By Lee Zimmerman
With Sam Morrow’s latest album, Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down, the native Texan and L.A. transplant explores a sound affectionately referred to in his bio as “rooted in grease, grit, and groove.” This, his fourth effort to date, finds him following a path prominently pursued in recent years by Chris Stapleton in particular — a sound that recalls the classic southern rock approach originally embraced by bands such as the Allman Brothers, Little Feat and Lynyrd Skynyrd in particular. Indeed, Morrow’s music recalls a somewhat rowdy form of Americana, one that draws more on populist appeal than the introspective musings of sensitive singer/songwriter types that generally occupy the genre. As a result, Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down offers a decidedly rough and tumble set of songs, a full reflection of the insistent attitude typified by one song title in particular, “Sit Crooked, Talk Straight.” As a result, anyone with a hankering for authentic roots rock and roll will find Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down a preferred way to go.
A witty and insightful singer/songwriter firmly entrenched in country music version of the wandering troubadour tradition, Sean Harrison comes about his ability naturally. His father, William Harrison, was a renowned novelist while Harrison himself came of age during the turbulence and trauma of the late ‘60s. He references his youthful indiscretion in the song “Gravel and Dirt,” but in reality, every song on his easily engaging new album Halfway from Nashville reflects a certain savvy that’s similar in its stance to the best works of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, artists with whom he shares a similar sensibility. Harrison casts himself in the role of an Everyman — one whose delivery is solid, straight-forward and without any real hint of pretension. Indeed, for all the eloquence and expression conveyed through these nuanced narratives, he still manages to maintain a very personal perspective. His half-sung, half-spoken delivery brings to mind Tom T. Hall’s homespun homilies, and indeed this good old boy has a knack for conveying simple truths with an individual attitude and a seemingly effortless ability.
Stephen Jacques is, by every definition, a genuine pop perfectionist. His talents appear to come naturally, given the fact that every track on his latest album Charmed to Death emits a purity and passion that ensures its grasp from first hearing on. Working alongside multi-instrumentalist and producer Alan Weatherhead (the man behind the boards for The Cardigans, Cracker and Sparklehorse, among others), Jacques achieves what can only be called an effortless endeavor, at least as far as any accessibility factor is concerned. Having labored in a variety of endeavors, including engineering, custom building, acting, and television, it’s no surprise to find him approaching his work from a decidedly grounded perspective. Notably though, these melodies aren’t the result of belabored effort or excess over-indulgence. Instead, they seem to flow naturally, as if they’ve been waiting in the ether forever, ready to be hatched by the an individual capable of releasing them into the world. Charmed To Death is indeed an apt title; there’s simply no doubt that it will win over anyone fortunate enough to find it.
The concerns about COVID have challenged any number of artists to find new ways to express the angst and agony left in its wake, and thankfully Juno Award winner Matt Mays was no different. His latest album, Dog City, boasts a potpourri of different pop styles uniquely shared from a canine perspective. Of course, songs about dogs have always manage to touch our collective hearts — a new Nashville compilation titled Rock and Roll Over shares the same sentiments — but Dog Age is unique in the sense that its catchy and quirky melodies often overshadow the narratives. There’s no end to songs that reflect Mays’ ingenuity and imagination and remarkably enough, he never hits on the same motif twice. The influences of Bowie, Roxy Music and T Rex abound throughout, and he even borrows a Stooges standard in the process. Indeed, it’s a long way from his seminal efforts with the alt-country combo the Guthries with whom he initiated his career. Rather, it shows just how far Mays has progressed as an artist and auteur over the course of his nearly 20 year solo career. Inevitably, Dog Age proves that dog days can be inspiring after all.
“No one really gives a damn,” Johnny Ironsights declares on the title track to Murder Mountain, a stirring set of songs that conveys an unsettling sense of menace and mishap. The combination of reverb, vibrato and gutsy vocals make for a decidedly ominous sound, one conveyed through songs that suggest a kind of goth Americana and outlaw insurgence. Think Steve Earle in league with Nick Cave. Ironsight’s subjects focus on a varied array of lost souls, loners and losers— stories that underscore the darkness and despair suggested throughout. In a sense, the material reflects the malaise that the world has witnessed for the past year or so, but at the same time, there’s a dramatic narrative here that adds to the ultimate allure. That’s especially evident on songs such as “Ghost of Orson Welles,” “Three Nickels for a Pack of Smokies” and “Before the Quake (Summer of ’95),” all nuanced narratives with a decided sense of adventure, intrigue and allure. Indeed, that’s what makes Ironsight’s insights so genuinely intriguing.
It’s appropriate that Jaroso, Darrell Scott’s new live album recorded at a small adobe chuch located in the small town of the same name in south central Colorado along the New Mexico border, should be”Come on in, grab a chair wherever you may.” It’s a worthy welcome for this decidedly intimate affair, recorded in front of a small crowd sans a PA. Nevertheless, there’s a decided sense of engagement present here, as evidenced when the crowd joins in for a hallelujah chorus on the profoundly moving “There’s a Stone Around My Belly,” the album’s initial track. He seduces them again on the tender “Life Is Cheap” and gives them an ample amount of hometown pride with the gentle serenades “(Have You Ever Been Down to) Colorado” and the set closer “Colorado. Scott clearly has the crowd enthralled in-between, proof positive that all it takes is one man with a single guitar (or banjo), a soothing singing voice and a great cache of songs (which, in this case, also includes a cover of Hoyt Axton’s Evangelina”) to entice a crowd. Those reasons alone are ample cause to journey to Jaroso.