ONE DEEP RIVER Mark Knopfler (British Grove Records/ EMI) *****

Not including movie soundtracks, this is Mark Knopfler’s 10th solo album. One Deep River is essentially more of the same, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view.  For me it’s a very, very good thing.  Pastoral, pensive, meditative, this album is an oasis of healing calm in a world that is increasingly losing its mind.

It’s been 30 years since Dire Straits’ last album and Knopfler makes far different music from the global conquering rock he made with those guys. “I love that whole area where country meets the blues” Marks said in an interview clip I’m using on the May 18th edition of my “Rock This Way” show on 365 radio, “and where R&B is, and where rockabilly is, in this whole area… it’s a gorgeously delicious area.”  This sensibility is born out on the 12 cuts that make up One Deep River. describes the record as “one or two reflective world weary ballads, a couple of reflective world weary toe-tappers, and some finely wrought reflective world weary character studies that are self-contained short stories” and that is certainly the case… but every time I put on a new Knopfler album that is precisely what I want to hear- no more and no less. It appeals to my absurdly wide melancholy streak; this album feels like home.

The musicianship is delicately stunning as always, sumptuous even. As a singer Knopfler easily inhabits the character of each tale, which is something he’s pretty much always done.  He brings to mind the old days of the troubadour, wandering the countryside and telling tales set to music. Though a casual Dire Straits fan, I dove into Mark’s solo stuff around 2008 after reading an article about it in Rolling Stone, enjoying everything he’s done and have added all 10 discs to my collection. If you love a good storyteller Mark Knopfler is tough to beat, and One Deep River is his richest, most expressive effort yet.  Trust me; I’ve done the research.

HOT TRACKS:  This One’s Not Going To End Well, Before My Train Comes, Ahead Of The Game

SOLDIER ON Pi Jacobs (Blackbird Records) *****

This is Los Angeles by way of the Bay area singer/ songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist’s 10th album, and it’s a warm hug on a chilly day.  Soldier On has a rhythmic, rootsy sound that defies specific genres yet feels like comfy. “I love Americana music” Pi says. Coming from a multi-cultural background she notes that “it’s inclusive (and) it makes room for everything.  Traditional genres have become so segregated, and I want to break that mold.”  Does she ever.

Soldier On shines a bright light on Pi’s bluesy interpretation of American roots music.  At first I was feeling some country, then blues, and I realized this is a bit of everything.  The disc is autobiographical punctuated by groove and grit, an amalgamation of the intimacy of her songwriting along with what her band brings to the show.  Pi is a wonderful singer with an elastic voice that reminds me at times of Shania Twain or Michelle Malone.  Twin brothers Adam (dobro) and Zack Hall (upright bass), both of whom have played alongside Pi for 7 years appear throughout, as does drummer Butch Norton (Lucinda Williams, The Eels), yet even with a band I’d call these performances intimate.  “I think of music as a magic trick” Pi notes, “because it takes you to a different place, it cheers you up and it makes you feel not so lonely.”

I suppose country plus blues equals Americana, and that’s where it feels like much of Soldier On’s mojo comes from.  There’s something familiar yet adventurous about how this record sounds, and that’s a rare trick to pull off successfully. I really enjoy this disc musically, but the intimacy of Jacobs’ lyrical observations are an equally strong draw.  Nothing forced or cloying about this one; it’s up close and personal, like a heartfelt conversation with a good friend. Enjoy.

HOT TRACKS:  Hallelujah, Charlene, Smoke Signals


Murdoch Mysteries is a popular, long-running TV series on CBC Television here in Canada.  Based on Maureen Jennings’ Murdoch Mysteries novels, it follows the exploits of young detective William Murdoch taking place in the Toronto area circa the 1890’s/ early 1900’s.  The young detective uses up-and-coming forensic techniques and an unconventional approach in solving challenging murder cases.  In last year’s season 17 the show put up their first-ever musical episode and the fans went bananas.  That episode’s entire musical soundtrack (and then some) has been collected on this commemorative digital album.  Fans of the series, and of that episode in particular, will want to add this unconventional souvenir to their collection.

Why Is Everybody Singing? Is an extremely listenable audio-only encore run through the episode’s clever plot in which Murdoch gets shot in the head by a mysterious assailant and has to solve the crime while languishing in a coma- take that, CSI!  All he has to go on are the overheard musings of his worried colleagues, observations he hears as show tunes.  The actors in the show all sing their own songs, which were written especially for the episode by script writer Paul Aitken,  Why Is Everybody Singing includes all 14 of those original numbers, including 8 tracks from composer/ musical director Robert Carli’s original score, overlaid with character dialogue; a re-orchestrated version of the Murdoch Mysteries opening credits theme, a reprise of Bloody Hell and some bonus behind the scenes interviews with some of the actors. It’s 40 minutes of pure listening joy and impish charm.

Although I haven’t been a particular fan of the show- Canadian TV productions and those of the CBC in particular tend to be amateurish- listening to Why Is Everybody Singing is inspiring me to hunt down this episode in particular as well as the series in general beyond the few episodes I HAVE seen and take a deep dive into this inventive detective show.

Why Is Everybody Singing is geared towards fans of the show, and of this crazy episode in particular, and seems doubtful that many beyond those fields will bother.  I give it full marks for the creative concept, for the sparkling production of  Ron Proulx and executive producer Christina Jennings, and for making me curious enough about the show overall to check it out.  It would seem that I have just found my next viewing obsession.

HOT TRACKS:  sorry… to get the full impact you need to listen to the whole album

BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST Chris BadNews Barns (Gulf Coast Records) ****+

Talk about your perfect blues album title!  Bad News Travels Fast is this Nashville-based blues rocker’s first for Gulf Coast, his fifth overall.  Produced by Tom Hambridge, the George Martin of blues producers, this disc sounds terrific… not only because of Tom’s talents but the “A-List” Nashville musicians that stopped by the studio to throw down.  BNTF is a lively, exuberant, rockin’, groovalicious, cheeky beauty.

Label head Mike Zito is thrilled to have Barnes join Gulf Coast.  “I have been a fan for years” Zito says.  “He’s obviously well known for his comedic acting and writing from ‘SNL’ to ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ appearances. Chris is a sincere singer/ songwriter with a style all his own.”  As a writer with a comedic background Barnes’ lyrics tend to be a little left of center, which brings some fresh attitude to his blues.  Special guests like Jimmy Hall, Sugaray Rayford and Walter Trout dropped by to help make a good thing even better.  The core band features Chris Barnes on vocals, Tom Hambridge on drums, Kenny Greenberg on guitars, Tommy McDonald on bass, Mike Rojas on keys, Steve Patrick on trumpeter and Tabitha Fair pitching in with Hambridge on bg vocals.  This is one hell of a talented crew.

Barnes can really get lowdown on songs like A Bluesman Can’t Cry, then he throws us a delightful jump blues on the very next track with The Juice Ain’t Worth the Squeeze- a not uncommon blues theme about deciding your girl or guy just isn’t worth the effort.  On Bad News Travels Fast Chris keeps his blues moving and entertaining like the coolest party you’ve never been to.  Barnes is a pretty dang good songwriter, penning all 11 songs along with Hambridge while Richard Flemming contributes to 4 tracks, with the end result being one of the most satisfying and fun blues albums you’ll hear this year… right up there with the latest from Rick Estrin & The Nightcats.  Let the good times roll, baby!

HOT TRACKS:  The Juice Ain’t Worth The Squeeze, His Majesty The Baby, A Bluesman Can’t Cry


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