RAIN WALKING Fred Hostetler (Mukthiland Records) *****

Here’s a short one from Fred but it’s a gem.  Three popular singles power Rain Walking forward as genre lines blur across this 7 song set- blues? Country? Americana? Folk?  It’s little pieces of all that.   As with anything I’ve ever heard from Hosteler this disc is packed with feeling and spirit, which makes return visits extremely likely.

This dude has been around the horn; playing with people like Jeff Beck, Graham Parker, Johnny Winter, The Knack, Billy Squier, plus having shared stages with many more.  Then he moved to India and, after 15 years of voluntary service in an ashram in Tamil Nadu, He came back to the States and began making solo records.  First up was Heart Radio and now, further down the line, we have Rain Walking.  There is a casual elegance that reminds me of JJ Cale with a little something else in there too… lots of country feel, perhaps moreso than blues, but Hostetler strikes me as the kind of guy who lets the music lead him wherever it needs to go.

“There’s something about the rain that reaches into our very souls” Fred says. “This water from the heavens, fundamental to our existence, can be evocative and sentimental, yet at the same time pulling up memories of struggle and hardship. How lovely that somehow it all harmonizes with a joy that seems to emanate from the experience itself.”  He was talking about the rain, but Fred’s comments just as easily appy to the songs on Rain Walking.

The album was produced, recorded and performed by Fred Hostetler and mixed by Eric Troyer, who also added some vocals and keys.  Vocals by Karen Lawrence are featured on Where Is Bob Marley.  It’s funny; I came home from a hard day at work after being off sick a couple of days and wouldn’t you know it, Rain Walking is exactly the record I needed to hear. Fred will never be mistaken for Robert Plant, but as a singer his warm and easy vocals fit these songs like a glove.  He’s a restless, creative soul and this may very well be his best record yet.

HOT TRACKS:  Orphan Blues, Happy Fingers, Where Is Bob Marley

FIVE ANGRY MEN Dymytry (AFM) *****

You can now add Czechoslovakia to the list of countries sending out seriously excellent heavy metal bands.  Five Angry Men is their second album in English- that, along with the punishing Pantera and Slipknot meets Rammstein thing going on here is going to kick a lot of friggin’ doors open for Dymytry- this one about tore my head off.

Of the title Five Angry Men,  singer Alen “A.L” Lubjic says it refers to “our wild image, but also addresses the increasing destruction of our planet by mankind in a satirical way.” He adds that “At the same time we don’t take ourselves overly seriously, although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.”  The thick and meaty sound of this thing grabs you right away- if you turn it up, it can feel like someone is beating the shit out of you, which can be a good cathartic thing.

As Alen’s statement above indicates, many of these songs deal with war.  In Death We Trust is about Robert Oppenheimer’s development of the atomic bomb and its destructive impact, and the anti-war 1939 remembers the beginning of WW II and talks about the real worry that current developments could result in an uncontrollable escalation.  Where a band like Iron Maiden looks at war from a historical perspective, Dymytry have their eye on the world around them as well as the future.  And, being from Eastern Europe, you could say they have front row seats.

Even with Dymytry’s thunderous attack there are a surprising number of changeups and interludes within the body of Five Angry Men, almost like a pause before they gallop off toward the horizon again, and a sense of experimentation that serves them well. The disc was produced by Kristian Kohle (Powerwolf) who has a good ear for how this kind of metal should be presented.  Two words that come instantly to mind as I listen to this yet again are ‘aggressive’ and ‘exciting’, so it’s hardly surprising to know that they’ve toured with the reconstituted Pantera as well as Lordi.  Damn, this is good stuff!

HOT TRACKS: 1939, In Death We Trust, Everything Is Black

BLUES CALLING Rene Huard Project (independent) ****+

Here is a jaunty, swampy blues exploration from Niagara-based Rene Huard.   Blues Calling is the kind of deep, vibrant work you’d expect from a performer with 40-plus years in front of audiences under his belt.  On this disc you’ll find 12 cuts of engaging and danceable blues.

As a former member of Fort Erie’s “The Meteors”, Rene had the opportunity to open for blues legends like James Cotton, Long John Baldry and others. He’s a talented musician; not only as a singer and songwriter but guitarist, piano player and harmonica guy as well.  On Blues Calling he has a monumentally talented band behind him too including Jack de Keyser, Alec Fraser Jr., Al Cross and Richard Thornton, who waste no time in buckling down and occupying just the right spots within these righteous grooves.  For me good blues has got to have some swing, and you can really feel that across these numbers.

If you believe the blues to be something of a downer that’s not always the case, as Blues Calling convincingly points out.  That, no doubt, has something to do with Huard’s attitude as he approaches his music. “The virtues of a lifetime of labor pale with the passing years in a tsunami of body ache and regret” Rene says. “I have found these pearls therapeutic. It is never too early, nor too late, to awaken to one’s purpose. Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”  I hope you’re lucky enough to have found that in your own life… all the years I spent with radio as full-time career, that’s how it felt for me.

Blues Calling, rather than evoking a specific period of blues history, has a timeless quality to it with touches of jazz on numbers like Broken Halo.  Rene has an interesting way with words and a relaxed vocal style that puts you at ease as it engages you, and with people like Jack de Keyser and Alec Fraser Jr. backing him up, the playing is impeccable- just plain cool, baby.

HOT TRACKS: Sharp Curves, Broken Halo, Hard Times

NOWHERE LEFT TO GO Brothers Brown (Woodward Avenue Records) **** ½

Brothers Brown have finally followed up 2016’s Dusty Roads.  Nowhere Left To Go is what happens when you get a guy from LA and a guy from Nashville together and they follow their combined muse.  This disc is a sweet mix of blues and jazz with a bit of twang for a sound that is neither California or Tennessee but somewhere in the middle- and I’m enjoying it a lot.

The group was founded by Brother Paul Brown (The Waterboys) and two-time Grammy winning guitarist and singer/ songwriter Paul Brown, who has produced more than 60 #1 singles for artists like George Benson, Norman Brown and Al Jarreau.  The two Pauls met at the 2014 Grammys and completed their band with bassist David Santos (Billy Joel, John Fogerty, Elton John) and drummer Peter Young (Loretta Lynn, The Burrito Brothers).  That blend of experience makes for the unique sound of this record.  There are instrumentals, Brother Paul’s creative partner Bobby Rush contributes vocals to the title cut, and the songs in general range from edgy & dark to uplifting & hopeful.

Nowhere Left To Go sounds like a group of guys making the music that’s in their hearts, not what ‘the system’ demands of them in order to make the charts, leading to a refreshing honesty and vulnerability that makes the songs compelling. There’s a definite country feel here, but not because of keening pedal steel or playful fiddles- it’s inherent in the songwriting and lively musicianship, not unlike Little Village’s 1992 self-titled (and only) disc.

Nowhere Left To Go is the sound of talented musicians and songwriters having some fun in a joyful and uplifting way.  Yeah- I’ll take me some of this any day of the week.

HOT TRACKS:  Brand New Day, Nowhere Left to Go, High Up On The Mountain

THE ROOF IS ON FIRE Mitch Ryder (Ruf Records) *** ½

This legendary rock singer celebrates his 75th birthday with a German tour and a new live album.  The Roof Is One Fire is a 2 disc set that underscored why Ryder is such a vital part of rock & roll history.  Great songs and a fine band behind that weathered voice; this is a blast!

The liner notes for The Roof Is On Fire is a love letter from Mitch to any fans that may find this lively record in their hands.  “This double cd was a part of my 75th birthday while on tour in Germany” Ryder begins. “Normally I would take exception in involving age into any aspect of my life. You see, when it comes to music, age is totally irrelevant.  So whether you are making music with beginners or seasoned veterans, such as I have on this compilation, the focus point is not about age but about fun and music combined.  I am very familiar with most of the players on this work.  Over the years, since we had our first rehearsal in a communist run youth center in East Berlin, our integrity, power, self-respect and accomplishment has grown unilaterally.  So sit back, listen and enjoy an evolutionary process that I wish would go on forever.”

When you listen to Mitch on this new set it’s impossible not to notice the influence he’s had on artists like Bob Seger, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. With The Roof Is On Fire Ryder’s voice betrays his age somewhat as it demonstrates a blue-collar, lived-in feel that those artists just mentioned also have. What makes this disc work for me over and above Mitch Ryder’s performance is the smokin’ hot band behind him.  Great rhythm section, and whoever is on guitar really lifts things to the next level.

Mitch Ryder is a blue-eyed soul singer, perhaps best known for his work in the late 60’s with his band The Detroit Wheels.  He was also the last person to perform with Otis Redding, performing Knock On Wood him for a local TV show in Cleveland the day before the plane crash that killed Otis and 4 members of his band, The Bar Kays.   The Roof Is On Fire is two distinct discs; #1 is the rockers and #2 is the slow stuff, where he really shines.  His glory days might be behind him, but this album is nonetheless a fine way to spend the evening.

HOT TRACKS:  Betty’s Too Tight, Tuff Enough, Freezin’ In Hell, Many Rivers To Cross

DREAM IN COLOR Stoll Vaughan (independent) *****+

This is the fifth album for Lexington Kentucky’s Stoll Vaughan. Dream In Color is bluesy, dreamy and transitional, the sound of a man that’s figuring out some of the truths in life and what’s important to him.  His lyrics are deep and reflective, the music perfect company for that train of thought.

Stoll’s career began in the late 90’s when he worked for Echo Park Studios in Bloomington, Indiana.  Mike Wanchic, producer and longtime guitarist for John Mellencamp, took him under his wing and helped develop the foundation for his songwriting… a style influenced by Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and John Prine.  There are some superbly talented musicians at play on Dream In Color; Dane Clark on drums (Mellencamp), John Ginty on keys (Sheryl Crow, Allman Betts Band), Mike Grosser on bass (Grace Potter), Johnny Stachela (Duane Betts, Allman Betts Band)on slide for Thick Of It and Killing Floor, plus guitar on Fate.  Dream was produced by Vaughan and recorded in Clark County, Kentucky.

Dream In Color is informed in large part by the changes Stoll found himself going through when, after 14 years in LA, he moved to Kentucky and welcomed a new child into his family. Fate evolved from thinking there’d be nothing worse than having a child with a woman you can’t stand; “I realized how lucky I’ve been” he says.  Farmer’s Almanac was inspired by moving back to Kentucky to live on a farm where he grew hemp and raised cattle, and the title cut is about baptism by the weight of being a new father.  All of this set to mostly gently rolling acoustic melodies make for introspective listening.

“For me, I just need a little space to allow things to come into focus” Stoll notes, “for deeper blues, reds and darker blacks.  Even in the simplest observations, the whole world can change. Dream In Color is a continuation of my search and expression of this beautiful life.”

HOT TRACKS:  Killing Floor, Fate, Farmer’s Almanac


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