Kandia Crazy Horse – Stampede

Kandia Crazy Horse – Stampede
Bluebilly Records – BBL-000-001
With few exceptions, country music and Americana are not known as a providence often trod by African-American musicians and artists. Kandia Crazy Horse is on her way to changing that perception with this wondrous debut. To avoid becoming a Nashville stereotype, the first throaty and fervent strains of “California” actually bring the country side of Janis Joplin to mind. “Congo Square” has a toe-tapping hooky quality with a soulful power to the vocal work. “Gunfight At The Golden Corral” smacks of old time two-stepping honky tonk, complete with home-spun humorous lyrics. The aptly titled “Americana” is a minimalist acoustic track where Kandia further displays the vibrance and controlled emotion of her wonderful voice. If this CD seemed gimmicky, that would be one thing, but it is anything but. This is music created by a lady with a very high level of passion and talent, with a clear idea of her musical influences and what she wants to do with it. Soul in country music is not a new idea, as anyone who has every listened to Hank Williams Sr, Johnny Cash or Patsy Cline can attest to. Kandia Crazy Horse just has found a way to bring that into the 21st century and it works marvelously. – MW


(Damn) This Desert Air – Pyramids

(Damn) This Desert Air – Pyramids
Engineer Records – IGN205
There is a lot of power to the music created by this New York/Jersey based fivesome. But there is a solid amount of melodic influences, too, which is what makes this an ear-opener. Loud, edgy guitars roar at you, sort of in the vein of Disturbed or the Def Tones, but then you have this harmonic emotion to the vocals, eschewing the usual gutteral growling that too many metal/hard rock acts of recent years seem to be in love with. The lead track “Hanger” has a bone crushing groove to it while “Lay The Gavel Down” lets loose with an up-tempo fury. They slow paced “Slave” seethes with intensity, reminiscent of the early works of Filter with more of a raw feel that adds to the overall edginess of the tune. “Cyclone” proves that this band can also handle brash, no-nonsense rockers with a ton of power but that same melodic sensibility. Not truly groundbreaking, nonetheless very enjoyable, potent rock and roll by a group of guys with obvious chops who put more time and effort into the songwriting than many of their contemporaries do these days. – MW


Sirens & Shelter – Through The War

Sirens & Shelter – Through The War
Engineer Records
Seems like some folks think that “singer-songwriter” is a moniker primarily reserved for Americana musicians. Sirens & Shelter have something to say about that. The brainchild of Devon, UK-based Scott Mallard, if this music does not claw its way into your soul, you better check to see if you have a pulse. Scott has a voice that conveys incredible emotion without overdoing it, whether the words are breathlessly plaintive or loud and pleading. The musical backdrop is for the most part bare-bones and organic, but the prowess on acoustic guitar often mirrors the vocal intensity and augments it, really driving home the vibe of the music. Subtle additions of strings and other instrumentation add further vest, particularly in the wonderful opening track, “Black & Classic White.” “Lullaby” has such a lush, soul-bearing but subtle intensity that you know the music was written with utmost honesty and passion. “See You Soon” has an up-tempo tilt with a touch of muted trumpet that is both lively and stunning. This is an act people on both sides of the “big pond” and beyond need to watch out for. – MW


At Home For Christmas IV – Various Artists

At Home For Christmas IV
This is the fourth of annual projects produced by Myrtle Beach’s Harry Grillo, bringing together numerous musicians to create wonderful holiday music to help benefit Project Meet Me Half Way. There is a feast of excellent music here including both timeless holiday favorites and original compositions. The CD kicks off with a toe-tapping folksy rock version of “Joy To The World” by Atlanta area singer-songwriter Reid Stevens. “Carol of the Bells” is giving a subtle prog rock touch by renowned studio drummer Scotty Kormos. Delectable finger-picking highlights the instrumental version of “Jingle Bells” performed by NS-stick expert Don Schiff. The original compositions include the troubadour-esque minimalist ballad “Hurry On Home For Christmas” by Darren “Dew Train” Camp from the Grateful Dead tribute band Sunshine Daydream. Ella May Kay channels the grand ole dames of country with her shuffling ditty “Green Felt Christmas Tree.” California’s Broadway Posse lends a humorous touch with the jazz-hip-hop hybrid “Pimp Daddy Santa.” Harry Grillo himself contributes a touching, emotive version of “Away In A Manger.” There are so many good songs here that can’t really mention them all, but the talent and passion that went into them are obvious and there is enough variance in musical styles to hold anyone’s interest. This is another great collection of tunes you will want to spin for holidays to come, and, remember, it is also for a good cause. – MW

Download here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/at-home-for-christmas-iv/id725782744 or here: http://www.reverbnation.com/store/index/artist_1754605Athomeforchristmascdart

Concert for Ronnie Montrose – A Celebration of his Life in Music – DVD

Concert for Ronnie Montrose – A Celebration of his Life in Music – DVD
Shortly after the passing of guitar legend Ronnie Montrose, a number of his friends, peers, and former band mates gathered at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom to pay tribute to their dearly departed. And what a wonderful tribute it is, with incredible musical performances throughout the concert. Neal Schon absolutely smokes on songs such as “Open FIre” and  “Town WIthout Pity” from Ronnie’s solo instrumental works. Tesla’s Frank Hannon and KISS’s Tommy Trayer knock out a wild version of “Free Ride,” followed by Frank and Night Ranger’s Jeff Watson lighting an incredible fire under “Frankenstein.” Ronnie’s late 70’s band Gamma featuring Marc Bonilla on guitar rips through a stunning six song set of classic including “Razor King,” “Thunder and Lightning,” and “Fight to the Finish.” CJ Hitchens then quieted things down a bit with some wonderful introspectives from Ronnie’s acoustic instrumental release “Bearings.” The evening was capped with the original Montrose band survivors Sammy Hagar, Bill Church and Denny Carmassi blazing through “Rock The Nation” and “Space Station # 9” with Joe Satriani wielding the axe in Ronnie’s honor. Beyond the cream of the crop guitarists, other top musicians including Steve Smith, Ricky Philips, Ed Roth, Eric Singer and the entire band Tesla (who also perform their hit “Little Suzy”) join in on the tribute. A bonus CD also includes practice session songs such as “Rock Candy” and “Paper Money,” various photos of the project, an impassioned letter penned by Ronnie and read by his widow Leighsha, and reflections by various people involved in the project. The sound and picture quality is excellent, but this is all about great music by great musicians tributing a fallen legend. For those who created this project, one thing that is certain, wherever Ronnie is now, he is rocking out with you with a big smile on his face. – MW


Ronnie Montrose – Bearings

Ronnie Montrose – Bearings
Alien Echo Music
The re-issuing of this 1999 release is a great tribute to one of the more influential rock guitarists of the modern era. While it would be too easy to just re-release Ronnie’s more rocking albums, “Bearings” showcased a different side of Ronnie’s talent, as it is an acoustic instrumental effort. It is a wonderful reminder that along with being able to shred with the best of them, Ronnie could pick in and play in a mellower fashion as adept as Leo Kottke, John Fahey and others. “All Aboard” is a rollicking pickers delight with a touch of an Irish feel to it. “Solid Ground” is an intricate but lovely classically influenced piece with subtle Spanish influences. “Three Wishes” showcases a stunning fingerstyle arrangement with an uptempo vibe. While many people hear the name Ronnie Montrose and automatically think of a song like “Bad Motor Scooter” screaming out of your speakers at high volume, if you really want to get inside the soul of this great late legend, take a listen to “Bearings.” You can listen to it loud or quietly. It does not matter. What you will hear is another prolific statement of talent from someone we all wish had not left the world when he did. – MW


Pierre Bensusan – Encore Live

Pierre Bensusan – Encore Live
Dagdad Music – MVD60494
One of the most highly respected acoustic guitarists around, Pierre Bunsusan rooted through his collection of live recordings over a span of several years to come up with this thirty five song career introspective that will no doubt be highly coveted by loyal fans as well as a great entry level collection for those who are curious. This is Pierre at his simple best, picking and plucking his classics in brilliant fashion. CD 1 includes such favorites as “Kadourimdou,” “So Long Michael,” and “Anthem for the Ocean,” the latter graced with keyboards provided by Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. One of the true highlights of CD 2 is an eighteen minute long medley of Celtic songs that will keep you enthralled throughout. “Alimatou” and the somberly emotive “Lunar Tide” are a couple of the highlights on the third disc. There are just really way too many excellent renditions here to come up with proper plaudets for enough of them, it is just one of those CDs where you just need to sit back, listen and enjoy. For those who know Pierre’s music the best, you know there will be those extra little changes and improvisations that he is famous for doing to his songs in concert.  For those who don’t know him but are fans of instrumental acoustic guitar music, dive right in. If this does not make you an instant fan, nothing will. – MW



Stewart Eastham – The Man I Once Was

Stewart Eastham – The Man I Once Was
Long-Bar Music – LBM 1323
From the deep recesses of northern California, singer-songwriter Stewart Eastham journeys to Nashville with this latest effort. His honest, poignant vocal work catches you right off the bat in the balladic but potent “Let It Go.” “Born In California” then goes more uptempo, a toe-tapping country ditty that is catchy but not homogenous. “Someone New” tilts in a more rustic folk direction, organic, bare-bones, and showcasing raw emotion. “Crawl Up In Your Bottle” has a bit of a blues influences, and “The Lights Of Tennessee” feels like the kind of honky tonk two-stepper that Hank Sr. would have penned. Intelligent but home-spun lyrics (yes, I said “intelligent” – a rarity in modern country lyrics) and more traditional country music stylings add to the flavor and separate this from a lot of the usual country we hear these days. Stewart has an obvious passion for songwriting, not record making, and that is what makes this record one worth getting if you like real country, Americana, folk or any combination there of. – MW


Jonny Kaplan & The Lazy Stars – Sparkle And Shine

Jonny Kaplan & The Lazy Stars – Sparkle And Shine
Reckless Grace Music
When you hear the first strains of the the eponymous lead track crackle from the speakers at you, you think gritty, Americana or southern based rock in the style of Mellencamp, Petty, the Black Crowes et. al. As you delve deeper, you realize there is more to it than those influences…a LOT more. “Annalee Meets the Scorpion” destroys any coattail hanging perceptions with it’s smokey vibe, rumbling backwoods rhythm and dust-tinged growling vocals. “Helena’s Afraid” is one of those modern/retro blues blends that gnaws at your soul while getting you to nod your head in sympathy, saying, yeah, I’ve gone that route before. This SoCal native invokes the title “troubadour,” and not many newer singer-songwriters can do that, but he makes you feel that he has actually lived the stories that he weaves and creates an empathy with his soulful back country-edged vocal style, and music that burbles with extraordinary life. Nowhere is this more evident perhaps than in “Sweet Magnolia Flower,” a minimalist ballad that invokes early Dylan but with a personality that is undeniably Jonny’s. Featuring a host of veteran players with serious chops, this CD is a knockout, and fans of troubadours and songwriters from Dylan to Earle to Petty and others, will love this. – MW


Christmas Music – Jeffrey Michael

Jeffrey Michael – Christmas Music
Fireheart Music
Jeffrey Michael is a phenomenally talented pianist/keyboardist/composer who has been brightening people’s lives with his music for a number of years now. He now shines an incredibly enjoyable light on the yuletide season with this mesmerizing collection of classic songs. His talents make these beloved tunes even more beloved, as his reverent but life-brimming takes on them will warm the hearts of even the most ardent Scrooge. “Oh Holy Night,” a song usually recognized more for it’s vocal intensity is instead fused with a subtle power and vibrance that is stunning without the words. Sweeping classical arrangements of “Ode To Joy” and Pachelbel’s “Canon” really showcase the wonderment Jeffrey can create with his fingers. “Carol Of The Bells” takes you through a lush musical landscape while caressing your soul. There are also a couple of wonderful original compositions here, the breathless ambiance of “Christmas Music” and soothing warmth of “Christmas Lullaby.” If you love piano music and want to experience the joy of someone who infuses serious passion into creating piano music, do yourself a favor and check out this excellent collection. It will refresh your holiday pirit for years to come. Available for download on itunes. – MW