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Music Review - `Beautiful Country’s Burning, Brother (Bucket Brigade)` by Jimmy Baldwin (lz)

Jimmy Baldwin -- Beautiful Country’s Burning, Brother (Bucket Brigade)   (click on image to watch video)

 13 Oct 2020

 

Black

In many ways, singer/songwriter Jimmy Baldwin could be considered the consummate road warrior. He’s brought his music to any number of watering holes, gathering places and venues large and small over the length and breadth of the country — from coast to coast and the Canadian border to the furthest reaches of America’s southernmost states. A native Texan, he taps a timeless template by paying heed to classic country, Mexican mariachi music and archival rock and roll, finding a fine blend that offers ample reverence to it all. And while he’s acquired ample acceptance from both radio programmers and an ever-growing legion of fervent followers, he can also take pride in being a three-time Grammy nominee and a budding film director as well.

If the general populace has yet to get wind of him, it’s not because they haven’t heard his music. In fact, he’s been well represented for his various commercial contributions, including ever-present ads for Motel 6 and Corona beer. It may seem less glamorous to indulge in such consumer-driven enterprises, but the advertising world has cited those accomplishments through an array of prestigious industry awards.

Of course, Baldwin has also proven his mettle through a fine series of solo albums that began in 2006 with Somebody’s Nobody and continued with his sophomore set The Cowboy and the Mermaid in 2008, followed by Vivador in 2010, Changing Time in 2012 and his most recent offering Leviathan of Love, released four years ago. Indeed, it’s been a long wait for what’s coming next, but we’re told a new album is due in February. 

In the meantime, Baldwin’s filling the void by offering up a song that shines as a veritable anthem for our times. “Beautiful Country’s Burning, Brother (Bucket Brigade)” tackles the scourge of rampant racism that continues to consume this country, as well as the fight to finally find justice by those who recognize that it’s long past time this particular plague of hatred and intolerance was terminated once and for all. It’s a clarion call for unity, as well as a reminder of all we have to lose if the nation doesn’t come together and recognize the need to right these wrongs.

 

“This could be our funeral pyre,” the song’s lyric warns at one point. “We need a a bucket brigade.” The verse is capped by a chorus that’s catchy but also to the point, summing up the sentiment entirely. So too, the video features pictures of protests, good-intentioned individuals draped in American flags and imagery of the nation’s spacious and spectacular western environs, offering further evidence of everything that’s well worth fighting for.

 

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

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Music Review - `Treasure Map` by Shoebox Letters (lz)

Shoebox Letters -- Treasure Map    (click on image to watch video)

 13 October 2020

 

Black

Over the course of their more than ten year collective career, the Portland Oregon-based band known as Shoebox Letters has creeped ever closer to wider recognition with each successive effort. This able quartet — anchored by guitarist, keyboard player and vocalist Dennis Winslow, along with singer Susan Lowerty, steel guitar player and vocalist Greg Paul and bassist Dave Strickler — hew to an Americana approach that allows for perky up-tempo romps as well as heartfelt, heroic ballads, all while managing to maintain a sound that’s become their own.

Shoebox Letters’ newly released EP Treasure Map maintains that sturdy standard, and while there’s no variance from their template to speak of, their songwriting skills and tightly knit delivery reaffirms both their posture and prowess. Having enlisted drummer, percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Brian David Wills to supplement the sound, the six songs find the group on a steady roll with an acumen that’s obvious. It begins with the uptempo and down-home “Drinking More Without You,” notches things down — just a bit — with the title track, and then finds an easy groove with “Second Guessing,” before drifting into a mellower motif for the rest of the set. There’s a hint of melancholia evidenced on “First Step” (I pray for the strength..I pray for the courage…”), but it never slows the momentum entirely. “You’ve got to have faith.”

Winslow insists on the assertive song that follows, aptly titled “Wait and See.” “There something bigger out there, The universe still cares about you and me.” It’s a lesson in finding hope amidst the happenstance, making it advice well worth heeding. That leaves it to the last track, “I’m No Good at Walking Away,” to bring it all around, an anthem of reaffirmation that suggests even in these troubled times, perseverance is needed. The testimony may be directed towards a partner in a crumbling relationship, but the insistent stance offers indication that the singer is committed to the cause. For that reason alone, it serves as a reminder that while hard times can cause consternation, there’s reason to resist rather than retreat. Ultimately then, Treasure Map provides a wealth of musical riches, and a bounty of inspiration besides.

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - `Same Shirt, Different Day` by Rodney Rice (lz)

Rodney Rice -- Same Shirt, Different Day  (click on image to watch video)

 22 August 2020

 

Black

It goes without saying that the late great John Prine had a profound effect on the majority of artists that operate within the confines of Americana environs. His no-nonsense, straight and sincere approach to relating tales borne from the heartland, and the uncommon yet unassuming breed of everyman and everywoman that occupy it, offered a common connection that listeners could relate to without fear of finding false pretense. Credit Rodney Rice with taking notice of his own, sharing that overriding influence on his excellent new album Same SHIrT Different Day. Indeed, the playful penmanship in the title is no accident; Rice’s sense of irony and his particular penchant for framing everyday situations with a cheery and charming attitude and down-home demeanor would certainly make Prine proud. Indeed, with a dozen songs mostly of his own making, Rice not only shares an admiration for Prine in his prime, but also manages to make that affable attitude his own.

That said, Rice’s blue-collar narratives mostly find him on an even keel, one that combines his rugged and relentless delivery tempered by a sound that can occasionally sound somewhat frayed around the edges. It might take the form of a lazy swagger, as expressed in the tears-in-the beer shuffle “Can’t Get Over Her” (“I can’t get over her while she’s lying next to him”), the easy lope of “Pillage and Plunder” or the Band-sounding sensibilities conveyed through “Company Town.” Mainly though, Rice not only wears his heart on his sleeve, but also plants his tongue firmly in cheek, even to his own detriment and to that of anyone deemed desirable. “I can’t stand the way you dress and your hair is a mess,” he tells his lady friend on the otherwise self-deprecating “Middle Managed Blues.” Likewise, certain songs — the decidedly determined “Walk Across Texas,” the winsome yet weary “Right To Be Wrong” and the particularly Prine-like “Rivers Run Backwards” and “Memoirs of Our Youth”— betray an assured sensitivity that offers an astute insight into Rice’s wisdom and resilience.

In these problematic and pandemic times, most folks can relate to the telling title with which Rice has christened this set of songs. That’s all the more reason to appreciate their well-spun wisdom and reflection. Whether it’s the same shirt, the same shit or another non-distinctive day, Rice’s wisdom provides a much needed respite.

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

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Music Review - `The Gods and Ghosts of Bleecker Street` by Tom MacLear (lz)

Tom MacLear -- The Gods and Ghosts of Bleecker Street   (click on image to watch video)

 26 Sept 2020

 

Black

Even with all he’s accomplished up until this point in his prolific career — one that’s found him exercising his skills as a singer, songwriter, musician, author, producer, poet, and filmmaker — Tom MacLear has taken a turn that might prove somewhat daunting. A spoken word narrative about past times spent in the shadowy haunts of Greenwich Village, The Gods and Ghosts of Bleecker Street finds MacLear sharing his stories knowingly and assuredly over a series of quiet, unobtrusive freeform interludes, while creating a nocturnal setting for both magic and mystique in the process. Moreover, MacLear stays true to the album’s title, conjuring up the spirit of Kerouac,  Steinbeck, Hemingway, William Burroughs, the Beat Poets, and others that go unnamed who once called New York City home throughout the cultural upheaval of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. 

Although only the sweeping title track comes across as an actual fleshed-out song, the other offerings succeed in conveying the aura of a time long past, but still a part of that fabled Environ’s legacy and legend. “1955 (The Cold War Hemingway)” offers individual insights courtesy of McLear’s recollection of how he became engrossed in those transformational times.
It was, he declares, “A place all its own, where the eccentricities made sense, or at least I made sense…” and indeed, his vivid description of an era flush with romance, revelation and new-found awareness effectively transports the listener back to those hallowed environs where Dylan, Ginsberg, Dave Von Ronk, and the prophet and seers that held court on street corners, dimly lit nightclubs and fanciful coffee house plied their craft for anyone who cared to hear.

Although the album is remarkably brief — some of the tracks clock in at less than a minute — the aura and the ambiance are illuminated with drama, description and detail. Its brevity aside, MacLear opts for nuance over nostalgia, while still leaving the listener pining for the past and the way things once were when change was in the air and no one knew what would lay ahead. Thanks to MacLean, its Gods and Ghosts are still very real.

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - `Summer in America` by Dana Cooper (lz)

Dana Cooper --Summer in America   (click on image to watch video)

 21 July 2020

 

Black

Granted, summer looks a lot different this year. Where it was once for a time to venture out on vacation, enjoy time off from school, gather with friends and relatives, and opt to unwind, in 2020 it’s about avoiding the plague caused by a pandemic, the ongoing unrest and a brewing political maelstrom that shows no sign of subsiding any time soon. That sad, credit Dana Cooper with summarizing that shared sense of uncertainty with “Summer in America,” a timely testament to this perilous period of our history. “There’s a madness in our midst,” he sings over a quietly assuring melody that belies the trouble and turmoil to which he’s alluding. In a sense, it’s a call to arms, one that expresses a determination to march together, locked arm in arm, to oppose the forces of racial injustice and those that would deny the right to peacefully protest and thereby give voice to those swept aside by indifference and oppression. However it also shares a keen sense of optimism that suggests those that take to the streets will ultimately triumph and America will reclaim the ideals on which this precious nation was founded.


To his credit, Cooper’s well equipped to express these sentiments. A nominee for the Kerryville Folk Festival Hall of Fame, a recipient of the 2014 Heritage Musician Award from Pilgrim Center for the Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, and winner of the 2015 Spirit of Folk Award by Folk Alliance International, his songs have been widely recorded by any number of exceptional artists, making him a regular presence at songwriting workshops both here and abroad. His own albums have achieved widespread recognition as well, and with a new effort due soon, “Summer in America” provides the promise of scaling new plateaus on his way to wider recognition.

“Summer in America is indeed one terrific tune, and more importantly, a song for all seasons that aptly sums up the modern American malaise.

 

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

To Read All of Lee's Reviews, Click Here

 

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