By Lee Zimmerman
A resident of western North Carolina, Steve Robinson can boast an impressive resume. A former leader of the Orlando-based Americana band the Headlights, he served a stint as a backing musician for Byrd man Roger McGuinn, a distinction he well deserved given his knack for breezy harmonies and richly textured repasts. His new album, given the illuminating title Swallowing the Sun, was, by Robinson’s own admission, several years in the making, but the results are clearly worthwhile. The shimmering soundscapes veer towards the sound of pure pop with a genuine Brit rock infusion, courtesy of the sonic flourish provided by co-producer Ed Woltil and the impressive George Harrison-like slide guitar that comes courtesy of XTC's Dave Gregory and the pedal steel playing of his former Headlights bandmate Steve Connelly. There’s a dream-like drift to several of the songs as well as an effervescent sheen that finds each entry absolutely enticing even at the outset. Robinson’s regal melodies offer the essence of a timeless treasure, with each track as absolutely effusive as the next. This Sun shines brightly indeed.
On first encounter, Brian Dolzani seems to take a similar stance to that of Neil Young, thanks in large part to a vocal style that veers from a whisper to a wail. Dolzani, an experienced singer and songwriter with ten albums under his belt, has always been a reliable artist as far as his Americana credo is concerned, and on his latest album, We Are Magic, he again shares his skills through a series of reliable and resonant songs. The title track alone makes for an uplifting anthem while “What Would You Do For Love?” and “What Kind of World Is It?” make the Young comparisons all the more apparent given a driving delivery that underscores each. Still, the most touching tune on the album boils down to “Learn To Love,” a song that bolsters the need to share care and concern with other individuals, even those with whom we may have little in common. Written and recorded entirely on his own during the lockdown, We Are Magic is flush with an uplifting approach and a spiritual-like sensibility, Dolzani plays all the instruments entirely on his own, allowing aptitude and attitude to find equal standing.
Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters’ new album, Live from the Blue Moon, spotlights them in an ideal setting, sharing their freewheeling sound with an audience of admirers and indulging in the upbeat approach that’s characterized their cheery tunes since early on. Part bluegrass, part Americana and wholly down-home, they run through a set of songs made up of originals and a select collection of covers, including a cheery takes on the age-old country country classic “Tiger by the Tail” and Tom Petty’s aptly chosen “American Girl.” Not surprisingly then, there’s wit and whimsy at every turn. The Riveters, Flynn’s all-female band, take their name from Rosie and the Riveters, that group of women who assembled weapons of war in World War II, and indeed, this musical ensemble proves as adept as their forebears in crafting the tools of their trade. One need only listen to songs such as “Shrouded Sun,” “How the West Was Won” and “Deep River Hollow” to get a true sense of their ability and agility. Both upbeat and effusive, these talented ladies bring the house down while elevating the enthusiasm of all in attendance. That effusive feeling comes across throughout and, in turn, offers further cause for sheer celebration.
It may not be apparent in their handle, but Seafoam Green make a sound that’s firmly bound to more terrestrial trappings. Although they’re of Irish origin, the music that’s shared on their last LP Topanga Mansion wasn’t necessarily confined to any particular environs, and in fact, leaned towards Americana. That likely had a lot to do with the fact that Black Crowes’ Rich Robinson played a major part in the waiting and production. With their current effort, Martin’s Garden, they take an even more robust approach, veering from that rootsy template into an area best described as rugged rhythm and blues. There’s clear confidence exuded in each of these offerings, further evidence of the band’s relentless resolve and willingness to bend boundaries in the process. From the down home designs of “Swimming in the Paint” to the forceful thrust of “Whiskey” and the gospel like designs of “Auld Triangle,” Seafoam Green have clearly conquered the roots rock firmament and created an album that captures a tumultuous tempo without losing sight of the organic origins. Credit Seafoam Green with maintaining its dedicated determination.
Riley Downing, a member of the rugged rock band The Deslondes, maintains much the same sort of posture on his aptly-named solo soiree Start It Over. Like the work he procures with his compatriots, he opts for a roots-based regimen, applied with a grit and gravitas that gives equal weight to country, blues and other dusty designs. Downing has a somewhat dour demeanor, and on songs such as “Coleman Rose,” “Hey! Mister” and “Good To See Ya,” his intimidating approach makes a formidable impression. Nevertheless, “Look Forward” offers opportunity for less fervor and more reflection, and on that track, Downing’s caress and compassion take center stage. The same could be said on the title track which finds him espousing his love for acquiring records with as much enthusiasm as ever. (“Saw you in the record store…She was a 45 woman and I’m a 45 man. Dig a little deeper and you’ll understand.”) One can’t help but be swayed by those admirable intents, and indeed, that’s ample reason to appreciate Downing’s deep dig into music and its magic. Indeed, it’s inspiration worth relishing.
Home, EVVAN’s new five song EP, shares songs of hope and compassion, courtesy of its stirring melodies, riveting refrains and an absolutely stoic sentiment. Although it marks the singer-songwriter’s debut, its both comforting and caressing, a series of songs that share the need for compassion, understanding and acceptance among those that are fearlessly asserting their sexual identity. Although certain songs come across as forthright and assertive — the soaring “I’m Not Done Yet,” the demonstrative “Falling Over You” and the searing “Hurricane” in particular — the music never comes across preachy or posturing. Instead, it maintains its emphatic stance and an emotional emphasis that allows each offering to connect with kindness and compassion. EVVAN (the caps are intentional) plays a majority of the instruments and sings with a grace and dignity befitting these individual anthems. It ought to be well worth to watching what EVVAN offers next.