• Artist: The Be Good Tanyas
  • Title: Blue Horse
  • Released: 2000
  • Format: CD, Digital Download
  • Genre: Americana/Folk
  • Beverage of Choice: Moonshine

I’ve always been a sucker for layered, nuanced and clear album mixes regardless of musical genre and, in this case, the arrangements and production of traditional and new folk songs is a stellar example. On the first bar of “The Littlest Birds” the attention to detail and pains taken to elevate the somewhat simple music to a great experience is evident.

Hailing from Vancouver, The Be Good Tanyas have a small but expressive catalog, carving out a niche in the generally cluttered and undifferentiated genre. It’s not easy breathing new life into old tunes and it’s even more difficult to come up with something distinctively new but they succeed on both counts admirably. The music is deftly presented with a minimum of fuss or sonic trickery with small touches here and there (a breathy line, electric guitar behind the mix, banjo counterpoint) and, especially for a debut album, the group display a control and surety of vision that belies their experience.

Listen to the intermingled harmonies on a song like “Broken Telephone” with a bright mandolin playing the role of a third voice and then electric guitar solo and you’ll be left wondering and marveling at how uplifting and joyous the song is even with a rather maudlin lyrical content. These thematic elements (counterpoint, harmony and clear, bright production pervade the album, making it an absolute listening pleasure from beginning to end – slap on a pair of good headphones for an optimal experience.

Black is a Color Too

  • Artist: Johnny Cash
  • Title: American Recordings I-VI
  • Released: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2010
  • Format: CD, Digital Download
  • Genre: Americana
  • Beverage of Choice: Knob Creek Rye and Fresh Apple Cider

Between 1994 and 2003, the year he died, The Man in Black enjoyed a late career surge in popularity and creative output due to producer Rick Rubin’s vision, care, and industry smarts, releasing four albums combining Cash’s unmistakable style with contemporary artist’s songwriting. The positive trend continued posthumously between 2004 and 2010 with the release of two additional albums; American V: A Hundred Highways, becoming Cash’s first number one album in 37 years. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Johnny was all washed up but, by 1994 he had certainly mined out the country/folk/traditional vein he had so long been associated with and these (mostly) covers revitalized his prolific talent for storytelling and musical purity. After all, Mr. Cash was 60 when he recorded the first of this set and died at age 71 shortly after the released of the fourth (and, in my opinion, best) album.

The song selections are eclectic but, true to form, Johnny made them his own. Not all of the covers are a spectacular success (“Danny Boy”) but, in general, the level of engagement and musical interpretation is excellent; some standouts to explore are “Thirteen” (Glenn Danzig), “Rusty Cage” (Chris Cornell), “I Won’t Back Down” (Tom Petty, “One” (U2), “The Mercy Seat” (Nick Cage), “Hurt” (Trent Reznor) and “Personal Jesus” (Martin Gore – Depeche Mode). The original, Cash-created, tunes featured on the albums are some of his finest writing in decades (“Like the 309”, “I’m Leaving Now”) and mostly deal with the fact of his imminent departure from this old globe with candor, humor and grace.

Cash also had some great assistance in creating this body of music from artists like Tom Petty, Flea, Lindsey Buckingham, Sheryl Crow, Merle Haggard and Nick Cave. It seems that everyone owes some kind of musical debt to the great man and many were honored and overjoyed to get a chance to work with him even as his days ran out (maybe especially so).

We’ve been left a great legacy of honest, uncompromising and soul-satisfying music by a man whose personal demons drove him to the brink of ruin but whose ultimate faith in God and man is a testament to the resilience of the human heart. Explore all of these albums without necessarily taking them in chronological order, each is rewarding and compelling on it’s own merits. Approached as a holistic body of work the American Recordings are a fitting tribute to a true American musical hero.

Family Values

  • Artist: Chris Stills
  • Title: 100 Year Thing
  • Released: 1998
  • Format: CD
  • Genre: Folk Rock
  • Beverage of Choice: Peet’s Light Roast – French press

30 years after Crosby Stills Nash & Young ushered in the Summer of Love at Woodstock, the son of one of the most acclaimed musicians in the folk rock genre released this album to a collective yawn. The late 90’s was a tough time to be introducing a retro-acoustic set with a folksy/rocky aesthetic; the music-buying youth had already started to move away from CDs to MP3 pirate downloads which would be the format of choice by 2000 with the launch of Napster. For the mainstream, if it wasn’t Madonna, Cher or Celine Dion, you could basically forget about selling any large numbers of expensive CDs. I might be one of only a handful of people who actually paid good money for this CD when it was released. And I am glad I did! Christ Stills took his family legacy and ran with it: writing, arranging, playing and singing these songs with the aplomb and confidence of a 30-year veteran at the ripe old age of 24.

Now , there is a strong sense of déjà vu on some of the tracks, with Chris sounding like Steven a generation earlier, but that’s not a bad thing; Steven Stills is one of my favorite guitarists and I remember seeing him in concert in Lake Tahoe in the late 90’s (for an amazing $10 ticket fee) playing his favorite Gretsch and just generally having a great time under the radar. This album feels like that show; laid back, expertly crafted and fun.

The music is retro but modern-sounding in production values and arrangement. Acoustic guitar dominates but there are a smattering of electric lead breaks, Hammond organ fills and enough strong percussion to satisfy rock fans (check out “God Won’t Make You a Man” and “Lucifer & Jane”) as well as those yearning for those halcyon days of the late 60’s when everything was changing and love was all.

This is a solid album that deserves much more attention that it probably ever received and I still listen to it regularly as a reminder that you don’t have to be famous to be good.

I’ve Been to the Edge

  • Artist: Van Halen
  • Title: Original Studio Albums
  • Released: 1978 – 2012
  • Format: Vinyl, CD, FLAC, Streaming
  • Genre: Hard Rock
  • Beverage of Choice: “Anything you can see through”

2020 has been, so far, an experience that I expect everyone will want to forget. Losing Eddie Van Halen to cancer this past week added another layer of suckiness to this long and frustrating year. Eddie was the genius that lifted Van Halen from just another American rock group to an international phenomenon, spinning hit after hit built on his incredible technique and vision. The band members he has left behind, past and present, all represent solid and even gifted musicianship, but Eddie was the one-in-a-million talent, up there with those guitarists we stand before in awe and wonder. He belongs to a small and growing-smaller circle of musicians that dominate or dominated their specific time and genre: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton to name a few. Even as troubled a soul as he was and his various struggles with relationships and addiction, it was way too early a departure and the world is a poorer place indeed without Eddie.

So, I’m breaking my own rules and ranking the Van Halen albums from worst to best. I’m sure you’ll disagree, especially if you grew up with their early albums like I did. I was fourteen when Van Halen was released and right from the first rising, screaming, bullet train note and explosive riff of “Running With the Devil” it set a new bar for raw guitar sound, creating a standard against which I still judge other guitarists and rock music. So, let me know if you think I got it wrong; after all, music is so subjective to time, place, age and emotion, it would be weird if we all agreed on the list – I did my best to be objective but I guarantee it’s still not perfect!

Van Halen III – The switch from Sammy Hagar to Gary Cherone on vocals added precisely zero to Van Halen’s sound or musical direction. If you listened to the album not knowing about the change in front man, it’s unlikely you’d even hear the difference. The album is over-produced, tired and not worthy of the previous incarnations of the band.

Balance – The last album with Sammy Hagar on vocals reveals a band sick of itself and, with tensions rising between Hagar and Eddie, a lack of cohesiveness and inspiration in the songwriting. Mid-paced rockers more suited to the Eagles than a band with the hard-rock pedigree of Van Halen and not at all fun. Not one song worth listing in even their top 30.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge – Straightforward rock attempting to be as radio-friendly as possible in the 1990’s context couldn’t save this album from the bargain bin. It spawned one hit “Right Now”, ironically piano-led. Forgettable and uninspired , the only song I really like is one of Eddie’s ‘filler’ instrumental guitar interludes (“316“) – at least it’s pretty.

OU812 – Possible VH’s most musically diverse album it suffers from a lack of the joy and sense of humor that make their strongest offerings such fun and so emotionally satisfying. Hagar’s vocals seem strained at times, like he was trying too hard to make a rock statement in an attempt to top Diamond Dave’s silliness with seriousness. “Finish What Ya Started” is a great song (strangely, Hagar sounds more like Roth than anywhere else on the album) and the harmonies and backing vocals sound like the original band.

A Different Kind of Truth – The reincarnation of a post-Hagar (and, sadly post Michael Anthony) Van Halen was, for me, an indication that the creativity, musical chops and songwriting ability of the band had not been entirely lost in the years between 1984 and 2012. Eddie replaced Anthony with son Wolfie on bass, so it’s a family affair with Diamond Dave back in front and sounding a lot like his old self. The album deserves a second listen if you haven’t spent much time with it. The riffs are big, Eddie plays hard and fast and the production is uncluttered and loud – very much like the VH of the 70’s. It’s just a little too relentlessly hard, without the snarky humor and party-band-fun flavor of the first six albums. Only “Stay Frosty” relieves the heaviness to a degree, recalling “Ice Cream Man” on the first album but without the swing and laid-back coolness that Diamond Dave evoked in the early years.

5150 – The first album with Sammy Hagar sounds pretty much like a continuation of the musical direction set by 1984. The only reason this album doesn’t make it into my top six is that old subjective element: Van Halen > Van Hagar. It’s a good 80’s album with some of the band’s most memorable songwriting delivered flawlessly and with minimal production changes from the sound that made the band great in the first place. “Best of Both Worlds” is arguably the peak of the band’s songwriting with Hagar adding his unerring understanding of what makes a tune radio-friendly, especially while driving over 55.

Diver Down – Still a rather strange album what with all the covers, novelty songs and short running time but against-all-odds wonderfully delivered in the light of getting an album to market and make some more of those dollars. It’s also somewhat of a reaction to the previously dark and ‘nasty’ album, Fair Warning, and sounds like a band getting back to the party after a fistfight in the parking lot (with the bloody evidence on their faces – witness “Intruder” , the intro into “(Oh) Pretty Woman“.)

Van Halen II – One of the strongest follow up albums ever in that it sounds pretty much exactly like the first one! The band could have written and recorded the nine original songs at the same time as those on Van Halen and nobody would be the wiser, making this almost as good but not as instantly groundbreaking. Every song is familiar and showcases the bands strengths; humor, cohesiveness, sing-along choruses, huge riffs and, of course, Eddie’s amazing sound and technique.

Women and Children First – simply put, “Take Your Whiskey Home“. It’s everything Van Halen could be in one song.

1984 – Eddie took the 80’s by the throat and shook them hard. Guitars are passé? Take that, pow! The band had been using keyboards as background on their albums for a while and now brought them to the fore (on the opening, title intro track , “Jump” and “I’ll Wait“), incorporating pop hooks into their rock roots to great effect. A landmark album in a decade where music seemed to be more of a political statement than entertainment and the more ‘serious’ you were the more the critics loved you. Van Halen managed to keep the joy alive and produce an album that crossed genres while remaining true to the spirit of the band. David Lee Roth’s last album before handing the reins to Sammy Hagar and probably a wise move on Roth’s part; Van Halen never made better music than this after 1984. “Drop Dead Legs” and “Hot For Teacher” are top ten songs.

Fair Warning – I remember getting the original vinyl as a gift from my Dad. He’d spent a few weeks in the USA on business and walked into a record store somewhere in Texas and asked what was ‘new’. They gave him this album (and Tommy Tutone – 2 of all things – although I guess “867-5309/Jenny” was pretty massive). The first time I played it I thought they might have mislabeled the band somehow, it just didn’t sound at all like the first three records. Complicated riffs, percussion and snarly, pissed-off vocals. Where was the party-band vibe? And then I played it again… and again and… fell in love with the sound of realized songwriting, truly heavy playing and the sound of Van Halen all grown up. “Mean Street” blows down the door and Eddie has never sounded leaner, meaner and more focused, the bridge sounds like that on “Ain’t Talking About Love” (my number one VH song) and it simply rocks hard. “Push Comes to Shove” sounds like the band picking over the bones of past slights and fights to a disco rhythm – appropriate as the beginning of the end was in sight for the band.

Van Halen – The original and best. ‘Nuff said.

25 Reasons to Love Music

If you get a chance, please read my initial post (“Start Here“) for a glimpse into why I decided to write an album review blog in the first place and maybe begin to understand the diversity in my choices for review. I would love to foster and encourage a deep love of music in my grandchildren and hope that these entries will survive me to guide them towards developing a sense for what I believe to be excellent, worthwhile and enduring. Again, your preferences may be entirely at odds with mine but, you know what? – that is just fine. In fact, it’s wonderful, because then I may have an opportunity to introduce you to a band, and album or a song that cracks open that door a little and expands your ability to appreciate the wide , infinite universe that is music.

Here are 25 albums that I will not review on this blog site because they are so intrinsically important to me that I don’t want to even start trying to analyze or squeeze them to reveal their secret hold over me – I will just continue to play them over and over until the day I shuffle off this old earth to my heavenly reward where, I am totally convinced, music will continue to play a huge role in my enjoyment of God, family and life.

  • Artist: Various
  • Title: Rick’s Recommended 25
  • Released: 2020
  • Format: Cassette, Vinyl, CD, FLAC, Streaming
  • Genre: Various
  • Beverage of Choice: Whatever brings a smile to your dial and a skip to your step

In no particular order and no rating/ranking implied (I love them all):

TitleArtistRelease Date
IVLed Zeppelin1971
Physical GraffitiLed Zeppelin1975
A Night at the OperaQueen1975
Moving PicturesRush1981
The WallPink Floyd1979
TuskFleetwood Mac1979
Van HalenVan Halen1978
The Joshua TreeU21987
WildflowersTom Petty1994
Live and DangerousThin Lizzy1978
Stop Making SenseTalking Heads1984
Dire StraitsDire Straits1978
News of the WorldQueen1977
Couldn’t Stand the WeatherStevie Ray Vaughn1984
Stephen StillsStephen Stills1970
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandThe Beatles1967
Sound of SilverLCD Soundsystem2007
In Through the Out DoorLed Zeppelin1979
Heaven and HellBlack Sabbath1980
Use Your Illusion IIGuns N’ Roses1991
Mixed UpThe Cure1990
Wish You Were HerePink Floyd1975

Wow, that was tough! There are at least another 25 albums that could make this list on any given day. I love listening to albums from start to finish but, with the amazing capabilities of Plex, I also love ‘on-the-fly’ playlists, jumping from artist to artist and genre to genre as mood dictates.

This is a hobby/passion that is endlessly fascinating and infinitely rewarding; there is always some new artist, new album/old-album-that-I-never-heard-before to discover and enjoy. Join me on the journey and let music take you to unexpected and exciting places.. whenever you like and wherever you are!

Bring the Rush

  • Artist: Chevelle
  • Title: La Gárgola
  • Released: 2014
  • Format: Digital Download
  • Genre: Hard Rock/Alt Metal
  • Beverage of Choice: Bourbon and Ginger Beer

Despite having to stave off the inevitable comparisons to Tool over the years, Chevelle have managed to remain relevant and consistent with a distinctive energy and songwriting ability that many of their alt metal peers probably envy. This, their seventh album, displays that cohesive vision and expands on their sound with , I dare say it, funk and pop elements that serve to elevate and expand the music and gives La Gárgola a more radio-friendly and crowd-pleasing sound than many other records in this genre.

The songs are all tightly constructed around a punchy rhythm section, syncopated vocals and riffs that are familiar but also creative and fresh to my jaded ears. I find myself returning to this album when I want a energizing jolt of heavy rock to clear my mind. It’s in the same class as many of the other great metal albums I love but also separate, modern and undeniably ‘different’. Something to do with Chevelle’s take on song structure, ambient space in their layering of guitar, bass, distortion and percussion and even the placement of instruments across the stereo space. Songs like “One Ocean” hint at a potential alternative career in pop, sounding eerily similar to U2 circa “Joshua Tree”.

The heavier tracks like “Jawbreaker” and “Under the Knife” are balanced by the melodic and singalong “Take Out the Gunman” (one of the catchiest and likable ‘metal’ tracks ever), the 90’s-sounding “Twinge” and the aforementioned pop-new-wavy”One Ocean”. Chevelle are no one-trick-pony, that’s for sure.

The band has promised a new album in 2020 and I, for one, can’t wait to hear the progress that they will have made, each album building on the previous , expanding their range and creativity. If you haven’t heard any of Chevelle’s music before, start with La Gárgola but do go back and take a listen to ‘Hats off to the Bull‘ and their debut album ‘Point #1‘ to get a sense of their depth and progression since 1999. They will definitely surprise you and maybe, just maybe, extend your musical appreciation and preferences a tiny bit. Let me know what you think?

Yes You Can

  • Artist: Seasick Steve
  • Title: You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
  • Released: 2011
  • Format: Digital Download
  • Genre: Americana/Blues
  • Beverage of Choice: Whisky Sour

Seasick Steve is living proof that age is just a number and talent will find a way. You can read up on his colorful and myth-making life story here but, really, the music is enough.

This album is his fifth release and demonstrates without a doubt that, yes, an old dog can figure out new ways of doing things. The records leading up to this offering are great examples of quintessentially American music with elements of folk, country and blues delivered in a laid-back and low-key style and are well worth checking out. What makes YCTAODNT so refreshing is, paradoxically, the use of studio technology and guest artists like John Paul Jones to produce a set of music that, while still gritty and honest, is also detailed, sonically loaded and emotionally satisfying.

The opener “Treasures” is powered by a hill country sound with simple box guitar, banjo and fiddle that, combined with Steve’s signature growl, is effective in producing a melancholy that only great, authentic country music can induce. The lyrics are part of his mythology of being on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ looking across the divide to the ‘reglar folks’. A beautifully simple song that is instantly engaging in it’s soulful delivery and ambiance.

While nominally a ‘blues’ album, the music is actually blues-based with elements of rock, folk, country and soul thrown into the melting pot, stirred and poured out in globs of slide guitar-driven wonderment. Blowing the roof off with the title track, “Back in the Doghouse“, “Party” and “Don’t Know Why She Love Me but She Do“, the album is mellowed out with ditties, sing-alongs and trad blues songs like “Burnin’ Up“, “Whiskey Ballad” and “It’s a Long, Long Way“.

Have Mercy on the Lonely” is a country-blues stomp, “Underneath a Blue and Cloudless Sky” is a banjo-fueled jig, as simple and delightful as can be and “Days Gone” goes into overdrive, delivering the goods for anyone with an ear for modern electric blues ( Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa and company).

Short and sweet this week; I want you to just jump into the deep end with one and enjoy the album as it unfolds in real time. Have fun and let me know your favorite track in the comments if you get a chance.

Magic Carpet Ride

  • Artist: Paul Weller
  • Title: Wild Wood
  • Released: 1993
  • Format: CD/Digital Download
  • Genre: Brit Rock, Psych Rock, Soul, Folk
  • Beverage of Choice: Watermelon Cucumber Cooler

The most challenging aspect to writing this post was trying to pigeonhole Paul Weller‘s sophomore solo album to a specific genre; I gave up. Wild Wood sounds like it could have/should have been recorded in the 70’s and draws on so many, particularly British, influences that there is something for everyone in the sixteen tracks along the album’s course.

I can’t remember why I picked up this CD back when it was first released; at the time The Jam was popular I simply wasn’t interested; the burgeoning NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) had serious momentum with bands like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Saxon capturing my ears (and share of wallet) and I read Circus Magazine, not NME.

When Weller decided to break up The Jam at the height of their popularity and form The Style Council, I took a quick listen and decided the music was boring and aimed at old people. Ah, the vanity of youth. Whatever the truth, when I heard the opening song on Wild Wood in ’93 I was ready for it, having expanded my musical tastes somewhat to blues, folk, pop (gasp), classical and world artists; in any case this album blew me away with its nuanced arrangements, excellent engineering and sheer musicality.

The opener, “Sunflower“, provides the first clue that this music is ‘different’ to Weller’s previous artistic direction; electric guitar, flute, traditional rock beat and ‘live’ vocals ; layers of fill, yet spacey, melodic and engaging. It’s the little flourishes throughout the album that make this such a great experience for musos and casual listeners alike, a master-class in arrangement and depth. Little ‘pip,pip,pip’ Moog sounds, piano runs (sometimes thrown away at the end of song as if Weller has so many ideas he can simply pull a new one out whenever he likes), psychedelic phase effects, hand-claps – everything working in harmony and balance.

Weller’s vocals are weightier (older?) and intimate, hinting at a homemade setup, especially when it’s just him and guitar as on the folksy “Foot of the Mountain“. Lyrically the album deals with the experience of gaining experience; introspective and personal, exposing some of his anxieties (‘am I still relevant’), egoism (‘yes I am dammit’) and regrets (‘I miss you so’). Instrumentally, Weller is in full control of the production, a virtual one-man-band, playing acoustic and electric guitars, bass, Moog, Mellotron, piano, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, tambourine, strings , blues harp and , most likely, kitchen sink. Whew!

He does have help on the album though with a fairly long list of superb musicians adding professional touches to the songs. Brendan Lynch assisted Weller as producer and also added his prowess with percussion and keyboard elements. “Can You Heal Us(Holy Man)” delivers genuine soul with said musicians creating a Crosby, Stills and Nash vibe; listen to the use of organ swelling under the vocal harmonies and Weller’s voice well-suited to the mid-range folk rock style.

The title track is a crowd-pleasing singalong ; laid back acoustic harmonics, ebb and flow of flute in the background and building to a wonderfully passionate and engaging chorus, Weller’s voice ragged and emotional at the edge. A sophisticated piece of songwriting, it all sounds so simple but listen closely to the stylistic elements and arrangement – absolutely top of the heap.

As I mentioned, Weller seems to have a cornucopia of tunes at his disposal and there are a handful of instrumental interludes for your listening pleasure; motifs, really, bridging songs together and showing off his creativity in a “this one’s on me” kind of statement. Sounding like outtakes from a jam (not Jam) session or rehearsal, nevertheless these elements are interesting and part of the unique fabric of Wild Wood that makes it a great album.

The next few songs draw on trad rock influences like Traffic, The Who, Neil Young, Rod Stewart and Sgt. Pepper -era Beatles (especially on “Has My Fire Really Gone Out?“). Weller’s genius is weaving all these well-known elements into a holistic set of ear-markers that are essentially his; a certain pace/cadence and ebb-and-flow of verse/chorus and instrumental break. His talent as a producer/arranger of a wide variety of musical styles allows him to focus all of it to a sound that is immediately identifiable as ‘Paul Weller’. He has pulled off this magic trick throughout his solo career and I’ve collected all his subsequent releases, enjoying them all but coming back to Wild Wood time and time again to be carried away on the back of the beauty, technical excellence and emotional resonance to be found on this offering.

Weller deserves every allocate, award and dollar he’s received over the course of his lengthy career and, if you give this a listen, I suggest your first spin be on a good stereo system to get the wider effect of the music and then followed up by a headphone session, listening to the arrangements and nuanced layers of craftsmanship on display. Don’t delay, you’ll want to have as many years as possible with this one, I promise!

Rock and Roll Outlaws

  • Artist: Clutch
  • Title: Robot Hive / Exodus
  • Released: 2005
  • Format: CD/Digital Download
  • Genre: Hard Rock/Funk Rock
  • Beverage of Choice: Hard Cider

Clutch have spent their entire almost 30-year career building a loyal fan base without any help from the mainstream music industry and, as such, are still a fairly well-kept secret, even to metal and hard rock lovers. I only turned on to their funky, hard-edged sound in the early 2000’s with the release of the excellent double vinyl album Blast Tyrant. Robot Hive was released the following year with Clutch adding a band member, keyboard wunderkind Mick Schauer, and immediately enlisted me as a lifelong fan in every sense of that overused and overloaded word. It was very sad to learn of Mick’s death in 2019 at the way-too-young age of 46, leaving the band and the world impoverished and mourning the loss of his talent.

Clutch inject both a lyrical and instrumental sense of humor into their work that is catchy, funky, heavy and intelligent all at the same time. Listen to songs like “Gullah“, “Pulaski Skyway” and “10001110101” and you’ll immediately understand. This is music for connoisseurs of alternative, clever and meticulously crafted heavy rock music.

The addition of Schauer’s Hammond and Wurlitzer organ sound to the mix, of course, cemented the deal for me , adding a Deep Purple element to some of the tracks and swinging like crazy on “Gravel Road” and “Small Upsetters“. Bandmates Tim Sult (guitar), Dan Maines (bass), Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) and Neil Fallon (vocals) lay down a solid groove with the guitars mixed way up front next to the vocals on most songs, providing an immediate blast of in-yer-face rock energy. The fact that the music is seriously intricate and layered can sometimes be lost in the rush of tempo and noise. Don’t be fooled, these guys are seriously smart and adept at arrangements that fill the head space with multidimensional (and well-engineered) sound.

Clutch naturally also have a blues-based influence (possibly all the way back to Zeppelin) along with the Sabbath down-groove and straight-ahead rock elements to their music. “Gravel Road” stands out with excellent slide guitar, percussion thunder and heavy, heavy organ vibe in the second half of the song that lifts it from standard blues progression to something Purple or Rainbow would kill to have on one of their albums.

The album concludes with another organ stroll, “Who’s Been Talking” that sounds like a Yardbirds track all grown up. With Fallon’s gruff and powerful vocals mixed a little bit further back, the song sounds like it was produced in the 60’s. Another smart touch demonstrating both the band’s virtuosity and total control of their sound. Clutch know exactly what they’re doing; it’s just a pity that most of the world isn’t paying any attention as they deserve a much wider audience… so spread the word.


  • Artist: The Wood Brothers
  • Title: Kingdom In My Mind
  • Released: 2020
  • Format: Vinyl/Digital Download
  • Genre: Americana
  • Beverage of Choice: Nescafe Clasico Instant Coffee with cream

Now and again Spotify shows its worth as a music discovery tool; despite the seemingly infinite array of derivative and ultimately boring music available through the streaming platform there are pockets of unexplored excellence for the curious music lover. I discovered such a seam of gold recently when the algorithm recommended I listen to a Wood Brothers song based on my playing Justin Townes Earle’s new album The Saint of Lost Causes. The opening song on this new release by the Nashville-based trio sounds like it could have been lifted directly from the sessions for Earles’ well-received offering (recently reviewed here). “Alabaster” is certainly not your grandad’s folk music; progressive, jazzy and bluesy, it hooked me right away and I ended up purchasing the vinyl release within the hour.

And I am so glad I did! The album is immediately accessible but offers up a myriad of nuanced, complex and near-perfect musical moments through the course of its ten tracks and quirky outtro cut “Little Blue (Reprise)“.

The Wood Brothers are comprised of brothers (go figure) Oliver and Chris Wood and Jano Rix (not a brother). Together they swing like no folk trio you ever heard before. Harmonies on “Alabaster” are evocative of a gospel choir and the hip-sway rhythm wonderfully counter-balanced by vibraphone, electric guitar and upright bass. Rix is a versatile force in the group, playing percussion and keyboards that sometimes rock, sometimes swing but are always exactly right for the song. The vocal duties are shared across the songs by the brothers and the aforementioned harmonization is a defining element to their sound. This type of songwriting is a dying art and these guys are at the top of their collective game.

Little Bit Sweet” is a wonderful sing-along track with depth in arrangement and emotional impact, one of my new guilty pleasures. “Jitterbug Love” begins with slide guitar and a blues-based feel that jumps off the vinyl, asserting itself as a great hook on top of the call and response harmonies and guitar work. “Cry Over Nothing” presents a world-weary lyric made palatable by the humorous starting line and flawless delivery; organ and upright bass provide a solid foundation of gospel-tinged southern jam. Rix can play. The song is firmly 70’s but totally relevant to today, timeless and beautifully executed.

Don’t Think About My Death” starts out as eccentric jug music and then rocks out with guitar and lyrically traces itself back to mountain music dealing with love and death and living with both in perfect suspense. In other hands, this could have been a Violent Femmes song. “Little Bit Broken” is jazzy (super bass recording again) with the trio swinging along vocally and a magical electric piano break and then ditto harmonica; at this point in the album you should be fairly convinced that these guys can pretty much play anything, stylistically and technically. What’s missing (if you’re a purist) is banjo – but I’m ok with that as modern retro bands like Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers have used it enough to go round for now.

The One I Love” is the folksiest track on the album with a fiddle, acoustic and shuffle drum arrangement that reminds you that this, after all, a roots-based band. “Little Blue” (you may be catching a little theme going on) sounds like a Harry Connick Jr. tune circa 1994; sharply etched funk rhythm, sleigh bells, vocal counterpoints throughout and a feel-good, head-bobbing outtro. “A Dream’s a Dream” features honky-tonk piano, slide-guitar work par-excellence and a Dylanesque vocal break.

The final full track “Satisfied” provides a fitting conclusion to the album musically and vocally with the band’s full range of instrumental prowess on display and a gospel-tinged delivery that is almost hymn-like. It leaves this old, jaded and almost worn-out listener smiling; transported again by the sheer delight of beautiful music poured into my heart, belief renewed in the power of music to lift the soul, daily fears and anxieties suspended for a magic few moments and I am, truly, satisfied.