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Music Review - `Rope The Wind` by Nick Justice (dmac)

Nick Justice - Rope the Wind  (click on image to watch video)

 30 March 2021

 

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Nick Justice sings these eleven songs on Rope The Wind a little bit like a cowboy Chris Isaak. Sonically, Justice’s music is straight forward Americana-based, with plenty of twangy, country- leaning guitars. His music’s Isaak’s comparison is due to that cry in Justice’s voice whenever he sings. Because of this, everything on Rope The Wind comes out just a little bit sad.

The album opens with a personal cry for free-spiritedness, called “Traveling Man.” Toward the album’s center section, however, Justice sings a couple of story songs. One is titled “Run Away,” and is about a Bonnie and Clyde-like couple with “Trouble on their minds/And a lot of time to spare.” As we all know, the devil will find work for idle hands to do. The very next song is the true story of an American outlaw, “Billy The Kid.” There are hard partying country singers these days that refer to themselves as modern day outlaws. Justice, however, writes and sings songs about actual outlaws on this album.

One of the album’s most intriguing songs is called “Rhymes And Reason.” For it, Justice strings together a series of childhood rhymes, and somehow transforms these familiar phrases into an interesting song. The track features plenty of tasty slide guitar, and even banjo underpinning it. It’s a little bit like a Bob Dylan song, in that Justice sings enticing words and it’s up to us (the listeners) to figure out what it all means. The album’s title cut is a slow, throbbing, bass-driven track. Lyrically, it’s an invitation from one man to one girl. “Take a little ride with me/To the other side.” Is he tempting her to step out and into the wild side of life? It sure sounds like it.

There’s plenty of mystery in Nick Justice’s songs, which makes Rope The Wind one Pandora’s Box of an album to explore.

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

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

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

26 October 2020

 

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Jimmy Baldwin begins the video for his single, “Beautiful Country’s Burning, Brother,” with lovely images of American nature, while he sings the song’s chorus backed only by guitar. Soon, however, an image of crosses appears, which remind us how this is more than just a simplistic love song to the country. Next, Baldwin is seen playing his guitar and singing wearing a colorful outfit. He’s pictured alone, like a lonely troubadour. He comes off much like a folky John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness. 

These images of natural beauty are soon interspersed with pictures of people protesting. Some of these protesters are holding up Black Lives Matter placards. Although this summer has seen a lot of brushfires on the West Coast, when Baldwin sings about fires, he’s talking about the political variety, not the physical type. Baldwin also repeats the phrase “bucket brigade,” during the track’s chorus. Bucket brigades refers to the old pre-fire department community fire fighters’ days. This is when folks would literally pass buckets of water from one person to another, to fight a fire. Baldwin uses this phrase to underline how all hands need to be on deck – so to speak -- to fight the racial problems in our land. Of course, had he sung about using firehoses (the more modern way to fight fires) this would have brought up bad memories of how governments sprayed protestors with firehoses during the Civil Rights Movement, and would have likely distracted listeners from the message in his song. 

Lyrically, Baldwin’s song has the impact of a Woody Guthrie song. He’s not pointing fingers at anyone but is instead calling on everyone to unify and come together. Musically, this song is a relatively simple, acoustic guitar-driven song. It’s intentionally simple, almost like a Sunday school song. Although Baldwin sings the song’s verses, he’s joined by multiple voices on its chorus. 

Strikingly, many of these images are of people dressed in red, white, and blue, or holding up an American flag. Clearly, this is a pro-American song. Maybe not pro-American in the conservative, Trump way, but a lyric that seeks to find common values among us, drawing from all political viewpoints. Although singing about literal fire is not the purpose of this song, some of the video’s latter images include scenes of actual fires taken from street protests. 

While Baldwin is mostly positive while singing his song, he does ask at one point, “Could this be our funeral pyre?” Sadly, there are potential dire consequences to the country’s social/political divisions, and Baldwin is unafraid of asking this hard question. Toward the track’s end, a fiddle part can be heard. This gives the track a distinctly country music flavor, as well. 

Also, toward the song’s end, more images of America’s natural beauty are seen again in the video. It’s as though Baldwin is saying we need racial beauty just as much as natural beauty. There’s so much ugliness – both physical and emotional – breaking down our country. Baldwin’s song is his humble attempt to put out these fires of division. After the music stops, the words: “Unite America. Help End Racism Now” appear on the screen. Lastly, Baldwin can be seen walking away in an open field playing his guitar and singing. This concludes his simple, but all too necessary, message song.

 

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

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Music Review - `Another Sky` by Kelly's Lot (dmac)

Kelly's Lot - Another Sky  (click on image to watch video)

 18 September 2020

 

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Kelly’s Lot is a band fronted by Kelly Zirbes. The group has already released 15 CDs. While Zirbes is described as a “folk singer/songwriter with a heart for the blues,” the album Another Sky contains little that might be called ‘the blues.’ Instead, this 12-track album is very much a folk effort. 

Sometimes, when the descriptor ‘folk’ is used, many may immediately tune out. They likely assume the music is a bunch of strummy acoustic guitar tunes. Kelly’s Lot, however, might prevent such a one from tuning out so soon because Another Sky incorporates plenty of sonic variety. For example, “Foolish Try,” which was co-written with multi-instrumentalist Doug Pettibone, prominently features Phil Parlapiano’s Tex-Mex accordion. The song even includes a few lyrics in Spanish, on a tune with distinct roots in south of the border sounds. Then there’s “The Irish Luck,” which – as you may have guessed – is distinctly Celtic, and with its penny whistle, might pass for a St. Patrick’s Day drinking song. 

Accordion is sure put to good use on this album. One titled “Simple Man,” which features a gypsy folk vibe running through it, has accordion up front in the song’s mix. Lyrically, the track is more than a little unusual. “He just loves me with a passion/He’s a simple man,” Zirbes tells us. Most the time, songwriters pen lyrics that attempt to comprehend complicated individuals. Not so here, though, as Zirbes sounds be taken aback by one who is, at the end of the day, relatively simple. This ode to a simple guy includes a clarinet solo. (When was the last time you heard an honest to goodness clarinet solo on a pop song?). “Lock Me Up,” the song that follows next, has a ‘50s rock arrangement, as well as another unusual lyric. This girl is begging to be imprisoned, so her field-playing guy can, well, play that field. “You put me in a prison gown/And run all over town.” This lyrical tactic also flies in the face of typical pop music conventions. Often, dating all the way back to James Brown’s heyday, pop singers have been imprisoned by love, rather than locked away from it. 

While Zirbes isn’t afraid to experiment with various musical styles, she is also able to sing serious political songs. Although it’s not clear who or what her target is for “Freedom,” she’s clearly bothered by something or someone limiting another’s freedom. “No one knows that it’s real,” she tells us, “Only those who lost their freedom.” Zirbes sings its heartfelt words with sincere passion. One song that sounds a tad out of place, however, is “Christmas Is Calling.” Written solely by Zirbes, its lyric is – at its root – about separation between two lovers – only set during wintertime. “And I need you more when Christmas comes to call,” Zirbes confesses over a twangy groove. 

If you’re one of those people that practice extreme prejudice against all folk and folk-related music, Kelly’s Lot might just jolt you out of your preconceived ideas. Yes, Kelly Zirbes has a folksinger living deep down in her soul. However, she knows how to dress up that soul in plenty of unexpected garb. This woman who sings the praises of a simple man, is by no means simple herself.

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

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

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

 12 October 2020

 

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Shoebox Letters new EP, Treasure Map, was written and recorded during the Covid-19 crisis, and ‘Treasure Map’ is an apt title for a project tracked during these strange modern days. However, that treasure is neither silver nor gold but is, instead, any sense at all of normalcy. That normal life the true booty, most anyone would pay dearly to obtain. Recorded in Portland, Or, this is a strong, six-track collection of songs.

Primary singer/songwriter, Dennis Winslow, has said the intention behind this latest group project was “to record a more rocking and maybe uplifting EP.” Even so, though, the work kicks off with “Drinking More Without You.” Granted, the song is built upon a twangy, country groove with a fun electric guitar groove. With that said, though, its lyric tells a sad tale. Sure, it’s not dramatically sad, like a George Jones ballad, but it is still about a guy that’s turned to drinking after separating from his girl. The instrumentation may be bright, but the story is still kind of a depressing one. 

The release’s title track is slightly more somber than “Drinking More Without You,” and includes a sweet call-and-response backing vocal chorus. Once again, though, this sonic sweetness only slightly disguises its sorry story. It’s about a guy searching for a home, somewhere he truly belongs. This is no pirate ship expedition. Instead, it’s a guy looking for the answer, the key to a happier, more settled life. It’s all about the usual restlessness of living. Such restlessness is even heightened during these crazy pandemic days. With that said, though, this song is a really lovely track.

One titled “First Step,” kicks off with some really nice slide guitar work. It’s just as sad as what precedes it, because this ‘first step,’ is about a guy hoping for the courage to walk away from a relationship. Whereas we usually think about ‘first steps,’ as making the move toward doing the right thing, in a positive direction, this guy is actually stepping to walk away. Again, this is a hurting moment. “Second Guessing,” another midtempo, meditative track, looks at a relationship from an entirely different angle. In this latter case, it’s about a guy having second thoughts about entering into a new relationship. So, he goes from being unable to leave, to being unable to enter into a new romantic venture. You get the impression this guy – if it’s the same guy in both instances – is indecisive. Well, you can certainly make a strong case for that. The project continues with “Wait and See,” which – you guessed it – describes a situation where the virtue of patience is praised. The EP closes with a slow number called “I’m No Good at Walking Away.” While true for many of us, why would anyone get involved with someone that IS good at walking away. Now that’s a red flag!

Yes, this album is many times musically uplifting, but don’t expect to be joyfully entertained by it. You will, however, be entertained by the craftmanship put into addressing some difficult life and relationship matters songs it contains.

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

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

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

 1 September 2020

 

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Rodney Rice’s album, Same Shirt, Different Day, features the songs and sound of one woebegone musical soul. Rice sings with a rough-edged voice that is sometimes gravelly, akin to the late John Prine’s singing style, while his songs many times tell hard luck stories, ever so Prine-esquely. This 12-song set is the follow up to Rice’s debut, Empty Pockets and a Troubled Mind. These tunes sometimes play out like country music, and other times come off more folky. No matter the style, though, Rice consistently performs like a man muddling his way through life.

When he as at his best, Rice’s songs also express a subtle sense of humor. One titled “Can’t Get Over Her,” for instance, rolls to a traditional country sonic and incorporates a little corny country humor. Its chorus finds Rice complaining, “I can’t get over her/While she’s lying next to him.” These lines are funny, of course, if you take them literally. With “Middle Managed Blues,” Rice sings his workingman’s blues. It begins with Rice describing his employer giving him a critical performance review. It finds Rice detailing how he-- a self-described hippie -- just doesn’t always fit neatly into the conventional work world. Work takes on a much more serious tone with “Company Town,” though, as Rice sings about what it’s like to live and try and survive in a town where coalmining is almost literally the only gig in town. Sonically, the latter song works in soulful elements of trumpet and tenor saxophone. There aren’t many out-and-out love songs on this album, but “Walk Across Texas” is one exception. Colored by Hammond B3 and downhome fiddle, the song’s lyric are the words of one man’s dedicated love. “Rivers Run Backwards” also incorporates romantic sentiments; he’ll lover his girl forever, until the rivers run dry.

Although he’s a West Virginia native, Rice’s music distinctly reminds you of Texas songwriters, like Steve Earle and Guy Clark. Like them, Rice is a dedicated individualist. The last thing anybody would ever call him is a people-pleaser, that’s for sure. Just like the difficult-to-manage employee spotlighted in “Middle Managed Blues,” Rice is an artist that sells himself as an ‘as is.’ He’s never going to pretend to be something he’s not. That’s one of the beauties in the Texas singer/songwriter tradition. These artists often sing the thoughts we non-musical folks wish we could say out loud. Rice doesn’t always have a filter on his thoughts, which cause his songs to come out stunningly honest, consistently

One of the album’s warmest songs is called “Memoirs of Our Youth.” It’s Rice recalling his childhood, including his mother’s unforgettable advice to never forget to say his prayers. This piece shows a sentimental side of Rice’s personality, which is kept hidden away from the listener on most of the album’s other songs.

While Rice has chosen the singer/songwriter’s life, many of his songs are also relatable to most working-class folk. He’s not so committed to the artistic world that he’s lost touch with what it’s like to struggle through everyday life. As the album’s title reminds us, sometimes we just can’t tell one day from another. The date on the calendar may change, but the problems of yesterday are just as present today. Life is tough, it’s true, but Rodney Rice is a likeminded friend that shares your pain through his tough-minded songs.

 

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

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