Mary Gauthier (from the album Live at Blue Rock) - There’s a natural quality in Mary Gauthier’s music that reminds one of a firefly on a summer evening – subtle but just stunning and uncommon enough to be fascinating. It seems one always glimpses those fireflies on the type of warm summer evenings, the type that inspire shared confidences that grow bolder as the sun dips. Mary Gauthier Live at Blue Rock, scheduled for February 7 release, evokes just those feelings. As Gauthier works through the set that includes “Blood on Blood” about children left for adoption and “Karla Faye,” about infamous killer turned born-again Christian, it’s easy to feel that the protagonists in her songs are sharing confidences with each listener.

Perhaps that’s why Live at Blue Rock might just be Gauthier’s best album. That’s saying something when you consider the critical acclaim that surrounded her six previous albums including the critically acclaimed 2010 release The Foundling. Who knows why her gritty vocals on songs including  “Last of the Hobo Kings,” or Fred Eaglesmith’s “Cigarette Machine,” connect so fully? Credit the live setting or the night or the sorrowful instrumentation, including just the right amount of sobbing fiddle, for the full-bodied brilliance.

Interesting how she plays off the crowd vibe, too. It’s not uncommon to hear Gauthier infuse humor into the song “I Drink,” which she co-wrote with Crit Harmon. On this night at the Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Wimberley, Texas, near Austin, though, she puts a mellow, almost regretful tone into the song. “They’re living things,” Gauthier said of her work. “You record ’em one way, but that’s just the way you played it that day. Some words change, the tempo changes. It has to go with the flow of the room and the flow of the night.”  And on this night, the result bewitches.  (written by Nancy Dunham)

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The Milk Carton Kids (from the album The Ash and The Clay) - The Milk Carton Kids will get a lot of Simon and Garfunkel references. It is the sound of male voices locked in harmony, getting results that are beyond what can be accomplished by one voice singing. Milk Carton Kids use harmonies as one voice, Everly Brothers style.The Ash and Clay, follows a debut that the pair offered free on their website, logging over 110.000 downloads.

Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have voices that become one, the vocals drift as twin streams of smoke gathering to rise as one into the sky. The Ash and Clay opens with acoustic notes spiriting through the air. The Milk Carton Kids sing with their united voice, letting the song weave a magical tale of steering by the stars to find a way home (“Hope of a Lifetime”). The Mild Carton Kids’ songs all seem to have a sense of wonder about them, a testament to the joy that the duo’s voices create. “Heaven” tells of promises made but not found, the lyrics raising questions as the voices lift up seeking answers.

There is a lot going on in this album, andThe Ash and Clay lets the guitars have their say, though they keep a low profile. The guitars’ tones are a very good complement to the purity of their voices. Kenneth Passengale plays a 1954 Martin and Joey Ryan uses a 1951 Gibson, making the guitar sounds sparkle with the echo of a thousand past notes. The guitars polish the vocals with feathery support. “Snake Eyes” has a slight gypsy feel to the acoustic rhythms; “Promised Land” comes in close and intimate for a confession, and “Whisper in Her Ear” speaks loudly with a hushed warning to stay aware and appreciate what really matters.

The Milk Carton Kids tend to deliver their songs with a quiet power. There are moments of acoustic frenzy on The Ash and Clay and “Honey Honey” can barely contain itself as the guitars do their best to become a string band and the story line lets Honey know about his/her honey. There is a softness to the tunes gathered, though it does not make the music relegated to an easy listening status. The Milk Carton Kids deliver music that is comfortable and friendly.                                      DANNY McCLOSKEY/RA

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Matt Andersen (from the album Weightless) - NEW ALBUM AVAILABLE, HONEST MAN, 2-26-16 - There is a moment of peaceful quiet that occurs during “Drift Away”, from the most recent Matt Andersen album, Weightless. The song is a port in the storm, solace for those days when there is no light and no way to find your path. Matt Andersen brings a presence to everything; his vocals, his playing, his delivery. On “Drift Away” the attention to detail the man gives to his performance is all brought to bear for comfort. The bubbling guitar chords are the shoulders that will bear your trouble until your legs can hold themselves. His voice is the light you searched for in the dark clouds that surround your days. Subtle horns back Matt’s words, supporting his encouragement to ‘carry on’. Matt Andersen puts 110% of himself into his music and his performance. Weightless invites you into the world of Matt Andersen to be calmed by his manner and inspired by his words.

Matt Andersen’s home is Perth-Andover, a blue-collar community in New Brunswick, Canada, a town of close to 2,000 residents. From the village resting on the banks of the St, John River, Matt Andersen and his music have logged over two million YouTube views, with close to one million for his version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” alone. Matt received a 2013 European Blues award and the Best Solo Performer award at the Memphis Blues Challenge. Weightless was produced by Los Lobos saxman/producer Steve Berlin and features Neko Case’s right hand man and guitarist Paul Rigby. Weightless makes its first step with hard funky soul on album opener “I Lost My Way”. The song clears the path for tunes that blend folk, blues and soul as a bed for Matt’s stories. The title track takes off as Matt’s enthusiasm carries you on a strong current of rhythm, staccato horn bursts and humming harmonies on a path to breaking free. “My Last Day” ponders a ‘what if’ exit, “City of Dreams” watches daylight fade as ‘another union son goes down’ on the blue collar workers in the tale and strikes a rich rhythm while digging into “Alberta Gold”. Matt Andersen shifts the beat around on Weightless, always keeping his heart open in his words. He shuts off the light with a hushed whisper and promises to ‘slow the world down, we won’t make a sound’ with tenderness on “Let’s Go to Bed”.

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Peter Case (from the album Peter Case on Omnivore Records) 

All albums mirror the life of their artists, the recordings being the audio snapshots of what the world looked like when the musicians left the studio and stage. Peter Case summed up the recording of his self-titled debut solo album as a ‘personal, musical, and spiritual upheaval’. A band brought Peter Case to Los Angeles after his group, The Nerves, carved a niche for themselves in the San Francisco 1980’s music scene as a Power Pop Punk trio. Peter formed The Plimsouls and made a name in Los Angeles, then California, before taking their music worldwide. The songs on Peter Case found their beginnings as their author began ‘unraveling the mysteries of music’, taking the tracks into the studio for a ‘musical quest for fire’, with T-Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom behind the boards as producers for the Geffen Records release. Peter Case welcomes a who’s-who mid-80’s of Los Angeles rock’n’roll Roots players into its tunes with Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Gurf Morlix, Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), John Hiatt, and Victoria Williams (Peter Case’s first wife).

Omnivore Records has reissued Peter Case, adding seven cuts that offer unreleased songs as well as acoustic versions and alternate takes of album tracks. Peter Case plays hosts to tunes that showed a different side of the musician as a career solo path was forged for Peter in a more natural, Roots leaning setting for his songs. Percussion rattles on “Steel Strings” as echoey chords and dreamy rhythms show themselves as “More Than Curious” for future Americana sounds, and guitar notes sparkle to back the story of “Horse and Crow”. Chords slashes flash over Van Dyke Parks’ orchestral strings and the moonlit story line of “Small Town Spree”. Peter Case is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary with the re-issue, bringing back its radio hit (“Old Blue Car”) as the air on opening cut “Echo Wars” fills with sound bites and shakey beats. Peter Case offers two versions with the original tracks that fill his solo debut, cruising on a fast track groove for Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Icewater” and touching The Pogues’ “Pair of Brown Eyes” with Celtic strums.

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Jonny Fritz (from the album Dad Country) - Dad Country is the first release under the name of Jonny Fritz. Dad Country is a good title direct for the songs collected on the album. Known as a musical entity under the heading Jonny Corndawg since his late teens, the real Mr. Fritz is using the name that he used to sign his ATO Records deal. No worries about Jonny selling out. He signed the contract with gravy during a meeting at Nashville’s Arnold’s Country Kitchen.

Musically, the songs show lineage to your Dad’s, or your Granddad’s, Country, depending upon your age. Scratchy fiddles fly high over sensibly consistent beats. The rhythms on  are metronome straight, giving plenty of room for the Dad Country aforementioned fiddles, pedal steel and guitar riffs to have their way. Listening to the albums instrumental track, simple called “Instrumental” you could be hearing a warm-up outtakes from Marty Robbins “Gunslinger Ballads and Trail Songs” album. Vocally, Jonny stays on track with the classic country sound of his music. It is warm and friendly with plenty of country wisdom surfacing in the words. There is honesty in the stories. That believability was king on AM radio airwaves of the 1950’s and 60’s delivered by songwriters and performers like some of Jonny’s personal heroes, Tom T. Hall and Roger Miller.

What separated those writers from their songwriting peers was the way the words fit together. It was a conversation between people. You never felt you were being preached to or at the receiving end of unwanted advice…. “Here is what happened to me, it was the dangdest thing.” The ability to give words a dual citizenship as a conversation and a good song is an art. Jonny Fritz is the artist on Dad Country and he crafts his songs with wry humor. The subjects are not always pleasant memories but in the songs of Jonny Fritz, even the harshest topics can bring a smile when you see yourself in the mirror of his words.

“Fever Dream” is a sickly haze of phrases that are a laundry list of the lowest day of an illness, presumably far from home on the road in a lonely motel room from which you more than likely will never leave. Even in his bleakest, like on heart tears that examine the tail end of a relationships (“All We Ever Do Is Complain”) and question mortality (“Have You Ever Really Wanted to Die”), Jonny sings the light of sunshine to brighten the moments.

There is where Jonny veers from the classic country that he loves. While country songs can be funny, there is never the intelligent humor that lives and breathes down your neck in the music of Jonny Fritz. It is not Pop music to take you away from real life, these songs make you think (insert shudder here). “Ain’t It Your Birthday” follows an unwanted party guest who wants in, asking the question of the candle blower, “hey, well ain’t it your birthday then why aren’t you smiling”. A way with words does not begin to cover what Jonny does with a pen and a piece of paper.

Dad Country opens with a gem of a tune. It is to the credit of the following tracks that they can see over the bar created by “Goodbye Summer” as its spins its tale of a truly amazing night that can be seen through the blur of a morning after.  “Wrong Crowd” dances a Samba beat as it finger points out those around you who are “the kind of friends who aren’t friends at all their just some people in a crowded bar”. “All the addicts, and the crazies, and the rabies and the rashes, the boozers and the losers and the scratches of their asses” get name checked in “Social Climbers’ as Jonny tours a life in Hollywood where “good girls come to become no good”. It is the words of Jonny Fritz that elevate the songs on Dad Country to another level of where classic Country music meets a literary Rock Realism.

Produced by Jonny and Dawes member Taylor Goldsmith.Dad Country was recorded at Jackson Browne’s west coast studio. The fever was upon them and Dad Country was recorded in just four days, with Jonny’s band, Jackson Browne and the remaining Dawes members all coming on board for the production.

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