignation, indicating that Hyland himself is determined to pursue his own passions without deferring to whatever scenario that might have occurred before.


“I’ve got the lights in the dashboard to calm me down,” he sings on the telling “Dark and Weary World,” a song that speaks to the plight of those drawn to the far reaches of the horizon without ever really knowing what awaits them once they arrive. Naturally, there’s a certain amount of melancholia entwined with these tenacious tomes, an element that’s especially evident on the lonely lament “Hill Country Nights,” a track that finds Hyland seemingly at his most vulnerable. Likewise, the rambling “Nashville Song,” an off-kilter ode to the sounds associated with that city of the same name, lightens the mood and suggests there are some sunshine and sway within his musings as well. “The Ballad of Eddie Mullet” follows suit, a breezy ramble of a tune that effectively diminishes some of the menace associated with the stereotypical Wild West outlaw. And when Hyland settles into a sweet serenade like “Weather on the Wood,” it’s easy to forget any of those antagonistic intents that may have occurred earlier.


Ultimately, as the album draws to an end, the mood lightens considerably. With a generous 19 songs in all, Western suggests that Hyland is more the tireless troubadour than an angry insurgent.  Hopefully then, Western points a way forward.

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - `Someday Soon Somehow` by Scott Fab (lz)

Scott Fab -- Someday Soon Somehow   (click on image to watch video)

 25 February 2020

 

Black

Singer/songwriter Scott Fab makes no grand pretensions or projects any oversized ambitions with his modestly titled sophomore set Someday Soon Somehow. A collection of nine songs that find Fab accompanying himself solo solely on acoustic guitar, it’s a lovely, lilting and endearing encounter, songs of circumspect, sentiment and sobriety sang to a distant muse with eloquence and intelligence.

Granted, it’s no easy task trying to hold an audience within such spare settings. Like Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen, Fab makes no excuse for his airs of melancholia, yearning, and desperation. Songs such as “The Time of Our Lives,” “Rain,” “How Is Your Heart” and the title track convey the tangled passion of an artist unafraid to bare his emotions and share them both freely and fearlessly. Wholly expressive to an exceptional degree, each of these entries provides a gateway to a sensitive soul.

Given his skills, it’s little wonder then that Fab made such an indelible initial impression in such a relatively short time. His debut album, 2017’s Leave My Friends, won raves from those critics who heard it and eventually landed him a placement at such prominent venues as Folk Alliance and the Kerrville Folk Festival, where his appearance led him to become a finalist in the Kerrville competition.

Still, any follow-up effort can be a challenge, given that a debut album is the culmination of a lifetime of accumulating craft and creativity while a second effort is a forced task within a limited time frame. Nevertheless, Fab apparently wasted no time getting to the task at hand. Someday Soon Somehow found him gathering a collection of songs he had frequently performed in concert and then recording them over a few days in a single take direct to disc. The intimacy and expression complement each other to maximize the effect, forging a sound that betrays a few frayed ends while also retaining a crispness and clarity all at the same time.

 

In retrospect, Someday Soon Somehow provides the ultimate Sunday morning listening experience, a chance for rumination and respite not only from the night, before but, more importantly, from the complicated demands and desires that accompany life itself. Someday Soon Somehow couldn’t have come soon enough…

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


 

 

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Music Review - `American Dirt` by Jon Fox (lz)

Jon Fox -- American Dirt   (click on image to watch video)

 6 February 2020

 

Black

It’s apparent from the opening notes of Jon Fox’s excellent new album that he’s an unabashed enthusiast of Americana music. A musical journeyman who claims to have visited 49 of our 50 states — Hawaii is the only one he hasn’t made it to so far — he hails from North Carolina but has spent most of his time in Austin and Nashville ever since. He maintains clear respect for his roots and as a result, there’s not a single note on the humbly-enshrined American Dirt that seems out of place or lacking in assurance or sincerity.  As the title implies, these are songs sprung from the soil of the nation’s heartland, as rich and as rugged as that source would imply.

In a very legitimate sense, Fox comes by these attributes naturally. His father, Dave Fox, contributes keyboards, gracing each of the offerings with an added sheen. The younger Fox himself is a solid songwriter, and while he doesn’t breach the boundaries, his songs are immediately accessible and effortlessly engaging throughout. The upbeat opener “Love Is All You Need” sets the tone, but the sentiment is shared by such songs as “It Ain’t Rain,” “Mountain Life,” “What It’s Not” and the proudly patriotic “My Country.” (Lee Greenwood, please take note!)

Even when he’s not rallying the troops, Fox makes an effort to assuage them in other ways as well, whether it’s the easy lope of the universal “Every Town,” the croon and caress of “Tears We Cried” or the earnest engagement that underscores “Outlaw” and “Forest Through the Trees.” With few exceptions, Fox’s songs put the emphasis on pride and positivity. While some might accuse him of taking on a Pollyannaish perspective, the mood is so amiable and effusive, it’s difficult not to get caught up in its radiant glow.

So too, there’s something to be said for a blue-collar country rocker whose only concern is merely keeping his audiences entertained. Fox shuns pretense and pontification in favor of a sound that’s well-produced, solidly delivered and boasting a clear connection. As a result, American Dirt finds itself anchored with a firm foundation. 

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


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Music Review - `Blood Red Moon` by Barbara Bergin (lz)

Barbara Bergin-- Blood Red Moon   (click on image to watch video)

 24 February 2020

 

Black

Not every artist is born into the role of singer/songwriter. Some travel a circuitous route before finally hitting their stride and fulfilling their ultimate destiny.

Barbara Bergin is one such individual. She began her professional career as an orthopedic surgeon and then went on to become a public speaker, raise a family and, perhaps in the most unlikely scenario of all attained the status of being a “Year-End Champion Reiner” as certified by the South Texas Reining Horse Association and the Texas Reining Horse Association.

If you’re a bit confused about how that early trajectory led her to where she is now — that is, a proud bearer of a fine first album and an artist that belies the fact that she’s only on the opening stretch of what promises to be a long and prolific career — then you could hardly be blamed. Nevertheless, Bergin takes a down-home tack throughout Blood Red Moon, adhering to a well-trod folk, country and bluegrass template that’s very well suited to her affable vocals and easy, unassuming songs.

That said, there’s some variation in the material, which ranges from the traditional-sounding ballad “She Danced with the Young Prince of Wales” and the Celtic connection of “Three Eggs in my Apron,” to the rowdier bluegrass-based rave-ups “Like Father Like Son/Cluck Ol’ Hen” and “Possum’s in the Corn” and beyond to the spiritual sensibility of “Let’s Get On Up!.” Not surprisingly then, while the twelve-song set is comprised entirely of original material, most of the selections sound like well-trod standards, similar to vintage material that could have been newly adapted to suit Bergin’s initial outing. That’s certainly to her credit, given that the gentle repast of “Blood Red Moon,” “Warm Place” and “Captain of the Robert E. Lee” bear the intimacy of hearth and home, songs meant to be sung around the fire in the company of a small but attentive audience. There’s little here of heavy consequence lyrically (“City living can be alright if you don’t mind traffic, noise and lights,” she croons ever so convincingly on the song “My Life’s Good (Cuz I Don’t Live in the City)”), but both her contentment and commitment are clear and the songs come across as soothing as a soak in the hot tub at the end of a busy day.

 

Granted, Bergin’s cheery disposition may ring hollow with those prone to cynicism, but it ought to be remembered that there’s value in simplicity and simply slowing down to avoid life’s hectic pace. Consequently, Blood Red Moon possesses all the additives needed to make a positive first impression even at the outset. 

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


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Music Review - `I’m Into Now` by Shoebox Letters (lz)

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

 29 January 2020

 

Black

Portland’s Shoebox Letters has achieved a modest modicum of recognition over the course of a career that encompasses more than a dozen albums and various accompanying EPs. They come about their craft quite naturally; the band’s leader, chief singer and songwriter Dennis Winslow was once a well-regarded staff writer on Nashville’s Music Row in the early ‘90s before finding his calling scoring film and television. It’s a trade he continues to pursue. However once he founded Shoebox Letters in 2009 alongside the band’s bassist Dave Strickler, he found a new calling and happily, the band’s prolific prowess has found them on a steady roll ever since.

More than ten years on, the band continues to make music with a trademark authenticity and assurance that’s deeply rooted in essential Americana. It’s no surprise then that their new effort, I’m Into Now, an eight-song EP, or mini-album — however one chooses to perceive it — conveys their core creativity by way of an easily identifiable sound and an affable down-home demeanor. Their roots remain obvious — the Byrds, the Burrito Brothers, and Pure Prairie League are easily identifiable influences — but the songs are still the prime ingredient, as they have been in each of their efforts up until now. There’s no shortage of hummable hooks — “Turn to Stone, “People In Love” and the title track being the prime examples — but even when they lower the lights and slow the tempo, the amiable ambiance never falters. “I Drink for Two” and “Running” offers all the evidence needed, their easy sway and calming caress providing further soothing sentiment to the album overall. 

Ultimately then, the band’s ability to craft such a seductive series of mainstream melodies remains the essence of its appeal. Though flash and frenzy seem to be prime qualities when it comes to making music these days, Shoebox Letters prove they’re capable of holding their own regardless. Its title aside, I’m Into Now shows a distinct reverence for an old-fashioned formula, one that pivots on songcraft overall. In that regard, there’s no doubt that Shoebox Letter continues to communicate quite convincingly.

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


 

 

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