New Earth Farmers – The Good Ones Got Away

New Earth Farmers – The Good Ones Got Away
One Lip Luca
With their first full-length album, the songwriting due of Nicole Storto and Paul Knowles put their talents of full display, providing a delectable feast after their enjoyable EP appetizer. Touching various realms of folk, Americana, rock, and country, there is a sultry groove to the music here, often unleashing subtle intensities that really draw the listener into their world. The opening track “Oh Mary” has an emotional vibe that feels uplifting and passionate. Tunes like “Judgement Day” and “Waiting Such a Long, Long Time” infuse a bit more rock, the later feeling like something that could happen if John Mellencamp did something with The Killers. The gritty blues rock of “The Garden” unleashes the full arsenal of musical talents that were very noticeable on earlier tracks but really take flight here. With lyrics conveying poignant stories and feelings, augmented by powerful and sometimes ethereal vocal work really helps this excellent effort shine brightly. Look out for this group! – MW

James Houlahan – Beyond The Borders

James Houlahan – Beyond The Borders
Six albums into his singer-songwriting career and not only had James Houlahan not lost any songwriting edge, but he stokes your hunger for what may come next. James conveys such unique personalities in both lyrical and music aspects of his songs that you cannot help being enthralled from start to finish. Even the mellower songs are no less intense as the music never detracts from the fervent, emotive lyrics, but they still entice you to really feel the vibes happening here, We all know this has been a tough few years for many people, and James channels his feelings from whatever he experienced in that time frame to amazing affect. From the stand-out original like the toe-tapping “Back To The Start,” to the soul bearing “Ballad of the Lazy Preacher” and the edgy outlaw country of “The Deep End” to an excellent cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” James just never gives less than 110 percent of his blood, sweat and emotion in all of his songs. And that is a very wonderful thing. – MW

Jeffrey Halford & the Healers – Soul Crusade

Jeffrey Halford & the Healers – Soul Crusade
Veteran California singer-songwriter Jeffrey Halford seems more like a musical poet then a mere musician. Perhaps it is the way his words dance around the lyrical pallet, managing to be unpretentious and intellectual at the same time. Maybe it is the varied musical backdrop, like the smoky back-room bar groove of the aptly titled “Pie-Eyed Poet’s Plea,” the moody western dusted ballad “Wandering Kind,” or “Sinner Man,” so steeped in swampy, mournful blues that you may look behind you to see if the devil is sneaking up on you riding an alligator. Yes there are some subtle influences from the likes of Dylan, Cash and Dr. John, but it as if those influential luminaries tangled with a drunken revival preacher, battling over something even beyond each other’s soul. This is purely intoxicating music on so many levels, and a great intro to someone who has paid his dues and deserves more recognition.  – MW

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