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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



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

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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



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

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Music Review - `Superman` by Jay Ryan Beretti (lz)

Jay Ryan Beretti -- Superman    (click on image to watch video)

 27 January 2020



On his new album, tellingly titled Superman, Jay Ryan Beretti veers between the extremes of desperation and defiance. Like the superhero referenced in the title, he sometimes has to deal with his own kryptonite, although he makes a valiant attempt to overcome every obstacle. He takes a mostly somber and sobering stance throughout, but his devotion to cause is never in doubt. “I live in my world, a fantasy world,” he sings on the decidedly dispirited “I’m Down. “I don’t need to be the perfect guy.” 

If Beretti sometimes seems plagued with insecurity, he exhorts his lovers regardless. On the title track, he offers a warning to those who look to loftier goals without seeing the reality that’s right before them. His take on Roy Orbison and Glenn Danzig’s “Life Fades Away” seems somewhat fatalistic in its stance — the title being an obvious indication — but given Beretti’s arched approach, it fits the tone of the album overall. Indeed, his delivery sometimes recalls both Orbison and Elvis, the latter’s bluster and bravado sounding especially evident on “Lovers in the Sun,” a full-blown ballad of somewhat stately proportions.

Beretti is clearly a crooner, a singer who effectively blends passion and pathos in equal measure. Not surprisingly, his subjects often revolve around romance, the kinds that are true but often somewhat tattered. The ringing refrain of the aforementioned “Lovers on the Sun” finds considerable contrast to the song that follows, “Hear My Call,” a track in which he pleads with a wandering lover to return to the fold.

“I’m gonna pray the Lord,

Hear my call
I can’t stand it anymore

To Hell I go…”

Indeed, Superman bridges the gap between desire and despair, from the more subdued strains  of “Lovesong” to the dire desperation of “My Life.” All the while, Beretti clearly confronts a sort of swinging pendulum that only intimacy can inspire. He plays up the extremes with a decidedly dramatic flair, taking a knee to the floor, hands clasped in an emotional embrace. This Superman may be a vulnerable sort, but his powers of perseverance are never in doubt.

 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



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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Music Review - `Matamoros` by James Kahn (lz)

James Kahn -- Matamoros  (click on image to watch video)

 18 January 2020



Writer/musician/producer James Kahn is a busy man. His latest venture, a Civil War novel named “Matamoros,” has spawned a CD of the same name, one that provides expressive aural accompaniment to a fictional story about a disparate array of characters living on the narrow divide between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, with the span of the Rio Grande in-between.

To call Kahn a renaissance man is hardly an exaggeration. Indeed, he’s had plenty of experience as far as creating stories of a spellbinding nature, having been a writer and producer for such high profile series as “Melrose Place” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” Nevertheless, “Matamoros” the novel isn’t nearly as fanciful. Instead, it reflects the attitudes and intents of a hard-bitten group of would-be spies and deserters thrown together in a cycle of desperation and desire. It’s hard to determine the good guys from the bad, but it rarely matters. The music paints a powerful but poignant portrait of these disparate renegades, outlaws, and outcasts, each intent on their own survival.

Happily, the music isn’t anywhere as bleak as the scenario suggests. Much of it takes a folk-like turn, specifically an Irish influence that’s surprisingly jaunty and joyful despite such dire circumstances. The title tune and “Scully’s Redemption” set the standard and establish the narrative, and even if one wasn’t inclined to connect with the storyline — although it would be a shame not to follow it, especially in the context of the music. Even the most traumatic of tunes, “The Printer’s Devil,” is so lovely, it adds to the compelling nature of the tale overall. Each entry gives voice to a specific character and their varied voices ring through each and every one. The desperation and despair, even as borne out in more sublime selections such as “So Long, The River” and “Rio Allie,” resonate in a very real way.

The sumptuous paintings included with the CD add a bonus element as well, and given the complete packaging — story, music and art — it confirms the fact that concept and creativity far outweigh the amorphous nature of digital downloads. More than that, Matamoros is an album for the ages, both heartbreaking and affecting in equal measure.

 Lee Zimmerman


Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here






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