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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CD Baby
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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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David Bromberg Band

The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues

Red House

bromberg2“The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues” is the best of David Bromberg’s four studio albums released since ending his 17-year recording hiatus 10 years ago — and also among his best ever.

His excellent previous three releases (2007’s solo acoustic “Try Me One More Time,” and the 2011 and 2013 band efforts “Use Me” and “Only Slightly Mad”) were just setting the stage for this superb compendium of standards and obscurities.

Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” is fully electrified by Bromberg’s slide guitar and also features an ultrafine solo by second guitarist Mark Cosgrove.

Bromberg handles all solos — slide and otherwise — on the rest of the songs except for “Delia,” a guitar duet between Bromberg’s acoustic and producer Larry Campbell’s acoustic slide. The traditional song is reprised from Bromberg’s 1972 eponymous debut.

Other exceptionally noteworthy standards include Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Eyesight to the Blind,” graced by Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne’s nimble fingers on the organ as well as a quick fiddle solo by Nate Grower; and “Yield Not to Temptation,” a Deadric Malone (aka Don Robey) composition that was a hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland but which, as pointed out by Bromberg in his liner notes, received an inspiring treatment by Tracy Nelson, Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas on their 1998 summit, “Sing It!”

In the Obscurities Department, a bone called “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come ‘Round?” has been dug up — rare because it’s not the Prince Patridge number that Dr. John covered to great effect. Many have recorded and taken credit for songs going by that or similar names, including Memphis Slim, Lorraine Ellison and even Buck Owens. Bromberg says he doesn’t know who wrote this one, but learned it from a lead sheet while considering songs for a ’70s album: “I think the album I was doing was “Reckless Abandon,” he told Good New Music by email.

Another obscure gem is the sexual-innuendo-laden “You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon,” a Bessie Smith tune written by John Willie (aka “Shifty”) Henry, with Payne on piano, Grower on fiddle and Cosgrove on mandolin.

And then there’s the title song. “We thought that we’d finished recording the album,” Bromberg says in the liners, “which was already titled ‘The Blues, The Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues,’ when (manager) Mark McKenna found this song by Gary Nicholson and Russell Smith. Of course we had to go back to the studio and record it.” The song originally appeared on an album by Memphis R&B group Fish Heads & Rice in 1994.

Bromberg concludes “Blues” with two new original compositions: the humorous “This Month” (“The first time that woman left me — this month — I couldn’t even tell you why”) and “You Don’t Have to Go,” whose lyrics are a mashup of several Chicago blues numbers including “Sweet Home Chicago” and “The Sky Is Crying.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Walkin’ Blues
2. How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come ’Round?
3. Kentucky Blues
4. Why Are People Like That?
5. A Fool For You
6. Eyesight To The Blind
7. 900 Miles
8. Yield Not To Temptation
9. You’ve Been A Good Ole Wagon
10. Delia
11. The Blues, The Whole Blues And Nothing But The Blues
12. This Month
13. You Don’t Have to Go

Total time: 57:42

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Bob Weir

Blue Mountain

Legacy

weirIt’s hard to believe, but “Blue Mountain” is only Bob Weir’s third solo studio album and first since 1978’s “Heaven Help the Fool.”

Over the years, the Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist/vocalist has released several studio albums by side projects (Kingfish, 1976; Bobby and the Midnites, 1981 and 1984; Weir/Wassmerman, 1998; Ratdog, 2000), but this is the first new music under the name of just “Bob Weir” in nearly 38 years.

It took some young blood to get the old man of the “Blue Mountain” to come down to the Red River Valley and cut some new tunes — specifically Josh Kaufman, Josh Ritter and Aaron Dessner.

It was Weir’s mention of his love for cowboy music (developed while working a summer job on a Wyoming ranch when he was 15) to these pups that got the ball rolling.

Brooklyn-based Kaufman, whose résumé as a sideman includes work with Dessner’s indie-rock band The National as well as albums by folk-rocker Ritter, produced the record. Ritter — either alone or with Weir — wrote lyrics for all but a few songs, and Kaufman/Ritter/Weir supplied most of the music.

(Side note: Dessner and his brother Bryce, also in The National, curated “Day of the Dead”: this year’s 59-song compilation of exclusive Grateful Dead indie covers co-produced by Kaufman and benefiting the Red Hot Organization.)

“Blue Mountain” has an independent-Americana feel, with Weir’s central acoustic guitar often circled by Aaron Dessner’s electric. But the album — references to “Shenandoah,” “I’m an Old Cowhand” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky” aside — is not a bunch of songs in the vein of “El Paso” or “Big Iron.”

Rather, the mellow and mostly slow-mo (except for “Gonesville”) music takes the listener on a surreal journey back to Weir’s 15th summer — a ride that gets more enjoyable with each trip.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Only A River
2. Cottonwood Lullaby
3. Gonesville
4. Lay My Lily Down
5. Gallop On The Run
6. Whatever Happened To Rose
7. Ghost Towns
8. Darkest Hour
9. Ki-Yi Bossie
10. Storm Country
11. Blue Mountain
12. One More River To Cross

Total time: 51:42

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