Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jamestown Revival - Utah (2014)

There is a reason Apple created iTunes Radio. Recently, I was listening to one of their stations as I was surfing the web. When "California (Cast Iron Soul)" by newcomers Jamestown Revival blared out of my speakers I became instantly addicted and was compelled to flip over to the store to search for more. What I found was a gem of an album.

The modern folk music revival currently producing an abundance of great work is epitomized by groups such as The Lumineers, The Lone Bellow, The Head and The Heart, and The Avett Brothers but all of these artists are clearly different from the pure folkies (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, Kingston Trio, etc.) who regularly raided the charts fifty years ago or more. The difference now, fifteen years into the 21st century, is that instead of rock 'n rollers being influenced by folk as they were back in the 60s, the new folk bands are influenced heavily by both rock and pop. Jamestown Revival's harmony filled, earthy, debut album, Utah, is a typically excellent example.

Jonathan Clay and Zack Chance, two Texas natives currently based in Los Angeles, have forged their own identity on eleven songs that incorporate the styles of all of the bands mentioned above but, fortunately, they are not mere copycats. While their influences are obvious Clay and Chance are revealed to be astonishingly good autobiographical composers and you'll realize quickly that you're listening to something very special.

The two friends have known each other since childhood but only got together in 2011 to make "back-porch folk-rock" and they finally recorded their debut in the very rural Wasatch Mountains of Utah, hence the name of the CD.

The radio-ready "California (Cast Iron Soul)" is easy to sing along to and superseded only by the bouncy, down home, gospel flavored, "Revival." "Fur Coat Blues" could have come from The Everly Brothers. "Heavy Heart" and "Golden Age" are ballads with tight harmonies. "Wandering Man" is something that the Avett's may have written, and the lead vocal on "Time Is Gone" sounds like the The Lone Bellow's Zack Williams. "Home" is one of the album's rare moments where modern technology makes an appearance but it's not used to the extent that the production feels out of place with the rest of the record. Two other standouts are "Truth" and the rollicking "Headhunters."

Jamestown Revival's professionalism is beyond reproach and Clay and Chance are both fine vocalists. It's difficult to believe that Utah was made by a couple of studio rookies. It's the best debut album I've heard in a long time.

The sessions were captured entirely on good, old fashioned tape and and performed entirely live.

Learn more on their website and watch this brief interview with the boys.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Happy Birthday!

This month marks Bloggerhythms' 10th birthday and I can't believe it's been that long!

The first review ever posted here was about a classic old Chicago album, Hot Streets. Later this review was was copied, moved, and re-used again with a more recent date to fill in a gap when there was no time to write something new. This has happened with several other early posts that absolutely no one read a decade ago because hardly anyone knew Bloggerhythms existed.

Currently, both the oldest and least read post is a review of a Matchbox 20 album, Mad Season, that was originally written for a long defunct website. In all these years only six people have ever clicked on it and one of them most assuredly was your host.

On the opposite end, this blog's most popular article by far was published on May 12, 2011. It's called Slower Than Slow: 16 RPM Records and as of this morning it has 15,551 page views and has generated 38 comments. I had no idea when I posted it that there were so many people interested in this long forgotten audio format.

Bloggerhythms' readership peaked in 2007 and 2008 but the last two and a half years page views have dropped off considerably, something that appears to be true of most music blogs. Fortunately, 2015 has shown an upswing in readership and this little website is currently averaging 250 hits per day, small potatoes in cyberworld for sure, but it's still enough of an incentive to keep going.

I want to thank everyone who has ever visited or commented on Bloggerhythms and for making this fun hobby worthwhile.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Bucket List: Harry Chapin - Greatest Stories Live (1976)

Whenever Harry Chapin took the stage you realized how much more dynamic he was live than on record. That is where he earned his reputation as one of the great musical story tellers of all time. His rapport with the audience was virtually unequaled and you could tell he loved every second of it. Often his records, regardless of subject matter, just didn't convey the same emotion.

People who happily saw Chapin live knew they were in for a treat even before they heard his 1976, double disc LP, Greatest Stories Live, because it included all of his best known work. Featured are "Taxi" and his biggest hit, "Cat's In The Cradle." There is also "W*O*L*D," a song that "snuck onto the charts for about fifteen minutes" according to Chapin, and the wonderful concert opener "Dreams Go By." He also included "Mr. Tanner," "I Wanna Learn A Love Song" and much more. The singer also closed with a lengthy and very funny story about a truck driver who lost control of his cargo in Scranton, PA on "30,000 Pounds Of Bananas."

Chapin was more than a folk singer. He wasn't just a man with a voice and a guitar. He toured with a very talented, full band that included his brothers who each contributed a song to his setlist: Stephen ("Let Time Go Lightly") and Tom ("Saturday Morning").

To his credit Chapin never let the his fun loving stage persona interfere with his music. While the man was very funny his involvement with World hunger was deadly serious and so is most of his music. I connected with Chapin more than I did with a lot of singer-songwriters because his songs were never opaque. He was a straightforward writer whose music was always lucid.

There are eleven live tracks on the original album and three extras recorded in a studio. Unfortunately, when the album was released on CD in the 90s two of the studio songs were removed in order to keep the package down to one disc. So, if you have the original album you've got the better version. Today, that problem has been eliminated because you can download the entire, original, 1976 album as Chapin intended you to hear it.

The three nights of shows were recorded in California and the quality is such that the live portion of the album sounds as if it was all played in a studio. Seldom do live albums come this close to perfection without sacrificing the feel of an onstage performance.

Because Greatest Stories Live is both a "best of" and a showcase starring the singer/activist in his natural element most people will find it to be all the Harry Chapin they will ever need. Real fans, of course, will dig deeper to discover there are a lot more of his stories that need to be heard.

This is a great album in every way possible.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dr. Dog - The NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions (2013)

A good friend told me about the music download website, NoiseTrade, a couple of years ago and I'm glad he did. I've discovered some good sounds that I would never have heard otherwise and that's always appreciated. Some of what I found has even been reviewed on this blog such as a mighty fine, seven song, EP from the obscure Matt Stansberry & the Romance.

Not all of the music you'll find on NoiseTrade is by new or unknown talent waiting to be discovered and the site offers everything from hip hop to Christian music. Some artists will give you only one song, many an EP, and a few will offer full albums or even complete concerts. I've found tunes by established acts such as Brandi Carlile, Dawes, Susanna Hoffs, and Josh Ritter who currently has two full length concerts online.

Much of the music has been on the site for years but some of the downloads are taken down after awhile. Hoff's EP is one of those, so if you discover something you like take possession of it immediately because you don't know how long it will be there. When the download begins you are asked if you want to leave the artist a tip but if you choose not to it can still be yours for free.

Another nice feature about NoiseTrade is that unlike Amazon or iTunes you can listen to the entire track, album, or concert before you make your decision to own it.

Most of the music is from an artist's existing catalog, most are new releases, and occasionally you will find works that are only available through NoiseTrade such as this five song EP from Dr. Dog, The NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Sessions. The veteran Philadelphia sextet is a group that failed to embed themselves into my brain. I knew of them but I never really listened to their music so I was unable to formulate an opinion either way. When I saw their exclusive NoiseTrade sampler I thought I'd give them a try and I'm glad I did.

Dr. Dog's set, recorded just for NoiseTrade, is an excellent introduction to the band. "The Truth" and "To Weak To Ramble" are excellent ballads and the very upbeat and unique "Broken Heart" and singable "Distant Light" are different versions of songs that appeared on their most recent album, B-Room. The final track, "The Old Black Hole," is also a reworking of a song from an earlier CD, Be The Void. These songs have a definite accessibility attached to them because of the group's ability to write melodies with good vocals but they also possess a creative edge that elevates them above the mundane. They're not afraid to experiment in the studio. The band can rock without overusing heavy electric guitars but they do employ banjos, acoustic guitars, and keyboards to great benefit.

I know this post ended up being more about NoiseTrade than Dr. Dog but I'm sure you see the point. Websites such as this one can go a long way toward giving an artist some much needed publicity. As the old ways of becoming successful and getting your music heard go by the wayside more and more every single day an online presence is almost mandatory. I never would have found Matt Stansberry on the radio but because of NoiseTrade I'm a fan of his band too.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shelby Lynne - Thanks (2013)

Ever since Shelby Lynne's acclaimed I am Shelby Lynne turned her into a star (sort of) in 2000 one wouldn't be climbing too far out on a limb to say she could be the most outstanding female country artist on the scene today and one of the very best singer-songwriters to ever take a stage or enter a recording studio. She proves it once again with her brief, fifteen minute, five song EP, Thanks. On it, the native Alabaman continues to demonstrate both her independence, originality, and eclecticism as she genre-jumps from album to album and song to song almost as often as she changes hair styles (and that's a lot if you look at her CD covers). From Texas swing, to roots rock, to gospel, R & B, and more, she has done it all while still keeping her feet firmly planted on her home turf of country music.

Thanks is Lynne's followup to the very personal and sparsely produced and arranged Revelation Road.

Lynne continues to write intelligent and personal music but this time she kicks the production up a notch while taking a more uplifting approach to the songs. The foot stomping single, "Call Me Up" is a gospel tinged affair greatly aided by guest pianist and vocalist, Maxine Waters, who is a perfect fit. Then she digs deeper into the genre. "Walkin'" is a pure gospel, toe-tapping, jaunt featuring some perfect steel guitar work, probably by her favorite sideman and friend, multi-instrumentalist, Ben Peeler, who produced this EP. A Bonnie Raitt influence helps shape "Forevermore" and the title track is one of the best ballads Lynne has ever recorded. "This Road I'm On" is another emotional ballad that tunes us in on the artist's deepest thoughts.

Even the artwork suggests a spiritual turn. Lynne has never come across as a religious sort but it looks like she is praying on the CD's cover.

In addition to Peeler and Waters the set includes Michael Jerome on drums and Ed Maxwell on acoustic and electric bass, organ, synthesizer and background vocals.

As was the case with Lynne's previous three releases Thanks was recorded in her California home studio.

Lynne's website provides more information.