Capsule Reviews by Mark Waterbury

Tim Bennett – The View From Here
Sandy Beach Records
With Chris Stapleton leading the blues-influenced country rebirth, there are also those who are going retro in the honky-tonk direction. Tim Bennett’s second CD proves that he is giving serious credence to that direction with a great collection of toe-tappers and heart-breakers. With a subtly robust vocal croon, Tim’s surprisingly topical lyrics are fueled by buoyant hooks and solid musicianship. The songwriting is interesting and entertaining, keeping the retro vibe fresh as well. This SoCal native knows how to do it the way the Nashville crowd used to do it “back in the day.”
TimBennett
Joshua Jacobson – Good Little Thing
Fatmouth Records – FRCD 1001
Joshua Jacobson delves deep into the roots of blues and country to create this wonderful debut. Like a roadmap from Memphis to New Orleans via east Texas, Joshua’s ditties ooze a heady flavor cheap whiskey at smoky juke joints, with a dose of fun. Yes…FUN in the blues, because his lyrics tend to be tongue-in-cheek and whip-smart with even the typical blues themes seeming a bit darkly humorous. If you want to go retro, the path Joshua has blazed is a good one to follow.
JoshuaJacobson
Sam Marine – Big Dark City
The third CD by this L.A.-by -way-of-New York and Florida songwriter packs an incredible amount of intensity into its five tracks. Maybe his music could be called “Powercana”, because it has an Americana vibe that just seethes with furious power – sometimes tempered in subtle doses, other times unleashed with fervent potency. Sounds like something that say Steve Earle and Billlie Joe Armstrong could write together hanging out in Austin. If people have not been awakened to Sam’s presence yet, then this CD is a sonic alarm clock.
SamMarine
Johnny Oskam – In My Shadow
It is actually quite challenging to write original blues these days. Johnny Oskam proves with his second CD that he is adept at rising to that challenge. His blues tends to the hard rock fueled side, but also forays into bits of country, Americana, and funk. While this stew has been cooked before, his recipe features his own unique spices, flavored liberally with incendiary guitar work and powerful vocal calisthenics. Too edgy and intense to even think about ignoring.
JohnnyOksam
Andrea Stray – Into Blue
AS20-02
San Francisco singer-songwriter Andrea Stray has a delectable knack of taking lush, subtly orchestrated musical beds and making them homey and simple, a great conveyance for her thought provoking words. Think Pink Floyd meets Bonnie Raitt musically, with vocal emotions that will grasp your soul as they flow through various moods with intoxicating fervency. This five song EP is a wonderful glimpse at a pool of talent that I assume runs very deep.
AndreaStray
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Appice – Sinister

Appice – Sinister
Steamhammer/SPV
When the names of Carmine and Vinny Appice are spoken, it is easy to immediately have the word “power” come to the forefront of your consciousness. Because this family of rock drumming royalty has been driving the rhythm power plants of numerous legendary bands and musicians for nearly half a century. Now they have unleashed that power into a masterful CD of original works featuring a prodigious amount of insane drumming and so much more. “Sinister” explodes like the Tsar Bomba and doesn’t throttle back on the intensity throughout the thirteen tracks. The brothers enlist a plethora of highly-talented guest stars including vocalists Jim Crean, Paul Shortino, and Chas West; guitarists Craig Goldy, Bumblefoot, and Mick Sweda; bassists Tony Franklin and Phil Soussan; keyboardist Erik Norlander, among others. The songs range from full-ahead rock to subtly progressive works and face-melting metal. It is obvious that Carmine’s and Vinny’s talent runs much deeper than their drumming prowess…this has considering their cumulative previous works. The music is just flat-out phenomenal in every direction and easily competes with any hard rock or metal releases available today. Of course, there is plenty of stunning drum work from Carmine and Vinny, allowing their cohorts to unleash their musical strengths as well.  Rock and drumming fans: pay heed. This is a definite must-have CD/download. The Appice brothers have graced the rock world with some of the best and most dynamic beats here and we hope to see more excellent work like this in the near future.  – MW
AppiceSinister

 

John Lafayette Ramey – Exposition Lines

John Lafayette Ramey – Exposition Lines
L.A.’s John Lafayette Ramey shows further depth to his songwriting capabilities on his third solo release. You can feel this just in the first two songs; the hard-charging, edgy roots rocker “Cheap Rent (Move On)” and the touching ballad “Guadalupe” which displays not only his lyrical prowess, but his stunning emotive vocal control. The depth of his songwriting well runs deep throughout the ten tracks with wafts of Brit-pop, Americana, blues and other stylings weaving their way into the overall mosaic. From the haunting groove of “Amelia” to the catchy pop lilt of “Jenny,” John more than proves that he is unafraid to weave any of his varied influences into his musical creations. The result is both comforting and ear opening. – MW
https://johnlafayetteramey.com

JohnLafayetteRamey

Ben Bostick – Self-titled

Ben Bostick – Self-titled
Simply Fantastic Music
Chris Stapleton and others have helped aim country music back to its roots. South Carolina born and bred Ben Bostick understands this and infuses his own roots and passions into this wonderful first full length CD. Opening the CD by opening his heart with the potent ballad “Independence Day Eve” gives you a great idea of the journey you are in for. “Paid My Dues” cranks up a rollicking rockabilly edge, sounding a bit like something Elvis and Waylon could have collaborated on in their Sun Records era. “After The Rain” is a hooky but edgy foot stomper that is the type of track country radio really needs to spin. “Paper Football” wondrously displays Ben’s fantastic vocal emotion and knack for writing thought provoking but home-spun lyrics. Yep, Ben gets it, if you listen to this CD, you’ll get it. Hopefully more and more, Nashville will get it.  – MW
https://www.benbostick.com

BenBostick

World Church Unites – Maker Of The Heavens

World Church Unites – Maker Of The Heavens
Ever since Marty Paris shifted his musical talents from the secular world to praising God with his music, you can tell he reaches into the furthest depths of his passion when he writes songs. His latest effort “Maker Of The Heavens” under the praise band moniker World Church Unites exemplifies those passions on wonderful fashion, with reverent, touching songs that also carry a subtle potency. Joining Marty once again is long time cohort Parker Sipes, another secular musician impassioned by a higher calling. Amber-Lee Garcia adds further vocal intensity and reverence to the music. Thom Bumgarner on bass and Steve Niewulis round out the top-notch rhythm section. From the first strains of “It Is Finished” you can tell where the songwriters’ hearts are at, as the harmonic potency goes straight to your soul. “Spirit Breath” is a bit mellower, kissed by luscious piano passages, but infused with the power of Amber-Lee’s vocals. You are also treated to a wonderful reworking of Marty’s earlier hit “To Be Saved.” Any fans of praise artists such as Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman will no doubt thoroughly enjoy the unbridled soul bearing love that pours out from this music, but there is more to this CD than just the music itself.  “Love Eternally” ends the CD showcasing Marty’s vocal prowess with a sort of quiet dignity, before his spoken words explain how this latest music effort was created to uphold the very noble cause of Third World Vision, a non-profit foundation striving to bring clean water technologies to the impoverished areas of the globe. Those who donate to this cause will receive a free physical copy of this album. Beautiful music created with reverent passion and the ability to help those less fortunate definitely helps to exemplify what true worship music is all about. – MW
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7 Miles To Pittsburgh

7 Miles to Pittsburgh
A67/Bertus/Suburban
Something very potent is brewing in the Netherlands. Elegy bassist Martin Helmantel and Komatsu guitarist Joris Lindner enlisted sonic rock vocalist Andrew Elt, known from his days with Atlantic recording artists Sleeze Beez and indie acts The Moon and Gin On The Rocks, to write some evocative tunes. Collectively called 7 Miles To Pittsburgh, this exciting music will hit you with the force of a nuclear-fueled Saturn V. “Same Size” kicks off the disc with an edgy fire that screams “power trio” in a very fervent fashion. “Earth Dance” has a heady juxtaposition of gritty crunch and melodic flourishes. Even the mellow songs seethe with power – or in the case of “Lost And Found” – will blow away any preconceived notions you have about the term “power ballad.” “Grams” is the mellowest track, but it is intriguingly catchy, soothing, and intense. The music has an overall progressive feel with touches of grunge, blues, and just good old hard rock. Andrew’s voice is in excellent form, still possessing the powerful pyrotechnics from his aforementioned bands, adeptly conveying all lyrics as thought-provoking to topical to home-spun. Joris pulls double-duty on the CD, tearing loose with his prodigious guitar chops (anyone who misses REAL guitar soloing needs to hear this guy) as he joins Martin to drive the tornadic rhythm machine. This is an excellent marriage of songwriting prowess, vocal and musical talent. And there is an obvious unbridled passion to create music that pushes the envelope, yet can still have a comfortingly familiar element to it. Hopefully, we will hear much more from these musicians in the near future. – MW

 

Review Capsules by Mark Waterbury

Michael Packer – “I Am The Blues” My Story Vol. 3
IMG Records
A bright light in the blues chandelier burned out in May when Michael Packer lost his tenacious fight with cancer. He left behind an incredible musical legacy, punctuated by this excellent final collection. Introducing each track with a verbal story of what inspired the track, Michael’s perspectives translate wonderfully into songs with influential ranges from bare bones blues to hip-hop, country to jazz. This final gift is a wonderful reminder of how talented Michael is and how much his activism-fueled blues will be missed.
MichaelPacker
Gerry Spehar – I Hold Gravity
Before going into a non-music profession, Gerry Spehar opened for the likes of Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, and Boz Scaggs. Now, once again, turning his passion to music, it is obvious that Gerry has drawn influences from those legends while still pouring his own heart and soul into his writing. Twisting in a subtle portion of blues along with a road-map of Americana vibes, this is a delectable, ear-opening journey of music that is rootsy, gritty, powerful yet soothing. With the rebirth of more roots-oriented country, Gerry has picked the perfect time to make a comeback – and his love for music obviously never left him.

GerrySPehar

Jackie Brown Band – Life’s A Party 

Milwaukee’s Jackie Brown is honing her talents and it is very obvious with her new release. The six new tracks and remixed versions of her debut EP display some seriously entertaining music, toeing the country/rock line, but with much more depth. The title track is a hard-punching rocker melded with touches of reggae and hip-hop, definitely backing up the song’s title. “Crae Crae” has a nice folksy groove with a subtle potency, and “Time Wasted” cuts loose with a funky, country-blues grit. Jackie can handle ballads with emotive grace, as she does in the powerful “With Out You.” I previously stated that Jackie’s robust, bluesy voice reminds me somewhat of Bonnie Raitt, and while I still feel that way, she has so many vocal pyrotechnics with stunning control that are undeniably in her own style. The songwriting is sharp both lyrically and musically, and the veteran Cream City players in the band are top notch. Jackie is still young, and if her early works are any indication, she is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with. – MW
JackieBrownBand

 

Sara Petite – Road Less Traveled

Many male purveyors of country music are getting back to their roots lately, and if the latest release by San Diego’s Sara Petite is any indication, the women in country music have something to say about their roots, too. The fun and sassy title track gets the party started and it doesn’t end throughout the twelve tracks. Sara is like an encyclopedia of classic country styles, as she flows effortlessly from the haunting west Texas groove of “Blackbird” and the hooky pop edged “It Was Just A Kiss” to the emotive ballad “Getting Over You.” “Monkey On My Back” starts off with a traditional swing style before kicking into a high-octane honky-tonk foot-stomper. Sara has no problems letting the talented players on this CD showcase their capabilities, particularly in the over-nine-minute jam fueled “Sweet Pea Patch” – yes, you heard that right, a NINE MINUTE country song, but it really kicks throughout! Not lost at all is Sara’s knack for great storytelling that is both homey and thought-provoking. Check out tunes like “Patchwork Quilt” and “Good 2 B Me” if you want to really experience her talents in this regard. Sara is a Plains tornado of fresh air in the country scene and  lovers of any era of country really need to check her out.  – MW
SaraPetite

 

Mark McKinney – World In Between

Mark McKinney – World In Between
Mark McKinney has been slugging it out in the Texas country music scene for years. With this his fifth recording, he proves he can duke it out with anything Nashville has to offer. He shows his meddle by staying away from the typified sound, and obviously putting his heart and soul into his music. He is a storyteller first and foremost, following the trails blazed years ago by Waylon, Willie, and Johnny, eventually resurrected by Chris Stapleton and others. His music does have a certain catchiness, but is also a bit edgy and walks that Americana/country barbed-wire tight rope with musical poise. Songs like the snappy “Bacon & Eggs,” potent ballad “Yours,” and heartland grooving “Monday” showcase the various subtle edges of of his songwriting envelope, pushed adeptly to present his heart-felt, intelligent stories. McKinney exhibits excellent vocal pitch and control throughout, not trying to do anything that may detract from the words, but still catching your ear with the emotive timbres. A track like “Rainy Day Monday” is a good showcase of his vocal capabilities. Mark McKinney could be another of those (yes, I know it sounds cliche), but another of those storytellers that offers Nashville an opportunity to travel back to the good old days when the music had more of a raw feel to it, before everything became so glossy and corporatized. – MW
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