Howie Newman – You Shoulda Been There

Howie Newman – You Shoulda Been There
Major League Records
It is not like it is anything new to combine comedy and music. Howie Newman manages to weave solid musical abilities with a quirky sense of humor to perhaps dub him something of a “stand-up comedi-usician.” He is a very good guitar picker and has a simple, honest and nicely harmonic voice. The stand-out facet is the humor of the songs which also proves that you can be clean with your humor and still be very funny. In fact, musicians should really appreciate some of the sardonic humor behind songs such as “Big in Belgium.” and “Buy My Record”. Some of the songs really grab you, such as “Cosmic Garbage Man” that harkens to the likes of Arlo Guthrie and Ray Stevens, adding a bit of bluesy harmonica to spice it up further. “Low Tech” and “That Old Car” are songs that everyone can identify with, and you can also tap your feet and clap along with them. This is a live CD and the production could be a bit cleaner, but that is a minor criticism in light of the talent that went into creating songs that are enjoyable and uplifting, and try to be, well, fun – something that is quite rare in music these days. – MW


Michael and the Lonesome Playboys – Bottle Cap Sky

Michael and the Lonesome Playboys – Bottle Cap Sky
Blackwater Records – 002
There is only one way you could refer to Michael and the Lonesome Playboys as “commercial” country. That would be if you were driving in your ’55 Ford trying to catch the latest country station on your scratchy AM Philco radio. This may seem a flowery way of saying “retro”, but that is the feeling you get from this L.A.-based roots country act. The style invokes the single-name country legends, (Hank, Johnny, Willie, Eddie, etc.), but there is also a subtle edge that says “Austin” inching some of the vibe towards Americana. Perhaps it is the vocal work of Michael Ubanldini, who blends the pain of Hank Williams with the outlaw recklessness of Waylon, enhancing the vocals that take simple down-home subjects and infuse them with a Townes Van Zandt-ish honest lyrical sense. The songs take you from the land of broken hearts to the wide open asphalt to smoke-filled whiskey-soaked honky tonks. In a way, “Bottle Cap Sky” is a protest against the country establishment that still seems stuck in the big hat era. And while that type of country definitely has its place, Michael’s does as well as it reaches deep into the heart and soul of what made country one of the most popular indigenous American music styles, creating music that is flat-out enjoyable. – MW