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Review: Gilkyson, Gorka & Kaplansky - Red Horse

September 24, 2010

Red Horse big.jpgby Jim Blum

Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka & Lucy Kaplansky
Red Horse
(Red House Records)

LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh did it. Why stop at basketball? Three superstar folk singers & writers have teamed up to record and tour. You may have missed the news until now, as there was no "Decision" TV show to make this musical announcement. I also don't recall the "home" cities of these songwriters tearing down concert posters and burning their artist T-shirts. The resulting "team" however is certainly super.

The three take turns singing each other's songs and they toss in a few favorites. John sings Lucy's "Don't Mind Me." Lucy sings John's "Blue Chalk," a sorrowful observation about friends making poor choices. Eliza covers a song from very early in the Gorka library, "If I Could Forget to Breathe." A highlight is Eliza's "I Am a Child" from the Buffalo Springfield's Neil Young. Duke Levine is the unsung hero of this album. The multi-talented musician sometimes plays 4 instruments on one song; on the albums closer, "Wayfaring Stranger" sung by Kaplansky, Duke plays acoustic guitar, lap steel, mandola and baritone electric guitar. In typical Levine fashion, none of this is for show, it's all about support.

Unlike their basketball counterparts, I expect these three to return to their own careers and their own cities. And the only heartbreaking going on will be caused by the words of a sad song, or the touching delivery. Ahh... if professional sports could only learn from us.

(Jim Blum resides in northeast case that isn't obvious.)

Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:06 PM | Comments (2)

Review: John Mellencamp - No Better Than This

September 16, 2010

John Mellencamp No Better Than This.jpgby Mike Regenstreif

No Better Than This

When John Mellencamp released an album of old blues and folk songs in 2003 called Trouble No More, I wrote - in a Montreal Gazette review that also ran in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal - that "Mellencamp has often shown a rootsy side to his music, but here he immerses himself in roots music, particularly traditional blues and folk, as well as gospel, country and early rock 'n' roll. He's learned well from old recordings and finds more than credible, individual takes on these venerable songs."

On No Better Than This, Mellencamp seems to go even deeper into the roots of traditional American music but instead of old songs learned from Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie records, the songs are Mellencamp's own, written in traditional styles and recorded, as they might have been 50, 60 or 70 years ago in front of a single microphone, in mono, into a vintage tape recorder.

OK, I know that a tape recorder wouldn't have been used 60 or 70 years ago, but it would have been 50 years ago when guys like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and so many others were recording in the same Sun Studio in Memphis where nine of these 13 songs were recorded. An historic recording location, to be sure.

Mellencamp and producer T-Bone Burnett took advantage of the studio floor markings that Sun producer Sam Phillips set down in the 1950s for optimal studio sound in recording Mellencamp on vocals and acoustic guitar with his live-off-the-floor band of Burnett, Andy York and Marc Ribot on guitars, bassist David Roe, drummer Jay Bellerose and violinist Miriam Sturm. There were no overdubs - what they played is what we hear.

Among the highlights of the Sun session songs are "The West End," a gritty blues sung from the P.O.V. of someone who grew up in a lousy neighbourhood and is determined to get out; the title track, a rockabilly number whose swagger is a blend of young Elvis and young Johnny Cash; "Coming Down the Road," a hopeful Guthrie-esque anthem; and "Easter Eve," a vivid folk-like ballad of a violent encounter that seems modelled on the traditional "Arthur McBride."

The rest of the tracks were recorded locations that were no less historic.

"Right Behind Me," a duo track featuring Mellencamp with Sturm's intense bowing on the violin, was recorded in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, the same room in which Robert Johnson recorded his first sides in 1936. Legend has it that Johnson sang facing the corner of the room and Mellencamp adopted the same position for a song that rambles through Johnsonian references to women, Chicago, and the devil.

Three solo folk-oriented love songs were recorded in the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, a church that was a stop on the Underground Railroad in the years preceding the American Civil War. They include "Thinking About You," a nostalgic reminiscence of a long-ago love that could be a companion to Tom Waits' "Martha"; "Love At First Sight," kind of a puppy-love tune for more mature folks; and "Clumsy Old World," a song about love's contradictions written under the probable influence of John Prine.

There may be one or two Mellencamp songs from over the years that are more memorable than these, but, to my mind, there is no better John Mellencamp album than this

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:06 AM

NPR and Folk Alley present an Exclusive First Listen of Justin Townes Earle's new CD 'Harlem River Blues'

September 1, 2010

JTE2010_Joshua_Black_Wilkins.jpgHarlem River Blues will stream here in its entirety until its release on September 14........ Click Here to Listen!

by Elena See, ~

For a guy who grew up in a sort of musical royal family -- he's the son of Steve Earle, and was named for Townes Van Zandt -- it's surprising that Justin Townes Earle has only been making music publicly for a little more than two years. He made his debut in 2008 and quickly followed that recording last year with the much-acclaimed Midnight at the Movies; on Sept. 14, he'll release his third album, Harlem River Blues.

What's especially noteworthy about the new recording -- besides Earle's simple, heartfelt lyrics and his ability to change from swinging gospel to old-time railroad ballads to twangy country -- is that even though he's been on the road constantly since 2008, the album doesn't sound rushed or tired. In fact, it's exactly the opposite.

Justin Townes Earle Harlem River Blues chat.jpgThe music Earle creates on Harlem River Blues is fresh and appealing in an old-fashioned kind of way. Listen to "Move Over Mama" -- you know you've heard it before, but it sounds different somehow. The ability to explore familiar styles and sounds while not just imitating them is Earle's gift.

The album offers an impressive variety of styles. While the title track sounds like gospel music that's been kicked in the backside by Elvis, Earle follows it with what might initially seem like the standard "I've lost my love and I'm sad" kind of ballad. But it's really a metaphoric slap in the face -- a call to stop wasting time with those who aren't willing to give us what we want or need.

He changes things yet again with some Johnny Cash-esque sounds and a nod to his hero, Woody Guthrie, as the album progresses. ("Workin' for the MTA" is a modern-day railroad story that would make Guthrie proud.) Throw in some solo piano and a ballad that sounds as if Bruce Springsteen might have written it in the late 1980s ("Rogers Park"), some virtuoso harmonica playing and a 30-second reprise of the title track that hints at a different path he might have taken with this new album, and you've got Harlem River Blues -- proof that Justin Townes Earle will be around, making relevant and interesting music, for a long time to come.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:20 PM

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