Monday, June 30, 2014

Album Review: Hannah Aldridge, "Razor Wire"

For many artists, their debut album is a labor of love, the realization of many years of hard work and long miles on the road plying their trade from bar to bar and town to town.  Some debut albums really stand out from the crowd and are a good indication of the potential staying power of the artist.  Such is the case with "Razor Wire" (Trodden Black Entertainment) by Hannah Aldridge.

Co-writing nine of the ten tracks on the album, Ms. Aldridge takes us on a journey through her young life so far.  Kicking off with the feisty "You Ain't Worth The Fight", the listener knows right away that this lady doesn't put up with crap from anyone.  The character in "Old Ghost" is a woman that many of us, male or female, can relate to when finding your way through the beginnings of certain new relationships.  

Two of the darkest tunes on the album are also among the best written.  The title track, "Razor Wire," could be the among the bravest songs I've ever heard written and recorded.  A stark piece of truthful storytelling, one can really sense the place of vulnerability that Hannah was feeling both in her life and at the time of writing.  This young lady really put her heart on her sleeve with this track and it is a true highlight of the album.  When you have a song as melancholy and dark as "Razor Wire", the only thing you can do is follow it up with something darker and more melancholy.  A tale of life on death row, "Parchman" fits the bill in spades.  I don't think I have to tell you that a story about life on death row doesn't end particularly well.

The feisty side of Hannah Aldridge makes its return with the rockin' "Howlin' Bones" and a tremendous cover of Jason Isbell's "Try."  Both songs present an opportunity for Hannah to stretch out her impressive vocal range, as well as matching her up with Isbell's backing band, The 400 Unit for "Try."  Lyrically, this song fits in well with the overall dark theme of the album, with its contemplation of trying to control an individual.

The final three songs on the album complete Hannah's open book that has brought her to this point in her life.  "Black and White" draws on her life experience in her native Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and ties in to her present as she sings a verse inspired by her young son.  "Lie Like You Love Me" is a tale of longing for and needing an old flame if only for one night at a time, followed by the inevitable morning-after-regret.  This tune is a straight ahead country song and highlights the diverse performing styles of Hannah and the talented musicians playing on this album.  "Lonesome" is a beautifully written and performed song that reflects the time of her parents divorce.  It's a stripped down semi-closing number, with just Hannah and her guitar once again leaving herself out in the open and inviting the world to listen to her story.  An acoustic version of "Razor Wire" is the real closer of the album, appearing as a 'hidden track' after "Lonesome."

For a debut effort, Hannah Aldridge has created a stand-out album that should signal the beginning of a long career for this young lady.  Described by Hannah as 'Dark Americana', it's tough to argue with that assessment.  The topics on the album are certainly dark in nature, but along with this darkness, there appears to be an overall sense of reflection and vulnerability. This album truly is a brave project, one that Ms. Aldridge can be very proud of. What's more exciting is, this is only the beginning.  We will be hearing from Hannah Aldridge for a very long time and I can't wait to hear the next chapter from this gifted singer-songwriter. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Album Review: The Loudermilks, Self-Titled Release

The Loudermilks image

It's a special thing when talented musicians come together for the common purpose of making great music and creating art.  Such is the case with a debut album released this week by an act made up of veteran artists who have experienced the ups and downs of a musicians life, and have shown that their passion for this business cannot be denied.

The Loudermilks are an act based out of North Carolina and are named in honor of the legendary Ira and Charlie Loudermilk (aka, the Louvin Brothers).  Members of the band include brothers Alan (vocals, mandolin) and Chad Edwards (vocals, guitar), Jason Atkins (piano, organ), Shawn Lynch (vocals, bass), and Mike Kenerly (drums). This four-man band captures the essence of the roots/Americana sound, as their diverse musical styles shine through on this album.  The lead track, "Watch 'Em Fall" starts off acousitcally with a beautiful mix of guitar and mandolin, soon followed by haunting pedal steel backed by an electric organ.  The harder edged "Quite Honestly" highlights the rougher side of The Loudermilks, showing the diversity of this talented band.

"Come Along With Me" is a raucous number tailor-made for Saturday night at the honky-tonk.  One of the real highlights on the album is the beautifully written and performed "Everybody Knows You", a tale of longing and wishful thinking.  What sets The Loudermilks apart from a lot of other acts, is their ability to move seemlessly from their ballad side to their rocking side with absolutely no effort.  "Broken Record" is a song that features heavily on electric guitar, which is followed up by the haunting "Jim Dugan", which is subsequently followed up by the quirky "What It Is."

The songwriting credits are split between brothers Alan and Chad Edwards.  Together, along with their bandmates, The Loudermilks have crafted a solid record that's been released in time for summer road trips, patios or just relaxing at home listening to some solid music.  A great cross between Canadian roots group Blue Rodeo and Americana stalwarts The Bottle Rockets, this self-titled debut represents a great starting point for this North Carolina band who should be on their way to a long and storied career.  Check out The Loudermilks web site for tour dates and to purchase the album

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Concert Review: Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Kacey Musgraves - Lewiston, New York - June 7, 2014

A beautiful late summer evening greeted thousands of music fans gathering at the Artpark Amphitheatre on the banks of the Niagara River Gorge on June 7 to see and hear one of the most varied and eclectic package shows in recent memory.  Indeed, the cross-generational appeal of the bill featuring young rising singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves, the so-incredibly-talented Alison Krauss and Union Station and the timeless legend that is Willie Nelson was a show for the ages.  This show was out of this world.

On the road in support of her GRAMMY winning album "Same Trailer, Different Park", Kacey Musgraves is one of the very few young artsits in country music today that is producing high quality material.  Her songwriting is impeccable, as evidenced by the cool "Blowin' Smoke", her uplifting signature song "Follow Your Arrow", or the beautiful and melancholy "I Miss You." For long time country music fans like me, Kacey Musgraves is a breath of fresh air.  A young lady who is sticking to her guns seemingly not to care about what's commercially successful on radio, just carving out her own path doing what feels right for her.  The album has gone gold, she has had significant radio air play, the people recognize she's real and are buying it.  One other intangible that I loved about her performance was the respect for the history of country music she shows: her backing band were all dressed up in smart, Nudie Cohn-style suits, they performed a latino-style cover of the George Strait hit "I Just Wanna Dance With You", and closed the show with an a capella version of "Happy Trails."  Kacey's performance was the perfect way to kick off the show.

What more can one really say about Alison Krauss and Union Station.  Ms.Krauss has been courted by virtually every major record label in Nashville, but continues to record for Massachussetts based independent Rounder Records.  Union Station could arguably be the greatest collection of backing musicians ever to take a stage.  Couple that with Ms. Krauss's angelic vocals and you have one of the most timeless groups in the history of country and Americana music.  When Alison Krauss and Union Station take the stage, you arguably have the greatest collection of musical talent in any genre in one place.  Performing many of their best known songs in a lengthy set which included "Every Time You Say Goodbye", "The Lucky One", "Ghost In This House" along with several instrumentals, the group left the audience spellbound.  What makes this group function so well together is that they're smart enough to recognize each other's talent.  When you have a musician that is the calibre of Jerry Douglas, it's only right to turn him loose on a couple of songs.  When you have a talent the calibre of Dan Tyminski, it's only proper to put him out front on lead vocal on a few tunes, most notably the song that kicked off the whole roots-revival, "Man of Constant Sorrow".  While Alison Krauss is the featured vocalist and is clearly the featured performer, she is smart enough to realize that her fellow artists deserve to share in the spotlight and she is more than accomodating.  They are a special group of artists who deserve the respect and appreciation they receive.

It's recently dawned on me that a Willie Nelson concert is really an experience, one that is to be appreciated.  Now well in to his 80's, Mr. Nelson has transcended beyond a country artist or singer-songwriter.  He is a national treasure, an icon in the true sense of the word.  Touring with The Family in support of his newly release album "Band of Brothers", Willie took the crowd on a non-stop hour and 45 minute trip through the history of his career.  Kicking off with "Whiskey River", and moving us through a stretch that paid hommage to his fellow Outlaw, Waylon Jennings, Mr. Nelson performed his lengthy set without even stopping for water.  He showed the world he still has the guitar chops on his version of "Night Life", a signature song for fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member the late, great Ray Price.  A solo version of his duet with Toby Keith, "Beer For My Horses" worked it's way in to the set, as well as a couple of instrumentals featuring Mr. Nelson's sister Bobbi on piano.  The final moments of the show re-created a church revival, as Kacey Musgraves, Jerry Douglas and others joined Willie on stage for rousing versions of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "I Saw the Light."  Post performance and with the band still playing, Mr. Nelson graciously signed autographs for those lined up at the foot of the stage for several minutes before waving goodbye, thanking the audience and leaving the stage.  

And thus concluded an outstanding night of music from the best cross-section of artists you could gather.  A beautiful and talented newcomer who's brigtest days are ahead of her; a beautiful and talented group of artists that are still at the top of their game and getting better; and an icon in music and artistry who showed his two opening acts that if they keep honing their craft and staying true to themselves, that it's entirely possible to keep doing this thing they all love for 50+ years if they so choose.