Beginning this May I will start offering up a Chris' Pick Six. Each month a select six artists will be handpicked highlighting their recent releases with a review and links to their albums. Sit back take a gander and enjoy the music.
Here is the inaugural Chris' Pick Six.
Keeping things basic is what Ms. Holly Golightly does well and along with her partner in crime Lawyer Dave (the Brokeoffs) the duo has returned with another batch of tunes about booze, religion and a cast of original characters. Like previous albums they keep things lighthearted without coming across as hokey. The album starts with the raunchy “SLC”, a tune about spending a horrible time in Salt Lake City. With the sins of other big cities few and far between they question why anyone would want to purposely go there. Possessing a prominence in character construction it shows on songs like “Pistol Pete” and “King Lee” which weave tales of colorful individuals while the rowdy “Can’t Pretend” harnesses a classic sound reminiscent of the deep south complete with a booming rhythm from what sounds like a jug. Their music is no frills as Holly and Dave utilize a wealth of tools from guitars to pianos to banjos to washboards. They create a raw sound steeped in classic blues, country and rock that has no need for fancy editing, space age effects or any other tampering. You get what you hear and what you hear is pretty damn good. All Her Fault picks up where their last record left off showcasing how talented this duo is.
Some say you can never go home again, well Chuck Mead begs to differ. The longtime Nashville resident’s latest album Free State Serenade delves into the stories and history of his home state of Kansas. The album follows a darker path as the veteran songwriter tackles death, love, becoming a man and UFO’s. Yeah that is a pretty wide range of subject matter. Loaded with tasty musical treats each song is approached differently with styles from country to rock. The booming “The Devil By His Side” lends a rockabilly flair to the horrendous story of William Quantrill and his murderous raid on Lawrence, KS. On the countrified “Reno County Girl” Mead warbles about the love of his life and the jaunty “Neosho Valley Sue” elicits the excitement of one’s first time and becoming a man with the aid of professional. Full of rocking guitars and thumping bass “Ten Light Years Away” is a humorous tale about an alien encounter. Anchoring the record is a pair of darker tracks. On “Little Ivy” Mead sings about a young school girl that was murdered by her cousin and “Evil Wind” is about the Clutter family murders as told from the view of the murderer. On each track he peels back a layer from Kansas’ history as well as his own. He successfully tells his tales of joy and misery keeping things from getting too high and too low. There is never a spot on this record where things bog down as Mead delivers one of the better albums of 2014.
Emperors of Wyoming is yet another musical endeavor from rocker/producer Butch Vig. A return to the beginning of sorts, Vig and former Wisconsin cohorts joined together to revisit some unearthed music from their distant past. After fiddling around with what the pieces that were recovered the group ended up writing and recording an entire album of tunes. It is not the usual fare you would expect from a Vig involved project. With an American flair and a bit of country flavor the record sounds more like a Tom Petty album than something Vig has had his hands on. The laid back sound of “Avalanche Girl” and “Cruel Love Ways” echoes throughout this record as smooth melodies and just the right amount of jangly guitars make their way through the listener’s ears. Haunting vocals and pedal steel give “Rebirth of Cool” life while “Cornfield Palace” offers of the most countrified sounds of the album. Two tracks that really stand out are the contrasting sounds of “I’m Your Man” and “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”. The first song is raw, dark and brooding while the other presents a polished melodic piece of music. They represent the wide musical range of this band. Give this record a spin and let it grow on you because the more you play it the better it gets.
Many see Luther Dickinson only as a bad ass guitar slinger and overlook how truly talented the man really is. In addition to his ability to play anything with strings the man is one hell of a songwriter, singer and producer. Stepping away from his duties with the North Mississippi Allstars he has unleashed a second solo record that highlights everything he does best. It is not just an all out blues record but is loaded with soulful rhythms, exceptional guitar playing and a bit of twang that all frame his abundant talents. The opening track attacks listener’s senses with thumping rhythms before the focus shifts to Luther’s vocals and coffee can guitar as he sings about his younger days. The album possesses the chunky sounds known and loved by North Mississippi Allstars (NMAS) fans but that is where the similarity stops. On “Mojo Mojo” he enlists the fife & vocal talents of Sharde Thomas to create a mellow track that chugs along into the horizon and a bit if twang makes its way into “Goin’ Country”. Anchoring the record is the title track “Rock N Roll Blues”. A sparse mellow tune about life in music, it showcases Dickinson’s lyrical abilities that sometimes get over shadowed by his guitar playing prowess. If you are looking for an additional NMAS record then this is what you are looking for. Luther steps away from his band and dishes out a brilliant collection of tunes that touch on a wealth of musical sounds.
Crawling out of the kudzu that has a strangling grip on the south, Arkansas’ Jim Mize his unleashed a collection of tunes that take listeners on a stroll through the dusty back roads and small towns that is his life. The music is raw and rootsy as Mize paints vivid images with his words about loneliness, love and Jesus. Fuzzy guitars draw listeners into the album on the raw and bluesy “Rabbit Hole” as his gravely vocals wail about following someone anywhere for their love. The haunting “Eminence Kentucky” is a somber tale of trying to adapt in a new town while the jangly “Drunk Moon Falling” is a metaphor used to sing about a woman. Mize turns up the heat on the rocking “Need Me Some Jesus” about changing your life. He saves the best for last on the track “Empty Rooms”. Reminiscing about happier times Mize brutally sings about a house void of family. Whether the missing members left or passed it is unclear. I admit Mize is a newcomer to my musical world and after listening to this record many times I wonder how it took me so long to hear his music.
Everybody has a coping mechanism, and they are all different. Mine is to immerse myself into music only to emerge from the barrage of tunes in a better state of mind. After listening to Undefeated my guess is that Bobby Bare Jr’s is to write songs. The latest record from the veteran songwriter delves into the world of the broken hearted. The songs are about a painful breakup but are not the usual “woe is me” tales of lost love and what could have been. Bare Jr. pulls no punches as he sings about the woman that left him unloading feelings of pain, anger and sadness. He sings of indifference on “If She Cared” and drowns his sorrows in booze on “My Baby Took My Baby Away”. On “The Big Time” Bare Jr. lets her know that she is going to be sorry for leaving, almost rubbing it in her face. The best track on the album is the title track “Undefeated”. Taking the listener through all the emotional stages of a break-up it possesses the strongest lyrics of the bunch. They always say that the best songs are written through personal loss or tragedy. Now I am not sure who “they” are, but in this case there is some truth to that. Bare Jr. digs deep and lays everything out for all to see allowing the listener benefit from his misfortune.