Ben de la Cour “The High Cost Of Living Strange” (Flour Sack Cape, 2018)

Want a backstory?  How’s this:  Brooklyn native starts singing in dive bars with his brother a full decade before he can legally drink, drops out of high school, spends a year in Havana training with the Cuban national boxing team, then tours Europe – again with his brother – and their doom metal band, Dead Man’s Root, before it implodes and Ben de la Cour finds himself again stateside, this time armed with an acoustic guitar case full of songs he’s dubbed Americanoir. Continue reading “Ben de la Cour “The High Cost Of Living Strange” (Flour Sack Cape, 2018)”

Carter Sampson “Lucky” (Horton Records, 2018)

Carter Sampson’s voice rolls across these songs as the winds across the great plains of her native Oklahoma.  Sounding simultaneously innocent and world-weary, her voice can at times recall the breathy yet powerful delivery of a Midwestern Natalie Merchant.  Sampson lives inside the lyrics she sings.  You get the feeling she’s experienced every word.  Continue reading “Carter Sampson “Lucky” (Horton Records, 2018)”

Nathan Bowles “Plainly Mistaken” (Paradise of Bachelors, 2018)

Drawing on Appalachian textures and filtering them through a trio format, acclaimed banjoist Nathan Bowles delivers his latest album, ‘Plainly Mistaken,’ with the addition of fellow band members Rex McMurry on drums and Casey Toll on double bass. Opening with a version of Julie (Driscoll) Tippett’s haunting ‘Now If You Remember,’ Bowles invites us along on a journey of ethereal soundscapes while stretching the limits of the instruments on display. Continue reading “Nathan Bowles “Plainly Mistaken” (Paradise of Bachelors, 2018)”

Drift Mouth “Little Patch of Sky” (Wild Frontier, 2018)

Drift Mouth’s singer/songwriter/ guitarist Lou Poster’s father was a West Virginia coal miner for 37 years.  When he retired around 2006, Poster presented him with a recording of covers and originals that celebrated a career that not many can do, and even fewer can excel and retire from.  On the strength of that project, after years of playing in cowpunk band Grafton, Poster, along with drummer Brad Swiniarski formed Drift Mouth and set about stripping their music down to its West Virginia/Ohio roots. Continue reading “Drift Mouth “Little Patch of Sky” (Wild Frontier, 2018)”

Aaron Lee Tasjan “Karma For Cheap” (New West, 2018)

Listening to the second New West release – and fourth overall – for songwriter/guitarist/ sideman extraordinaire Aaron Lee Tasjan is an unexpected and glorious experience.  Inspired by pre-teen Southern California days riding around with his mom in her navy blue Volvo station wagon, ‘Karma For Cheap’ conjures not only the acid-fueled days of 1966 and 1967, but also the summers of 1988 and 1989 – the era when Jeff Lynne’s bright, clear production ruled rock radio in the form of the Traveling Wilburys, George Harrison’s ‘Cloud Nine,’ Roy Orbison’s ‘Mystery Girl,’ and especially Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever.Continue reading “Aaron Lee Tasjan “Karma For Cheap” (New West, 2018)”

Stephen Simmons “Gall” (Independent, 2018)

If you’re having a great day and feeling care-free, you may want to steer clear of ‘Gall,’ the new album by singer-songwriter Stephen Simmons. Recorded in his Tennessee home over the past year, Simmons plays all the instruments this time around, including acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, keys, and harmonica.  Primarily though, ‘Gall’ is acoustic guitar driven.  The other instruments are used for colour, and very sparingly.  In fact, this lack of variety starts to wear thin by the mid-way point. Continue reading “Stephen Simmons “Gall” (Independent, 2018)”

Paul Simon “In The Blue Light” (Sony Music, 2018)

Almost two years following 2016’s magnificent ‘Stranger to Stranger,’ Paul Simon announced he was retiring from the road before embarking on the appropriately named “Homeward Bound – the Farewell Tour.”  Simon’s thoughts may have been on the past when he stepped in the studio to work on what would become his 14th studio album, ‘In the Blue Light,’ but he has found a way to reimagine that past without leaning on nostalgia; by taking apart and reworking both lesser-known and overlooked deep cuts from every stage of his solo career. Continue reading “Paul Simon “In The Blue Light” (Sony Music, 2018)”

James Houlahan “The Wheel Still In Spin” (Independent, 2018)

The “wagon-wheel effect” is an optical illusion where a wheel appears to be turning backward when, in fact, it is in forward motion.  Science journals argue over its cause, but some attribute the phenomenon – other than when caught in 24 frames – to a theory of perceptual rivalry when there are two different interpretations of the same scene by the brain. Continue reading “James Houlahan “The Wheel Still In Spin” (Independent, 2018)”

Jim Lauderdale “Time Flies” (Yep Roc, 2018)

After seeing him host and judge the Americana and the Independent Music Awards respectively, be an Honorary Chairperson for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest each April at MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, co-hosting – along with Buddy Miller – “The Buddy & Jim Show” on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country channel, and hosting his own eponymously-named show on WSM Radio, it would be easy to forget that Jim Lauderdale has actually recorded 29 albums throughout his career, in addition to writing songs for George Strait, Blake Shelton, Elvis Costello, the Dixie Chicks, and Vince Gill, among others. Continue reading “Jim Lauderdale “Time Flies” (Yep Roc, 2018)”

Jim James “Uniform Distortion” (ATO, 2018)

Here I stand / goin’ through the motions with the mic in my hand,” so begins the lead-off track, ‘Just a Fool’ from the new aptly-titled Jim James album, ‘Uniform Distortion.’ Like many these days, James feels he’s going through the motions by spending too much time on his phone / online / “on the grid” – a feeling that is drawing more and more of us back to the concept of vinyl, physical books, and magazines.  This feeling is part of what led James to a thrift shop where he happened upon a copy of The Whole Earth Catalogue.  Continue reading “Jim James “Uniform Distortion” (ATO, 2018)”