Canadian soul-blues singer Matt Andersen joins forces with producer and guitar-jedi Steve Dawson, to produce Halfway Home by Morning, the best record of Andersen’s career. Recorded in Dawson’s Henhouse studio, Andersen nails 13 solid tunes that best display the mighty power of his voice. Dawson, a fellow Canadian based in Music City, wisely focuses the spotlight on his client’s greatest asset, a set of killer pipes. While the band does a great job of undergirding the songs with stellar play, they never overshadow the dynamo that is Matt Andersen.
For all of our 21st century sophistication and technological achievements it seems to me we need old forms and methods more and more. For all the instant gratification of Google searching, and for all the manic energy, rancor and divisiveness of the 24 hour news cycle, we need from time to time to retreat to a simple, more intentional way of thinking and feeling. In the place of dazzling special effects we yearn for a story that is true, based in human (as opposed to technological) experience. Music can take us there. It has the ability to transport us to our own humanity and history, both familial and universal. In our current time we need the scribes of the tribes, the oral historians who anchor us with their stories of our past, shared struggles we all can find as common ground. And we need to laugh and sing. We need Michael Jerome Browne.
Lowland Hum push themselves to the brink, and return with Glyphonic, a song cycle that challenges the artist and listener alike to resist the gravitational pull of the material world and to choose to live with intent. As with their 2017 release, Thin, the duo of Daniel and Lauren Goans wrestle weighty questions with grace and aplomb. The title of the album is our first clue. Glyphs bring to mind the picture stories of ancient chroniclers. Phonic calls to mind sound, and so we have an album of picture-story songs. The Goans have compiled snapshots of the road they have travelled which offer insights into our own journeys. As usual, they make going deep look easy.
Silverlake 66 self-releases Ragged Heart, reminding us that country music is best when it wears its heart on its sleeve and speaks in the straightforward language of the everyman. The duo of Jeff Overbo and Maria Francis stay the course they set when they released their debut record back in 2016. Ragged Heart is the confident statement of a couple that knows their strengths and how to play to them, and to us.
With Global Griot Eric Bibb pulls on all the threads that run through his storied career to weave a tapestry that offers hope for the human family. For this record Bibb moves beyond the tether of genre into a broader sonic landscape, past blues into something more like world folk.
In doing so he invites his fellow performers to share their gifts with us, creating a musical banquet for the famished soul. Bibb’s extended creative family are all in, from Harrison Kennedy and Habib Koite to Staffan Astner and Michael Jerome Browne. The cast of characters also includes his longtime producer Glen Scott and Bibb’s wife, Ulrika. And while this is definitely an Eric Bibb record, it is also a product of the community Bibb has created for himself, and us.
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.
J.M. McSpadden III is a writer and roots music enthusiast who believes every road trip is an opportunity for the full- tilt boogie.