Rusty Young

Waitin’ for the Sun

Blue Elan

“Fifty years in the making.”

While that statement about Rusty Young’s debut solo album might be a stretch, it’s accurate in the minds of diehard “Poconuts” who know that the 50th anniversary of Poco is coming up next year.

Over the past half-century, various members of that seminal country-rock group have recorded a number of solo offerings: Randy Meisner (three), Jim Messina (three), Richie Furay (seven), Timothy B. Schmit (six) and Paul Cotton (three).

Young, sole original member of the still-performing group, quietly bided his time while he and bandmate Paul Cotton kept the group a going concern as — one by one — Messina, Furay, Schmit and even drummer George Grantham moved on. In 2010, Cotton also exited.

As Young gradually evolved from sideman to frontman, the pedal steel guitarist also added acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, mandolin, lap steel and Dobro to his stringed-instrument arsenal.

When Poco was on hiatus in the 1990s, Young took a shot at Nashville stardom with an all-star group of like-minded country-rockers that recorded not one but 2½ unreleased albums: the first for RCA under the moniker Four Wheel Drive (with Bill Lloyd, John Cowan and Patrick Simmons) and the second 1½ for Warner Bros. as the Sky Kings (after a legal snag forced a name change and Simmons departed). The Sky Kings recordings eventually saw the light of day as a limited-edition compilation on the Rhino Handmade label.

Young’s long-awaited solo record presents the multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter freshly emerged from short-lived retirement, happy to have finally done his own thing and on his own terms.

As Young tells it on several recent radio interviews, he was approached by a record label after one of his occasional gigs with Messina.

“When Rusty asked us what kind of album we wanted,” says Blue Elan president Kirk Pasich in a press release, “we said, ‘What kind of album do you want to make?’ ”

After a year spent writing about 20 tunes, Young headed for Johnny Cash’s cabin studio in Hendersonville, Tenn., and laid down tracks with current Poco compadres Jack Sundrud (bass), Michael Webb (keyboards) and Rick Lonow (drums).

The results proved spectacular, with highlights such as the scene-setting title track; the tender ballad “Heaven Tonight”; and the sensory instrumental “Seasons.”

Other standouts include “My Friend,” which joins previous nostalgic numbers such as Poco’s “When It All Began” (from their 1989 reunion album “Legacy”) and Furay’s “We Were the Dreamers” (from his 2015 album “Hand in Hand”), and features cameos from Furay and Schmit; and the rollicking “Honey Bee,” which boasts assists from Messina and Grantham.

Tracks
1. Waitin’ For The Sun
2. My Friend
3. Honey Bee
4. Sara’s Song
5. Heaven Tonight
6. Hey There
7. Seasons
8. Innocent Moon
9. Down Home
10. Gonna Let The Rain

Total time: 36:37

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Dennis Johnson and the Mississippi Ramblers

Rhythmland

Root Tone

Slide guitarists who hit the big time don’t emerge all that often — the genre hasn’t seen much new blood this century outside of Derek Trucks and Luther Dickinson.

But Dennis Johnson might be joining their ranks soon. The San Francisco-based performer who lives in Sacramento is starting to flex his creative muscles on “Rhythmland,” his third album.

Recorded at Paradise Studios in Sacramento — as both of his other releases were — Johnson enlisted in-house engineer Craig Long to co-produce the album and augment his trio on half of the tracks by contributing keyboards.

He cites Robert Johnson and fellow Northern California slide guitarist Roy Rogers as major influences, and credits David “Honeyboy” Edwards with convincing him to go professional when he was unsure if he wanted to make music his career.

“Honeyboy told me, ‘If you like to play the blues, play the blues!’ … When I shook (his) hand, I felt an energy there. … It was fate,” Johnson says in the album’s press release.

For “Rhythmland,” Johnson says, his goal was to use slide to support the rhythms of the songs. In composing the album’s nine original tracks (“Walkin’ Blues” is the only cover), he thought about rhythm first, which “takes slide guitar to a whole new level.”

Witness “Timbale,” a frisky, Latinesque number that Johnson uses a special guitar for. “I have a 1980s Hohner Strat that was fitted with Texas specials and rewired by luthier Sean Chappell (of Richmond, Calif.-based Chappell Guitars),” he told Good New Music via email. “He nailed it — great Stevie Ray Vaughn out-of-phase approach.”

The song cleverly uses a bridge that recalls the beginning of the instrumental portion of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” to segue into its own extended instrumental midsection, which in turn boasts several interesting time-signature changes. A vocal reprise is then followed by an instrumental outro that simultaneously sounds like the climactic ending of Santana’s cover of “Black Magic Woman” and the rhythm chart to Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” (kudos to drummer Tim Metz and bassist Jonathan Stoyanoff for that last bit).

“Fillmore Street” and “High Heel Shoes” are prime barrelhouse/boogie-woogie in the vein of Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers or Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. “High Heel Shoes” features Johnson on a 1961 Martin New Yorker, rather than the album’s predominant 12-string Dobro, and “Fillmore Street” contains some fine ivory-tickling by Long — as does “My Love Is Here for You,” a Tin Pan Alley-style song also featuring the Martin New Yorker.

Long makes another keyboard contribution on “Southbound Train” (electric piano), a lament about days of heartfelt blues — and authentic music in general — gone by. The tune additionally is bolstered by Johnson’s keen emulation of a locomotive whistle.

And Johnson can pull off a lament like that because he’s the real deal: “Rhythmland” successfully wraps slide guitar around various subgenres of blues, folk and rock with an emphasis not only on rhythm but on great storytelling.

 

Tracks
1. Walkin’ Blues
2. Timbale
3. Faith
4. Fillmore Street
5. That Way No More
6. Valley Of Love
7. High Heel Shoes
8. My Love Is Here For You
9. Southbound Train
10. Revolution

Total time: 35:13

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Jerry Douglas Band

What If

Rounder

On a self-issued dare, Dobro/lap steel maestro Jerry Douglas formed a band. Their resulting debut album is right up there with mandolinist Mike Marshall’s 1984 release “Gator Strut.”

Like “Gator Strut,” the Jerry Douglas Band’s “What If” swirls genres in unexpected and mind-blowing ways around a loose core of progressive bluegrass using the best studio sound possible. Douglas, aka Flux — who’s evolved from bluegrass to newgrass to New Age to world fusion, with countless session dates and collaborations along the way as well as a nearly 20-year stint in Alison Krauss and Union Station — has again stepped out of his comfort zone to come up with something new.

“Something new” this time is a pleasantly surreal alternate musical universe that shape-shifts through bluegrass, country, folk, rock and blues but with a constant jazz denominator supplied by JDB guitarist Mike Seal, saxophonist Jamel Mitchell and trumpeter Vance Thompson.

“I’ve always heard horn lines in my songs, and I usually put something else there instead,” Douglas explains in his record label’s press release for the album; oftentimes, that “something else” was mandolin and/or banjo. But this time the listener gets to hear what was originally in the artist’s head.

“Unfolding” unfolds with solos, beginning with Douglas’ bluesy riffing. Next in the spotlight are Christian Sedelmyer’s violin and Mitchell’s sax, which in conjunction with the Dobro recall just how great Loggins and Messina’s extended pieces on “Full Sail” and “Mother Lode” were. Then the song takes a left turn into free-form, as Seal cuts loose with an Allan Holdsworth-ian jam. The final solo is offered up(right) by bassist Daniel Kimbro, before a reprise of the main melody closes out the whole affair.

“2:19,” one of the only two vocal numbers, features some surprisingly capable and soulful singing by Douglas on a Tom Waits cover that’s given somewhat of a “Ry Cooder by way of New Orleans” treatment. The other vocal number (again sung by Douglas) is an interpretation of the massively covered 1960s classic “Hey Joe” and arguably the album’s most bluegrassy production.

The title track easily is the most emotional, with its extended classical intro dissolving into plaintive and mellow twin-horn action that comes and goes throughout before the song drifts away on a short-but-sweet display of guitar subtly reminiscent of Jerry Garcia.

Other highlights include the opening “Cavebop” (beatnik hillbilly jazz, featuring really great offbeat drumming by Doug Belote); a trio of Celtic-style tunes (“Go Ahead and Leave,” “Butcher Boy” and “The Last Wild Moor”); and the closing “Hot Country 84.5,” an overtly country ditty that cheerfully straddles the line between waltz and shuffle.

“What If” is a departure for Douglas in that it’s a band album. But it’s also a more than worthy addition to his lengthy line of fine instrumental releases, and one that admirably extends his creative reach into uncharted territory.

Tracks
1. Cavebop
2. Unfolding
3. 2:19
4. What If
5. Hey Joe
6. Battle Stick
7. Go Ahead And Leave
8. Butcher Boy
9. Freemantle
10. The Last Wild Moor
11. Hot Country 84.5

Total time: 52:00

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Tommy Talton

Somewhere South of Eden

self-released

Ttaltonommy Talton, who along with Scott Boyer comprised the core of ’70s country/Southern rock ensemble Cowboy, has achieved the solo masterpiece he always had in him.

Cowboy recorded four criminally under-appreciated studio LPs before hanging it up after their self-titled 1977 effort. The group backed up Greg Allman on his 1974 orchestral tour, which yielded a live double LP and Cowboy’s only officially released live music (two of their songs were featured on Side 2) until “Reunion 2010.”

Talton didn’t release a solo record until 2008. That one and its two follow-ups, while enjoyable, turned out to be mileposts en route to the idyllic “Eden.”

Such bliss arrives in the form of well-crafted compositions, whose presentation is enhanced by a revolving cast of six world-class keyboard players, and maximized by meticulous engineering and mixing that puts the singer-songwriter’s estimable guitar skills — particularly his slide work — front and center.

“I remember when I was first trying to (learn how to play slide guitar) … back in late 1968 or so … in Venice, Calif. … I could not play and it sounded awful,” he said in a recent interview on Macon, Ga.’s WNEX-FM. “… (But I kept at it and) I went to bed one night, and the next morning when I woke up I could play. … Something happened that night, and I was not hanging out with the devil at the time, either.”

Markham White, proprietor of Afterdark Designs Studio in Smyrna, Ga., offered some quick logistics on the album’s recording as well as detailed technical insight into how the engineering and mixing process for “Eden” did justice to Talton’s guitar work:

“The initial tracking of drums, bass, and scratch guitar and vocals were done at my colleague David Pinkston’s studio, Boomtown Recorders, in the Nashville area,” White told Good New Music via email. “All good recordings must start with a great drum and bass sound, and David certainly delivered. Otherwise, it is difficult to finish with a great product.

“All the guitars and vocals were recorded at my studio … and all mixing was done there as well. The keyboards were recorded by each artist in their own studios and sent to me for mixing, as were the great horns by Randall Bramblett (on “I Can’t Believe It”). Paul Hornsby at Muscadine Studios recorded Chuck Leavell’s great piano on “Poblano.” Jimmy Nutt at the Nutthouse studio recorded Spooner Oldham. Ike Stubblefield and Kenny Head contributed great performances, as well.

“As for the guitar sounds, first let me start by saying that as a guitar player myself for over 40 years, I truly believe most tone is in the hands of the player. That said, it is important to work toward the best sound you can achieve. To that end, Tommy and I worked on several setups (different guitars, amps in different settings) to find what worked for him best on each song.

“The vast majority of electric guitar work was done on my SamAmp VAC 23 and Tommy’s Epiphone solid body and his mid-60’s Gibson 335. The amplifier was mic’d mostly in the tracking room of my studio but on some songs, in my studio bathroom shower. … We even used my Fractal Axe-Fx II on a song. Whatever served the sound is all that matters. I am not married to any particular technology, old or new.

“The signal chain for electric guitar recording is mostly a Royer R-121 or Sennheiser e 906 close-mic’d and an Audio-Technica AT4033 as a room mic thru API 512c preamps, API 550A EQs, etc. The acoustic guitars were mic’d with either a pair of Neumann KM 184s or Telefunken M60 FETs. Vocals were mostly done on a Telefunken U47 reissue through an Avalon 737 preamp/EQ/compressor.

“Recording and mixing was done on Pro Tools HD 7.3 thru a pair of ATC SCM25As with referencing on our respective car stereo systems. … The entire project was a bit over a year given our schedules. My recording and mixing philosophy is pretty conventional. I believe in letting the music dictate the approach. In this case, we wanted very clean recordings and mixes reminiscent of my idol Roger Nichols of Steely Dan fame. In the end, the project dictated its own sound, and Tommy and I were very happy with the results.”

As on his earlier releases, Talton covers an array of genres, from Memphis soul/R&B (“I Can’t Believe It”) to slow-shuffling blues (“Hard Situation”) to instrumental Latin jazz (“Poblano”) — even to pseudo-bluegrass (“Don’t Go Away Sore!” with special guest “Rev.” Jeff Mosier of Blueground Undergrass on banjo).

But unlike his previous albums, “Eden” has a thread tying it all together — one that initially was intangible to this reviewer. Good New Music came up with a theory about what it was, posited it to Talton and received the following in response:

“I suppose the ‘introspective’ aspect (you think might be present) is just a natural outcome of my state of mind while deciding what I would like to put out there,” he told GNM by email. “Actually, there are three songs included that have been in the ‘must record someday’ files! ‘I Surrender,’ ‘Hard Situation,’ ‘When I Fall Asleep Again,’ ‘It’s Gonna Come Down on You’ and even ‘Poblano’ have been sitting and waiting patiently to be recorded at some point.

“I had forgotten there were five,” Talton added parenthetically. “Wow, thanks for reminding me!”

As long as GNM had the artist’s ear, there was — as TV’s police Lt. Frank Columbo would say — “just one more thing”: What ever became of those recording sessions that reportedly took place about 10 years ago with an eye toward a new Cowboy album? Is there a finished album sitting on a shelf?

“Actually, it’s very timely of you to ask about those ‘secret’ Cowboy sessions,” Talton confided. “Just last week I received some final mixes on that project that was begun, believe it or not, in 2008! There are four tracks with all the original members of the band, and the rest are more of a ‘Boyer and Talton’ affair. We are getting closer to those seeing the light of day! But, that’s another story.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. I Can’t Believe It
2. Hard Situation
3. We Are Calling
4. Somewhere South Of Eden
5. Poblano
6. Center Of My Soul
7. Don’t Go Away Sore
8. It’s Gonna Come Down On You
9. I Surrender
10. Waiting On The Saints
11. When I Fall Asleep Again

Total time: 49:12

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Great American Taxi

Dr. Feelgood’s Traveling Medicine Show

LoHi

GATWhen frontman Vince Herman returned full-time to his reactivated former group Leftover Salmon, the Colorado-based Americana/jam band Great American Taxi chose to keep on truckin’.

It was a good decision, as their fourth release turned out to be their best.

After settling on guitarist/banjoist/singer Arthur Lee Land as Herman’s replacement, they headed into Silo Sound Studios in late 2014 and early 2015 under the guidance of studio owner/engineer Todd Divel and Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone, who also lends occasional fiddle.

Finding themselves between drummers at the time, Duane Trucks (Hard Working Americans, Widespread Panic and younger brother of Derek) filled in.

The resulting “Dr. Feelgood’s Traveling Medicine Show” shows the quintet shifting away from alt-bluegrass toward more of a rock-and-roll sound: The addition of Land sets up some fine Telecaster duels with Jim Lewin.

A slight bluegrass connection remains, with a few songs featuring banjo in a supporting role. But an approximately equal number of other tracks boast founder-keyboardist Chad Staehly’s electric piano, à la “Elephant Mountain”/“Ride the Wind”-era Youngbloods.

One of the banjo highlights is “Home.” Starting out with the sound of crickets and footsteps, the loping song waxes nostalgic as the protagonist recalls days of his not-quite-misspent youth.

“We Can Run” boasts a high-spirited performance by Staehly on Fender Rhodes, with the “feel-good” number riding out on an articulate guitar conversation between Land and Lewin.

“Like There’s No Yesterday” has a bit of a Grateful Dead “Jack Straw” vibe, even boasting a Jerry Garcia-like solo.

The title track is a surreal exercise in carnivalesque klezmer meets surf/twang meets Danny Elfman OST meets “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”

Those hoping to hear plaintive electric slide beautifully juxtaposed with acoustic rhythm guitar, military-style drums, and violin melding with the drone of a Hammond B-3 organ need look no further than “Mother Lode,” a shimmering slow-motion send-off that discusses the importance of persisting in one’s search for the Mother Lode — even in the face of growing old.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. We Can Run
2. Out On The Town
3. Sunshiny Days
4. All The Angels
5. Home
6. Louie Town
7. Everybody
8. Dr. Feelgood’s Traveling Medicine Show
9. Like There’s No Yesterday
10. Mother Lode

Total time: 42:47

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LoHi
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