Old Crow Medicine Show (from the album Tennessee Pusher) - It happened only a few years ago, in 2008. Old Crow Medicine Show released what could be considered, using the title as reference, their concept album. The string band version of a rock opera. In the capable fingers of Old Crow Medicine Show, it may not be particularly opera, but it certainly rocks.Tennessee Pusher was album number three for Old Crow Medicine Show. The background scenery was the hills and hollers of the mountains. Loosely based, the stories referenced the yoke that prescription drugs play in leading around people who are just hanging on.  The characters in Tennessee Pusher are familiar and universal.

The drug infestations in the coal towns of Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee are obvious. There is nothing between the people and the problem. Unemployment and subsequent dependence on the system play a big role onTennessee Pusher, the theme weaving throughout the album though not the only topic. The stories range from questioning sides in the Martin Luther King assassination (“Motel in Memphis”), push hot food as a double entendre with a side of BBQ (“Mary’s Kitchen”) and envision the birth of an angel who walks all to briefly by your side (“Caroline”).

Old Crow Medicine Show has always had songs that went a little deeper than the traditional bluegrass songs that fueled the bands’ busking days. Beginning with their debut, O.C.M.S, the band has managed to support the tales with string instrumentation that stuck to tradition in its make-up and raised the bar with the way the instruments interacted, the more rock stance matching the story lines. Tennessee Pusher stuck to songs and characters with Old Crow Medicine Show taking on the role of minstrels. The guys are not a part of these stories, but thepeople and places are real, and their day-to-day lives come to life in the songs on Tennessee Pusher.

Though they are not the only fare on Tennessee Pusher, the tales that stick to the album title and directedscript are powerful and cast their theme across the surface of the recording. “Crazy Eyes” promises that “it will be all right if I can just get high”, “Alabama High Test” laundry lists the life of the man who physically moves the product, and the title track winds like a lazy river through a tale that questions exactly what is being pushed in Tennessee?

Weighing in at 4’9” is the lead character in “The Greatest Hustler of All”. The narrator lets you know he has been around and considers himself street-wise. In the blink of an eye, the hustler becomes the hustled. “Methamphetamine” is the song you carry with you after first listen. It demands attention with fringe-dwelling characters and a big sing-along chorus for speed.

Tennessee Pusher further cemented Old Crow Medicine Show’s place in the world of music, a place that they rightful belong in.

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Elvin Bishop is celebrating fifty years of recording with the release Can’t Even Do Wrong Right, his return to Alligator Records. Elvin’s first studio steps were not meek touches to test the water. He was a member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, one of the three independent bands making a big underground noise in the U.S. during the first days of the British Invasion. In the 1970’s, Elvin Bishop enjoyed solo success with a rootsier rock, scoring a hit with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”. The track featured future Jefferson Starship vocalist Mickey Thomas on vocals. He heads back into the studio with Elvin on Can’t Even Do Wrong Right to pick up the microphone for the bluesy ballad, “Let Your Woman Have Her Way”… a very good match for Mickey’s soulful vocals. Another good friend shows up on the recording with Grammy-winning harmonica man Charlie Musselwhite. The Blues was part of Elvin Bishop’s life at a young age with the music hanging out in local schoolyards luring in unsuspecting children. Elvin was hooked and began collecting music, using a 1959 National Merit Scholarship to get closer to his heroes by enrolling in the University of Chicago, its campus surrounded on three sides by the South Side black community. Elvin recalls that “the first thing I did when I got there was make friends with the guy that worked in the cafeteria. Within fifteen minutes I was in the Blues scene.’

You cannot turn your back on the success that Elvin Bishop has enjoyed over the years. It is Elvin Bishop himself that keeps butts in seats, however, finding a special niche with the average man that walks through many of his songs.  The character is appealing, and has become forever linked with Elvin Bishop the man. He has trademarked wink-and-a nod lyrics that flesh out a guy who tries his hardest; whether he wins or loses is not the point, he gives it his best. Age is in the story line though not as a condition, more a date to be dealt with as you see fit. The common theme with growing older on the album is that it always a surprise when you remember that date or origin. Elvin finger points on the title track, aiming squarely at the lovable loser dude who wins the race only to trip over the finish line, and he shares his secrets to longevity as “Dancin’” with a side of Tex-Mex accordion and guitars.  Another trademark for Elvin Bishop is an intelligent humor that hides itself in his story lines like the pictures in the Highlight magazines found in a dentist’s office.  His smarts show through in the age-proud claim to ‘don’t send me no e-mail, send me a female’ in “Old School”. This is no I-used-to-walk-ten-miles to school whine as Elvin Bishop grabs age by the balls. It sounds like in his seventy-one years that Elvin Bishop never once cleaned up the blues in “Everybody's in the Same Boat”. The riffs are dirty as Elvin speaks/sings truisms about his own life that are shared experiences of all humanity. It is the advice of a man who has never left a stage without smiles stamped in place from his set, and you can believe him when his says that now is the time cause ‘you ain’t never seen a hearse with luggage on the top’

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Magic Sam Blues Band (from the album Black Magic) - Delmark Records has re-issued the second album from Magic Sam Blues Band with their 1968 release, Black Magic. The recording gained Magic Sam entry to the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 for a set that became his breakthrough performance. Magic Sam (Sam Maghett) died tragically of a heart attack at age thirty-two in 1969, about to sign with Stax Records, and Black Magic is his last studio recording. Many claim that Magic Sam was at the front of the pack for modern Chicago Bluesmen, and Black Magic crackles with the energy of Soul and Blues music being refined by a Jazz sophistication and bringing a more rock’n’roll heft and playfulness to stage the songs for the crossover Pop market.

Magic Sam was a Bluesman, claiming “I am a Bluesman, but not the dated Blues – the modern type of Blues. I’m the modern type of bluesman’. The Vintage Blues and Soul sound and recording still is not dated in the Delmark re-issue. The Magic Sam Blues Band swerve into Otis Rush’s “Keep Loving Me, Baby”, Lowell Fulsom’s “It’s All Your Fault”, and Willie Dixon’s “Easy, Baby”. Black Magic conjures up an electric blues that was taking its first breaths for the 1968 recording of the album, demanding an answer as it stomps into “What Have I Done Wrong”, swaggers in on Blue Funk for “Stop! You’re Hurting Me”, and percolates with Surf Soul on “San-Ho-Zay”.

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Chuck Hawthorne   (from the album Silver Line) - A harmonica levels the playing field for “Enemy” as Chuck Hawthorne’s hero talks with a blood-thirsty view of angels warnings and society’s morays while the Silver Line looks for treasure as it crosses the great divide with a promise of ‘I think I’ll give this thing one more try’ in the title track. Silver Line is a storyteller’s album, with the music settling into the song, or supporting its emotions. The album production was handled by Ray Bonneville. Chuck was returning to Austin, TX, sitting in a Chicago airport with his guitar case. He had relocated to Austin after retiring from twenty-one years of service in the U. S. Marine Corps. Another guitarist (Ray Bonneville) was sitting waiting for a flight, and the pair began talking. They exchanged info before the flights boarded, and Ray asked Chuck to send him some songs. Chuck thought it was an airport conversation, and he wouldn’t hear from Ray Bonneville. The next day, Chuck emailed Ray a few songs anyway. Ray sent a reply that would change Chuck’s life and career. It simply read, ‘Let’s meet for coffee and discuss your record.’

Silver Line introduces characters that their creator inhabits in a way that makes it difficult to suss out which are the tales and how much of the history fits the steps of Chuck Hawthorne as a solider and a troubadour. He sinks into desperation slowly, personally killing off the angels in “Bound to Be Bound”, shows re-entry into a life of normalcy, trying to forget the atrocities of war as “Welding Son of a Gun”, and sadly spins tales of the “Rough Luck” that checks in the Heartwreck Inn. Chuck Hawthorne tells tales by filling in every detail of back story and scenes set to stages. The pain of the solider that traces back to his time at “Post 2 Gate” is nearly physical as he leaves war yet has trouble with the war leaving him while “The Gospel Hammer” joins the corporate workforce. As Chuck Hawthorne uses a rusty beat to back his guitar Folk picking, he follows a trail of smoke from addiction climbing higher, fanned by wings with “Dragon Flies”.

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Marshall Chapman (from the album Blaze of Glory) - Marshall Chapman can form words into life and on Blaze of Glory, she puts a lot of flesh to the skeletons that she has been unable to hide. “Waiting for the Music” is the best Behind-the-Music to date.The song peels back the curtain and gives the real back story on the other side of the music that singer/songwriters deliver. Marshall lets us in. She is the tour guide and the hands holding the pen and guitar sitting in the operating theatre.

Blaze of Glory opens with a riff that Marshall snagged from back when she was studying Willie and his Hand Jive dance moves. The track, “Love in the Wind”, puts Todd Snider and Marshall Chapman microphone to microphone. The words of both narrators make the song less a duet and more debate about the whys and wherefores of who is doing what to whom. The bass guitar leads the way into “Let’s Make Waves”. The track is Pure Pop in the vein of Nick Lowe but you get the feeling that Marshall is not interested in getting wet from either ocean….really, how much surfing goes on in the Cumberland River? Jazz and rock’n’roll meet on the persistent riff that walks through “Blues Stay Away From Me” and notes drop like rain on the roof in “Call the ‘Lamas” as Marshall informs anyone within hearing range that she DOES NOT read those trashy rags at the checkout stand.

Marshall Chapman has put together an album of sounds and sights in Blaze of Glory. It is a full album of listening pleasure, and should be heard that way. Listening to Blaze of Glory as singles does a great disservice to Marshall Chapman.

Life lessons via personal experiences are parceled out in Blaze of Glory; “Nearness of You” (“It’s not the pale moon that excites, that thrills and delights me”) makes you want to be the special someone on the receiving end of her words as does “I Don’t Want Nobody”, (“anybody standing in my kitchen is standing in my way”). Yep, Marshall is a love machine. Where Blaze of Glory takes a stand is for the legion of her peeps 40/50 and older that Marshall tags in her music.

Marshall Chapman outs herself and takes a stand. Sure, sixty is the new forty, but sixty still feels like sixty while you are brushing your teeth and at least halfway through your first coffee. Marshall Chapman closes out Blaze of Glory with two tracks that will inspire the more mature listener. “Not Afraid to Die” is less a look-at-what-I-have-accomplished and more a how-did-I live through-that moment. Marshall believes whole-heartedly in life, but if breathing takes an exit, she is ready. The title track captures words that we have heard in our head, no matter what your age. “Blaze of Glory” (the song) points out that with simple honesty that she “never intended to make it this far, never had a fall back plan”,

Marshall Chapman has delivered a career defining album that speaks to the spot she stands on her musical path, and her life. Marshall saw Elvis Presley perform in 1956. In 2013 she can still sell exactly how that felt.

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