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Blue Mother Tupelo – Only Sunshine

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Ricky and Micol Davis ~ Blue Mother Tupelo

Blue Mother Tupelo is the dynamic husband and wife musical team of Ricky and Micol Davis. While based out of Nashville, they’ve been making music together for two decades… that’s twenty years… and I had never heard of them! That all changed when I received their latest release – Only Sunshine – in the mail about a month ago. You might ask, “Why don’t you know about them, and what the hell took you so long to tell us about them?” It’s embarrassing to admit, but I can’t lie to you… It’s because I live in the wrong damn part of the country, but thanks to some great friends in Nashville, I get to hear and share great music like this with other like-minded, music-loving people here in Las Vegas. Oh, they’re out here, but they weren’t easy to find… believe me.

I’d have gotten to this review sooner, but Only Sunshine has been stuck in my car’s deck for weeks. I swear, I only popped it in there for a quick five minute trip to get a cup of coffee and a bagel, but this album is hotter and more addictive than the Cup-o-Joe I had in my hand by the time the first track, “Country Fun” finished playing. It’s one of the best opening cuts I’ve heard in a long time. In four minutes, it seems to showcase all this duo have to offer – from Rick’s lustrously gritty guitar work to Micol’s effortlessly fun-filled harmonies. It does what an opening track should do – it hooks you and takes you away. Ahhh… but that was just a taste of their talent.

After “Country Fun” faded out, Ricky counted off the second track, “Meet Me Down River”, the throbbing back beat built up behind him, and his vocals were enveloped by a mocking, ghost-like slide guitar that soon swelled into a feverish solo. That song lit me up. I didn’t stop driving until I heard the entire album… all ten tracks… twice. When I say an album is great driving music, I mean that as a sincere complement. The pacing and energy in each track has to hold you tight, take control, and make you just keep driving on. That’s what happened to me… (And that’s saying a lot considering Las Vegas has some of the most obnoxious drivers in the country. You just don’t want to be around them for that long).

Only Sunshine follows Blue Mother Tupelo’s critically acclaimed 2009 set Heaven And Earth, an album that shook up the hard-to-impress Americana community by debuting right behind Kris Kristofferson at No. 2 on the Euro Americana Chart, and hitting the Top 40 on Americana radio in the States.

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Click to buy “Only Sunshine” on Amazon

Only Sunshine was engineered/recorded by Ricky Davis at the couple’s home studio, JukeTonk Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The album was produced by Ricky and co-produced by Micol. Ricky played most of the instruments on the album except for the horns, fiddle, violins, piano, and keyboards. Micol played the piano, keyboards and hand percussion. Both Ricky and Micol handle all the vocal parts. With the new release, Blue Mother Tupelo remains dedicated to its blend of Southern roots, country soul, and a touch of retro rock. The result is, in the couple’s own words, “Pretty personal…a celebration of life, natural and honest.”

As they explain: “Our focus throughout our musical lives has been to stay true to our souls, first and foremost. Only Sunshine reflects this. We are always trying to create new organic sounds when we are recording in the studio. The main difference between Only Sunshine and our earlier albums is that we co-wrote half of the songs with other writers who we admire. We didn’t set out to write these songs with them for our album, but these songs really fit where we are in our life experience right now, so we included them on our album.”

Check out Blue Mother Tupelo performing live at Hippie Jack’s

 

If a couple can make music together, that is this good… Can you imagine how special their marriage must be? Ricky and Micol also enlisted some of the finest songwriters in Americana and contemporary blues, including Ryan Tyndell, Kim Richey, Will Kimbrough, JP Williams, and Jeff Coplan – to lend their talents and pens to some the tracks. Through their energy-filled, skillfully textured, and love-infused music, Blue Mother Topelo easily takes the listener away to a vibrantly lush place filled with warm breezes, cool rivers, and fun-loving people… and that place is their home. (Man… I’ve got to move to Nashville!)

Blue Mother Tupelo ~ “Livin’ The Good Life”

 

The Davises release their fourth studio album, Only Sunshine, on May 20. So, get it and take a long drive. You’ll treasure every minute of it!

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Craig Bickhardt – The More I Wonder: 12 Scenes From Life, Love & Family

Craig BrickhardtThe subtitle of Craig Bickhardt‘s eagerly anticipated, latest release – The More I Wonder (set to hit the streets on May 6)- is 12 Scenes From Life, Love & Family. That alone attracted me to giving this album a listen because those are some of the most challenging subjects of which to write, share, or sing. I admire those singer/songwriters that have the courage to reach deep into the rawest corners of their souls, and pull personal, and sometimes painful, events of their lives into the light of day for the rest of the world to hear, and Craig Bickhardt is one of the finest. (After reading this article – Click the picture to the left to go to Craig’s website and purchase his music. You won’t be disappointed).

To be honest, the very first thing that caught my eye when I opened this CD… there was a 20 page lyric and photo booklet included with it! In this day and age of impersonal instant downloads and listens, it’s such a pleasure to get to read along while listening to lyrics that come from a place so personal. (Thank you, Nathan Bell).

With lines like – It was always the madness of the drink you were driven to / I guess in the end those were the bars you were singing through… from “Crazy Nightingale” – along with – …Where is the warm place that will keep me from the cold? / Where are my children to give me life when I am old? / A builder of bridges to the beyond, to the unseen / A little I’ve found, but where have I been?… from “There Is No Night” – you can’t help but sense the autobiographical theme of this well done, warmly produced album.

Bickhardt describes his latest unassumingly produced set as being vignettes about life, love and family, particularly his own family’s struggles with his son’s disability. “I’ve always been good at reaching in, that’s what writers do best. But since becoming the father of this very brave kid who has overcome a lot of the challenges he’s faced with cerebral palsy, I’ve learned more about reaching out. This record documents my search for deeper empathy.” The opening track “Giant Steps” was inspired by something his (then younger) son said as they walked together in a mall. The song “It Opens” sums up his quest for personal growth by acknowledging that opportunities for it are often disguised and can be found in improbable places.

Craig Bickhardt – “Giant Steps”

 

While Bickhardt is excited about the new music in and of itself, he’s especially pleased for an extra reason: His daughter, Aislinn, joins him to harmonize on every track. As music aficionados well know, the vocal similarities between blood relations often yields an incomparable effect, something that Bickhardt appreciates heartily. “The sound that’s created is something in the blood, in the DNA,” he explains. “It’s sort of like the resonance of two adjacent strings on the same violin rather than two different violins playing harmony lines. The tone blends in a way that’s appealing and natural.”

Although Bickhardt has perhaps flown under the mainstream, he’s certainly managed to cement an audience for his music- an audience he’s looking to expand with the release of his fifth album, The More I Wonder on May 6. “This is probably the most personal record I’ve made so far,” Bickhardt says, explaining that although other artists have covered his work before, everything on this set is brand-new. “I was always pleased when artists of the caliber of Johnny Cash or Ray Charles or Alison Krauss recorded my songs, but I didn’t write for others, I wrote for me. All comparison to cover versions of my songs is off the table because you’re hearing them sung by me first.”

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Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne

Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson BrowneNo one can capture the pitch and tempo of life’s angst-filled scenes of sorrow and heartache – and put them into song – quite like Jackson Browne, and he’s been doing it with perfection for well over 40 years. A newly-released, talent-packed album – conceived by longtime Browne fan, Keley Warren – pays honor to those 40 plus years of music.

That’s impossible to jam into one disc, so they spread the 23 tracks performed by some of Browne’s peers – an extremely talented collection of long-time friends and young devotees – over an impressive two CD package. I wouldn’t be surprised (but I would be pleased) if there ends up being a Volume II sometime down the road. With as many artists as Browne has influenced and inspired, I can’t imagine why it’s taken so long for such an album to come out, but the good thing is, after listening to Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne, I think you’ll agree… it couldn’t have been handled by a better crew.

I was first turned on to Jackson Browne’s music way back in 1972 when I bought The Eagles’ first album. After seeing Browne’s name listed as the writer for “Take It Easy,” I had to check him out. I’ve loved his music – and especially his lyrics – ever since. Browne’s words always seem to ring clear to me when I’ve needed them the most – at times of loss, frustration or sadness. During the 70s, my losses usually stemmed from the heartbreak of teenage love, and my favorite Jackson Browne album to feel sorry for myself to was Late for the Sky. I’d put it on, call my brother, and tell him all my troubles. By the end of the album, I felt purged and ready to give life another shot. It became a tradition between my brother and me. Whenever one of us hit rough water in a relationship, we’d call each other, share our stories and some Jackson Browne music.

Being of that era, I was very pleased to discover that most of the tracks on this tribute were pulled from Browne’s work from my favorite years – the 70s. Don Henley leads off this collection with a beautifully horn-infused version of one of Browne’s earliest works – “These Days” – that was penned when he was only 16 years old (a fact I’m still amazed by). Originally recorded by Nico in 1967, then released by Browne on his second studio album For Everyman, “These Days” remains a classic example of one of Browne’s more prominent themes – loss and regret.

Instead of prearranging tracks for artists to lay vocals over (as is done in so many tribute and duet albums) the producers of Looking Into You – Warren along with Grammy-winning Tamara Savinano – opted to give the artists and their bands freedom to explore the underlying currents of Browne’s music and lyrics, and see where it took them. This could have been risky, but turned out to be an excellent decision, and the end product proves it. The entire album is very well done with outstanding choices being made by artists and engineers alike. On first listen, some of the tracks may seem to mimic the original recording, (Saying Griffin House sounds a lot like Browne on “Barricades of Heaven” is a huge compliment),  but listen further and you’ll discover some pleasantly refreshing nuances that set them apart. In some fan-created videos below, I’ve spotlighted a couple of tracks (“Running on Empty” and “Late for the Sky”) from this tribute that stand out to as exceptionally unique departures from the originals.

First, here’s a peek behind the scenes as  Bonnie Raitt and David Linley reggae-nate “Everywhere I Go” elevated by Raitt’s distinctive slide guitar work. (And yeah… I just made up the word Reggae-nate).

Bonnie Raitt and David Linley in the Studio – Behind the scenes recording “Everywhere I Go”

 

Bob Schnieder takes a brave step by turning the originally hard-rocking “Running On Empty” into an introspective testimony to how lonely life on the road can become after time. This drastic rearrangement  might turn some off, but I dug it. The simple bed of percussion echoes the vibration of tires rhythmically slapping the seams of “the road rushing under the wheels,” heading steadily into an unknown future, as the landscape of the years gone by fade in the rearview mirror.  Schnieder’s vocal treatment makes apparent a deep-rooted love to live the life that he has made in song, albeit reluctantly veiled with regret of what has been left behind. These sincere qualities were present, but somewhat lost in the faster-paced original version. In blinding contrast, Paul Thorn took on “Doctor My Eyes” as his contribution to this homage, and turned it into a kick-ass, slide-guitar-driven rocker.

Bob Schnieder – “Running On Empty”

 

Joan Osbourne deftly dissects the opening chords of “Late For The Sky” and splays them wide, revealing the jagged, uncomfortable tension of that song’s subject before a word is ever spoken.  The emotion-filled tones can put a lump in your throat by the second bar of the intro. Osbourne’s voice seems to carry a fatigued agony as she sings of the pain that comes with the realization of a dying relationship that can only give way to loneliness –  Looking hard into your eyes / There was nobody I’d ever known / Such an empty surprise to feel so alone.

Along the lines of that same subject – dying relationships – Grammy winning folk singer / songwriter Shawn Colvin gives “Call It A Loan” a soothing apologetic voice to ease the sting.

Lyle Lovett was given the distinct honor of being the only artist to be granted two tracks of space on this collection, apparently because the producers couldn’t decide which track sounded the best. Besides handing in a great rendition of  Browne’s “Our Lady of the Well” – another standout track from his 1973 release For Everyman – Lovett also covered one of my personal favorites – “Rosie” – from Browne’s extremely sucessful 1977 album Running on Empty.

Lovett seems to have a grip on what “Rosie” is all about. He’s a perfect fit. He handles “Rosie” with tenderness and understanding… or should that be the other way around? Okay – enough with the double entendres, but I do have a funny story regarding “Rosie.”

The girlfriend I had back in 1977 (when Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty came out) didn’t get “Rosie.” I got it, my buddies got it, my buddies’ girlfriends got it too. No… my girlfriend thought it was a sweet love song about a guy that remains faithful to his girl back home. (In a way, she was kind of right). Of course, my girlfriend was given a good ribbing over her naivety, and since she felt I was somehow responsible for her embarrassment… I ended up spending a lot of time with “Rosie” myself.

Lyle Lovett – “Rosie”

 

From his Late for the Sky album, Browne’s “Fountain of Sorrow” pulls the listener in with innocent lyrics about a photograph that take a turn, revealing Browne’s insight of the fragility of human emotions – You were turning ’round to see who was behind you / And I took your childish laughter by surprise / And at the moment that my camera happened to find you / There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes – and the stark reality of the in-attainability of true love – But when you see through love’s illusions, there lies the danger / And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool / So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger / While the loneliness seems to spring from your life / Like a fountain from a pool. The Indigo Girls did a beautiful job with this classic.

 Indigo Girls – “Fountain of Sorrow”

 

Those are by no means the only bright spots in this collection. There’s not one hint of weakness in any of these tracks. Every one is stellar in its own way. Jimmy LaFave delivers a moving rendition of “For Everyman.” California-born singer/songwriter Ben Harper is absolutely perfect on “Jamaica Say You Will.” The inherently talented Austin, Texas based Eliza Gilkyson reaches the sky on “Before the Deluge.” Kevin Welch brings a sincerely soothing interpretation of the title track “Looking Into You” while Keb’ Mo’ strives to bring you to your feet with his take on “Rock Me On The Water.” Lucinda Williams brings a previously-absent weariness to “The Pretender.”  Karla Bonoff lends her eloquent talent to “Something Fine.” Marc Cohn (along with Joan As Police Woman) bring a solemn, moving touch of darkness to “Too Many Angels.” Sean and Sarah Watkins of Nickel Creek add their own color to “Your Bright Baby Blues.” Bruce Springsteen and his wife/band mate get all romantic with the mariachi-styled “Linda Poloma.”  Bruce Hornsby steps away from what you may be used to hearing from him, and into a well-fitted Americana sound with his version of the inspirational “I’m Alive.” J.D. Souther appropriately closes the collection with the same tune Jackson Browne closed his 1972 self-titled debut album – “My Opening Farewell.”

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Jackson Browne’s music has always been present when I’ve needed it the most. I’ve recently suffered what I feel is more than my fair share of sadness and loss. I know I’m not the only one, and “life goes on,” but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

During Venice’s flawless rendering of Browne’s timeless “For A Dancer” on this tribute collection, as they delivered the lines – I don’t know what happens when people die / Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try / It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear / That I can’t sing, I can’t help listening – I heard them as I’ve never heard them before. I also gained some hope from this line from “These Days” – I’ll keep on moving / Things are bound to be improving these days.

Whether you’re a longtime Jackson Browne fan or newly discovering his music, you’d be cheating yourself if you don’t pick this collection up. Then share this wonderful tribute with fellow music lovers.

Music heals, and this album came at the perfect time for me, and I know my brother would have loved it.

 

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Todd Snider’s Songline Leads Him Back Where It All Began

The title of Todd Snider’s latest release, Time As We Know It – The Songs Of Jerry Jeff Walker, comes from “David and Me,” a 1999 Jerry Jeff Walker song about two gypsy song-men sharing some wine, reminiscing back on the long road they’ve been down, and just letting the time go by. With a grin they wonder why – They say we all changed / But I feel the same and I know that you are. / They always said we played ’em much too long. / But tell me, what’s a song / Don’t it carry on and make the time go by? / Time as we know it.

Most Todd Snider fans have heard the story about how in 1985 his old buddy, Trogg, took him to the famous Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas where he saw Jerry Jeff Walker for the first time. It was an awakening experience for the nineteen year old Snider – that night he envisioned what he was destined to do. As Snider sometimes tells it at his shows, “We went down to see Jerry Jeff, and he came out, kinda like I am tonight, with just a guitar, and sang some songs, and I thought… Shit, I could do that.” Damn if he didn’t too. Snider started writing songs the very next day and never let up… except to occasionally stalk Jerry Jeff.

In his 1987 book The Songlines, British novelist and travel writer, Bruce Chatwin describes songlines as: …the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known as “Dreaming-tracks” or “Songlines”. Snider’s songline may have begun that night in Gruene Hall.

A few short years later Todd got signed by Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Records. You probably already know this, but just in case you didn’t – In 1971 (about a month after Todd Snider’s fifth birthday) Jerry Jeff Walker led Jimmy Buffett to the promise-land known as Key West, Florida. If he hadn’t done that, there wouldn’t have been a “Margaritaville” let alone a Margaritaville Records. Talk about synchronicity! Seriously though, isn’t it intriguing how their paths have intertwined?

On April 24, Snider will share his love of the original Gonzo Gypsy with the release of Time as We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker. Produced by Don Was (yeah, that Don Was of Bob Dylan, and Rolling Stones fame), the 14-song set was recorded last year in Nashville with the Colorado-based Americana band Great American Taxi and features guest appearances from Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, Elizabeth Cook and Amy LaVere. They recorded 30 additional tracks, so don’t be surprised if another collection is released someday.

The songs on Time as We Know It – which span most of Walker’s career – were done in that Snider stoner-gypsy fashion that has become a proudly-worn hat that his fans love so well. So well! So well! So well! (Sorry, I had to throw that in).

Anytime Todd Snider does a cover song, it’s rebuilt and painted a whole new color, and with this collection the undying impression that Walker made on Snider adds a lustrous final clear coat, giving them a gleam to rival Snider’s own infectious smile. It seems that these songs have personal meaning for Snider – evident by the subtle lyric tweaks here and there. One of the most touching is when he shows gratitude of his wife, Melita, in “Layin’ My Life on the Line.”  Even with that Snider touch, “Mr. Bojangles” still brought tears to my eyes… maybe more so.

Todd Snider’s songline has now brought him to a place of reflection and appreciation. On Time As We Know It he’s not just paying tribute to a man that inspired a 19 year old kid all those years ago; He’s honoring a man who has, over the years, become a dear close friend. A friend who holds mutual respect and admiration for him. A friend that he can share some wine with, reminisce about the old days, and just let the time go by. It doesn’t get much better than that. Maybe someday Todd will write a song called “Jerry Jeff and Me.”

 

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Tyler Fortier – “Dreams Are Like Fire” Video

To say that Tyler Fortier is ambitious would be putting it mildly. The twenty-something Eugene, Oregon based singer-songwriter released three albums in 2011. The first of the three (Fortier’s fifth solo album) …And They Rode Like Wildfire Snaking Through The Hills ‘Neath The Scarlet Sun – a lo-fi collection of 19th century narrative songs about the old west – hit the streets in February, 2011 (and came close to setting a new record for longest album title). He followed that up with the multi-layered, studio-produced Fear of the Unknown in May, 2011. Fear… explores the landscape of a future Armageddon and the tattered hope of  survival. Then in October, 2011, Fortier pulled Bang On Time out of his ever flowing bag of songs. Bang On Time uniquely stands apart from the two previous 2011 releases, but at the same time is freshly reminiscent of his acclaimed 2010 release This Love Is Fleeting.

You’d think that would be enough busy-time for anyone, but not Tyler. In March, 2011 he hit the road and shared his engaging brand of Americana across Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho in every coffee shop, bar, or club that gave him the chance.

In 2012, Fortier is releasing digital singles, each with a visual representation.  His first single, “Dreams Are Like Fire” was released  digitally on March 1st. Woodke Productions did some fine work on Fortier’s first ever music video to go along with it.  Most of the footage was taken from their New Year’s Eve show at the historic WOW Hall in Eugene, Oregon. Check it out below in 720 HD. (Flip the first little silver switch on the player to take it to full screen).

Click here to purchase and download MP3 files of most of Tyler Fortier’s music (including “Dreams Are Like Fire”)

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