Phillip Sandifer – Simple Hymns / Of Songs and Sacraments

Phillip Sandifer –  Simple Hymns / Of Songs and Sacraments
Wider Sky Music
Phillip Sandifer, a veteran singer-songwriter who worked with several well-known artists over his career, has now turned his talents to his higher calling. “Simple Hymns” is just that; a collection of more traditional Christian hymns and spirituals, wonderfully interpreted by Phillip’s sweetly emotive vocals and simple but enhancing musical backdrops. The styling is more in the acoustic folk direction, but the incredible passion is still there, and, in some cases, is even more fervent with the bare-bones instrumentation. “Come Christians Join to Sing,” “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “There Is a Fountain” are some of the real stand outs here, the later featuring subtle wafts of bluegrass Gospel. “Of Songs and Sacraments” is where Phillip expresses his faith with original compositions. The music here has some more upbeat contemporary vibes, subtly rocking enough at times where you can really experience the passion flowing. “Both Hands” in particular has a contemporary Christian hookiness to it, but at no time does the music ever bury the message. The messages should not be buried as Phillip’s lyrics here obviously come from someone who has deep beliefs, but does not wield them like an axe. Instead, he offers them as a fellow human with the same frailties, difficulties and temptations as anyone else does, but with the power to overcome by fervent beliefs and love. When you perform Christian music, you have to have faith, passion, and the drive to give glory to God and allow others to experience the joy of true Christian beliefs. Phillip Sandifer has all of those facets and more. You can tell he is giving his all here from his heart and his soul.
– MW

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Silvertones – Silvertone Avenue

Silvertones – Silvertone Avenue
Deep South Productions
Purveyors or toe-tapping Texas styled blues for two decades now, the Silvertones have yet to disappoint me. That is actually too generic a plaudit for their latest release “Silvertone Avenue,” as it becomes obvious from the first strains of the rollicking “Knockin’ On My Baby’s Door” that these guys have not lost any of their music-making passions. Silvertones’ take on the blues seems more in tongue-in-cheek dark humor rather than heart rending, displayed on songs such as “Sancho” and “Woke Up Dead.” “All Night Corner” and “(I Have) Dreams of You” do yank at the heart strings with their emotive vocals and more traditional tortured soul blues subjects. Musically, everyone involved in this band (a rotating ensemble over the years) can flat out play, and in some cases, smoke! Check out the gritty shuffle of the title track, the haunting, muddy swamp blues of “Hoedown Jones”  and the honky-tonk country tilt of “Dallas, Austin, and Back Again” and you can get a great overview of the musical chops and songwriting prowess present here. This is one of those bands I wonder sometimes why they are not bigger than what they are. One reason, of course, is their music is not truly commercial, at least by today’s often unfortunate commercial standards. But their music is highly entertaining because they make no apologies of continuing to do what they do, which, when you boil it down, is having a lot of fun with the blues. That fun transfers to their fans and if anyone wants to give them a shot, this CD is a great introduction to that fun and enjoyment. – MW


Dexter Allen – Bluez Of My Soul

Dexter Allen – Bluez Of My Soul
Deep Rush Records
Raised on a farm in Mississippi, playing in churches in the daytime and juke joints at night, playing lead guitar for the legendary Bobby Rush….with that pedigree, expectations are high. Dexter Allen delivers on all fronts of high expectations. His diverse background serves the listener well on this latest effort with blues, soul, funk, and other styles that keep you glued to the speakers throughout the CD. He can make you jump around and dance joyfully with the rollicking “Ride This Train” or the electro boogie funk of “Have A Time”. Then he can nearly bring tears to your eyes with life experience tracks like “Still Called the Bluez” and “Deep Inside,” the latter especially delivering on the expectations that Dexter can sing. And man does he belt it out with incredible emotion here. Perhaps the highest expectation is on the six-string and you can easily hear why Bobby Rush tapped him as his lead axe-man, because he can shred the blues with the best of them. Blues is one of those genres where the cynics wonder how it can keep going, thinking it has all been done before. Not only does Dexter keep the blues alive, but he is they type of more modern blues master that makes you think others could be citing him as an influence when still playing the blues decades down the road.



Dyanne Harvey – Whiskey and Wine

Dyanne Harvey – Whiskey and Wine
Eden Records
With this five song EP, Illinois farm girl Dyanne Harvey packs a lot of musical enjoyment into a few tracks. Culling influences both from the grand ladies of country and more modern alt folk purveyors like Bon Iver, Dyanne is going to open a lot of ears up here. “Nothin’ New” kicks off the EP with a subtle hooky vibe, but enough edge to crossover beyond country. The title track is a searing ballad where Dyanne’s stunning vocal work is on display. “Run” is a foot stomper with a bit of a unique borscht-belt feel that blends wonderfully with the intense but haunting vocals. The final track “Don’t Grow Old Without Me” is a bit more bare bones song that really draws you deep into both Dyanne’s talents and her passion for writing. Keep an eye out on this young lady. If these few songs are any indication, she could be headed places.


Jesse Brewster – March of Tracks

Jesse Brewster – March of Tracks
When you hear the lead track off this third CD from northern California singer/songwriter Jesse Brewster, you wonder if he is just trying to be another country star. I am not going to hold him hostage to my cynical view of corporate Nashville, as “Make Or Break” is a very strong song with great hooks that can match up with anything on commercial radio these days. I am glad I delved deeper in because he is about so much more than that. “Circles” has a more Americana feel and displays Jesse’s vocal range which spans several octaves. “World Closing In” weaves traditional folk stylings with subtle Cajun and Brit pop stylings. I know that sounds like a strange marriage, but it is a happy one, and it shows that Jesse has the songwriting talent and a no-fear attitude to be able to create unique songs as well. Lyrically, Jesse hits subjects that range from soul bearing to good old-fashioned story telling, and his vocal work is also innovative without losing any emotion in the process of doing things a bit differently. So hey: if a more commercial track like “Make Or Break” entices more people to check him out, so be it. He has the talent and passion to deserve a wider spread recognition.


The Slambovian Circus of Dreams – A Box Of Everything

The Slambovian Circus of Dreams – A Box Of Everything
Red River Entertainment – RRECD134
Not sure why this band is not better known yet. No, really, I cannot fathom that after listening to this ten year musical perspective from this up-state New York alt-folk-Americana act. I could use the usual “throw these bands in a blender” description with maybe the most noticeable influence nodding to a shade of Tom Petty or the Black Crowes. Even with those influences, this is uniquely original music fueled with plenty of passion for storytelling and musical backdrops that make you really feel what is happening. From the mournful bluesy folk of “Sunday In the Rain” to the gritty, tongue-in-cheek hippie romp of “The Trans-Slambovian Bipolar Express” and crackling psychedelic power of “Pushing Up Daisies”, this band pushes the envelope in a way that would make Chuck Yeager green with envy. They find ways to effortlessly flow from atmospheric ambiance to sonic tube-amp fueled buzz and weave it into a signature vibe that is highly infectious with the added flavor of thought provoking lyrics that actually do…provoke thought. Why has this band seems to have flown under the radar?  More people should take a chance at a band from a small market with a long, semi-silly name . If they do, they will have them on their scope for a long time. – MW



Renaissance – Symphony of Light

Renaissance – Symphony of Light
Symphonic Rock Recordings – RRECD115
Maybe they are not superstars in the most pretentious definition, but Renaissance are definitely one of the most stoic, talented and respected names in progressive rock. Always visionary with their blend of symphonic, classical, and art rock stylings, there is still plenty of life in the songwriting tank just like there was four plus decades ago at their inception. “Symphony of Light” is a reissue of their 2013 CD “Grandine il Vento,” and includes three bonus tracks. The original CD was a tribute to long time guitarist Michael Dunford who passed away suddenly in 2012 and what a wonderful tribute it is to Michael’s talents. The powerful opus title track is a musical feast enough on its own, showcasing stunning musical prowess across the board along with the incredible vocal range of Annie Halsam. “Grandine il Vento” is like opera-meets-rock with mesmerizing vocals and a subtly intense musical backdrop. “Cry To The World” weaves various ethnic styles into a a wondrous vehicle for the poignant topical lyrics. “Blood Sliver Like Moonlight” is a potent ballad with beautiful piano landscapes and a haunting vocal duet. Perhaps it is fitting that the word “symphony” is part of the title of this CD since there is a veritable treasure-trove of musical directions and talents woven into that signature ambiance that Renaissance is so beloved for. Maybe they don’t have top 10 hits like the Yes’s, Kansas’s and King Crimson’s of the world, but they do have a legion of extraordinarily loyal fans. If you have not experienced Renaissance’s music yet, “Symphony of Light” will show you how that loyalty was created. – MW