By Mike Greenblatt
The 11 gems of Nate Schweber’s self-released Gaps debut, produced beautifully by Eric Ambel (Joan Jett) so that the highs stay high yet the lows still resonate, is testament to the strength of the Americana scene in New York City, as it features some of its brightest lights. With the late Kelley Looney on bass from Steve Earle’s band, these songs snap, crackle and pop with veracity. Opening with “Gaps In My Resume” (there’s a reason Nate has made no music for over a decade and it’s all in the song), Gaps goes on to model itself after Earle’s 1997 masterpiece El Corazon on which Looney played (Looney died at 51 in 2019). Nate had Warren Zevon on his mind when he wrote “Lucky Day,” specifically “Model Citizen.” Nate’s song is “about the guy who has to clean up after him,” he says. “Mountain Stream” was inspired, in part, by his love of fly-fishing. “Beautiful Drugs & Hard Women” is a mini-memoir and “Elemental” was inspired by the 1992 Keith Richards solo album, Main Offender. Nate’s vocals (soulful/eccentric), guitar and harmonica are laid within a gorgeous-yet-rockin’ bed of mandolin, banjo, organ, clavinet and lap steel atop an organic guitar/bass/drum foundation giving everyone enough room to move.
Swing For The Fences (Pine Castle Recording Company), by Phil Leadbetter & The All Stars of Bluegrass, is some real state-of-the-art jam-band ‘grass filled with great performances, sprightly pickin’ and those high-lonesome three-part harmonies. 2020 International Bluegrass Music Association multiple winner Alen Bibey is on hand (mandolin/vocals) as well as guitarist/vocalist Robert Hale, banjoist Jason Burleson and the late bassist Steve Gulley (bass/vocals), in support of Leadbetter who positively shines on Resonator Guitar. The highlight has to be Gulley’s heartbreaking “Yesterday’s Gone.” Gulley, who died at 57 last year from pancreatic cancer, was a Grand Ole Opry mainstay, having appeared on that iconic stage over 90 times. “I Wanna Go Back” features its author, Steve Wariner, a surprise guest whose unpredictability of genre has always been an absolute delight. No less than four of these tracks have already charted.
Owari (MoonJune Music) by Stick Men Featuring Gary Husband is state-of-the-art prog. Satisfying. Mysterious. Complex. Quixotic yet romantically extravagant. Strange. Meandering. Satisfyingly endearing, it’s with former King Crimson masterminds Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto. Levin plays the rather unique ax known as an electric 10-stringed Chapman Stick. No need for a bassist with this Stick as it has the capabilities for bass, chords, stirring solos and textures comprising polyphonic synthesized triggers. Mastelotto pounds the drums, plays a myriad of percussive toys and has mastered the futuristic sound of the electronic drum kit. Put these two progressive maestros in the same band as genius touch-guitarist/composer/producer Markus Reuter who gets his sounds direct from his fretboard by simply tapping the frets. This engaging trio has been plying their craft for over a decade. Now add keyboardist Gary Husband for the first time who has spiced up the sounds of no less than Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin and Jack Bruce.
This quartet was supposed to tour the Far East when the virus struck. Owari means “the end” in Japanese. Could’ve been, sure, but, as it stands, it’s more of a new start as a quartet. They only got to play one gig. This one-show-only tour with a bare minimum of rehearsal shows the collective strength of Stick Men like never before. Highlights include an incendiary cover of King Crimson’s 1973 “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part #2” but they’re hardly resting on past laurels. “Prog Noir” is exactly that. “The End Of The Tour” is also the end of the album, sixteen minutes of pure mysticism lit afire. It’s never too early to start a best-of-the-year list. I now have my first 2021 entry.