Craig Kinsey explores myriad of sounds, styles on ‘American Roots and Machines’

Craig Kinsey‘American Roots and Machines’
Craig Kinsey (Splice)
4 stars out of 5

Don’t try to pigeonhole the music of Craig Kinsey. After all, Kinsey once lived as an ascetic monk in the Ozark Mountains and cites influences as varied as Mozart, Charlie Chaplin, AC/DC, Tom Waits, Bill Monroe and Lighting Sam Hopkins. Given all that, what makes you think it would be easy to classify the tunes on “American Roots and Machines”?

craigkinsey1“When I entered (the monastery), I thought I would be there for the rest of my life,” Kinsey says. “Even today, I’m still part of the monastery. Musicianship is a doorway to following the path of to a higher calling. That world and the world of my stage show, to me, are one and the same thing. They both come from the same ecstatic root, deep within the human psyche.”

Kinsey earned his stripes in medicine show-ish outfit Sideshow Tramps but really comes into his own as a solo performer on this 11-track gem. From rollicking opener “Dissatisfied” to 14-minute opus “Gettyburg,” Kinsey impresses at every turn.

Additional standouts include “Puccini’s Drunk Again,” “I’m Not Part of a Scene,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Say, Jesus (A Homeless Man Talks to Jesus)” and “Credits.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Sarah Lou Richards delivers twangy gem in ‘The Woman Behind the Curtain’

Sarah Lou‘The Woman Behind the Curtain’
Sarah Lou Richards (self-released)
3.5 stars out of 5

Americana singer/songwriter Sarah Lou Richards continues her steady ascent up the musical ladder with the release of delightful third album “The Woman Behind the Curtain.” It’s the first time recording with a full band for Richards, whose first-rate vocals have earned her comparisons to the likes of Alison Krauss and Lee Ann Womack.

Sarah Lou CD“My home is filled with my family’s things,” Richards says. “My quilts are my grandma’s. My dishes are my parents’. Everything is really mismatched but it still fits, and that’s how this whole album feels. There’s a variety of tempos, a variety of styles, a variety of lyrics … but overall, every song is still me. It’s a big tapestry of me.”

The 13-track release is consistently strong, with Richards most impressive on “Nothing Left,” “Don’t Break My Heart,” “Home Again,” “Soul to Keep,” “Nod to Neil,” “Fear of Flying” and “Won’t Be Lonesome Long.” Producer Gary Nichols of The Steel Drivers joins Richards on “I Ain’t Easy to Love,” my favorite track. Enjoy, y’all. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Nicholas David builds on career momentum with ‘Make Hope’

Nicholas David‘Make Hope’
Nicholas David (Wake the World)
3 stars out of 5

Nicholas Mrozinski was toiling away for years, trying to catch a break in the music business, when the Minnesota-based singer/songwriter landed a spot on Season 3 of NBC’s “The Voice” in 2012. Performing under the name Nicholas David for Cee Lo Green’s team, he became a fan favorite before ultimately finishing in third place.

Nicholas David CDThe television audience fell in love with David’s soulful vocals and he showcases more of that old-school sound on latest EP “Make Hope.” It’s a ear-pleasing gathering of six tunes that should please the hirsute performer’s fans and possibly generate some new ones along the way.

“When your dreams turn to reality, the journey takes steam and gathers a new momentum,” David says of the new short-player. “It’s a blessed road to walk and live out your dreams but with that comes great responsibility. I feel to the core of my being that’s what ‘Make Hope’ is all about.”

David flirts with greatness on a six-track release that falls just short of essential. Among the standouts here are “Monsters Sleep,” “Lonely,” “Never Give Up” and “Something Big.” Here’s hoping David’s next project is truly special. (Jeffrey Sisk)

It’s a ‘Family’ affair for British folk luminaries the Thompsons

Thompson‘Family’
Thompson (Fantasy)
4 stars out of 5

The Thompsons are the undisputed first family of British folk rock. Richard and Linda Thompson recorded a host of acclaimed albums in the 1970s and ‘80s, while son Teddy Thompson has gone onto a solid career of his own as a solo performer. For latest project “Family,” Teddy recruited his parents, younger sister Kami Thompson, half-brother Jack Thompson and nephew Zak Hobbs to form aptly named collective Thompson.

Thompson CD“My therapist had a field day with it,” Teddy quips. “He said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re trying to get your family back together!’ And that’s exactly right. I’m six years old again, and I’m trying to put my family back together. It was very therapeutic, making the record.”

All of the principals contributed to “Family,” with Teddy, Richard, Linda and Kami penning two new tunes each and Jack and Zak adding one apiece. It makes for an enjoyable gathering of folk tunes from a band with an impeccable pedigree.

The title track gets things off to a strong start, courtesy of Teddy, and Thompson also soar on Kami’s “Careful,” “Linda’s “Bonny Boys,” Jack’s “At the Feet of the Emperor,” Teddy’s “Right” and Richard’s “That’s Enough.” Says Teddy: “I don’t mean to sound cocky or anything, but I just felt like everybody’s really good, and everybody was going to write good songs.” It ain’t bragging when you can back it up. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Gene Clark’s underappreciated gem ‘Two Sides to Every Story’ gets dynamite deluxe reissue

Gene Clark‘Two Sides to Every Story’
Gene Clark (High Moon)
4.5 stars out of 5

A founding member of legendary Los Angeles outfit The Byrds, Gene Clark spent a couple years as primary songwriter and vocalist for the band — penning classics “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Here Without You” and “Eight Miles High” — before pursuing a solo career. While he never enjoyed the commercial success that his music deserved, Clark, who died in 1991 at age 46, is considered one of the funding fathers of country-rock.

Gene Clark CDClark’s seventh solo album, the criminally underappreciated 1977 release “Two Sides to Every Story,” has been out of print for years. Until now, that is. Thanks to the folks at High Moon, the record is getting new life via this expanded reissue. In addition to the original 10-track release, there’s an exclusive download card featuring more than 92 minutes of unreleased bonus tracks that make this an essential addition to the collection of any music lover.

The original album is darn near perfect, with a host of standout cuts that include “Home Run King,” “Lonely Saturday,” “Kansas City Southern,” “Give My Love to Marie,” “Sister Moon,” “Hear the Wind” and “Past Addresses.” The digital bonus disc is the real treasure, however, with a handful of live full-band performances and a never-aired 1974 radio interview. Highly recommended. (Jeffrey Sisk)

September Girls snarl their way through solid new EP ‘Veneer’

September Girls‘Veneer’
September Girls (Kanine)
3.5 stars out of 5

Earlier this year, Irish noise pop quintet September Girls generated some (deserved) buzz with the release of their “Cursing the Sea” full-length debut. The band managed to combine elements of 1960s girl groups, 1970s punk and 1980s pop into an enjoyably rough-around-the-edges sonic stew. The album helped land the Girls gigs at host of festivals throughout 2014, including a well-received stint at The South By Southwest extravaganza.

September Girls CDCaohimhe Derwin, Jessie Ward, Lauren Kerchner, Paula Cullen and Sarah Grimes aren’t letting any grass grow under their feet and look to keep the momentum going with the release of solid EP “Veneer.” This four-track slab represents noticeable growth for September Girls, as the songs are more mature and polished than those on “Cursing the Sea.”

The little track launches the too-short 14-minute EP, and the Girls also impress on “Black Oil” and “Butterflies.” Middling remaining track “Melatonin” is the weak link here, but there’s enough to like about “Veneer” to have me looking forward to whatever these talented ladies come up with next. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Jack Kerowax serve up killer Americana on stellar debut album

Jack Kerowax‘Kerowax’
The Jack Kerowax (St. Cait)
4 stars out of 5

One of my under-the-radar favorite releases of 2014 is the “A Pig Eating Past Love” EP by Texas-based singer/songwriter Johnny Beauford. Well, it just so happens that Beauford also fronts Americana outfit The Jack Kerowax, whose “Kerowax” debut is another winner.

Jack Kerowax CD“Our influences range from classic country to Lou Reed,” Beauford explains. “Lyrically, this record is full of super condensed stories. Most of the stuff I write has some pretty dark undertones, and the music is meant to, in response, have some equally dark overtones. However, there are good times — and despite popular opinion, it is possible to be inspired by joy as easily as depression or anger.”

Joining Beauford in The Jack Kerowax are Chase McMillan (bass), Garrett Padgett (guitars/piano) and Nathan Adamson (drums). While prepping this dynamite debut, the quartet — McMillan has since been replaced by Nash Griggs — honed their skills by playing more than 50 shows over an 18-month period. That chemistry is evident throughout the 10-track, 40-minute release.

The opening tandem of “Fever” and “Moonshine Barber” set the tone, and The Jack Kerowax later score with “Violet,” “Bliss,” lead single “Ten Year War,” “Fancy Cigarette” and “Huck Finn’s Hideout.” The future looks bright for Beauford & Co. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Expanded reissue of ‘Under the Table and Dreaming’ a must for Dave Matthews Band fans

DMB‘Under the Table and Dreaming: Expanded Edition’
Dave Matthews Band (Legacy)
4.5 stars out of 5

It’s hard to believe that two decades have passed since the Dave Matthews Band exploded onto the scene with their major-label debut album “Under the Table and Dreaming.” Their unique mix of rock, pop, jazz, funk and world beats went on to help DMB sell millions of albums and countless more concert tickets, and this 1994 release is what really got the ball rolling for the Virginia-based collective.

DMB CDLegacy pays tribute to the groundbreaking platter with the release of an expanded edition that should appeal to the band’s legion of fans. In addition to the original 12 tracks from “Under the Table and Dreaming,” the reissue contains a trio of previously unreleased studio cuts that make it worth the upgrade.

Classic Dave Matthews Bands like “The Best of What’s Around,” “What Would You Say,” “Satellite” and “Ants Marching” still hold up 20 years later and remain concert staples to this day. Additional keepers include“Typical Situation,” “Lover Lay Down” and “Pay for What You Get.” The unreleased tracks — “Granny” and acoustic versions of “Dancing Nancies” and “The Song That Jane Likes” — are the real finds here and yet another reason to revisit this terrific album. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Reggae legend Bob Marley soars on concert DVD ‘Uprising Live!’

Bob Marley‘Uprising Live!’
Bob Marley (Eagle Rock)
4 stars out of 5

Bob Marley’s body was already riddled with the cancer that would kill him less than a year later when he took to the stage at Dortmund, Germany’s Westfalenhalle on Jun3 13, 1980, in support of his recently released “Uprising” album. The concert was filmed for the acclaimed German television series “Rockpalast” and, thanks to the fine folks at Eagle Rock, is available on DVD for the first times as “Uprising Live!”

Bob Marley DVDThe charismatic Marley was in peak form that night, giving no signs whatsoever of being ill, as he and supporting trio I Threes performed 23 songs over the course of two hours. The concert featured a mix of hit songs (“I Shot the Sheriff,” “Exodus,” “No Woman No Cry,” “Is This Love,” “Redemption Song,” “Get Up Stand Up,” “Jamming”) and lesser-known gems (“Positive Vibration,” “War/No More Trouble,” “Zion Train,” “Coming in From the Cold”).

Despite the best efforts of those involved, the quality of the video on “Uprising Live!” leaves something to be desired, but the music sounds flat-out fantastic. That the film (also available in a DVDV/CD set) chronicles the reggae legend’s final concert makes it all the more poignant and well worth the investment. (Jeffrey Sisk)