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

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

 15 January 2020

 

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James Kahn subtitles his album, “Songs of the Civil War, the Wild West, the Shanty Seas, and the Haunted Heart,” and it’s one expansive project filled with epic songs (some reaching six and seven minutes in length) and overall clocks in at over an hour. Kahn is also a novelist, which shows through with his attention to detail throughout these fourteen songs. In fact, every song is about one of the characters in Kahn’s Civil War novel of the same name (Matamoros), which is described as a story that takes place in Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, a region on the other side of the Rio Grande. Furthermore, he’s worked as a television writer-producer, with credits for Melrose Place and Star Trek: Voyager. Listening to him sing these story songs, however, you might – if you didn’t know any better – guess him to be literate, grizzled old folksinger. A damn good one, too!

Kahn gets right into character for the unaccompanied shanty “Solomon’s Shanty,” singing it just like seaworthy Irishman. Texas history is the setting for “The Mighty Fine Texas Rangers,” a song featuring plenty of acoustic picking, giving it a bluegrass feel. “Mildred’s Waltz” is exactly what its title suggests, a waltz.

An album as literate as this one is a rarity. To be honest, many contemporary pop songs read more like the work of high school English class flunkies. Not so with Kahn, though, who easily raises the songwriting to the graduate college English literature level. Few songwriters have the determination to tell full-length stories through their songs. Greats, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, are a couple of notables in this limited group coming immediately to mind. Therefore, James Kahn has placed himself in a uniquely special group with this song collection. These songs are so good, in fact, they make you want to read Kahn’s novel to learn even more, which makes this album a storytelling gem.

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. 

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Music Review - `The Waiting Game` by Buford Pope (dmac)

Buford Pope - The Waiting Game  (click on image to watch video)

 12 December 2019

 

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There are instances during Buford Pope’s album The Waiting Game where the singer/songwriter sounds a tad like an emo version of Joe Walsh. He, like Walsh, has a bit of a whine in his voice. Yet, whereas Walsh (mostly) applies his vocal instrument to party anthems, Pope oftentimes sounds like a tortured artist when he sings. The Waiting Game is one dark, meditative project.

This album is at its best whenever – to paraphrase Johnny Cash – Pope gets rhythm when he gets the blues. The mandolin-driven and steel guitar-underpinned “Hard Life” makes tough going actually seem doable. The stomping gutbucket blues of “A Hundred” also utilizes a strong beat to beat away demons, so to speak. Whenever Pope sounds down, though, he sounds really down. One (of many dirges) is titled “Wanna Say I’m Sorry Before I Die.” Is this art, or closer to a cry for help? With “Stoned,” Pope tells us, “I can’t see things clearly If I ain’t stoned.” Along the way during this song, he tells us about losing his job and being short on rent money. He’s one woebegone fella, one gathers. 

You get a hint Pope has found someone worse off than himself with “America,” where he appears to be singing from the perspective of a refugee that’s attempting to enter the currently refugee-unfriendly United States. “America, America,” he sings, “There have been so many times you’ve opened up your door.” It’s as if he’s begging at a closed-door that once remained wide open. 

For Pope, The Waiting Game is no game at all. Tom Petty once sang, “The waiting is the hardest part,” and he was right. Pope sounds variously impatient, depressed and stoned throughout The Waiting Game. This is no ‘Tis the season to be jolly album,’ that’s for sure. It is heartfelt and honest, though, and it may be the soundtrack for many Americans these days. Maybe you’re one of these. And if so, this album’s for you. free will, or if he, too, just got stuck in America. Whatever the case, though, his creative mind shows no signs of any stunted growth.

 

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. 

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Music Review - `A Shiver in the Sky` by John Byrne Band (dmac)

John Byrne Band - A Shiver in the Sky  (click on image to watch video)

 25 November 2019

 

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The John Byrne Band’s album, A Shiver In The Sky, doesn’t sound like anything on the radio today, and maybe that’s the reason why it also sounds so darn good. Instead, it plays out like a singer/songwriter set in an Irish pub – sometimes rambunctious (“Just Like You”), while other times quietly sensitive (“Time Ain’t Changed A Thing In This Town”).

Instrumentation, which includes banjo, steel guitar and horns, is also so much more organic than overly technologically advanced contemporary sounds. Byrne is an expressive singer that cannot ever hide the deep Dublin in his vocals. While Byrne songs – as do many of the best Irish tunes – oftentimes lean political, “Your Love Is All There Is,” is a straight-up love song. Even so, though, it’s also a sort of an ‘all we need is love’ song, too. It’s especially heightened with a sweet fiddle solo.

Byrne’s Irishness is impossible to hide, simply because of his accented voice and this album’s overtly Celtic instrumentation. He doesn’t address his background directly much with these songs. “Easy To Get Stuck Here,” though, is an exception to that general rule. “Our roots keep us strong,” he comments, “but sometimes they keep us where we don’t belong.” This song’s lyric is a kind of love/hate letter to his geographic choices. The song is played in a waltz-time rhythm, as Byrne sings from the perspective of one who is – and will likely always be – a stranger in a strange land. America has a long tradition where Irish folk (and many others) immigrate to its shores. It’s a fascinating land, too. U2’s Joshua Tree album is a prime sonic example of Irishmen exploring the U.S.’s mystique. You’re left wondering, with the song’s chorus of “It’s easy to get stuck here,” if Byrne feels like he’s living in Philadelphia because of free will, or if he, too, just got stuck in America. Whatever the case, though, his creative mind shows no signs of any stunted growth.

 

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. 

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Music Review - `Fantastico` by Mitch Webb and the Swindles (dmac)

Mitch Webb and the Swindles - Fantastico  (click on image to watch video)

 2 December 2019

 

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Mitch Webb and the Swindles’ album Fantastico can be described as a fairly complete Southwestern music sampler. It opens with its flamenco guitar-y instrumental title track, “Fantastico,” and closes with the rocker “Can’t Stop.” In between, there are songs about death, jail, and crime. All performed with a sincere love for the wide world of Southwest sounds.

One titled “New Bordertown,” speaks of border life along with all-star help from Augie Meyers (of Sir Douglas Quintet) on Farfisa. Although not strictly a country music album, “I Was Wrong” is nevertheless a slow, sad country song. At times, the album is a little bit like a cowboy movie put to song. In fact, the album cover looks like the hard liquor supply at a saloon. Yes, the word ‘retro’ describes much of this music, but it’s retro in the very best sense of the term. If someone created an album of Billy Ray Cyrus “Achy Breaky Heart” knockoffs, for instance, that would also be retro music – in the absolute worst sense, though. Webb and his Swindles reach back, and only dust off the truly good stuff, the same way someone might pick and choose just the quality liquor available at a bar. 

One of the album’s multiple songs that touch upon death is called “Big C.” The ‘big c,’ usually refers to cancer, and Webb sings about cancer as though it was the Grim Reaper. Even with its easygoing groove and wonderful electric guitar solo, this is nevertheless a disturbing topic for a song. 

Singing cowboys didn’t sing about cancer (at least I don’t ever recall hearing of ‘em broach the subject), and “Big C” is one large hint that this is, in truth, a modern-day album. If you’re anything like Mitch Webb and the Swindles, and you have a deep appreciation for Americana music’s roots, you’ll likely add an exclamation mark after writing its title Fantastico.

 

 

 

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. 

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Music Review - `Hot Chicken Wisdom` by Rich Mahan (dmac)

Rich Mahan - Hot Chicken Wisdom  (click on image to watch video)

 13 November 2019

 

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The great band, Little Feat, comes to mind again and again while listening to Rich Mahan’s Hot Chicken Wisdom – and not just because that band similarly named one of is albums Dixie Chicken. No, the comparison goes far deeper than that. It’s referenced mainly because Mahan has one of those likable, laid-back singing voices. For these eleven songs, Mahan applies this good-natured singing style to some slightly funky, Americana songs.

Mahan shares his culinary hot chicken wisdom on the album’s de facto title cut, “Hot Chicken & An Ice Cold 40,” which strolls along unhurriedly, colored by a vocal call-and-response along with a harmonica part. “I Smoke Pot,” which begins with just acoustic guitar and vocals, is ultimately a reluctant anti-drug song. On it, Mahan recalls all the different substances he’s abused over the years. “I sniffed coke,” he admits, “that shit is kinda risky.” It’s funny how nonchalantly he addresses cocaine abuse. Obviously, cocaine is very dangerous stuff. This line is about as lighthearted as all of Ringo Starr’s “No No Song.” 

The album also includes a ramshackle, Rolling Stones-esque cover of The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody.” Mahan takes it at a slow, torturous pace, and loads its arrangement with soulful backing vocals. It proves just how sturdy so many of those old Bee Gees songs truly are. If you think The Bee Gees were little more than mere disco music opportunists, this song, with this version, begs to differ with that wrongheaded assessment. 

Rich Mahan many times comes off as the life of the party throughout this album. He ends the project, however, on a deadly serious note with “Open Up Your Heart.” He might like to get his party on, but he also has a soft heart, too. Along with its hot chicken wisdom, Rich Mahan’s album also includes many worthy life lessons.

 

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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