Grant Ferguson – Windswept Isles

Grant Ferguson – Windswept Isles Scottish born American expat Grant Ferguson takes the listener on a wonderful musical journey of both his homelands with his sixth album. This is evident right out of the gate as as the title track seems to emerge from the Highlands mists with traditional styles melded with a pop rock new age feel. “Force Of Nature” keeps some of the roots intact while hitting the gas more on the rock side, also masterfully tilting in the prog direction. “Sunday Promenade” feels more like a journey to the back alleys of Memphis, with a waft of Glasgow sprinkled in for extra zest. Exploring other avenues including folk, pop, metal and classical, the musical depth on this album is captivating. Of course, much of this is due to Grant’s guitar inventiveness weaved into his thoughtful song structuring and background musical landscapes featuring instrumentation with solid chops of their own. Anyone who is into instrumental giants like Vai and Satriani will surely dig what is happening here, as this music shows the same level of talent with perhaps a bit more musical intrigue as Grant further explores his musical soul. – MW

Laura Benitez and The Heartache – California Centuries

Laura Benitez and The Heartache – California Centuries

Laura Benitez continues to break the bounds of the typical country label with the third album she has recorded with

her band The Heartache.  Yes there is still that red-dirt feel to some of the songs, particularly in the soul-bearing honky tonker “Are You Using Your Heart.” and “Plaid Shirt” which channels greats like Wynette and Cline. Then you have edgier songs like “Let The Chips Fall” that feels like what might have happened if the Jesus and Mary Chain went acoustic. “The Shot” has a subtle intensity with its driving folk vibe and is followed by the blue-grassy foot stomper “God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise.” One of the most ear opening aspects though is the powerful and highly thought provoking stories Laura spins, told in amazing fashion by her voice what sounds like it could be just as comfortable at the front of an opera stage is it could be in a smoky bar in west Texas. This lady can hold her own with any of the men in the new roots country movement blazed by Chris Stapleton and others, as she carves her own trail through the often tough country music scene. – MW

Trout Fishing In America – Safe House

Perhaps there is nothing more stoic or comforting coming out of the pandemic then being graced with a new album from folksy family-friendly music stalwarts Trout Fishing In America. This twenty-fifth effort – a lock-down labor of love created in their home studio in Arkansas – the duo of Keith Grimwood and Ezr Idlet put an exclamation point on why their popularity has stayed intact throughout their four decades+ existence. From the snappy uptempo title track, to the feel good blues boogie of “Don’t Be Callin,” and the crooneresque “Oh, Those Afternoons,” the music is undeniably infectious no matter which subtle genre tacks they take. The lyrics are heartfelt in several directions – from tongue-in-cheek humor to honest reflection to homespun tales sung with the proper accompanying emotive timbre which helps drive them deeper into your own heart. Backed by an excellent but unpretentious musical background, TFIA have proven that they are survivors and emit serious joy in their songwriting efforts to uplift the other survivors of this tumultuous period. – MW

Christopher Lockett – At The Station

It is always hearing artists turning corporate country on its ear and Christopher Locket body slams it here on his fourth release. You can feel the vibe of second generation outlaw country here, with his gritty and bluesy baritone growl punctuating the lyrics that are both homespun but intellectual, driving the stories home with fervor and honest emotion. He is unafraid to infuse influences from rock, blues, and other styles, but, in many ways, this is pure country exemplified by the fiddle fueled romp “Wet A Line” to the subtle old west twang of “Driving To Nashville” and the two-stepping on a beer-sticky dance floor romp “E Pluribus Unum.” “Sweat Work” makes you feel like this is what would have happened if Buddy Holly had lived long enough to jam with Steve Earle. The quasi-ballad “Whiskey For Everything” is a wonderful microcosm about what Christopher’s songwriting soul is all about. Typical country instrumentation including fiddle, dobro, mandolin, and pedal steel is used in non-typical ways, enhancing the songs without making them sound contrived. Definitely another country player doing it in the right way; channeling roots and avoiding cliches and creating enjoyable and also cerebral music. – MW

Jon Chi – River of Marigolds

San Francisco singer-songwriter Jon Chi channels some of his background as a jam band frontman with the easy-going eclectic vibe, but there is so much more depth on this, his third solo effort. The ethereal but snappy groove of “Cold Clear Winter” is juxtaposed by the joyous jazzy horn-fueled romp “Got To Give The Devil His Due.” “Road To Rival” then snarls at you with fuzz laden guitars like Neil Young kicking in a saloon door on a dusty ghost town street. “Up In Flames” is a masterful twisting of blues, country and folk into a lush ballad landscape. The lyrics are thought-provoking as they deal with timely subject matter, sung in a way that lets you experience the stories as if you were living them. Jon assembled a plethora of talented musicians here including Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools and pedal steel master Dave Zirbel from The Cowlicks. They are in the pocket with the musical backgrounds, making this a river you will be at peace with relaxing on its banks. – MW

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst – Hey!

Veteran L.A. songwriter Steven Casper continues to channel his roots into wonderful music. From country to rock to traditional folk and blues, Steven weaves a ear-opening and soul-searching mosaic with this, his ninth release. Many musicians have written music that showcased their feelings about the effects of the pandemic, and in Steven’s case it obviously emanates deep from within his heart and is nowhere near cliche. Just listen to the toe-tapping red-dirt rock title track, and then the mesmerizing tumbleweed tossed ballad “So Damned Hard”, and see if you are not immediately enthralled. “Howling At The Moon (Wine and Weed)” adds a bit of honky-tonk subtle humor to the mix. Stephen also pays tribute to one of his influences with a version of “Absolutely Sweet Marie” that would make Dylan himself nod in approval. If his mournful version of the traditional “Motherless Child” doesn’t deeply touch you, you had better check your pulse. With stunning vocal work and poignant lyrics backed by excellent musicianship, this CD proves again why more people need to channel their “angst” through Steven’s music. – MW

Dominic Gaudious – Ego Free Guitar

Dominic Gaudious – Ego Free Guitar
The past couple of years have been personal and emotional times for many of us. Acoustic guitar maestro Dominic Gaudious is no stranger to those types of times and he channels his feeling by reaching deep into his soul for this wonderful album. Always known for his eclectic musical tastes and his uncanny knack for fusing them into amazing music, this may be one of the best efforts of a career laden with excellent work. Right out of the gate the alt-country folk fueled “Traveling West” has a hooky and comforting vibe while subtly glowing with delectable finger progressions. “Close To The End” has a pinch of a baroque feel with a pleasantly haunting intensity, followed up by the toe-tapping flamenco-tinged “On The Run.” The ethereal “Playing in a Cloud” is mesmerizing and soothing – a somewhat simplistic lush landscape that still smacks of musical intelligence. As many others have these past couple of years, Dominic has experienced recent personal tragedy with the loss of his brother due to COVID. His stirring tribute “Song For Frank” will tug at your heartstrings with its honest, emotive glow. It really feels like Dominic has poured every bit of his musical and human life force into this CD and that is not speaking in hyperbole. He has given us many great albums in the past, but this one defies even the most ardent plaudits I can think of. – MW

Lana Lane – Neptune Blue

It has been a decade since the previous release by the queen of prog rock Lana Lane, and to say that the wait was worth it is far from being cliche. Lana’s always robustly stunning vocals have not lost anything as is evident from the first potent but melodic strains of “Far From Home.” Lana displays even more depth to her vocal capabilities, ranging from the intense bluesy croon of “Someone Like You” to the power rocking grit of “Remember Me” and the luscious pop sensibilities of “Under The Big Sky.” The vocal control and searing emotive output on the ballad “Come Lift Me Up” will drive right into your soul. With a greater diversity of styles present here, the fans of Lana’s more rocking side will not be disappointed either. You will definitely want to crank up tracks like “Bring It On Home” and “Miss California”. The lyrics have a knack for riding the fence between simple and intellectual, driving home interesting stories and points without getting overly flowery. The musical backdrop has many ear-opening solo efforts without distracting from Lana’s vocal work, being far more complementary and increasing the fine-tuned intrigue of the songs. As usual, husband and music compatriot Erik Norlander adds his phenomenal keyboard work to the songs. Many of Lana’s and Erik’s previous musical partners add serious flavor to the stew including guitarists Jeff Kollman and Mark McCrite; NS stick player Don Schiff; drummer Greg Ellis; and backing vocalist John Payne. Styles as diverse as prog, blues, pop rock, folk, and grunge fuel the mosaic creating songs that range from deep-track sensibilities to radio-friendly hooks. While Lana has often been hailed as the “prog rock diva”, and although I am sure that is complimentary moniker, it also somewhat pigeon-holes her. Lana Lane’s vocals can stack up to anyone – male or female in prog, classic, metal or any other type of music. Her performance on “Neptune Blue” is one of her finest yet. – MW

Kate MacLeod – Uranium Maiden

Folk music has been around for a very long time; yet Kate MacLeod seems to find a way to make it fresh and provocative. Possessing an angelic voice with a subtle operatic timbre, the long-time Utah resident at times does seem to channel some of the classics of the genre – Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Emmy Lou Harris come to mind. But those influences are also subtleties as she carves out her own unique and intoxicating musical personality. She hooks you right out of the gate with the hypnotic western groove of “Now Is The Time To Be Alive” and backs that title up by grasping your musical soul for the next sixteen tracks. The stunning depth of her vocal talents is on display on many tracks, particularly in the ethereal Native American tinted “U-235.” “Pick Pick Apples” turns up the country twang a notch, while “Lightning Man Dreaming” channels dustbowl blues. Kate is also adept at instrumentals, and “The Train Across The Great Salt Lake” is a wonderful example of her talents in this direction, showcasing her prowess on the fiddle as well as the prodigious capabilities of her bandmates. Intriguing falls woefully short as a description of her lyric writing, as her stories born from the mountains and valleys of the Beehive state will enrapture you throughout this album. Kate MacLeod obviously puts every fiber of her heart and soul into her music creation and that will entice you to deeply commit your music appreciation intellect into every second of this incredible album. – MW

Stash – Walk The Walk

Stash – Walk The Walk
Picture Tom Petty and Tom Waits hanging out at a Southern Culture on the Skids concert during a storm on a beach in Southern California. That is the kind of music maelstrom you have here with the actual meeting of veteran songwriters and performers Ted Russell Kamp, Rich McCulley and Joey Peters. Heartland rock, red dirt country, 50’s oldies, and Memphis blues blend with subtle touches of surf pop and New York glam punk for a glorious result. Foot stomping grooves drive songs like “You’re The One” and “One Track Mind,” while the retro pulse of “Talk The Talk” will have you searching for your old bobby socks and that dusty leather jacket. “By Your Side” is a ballad that would be comfortable at a west Texas wedding dance, where “What I Need” has the gritty feel of a wild night out in the Bowery. Ted in particular always loved to display his various root influences in his previous solo efforts and his friends obviously have the same music tastes and similar talents. The lyrics have a bare-bones intelligence – sometimes slapping your soul awake with tough love while also throwing its arms around you with tender emotions. If you love music that can take several decades of nostalgia and weave them into something that sounds fresh and entertaining, this is definitely for you. – MW