The Moon Shells “Seaside Asylum” (Casa de Agua, 2019)

There’s just something special about the combination of fiddle and banjo. When they’re working at the height of their combined powers, they’re able to summon up memories that aren’t even our own. They speak from all of the times and places that have been spoken to, and spoken through, by way of their combined strengths. They pack a powerful punch when they’re put to good use. Of course, the other side of that coin is that they command a certain respect. If the meaning and emotion aren’t there then you’re left with an empty shell . . . an imposter. Continue reading “The Moon Shells “Seaside Asylum” (Casa de Agua, 2019)”

Purple Mountains “Purple Mountains” (Drag City, 2019)

After ten years on the sidelines, David Berman has decided to chime in with a new album under a new name. If we take him at his word, ten years ago his biggest fear was that he might accidentally write the answer song to ‘Shiny Happy People’. Depending on what you think that answer is, you might find yourself wondering if this album is the product of Berman facing that fear. After all, who’s to say what the answer is… Continue reading “Purple Mountains “Purple Mountains” (Drag City, 2019)”

Benjamin James Roberts “And So I Ask Myself . . .” (Misty Ocean Sounds, 2019)

Oh, to be young and have your whole life ahead of you… With so much yet to come it’s the wise artist who takes time to reflect on what has already come to pass. Where are you? Who are you? How did you get here? And sometimes, when you ask yourself, the answers come in the form of more questions. On his debut EP, Benjamin James Roberts offers us his reflections on the process of growing into the artist he is today. Those changes came by way of experimenting, questioning, and searching for understanding. Continue reading “Benjamin James Roberts “And So I Ask Myself . . .” (Misty Ocean Sounds, 2019)”

The Witness Marks “The Witness Marks” (Mudsparkler Music, 2018)

Life is bittersweet at best in the scenes summoned by Ethan Fogus on The Witness Marks’ self-titled debut album. Every triumph is tainted. Every success is suspect. The characters are frail and their fortunes are fleeting. Their stories force us to ponder whether it is destiny or circumstance that has done them in. Each song is a snapshot of a moment or a sonnet spun from memories. Continue reading “The Witness Marks “The Witness Marks” (Mudsparkler Music, 2018)”

The Mountain Firework Company “The Beggar’s Prayer” (Independent, 2019)

They say that seven is a lucky number. Well, it’s been seven years since The Mountain Firework Company released their last album and, in this case, we’re the lucky ones. The lengthy gestation has paid off in an exceptional album . . . the sort that doesn’t come along very often. There isn’t a spare note or wasted chord. On the other hand, there aren’t any holes. From open to close, the album flows seamlessly. Continue reading “The Mountain Firework Company “The Beggar’s Prayer” (Independent, 2019)”

Billard Blossom “Change Your Grip” (Independent, 2019)

Billard Blossom seem like a pretty okay group of fellas. They have a few videos posted on YouTube that feature the band playing out or working in their rehearsal room. From the available evidence, it seems like they’d be a good time if you stopped in for a beer and they just happened to be on stage. Their self-titled debut from 2013 is easy enough to like. The songs on ‘Change Your Grip‘ are well written and capably performed. Continue reading “Billard Blossom “Change Your Grip” (Independent, 2019)”

Feathered Mason “Limbo Boy”(Jungle Strut Music, 2018)

If you were a fan of Feathered Mason’s 2017 release ‘Mary’s Kitchen Sessions,’ you will find something to like in his most recent offering. Whether you like it more or less will speak to your preference in production values more than the songwriting or performances on ‘Limbo Boy’. For the uninitiated, a brief overview seems to be in order. Feathered Mason serves up an interesting proprietary blend of hill country blues. Instrumentally, his music is grounded in the tradition but never shy about breaking away when that’s what’s called for. Lyrically, the songs are poetic and intelligent. Continue reading “Feathered Mason “Limbo Boy”(Jungle Strut Music, 2018)”

Grand Canyon “Le Grand Cañon” (Bodan Kuma Recordings, 2019)

Be forewarned my friends… loading this album up on your player of choice will instantly reconfigure the technology of that device. Without any outwardly observable signs that changes are taking place, it will have been empowered with the capacities for both time travel and teleportation. You won’t realize any of this until you hit play and find yourself delivered to somewhere between Topanga Canyon and Chavez Ravine… sometime between 1978 and 1985. Continue reading “Grand Canyon “Le Grand Cañon” (Bodan Kuma Recordings, 2019)”

Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz “Riverland” (Red Beet Records, 2018)

In ‘Riverland’ Mississippi serves as both a proper noun and a metaphor: there’s plenty waiting to be discovered beneath the current and along the muddy banks. Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz are each, in their own right, accomplished singers, songwriters, musicians, and performers. There are long lists of awards, nominations, and chart-topping tunes to prove as much. Sometimes a team of all-stars has trouble gelling as a team. With their second album as a trio Brace, Cooper, and Jutz alleviate any concerns that this may be the case for them. Continue reading “Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz “Riverland” (Red Beet Records, 2018)”

Tom Russell “October in the Railroad Earth” (Proper, 2019)

It takes some sand to put out an album that shoots for “Jack Kerouac meets Johnny Cash in Bakersfield”. Tom Russell’s extensive resume and impeccable pedigree notwithstanding, it’s a high bar to set. The songs on his new album ‘October in the Railroad Earth’ easily sail over that bar. The album’s title track is borrowed from a lyrical poem by Kerouac and serves as both a reflection on and restatement of the urgent search that drove the beat poet. The final track is a return to the first song Russell ever learned, Johnny Cash’s ‘Wreck of the Old 97’. But it’s worth considering whether the album’s larger than life book-ends are merely points of contrast for the most pressing matters taken up in between. Continue reading “Tom Russell “October in the Railroad Earth” (Proper, 2019)”