RB Morris – Going Back to the Sky
Lucinda Williams called Morris “the greatest unknown songwriter in the country.” The late John Prine signed Morris to his Oh Boy label for his first album, Take That Ride. Prine also recorded Morris’ song ‘That’s How Every Empire Falls’. Steve Earle candidly admits that “R. B. Morris is the reason I started writing poetry.” Morris is supported by Bo Ramsey on electric guitars and background vocals, Greg Horne on pedal steel, fiddle, electric guitars, and background vocals, Daniel Kimbro on bass, Hunter Deacon on drums, David Mansfield on mandolin and violin and Mickey Raphael on harmonica.
Morris’ gritty, road-weary vocals float over gently strummed guitar, embellished with crystal electric guitar and aching steel on ‘Walking Song’, a song of loneliness yet freedom to journey. The title track’s mournful pedal steel evokes the tender craving for nostalgia, a time of memory and a time for hope. Bob Dylan of ‘Don’t Think Twice’ meets Roger Miller of ‘King of the Road’ in ‘That’s Just the Way I Do’, an anthem to living life as you want, not how others want you to. The toe-tapping soft jazz and Leon Redbone-esque ‘Old Copper Penny’ has a satisfaction with life, the swaying and swinging ‘Under the Cigar Trees’ has a jaunty and festive Mariachi vibe, while the swampy ‘Missouri River Hat Blowing Incident’ echoes the ghost of Tony Joe White. Wholesome.
The Bean Pickers Union – Greatest Picks
Chuck Melchin has been making music with a “loose collective” of musicians he has called the Bean Pickers Union since 2006. They’ve released three full length CDs and two EPs. one with side project Los Brujos. Critical praise has been evident throughout, from Americana-UK in 2007 calling Potlatch a “masterclass in Americana music”. Twangville describing 2012’s Better the Devil, “if music is at its finest when it paints a picture, this album is the aural equivalent of a Hopper painting”, and Red Line Rooting called 2017’s EP Caterwaul “an orchestra of rootsy strings swirling in tandem, Chuck’s voice and lyrics as the centerpiece to a dusty and worn arrangement of gorgeous tones and special intimacy….”. Me? I called the Los Brujos EP “thoughtful”!
So now we have a “best of” collection with a clever title – 14 songs from across their catalogue plus four bonus tracks that written and recorded earlier this year. If we think of Americana as a broad landscape, the album takes the scenic route – alt country rockers with searing telecasters, beautiful ballads with violin and cello, bluegrass stompers with banjo and mandolins. It is a pleasant journey through 15 years of recordings. Panoramic.
Brooks Williams & Aaron Catlow – Ghost Owl
Guitarist/singer/songwriter Williams met Catlow (violinist with Hawes and Catlow, Sheelanagig, Afro Celt Sound System) on tour a couple of years ago, back when touring was a regular occurence. They played on Williams’ 30th anniversary album ‘Work my Claim’ and the rest is history….they seamlessly connect Trans-Atlantic overtones of American Roots and British Folk with technical brilliance. These two are masters of their respective instruments. Instruments which have a long history of blending together in folk, bluegrass, cajun, gypsy and jazz.
A collection of acoustic guitar and violin duets inspired by, and written for, the Barn Owl (aka the Ghost Owl), this is a love song to the night bird and the world in which it lives. Recorded as a result of a family connection asking for a couple of tunes to accompany some short nature films, Williams and Catlow combine, merging their singular voices into an album of soaring melodies, heart-tugging counter-melodies and agile rhythms. The playfulness of bluegrass and the contemplation of an evening waltz contrast with the deep stillness of minor melodicism, as American Old Time and British folk rhythms blend. Delightful.
Nathan Bell – Red, White and American Blues
Recorded in 2019 in Capitola, California at Skunkworks Studios, and delayed two years by the you-know-what pandemic, this album remains relevant in every way. The 13 original songs feature guests Patty Griffin, Regina McCrary and Aubrie Sellers and the album takes the listener on a journey, from the Dead Thumb Blues of South Texas, through Swamp Music, American Roots Rock, and West Coast Spoken Jazz Poetry to the Folk stages of London.
The album’s concept is timely. Nathan was writing songs for the album called Red, White and American Blues (it couldn’t happen here), with the subtitle a direct reference to Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel imagining the possibility that the people of the United States of America could be mindlessly led to fascism. He was writing at the time of Donald Trump’s tenure…… Red, White and American Blues is not a protest album, although it has protest songs. It’s not a Black Lives Matter album, but in his songs, black lives matter. It’s an American album. It’s a set of songs about a broken country and its broken people. It’s a cautionary tale. Deep.
Justin Bernasconi – Sleeping Like a Maniac
“The music of this album was inspired by visiting European art galleries in 2017. As I composed ‘sounding paintings’ in my head, the lyrical themes soon descended into a point of reckoning over several relationship breakdowns. I call the style of this album ‘folk impressionism’.” So says the UK born Melbourne-based singer-songwriter. Band tracks feature Cat Canteri, Ben Franz and other fine Aussie musicians, whilst Justin adds mandolin and piano to his acoustic and Martin 7-string.
The source history of Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, Roy Harper, JJ Cale, Leo Kottke, John Prine and Elliot Smith find a new voice in this diverse and distinct release, Bernasconi’s third. ‘Flags staked upon this hill’ has a more “trad” arrangement evoking some of the above named whilst the fine tune of ‘Blank Page’ is made more memorable and unique by its beguiling instrumental arrangement. Abstract bumps into the more traditional and they make uncomfortable yet apposite bedfellows. Thought-provoking.
Taylor Young Band – Mercury Transit
Looking like a Texas born and bred singer-songwriter. Taylor Young is an artist unafraid to break from convention and unwilling to be typecast. As a teenager, Young was drummer for local psychedelic heroes Hi-Fi Drowning. He then co-founded folk-country duo The O’s, honing his songwriting, guitar playing and frontman presence. With producer and bandmate Toby Pipes, the entire album was recorded on analog outboard equipment in Pipes’ College Station, Texas home studio. Young and Pipes are joined by guitarist Michael Smith and drummer Austin Green.
Over a year of laid-back regular sessions, Young’s gift for melody and clever turn of phrase blends with Pipes’ shimmering atmospherics and pop sensibility. The result is an album that’s more power pop than country, with breezy harmonies and big hooks seasoned with just a pinch of Southern twang. Opener ‘Get Around’ gets the point across right away, sounding like Alex Chilton fronting Teenage Fanclub. The genre-bending continues on the lead single, ‘Rattled’, which wraps a Tom Petty style ballad in a cozy shoegaze blanket. ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’ turns a string of bad luck into the jauntiest jangle pop this side of The Smiths. It’s this disarming sort of charm that turns strangers into friends, and helps friends feel sure everything will work out fine in the end. Disarming.