January Blend Album of the Month

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Mason Jennings – Always Been

Mason Jennings folk/pop musician released his first solo album in 1998.  Since that time the folk/pop musician has come to develop a style of simple melodies driven just by his singing and acoustic guitar and intimate lyrics.  For his latest album, Jennings secluded himself in a remote cabin to write and record demos all winter long.  He emerged with about 30 songs and the basis for Always Been.  He recorded the album with what he calls “dream collaborations” as he enlisted help from Neil Young’s drummer Chard Cromwell and Iris Dement.

With few exceptions, the songs on this album are catchy, acoustic-driven, well-crafted folk/pop tunes.  “Lonely Street” and “Rainboots” are both upbeat gems.  The centerpiece of the album is “Wilderness,” which finds Jennings in a much more introspective mode.  Though these are definitely pop songs the production is very straightforward and so Jennings’ roots-y tendencies as well as his grittier side are occasionally allowed to show.

Always Been is another solid entry in what is becoming (if not already is) a very strong discography for Mason Jennings.  Prolific though he is – putting out an album every year or so – Jennings has proven that he still has some new ideas.  Always Been is an eminently listenable album.  It’s the kind of album that, if you’re not careful, you’ll accidentally listen to twice all the way through without stopping.  At only 38, it will be exciting for us to see what comes next from this talented musician.

-Bentley Holt

June Blend Album Of The Month

Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires Of The City

Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires Of The City

Indie darlings Vampire Weekend hit the ground running on their debut eponymous album in  2007 and took the music world by storm. Since then, they have continued to expand their reach, but as they advance in their careers they are no longer spring chickens. A more mature band emerges on their third album Modern Vampires Of The City.

Their first single, the upbeat “Diane Young”, displays a much more reflective mood. The song title, meant to sound like “dying young”, explores the feeling of being young and how you cannot fear death. Complex rhythms continue to drive their music on tracks like “Unbelievers”, but their simple instrumentation adds a new aspect. For much of “Everlasting Arms” no more than three instruments are used at one time, yet the song still includes a complex element.

Every darling needs to grow up one day. Some never live up to their early success by sticking with their formula. In this case, Vampire Weekend continue to evolve their approach and should look forward to a long existence.

June Blues Album Of The Month

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James Cotton Cotton Mouth Man

James Cotton is not the kind of musician to let a little health problem get in his way. In his case, however, his health issue wasn’t so little. After battling throat cancer throughout the 1990s, Cotton lost the ability to sing. Fortunately for him, he plays the harp just as well as anyone. Having a few friends help him out on his new album Cotton Mouth Man doesn’t hurt either.

Joe Bonamassa shows off his vocal chops on the title track featuring Cotton’s blistering harmonica. “Mississippi Mud” pulls back on the tempo, but Keb Mo’s spirited vocals shine through. Another highlight comes from Ruthie Foster’s powerful take on “Wrapped Around My Heart”. Other guests include Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, and Delbert McClinton.

After decades on the road and trying times, bluesmen like James Cotton continue to play and record music. Why? A passion for the music. Passion that pushes him to keep the blues alive and well.

May Blues Album Of The Month

Joe Bonamassa An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House

Joe Bonamassa An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House

Joe Bonamassa made a name for himself with his driving style of blues guitar and high energy music. So what happens when you take that away? Bonamassa treated an audience to just that in July 2012 and he’s chronicled that performance on his new 2 CD set An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House. Gone are the variety of effects he uses and the thick layers of rock laced blues, instead replaced by the strumming of an acoustic guitar and backing string instruments.

New layers emerge that once went unnoticed. The progression of “Dust Bowl” is so much clearer in this setting. He lets his Americana side loose on “Athens to Athens” with a washboard beat and a fiddle player to boot. The second CD leads off with an exploration of some of the best roots blues songs like Charley Patton’s “High Water Everywhere”, Robert Johnson’s “Stones In My Passway”, and Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full Of Burbon”.

The album takes Bonamassa’s fans a place they haven’t been before. Here, the music comes through a little clearer. You can see how his influences have shaped his songwriting and hear what he builds upon. Above all else, you hear how he keeps an audience’s attention and you feel like you are in the room watching his performance.

May Blend Album Of The Month

Dawes Stories Don't End

Dawes Stories Don’t End

Being a cutting edge band while keeping the music connected to the past is a skill few can accomplish. Up and coming band Dawes has returned with another album that does just that. You could swear they decided to combine the sounds of fellow California acts Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, and Nash to create their new release Stories Don’t End.

Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith shows his songwriting chops on “From A Window Seat”, a catchy, upbeat track about his fear of flying. He gets a little more serious on “Someone Will” as he details the nerve wracking situation of expressing his feelings of love for someone who may not be interested. “From The Right Angle”, another highlight, is all about they way we perceive life.

Stories Don’t End fits Dawes so incredibly well. Goldsmith very well may be this generation’s Dylan or Springsteen with his impeccable ability to put difficult emotions perfectly into song.  Expect Dawes to continue telling stories for a long time to come.

April Blues Album Of The Month

Beth Hart Bang Bang Boom Boom

Beth Hart Bang Bang Boom Boom

Describing an artist’s music is usually best done by comparing their sound to how other artists sound. Sometimes, that is near impossible. Beth Hart does have a little Joss Stone in her and has taken a bit of the blues style from close friend and frequent collaborator Joe Bonamassa, but her music really doesn’t match anyone else. Her latest effort Bang Bang Boom Boom truly runs the gamut of rock, blues, and soul.

She lulls you on the opening track “Baddest Blues” before cranking up the energy to eleven. Her range shines through on “Bang Bang Boom Boom” as her sultry vocals are both smooth yet jarring. She brings the soul and a gospel sound to “Spirit Of God” on a track that will will lift you up. She wraps up with a bonus track as she accompanies Jeff Beck’s scorching guitar on a fantastic cover of “I’d Rather Go Blind”.

Hart has so much raw talent. There’s a reason she keeps resurfacing with other great musicians like Jeff Beck, Bonamassa, and others. As long as she keeps belting out her very unique vocals you should continue to hear her around other rock and blues greats in the future.

April Blend Album Of The Month

Overmountain Men The Next Best Thing

Overmountain Men The Next Best Thing

David Childers’ impact on music in the Charlotte area is unquestioned. Over the past few years he has joined forces with Bob Crawford of Avett Brothers fame, son Robert, long time friend Randy Saxson, Scott Daley, and Geoffrey White in Overmountain Men. Their creative take on traditional folk and Americana continues on their recent release The Next Best Thing.

Childers once again crafts some of the most unique lyrics around and tells a story like no one else. He describes the affects of drug abuse and alcoholism in “Smoke And Mirrors” with references on lying to oneself to create a false truth. On “For The Warmer Lands”, he tells the tale of a man who joined the Tories during the Battle Of Kings Mountain in 1780. He eventually fell during hand to hand combat and says “I must leave you now for the warmer lands”, which is written on a stone on the mountain today and inspired the song’s creation.  Childers and company also prove that Americana isn’t all banjos, fiddles, and mandolins as they rock out on “Grackles”. Then comes the fun and spontaneous “Hard Loving You” with a rollicking piano that will be sure to get your toe tapping.

This collaboration is at the heart of what Childers and Crawford are all about. Although they are at different places in their musical journey, Crawford busy on the road with The Avett Brothers and Childers playing more sparingly these days, hearing them come together is satisfying for any fan of either musicians’ other work.