Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music (from Various Artists on Numero Group) - Country Rock as a term was a function of the music industry to understand and market the mix of musical styles in bands like The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Poco, The Band, Grateful Dead, Mother Earth, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and host of other groups that saw genres as a buffet where they pick and choose rather than commit to just one choice. Musically, it was that freedom in sound that prompted Gram Parsons (solo, The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers) to coin the term Cosmic American Music. Gram was considered the father of Country Rock, though he hated the term. He felt that ‘we are playing roots music. It’s a form of love music, a binding type of music between people’. Numero Group is an archival record label that has gathered some unheard sounds from the period. A time when Rock radio was dominated by major label superstars like Linda Ronstadt and Eagles. Indie artists were stuck with small, local labels to get their music out to the world. A time when making an album took more than having electrical outlets in your bedroom. Wayfaring Stranger: Cosmic American Music goes to calendar pages from 1968 to 1980 for the nineteen recordings on the album.

The music on Wayfaring Strangers is familiar in sound to the bigger artists of their era. The stories, much like the music, were buried in the past. Numero Group found bits and pieces of the background for the musicians, and carefully curates the album art and details on the album booklet. The Black Canyon Gang were farm and ranch hands making music for their own entertainment as were Jimmy Carter and the Dallas County Green. Artists had career dreams stopped when their demo went unheard (Mistress Mary) or were a part of sham record deals (Sandy Harless). Kathy Heidiman was a San Jose artist that did an album of songs written by Dia Joyce with a history lost in the past and Kenny Knight simply trashed his masters by throwing them into a dumpster. Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music gives air time to music that deserves to be heard and given a chance to become ‘a binding type of music between people’.

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Jimmy Buffett (from the vinyl album release of AIA)

The fifth album release for Jimmy Buffet put A1A on the map. Key West, Florida had fallen out of favor after a history of pirates, and refugees from both political and artistic persecution. Jimmy Buffet introduced a new generation of pirates flying under the radar, lighting the first bonfire to lead legions down to the southernmost point in the U.S. A1A was created by a Key West Country band and was a foundation stone in Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Key West Phase’. The album was an entry for future Country players like Zac Brown to incorporate island dreams into Country music for the masses.

Coral Reefer Band member Steve Goodman came in for a co-write on “Door Number Three”, the tune joining cover tracks such as John Sebastian’s “Stories We Could Tell” and Alex Harvey’s “Making Music for Money”. Jimmy Buffet dips his pen into the mixed waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean as he sits on a beachfront porch while Gulf steam breezes pick up in “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season”. Jimmy Buffet raises a “Tin Cup Chalice” to toast fellow “Nautical Wheelers” with the Coral Reefer Band. AIA is bordered with the memories of a Gulf Coast youth in “Stories We Could Tell” as Jimmy Buffet for the strong wind of rock’n’roll as a lifestyle with “A Pirate Looks at Forty”.

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Steve Earle (from the album Guitar Town 30th Anniversary Edition on MCA Nashville)

Many folks feel age when they see their friend’s children grown at rapid rates. Music marks chalk lines on the doorframe with album release dates. Steve Earle’s Guitar Town turns 30, the celebration marked by with a re-issue that includes previously unreleased concert catches of the tunes from the album and beyond. Country music had a longtime crush on rock’n’roll, keeping mixed relations between the genres closeted. Steve Earle kicked down the doors, presenting an equal love for rock’n’roll and Country without bringing any seams. Guitar Town spread Jersey shore sand in the South, from the mountains to the prairies. Steve Earle took the victim from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern Man and gave him a sly Country wisdom that showed a depth in his decisions and a strong back for his rebellion. The original album has become a greatest hits package in the rearview mirror, the tracks leading from their release into the fabric of a culture that learns way more from the music than from those old folks at home.

Steve Earle introduces “My Old Friend the Blues” as the show-and-tell of a particularly morose period. The live addition to the re-issue of a nineteen-song show recorded in Chicago, Illinois at the Park West in 1986, the same release year as Guitar Town. The recording hosts the tracks from Guitar Town, debuting the future with tunes “The Devil’s Right Hand” and vacation diaries with “The Week of Living Dangerously” as well as Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”. When Steve Earle strums the opening to “Someday” the electric crackle is from the sparks of a musician on a meteoric ride that would begin a career. The remastered original uses the title track to once again introduce a character with a big heart that shines with the light of opportunity. “Someday” and “Hillbilly Highway” shine a light down the road, “Good Ol’ Boy Gettin’ Tough” fleshes a man of the south entering as an equal, and “Little Rock’n’Roller” waves to a child at home from the back of a tour bus

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Tim Buckley (from the album Wings: The Complete Singles 1966 – 1974 on Omnivore Recordings)

The voice of a choir boy and the sly smirk of a bad boy. In the Folk era, Tim Buckley put both the angel and devil on his shoulders behind the microphone. Tim Buckley was born on bare stages…coffee houses, basement clubs, and church halls. At the outset, he was a man and a guitar. His studio work added instrumentation, with A-list producers of the era behind the boards as Paul Rothchild, Jerry Yester, and Jac Holtzman. While Albert Grossman infamously brought a higher wage to Folk musicians, particularly his clients (Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary), Tim Buckley paved the way for the 1970’s singer/songwriter rise into the Pop charts by example. Wings: The Complete Singles 1966 – 1974 is a chronological catalog of Top 40 radio releases. Tim Buckley never topped the charts though once the FM dial became an option in the late 1960’s, he was appreciated.

The scent of candle wax and incense accompanies the first singles of Tim Buckley. “Wings”, was his first release, from his self-titled debut. An unbridled excitement in Tim’s voice takes the songs higher and higher as “Aren’t You the Girl” defines Folk Rock. Tim Buckley hit a creative peak with his second and third album release, Goodbye and Hello, Happy Sad). Four singles from Goodbye and Hello showcase music that is stretching beyond the boundaries of Folk music, fronted by a voice that is its own comfort zone. A darkness comes into tracks such as “Morning Glory” and “Once I Was”, as old world troubadours touch “Knight-Errant”. Tim Buckley moved away from Folk music quickly once he entered the studio, foregoing the trappings without ever compromising the connection with the audience. His leaps into musical styles drew fans along with the artistic undertow. In a pre-loop world, the whirling calliope of “Carnival Song” offers a psychedelic turn to the track. Experimentation was the muse for studio time, and the single flow did not pick up again until 1972’s Greeting from LA release, with Wings offering the sexy funk stomp of “Movin’ with Me” with caffeinated guitar riffs behind the wheel for the Taxi tale of “Nighthawkin’”. Tim Buckley released an album a year, sometimes two, during his recording career with Wings offering cuts from his final studio releases, Sefronia and Look at the Fool. Tim covers folk icon Fred Neil (“Everybody’s Talkin at Me”) with “Dophins”, bringing Blues into his last few single, “Honey Man” and “Wanda Lu”. Wings The Complete Singles 1966 – 1974 closes with a full on rush into a Pop marketplace as it blends jazz and rock into gorgeously flowing musical suites with “Who Could Deny You”.

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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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