THIRD DEGREE GRAVITY Eric Heideman (independent) *** ½

Salt Lake City for the blues?  That’s where Eric Heideman comes from. Third Degree Gravity, out since June 30th, is as soulful as it is bluesy.  As JW Jones (one of the producers) says, “Eric Plays straight from the heart and soul.”  This is more than blues; it’s soul, funk and Americana too… a quite likeable blend.

“This is the most soulful and high quality record I’ve made” says Heideman, “and in an intimate studio where artists like Bob Margolin, Candye Kane, Victor Wainwright and Bruce Katz have recorded.”  Wainwright is one of the producers, playing some wicked rock & roll piano on the opening cut I Didn’t Do It. In describing the record and Eric’s performance in particular Victor says it’s “a very genuine sound, based on the roots of blues, emotions and feelings. Whether it’s high energy excitement and happiness, sorrow, or something that’s touching you with an Americana vibe.”  I have several of Victor’s records; dude knows what he’s talking about.

Heideman should count himself lucky to have team like this in the studio with him; Grammy nominees, and Blues Music Award and International blues Challenge winners. Third Degree Gravity has a well-seasoned feel with Heideman’s guitar licks and gently soulful voice leading the way.  Some of the songs deal with the despair, isolation and uncertainty we all dealt with during the pandemic, but the record isn’t that heavy-handed… those tracks are balanced out with songs that focus on healing, hope and joy.  Come to think of it, that’s something the blues does so spectacularly well and Heideman strikes just the right emotional balance on the new record.

There’s a deliberate understatedness to EH’s guitar playing the really works on TDG… his solos are tasty and while fire doesn’t necessarily shoot from his fingertips when he goes off, what he does play matches the emotional content of each track very well.  Even if you aren’t keying in on the lyrics, it’s not hard to catch how the songs make you feel- I think that’s hard to master.

Brian Kelm, Utah Blues Society president, says “this man is the future of the blues”… giving a listen or three to Third Degree Gravity may well have you saying the guy has a point.

HOT TRACKS:  I Didn’t Do It (w/ Victor Wainwright), Say You Mean It Baby, Turn Out Fine

TOMMY LEE’S JONESIN’ Tommy Lee Jones & The Buckingham Blues Band (independent) *****

South Florida has quite the raging blues scene, and Tommy Lee Cook is just the latest example of that . Tommy Lee’s Jonesin’ is an intoxicating blend of blues grease and southern rock charm.  With his gravelly voice and southern drawl he inhabits the characters of his songs and really brings them alive… not too many guys can say they have that in their toolbox.

Tommy Lee Jones is a complex guy, as interesting people tend to be.  Like it says on the website, he’s “a musician and author, studies history and raises mules.  He’s a down-home boy who goes head-to-head with the word nerds in New York City, a mule-loving man who pens novels and songs, a soul food lover.”  Sounds like a fascinating cat to me, and that really comes across in his songs.  It’s  similar to when you listen to a Robbie Robertson album like Storyville… you find yourself helplessly drawn into the narratives, and Jones’s facility with the written word conjures lyrics that practically demand you to dig deeper and get to the bottom of the story.  You can see what he’s singing about in your mind’s eye as each song plays… it’s the rough equivalent of getting so deep into a good book that everything around you disappears.

Tommy Lee Jones and his band aren’t in any particular hurry here; the songs unfold at their own pace on Tommy Lee’s Jonesin’, particularly cuts like Souleater and Satisfied.  The effect is nigh on hypnotic, with sparse guitar work, rumbling bass and some atmospheric keyboard work that underscores the mood.  I could listen to these particular tracks all day- hell, I’ve played them half a dozen times already today because they feel so… damn… good.

Tommy Lee’s Jonesin’ is loose and dangerous, a blues fueled fever dream that you won’t want to wake up from.  As you listen it’s like watching a dozen films play in your head, one after the other.  This is one record that really captures the imagination and takes you places.

HOT TRACKS:  Satisfied, Souleater, Let It Rain

A MILLION MILES LATER Exile (Clearwater Records) **** ½

I landed my first full time radio job in 1978 at CKPG in Prince George, BC.  At that time on AM radio, Exile’s Kiss You All Over was a massive hit.  Fast forward 45 years to 2023 and I’m listening to their brand new album A Million Miles Later and the boys haven’t lost a step.  This is country/ rock crossover- think Eagles meet America- and these easy swingin’ tunes with sterling vocal harmonies (light on the twang) sure hit the spot.

A Million Miles Later is their 16th studio album since forming in high school back in 1963, only The Stones have been at it longer.  When you’re lucky things like style, instruments, lyrics, even the atmosphere in the studio conspire to create the perfect storm, and that’s sure the case with Exile’s new record. “This was our most ambitious project ever, 16 songs” notes band member J.P. Pennington. “It took about a year and a half to complete and was a total team effort.  I feel like we covered a lot of ground genre-wise.  We have all been influenced by many different styles of music and we tried to reflect that here. We’re still passionate about making new music and still focused on the growth of the band… we feel like we can always be better.” The other members of Exile agree totally.

A Million Miles Later was produced by band members J.P. Pennington and Sonny LeMaire and recorded at studios in Kentucky and Tennessee.  The sound is exquisite and exacting with great spatial separation between instruments so everyone is heard- a pristine production to be sure.  This feels country yet not quite country with too many styles at play, and it’s not exactly in-step with what I hear country radio playing today.  Exile are being true to their roots and influences which makes for an engrossing listen. This feels akin to the distance between the band America in the 70’s and their 1998 record Human Nature, a desert island disc for me.  A Million Miles Later is a far better record than one should  expect from a 60 year old group; they’ve still got game, and in a big way.

HOT TRACKS:  A Million Miles Later, Down In Cold Water, Rough Around The Edges, Sixteen Tons

DON’T BLINK Crowe’s Pasture (independent) *****

Welcome to the 6th release (including 2 EP’s and 3 full length albums) for this duo. Crowe’s Pasture are Monique Byrne and Andy Rogovin, described on their website as a “banjo-guitar romance” and “roots-infused contemporary folk”, which only hints at the beauty and depth of their music.  Their voices are an ethereal blend over a delicate backdrop of acoustic instruments- the aforementioned banjo and guitar, and laid back fiddle.  Don’t Blink is a massage for the soul.

Crowe’s Pasture take their name from the salt marsh and tidal flats of the same name hidden away on the north side of Cape Cod, where ocean tides recede twice a day to reveal intricate patterns on the shifting sands; such a name is fitting for the music Monique and Andy make together.  Their brand of folk is intimate, soulful and uplifting, what award-winning composer Chris Eastburn calls “skillfully crafted, emotional song writing”.  It’s the kind of stuff to put on to just relax, or to take you deeper inside yourself to sort stuff out… or both.

While Don’t Blink centres squarely on the voices and instruments of Byrne and Rogovin, the beauty of the disc is seriously enhanced by three guest fiddlers and the multi-instrumental contributions of co-producer Eric M. Lichter.  Several tracks address the nature of time and the importance of savoring precious moments. The same can be said of their gorgeous cover of Bruce Springsteen’s If I Should Fall Behind. The songs are generally upbeat but the absence of a drum kit makes it a hard album to dance to, but that’s okay. The best house parties end up in the kitchen, or in the living room with people breaking out their instruments and finding that spiritual communion that fine music like this suggests.

The silky blend of Andy and Monique’s voices suggest Simon & Garfunkel or Alison Krauss & Union Station.  At the age of 65 it feels to me as if time is starting to speed up, and Don’t Blink is certain to be an important anchor as I contemplate the rest of my journey.  This is deep stuff.

HOT TRACKS:  Diamonds, You At Every Age, If I Should Fall Behind

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