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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.

Listen and buy the music of Peter Case from the AMAZON or Omnivore Records website

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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.

Listen and buy music from Jonny Fritz on AMAZON or iTunes

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Bruce Springsteen (from the album Nebraska) - Bruce Springsteen has always created music steeped in the Roots of his influences, transferring jukebox, chicken shack and protest march songs into arena rock and roll. In his early years, with albums backed by the E Street Band, Bruce amped up the Jersey shore mix of Rock ‘n Soul and took it to the world….very successfully. Springsteen and the E Street Band have become synonymous with long sets and jams to keep the crowd on their feet. That tag is due to the boys from Asbury Park, certainly, though for the past thirty years Bruce has released work that is neck deep in the Indie world of taking chances with song and sound. In 1982, Bruce Springsteen brought a four track cassette recorder into his bedroom and recorded Nebraska.

The album was a cornerstone for many things; a major star completely ignoring a successful sound and shirking the benefits of state-of-the-art studio gadgetry to funnel the music into a Pop machine. The songs on Nebraska were originally marked to head into the studio with the full band, and they have been performed in concert with the full E Street might backing them. The result of the recording on cassette is not only the sound captured on tape, but the starkness and solitude of the project. Most songs start with guitar or piano backing newly formed words until the pieces fit enough to arrange. Though the songs on Nebraska never get too far from just guitar and voice, occasionally letting a harmonica come in, the tunes never seem like demos. These songs are fully formed, recorded in a perfect form.

The absence of polish and puff on the title track raises the chill factor as the story of two homicidal lovers plays out over a film noir soundtrack, giving the story a feel of black and white visuals moving across the screen. The tension build is as much a part of the song as the hooks. “Atlantic City” travels on a coast city bus line to enjoy a night out as it tries to find a way to survive in the city’s renewal. The settings and characters on Nebraska are easily seen against the minimized musical backing. Bruce Springsteen captures everything in each story; the way a young boy grows to become a man without ever losing the feeling he gets when he looks up at the “Mansion on the Hill”, or how he lets Joe Roberts tell about the differences found in one bloodline in “Highway Patrolman”.

The fullness of the songs makes Nebraska an album that is much bigger than the sum of its parts. Springsteen took a chance as an artist, and did so without ever taking to the press mill to fan the flames of opening day sales. For many of the FM radio stations playing Nebraska, if these songs had arrived as folk artists they would never have taken airtime. At a time when he could not do chart wrong, Bruce Springsteen exposed the world to a different way of hearing a song; and did so without the mass public realizing that they had learned something.

“Johnny 99” comes to life with a train whistle wail before launching into a story about the bad taste that no work, alcohol and bad decisions leave in your mouth; “Reason to Believe” could have grown from field work and blues folk story songs and “Open All Night” plugs in its electric guitar to back the story of a factory worker hurtling through a North Jersey late-night turnpike looking for the dawn as he heads home following the radio relay towers.

Bruce Springsteen has continued to take chances with his music. He is a member of the Indie Roots community for not only the honor he gives the past and the ability to expand and grow, but also because of how he released the records as part of his catalog, not isolated pet projects to cash in on nostalgia.        DANNY MCCLOSKEY/RA

Listen and buy the music of Bruce Springsteen from AMAZON or iTunes

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John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (from the album Live in 1967 on Forty Below Records) - Many moments in history are chronicled making the what, where, why and how is perfectly clear. A trajectory is seen between point A and point B. There are, of course, no straight lines in musical history, as the paths wiggle and wander within borders that are constantly getting moved and remixed. John Mayall had long been on the British Blues scene. The Bluesbreakers played The Marquee Club in late 1963, with an early lineup that included John McVie (Fleetwood Mac).

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The Connells (from the album Stone Cold Yesterday, The Best of The Connells)

The Connells carved out a niche for their music in an era when college radio made careers. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, the band formed in 1984, recording albums with late 80’s/early 90’s A-list producers such as Mitch Easter and Lou Giordano. The Bicycle Music Company has gathered tracks for a Best of The Connells collection, Stone Cold Yesterday. The title track was the first hit from The Connells that caught radio ears with their cut, “74-75”, breaking the band internationally, the tune reaching number one status in several European markets. Musically, The Connells’ songs became templates for the emerging Indie Rock scene that made the focus for the tracks in a singer/songwriter styles, bringing the more structured arrangements into a Rock format.

Easy rock is the backing track for The Connells as a slow shuffle lazily wraps around the jangle of “Uninspired” while “Carry My Picture” puts an edge into a Southern sway with sharp guitar notes as “Slackjawed” barrels along with a solid groove, and “Over There” rumbles its rhythm with train track beats, assured percussion and gentle vocals. Stone Cold Yesterday captures cuts from a Carolina band that wrote history for Indie music with their take on Rock. The Connells became an ever-present soundtrack for college radio, supporting studies with intelligent lyrics, adding a touch of Celtic tones to “Scotty’s Lament”, casually stalking love on the hardened beats and sparkly guitar jangle of “Fun and Games”, and bending notes with a slightly Country twang as Stone Cold Yesterday counters claims that ‘she never listens to me a night’, with suggestions on “Get a Gun”.

Listen and buy the music of The Connells from AMAZON or iTunes

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