I think one of the rewarding things about hearing new music is discovering an artist who knows his own voice. An artist that creates their own space and then inhabits it well, with authority and confidence. Mark Currey does this on his fine debut, Tarrant County. Some might say Currey, at 53, is late to start a recording career, but that would be a mistake. By waiting, Currey has allowed his vision and songwriting skills to distill into something deeply personal. It has also given him the confidence to be his own man, and make the record he wanted to make.
Ray Bonneville opens his latest release, At King Electric, with the kind of understated world weary grace and lyrical punch that JJ Cale made his calling card. On his ninth album Bonneville displays the discernment that some artists never attain, namely that he realizes the strength of his songs lies not in what he puts into the recording, but rather, what he leaves out. His songs work the way an emotionally charged conversation does, one in which the person who shows the most restraint has the upper hand. What Bonneville doesn’t say speaks loudest.
Webb Wilder is back doing what he does best; that is, being Webb Wilder. Sixteen previously unreleased tracks and a handful of Beatnecks later you have solid proof that Wilder and company know how to bring the party. And bring it they do. The only question is, why did these tracks stay buried for so long?
Steve Dawson follows up his stellar 2016 release, Solid States & Loose Ends with an all instrumental outing, the excellent Lucky Hand. And the Canadian by way of Nashville keeps everything firmly rooted in Americana while setting the songs against the backdrop of a string quartet, in the process creating a sort of blue collar chamber music that sounds right at home on the porch.
If there was a music industry award for consistency in both effort and quality, it would named after John Mayall. Mayall is the gold standard for dedication to craft. While a younger artist might take five years between albums to figure out what he was going to do next, Mayall would put out five albums worth of sterling material in the same time frame. Mayall can do that because he knows who he is, and what he wants to do. And he knows how to do it pretty damn well.
Eric and Ulrika Bibb celebrate love and relationship with Pray Sing Love
Eric Bibb has been expanding his personal vision for years, even though he is marketed primarily as a blues artist. And while that tag certainly fits him (you’d be hard pressed to find a better steward of pre-war blues) it is too small in scope to contain his prodigious talent. A better term might be troubadour, a word that frees him from the constraints of genre and liberates his skills as a songwriter and story teller.
Daniel and Lauren Goans, the indie darlings also known as Lowland Hum, are back again, one year after their gorgeous release Thin, with gifts for the holiday season. Songs for Christmas Time is one of those rare collections that hits all the right notes, and offers us a path through the hectic days to come. If you are looking for a place of rest and solitude, tucked inside the celebrations, this is a fine place to start.
Christmas albums, as a genre, are a mixed bag. There are the traditional records, with all the classics you know and love, there are the goofy and wonderful kitchen sink releases, unpredictable, yet entertaining, and there are those that are plainly dreadful and commercial.
Some of my fondest memories as a child were of Christmas mornings, with the family. The best gifts were an interesting mix of things you wanted, things you needed, and things you never thought of but grew to love. Songs for Christmas Time is that sort of gifting. There are seasonal songs you know by heart, some traditional tunes that you may be unfamiliar with, and a chestnut or two from Johnny Cash and Vince Guaraldi.
MVP is a solid dose of Texas bar-rocking blues. The combination of Malford Milligan on vocals, and Tyrone Vaughan on guitar hit you like an uppercut. Raw, bracing, tough as nails, Vaughan’s fretwork is all you might expect coming from the Vaughan family tree. The son of Jimmie and nephew of Stevie Ray, Tyrone is his own man, ably handling the expectations and proving he is ready to add to the legacy of his kin.
The album opens with “Soul Satisfaction” and immediately we’re off to the races. Milligan’s R&B crooner has been replaced by the growl of a desperate broke-down boogie man. His ragged, full-throated soul shouter is at the top of his game, and plays nicely against Vaughan’s razor-sharp riffs. The rhythm section is wound tighter than a spinster’s corset, courtesy of Chris Maresh on bass and Brannen Temple on drums. This is how you grab a listener’s attention.
“Dangerous Eyes” follows and keeps the party train rolling. The guitar work is springy, elastic, and extra greasy. Milligan is captivated by the eyes of a beautiful woman, and can’t help himself. He is caught in the throes of obsessive love at first sight. Expect a restraining order to follow.
One of the highlights of the record is a cover of Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone.” A straight slow blues number, Vaughan tears it up, turning in a fiery and expansive solo. A warning from Milligan to a third party, the song implies there will be consequences if the meddling continues. Milligan gets downright creepy and menacing on this one. When he sings “I’m not an evil man, but I might do something wrong,” his voice projects a sinister undercurrent that makes your hair stand on end. By the end of the song you know he has already picked the place to dispose of the body.
Milligan and Vaughan work together so well that one hopes they take this act out on the road. Their collaboration is dynamic and intuitive, each man playing to his strengths while giving the other time in the spotlight. With talent like this the project could easily go off the rails and become self-indulgent. Milligan Vaughan avoid the trap by keeping the focus on the songs. Everything is working here, and MVP serves as a model for any young blues player that wants to see how you make a great breakout record.
Fred Wickham resurfaces from a lengthy lay off with a sparkling gem of an album, Mariosa Delta. The co-founder of the defunct roots rock band Hadacol journeys through the past to 1940, and finds the truth about a tragedy that struck his family. This is the second release from a Wickham this year; brother Greg Wickham dropped a solo record back in April.
The Mariosa Delta was a nightclub owned by Wickham’s grandparents. It was also the scene of a fatal shooting in 1940. “Newspaper articles confirmed that my grandfather’s brother Jim was gunned down by a jealous husband” Wickham relates in the liner notes. Wickham’s grandmother was the first to reach Jim, and he died in her arms at the Mariosa Delta.
What do you do when you can play straight blues or Hendrix style hard rock with equal ease and finesse? On the seventh album of his career the phenom from Nelson County, Virginia reins in his inner guitar god and makes his most focused roots blues album yet. High Dollar Gospel finds Cook showcasing his acoustic mojo and the result is the most satisfying record of his career.
“The album title was a phrase that got stuck in my head. It resonated with me. It brings up, for me anyway, images of the south, religion and politics, and money.” Speaking by phone from his home outside of Charlottesville, Cook comes off reserved, almost shy. This is a vivid contrast from the confident stage presence the lanky thirty-one-year-old projects when he has his trusty resonator in his hands. One gets the sense that he would rather let his guitar speak for him.
J.M. McSpadden III is a writer and roots music enthusiast who believes every road trip is an opportunity for the full- tilt boogie.