Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub  (from the album Meridan Rising on Plowboy Records) - The steps taken between an idea and the results can vary. For some, one or two paces is about as far as they get from the kernel of an idea to jumping in and hoping for the best. Paul Burch had an idea form in his mind for a tale, an audio biography of Jimmie Rodgers, the singing superstar of the late 1920’s and one of the first American musician to successfully blend various styles into hybrids. To put flesh to the plan, Paul dug through rare archives at the Country Music Hall of Fame, discussed Rodgers’ life with his biographers, and backed the stories with the music of his lifetime; the sounds and rhythms that came through Meridian, Mississippi, the hometown of Jimmie Rodgers. Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub take the lead in Meridian Rising, an imagined autobiography of Jimmie Rodgers, the Blue Yodeler, the Singing Breakman.

Meridian Rising sets a stage with its songs, each track bearing the mark of the moments that made up the life of Jimmie Rodgers. On album opener, “Meridian”, Paul Burch as Jimmie Rodgers recalls his hometown. The engine runs smooth and fast on “Cadillacin’” as Jimmie is living high and on the run, taking on a game of chance (“Black Lady Blues”), thinking about the cuts of first love (“The Lady I Sawed in Half”), and writing his last letters home (“Sorry I Can’t Stay”).  Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub create a world where Jimmie Rodgers walks, speaks, hurts, and loves with Meridian Rising. The clock turns back its hands to point at a man looking towards a new reckoning in “Poor Don’t Vote”, living his final hours at Coney Island on “Fast Fuse Blues”, and vowing to die on his feet with “Back to the Honky Tonks”.

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The James Hunter Six (from the Hold On! on Daptone Records) - James Hunter has been building a career steadily for the past decade. The mission that James has taken on is Soul music, and over the course of four studio recordings, he has been fine-tuning the songs. The James Hunter Six serve up tracks minted in a Vintage sound for a Modern era, successfully presenting analog warmth for digital times on tunes that wear their cool as a badge of honor. The latest release from The James Hunter Six, Hold On!, is the band’s first on Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. The band went to Daptone in-house producer, Gabriel Roth, to helm the recording which was done live to 8-track tape. It was the second time the band worked with Roth, giving James Hunter a comfort level in the studio, satisfied when he realized that ‘“The great thing about working with Gabe is that he can get our tunes on tape exactly the way I heard them in my head when I was writing them’.

The James Hunter Six offer trademark hard R&B grit on Hold On! on the bounce of “If That Don't Tell You”, with the handclap beat in “Stranded”, and as the demand of the album title becomes a lovers request with “(Baby) Hold On” on a persistent saxophone and a wiggly guitar line. Rather than change what works, The James Hunter Six stay the course on Hold On!, adding to a Soulful set with some smooth bossanova, bolero, and rumba numbers seeing an exit appear in love with “This is Where We Came In”, the snaking swirl of the instrumental “Satchel Foot”, and shining a light with big band Soul with “In the Dark”.  The Soul of The James Hunter Six is a perfect match for America’s Soul fortress, Daptone Records as doo-wop harmonies and horn bursts listen in “Something’s Calling”, send out an early Valentine with “Light My Life”, and give “Free Your Mind (While You Still Got Time)” a triple espresso beat to the clock.

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The Grahams (from the album Glory Bound Deluxe) - From what Alyssa Graham reports ‘it was pretty much a free-for-all in the studio for five days. People were popping in hourly and picking up all kinds of instruments’. The project she was talking about added extra tracks to The Grahams most recent release, Glory Bound. The five new songs were produced by singer-songwriter and producer, David Garza, including four tunes from the pen of The Grahams as well as a cut from Alejandro Escovedo (“Broken Bottle”). The family of Alyssa and Doug Graham met with The Watkins siblings (Sean and Sara) for a version of the title track, “Glory Bound”, with Alyssa and Sara each taking a verse. Milk Carton Kids Kenneth Pattengale duets with Alyssa on “The Lonely Ones”, and adds his guitar work to “Mama”, performed with Susanna Choffel. John Fullbright is on piano for “Mama”, and shares vocals for “Tender Annabelle”. Glory Bound Deluxe puts another facet in the gem of the original Glory Bound album from The Grahams, and gives a damn good reason to re-visit the work as an old friend.

The Grahams back the stories on Glory Bound with harmonies. Alyssa takes the lead vocal with the fervor of a pied piper preacher as husband Doug fills in with gentle slide work on his resonator guitar. They are part of each song as a complimentary duo, much like they have done for their entire lives. Alyssa was seven years old when she became friends with nine year old Doug. They became a couple in their teens, marrying and at some point, The Grahams name on the mailbox landed on the marquee.

Glory Boundwas produced by Wes Sharon (John Fullbright, Parker Millsap) at his 115 Recording studio in Norman, Oklahoma. The songs have the call of freedom in their lyrics though they equally give a healthy pat on the back for the right choices being made in early years. The Grahams wrote Glory Bound while riding train rails, the project becoming the subject of the Cody Dickinson directed documentary, Rattle the Hocks.

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Penny and Sparrow  (from the album Let a Lover Drown You) - Lush, gorgeous, luminescent….all words that fit for the vocals of Penny and Sparrow on the duo’s third album release, Let a Lover Drown You. Voices harmonize, blend, weave, and wander together in song as they try hard to fit or somehow line up naturally. Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter met as roommates at University of Texas and their vocals found a home in the deep thought Folk of artists such as Bon Iver, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Swell Season. Musically, the pair are surrounded by the sounds of music that blends as well as the harmonies on Let a Lover Drown You, the album produced by John Paul White (The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes). The album title Let a Lover Drown You is a big clue to the more poetic lean to the lyrics of Andy Baxter as Kyle Jahnke matches words to music. The stories create an experience rather than speaking its tales in real time. Sensual and seductive, “Finery” opens the album and sets the tone in the first sentence for the visuals that Penny and Sparrow lines draw in your mind with ‘clothed only in your sunlight and your flesh’. A gentle strum quietly cradles a character claiming ‘growing a heart takes a while’ on “Catalogue” as a voice walks carefully across chord slashes to confess ‘I know you never gave a damn about me’ on “Bed Down” while stuttered notes rise and fall on the admission “I break when I fall’ with “Unfold”.

Penny and Sparrow offer a listening experience with Let a Lover Drown You, offering moods in its melodies and time for both trouble and triumph in its stories. Soft chords, touches of keyboards, swirls of strings, and authoritative bass demands come and go throughout the album. Penny and Sparrow bring the magic of their harmonies down to earth to walk in skins that become overwhelmed (“Bourbon”), try to fix shattered relationships (“Bon Temps”),  live in the shadow cast by others (“Gold”), and take one night as a win (“Until Tomorrow”).

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Shovels and Rope (from the album Busted Jukebox, Volume One on Dualtone Records) - On O’ Be Joyful (2012), Shovels and Rope made up the track listing from songs recorded in a variety of locations, using the same template for Busted Jukebox Volume One. The tunes bring in vocal partners to join the band on versions of music from other artists.Shovels and Rope go solo for their take on Emmylou Harris’ “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, and bring in tourmates for two tracks, with Caroline Rose sharing in for the cover of Nine Inch nails “Last”, and INLAWS leaning voices for The Kinks’ “Strangers”.

Shovels and Rope join in the songs of their guests on two cuts, following Butch Walker into his song, “Bullet Belt”, and visiting a song from J. Roddy Walston and the Business, “Boys Can Never Tell”, with J. Roddy on vocals. Busted Jukebox Volume One puts SNR on a GNR tune, with The Milk Carton Kids joining in on Guns ‘N Roses “Patience”. Shakey Graves is on board with the band on Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend”, Lucius joins them for Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band backs up Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”. Shovels and Rope sing harmony as J.D. McPherson drains Soul down to the last drop on Toussaint MacColl’s “Nothing Can Take the Place of You”.

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