The Record Box for Sunday, October 18th

BARBED WIRE Sarah Pierce (Little Bear) ****+This is probably one of the most charming and disarming releases I’ve come across all year.   Barbed Wire is this Texas-based singer/songwriter’s new release… you could call it country and be right about that, but it’ so much deeper- so much wider.Barbed Wire has been a long time coming” Sarah says. “I think this is my most honest writing and surely the closest I have ever come to having that which I imagine become reality… this one is absolutely ‘all cards on the table’.”  Musically speaking it’s a gentle, mid-tempo record, nothing too frantic- maybe like an old Blue Rodeo album.The strength in a set like this is in the writing itself, in the stories each of the songs tells.  Sarah isn’t one of those faux cowboy artists, she really lives the life on the acreage shares with her husband outside of Dallas.  In discussing the title track from her new album she says “One day, while clearing pasture, I came across an old rusted barbed wire fence. I did some research and found that it was manufactured by hand in 1876.  I held it in my hand and thought ‘this looks like me’.”  And that’s when the lyric came to her; “Pounded metal in the shape of a shooting star, trapped by three rusty wires/ kind of like my heart”…as a music fan, it’s moments like this that really take my breath away.Guitar, mandolin, drums, bass and maybe a little banjo, in a simple mix with that gorgeous voice telling her truths- it just doesn’t get much better than this.ESSENTIALS:  Barbed Wire, Find My Way Back To You, Wild Ones WINNERS NEVER QUIT Jamiah On Fire (Zeb) *** ½ A hot young band from Chicago whose sound reaches far beyond their years, into SRV territory.  Cousins, all; 20 year old Jamiah Rogers on vocals and guitar, 16 year old Jalon Allen on drums, and 14 year old Kenyonte holding down the bottom end on bass.Winners is their second album, and it features 10 originals, all written by Jamiah.  I’d say the blues is the main building block of their sound, but you’ll notice R&B, funk, and a taste of reggae as well.  The band has been together for six years (Jeez!!) and have been impressing fans at The Chicago Blues Festival, The Tremblant International Blues festival as well as the Montreal International Jazz festival.I guess it’s true what Rob Schneider’s character says in the movie Down Periscope; “Excellence knows no age limit”, and that can certainly said of Jamiah On Fire.  I won’t be condescending and say “These guys are good for their age”, they’re good players period.  Jalon and Kenyonte lock down the bottom and stay in the pocket while their cousin’s leads soar over the bedrock they create.  What do they sound like?  Fair question- a cross between Stevie Ray and maybe Elvin Bishop and Robert Cray- lots of fire, but articulate and controlled too.Based on what I’ve heard in the last half hour or so, Jamiah On Fire have a long and beautiful future ahead of them- REALLY good stuff.ESSENTIALS:  Good days Bad Days, Winners Never Quit, It’s Alright To Cry UNCOVERED Shawn Colvin (Fantasy) *****I haven’t followed every record she’s ever done, but I’ve enjoyed Shawn Colvin’s music since I first heard her debut Steady On in 1989.  This is, apparently, her second album of cover songs, and it’s simply delightful.She explains this album in the liner notes this way; “For many years, as a performer in clubs and bars and coffeehouses, all I did was play songs written by other artists.  I did not write, although I longed to.  Eventually, I was able to.  After I got a recording contract in 1988, it seemed fitting that at some point I ought to pay tribute to these songs that sustained my career for such a long time.”  This led to an album called Cover Girl in 1994 and here, 21 years later, is a follow up to that record. Her liner essay ends with this line; “My profound gratitude to the brilliant artists here who inspired me” and, judging by the way she treats these songs, she really means it.Steuart Smith produced that album, and 2015 finds him in the control room once again.  The arrangements on these songs, many of which I do not know, are uncluttered yet dramatic.  Here Shawn covers songs by Springsteen, Paul Simon, Gerry Rafferty, Neil Finn, Robbie Robertson, John Fogerty  (her label mate now) and more.  What ultimately makes Uncovered work so spectacularly well, though, is that she sings these songs as though she wrote them- if you didn’t know this was a covers record, you’d never be able to tell as there is nary a false step or a lyric that doesn’t ring true when she sings it.I guess I’m at that age where I appreciate a group of songs that can just reach into my ribcage and give the old ticker a good squeeze, and Uncovered does just that.  It also makes me want to dust off some of her old records and give them a spin, which is always a nice feature in a new album.  Yeah- I think I’ll do just that.ESSENTIALS:  Baker Street (with David Crosby), Tougher Than The rest, Acadian Driftwood, LodiHELL BENT ON SUCCESS Thunderclap (Independent) ** ½ This is the debut full length release for this rather unique artist from the Niagara area. A talented musician and one man band, Thunderclap is a quirky listening experience.This disc was produced by Spooky Ruben, with whom TC embarked on a 7 city Eastern Canadian tour, he’s also worked with Feist and Ke$ha. Guests on Hell Bent include Bob Weisman of Blue Rodeo, Mary Margaret O’ Hara of Miss America, and Dave Clark of Rheostatics. As a one man band, Thunderclap believes this heightens his vulnerability as a performer, creating a more emotional rapport with the audience. It’s a type of performing that he refers to as “guerilla folkestry”- but I’m guessing the live experience is more intense than listening to the album.A quote in the press kit accompanying the download says “Not just a musician, not an actor, but as if both collided and became one… unlike anything being done”, and it feels like there’s some truth to that. Offhand, Thunderclap strikes me as a combination between Jonathan Richman (the guy that keeps showing up singing songs throughout “There’s Something About Mary”) and maybe The Talking Heads- less polished perhaps, but TC’s use of strings or string sounds lend his compositions an air of sophistication.Another quote from the press kit offers perhaps a better summation of what’s going on with Hell Bent For Success; “What Thunderclap offers in original content, although challenging and trailblazing, is just as equally hooky and memorable. It’s also large and theatrical, pointed and humorous, owing equal debts to Frank Zappa, Queen and Bowie”, and someone else calls him a mix between Zappa and Tim Burton.It takes balls to do this kind of thing, and not everyone’s going to like it- I prefer my musical pleasures more visceral and direct- but if you’re in the mood for something out of left field, I’d check this out.ESSENTIALS: Get On With It, Hospital Wedding, I’ve Got NothingTALES FROM THE DEADSIDE A Sound of Thunder (Mad Neptune) ****+This is a heavy metal concept album, based on Valiant Entertainment’s “Shadowman” comic book series. The result? A gripping blend of classic metal with progressive and rock elements. Vocalist Nina Osegueda in particular is a real stand-out here, easily comparable to Skin from Skunk Anansie.“The story of Shadowman, and his alter-ego Jack Boniface, and the many characters in his world inspired us to create what we believe is our best album to date” declares guitarist/ founder Josh Schwartz. “We let the story lead us to places our music has never been before, combining all the elements of supernatural horror, drama, action and adventure.” If you’re fearing an experience along the lines of Judas Priest’s Nostradamus you can relax-Deadside is a long way from being a pretentious train wreck. Big riffs, drama, a gripping narrative- all of the elements to make this thing really fly are firmly in place.The danger with any concept album is that the songs depend on one another to make sense- you only have to look as far as The Who’s Tommy to see that. The trick is to create a suite of songs that also have the ability to stand on their own, and in that department A Sound of Thunder scores top marks. In giving this bad boy a spin I often found myself getting lost in Osegueda’s soaring (and spine tingling) vocal work, usually while enjoying the vicious body punches of Schwartz’s riffs and deft leads. He’s gotta be a Black Sabbath fan as this disc is giving me the same kind of rush that I get from Iommi’s classic 70’s stuff.Each of the songs on Tales From The Deadside tells a dramatic story within itself, but taken as a whole the effect is breathtaking. The beauty of this thing is you can enjoy it either way. Drummer Chris Haren and bassist/ multi-instrumentalist Jesse Keen are essential parts of the puzzle too, the heartbeat of the album and providing the molten yet solid foundation upon which everything else functions, a diabolical alchemy that just sounds right and feels right when you blend all of the elements together.I enjoyed A Sound Of Thunder’s last album well enough, but Tales From The Deadside really nails it- I can’t think of a single thing about this disc that I don’t like. Feels to me like this Washington, DC outfit is poised for the big time.ESSENTIALS: Children Of The Dark, Deadside, Losing Control, Punk MamboLOADEAD Deadheads (High Roller) **** A band of talented louts from Sweden that brand what they do as “boogie punk” and, oddly, that descriptor fits like a glove. This would appear to be their second album, with their debut titled, fittingly, This Is The Deadheads’ First Album. This is greasy, snotty rock & roll, and I like it.Guitarist/ singer Manne Olander explains his band’s appeal thusly; “We just play rock & roll. I don’t think you have to play metal to get metalheads to like your music. I know many bands that have a ‘metal tag’ attached to them, but they sound more like punk, classic rock, or pop rather than metal. But I mean, who really cares? Tell me a true punk who doesn’t like Motorhead or Venom!”The frantic cuts that make up Loadead are, in my experience, too well played to truly be called punk, but they do have the right attitude. There’s a real live energy to the songs, so it makes sense that this was recorded live off the floor. “We recorded with all the musicians playing their respective instruments together in one room” says Manne. “Nobody was wearing any headphones- that really gave the album the right vibe.” More modern style productions have it all wrong, thinking that music is about perfection- it isn’t… it’s about performance, and that’s something Deadheads understand well.The band cites 90’s action rock bands like Turbo Negro, Hellacopters, Gluecifer, Gaza Strippers and Nashville Pussy as influences so if that’s your scene, you gotta check these guys out. There’s a certain reckless precision to songs like Out Of Here that I really dig, a muscular balls to the wall approach that makes the song rock like friggin’ crazy, not to mention the rest of the album too. Loadead, out Oct.30th, is a real adrenaline shot that is not to be missed- I LOVE this!ESSENTIALS: Shine On, Out Of Here, UCPSONGS OF RAIN, SNOW & REMEMBERING Lynn Jackson (Busted Flat Records) ****A very sparse, introspective set of songs here, as you might have guessed from the title.  Mellow?  Yeah- sometimes Songs Of Rain makes James Taylor look like Motley Crue- but when you’re in the mood to examine things and contemplate your life’s choices, this disc is mighty fine company.The addition of piano and cello to Jackson’s sonic palette this time out results in an exquisitely lush sound, perfect for night time listening.  Allmusic speaks of her as “an excellent narrative songwriter; she tells stories that the listener can climb inside and inhabit for as long as (they) wish, and (are) haunted by them long after the recording ends”, which is exactly how this collection of songs feels to me.  There’s something haunting about the cello in particular that draws me in, asking me to listen deeper and feel what it is she’s trying to say, particularly on a songlike Ribbons.As I listen to Songs Of Rain I find myself drawn into Lynn Jackson’s startling narrative- then, I might drift away into some personal circumstance that her song is stirring up for me, before finding my way back into her story again, and she’s probably happy with that.  The songs are melodically simple but well played, making it easy to notice your own life within the lyrics, and I suspect that’s her intention.  The best records, after all, are a collection of stories that function like a mirror when you hold them up and gaze in, and that’s just what Songs Of Rain, Snow & Remembering is for me, anyway.  I may not even listen to it all that often- but when I do, it will be because I’m compelled to do so.ESSENTIALS:  Ribbons, Riding Out The Storm, Winter SunALL OUR YESTERDAYS Blackmore’s Night (Frontiers) **** ++This is the latest collaboration between legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night, their 10th studio album of renaissance music.  Deep, rich and filled with ghosts, All Our Yesterdays is a gorgeous listening experience that touches on the heritage of both- Russian for Ms. Night, and Germanic and Welsh for Mr. Blackmore.Of the nature of the record, Candice says that “There’s a theme to All Our Yesterdays’ chosen songs that focuses on the attitude of living in the present, and looking towards the future because we are, indeed, enriched by our past.  My main theme and inspiration has always been nature and folklore from around the world.”  I daresay the same can be said to be true of many of the band’s albums, but perhaps none moreso than this one.It’s been a long time since their debut in 1997 with Shadow Of The Moon.  All Our Yesterdays is a mix of originals with a handful of pop covers thrown into the mix for good measure.  The album is further inspired by Candice & Richie’s hometown on Long Island, where they take part in community folk nights during which neighbours share guitars and songs, and sing melodies that have come from a variety of times in their own history.  That’s how Candice and Richie fell in love with songs from various genres on the radio; Yesterdays includes covers of Linda Ronstadt’s Long, Long Time, the Mike Oldfield song Moonlight Shadow and even the old Sonny & Cher chestnut I Got You Babe comes across as fresh, vital and romantic.Renaissance music may not be my first genre of choice, but I am always thrilled by music that is played with skill and passion.  I’ll admit that’s it’s been a few years since I’ve bought a Blackmore’s Night album, but All Our Yesterdays has reminded me of why I enjoy this band so much, and I’ll be spinning a couple more of their records before the night is done.ESSENTIALS:  title track, Darker Shade Of Black, I Got You Babe THE DEVIL TO PAY Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown (Ruf) *****A blast furnace of blues as pure as the driven sleet. The Devil To Pay proves that the pen is as mighty as the plectrum as Simmonds pours his talent and life experience into every e track.  “In many ways” he says, this is the best album I’ve ever done.”Preparation is the key to Simmonds and Savoy Brown- by the time they’re ready for the studio, the material is well rehearsed and, in some cases, road tested. “We recorded the album in April 2015 at Subcat Studios in Syracuse, new York” Kim says.  “I record very fast, within two or three days, and most of the work is done in a single day.”  The Devil To Pay is straight up Chicago blues, and I suspect Simmonds wouldn’t want it any other way. “Certainly the Chicago blues style and the artists I grew up with as a teenager are a primary influence” he admits.  “My Heart still jumps when I hear good Chicago blues.”  I know what he means- that’s the way I felt when I first put this on.Kim Simmonds has been with Savoy Brown since the group started in 1965, and it’s sure gratifying to hear him and the current line-up making such vital music all these years later, on his 45th album.  The Devil To Pay is a record that is comfortable in its own skin, a traditional Chicago blues album that doesn’t try to hide behind some kind of façade.  Kim is playing better than ever and, as a unit, Savoy Brown has probably never been this tight before.  At this point, though, does Simmonds have anything left to prove? “Perhaps not to other people, but to myself, yes” he says. “There’s always, inside of you, a song not written or a new guitar lick waiting to come out.  I still have the drive I had when I was young, and that keeps the dream going.”    This is a great blues record, plain and simple.ESSENTIALS: Ain’t Got Nobody, title track, I’ve Been Drinking

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