Saturday, November 16, 2019

Studebaker John & The Hawks Burn Clean on Eternity's Descent

Original blues is a hard thing to come by. The format is dominated by lots of imitators, imitating the great blues legends from the past.  Eternity's Descent is Studebaker John's 18th disc. He's been around for ages, and made some waves on the Blind Pig record label back in the 90's. To explain his career in this article would require another article. For music fans, this record is frustrating. It's hard to find. It's not on Spotify or YouTube, so you have to find it the old fashioned way, you have to buy it!

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There are two bands that come to mind while listening to Studebaker John. Canned Heat and Treat Her Right. You can also feel the spirit of  Peter Green, Hound Dog Taylor and even Jimmy Page. All of that gets poured into a pot of Chicago style goodness with a dash of psychedelic jam band rock. This album is 13 songs deep. The lead track "Same As Mine" is loaded with guitar work that smolders, burns and shreds. The sound is slightly raw, reminiscent of a live-in-studio recording.

John sings somewhere between Kim Wilson (Fab T-Birds) and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Vocally he is perfect for the blues. Studebaker John typically has a harmonica taped to a mic next to his vocal mic. He alternates between slide guitar, harp, and vocals. He does it seamlessly. "Up and Down The Line Again" is a dizzy harmonica workout. The way the harmonica is recorded gives the track a super swampy feel. "Not To Be Like You" has a ringing guitar intro which transcends into a persistent jabbing lead. The guitar playing squeezes all of the dark grungy tones out of each note. "Hold Me Down" begins with a long enjoyable guitar intro, which resurfaces, and is piercing and spontaneous.

John is a relaxed singer with swagger and confidence. He sells these songs with his delivery. Bob Halaj (bass) and Earl Howell (drums) are a fine compliment to Studebaker as he goes off on the harmonica again. "My Life" feels like it's echoing from the corner of a smokey blues bar at midnight. The guitar tone is a wall of psychedelic acid, which competes nicely with the harp solos which compete at the same level as John's guitar. The lyrics for this song provide the perfect story for these instruments.

"Ready To Rock" says fasten your seat belt, this is going to be a wild ride! An 8 minute excursion inside the crazy world of Studebaker John with all of the aforementioned musical ingredients. And the addition of more scorching guitar interludes within the context of an already jamming tune. "I Feel Like Rockin'" is less swamp and more Stones and Chuck Berry. The tones are cleaner, the vocals more straight ahead. A nice change of pace and style. "I Still Won" is a melodic cacophony of nylon strings, electric guitar, harmonica and some potent drumming. The production on this album is very front loaded, meaning the rhythm section is more window dressing than window. It creates a darker feeling even on the brighter tracks.

"Search This Life" is another snarling Keith Richards influenced rocker with more searing leads and another acid soaked harp solo. "Passed and Gone" might be what happens after "When The Levee Breaks". A bit derivative but certainly at the very least a worthy sequel, and without question the most radio friendly song of the bunch. Wait til you hear the harmonica solo! "Rock and Roll Before I Die" strays some from the smoldering blues for something with larger riffs and big drums. Definitely another great song. "Humanity" is a slow straight forward dirge where all the instruments come together to create a perfect soundtrack for a murder mystery or maybe Hallow's Eve.

"Eternity's Descent" is the final track on this deep collection. It's a trippy, jazzy instrumental ending that only underscores the creative mojo of Studebaker John and his high flying Hawks. These songs don't glisten with shiny production or gimmicks. They are down and dirty late night headphone binges. John's musical chops are tied to his experience and influences. This is blues rock that is off the beaten track. It will surprise you with it's depth, flavor and originality. This under appreciated band deserves a hearing. Studebaker John is most certainly a legend and his work here and on much of his older catalog proves it.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Kin Faux Captures The Best In Country, Rock and Roots Music

As I continue to storm the hills of West Texas, I continue to find amazing music that was well off my radar screen. First of all, I want to congratulate the large cottage industry that was born thanks to Nashville becoming the home of sissy boy, auto-tuned, click track country flavored pop. Much like the idea of beer flavored water (i.e. some really watered down light beer), the industry thought we'd all bundle (like the TV add for Verizon) but they miscalculated. Highly trained ears can hear the lifeless robotics and meaningless drivel in the lyrics.

Texas has it's own top 100 chart. And it's loaded up like an overstuffed taco with some amazing unknown musicians. You can add the cleverly named Kin Faux to that growing list. Their latest single, "Teardrops On The Rocks" is a swing dancer with lyrics that steal a page from some of the best country standards.

The band is loose yet polished at the same time. With three singers and a knack for great songwriting, the big Texas sky is the limit. The band has a few other standout tracks that have recently been uploaded to Spotify and your usual platforms. Make Kin Faux part of your music to listen to family.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Van Morrison's Ongoing Legacy Is Hard To Fathom

Van Morrison released his 6th album in just 4 years. It's called Three Chords and The Truth. Morrison is 74 years old. His output is breathtaking and possibly record setting. Attempting to wrap your head around any of it is a futile task. Fans devoted to Van have endured many variations of his bluesy soul. American radio support for Van Morrison more or less amounts to the constant overplaying of "Brown Eyed Girl". There are those walking among us who think Morrison is a one hit wonder. He certainly is a wonder. Even alternative radio formats have ignored the great body of work that spans more than 5 decades.  At 74, Morrison's blustery baritone remains very much the way it's always been. His ability to pen new lyrics and captivating melodies is unrelenting.

The new album's first single, "Dark Night of The Soul" has well over 800,000 views on Vevo as "the official audio" for the track. An amazing feat considering only a few stations on the left of the FM dial are playing the song. Morrison writes like Bob Dylan but with a bit more optimism and humor. The lyrics often challenge our sensibilities. The struggle between light and dark, good and evil. Morrison is obsessed with the war that wages in the shadows. Van Morrison is a purveyor of timeless music. He is not a rock star. He is a far brighter star with an endless reservoir overflowing with fresh musical expressions.

"Fame Will Eat The Soul" is a pointed jab at the beleaguered entertainment world. Guest vocalist Bill Medley is a welcome addition to this soulful septuagenarian duet. Legendary guitarist Jay Berliner adds his signature to each track. Morrison's band is jazzy and soulful which of course is to be expected. The playing is nearly flawless. Examples of this include the delightful mid tempo "In Search of Grace" and the mischievous media take down "Nobody In Charge". "March Winds In February" contains some great interplay between electric and acoustic guitar popping from both channels.

Morrison's consistent vocal delivery is a reassuring force on all 14 of these songs. "Read Between The Lines" could be about bad journalism or a deal gone wrong. Either way it's bolstered by a wonderful keyboard driven jam that flows like sweet honey. "Does Love Conquer All" effervesces a bubbly instrumental bliss. My appreciation for this might have to do with my own inability to hear the sounds that were once common place in the world of audio. Even if you didn't like these songs, the production absolutely glistens.

"Early Days" is a homage to old time rock and roll with Van lamenting the lack of appreciation most of today's generation has for actual music. The tune features some classic piano played to perfection by Stuart Mcillroy and Morrison himself on saxophone. Other very high highlights include the album's percussion driven title track and the lengthy album closer, "Days Gone By". You get the sense that Van Morrison is trying to reassert truth in both the political world and in music. It's a daunting task, attempting to make the universe right. But if there is a musician up to the challenge, it's Van Morrison.

Some might say this is an unexpected work of greatness from a man who is well past his prime. The "truth" is Van has been in his prime for more than 50 years. His prime just seems more prime than ever in a cold digital world with cheap lyrics and even cheaper music. The unassuming troubadour can do this in his sleep. This time he and his band were both wide awake. Give a listen to the truth - it will set you free from the glib monotony of today's music scene.

Van explains the truth in his own matter of fact way. He seems completely unaware of his own music greatness on this album. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Teskey Brothers Are Making Music I Thought Would Never Be Made Again

When I recently discovered the Teskey Brothers, I honestly thought that I had discovered some vintage Stax music that had been kept from the listening public. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A lead vocalist (Josh Teskey) who compares to Otis Redding or Sam Moore. You will end up doing multiple double takes. You will press the back button to hear it again, to make sure you are actually hearing it right. 

The arrangements are a music lovers dream. Clear stereo analog separation. Gentle, sweet guitars echoing from both channels. A bass line that is audible and a true contributor rather than a muddled mess buried beneath compression and effects. It's hard to believe this is happening in 2019. 

And even more odd maybe is that this band hails from Melbourne Australia. The quintessential American music form is being best replicated in a place thousands of miles from Memphis, Detroit or New Orleans. The band has also managed to compose at the level of some of their heroes.

 Their latest album Run Home Slow is chock full of examples of this shiny new gold. Track number one, the organ driven "Let Me Let You Down" is an instant soul classic. All of the aforementioned characteristics are present and accounted for. "Carry You" is next and the sparse arrangement only does more to expose each players precision and dedication. I can almost hear Van Morrison's spirit in these songs. There is a certain weathered quality to it even though these are men likely in their 20's. The more mid-tempo "Man of The Universe" again demonstrates a very mature approach to songwriting and the soulful vocals of Josh Teskey continue to mesmerize. 

"Hold Me" is a mostly acapella song that is augmented by claps, stomps and hollers. There is an element of old south African American Gospel music to it. Not too shabby for some white guys from down under. "Paint My Heart" is a slow, bluesy ballad that eventually builds into something slightly more uptempo with horns and a light cacophony of background vocals, guitars and drums. "Rain" is another torch soul ballad where Josh can steal the show with vocals that just don't make sense in a world of auto tune and computer generated nonsense. 

"So Caught Up" is the song that is receiving airplay on independent blues rock stations around the world on the left end of the radio dial. The keyboard riff is hauntingly memorable as the horns filter in like sunlight. For some, this could be their song of 2019. "San Francisco" starts slow but eventually picks up tempo and along it's way incorporates nearly every form of American music. "Sunshine Baby" adds a dash of vaudevillian soul to the mix. Think of the Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" or The Monkees performing "D.W. Washburn". But as those were more novelty driven, this is a literal take on early Americana. "Sun Come Ease Me In" combines soul with a modern harmony approach and makes for a truly original vibe. The record's final moments capture the band being thoughtful, soulful and introspective on "That Bird". The gentle drum beat falls silent as Josh Teskey does last call. A simply amazing, amazing uber authentic soul record that sits on the right side of music history. It delivers on multiple levels. Clearly if there was a music industry that wasn't now a cartoon here in America, this album would be up for multiple awards in many different categories. And as I said earlier, it's a gift that these musicians have decided to unearth the untouchable era of soul music and stand on some mighty broad shoulders to pay it forward. The Teskey Brothers are as real and talented as it gets.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Revolution Saints Have Picked Up The Journey Torch On "When The Heartache Has Gone"

Journey hasn't recorded a new album in more than 8 years. Their fans have become complacent, yet content with their catalog. But folks who might want some new music have been listening to the Revolution Saints since 2015. In fact, with the voice of Deen Castronovo, Rev Saints have been able to travel in the same lane Journey once did. Except this music rocks a little harder. Doug Aldrich is one of the best underrated guitar players in rock. And with the help of Night Ranger's Jack Blades, this is really a super group that gets better and better which each subsequent release.

Their latest single, could be one of their strongest songs to date. There are keyboards and harmony vocals that elevate the track to sunnier places compared with the band's last effort "Light In The Dark". Granted, Castronovo was exercising some personal demons on the last record, and the music seemed to follow suit. On "When The Heartache Has Gone", the clouds part and melody finds a warmer groove.

Castronovo's voice is the closest thing we have to a young Steve Perry right now. At least when it comes to new, recorded music. If you listen closely, you might hear some similarities to a now vintage Journey song called "Never Walk Away". But overall this new Revolution Saints is a superb, driving slice of melodic rock greatness. Can't wait for the rest of the album.