By Lee Zimmerman
John McTigue III boasts some enviable credentials. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, he earned a degree in 20th century composition, relocated to Nashville soon after and became a in-demand drummer, backing up such formidable headliners as Carlene Carter, Rodney Crowell, Raul Malo, Emmylou Harris, Corb Lund, Joe Nichols, Kix Brook, Ronnie Dunn, Shelly Wright, Lori Morgan, Lee Ann Womack, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Rodriguez, among the many. He maintains his day job in a band called Brazilbilly, and indeed, it’s that ability to easily shift his stance that’s gained him a reputation as one of the most versatile musicians in Music City. On his new album, tellingly-titled It’s About Time, he takes full advantage of both his verve and versatility, varying the template from blues and hard rock to rockabilly and jazz, while keeping the pacing intact. The music mostly veers towards emphatic instrumentals — all diverse, didactic and flush with drive and dexterity. He taps an impressive supporting cast to assist with his endeavors — guitarist Kenny Vaughn, singer/guitarists Tim Carroll and Greg Garing, and the Tosca Sting Quartet among them — and yet it’s that astonishing musical mix that consistently comes to the fore. Indeed It’s About Time suggests McTigue’s time has come.
Richard X Heyman rightfully deserves the title “King of Power Pop,” given a career that encompasses over 35 years and a series of albums that are unfailingly melodic, majestic and packed with enough hooks to outfit an entire fishing fleet. Heyman’s songs always soar, given an immediate and indelible impression that sizes them up as standards, even from the get-go. Heyman, who’s played alongside such legends as Brian Wilson and Peter Noone, handles the bulk of the instrumentation on his current opus, the aptly-titled Copious Notes, and sets himself up as a literal one-man pop orchestra in the process. So too, while he wrote and produced the entire effort, he does get his usual assist from wife Nancy Heyman on bass and various guests who contribute strings and horns. The result is a magnificent array of spectacular tunes that again affirm the fact that Heyman is an artist who is well deserving of adulation and appreciation. If top 40 radio was still the formidable force it once was, Heyman would dominate the airwaves. As it is, he reminds us that pop music still has the power to regale us all.
Lea McIntosh is a woman of varied talents. Having initially made her mark in the culinary world as a successful marketing and multimedia entrepreneur, she opted to change the course of her career and make music instead. Her new EP, Blood Cash, reflects her mettle as a fiercely determined singer and songwriter who makes an ample effort to deliver some blustery blues. That innate ability that comes courtesy of seven songs that combine frenzy and ferocity. McIntosh enlists an exceptional backing band to aid in her efforts — producer and guitarist Travis Cruse, Myron Dove on bass, drummer Deszon Claiborne and keyboardist Eamonn Flynn — and the result is a decided strut and swagger that ensures her exuberant attitude always remain intact. Clearly, she’s an artist ready to make a mark and anyone who’s unsuspecting up until now will likely be bowled over by her power and proficiency. Consider her a new and emerging force solidly entrenched within today’s rowdier realms.
Jeffrey Dean Foster is a rugged individualist whose music speaks to the soul and comes from the heart. He’s been around for awhile — four decades in fact, and he counts the alt-Americana band Pinetops as among his credits. He’s scored a film, been signed to a major label and reaped all sorts of critical acclaim, but sadly — and surprisingly — has never made it to the mainstream. His new EP, I’m Starting To Bleed, may not change that, but it does reflect the fact that he’s got a knack for crafting emphatic songs with the degree of ample emotion and steadfast tenacity that ought to qualify him for reaping those rewards. It’s a riveting work, and in spite of its brevity, it rings with a rugged resilience that drives the emotions to full flourish. Recorded in lockdown, Foster plays practically all the instruments with production and engineering assistance from Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, among others. So too, with its steady stream of unrepentant rockers, it’s a sturdy reminder of the wealth of reasons why Foster is so deserving of wider recognition.
Although he currently makes his home in the U.S., Edward Rogers is assuredly British, a singer and songwriter who reflects the best elements of Brit pop in his own unique way. His earlier work in the folk/pop duo the Bedsit Poets is but one example. Now, after a steady string of excellent albums, Rogers applies his Anglo attitude to his latest opus, Catch a Cloud, an effort that’s both dense and dreamy by deliberate degrees. The melodies remain as emphatic as ever, but there are decided hints of psychedelia drifting through the dense instrumental arrangements and the supple song craft. Once again, Rogers enlists his regular cast of backing players — co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Don Piper, bassist Sal Maida and drummer Konrad Meissner — as well as some special guests, among them, the Church’s Marty Willson-Piper, Pete Kennedy of the the Kennedys and Bongos and Ian Hunter band veteran James Mastro. Their combined efforts make Catch a Cloud a major milestone in Rogers’ career, a fully realized combination of sound, sentiment and surrealism.
A “Left Coast” indie outfit, I See Hawks in L.A. follows in the tradition of such fabled roots rock pioneers as the Byrd, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Dillards, the Youngbloods, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the other California combos that breached the divide between rock and country in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Led by original founders Rob Waller and Paul Lacques with the additional participation of current mainstays Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs, the band still shows the same dedication to their rustic roots some 20 years on. Naturally then, their new album, On Our Way, becomes a perfect mesh of roots and reverence, sturdiness and sentiment as evolved out of the music made by their forebears. They’ve become an Americana institution in their own right, with fiddles, pedal steel and high harmonies evoking images of high desert plateaus, scenic mountain vistas and dusty rural outposts that occupy those sunbaked environs. This time around, elements of psychedelia and surreal intent are infused in the mix, making the new album their most diverse set yet and indeed, a real revelation as well.