Robert “Top” Thomas

The Town Crier


thomasTake the riff from ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” add a solo vaguely reminiscent of Steve Howe’s from “All Good People” by Yes, and finish it off with an outro possibly inspired by Wings’ “Helen Wheels.” As incongruous as that might seem, it all works on the outrageous opening track from Florida swamp blues master Thomas’ solo debut.

Thank goodness for small regional labels that release hard-to-find music such as this. Bassist, producer and songwriter Stephen Dees explains how he, his wife and an up-and-coming blues pianist founded WildRoots:

“Patti and I met Victor (Wainwright, WildRoots’ first artist) at a charity benefit performance that we were both playing at in Ormond Beach, Fla.,” Dees told Good New Music by e-mail. “We both dug each other’s music. Eventually Victor asked me if I would co-write with him and produce his album. … We all decided that the best way to put out quality records would be to have our own label.”

Dees’ credentials include playing bass for Hall and Oates in the ’70s; forming Novo Combo with Michael Shrieve (Santana, Journey) in the ’80s; touring with Foghat in the ’90s; and working with his wife as The Bandees in the 2000s.

But back to Thomas: “I’ve known Robert for a long while,” Dees told GNM. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with him many times. What we love the most about ‘Top’ is that he’s the real deal — a genuine bluesman. So when it came down to signing our first act other than Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots, it was an easy choice to go with ‘The Town Crier.’ ”

“Mississippi Quickie” and the title track are remakes of tunes recorded in the ’90s by Thomas’ old blues band SmokeHouse, but Dees confided to GNM that he played them with Thomas in other bands before Thomas recorded them with SmokeHouse.

“Blues Grass” homes in on the Delta side of Thomas’ sound, and features some of his tasty electric slide-guitar work. Written by Dees and Wainwright, it originally appeared on Wainwright’s 2009 album, “Beale Street to the Bayou.”

Thomas pays tribute to mentor Lazy Lester by covering the harmonica player’s 1963 Excello B-side, “The Same Thing Could Happen to You,” right down to the Louisiana drawl.

“King Snake Crawl,” a Thomas co-write with Dees, eulogizes Bob “The Midnight Creeper” Greenlee and other artists who recorded for King Snake Records — a Florida-based independent blues label started by Greenlee — whose roster included Rufus Thomas, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, Root Boy Slim and SmokeHouse.

Other highlights include the raucous instrumental “YeeHaw Junction”; the acoustic “I’m a Freight Train,” featuring guitar wunderkind Damon Fowler on dobro; and “It Ain’t Easy,” with its gospel-tinged ending featuring the WildRoots Choir.gnm_end_bug

1. Mississippi Quickie
2. Blues Grass
3. The Same Thing Could Happen to You
4. Lazy Little Daisy
5. King Snake Crawl
6. Bad Seed
7. What’s the Matter Ma
8. Sugar Shop
9. YeeHaw Junction
10. I’m a Freight Train
11. Daddy’s Gone
12. The Town Crier
13. It Aint Easy

Total time: 43:23

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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Jason Freeman

Hex & Hell

BR2 Music Publishing

freemanFreeman, who also is a member of Memphis pre-World War II blues cover band Bluff City Backsliders, plugs in for his first solo effort — a wild mélange of Texas boogie; Louisiana swamp; Mississippi Delta and hill-country blues; and Sun Studio-style rockabilly.

And he’s no stranger to that last subgenre, either, working as a Sun Studio tour guide by day. “Working at Sun Studio has expanded my view of the role Memphis has played throughout history,” Freeman says in his bio on the website for “$5 Cover Amplified,” a package of 12 online documentaries produced as a complement to Craig Brewer’s 2009 musical drama series for MTV, “$5 Cover.” “I think that’s helped me raise the bar as to what I’m doing, knowing I’m representing a brand that’s known all over the world. In my own humble way, I’m a representative of that tradition.”

In fact, “Hex & Hell,” a collection of 10 Freeman originals, is the first release on filmmaker Brewer’s new record label. Freeman has a song featured in all of Brewer’s films — ”The Poor & Hungry,” “Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan” and “Footloose” — and taught Samuel L. Jackson how to play slide guitar for “Black Snake Moan.”

If one had to draw a voice comparison, fellow slide guitarist Roy Rogers might come to mind. But it’s Freeman’s gutsy slide that’s in the spotlight here, presented in a variety of styles and tones, backed by just bass and drums on most tracks.

For variety’s sake, three tracks enjoy expanded instrumentation. “Florida Watah,” the title track and “Love Baby” add organ, violin/violin/cello and saxophone, respectively — all to great effect.gnm_end_bug

1. Dirty Heart
2. Florida Watah
3. Help Me
4. Hex & Hell
5. Love Baby
6. Magic In My Home
7. (Do The) Rump
8. Memphis Bridge
9. Teasin’ Me
10. The Beginning Of …

Total time: 35:26

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iTunes Store

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The Stone Foxes

Small Fires


stonefoxes2The Stone Foxes refined their San Francisco blues-rock sound over two albums (three if you count “Black Rolling Thunder,” a CD-R they made for friends in 2006 whose title track was reprised on their self-titled official debut in 2008). After 2010′s “Bears & Bulls,” the group lost second guitarist Avi Vinocur, added keyboardist Elliott Peltzman and decided it was time to experiment. The quartet focused on lyrics, abandoned their Fox Den garage studio in favor of a real one and brought in Doug Boehm (Dr. Dog, Drive-By Truckers) to engineer and help produce.

“Small Fires” was funded partly by fans through PledgeMusic, allowing the band to preserve their artistic integrity. They booked The Carriage House in Los Angeles for 12 days and recorded a song per day (no confirmed plans yet for the two outtakes).

Opening track “Everybody Knows” might indicate a penchant for murder ballads, as it’s based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” and follows “I Killed Robert Johnson” from the last album. Drummer Shannon Koehler’s harmonica provides well-placed contrast and a couple of mini-solos.

“Ulysses Jones,” about a man who doesn’t want to lose his home to foreclosure without a fight, gives the first real taste of Peltzman’s formidable prowess on the Fender Rhodes, while the Wilco-like “So Much Better” showcases his organ work as well as Shannon’s brother Spence’s intense electric and acoustic guitar stylings.

Other highlights are the mysterious “Cold Wind,” about crack-toothed Jimmy and his unwillingness to take ownership of his blunders; “Talk to Louise,” possibly the only song to pay homage to The Band and the Rolling Stones simultaneously; the American Indian-sounding “Jump in the Water,” featuring killer bass from Aaron Mort; and “Goodnight Moon,” the lone track that proves the Stone Foxes haven’t lost their country credentials.gnm_end_bug

1. Everybody Knows
2. Ulysses Jones
3. So Much Better
4. Cotto
5. Small Fires
6. Battles, Blades & Bones
7. Cold Wind
8. Talk To Louise
9. Jump In The Water
10. Goodnight Moon

Total time: 39:27

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Camper Van Beethoven

La Costa Perdida

429 Records

That’s right, a new release from CVB — seven years after the previous “New Roman Times,” 22 after that one’s predecessor “Key Lime Pie.” And this time they’re in a laid-back yet playful mood.

That’s because whereas the last one was a politically philosophical concept album, this one’s a Northern California-themed long player that wistfully looks back on youthful surfer hippie days growing up on the coast.

Offbeat and all over the map as ever, the exhilaration begins with the mandolin-graced litany of old girlfriend names that is Come Down the Coast: Esmerelda, Gabriella, Isabella; Josephina, Magdalena, Rosalinda; even Valentina.

The rocking Too High for the Love-In recalls the group’s best album, “Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart,” right down to the nearly nonsensical lyrics, Balkan folk rhythms and midpoint tempo change. Kicking it up a notch are the interwoven surf guitar licks.

You Got to Roll alternates between blues and alt rock, but also between sexual innuendo and straightforward suggestion.

And on a roll they are, as slide guitar and violin unite for the psychedelic waltz Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out, followed by the left turn of Peaches in the Summertime, a ska-punk revision of the traditional Appalachian tune “Shady Grove.”

It’s not hard to imagine the disc’s centerpiece, the “Holland”-era Beach Boys-inspired Northern California Girls, as an innocently delirious composition by Brian Wilson in answer to his own “California Girls.”

The stream-of-consciousness lyrics of the dirgelike Summer Days long for bygone if monotonous carefree times.

Then there’s the title track, which translates as The Lost Coast, a narcocorrido-style number that still manages to retain a hint of the band’s trademark southeastern Europe motif, set to perhaps David Lowery’s most smart-aleck lyrics of the bunch. Throw in Aged in Wood, a one-minute instrumental nod to “Smile”-era Beach Boys (think “Workshop” but with wood-based sound effects of a different variety) before taking a romantic walk along the shore with the string-sweetened A Love for All Time and that’s a wrap for another work of art from conventionally unconventional Camper Van Beethoven.

1. Come Down The Coast
2. Too High For The Love-In
3. You Got To Roll
4. Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out
5. Peaches In The Summertime
6. Northern California Girls
7. Summer Days
8. La Costa Perdida
9. Aged In Wood
10. A Love For All Time

Total time: 43:04

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Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale

Buddy and Jim

New West

In 2008, Lauderdale released an album as Jim Lauderdale and the Dream Players (James Burton, Steve Sheehan, Al Perkins, Glen D. Hardin, Gary Tallent and Ron Tutt). Now comes his dream duets album with fellow Nashville singer-songwriter Miller, in which the pair unleash a set of modern traditional noncomformist country — with an edge — on an unsuspecting public.

The two longtime friends are nothing if not prolific, and live by the code of artistic integrity. They pursue solo careers while making good livings as hired hands: most recently, Lauderdale with Elvis Costello and Miller with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy. They even host “The Buddy & Jim Show” on SiriusXM radio.

Lauderdale is no stranger to collaboration, with a discography that includes an album with jam band Donna the Buffalo, two with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and four with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Likewise for Miller, who’s recorded platters with singer-songwriter wife Julie and joined forces with guitarists Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz to form the Majestic Silver Strings.

On “B&J,” the mission seems to be simply to have fun, while making world-class music along the way. The close harmonies recall brother groups of yore, such as the Everlys, the Louvins, the Wilburns, the Delmores and the Stanleys. Miller’s guitar playing is so top-notch, it’s mind-boggling. Pedal steel guitarist Russ Pahl livens up more than a few tracks (check out the theremin sounds he creates on “Vampire Girl”).

The album was originally conceived as a collection of covers of songs made popular by 1950s country act Johnnie and Jack, but ended up containing multisourced covers as well as originals by Lauderdale and/or Miller. “Down South in New Orleans” is the lone Johnnie and Jack song to make the final cut, and here it absolutely rocks with Miller’s Luther Perkins-style guitar laid atop subtle pedal steel and violin while a rhumba beat bubbles beneath.

Other covers include Frank Hutchison’s “The Train That Carried My Gal From Town,” with Stuart Duncan’s trainlike fiddle; the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Lonely One in This Town,” which sounds like a duet between Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams; Joe Tex’s “I Want to Do Everything for You,” featuring Miller’s Jim Messina-style twang guitar; and Jimmy McCracklin’s “The Wobble,” coming off like Commander Cody’s “Don’t Let Go” meets Dire Straits’ “Industrial Disease.”

1. I Lost My Job Of Loving You
2. The Train That Carried My Gal From Town
3. That’s Not Even Why I Love You
4. Down South In New Orleans
5. It Hurts Me
6. Vampire Girl
7. Forever And A Day
8. Lonely One In This Town
9. Looking For A Heartache
10. I Want To Do Everything For You
11. The Wobble

Total time: 34:28

External links
Buddy’s website
Jim’s website
iTunes Store

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