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jim-james-eternally-evenJim James
Eternally Even
Produced by Jim James and Blake Mills
ATO/Capitol Records
Release: November 4, 2016
www.JimJames.com

Jim James has cultivated a reputation for being an experimental musician, not pledging allegiance to any one style of sound. It’s constantly evolving to say the least. Not only as the frontman and chief song architect for My Morning Jacket, but as a solo artist, too. On his sophomore solo album, a follow-up to 2013’s Regions of Light & Sound of God, James’ delivers a set of tracks that once again proves he’s still in a state of evolution.

Where Regions of Light & Sound of God was 2013’s melodic, tenor-based, happy trip thru musical serenity, Eternally Even delivers a more rhythmic, synthed-out, acid-jazz sound that’s laced with R&B and soul undertones, and accentuated with James’ unconventional baritone vocs. The payoff is a bit more darker and somber in overall resonance than perhaps anything he’s recorded, even with My Morning Jacket.

As usual with James, these songs are deeply personal, and reflective of his own personal views on life and our reality in the present day. A reality that seems rather glum and bummed out, as “Same Old Lie” spells out with candid reverberation via a swanky chorus. Is he talking about the presidential election? The fear-mongering media? Most likely. Along with a host of other loathsome politically-charged realities.

The instrumental prowess of “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 1” provides a gratifying, mid-album transition into the second half of the album, where Pt. 2 of the same song fuses James’ alto vocals.

The album’s title track triumphantly culminates as the last track, and maintains the album’s avant-garde feel. Eternally Even manifests itself as a progressive experimentation and peek into James’ own unpredictable psyche.

—This review is also published at PerformerMag.com and GonzoToday.com

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FullSizeRenderWhiskey Bent Valley Boys
On The Fly
Produced by Ben Townsend
Questionable Records: Pewee Valley, Kentucky
Released: May, 2016
whiskeybentvalley.tumblr.com

There’s been a bit of a resurgence of popularity, so to speak, in the world of bluegrass music over the last decade or so, in case you haven’t noticed. While the majority of big time present-day bluegrass renegades experiment with ways of incorporating modern sounds into this pioneering art form of string-picking, Pewee Valley, Kentucky’s Whiskey Bent Valley Boys are non-conformists, in that regard. Conjuring up more of a 19th century, rootsy style, these young Kentucky lads entire persona is about inducing a historical feel to both their sound and image. Almost as if they’re trying to emulate an actual Appalachian backwoods porch jam session amongst family members in 1885. Happy, hillbilly, tenor-induced, string mayhem is how I’ll sum it up, with songs about running rabbits, shady groves and drinking up that whiskey. No doubt they live up to their name.

And just like the majority of their fellow Kentucky-born musical brethren, songs about the home state is always hip subject matter to lay down tracks to. Regardless of your style. You’ve got the instrumental jam session of “Kentucky Traveler,” followed up by the reminiscent testament of “Old Kentucky” where they sing of growing up on the banks of the Ohio, amongst other homages sprinkled throughout.

Whiskey Bent Valley Boys once again cement their status in bluegrass, as an authentic old-time, whiskey-sipping, porch-stomping, string-slaying trio of young lads who belt out tunes which remind us of a time that none of us actually have any real memory of.

-This review also published at GonzoToday.com

 

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ky bscBlack Stone Cherry
Kentucky
Barrick Studios: Edmonton, KY
Mascot Label Group
Available: April 1, 2016
BlackStoneCherry.com

“So turn the radio up when your heart breaks down.”

Rock n’ roll. Southern. Hard. Dirty. Grungy. But, sometimes soft. Ballad-esque. That’s who they are. And they’re perfectly comfortable with that. Opting not to experiment that much with their solidified iconic sound, Black Stone Cherry continues to pledge allegiance to their musical roots by returning to the very studio where they first recorded Rock-n-Roll Tape, their first EP in 2003, recorded at Barrick Studios in Glasgow, Kentucky. The same studio they would eventually record their first self-titled major release via Roadrunner Records, now 10 years ago. It’s fair to refer to this album as a “roots” endeavor, right?

Most of the album is a metaphorical product of its time, both for the band personally, and our generation as a whole. They waste no time showing that sentiment on the opener, with “The Way of the Future.” Filing some well-timed complaints about greasy politicians, BSC wales of the semi-dystopian state of our current reality with heavy washed-out guitar riffs and bone-crunching percussion that emulates the frustration we all feel.

A cover of Edwin Starr’s 60’s classic “War” is a doggone epic rendition of the original, and represents the Doo Wop and Soul influence that was bestowed onto the band by way of drummer John Fred Young’s musical familial heritage, father and uncle of grammy award winning Kentucky Headhunters. Nonetheless, the song’s appearance on the album feels like another well-timed political statement they’re making overall. I’m pretty sure I’m hitting the nail on the head with this assertion.

Ok, I gotta wrap this shit up. I’m rambling, but speaking of which, “The Rambler” is probably the most heartfelt and tear-jerking song these boys have ever written, “Cheaper To Drink Alone” is not only true, but a damn good rock-junkie song to drink to, and “Soul Machine” is another guitar-solo-fueled example of their soul influence.

Theoretically, every album released by Black Stone Cherry could’ve been called “Kentucky.”
Why?
Dumb question.
Because that’s what these boys are – in and out, thru and thru. 
Ken-FUCKIN-tucky.
OK?
Just like the crazy BASTARD who scribbled this review.

*Reviewed under extreme duress of Vanilla Stoli and Diet Coke by Jason Ashcraft

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Blackstar_album_coverAlbum Review: Blackstar by David Bowie
Produced by: David Bowie and Tony Visconti
Released: January 8, 2016
Label: ISO Records (Columbia/RCA)

His final composure.
His last recorded album.
His magic show is over, folks.
He knew it.
His band knew it.
His family knew it.
We now all know it.

From the opening note on the title track the vibe is immediately established this album is a mixture of David Bowie’s death opus, and his celebratory last lap in the studio. The final recording from over five decades worth of work. Both his fans and the musically-inspired will celebrate his catalog for many more decades to come.

Bowie’s now among the stars on his own space oddity, except he’s the Blackstar out there, NOT the white star, as he candidly points out midway through the title track. And, yes, the stars will forever now look different today because of it…

Lazarus was the last video he made a song into, recorded only days before he came to pass, and it shows. It’s one artfully spooky song that is just mind-boggling when you realize the song’s message. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s first impression till they’ve heard it, so that’s all I’m gonna say about it for now…

Girl Loves Me, with its layers of funky synth beats leaves you contemplating who cheena is, and where the Fuck did Monday go? Questions unanswered is a typical Bowie song trait, we must remember. 

The entire album is essentially beautifully arranged recorded cries of despair masked equally in joy and sorrow mixed amongst doses of artsy, jazzy, avant-garde synth rock, and beats and melodies that tease all your human emotions. He is one of music’s TRUEST musical composures of our generation by every measurable quality. He was a perfect combination of both God-given and self-developed natural talent any real artist could hope to have within them.

And we now find ourselves, holding in our hands, or programmed into our iTunes/mp3 player, what may be the greatest thing the man ever composed for us.

Thank you, David Bowie, for the weirdness.



**This review also published at GonzoToday.com

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Album-Cover-Quiet-Hollers-2015Album Review: Quiet Hollers
by Quiet Hollers
Produced by: Kevin Ratterman
Independently Released
Available: October 23, 2015
www.QuietHollers.com

Roam the rural Kentuckiana area countryside for long enough, and you’ll eventually stumble upon what us locals call a “Quiet Holler.” It’s a quiet, countryside landscape – a sunken wooded valley of sorts – nestled throughout the rolling hillsides of bluegrass land. A place where one can reflect on only your thoughts, sane or not.

Literally speaking, that is.

Stay with me, now…

Metaphorically speaking, it’s the appropriately-named debut recorded effort by Quiet Hollers, a band based out of Louisville, Kentucky. 

It’s an album that one can easily get lost in or spaced-out to, primarily induced by lead singer Shadwick Wilde’s melancholy, lazy, yet intriguing, drug-addled vocal melodies.

As a band, as the album thoroughly demonstrates, they are a progressively blended Americana-inspired alt-country quintet, with a bluesy presentation of reverbed-out guitar work, violin strings that haunt, and a dab of 90’s inspired post-grunge. Of course, they blend all these key ingredients like bourbon over ginger ale. They’re from Kentucky, dammit!

Quiet Hollers has an undeniable Woodstock’ish vibe that permeates throughout most of the album, and peaks on tracks like the whistled chorus harmonies on “Summer Song,” or the junkie-washed blues ballad “Midwestern.”

In the end, you are left with a paranoid curiosity that’s as addictive as it is downright fucking weird. What did Wilde mean when he sang “if the bastard’s ever come, promise me you’ll take the kids and run…” in “Mont Blanc”?

Run where?

Who are these bastards, and when are they coming?

Best Album Lyric: “Shed a tear for the books I should’a read…”

**This review also published at: GonzoToday.com & PerformerMag.com

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Louder Than Life Festival crowd at East Stage - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Louder Than Life Festival crowd at East Stage – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

The second year of the Louder Than Life festival is now officially in the books and I am officially done with this music scene until, perhaps, next year. The gargantuan-sized metal and rock n’ roll music and gourmet man-food extravaganza still has my fucking ears ringing, my clothes still half covered in mud, and that post-concert hangover feeling that I’ve not had since my 20’s. I don’t know if I am wishing that maybe I had indulged just a little more or a little less, at this point. I can’t decide.

Over 50,000 people in two short days flocked to the festival, like droves of wild animals trying to cram their way onto Noah’s arc. According to festival organizers, over 70% of these metalhead and rock n’ roll bastards came from outside Louisville’s city limits. “Bastards” being a word I totally threw in there myself, not the festival. For clarification. And we all experienced the gamut of what Louisville weather can dish out in 48 hour period. Cold, cloudy and rainy one day, and sunny and hot the next. Welcome to the Ohio Valley, folks.

Saturday, 3 October: Muddy Metal Mayhem

So, like I said, tens of thousands of these metalhead bastards spent most of the day stomping around in the mud, the mosh pits, with booze in-hand, avoiding roving packs of security and police, and generally just humping and living the typical American metalhead dream. Whiskey-bent. Hellbound. Making beasts of themselves for a few short hours. Some screaming obscenities at random passer-byers and some at the bands. Some so self-absorbed into the music that nothing else around them really existed. Everyone seemingly losing their minds to the overly-decibeled carnage of America’s most notorious metal and hard rock acts that FM radio stations, MTV and other mainstream media outlets have spent decades force-feeding their fans with.

Sevendust, one of the lesser-overplayed, and more talented acts on the docket, turned in a short, yet tight set, that included an old-school cut “Denial,” and also the newly released “Not Today” off their latest album Kill The Flaw. Just one question, though, guys: that new album title isn’t a subliminal reference to what you intend to do to a certain newly-reunited metal band from Louisville, is it? Probably not, but had to make a joke out of that. Moving on…

The biggest treat of the day came with Chevelle – who mesmerized with musical precision like only a brother-band could do – and went deep into their catalogue with cuts like “Forfeit” and “The Red.” Of course Chevelle probably couldn’t get off stage without playing “Send The Pain Below,” and so they did. Perfectly so.

Then came veteran metal horror rocker Rob Zombie. With pictures of classic horror movie characters as his stage background along with shitty, negative, certain one-word terms I’m not going to report on, Zombie lambasted his fans with his iconic groove-metal style that only he can pull off the way he does it. Somewhat surprisingly, he opened with a romping and rousing take of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” before blistering through his own set of 20+ year solo and White Zombie cuts. I’d also be remiss to mention that he totally killed it on his take of a James Brown classic, “Get Up (I Feel Like Being) a Sex Machine.”

Sunday, 4 October: More Sun, More Fun and Interviews!

The last thing I needed on Sunday afternoon to nurse a metal-induced, late Saturday night hangover was another several hour onslaught of cookie-monster singer’s bands. Sorry, but that’s what some unmentioned Saturday acts really sound like at times.

Nonetheless, day two brought better weather, sunny skies, warmer temperatures and a more classic rock n’ roll, and overall friendly vibe. The crowd, noticeably tamer, perhaps as hungover as I was, got a dose of rock n’ roll from the likes of ZZ Top (who I regrettably bailed on), Slash, Breaking Benjamin, Shinedown, Black Stone Cherry, Kentucky Headhunters, Collective Soul and Skid Row, amongst several others.

One metal band, in particular, hailing from Louisville, and who’s in the midst of launching a new comeback tour, FLAW, also performed on this day. On the wrong stage, though, if you ask me. They should’ve been next door on the much larger East stage, all things considered. Nonetheless, they delivered exactly what they’re longtime loyal fanbase still flocks to see them for: metal with catchy melodies.

I actually had the chance to catch up with FLAW after their set, and here is what they had to say about getting back together again and what the future holds:

And of course I also had to pay homage to another set of Kentucky music icons, the Kentucky Headhunters and Black Stone Cherry, who both hail from the hollers of Edmonton, Kentucky in Metcalfe County. Just a few hours south of Louisville. Before their sets I had the chance to sit down and interview Richard Young (Kentucky Headhunters) and John Fred Young (BSC), for a cool first time ever father-son interview between the two. Check out what I made them jabber about when asked what guitar they’d break vs. play, and who they hope becomes President:

Black Stone Cherry went on to amass a hometown crowd that better resembled what they typically play to in the UK and other European tour destinations. I mean, fucking Jimmy Page shows up regularly to their shows in the UK to hang out and watch them. This was the biggest crowd I’ve seen them play in their home state, and I‘ve seen them play countless times since 2002 when I first met them in the basement of the old Jillians on Lexington Avenue here in Louisville. Those guys were maybe 16 to 18 at the time, and being escorted by Richard Young who was their manager. Gee, how things have changed for them since those days.

Black Stone Cherry crowd at Louder Than Life festival 2015 - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Black Stone Cherry crowd at Louder Than Life festival 2015 – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

I love to see Kentucky musicians and artists exporting their creations outside of the state. The Young family of musicians has always done a fine job of doing just that, by keeping both the national and international communities aware that it’s not just bourbon, horses and fast women that come from Kentucky! But kick-ass, boot-scootin, southern rock n’ roll music does, too!

So Let’s Wrap this Shit Up

LTL is one of those festivals that when you honestly proclaim, like I remember doing in the middle of a rum-fit to some dude: that you’re “one crazy bastard,” people will be like “that’s good to hear!” And they mean it. They’re not bullshitting you. That’s what it’s all about. Being crazy bastards listening to loud-ass, rage-a-holic metal and rock n’ roll music. Together. With fancy gourmet $8 hot dogs – or some other gourmet man-food items of choice in one hand – and some sort of whiskey or beer concoction in the other. Screaming at everything and everyone around you. Pretending that one day, maybe you’ll be on that stage.

I’m guessing that’s why they call this festival Louder Than Life. And hold it in good ole’ Louisville, Kentucky, where this kind of loud behavior will be happily tolerated, no matter what you set the decibel level to, in exchange for the extra tax dollar revenue it will generate.

Welcome to Louisville, Louder Than Life! I’m sure you’ll continue to fit right in.

Selah.

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

— Hunter S. Thompson

**These interviews and coverage  also published at GonzoToday.com

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waterfall500The Waterfall
by My Morning Jacket
ATO/Capital
Produced by: Jim James & Tucker Martine
www.MyMorningJacket.com

On their 7th studio production Louisville-based My Morning Jacket continues to masterfully hone their tradition of album production by being that band who doesn’t conform to the music business. Nor their own previous endeavors of recording an album, for that matter. Which is rather typical of them at this point.

Venturing to remote Stinson Beach, in Northern California – once called home by Jerry Garcia – they isolated themselves in the Panoramic House with essentially only each other, a beach, the stars and the moon. For front man Jim James, a sudden and debilitating back injury would also be a catalyst for his song writing and recording experience. Just like any environment typically has on it’s occupants, the emotional output recorded was befitting of their environment.

Many of the songs were born out of assembling different song fragments and ideas from each band member, blended together with advanced recording tactics. Unlike that of 2011’s Circuital.

The euphoric and mesmerizing dark rhythms of “Spring (Among the Living)” and “Tropics (Erase Traces)” tantalizes the senses, while “Only Memories Remain” and “Thin Line” showcases the soulful crooning James is still cable of, even if it’s lying flat on his back while nursing an injury.

Other critics, writers, so-called journalists or clucking hens with a blog will rave and jabber about this being the band’s best recorded effort to date; but I say they’re missing the point entirely if that’s what they really feel is important to say. This band doesn’t enter the studio with the goal to outdo or out-perform their last album. They’re just evolving. They don’t care about writing a hit song. Hit songs are for the music business, and the business is bad.

On top of that, they came away with so much new material that another installment of The Waterfall, or perhaps something else, is due out before year’s end.

MMJ is about experiencing and conveying raw human emotion by giving birth to music that arouses a curiosity within themselves, and their listeners, to search for the answers to life’s mysteries. Presumably with some of those catalysts being isolationism and the controlled intake and indulgence of substances yet-to-be-known. You know, kinda how Pink Floyd gave birth to Dark Side Of The Moon.

Welcome to the dark side of My Morning Jacket, which happens to be referred to as The Waterfall.

— This review also published at PerformerMag.com

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