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Music Review - `Amanda Cevallos` by Amanda Cevallos (lz)

Amanda Cevallos-- Amanda Cevallos   (click on image to watch video)

 21 April 2020

 

Black

In many ways, Amanda Cevallos typifies the Americana ideal. She draws on various traditional templates — western swing, rockabilly and of course, the ever-reliable tears in your beers balladry — and injects them all with her own personal perspective. This, her eponymous sophomore set, solidifies that stance and affirms the fact that although she’s hardly an original, she’s well equipped to navigate the terrain.

Of course, not that it would matter if she didn’t maintain the proper bearings as well as an astute ability to credibly convey her material. In fact, she proves quite capable of doing both, starting with the jaunty sway of opening track, “All My Boyfriends” and continuing through the honky tonk shuffle of “Goodbye Truth” and “Freddy Ain’t Ready” through to the tender trappings of “Got Me Where You Want Me,” “Crazy” and “The Way I Go.” Cevallos is clearly earnest in her intents, and the emotion she invests in these songs of heartbreak and happenstance is both credible and convincing. Ample applications of pedal steel buttress the proceedings, making for a sound that mostly leans towards classic country while still maintaining contemporary credence. 

Although Cevallos can claim credit for writing all the songs save the final entry, “Ready for the Times to Get Better” (which she sings Spanish), she’s also chosen an excellent backing band —Eldridge Goins (drums, backing vocals), Jimmie Greaves (lead guitar, backing vocals) , Vance Hazen (bass) and Danny Hawk (pedal steel) — one that lends support with both the instrumentation and the arrangements. Producer James Hyland keeps things well balanced throughout, minding a rich tableau that still gives Cevallos’ expressive vocals ample opportunity to securely stake a claim at center stage. At the same time, Cevallos herself injects plenty of personality, coming across as both feisty and forlorn, depending on song and circumstance.

“Baby I’ve been smoking weed,” she says matter of factly on the aforementioned “The Way I Go.” That may be so, but even so she sounds totally clearheaded throughout.

 

In fact, confidence and authority are never in short supply. Cevallos is obviously ready to take control and assert her ability. The proof is evident in every song borne by this impressive effort, one that assumes an ascension to stardom is only a matter of time

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


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Music Review - `Under the Influence` by Guy Schwartz (lz)

Guy Schwartz -- Under the Influence    (click on image to watch video)

 31 March  2020

 

Black

On what is apparently his 60th (!) album to date, Houston-based singer/songwriter Guy Schwartz channels some storied influences, holding true to the new album’s subtitle “New Original Classic Rock from Houston.” The references are all unmistakable —Dr. John on “Mac Said,” Jim Morrison on “Lost In Time,” Jimi Hendrix with “Far Away From Here,” more than a hint of the blues on “Stepping Stone” and “Blues Rumble,” sweeping southern rock on “Two Sides of the Mountain, and so on.  It all seems to come naturally, not surprising given the fact that he’s been plying his trade for the better part of 50 years, and that in that time, he’s dabbled in nearly every genre under the sun — from psych to soul, rock to retro, prog to punk and practically everything in-between. 

 

Indeed, Under the Influence allows him to indulge his fancies in a variety of ways without paying full heed to any one preference in particular. Despite the distraction of trying to guess who’s he’s attempting to emulate at any given time, the songs all stand on their own, a credit to Schwartz’s songwriting and his crack backing band. Some subjects come into sharp focus immediately —  the imprint made by early encounters as described on “Waltz Across Texas” (“He saw Ernest Tubb play at the Saint Bernard Hotel…”), the abuse of power flaunted by the current administration on “Out of Control” and the desire to keep the songs coming, courtesy of closing track “Gotta Keep the Music Alive.” 


Verve and vitality are key quotients when it comes to any genre of music, of course, and that’s the prime reason why the new album succeeds the way it does. Schwartz is indeed a survivor, but he’s also far more than that. He’s an archivist in the strictest sense, an artist who values today’s musical legacy while determined to sustain those traditions as well. With Under the Influence, he succeeds and then some.

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


 

 

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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 - `Still Life` by Dave Greaves (lz)

Dave Greaves -- Still Life  (click on image to watch video)

 13 March 2020

 

Black

Dave Greaves provides proof that quantity can equate to quality. No further evidence is needed than a listen to Still Life, a set of songs that appear to connect with specific episodes in Greaves’ life while also proving capable of connecting with those that hear them. Greaves is clearly a masterful songwriter and musician, and these tender tales resonate with a clear dedication and devotion. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a more touching set of songs, or one that’s more decidedly desirable as well.


Generally, when an artist releases a double album, one that contains nearly two dozen tracks at that, there comes a point where repetition and redundancy sets in. Not so in this case. Every song appears more enticing than the one before, a series of effortlessly engaging melodies that work their way under the skin even on first hearing. Any number of these offerings can be offered as evidence — “Fool’s Gold,” “Me and Lucky,” “The Longing for You,” “Rising Tide” — being but a few of the examples. Ultimately though, it’s unnecessary to single out any particular tracks. All of the material maintains such a uniformly high standard that the album excels as a whole. 

 

To Greaves’s credit, he doesn’t rely on tenderness alone, although he would certainly be forgiven if he did. Whether it’s the sweetly swaying violin that caresses “Frank” or the soothing saxophone that cascades through the overtly expressive “I Love Ya Babe,” the music offers a consistent caress throughout. However, Greaves is more than merely a tunesmith. He’s a knowing storyteller, gifted with the ability to create characters and situations that offer an immediate impression. Whether fanciful or otherwise, these tender tales become instantly affecting.


Still Life is an ideal introduction to those unfamiliar with Greaves’ work, and will likely prompt further investigation into the man’s back catalog. Fortunately, for the time being anyway, Greaves has given us plenty to enjoy as well as hope that there will be more to come from him in the future.

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


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Music Review - `Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Hippyness` by The Midwest Home Grown Band (lz)

The Midwest Home Grown Band--Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Hippyness  (click on image to watch video)

 26 June 2020

 

Black

Eric Greengardner, who performs and records under the name Eric Einhorn, helms an outfit descriptively dubbed The Midwest Home Grown Band. He’s the kind of artist who tends to wear his feelings on his proverbial sleeve, resulting in an uncommonly expressive album bearing the forthright title Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Hippyness. It may be the band’s first album, but it’s an evocative effort nevertheless, and the sentiments shared by Einhorn/Greengardner, the band’s primary vocalist, and his colleagues — singer Amy Valdez, guitarist Bill Sisk, keyboard player Dale Beagle,bassist Dave Leeds, Banjo player Wayne Holcomb, sax and flute player Mark Kieme and drummers Elad Fish and Josh Morton — get right to the point without any unnecessary interpretation.

That said, Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Hippyness excels through its diversity. Einhorn’s gritty vocals occasionally bring echoes of Johnny Cash to mind, while adding a decided gravitas to each of the album’s offerings. The best examples are found on two tracks in particular, the sobering memory of life in small-town America titled “The Courthouse Clock,” and the darker designs of “Unseen Truth,” an earnest plea to an elusive and uncaring lover. Oddly enough, “The City” finds him taking a different tack entirely, as Einhorn croons across a dark, sinewy, jazzy groove while purveying a cool, hipster-like vibe. Likewise, when he deviates into a 47 second, spoken word ode to our men and women in uniform, “God Bless Our Soldiers,” he deviates yet again, doing so with what can only be described as deep devotion.

Einhorn’s forthright determination is further evidenced on the honky-tonk strains of “Don’t Call Me Loser,” a song in which he declares “Don’t call me loser just because I don’t dress like you/Or share your value system or your narrow point of view.” Although the mood seems somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it’s also a sturdy reminder of the discord and divisiveness that’s plagued our nation for more years than most folks care to remember. Happily then, the sentimental strains of “Hanging Out at Hooker’s Mill” recall better times, when innocence and optimism pointed the way forward. Ultimately, the album’s most emphatic songs come in the form of a pair of forthright rockers, “Road Trip” and “Tears,” two tracks that let loose with drive and determination.

The band’s ability to let loose finds the mantra expressed in the album title becoming all the more meaningful. 

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


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