ROCKSTAR Dolly Parton (Butterfly Records) ****
When Dolly Parton first announced her rock album I thought she was kidding, but the thought was intriguing. Now here we are with Rockstar in our hands, 30 songs, mostly covers of big, fat hits as she collaborates with artists like Ann Wilson, Rob Halford, Joan Jett and Sting. The big question; is it any good? Yes, and perhaps shockingly so.
The ball started rolling when Dolly was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2022. At first she declined, feeling it wasn’t appropriate for a country star… but she was convinced otherwise and felt she should prove herself worthy. As the idea for Rockstar began to take hold, Parton called on some of the biggest names in music to help her reimagine a pant-load of rock classics. Loudersound.com critic Stephen Dalton calls the album “a towering wedding cake of syrupy excess and Elvis-in-Vegas naffness” as well as “monumentally hideous yet strangely glorious” and I suppose he makes a colorful point but the only thing that matters is, is it worthwhile? Enjoyable? Oh HELL yes.
I don’t have production notes- got my copy on I Tunes- but the band is smokin’ hot and Parton is really on her game. Lots of famous guests on Rockstar, textbook stunt casting yet also a sign of the respect she commands to gather such a diverse roster of artists under one roof. Rob Halford, who duets with her on the original song Bygones, says “when she performs, even if you’re not a country fan, there’s something about her personality that draws you in, not only as a musician but a humanitarian. Visually she’s as unique as Lemmy.” Other artists she spars with at the mic include Kid Rock, Pink, Steve Perry, John Fogerty… the list goes on.
I’m sure some were afraid she’d take these rock songs and ‘countrify’ them, but Dolly plays it straight. I’ve been a Dolly fan for decades and as a deejay have played her songs on the radio… she’s a talented musician and songwriter, there was never any real doubt that she could pull this off. Perhaps her main motivation here was proving that she could do it and the results are better than we dared hope. Not every song is a homerun but there’s some good stuff here. It would’ve been a better record at 15 tracks, or split into two volumes.
HOT TRACKS: Every Breath You Take (with Sting), Bygones (with Rob Halford), Either Or (with Kid Rock)
AT THE END OF THE DAY Sylvia Tyson (Stony Plain Records) *** ½
At 83 this folk icon has just released what she calls her final album. At The End Of The Day is a collection of songs that look back across a life well-lived, even as it offers advice and words of encouragement to those just starting out. It mixes the good with the bad, the bitter with the sweet and a healthy dose of realism. You know- typical Sylvia. It’s the kind of record she could only write now, after a lifetime of studying human nature. As Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo notes, “Sylvia’s new record comes in the door like an old friend.”
“It was time” Sylvia says of At The End Of The Day, her 11th album. “It is kind of a gathering of all the things that I wanted to record but never got around to. I just felt it was time to record- I really feel that this may be the best album that I have ever done.” Perhaps it was the death of her ex-husband Ian Tyson last December that got her thinking “I gotta get this done” as the clock runs out eventually for all of us. Ian & Sylvia were a vital part of the Greenwich Village scene with their songs being recorded by dozens of other artists, going on after their split in 1975 to have successful solo careers, their music often powerful and compelling.
At the End Of The Day is a gentle, lilting combination of folk and country with instrumentation simple and direct, often flavored by fiddle playing that tugs at the heart strings, which really matches the emotional content. Her uncomplicated acoustic guitar is like a warm breeze as she poetically examines chapters of her life and she is still in fine voice, though that can’t help but show the wear of passing years. The melodies roll along unhurriedly, unencumbered by big pop hooks that demand you get up and dance, serving more as an appropriate backdrop as Sylvia reveals some personal and universal truths in her unassuming storytelling.
I occasionally call an album a good listen while you’re thinking about stuff, and At The End Of The Day is definitely one of those records. Being much closer to the end than the beginning that kind of music is becoming more and more important to me. As Sylvia sings on the title track, “it’s the good times I remember at the end of the day.” I’ll be spending more time with this one.
HOT TRACKS: At the End Of The Day, I Never Got Over You, Cynical Little Love Song
FIGHT IN ME Ignescent (Frontiers) ***+
Here is the de but for this Chicago-based hard rock quartet. Combining maximum heaviosity with a thick, chewy, contemporary metal sound, The Fight In Me is turning some heads.
The word that immediately comes to mind here is ‘dense’; not unlike Nickelback sound-wise but much heavier. Mostly devoid of face-melting solos Ignescent is more concerned with the vibe of the songs rather than showing off. Drummer Dusty Winterrowd and bassist Joel Seidlitz make for an ironclad rhythm section, taking a journeyman approach to their role of providing a sturdy backbeat. Max Carillo’s guitar riffs are down-tuned and beastly while Jennifer Benson’s high and clear vocals cut through this epic sludge-fest easily.
There is clearly more going on with The Fight In Me than 4 people getting together in a room and wailing away as many slick and modern production tricks and techniques are at play to devastating effect, the emotional depth of the lyrics an effective match with the music too. As Jennifer sings in the title cut, “we will come out stronger in the end through the pain with our hearts ignited/ I will never stop the fight in me”. No pretty melodies here as they grind away- it’s a pretty dark record, and not everyone will be able to handle it.
I first heard about Ignescent’s Fight In Me through seeing posts by the label on Facebook, and after reading a couple of enthusiastic reviews figured it was worth checking out. When it comes to metal my tastes tend toward classic acts like Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden, but there’s something about taking an aural beating from Ignescent that feels good too… as Metallica once sang, Hit me again, I ain’t dead yet. I suppose comparisons to Evanescence are inevitable because this is a metal band with a chick singer, but I think doing so sells both bands cheap.
Fight In Me is bottom-heavy VERY nouveau metal and despite my age, I’m rather enjoying it.
HOT TRACKS: The Hurt, Monster You Made, Fight In Me
DIFFERENT GROOVE Adam Hood (independent) ****+
This is a re-recording of this southern songwriter/ artist’s album originally released in 2007, but as I’m not familiar with that, I have no problem approaching this like a new record. Different Groove is a blend of country, soul and American roots music as Adam approaches the songs one more time with matured musicianship and a fresh perspective. Happens to be pretty cool.
The first time Adam recorded Different Groove he had never crossed the Mississippi River let alone set foot on a plane. He was quite green and it took years of traveling back and forth to California to make the album. Midway through that he took a detour, opening for Leon Russell’s band for three years, just Adam and his drummer. Of course his life changed drastically in the 15 years since, his style evolved and guitar playing developed as these songs took on a life of their own. If I had to pick one word to describe Different Groove 2023, it would be ‘soulful’.
Heading into the sessions for this Adam says “I felt Gord Quist would be the producer to give the album a new groove. We recorded this version at The Finishing School in Austin. I hope that anybody who has a connection in time to the original version finds a home for this new version as well.” Producer Quist was enthusiastic about redoing Different Groove too. “Songs as timelessly good as these deserved a re-visiting with Adams soulful voice and stories at the center of it all” Gord says. “We just tried to keep things groovy, greasy and honest, hopefully creating a timeless sound to go with all the years of living now baked into these songs.”
Different Groove is like a soul record with a healthy shot of country-fried goodness. It’s not always twangy though that does come up from time to time, and you can feel the influence of Hood’s time spent opening for Leon Russell in here too- I also love the feel of the Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes that pops up occasionally.
You can really feel when a song tries too hard to be something that perhaps it isn’t, but Different Groove does not have that problem. The disc has a feel and a way about it that is totally natural, like these songs are exactly the way they’re meant to be… you gotta love that.
HOT TRACKS: 22 Days Too Long, Different Groove, Buzzes Like Neon
DAMN THE RENT The Dig 3 (independent) *****
The Dig 3 is an unusual blues trio and Damn The Rent is, I believe, their 2nd album. The group is Andrew Duncanson, Ronnie Shellist and one man band Gerry Hundt. Whiskey-toned vocals, sweet harmonica and songs tethered to grooves only possible with a one man rhythm section, Dig 3 creates roots music with power and subtlety honed by decades of house parties and honky-tonks, according to their website. Damn The Rent is a thing of stark, groove-soaked beauty.
According to Andrew the ten songs that make up Damn The Rent proper were recorded in one day, all live with no overdubs or edits, the way records used to be made. There are 2 bonus tracks, Southern Fantasy and All The Love That I Got that their friends Lauren Dukes, Rick King and Aaron Whittier helped give the “all-out 70’s funk treatment”. The album has an old school vibe and sound, yet I wouldn’t call it primitive. This is harp-powered blues, done extremely well, as The Dig 3 groove merrily along with joy in their hearts and a bounce in their step. Instrumental cuts mingle with vocal numbers, making the album feel like a full blues experience.
Damn The Rent isn’t loaded with showy solos but the harp work of Shellist and Hundt is a master class in groovesmanship; not how hard or fast can they play, but how can they best make you feel the intent of each song. Overall Damn mostly has a mid-tempo laconic strolling feel and is unobtrusive company that puts a joyful bounce into your own step, and when they pick it up for stuff like the funky instrumental Blanco Boogaloo or Red-Tailed Hawks which follows it, well then the party is ON.
This is proof that music doesn’t need to be complex to be enjoyable or worthwhile. The Dig 3 make blues you can use, and Damn The Rent is going to make a lot of friends.
HOT TRACKS: Red-Tailed Hawks, Chuck & Willie, Coconut Curry Dance
ENCHANTMENT Until The Sun (independent) *****+
Until The Sun’s new album is a glorious, hot mess and I mean that in the best possible way. No matter what tickles your ear hair- blues, funk, psychedelic rock, more funk- Enchantment is high energy rock ‘n’ blues that makes sitting still a problem.
There are special guests involved but the band itself is Alyssa Swartz on vocals, Brandon Teskey on guitars, bass, sitar and vocals, and Chris Tex on drums. Enchantment is rock & roll that remembers the blues or blues that knows how to rock, take your pick. Swartz’s voice is high, clear and passionate, and Teskey’s solos on a cut like Death In Disguise match the singer’s intensity. Music-news.com praises Until The Sun as “a psychedelic blues band with a feel for mid-60’s rock and 70’s American rock & roll.” They appreciate Alyssa’s voice but also single out guitarist Brandon Teskey as “playing some beautiful guitar, partly in a post-Barrett Floydian manner but also in a Stevie Ray Vaughan electric-blues vein”- I’d throw Hendrix in there too.
Enchantment was recorded at Mind’s Eye Digital Studio, engineered by Larry Elyea, produced by Larry along with the band and mastered by Dave Collins. That’s all worth mentioning because the album sounds terrific even when shifting through the various styles of rock and blues that blend together in a seemingly effortless way. From the muscular bleus/rock workouts to Ghost In The Prayer, the most overtly Floyd-like number, UTS never seems in danger of getting lost. Kudos to the band, the special guests and their partners in production, for crafting an album that makes sense despite the seemingly disparate elements involved.
As I listened to this the more the title Enchantment made sense and, by the time I got to the end of the epic Ghost In The Prayer that ends the disc, the more inevitable it seemed. In a day and age when bands and artists stick to a single, narrow definition, Until The Sun’s Enchamnent stands tall above a never ending ocean of mediocrity. The good stuff? No- the GREAT stuff.
HOT TRACKS: Ghost In The Prayer, Dragon Below, Dancing On The Floor