Hot Wax Album Reviews by the ROCK DOCTOR Sept. 7, 2022

TRUE TREASURES Leroy Van Dyke (Country Rewind Records) *** ½

More musical archaeology from Country Rewind.  Leroy Van Dyke is not a name I’m immediately familiar with, but he was co-host of the syndicated radio show Country Crossroads with legendary DJ Bill Mack for a decade.  He’s a living piece of country music history and there are very few of his generation left.  Jaunty, good natured classic country; that sums up what awaits you with True Treasures.

Looking at Leroy’s photo gets you thinking of Porter Wagoner or Conway Twitty.  As with other similar releases covered here in the last couple of weeks, these songs have been given a new lease on life by re-mastering and additional recording.  “These true treasures have been skillfully brought up to 21st century standards by producer Paul Martin, for a new generation of country fans and his (Van Dyke’s) longtime fans of the past” says series producer Thomas Gramuglia.  “Leroy has had an amazing career that started in 1956 and is still going strong.”

There’s a pile of songs on True Treasures that even the most casual country fan will recognize. Walk On By and The Auctioneer were big hits for Van Dyke, and he tries his hand at stuff like Jambalaya and San Antonio Rose with pleasing results.  “I thank each and every person on the label, all of whom did masterful work in their respective aspects of this product’s development” Leroy says. “The attention to detail and professionalism is superb, and I know our country music fans will treasure it.”  Leroy is right; Country Rewind has taken some dusty old recordings destined for the dumpster- stuff recorded specially for radio broadcast- and rescued them.  It’s old school stuff like this that contains the real soul of country, and both hardcore twangers as plus the merely curious would do themselves a favor by giving this a spin.

Leroy Van Dyke’s True Treasures as well as the Hank Sow collection are just the tip of the iceberg. Gramuglia obtained a treasure chest of unreleased recordings of more than 100 country music legends and trendsetters, so the avalanche is just beginning.  The songs here feel a tad lightweight and some, like The Auctioneer, are more of a novelty, but Van Dyke is an important part of country music history and so deserves to be considered as a part of the genre’s ongoing narrative.  If you like your country to have real heart, you’ll find it on discs like this.

HOT TRACKS:  Walk on By, The Auctioneer, If A Woman Answers

DIRT ROAD TO HEAVEN Robin Lane (Red On Red Records) *****+

When it comes to music labels separate and pigeonhole artists into this genre or that.  The best question to ask is “do I like it ort don’t I?” A popular term these days, a logical progression from ‘folk’ I suppose, is “Americana”, which is rootsy acoustic based rock.  It’s a pretty broad base, and that’s where Robin Lane’s music fits in.  There is a lot of life in the songs of Dirt Road To Heaven which cover a range of styles- from country to rockabilly to the 60’s Byrds’ vibe of Sunshine Blue Skies, plus a couple of ballads that hit you down deep.  Yep; this is the good stuff.

Robin is the daughter of Ken Lane, who wrote songs for Dean Martin, and her mom was a fashion model. Growing up in Los Angeles she was a part of the Laurel Canyon Scene in the late 60’s/ early 70’s, even singing with Neil Young on Round And Round off of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.  When I read that in Robin’s bio a few tumblers fell into place; I can hear and feel Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadt here, so it makes sense that Robin was a part of the scene too.

Red On Red Records is an indie label that supports strong women creators.  Of Robin Lane, label owner Justine Covault says “(she) writes unflinchingly honest songs that reflect the light and the dark in the world.  Her voice is distinctive and gorgeous. When she plays and sings, the audience is spellbound.” It’s that honesty and power that will draw you to Dirt Road like a moth to a flame, and Robin’s not afraid to drag you down some dark alleys by the collar to show you what’s really going on.  Her motto is “music is my healing tool”- that’s at the heart of the 11 tracks on this disc and nowhere is it more prevalent than on Hurricane Watch. Let’s just say it gives you plenty to think about.

With a strum und twang vibe and deep storytellin’ songs, I suppose Dirt Road To Heaven fits the definition of ‘Americana’ as well as anything.  Dirt Road To Heaven is one of those records that opens the door and says “come on in and pull up a chair.  There’s lots to think about, and we have much to discuss”, and that’s the sort of thing I really love.

HOT TRACKS:  Hurricane Watch, Dirt Road To Heaven, Sunshine Blue Skies

OVER THE PAIN Orphan Jon & The Abandoned (Vintage LaNell Records) *****

Looking at the cd cover, I expected a standard blues record from a bunch of earnest white guys- shows what I know. Over The Pain is hard, greasy guitar driven boogie ‘n’ blues that, I dare say, belongs in every rock & roller’s collection.

Jon English hails from Bakersfield.  He overcame an abusive and unstructured upbringing and found his direction through music, forming the band in 2015. The core group is English on vocals, Alastair Greene on guitar, Ray Sadolsky on bass and Jason Blakely on drums, with a handful of guests and friends pitching in on the album. What they play is blues-based, but they do it with rock muscle; reminiscent of Foghat’s glory days, with a glistening coat of southern fried chicken grease for some finger lickin’ good tunes. When they downshift for the acoustic ballad Redheaded Woman Blues, it occurs to you that there isn’t much this band can’t do.

Over The Pain’s mojo comes from all 4 of these guys stepping up and going for broke, but if I’m being honest Alastair Greene’s guitar playing is the key.  There’s plenty of juicy slide work to sink your teeth into which brings a distinct southern flair to these 12 tunes.  Orphan Jon & The Abandoned capture the essence of American music, blues and otherwise; hard work, rough life, grinding days, moving souls, touching hearts and heartfelt love, day to day, and all the time.  It’s impossible to listen to this disc and not be moved.

Over The Pain was produced by Alastair Greene, with Johnny & Carrie English as executive producers, and the results are big and meaty.  Greene wrote or co-wrote most of the songs as did English, with the exception being a pretty damn righteous cover of Going Down To Mobile.  If you’re into bands like Skynyrd or Too Slim & The Taildraggers then Orphan Jon & The Abandoned are most definitely speaking your language.

At the end of the day Over The Pain satisfies my lust for guitar driven rock & roll and also addresses my love for all things blue; this disc is a perfect storm.  It’s also one of the best things I’ve heard in a year filled with amazing music.

HOT TRACKS:  Over The Pain, Broken Angel, Redheaded Woman Blues

THEY CALL ME UNCLE MICK! Mick Kolassa (Endless Blues Records) ****

Mick Kolassa is one busy dude. I just reviewed his I’m Just Getting Started last month, and he’s already back with another one- must’ve recorded them at the same time.  They Call Me Uncle Mick is a return to Kolassa’s acoustic roots, with no amplified instruments used on any of the tracks- just Mick and his guys having a whole pile of fun.

As with his other records, The Call Me Uncle Mick is a likeable blend of originals and some very interesting covers.  Kolassa has made quite a hobby of uncovering songs that fit well into a blues form. He did it with The Beatles’ Help on his Blind Lemon Sessions disc, and he does it here with a startling version of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry that might actually make you cry.  Other covers here include Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock (with a guest appearance by Watermelon Slim), John Prine’s Daddy’s Little Pumpkin, the old standard Sunny Side of The Street and Bo Carter’s 1931 gem My Pencil Won’t Write No More, which kicks off the album in fine style. At the other end he closes with a bit of fun called The Cheese Song.

As a singer Mick reminds me somewhat of Dr. John and the band as a whole swings with a natural ease, making TCMUM a blast to listen to.  With his producing partner Jeff Jensen Kolassa has assembled another true Free Range Blues Experience.  In a lot of ways it’s the opposite of the Orphan Jon album just reviewed but it’s just as valid a blues experience.  Wasted Youth is a remake of one of his own tunes and includes the legendary Bobby Rush on harmonica.  One of the best original songs on the album is the original My Woman She’s So Mean which will have some people saying “I think I know her” and others thinking “I used to live with her.”

The final word on They Call Me Uncle Mick is it’s a relaxed, jaunty and fun blues listening experience and, like his other albums, well produced to boot.  It sounds like everyone had a blast playing these songs, and you’ll find that as you listen some of that spirit will rub off on you too.  And as with his other albums, 100% of the net proceeds go to The Blues Foundation.   I’ll be playing this in the car on my way to work tomorrow, and I’ll walk in the door with a smile on my face because of it… you can’t beat that.

HOT TRACKS:  I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Woodstock, Wasted Youth


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