July was a busy month so I fell a little behind in my contributions to the vast world that is music reviews on the internet. So better late than never, here is my Pick Six for July.
Possessing a resume that includes singer, songwriter, musician and actor Amy LaVere has a lot to offer. With her sultry voice leading the way, the Memphis Tennessean draws listeners in to her musical world utilizing catchy melodies and soulful lyrics. Her latest record Runaway’s Diary is a collection of tunes – original and other peoples – that focus on running away. A southern infused album, LaVere offers up a mix of swampy blues, upbeat jazz, sparse folk and classic country sounds. The dark “Rabbit” let’s listeners know that her lyrics aren’t always a bowl of cherries as she sings about someone out on their own trying to find their way. With a classic country swing sound, “Big Sister” is a tune about jealousy of a sister and piano heavy “Self Made Orphan” details someone that wants to be on their own. She covers a handful of songs on the record and really makes them her own especially with John Lennon’s “How?” and Mike McCarthy’s “Lousy Pretender”. She wraps the album up with the upbeat “I’ll Be Home Soon”. On this track she sings about returning home/to her old life and doing things differently. Once again Ms. LaVere has put together a fantastic album. Working with Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) the pair have delivered a record that is one of the best of 2014 proving that good songwriting and arrangements outshine fancy production and flashy spectacles any day of the week.
George Jones’s career was a long and winding road full of great music and bad decisions. Even though he could never seem to outrun the consequences of his love affair with booze and pharmaceuticals it is that deep smooth voice and brilliant songs that stick in people’s memories. In the spirit of the legendary Possum, Deer Lodge has side stepped modern country singers to fill a tribute album with songs from artists that follow the lead of classic country performers like Jones when making music today. Each artist gives their take on a classic Jones song creating a record that is not just a rehashing of his music. The album contains 30 tasty tunes from some of the best independent musicians around. Sassparilla kicks things off with a lively version of “White Lightning” and it all goes downhill from there. Hank Sinatra supplies plenty of twang on “I Always Get Lucky With You” and Lewi Longmire with the Portland Country Underground delivers all the sadness on “Still Doing Time”. Brush Prairie wins the album (not that it was a contest) with their jangly guitar laden version of “Tennessee Whiskey” and a big surprise is Neon Renaissance’s take on “Golden Rings”. Who knew infusing Jones’ music with a reggae vibe would sound that good. I could go on and speak kindly to every damn song on this record but that could take forever. I suggest you go give it a listen and let the music speak for itself. You have done a very fine job on this one Deer Lodge.
With his laid back style Rich Robinson has built a career making guitar playing look easy. When he steps out of the band environment into the solo arena his calm cool demeanor follows. He has just released his third record – The Ceaseless Sight - minus the Black Crowes and with each effort he is becoming more comfortable as a solo artist. Possessing a classic rock vibe, Robinson’s latest is part dirty rock, part bluesy swagger and part southern soul making for one bad ass record. His last record was an introspective look into past relationships containing songs from his soul dealing with loss and questionable decisions that need to be unleashed. With that album in the rearview mirror he has moved on to tackle his future with this latest batch of tunes. The soulful “Down The Road” touches on moving forward in life and on the mellow “In Comes the Night” he is shown glimpses of what lies ahead in dreams. Robinson uses imagery of travelling on a road to get these points across throughout the album. The jaunty “One Road Hill” takes listeners on a voyage as he sings of happiness and joy in his life. On “I Know You” they open things up a bit and rock out. Lead by Robinsons chunky guitar riffs it is the infusion of keys that gives this track its distinct flavor. His songwriting gets better each time out and paired with his already outstanding musical acumen this is by far Robinson’s most complete album. From start to finish there are is no filler just choice songs. Give The Ceaseless Sight a listen and you can thank me somewhere down the road.
The Texas band Centro-Matic continues to dole out bad ass guitar centric music revolving around the people, places and things that venture through their life. Their latest – Take Pride In Your Long Odds – is a testament to their longevity and the continuous flow of killer music. Johnson, Pence, Danbom and Hedman have a very symbiotic relationship which is why there music is so damn good. While many bands never reach, or hate each other by the time they reach an 11th these guys just keep getting stronger. Take Pride is a mix of everything that makes their music perfect, heartfelt lyrics surrounded by enough fuzz riddled guitar and booming drums to rattle your ears. They reach in to the listener’s head, smack them around a bit then leave them asking for more. Songs such as “Cross Paths” and “Academy of Lunkers” are classic Centro-Matic rockers that will have even the most stoic listeners breaking out their air guitars. “Every Mission” and “Hey There Straps” shows they are more than just noisy rockers as they mellow things out. My favorite song on the record has to be “Salty Disciple”. This song bombards the senses with so many sounds stimulating that special music part of your brain. It also contains some of the best lyrics on the record with the likes of “she said what of your chemicals honey/she said I am your deterioration queen” or “but then maybe you were just plucking it outta books/and not living it”. The 11th album from Centro-Matic is every bit as good as and as important as any of their previous albums. They demonstrate that a band can stick together and make quality music without breaking. If you are one of the many that pigeon hole Centro-Matic as just another Southern rock or alternative country band then you need to give them a listen, because they are so much more than that.
These guys have been one of my favorites since I first hit play on their debut record. They harness the sound of classic bluegrass/country and give it their own flavor. Old Crow Medicine Show’s latest record Remedy may be one of their best. Loaded with all the banjo and harmonica one could ask for it is 13 songs of perpetual motion. They crank things up with the blues infused “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” singing about time off for good behavior and don’t slow down until they get to “The Warden” a sparse tune with dark undertones about the life of a warden. The record isn’t all about prison; on “O Cumberland River” they sing an ode to a river that flows through Nashville, “Dearly Departed Friend” tells of a lost war veteran and cover of Dylan’s “Sweet Amarillo”. In the jaunty tune “Doc’s Day” they get blessed out by an ‘old hillbilly’ for abandoning old time musical ways with the new fangled electrified instruments. At the time of writing this the tune “Shit Creek” gets my nod for best track. Played at a feverish pace the boys weave a tale of bad luck and bad decisions, but check back with me tomorrow my favorite could change. With Remedy, Old Crow Medicine Show keeps on doing what they do and they do it quite well. With no weak spots among any of the songs his album will keep your toes tapping and have you singing along with each track. Give it a listen and see what I am talking about.
Dom Flemons is one damn talented musician and his solo record Prospect Hill will back up that statement 100%. Out on his own now doing the solo thing, the ex-Chocolate Drop is giving the world a taste of his classic folk, jazz and blues sound. Taking a collection of traditional and original songs Flemons has delivered a record that sounds like it came right out of the musical archives. As expected there is plenty of banjo, kazoo, harmonica and fiddle but when the clarinet, sax, guitars and drums show up things get awesome. Tunes like “Polly Put the Kettle On” and “But They Got It Fixed Right On” are great tunes and what you would expect and want from Mr. Flemons. With a booming sax he gives the Jim Reeves classic “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” a bluesy soulful sound while keeping its country roots. Harnessing the ghost of Sam Cooke Flemon's vocals on“I Can’t Do It Anymore” will have listener’s begging for an album of soul music and the drum heavy “Grotto Beat” & “Georgia Drumbeat” are nice additions that mix things up. This record was everything I expected from Flemons and a whole lot I didn’t expect. It is that unexpected that makes it so good. (It reminds me a lot of the early Jimbo Mathus solo records like Play Songs For Rosetta and Old Scool Hot Wings.)With some of the best music I have listened to Prospect Hill will surely find its way onto several of the year end “Best of Lists”, but don’t wait for the bandwagon listen to it now.
There you go, July's Pick Six is chocked full of more great music for you to listen to. Yes I know it is August but hey like I said previously, better late than never.