Amy Stroup – Helen of Memphis

Recorded partly in LA and partly in her adopted hometown of Nashville, Helen Of Memphis finds Stroup pushing her songwriting into bold new sonic territory, incorporating bright, electronic pop elements into groove and beat-driven tunes that absolutely bubble over with feminine empowerment and confidence – a concept partly inspired by her late grandmother’s love of fashion.

For a decade now, Stroup has been crafting the kind of songs that transport listeners with rich, emotional honesty and vivid storytelling. Her music has been featured in dozens of television shows, including This Is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood, and The Walking Dead, as well major national ad campaigns for brands like Calvin Klein and Lexus. In addition to her critically acclaimed body of solo work, Stroup is also prolific collaborator, teaming up with Andrew Simple to record as Danger Twins (you’ve likely heard their songs in spots for Google, Universal Studios, and New Balance among others) and partnering with Trent Dabbs for Sugar & The Hi-Lows, a playfully retro duo that Rolling Stone said “built a bridge between the rootsy stomp of early Sun Records tunes and the harmonized swoon of old Brill Building pop songs.” The praise was universal and effusive for the Sugar & The Hi-Lows’ two LPs, with USA Today raving that “the only thing better than the bluesy, garage-rock guitars is Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup’s vocal chemistry,” and Marie Claire swooning for “Stroup’s salted-caramel voice.”

Bernie Griffen and the Thin Men – Doors Wide Open

In his sixth decade Bernie Griffen continues to write, perform and produce music seasoned and deepened by the hard-won experience of his years and his musical journeying.

Laura Benitez And The Heartache – With All Its Thorns

Laura Benitez and the Heartache use the three chord tools of country music to tell the simple, unvarnished truth about lovetoo much whiskey, and the call of the road. Their twangy honesty shines through in straightforward arrangements, crystalline harmonies, and spare instrumentation. Beware their catchy hooks and sweet melodies – these stray puppy tunes will follow you home.

Laura Benitez’s new album, “With All Its Thorns,” is an autobiographical collection of loving, open, vulnerable and ultimately heartbreaking songs. With her delicately distinctive voice, Benitez pulls from traditional country music and brings the sound to the present-day.

Mike McCarroll – Mysterious

Mike McCarroll music runs the gamut from outlaw country to southern rock to bluegrass and features world-class guest musicians with Mike’s signature vocals as the glue that pulls it all together.

 

Album Notes
Mike McCarroll is back with his fourth studio album and the best one yet. True to his focus on providing a little something for everyone, this ten-track album titled “Mysterious” runs the gamut from outlaw country, to southern rock to bluegrass. It features many great performances from world-class guest musicians. Mike’s signature vocals are the glue that pulls it all together.
Mysterious was produced and engineered by J. David Leonard, who also produced two previous MM albums “Honky Tonk Dreams” and “Twanglish”. The album was recorded mostly in Atlanta with some tracks recorded in Nashville and Murfreesboro, TN. This time around Mike combines some classic covers along with his original tunes.
The opener “Sweet Kentucky Girl” is an original, upbeat, and amusing pure bluegrass tune written by MM. Recorded mostly on Music Row in Nashville, it features Rhonda Vincent’s lead guitarist Josh Williams on some incredibly fast flat-picking guitar, banjo and mandolin. Todd Parks, bassist for Sam Bush provides excellent upright bass on this fun tune.
The second track, is a cover of an early Travis Tritt song titled “Restless Kind”. This one has a little different take on Travis’ arrangement, moving it more into the southern rock arena and framing it more as a biker tune. This was done deliberately so as not to try and simply copy his version. The song features Tritt’s lead guitarist Wendell Cox who played on the original song, Sara Evans’ fiddle player Bethany Olds Dick and Boz Scaggs drummer David Northrup. The arrangement was changed slightly adding somewhat of a Bo Diddly drum beat in portions of the song along with an organ track reminiscent of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” The song begins and ends with roaring motorcycle sounds giving it a real outlaw feel.
The third tune is a cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”. This is a fun, upbeat country/bluegrass version featuring Wendell Cox on lead guitar, Josh Williams on mandolin. MM has been performing this song at live shows as a crowd sing-a-long for awhile and wanted to include a studio version of it on this record.
Track four is a cover of Candi Staton’s “I Ain’t Easy To Love” and was featured in the movie Muscle Shoals. This song is performed as a duet featuring blues artist Vallery Barbin who provides exceptional and very soulful vocals reminiscent of a combination of Stevie Nicks and Janice Joplin. While the original was very much R&B, this song was moved slightly towards a bluesy southern rock arrangement with fabulous guitar work by Jody Worrell.
The fifth song is a new MM original titled “In The Middle” with a distinct Waylon Jennings kind-of-feel to it. It features Wendell Cox using a B-Bender on his Fender Telecaster, Bethany Olds Dick on fiddle and David Northrup on drums.
Song number six is an upbeat, original rocking country tune titled “Good Thing Goin’ On”. The feel of this tune slightly reminds you of Wild Angels by Martina McBride with blazing pedal steel by the incredible Tommy Dodd, killer rock guitar by producer David Leonard, kicking drums by David Northrup. A little bass synthesizer was added for some extra texture, punch and bottom end. This is a song that you will keep coming back to it over and over.
Number seven is a song of lost love called “Signed, Sealed and Delivered”. The song laments finding a break up letter and the mixed emotions of a sudden, unexpected loss of a trusted significant other. It features a super powerful lead guitar solo by the amazing Jody Worrell that is dripping with raw feeling. The harmony vocals lend an Eagles-type feel to this bluesy country tune.
“Take It On Home” is the eighth track and is a rousing, rocking outlaw country “go away, get lost” song written by MM. Wendell Cox kicks it off with some killer guitar licks and later cranks it out with a combo Sturgill Simpson/Waylon Jennings smoking-hot solo that kicks some serious butt. Tommy Dodd tears it up on pedal steel. This is pure Mike McCarroll country-with-an-attitude music and he clearly enjoys singing it.
Track nine is a slow sweet, original country love song titled “Stay Home With You Tonight” written by Mike. Listeners will enjoy Tommy Dodd’s perfect pedal steel playing and the tight harmony vocals that make this song one you will want to play again and again.
The title cut “Mysterious” is the tenth and final track. This is a special song to Mike. His former lead guitarist, the late Perry Ray Boyce asked him to co-write it shortly before he passed away from brain cancer. Mike finished and recorded the song in memory of him. Perry wanted it to be modeled after an early Atlanta Rhythm Section sound. Steve Stone, lead guitarist for Atlanta Rhythm Section and Wendell Cox put the mojo on this tune bringing it true to form with ARS-style screaming guitars. The song features a late Paul Goddard-style bass solo and a Dean Daughtry-style Wurley by David Leonard. This one is pure southern rock through and through with an outro guitar solo that ARS fans will absolutely love.
The album is in final production and should be released in about a month.
Session musicians include:
Wendell Cox – lead guitarist for Travis Tritt
Josh Williams – lead guitarist for Rhonda Vincent
Steve Stone – lead guitarist for Atlanta Rhythm Section
David Northrup – drummer for Boz Scaggs
Bethany Olds Dick – fiddle player for Sara Evans & Pam Tillis
Todd Parks – bassist for Sam Bush
Tommy Dodd – pedal steel player for numerous top artists
Jody Worrell – former lead guitarist for Atlanta
Vallery Barbin – blues artist and “Second Life” avatar Noma Falta
J. David Leonard – producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist

Heathen Apostles – Bloodgrass Vol. I & II

If there is such a thing in the current fringe roots genre as a supergroup, it would certainly be the Los Angeles-based darkroots and gothic country band Heathen Apostles, whose participating artists include ex-members of Radio Noir (Mather Louth), The Cramps (Chopper Franklin), Kings of Nuthin’ (Thomas Lorioux), and Christian Death (Stevyn Grey) in its ranks. That is one hell of a lineup. 

Born of the voices of past lives and baptized in the dust bowl dirt, the Gothic Americana music of the HEATHEN APOSTLES harkens back to a bygone chapter of American history. Using contrasting influences such as Bauhaus, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and The Pogues with Howlin’ Wolf, Loretta Lynn (the band covers her classic Fist City) and Memphis Minnie, the HEATHEN APOSTLES have created a style of music that at once conjurs both angels and demons, and will enlighten a darkened soul.

Charm City Junction – Duckpin

Baltimore-based acoustic roots quartet Charm City Junction weaves together a tapestry of tones spawned in the rolling hills of Ireland through the hollers of Appalachia. Their sophomore release, Duckpin, showcases the band’s growth since their acclaimed debut album in 2015. They play with an intensity and sensitivity only close friends can have. Since forming in the winter of 2014, the band has rocketed to prominence through their engaging live performances and innovative approach.

Patrick McAvinue, 2017 IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year, takes charge with his virtuosic, powerful and musical approach to the fiddle. Clawhammer banjo wizard Brad Kolodner adds his playful, driving, melodic and groovy Old-Time touch. Sean McComiskey, one of the premier Irish button accordion player in the US, soars through the tunes and fills the gaps with his soulful playing. The versatile bassist Alex Lacquement drives the train, locking everything together with his commanding and tasteful choices.

Charm City Junction embodies the essence of what acoustic roots music is all about, a shared and burning passion for blazing new trails while respecting the tradition. They are torchbearers with a clear message that the future of acoustic music is in good hands.

“Carrying on the torch of interesting, rootsy music.” – SiriusXM

“Baltimore-based roots group Charm City Junction puts a new spin on old-timey music, carrying the torch of fast-picking bluegrass and toe-tapping Celtic music. Featuring fiddle, clawhammer banjo, the button accordion and upright bass, this quartet isn’t afraid to take roots music to new places — but always with an eye on tradition.” – The Washington Post 

Garrick Rawlings – Garrick Rawlings

Americana artist born in Wichita KS, raised in Sturgis, MI, left for Kalamazoo, on to Chicago, SoCal, and now Prescott, AZ. A GR show is best described as Neil Young & Johnny Cash meet the MC5 riding horseback through the desert chasing Woody, Ramblin’ Jack, Townes Van Zandt, Led Zeppelin, Tom Russell, John Prine, Guy Clark and a mariachi band at some obscure and magnificent raging campfire.

Hot Buttered Rum – Lonesome Panoramic

For nearly two decades, Hot Buttered Rum has attracted a truly multi-generational audience across the States with their high energy and fun-loving performances that showcase their stunning instrumental and vocal ingenuity. Hot Buttered Rum is excited to independently release Lonesome Panoramic, their sixth studio album, on July 20, 2018.

“Lonesome Panoramic is the result of different thematic and stylistic threads that Butter has been chasing over the years: driving uptempo stringband tunes, layers of dark lonesome drum grooves, letting things go, and embracing what we have,” says HBR’s Nat Keefe.

The band’s two vocalists and songwriters, guitarist Nat Keefe and multi-instrumentalist Erik Yates (mainly 5-string banjo, also resonator and acoustic guitars), take turns leading each of the 13 well-crafted originals on the album. Rounding out the band, Bryan Horne delivers, in true athletic form, his talents on upright bass along with charismatic fiddler and harmony vocalist Zebulon Bowles and drummer/percussionist/mandolinist James Stafford, providing a warm and solid rhythmic foundation.

Self-produced, Lonesome Panoramic was recorded at Panoramic House Studio in Stinson Beach, CA, along the Panoramic Highway. With majestic views of the western Marin County coastline, it is a landmark destination studio built with recycled materials in the‘60s and renovated and upgraded into a studio in 2013. The studio has been host to several big-name indie bands, including My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, and Thee Oh Sees. Lonesome Panoramic was engineered by Robert Cheek (Band of Horses, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood), mixed by Zebulon Bowles, and mastered by David Little.

Yates says, “Making music on the Panoramic Highway carried a lot with it for me. It’s one of the roads I grew up driving, towards the ocean, the mountain, the woods, and, eventually, back home again. I hope some of these tunes can do the same for the listener.”

Much of Hot Buttered Rum’s music is inspired by the northern California landscape and Lonesome Panoramic conveys a broad range of what Hot Buttered Rum offers. The album kicks off with a pair of buoyant bluegrass tunes, opening with their more traditional lineup of guitar, fiddle, banjo, bass, with Stafford forgoing the drums for mandolin. They change the pace a bit on the third track, “Country Tunes & Love Songs,” adding in drums for this mid-tempo Americana rocker; it is one of a few songs on the album where Yates trades his banjo for the Dobro; another is “Treasure Island Blues.” Peaceful and reflective, “How Short the Song” is performed as a trio with velvety string arrangements, while “When that Lonesome Feeling Comes” is a more lively ragtime boogie gospel.

Rooted in the trajectory of west coast bluegrass, Hot Buttered Rum began in San Francisco in 1999 after Keefe, Yates, and Horne connected through backcountry trip in the High Sierras; they added drums in 2008 and have since progressed into upbeat improvisational mix of song-oriented string music with a groove that interplays between bluegrass, folk, rock, and country. Their years of touring have given the band the chance to work and play with an extensive cross-section of musicians including Phil Lesh, Chris Thile, Kyle Hollingsworth, Brett Dennen, and Robert Earl Keen, to name a few, as well as being named “The Official Bluegrass Band of the San Francisco Giants.”

With Lonesome Panoramic, Hot Buttered Rum wades the full width of the river from the shoals to the deep waters with a passionate, laid back attitude and they are thrilled to share this new album with the world.

Blue Yonder – Rough And Ready Heart

 

Every Tuesday evening since early 2013, Blue Yonder, a trio of nationally-known musicians representing diverse strands of Americana musical traditions, has given people in a small Charleston, WV, venue a soul-cleansing way to connect with themselves and each other.

With the February 2018 release of their new record- ing Rough and Ready Heart, Blue Yonder plans to bring this same experience to new audiences in similarly intimate settings beyond their home state of West Virginia.

Anchored in compelling grooves of classic country, rockabilly, swing and folk music, the band presents original songs about “living, loving and los- ing along life’s backroads and highways” that people from all walks of life can relate to.

“My songs tell stories that anyone who’s been in re- lationships or set out on a road trip can relate to, no matter where they come from,” says John Lilly, Blue Yonder’s national award-winning, and nationally traveled, performing songwriter. “It’s been great to be able to work in my home town with guys who ap- preciate playing mostly original music, and to share that music every week with our regulars, who keep coming back to hear new material.”

Blue Yonder guitarist Robert Shafer, noting the many styles of Lilly’s songwriting, appreciates that “with Blue Yonder I can stretch out more than I can with most bands.” One of few to win the prestigious Win eld Walnut Valley national at-picking contest more than once, Shafer is also known as a “spectacular rockabilly guitarist who also brings swing and bop in uences to his playing” (Washington Post).

Blue Yonder upright bass player and producer Will Carter, best known for founding the global summit of old-time musicians at the annual “Clifftop” festival in WV, reports that for him “an evening with Blue Yonder is like telling tales around a camp re – the stories we tell take me out of my speci c situation and connect me, through shared experiences and emotions, with everyone in the room.”

Recorded at Echo Mountain Recording Studios in Asheville, NC, Rough and Ready Heart introduces listeners to charac- ters dealing with life and death, love and loss, memories and aspirations – with stories set to a pleasing arc of Amer- icana styles ranging from barn-burning rockers to gentle waltzes to mournful ballads to inspirational anthems. The band’s debut recording, Bittersweet Road, features all origi- nal songs and reached #2 on the Freeform American Roots radio chart in late 2013. 

Dawson Hollow – Boy Of My Youth

In their debut LP, the sibling quintet of Dawson Hollow brings together a fun and spirited collection of folk-rock tunes. Drawing inspiration from bands like The Avett Brothers and First Aid Kit, Boy of My Youth showcases the magic of sibling harmony while pulling out every rhythmic trick in the stomp-folk book to create a greatly entertaining record.

It’s difficult to tie Boy of My Youth down to one single subgenre. The songs vary from indie rock to traditional folk, giving the album an eclectically variable feel which in turn keeps listeners on their toes. However, there is still a strong thematic structure that keeps the record moving, especially lyrically. The sibling songwriters emphasize the connection between home and youth, reminiscing the good old days when they paraded through the neighborhoods in “Hills & Roads,” and pleading for people to cherish the moment in “Be Here.”

There is something special that comes from two or more siblings singing together. The harmonies are tighter, and the voices ring with a pure resonance. “BOMY” is a standout track on the record in part because of how enchanting the vocals are, which dip in and out minor chords through a wavy chord progression. Ben Link leads the way, continuing the theme of having to grow up and part ways from a life at home. However, he finds the nostalgic feeling he misses so much in the love he still shares with his family. “You learn to grow/With the time/Don’t know what’s next/Only what’s behind/Love carries on.”


Boy of My Youth can feel a bit derivative at times in the sense that it’s difficult to not compare them to other groups. In fact, there is a direct nod to the Avett Brothers with the song title “Pretty Girl from Missouri,” which closely emulates Avett Bros. songs “Pretty Girl from Chile,” Pretty Girl from San Diego,” and “Pretty Girl from Michigan.” Though, in the context of the album this is more of a respectful nod than it is direct copying. With all of that being said, Boy of My Youth is a strong debut record from an extremely promising band. It’s impossible not to tap your foot or sing along a few times throughout the album. Dawson Hollow is a group to keep your eye on, as they will surely have much more to offer us in the future.

 

Guest Writer: John Wheeler wrote this piece. We think he’s pretty cool.