Laura Benitez and The Heartache – With All Its Thorns
While many guys in country are going back to their roots, some of the gals are as well. The third release by Laura Benitez and her band The Heartache exemplifies this as she channels influences of some of the great ladies of country into her own sound. Her voice is undeniably catchy, with a sweetly subtly operatic croon that drives home the from-the-heart lyrics she writes. Musically you are transported back several decades, either clapping along at some smoky Texas honky-tonk, or tapping your toes and smiling in a chair at the Ryman. Both retro and refreshing, this is someone to watch out for.
Long time member of the band The Dysfunctionells, Rich Krueger has released another excellent solo CD featuring his sharp lyrical wit melded with varied musical sensibilities. With a subtly powerful vote that feels a cross between Van Morrison and Cat Stevens, Rich takes you on a story telling journey that feels just like that…like he is sitting at some campfire sharing a half pint with you and regaling you with life stories and perspectives. Enhancing the stories further with unique music backdrops reaching many roots of folk, rock, country and blues, this is one tasty stew for even the most finicky of songwriting aficionados.
In his 1997 song “Christmas in Washington,” troubadour Steve Earle implored “Comeback Woody Guthrie.” Gerry Spehar may have produced that comeback in spirit with his latest release. The Colorado singer/songwriter pulls no punches with his current political statements on this CD, leaning a bit more on the country side of folk than Woody but still infusing a bare–bone hominess that catches the ear and exemplifies the words. The sardonically humorous “Thank You Donald” kicks off the festivities with a bluegrass lilt. The moody, somber folk of “A Soldier’s Spiritual” is a soul-stirring plea about veteran’s difficulties. “Carnival” is like a twisted tent revival preaching a unique perspective on the legacy of LBJ. Gerry tackles multiple timely issues including racism, war, and immigration with music ranging from bizarrely delectable to musically potent. There are many talented players involved with this CD, but Gerry’s voice showcasing a wonderful diversity in both tonal qualities and emotive output is the real star here. He definitely has a lot to say and whether you believe or agree with him or not, the way he conveys his opinions and messages will no doubt get you to at least listen, and maybe think a bit as well. – MW
Bassist/vocalist extraordinaire John Payne and keyboard maestro Erik Norlander have once again joined forces, and the result is mesmerizing. A few years removed from the Asia featuring John Payne era, John and Erik have unleashed both their musical and songwriting talents creating a CD that wonderfully melds the intricacies of prog with the pop sensibilities that Asia was known for during the Payne era. This is obvious straight out of the gate as the rollicking “Brothers In Arms” appears both radio ready with enough musical prowess to please the most ardent prog rock fans. While vestiges of Asia are obvious, the envelope is stretched further – very evident in the driving power of “ A Sorrows’s Crown” and the ear-opening opus “Give Another Reason.” Songs like “Time Waits For No One” and “Seasons Will Change” are strong with their comforting hooks; the musicianship being tempered a bit, but still amazing in a subtle way. It does feel even more like a reunion when you see the guest musicians include guitarists who were members of the John-Payne-era Asia (Jeff Kollman, Moni Scaria, Bruce Bouillet, and Guthrie Govan) along with Asia featuring John Payne drummer Jay Schellen. This is mostly John’s and Erik’s work, combining influences of their past collaborations with other facets of their songwriting souls to create some brilliant music. – MW
Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps – Here In Babylon
L.A.’s veteran songstress Teresa James has strong roots growing into several branches of blues. The result is a sultry, sometimes bawdy but undoubtably catchy group of songs that smacks of barrel houses where you have to squint through the smoke to glimpse the band. Her delectable twinkling of the 88 keys is backed by a robust crew of talented players, kicking life into songs whether mellow or rocking. Teresa’s powerful voice from the Bonnie Raitt school rips loose the songs in potently soulful fashion. Some highly enjoyable tunes here.
The lead track of Pittsburgh singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Wood’s second CD is called “Can You Feel It?” and, believe me, you can. You can feel old wooden floors shaking, tube amps vibrating, bandaids hastily wrapped around bleeding fingers. Yeah ,you can call it blues, you can call it rock, but Tim puts a unique enough spin on the songs that you can’t really pigeon hole it. His voice is pleasantly haunted by the ghost of Jim Morrison, his guitar work is often stunning, and the music gives the impression of a headlong free for all that works just right. A great example of someone who lets it all loose when he writes and plays music.
The outlaw country revival drives on and Idaho singer-songwriter Andrew Sheppard is one of the newer voices taking the wheel. His sophomore effort is brimming with thought-provoking lyrics along with musical landscapes featuring vistas of old school country, blues and alt edginess, highlighted by Andrew’s Willie-meets-Dylan vocal prowess. From the traditional folk feeling “Take A Walk With Me” to the gritty blues-tinged roots of “Lies As Cheap As Whiskey”, and the rollicking groove of “Here At The Bottom”, Andrew proves highly adept at creating tuneful mosaics that burrow deep into your soul with the honesty of the rods while delighting your musical appreciation receptors with the vibrancy of the song structures. This is another one of the many breaths of fresh air into today’s country scene – an ear opening effort that could lead to bigger things for this talented artist and storyteller. – MW
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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