By Lee Zimmerman
Urban troubadour Jesse Malin has always exhibited a certain edge through his efforts but with his newest release, Sunset Kids, he comes closest to defining a decidedly rugged resolve. Producer Lucinda Williams likely urged him on, but there’s also a keen sense of confidence and self assurance at the core of each of these offerings. Malin takes a similar posture to other rock renegades -- Willie Nile, Willy DeVille, Joe Strummer, and Southside Johnny are those that immediately come to mind -- but it’s his superior songwriting that allows him to find his own niche and to solidify his own stance. As a result, his music comes across with both swagger and sensitivity, thanks to his ability to shift the dynamic as needed. Still, beneath his dogged veneer, there’s more than a hint of hopeful optimism, which, combined with his relentless determination, finds him staking higher ground. The songs vie for attention throughout while tugging on the emotions. Emphatic, engaging and flush with resolve, Malin’s new melodies push him towards a higher plateau.
Cherie Currie and Brie Darling are a worthy duo, each of whom possesses a formidable career all their own. Currie, of course, was a founder of the influential girl group The Runaways before pairing up with her identical sister Marie in a short-lived combo. Darling is a world renown drummer and percussionist whose resume includes stints with Ringo Starr, Glen Campbell, Jimmy Buffett, Carole King and literally dozens of others. It’s only natural then that their debut effort, The Motivator, should offer homage to the songs that provided them with their initial inspiration. Consequently, we get their reads on a mostly familiar batch -- “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones, John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth,” The Kinks’ “Do It Again,” The Youngblood’s “Get Together,” the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” etc. To their credit, the women don’t opt for note for note replication, but instead, inject their own musical musings into the mix. Happily though, there’s enough familiarity to keep the connection intact. It’s a curious concoction, but one that’s decidedly strong.
It’s not often that a young newcomer makes such an emphatic impression on initial encounter, but in the case of Dee White, that’s exactly what transpires. White’s first album, the aptly titled Southern Gentleman, defines him as an artist that’s everything the title implies, given a classic southern sound that brings to mind Tony Joe White, the Allman Brothers or the sounds that once emanated from Muscle Shoals, Memphis and Macon. Certain songs -- “Rose of Alabam, “Ol’ Muddy River: and “Road That Goes Both Ways” in particular -- sound like instant classics, fiercely defining that archival ethos. Co-producer Dan Auerbach can claim part of the credit, thanks to the vintage sounding arrangements that surround the songs, but the musicians that make the music -- the cream of Nashville’s studio scene -- such as drummer Kenny Malone, harmonica wiz Mickey Raphael, bass player Dave Roe, and pedal steel player Lloyd Green, among the many -- ensure the fact that music comes across with both originality and authenticity, nuance and nostalgia. Even so, it’s a young Alabama artist that helps inspire that dedication to Dixie.
The only thing worse than a deserving artist being momentarily ignored is a deserving who’s consistently ignored. Singer-songwriter Ad Vanderveen deserves far better than the lack of attention he’s been accorded and even the fact that he hails from distant environs -- Norway to be specific -- doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s decidedly unknown in this corner of the world. Perhaps it’s due to his decidedly mellow and melodic sound; indeed, it seems like the most noticed performers are those that make the most noise. Still, given Vanderveen’s 40-year career, one that extends back to the ‘70s, the blame is likely due to the lack of promotion and the inability of a Stateside label to take add adequate notice. Enough grousing however -- Vanderveen’s current effort, the superb Final Refugee, deserves to elevate his status significantly, and if it doesn’t, then we’re all the worse off as a result. Those that tend to favor the softer musings of John Stewart, Townes Van Zandt, Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young -- note his shout-outs in the song “Tinytown” -- ought to pay particular attention and recognize the talent that’s eluded them up until now. Here’s the bottom line -- Ad is exceptional.
A seminal member of Canada’s Maritime musical fraternity, fiddler Natalie MacMaster has made her ties to the traditional music of those realms -- and the folk fraternity in general -- a major part of her mission. Her enthusiasm is undeniable; to catch her in concert is to witness the energy and dexterity with which she so adroitly demonstrates her craft. MacMaster’s latest album release, Sketches, reaffirms her prowess, courtesy of a dozen instrumental offerings that range from exuberant reels and dances to beautiful ballads, exquisite melodies and a tender cover of the Bonnie Raitt standard “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” The result is an excellent overview of MacMaster’s broadly based talents, one that ought to impress newcomers while further affirming what her fans have long since known -- that MacMaster is not only a master of her craft, but a true pioneer who infuses a living legacy into a sound that’s compatible with contemporary times.
In the press material that accompanies the new album by John Surge and the Haymakers, it states that “If Tom Petty had been raised on Bakersfield classics rather than The Byrds you'd come out with John Surge.” While claims like that are often misconstrued and/or misleading, that is in fact an apt description of Suge’s new album, the aptly dubbed Your Wonderful Life. With an exuberance and enthusiasm that lives up to its title, Surge and company come across as the ultimate roots rock combo, all effusive hooks underscoring an edge and assurance that defines any true purveyor of heartland happenstance. Hooks, harmonies, joy and jangle are imbued in each entry, resulting in a series of songs that ring with the honesty and independence culled from California West Coast tradition. Surge and company are dedicated practitioners of that uniquely American musical experience, and there’s not a single song here that will leave the listener unmoved. What a welcome discovery.