Let’s Make This Earth From House To Home – Lyrics of Two (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

19105858_782848555173441_4315933262841808728_nI think it is safe to say that if ever there was the perfect time to put out a song calling for unity, celebrating people’s similarities rather than differences and extoling the virtues of peace and compassion, it is now. The world seems like an ever more volatile place and the more bridges rather than walls we attempt to build, can only be a cause for celebration.

 

And like the bridges being built in the message of the song, Lyrics of Two build musical bridges, ones that link alternative pop with ambient balladeering, neo-classical minimalism with earnest indie callings. But there is something else as well, an ambient space behind the notes, a meditate feeling lingering in the pauses between the words, a transient, opaque beauty created not out of the physical aspects of the song being presented before you, but rather out of the atmosphere and moods being created in the gaps between.

Maybe the most effective messages are the ones that are just left hanging for others to find, rather than the more bombastic and theatrical attempts. Messages that seem to affect change by osmosis rather than conscious direction, ideas which are just absorbed by the population around them rather than as a result of being told what to do.

I propose that this song be played in every mall, bank, school yard and workplace across the world, a gentle suggestion to already susceptible minds, a reminder that when it comes down to it, we are all children, all parents, are all loved, are all neighbours, are all community, all citizens of the same small planet. And when the cruel winds deliver news of yet more dark actions and troubling events around the world we can use this as a collective song of unity. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow…maybe mighty movements from gentle songs do as well. Let’s hope.

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Behind These Doors – Screens 4 Eyes (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0997470037_16As the music from this album washes out of my speakers and I sit here staring at the artwork before me, it dawns on me just what a great visual representation of the music it is. The cover, like the music it envelops, is all about texture, vivid colours being subsumed and fading into minimal lines, light blending into shade, soft edges and abstracted images with just enough form and structure to hold everything together. Get within and the same forces are at work.

 

At its more minimalist extremes the songs here often feel like a collection of moods rather than music, of wistful reflections made into sound, of heart-breaking emotion, of barely tangible but emotively powerful expressions of love and loss and life. It feels like the resonant ghost of the sounds that hang in the air when the music itself has been erased before itself being lost to the breeze.

At the other extreme songs such as Channel To Id and Night Fog drive on a cinematic electro-groove, the latter wandering into the same fuzzy and warped territory that The Cocteau Twins used to be sole custodians of.

And it is in the balancing act between these two extremes that music of great elegance is created, a new wave of classicism, a film score to a movie too beautiful to be made, a sound which connects dots between the experimentalism of the 4AD ethic and its re-emergence as post-rock, music that shimmers and collides, soars and trembles as if it scares itself with its own fragile nature.

Behind These Doors shows just how cleverly the song writing collects, harnesses and alchemises genres, shift moods and subverts expectations not only from one track to the next but within the each individual song itself.

The E.P.s swansong, the aptly named Song of The Sea, is a triumph of meandering intent and slow burning dynamic build, employing enough groove and skittering beat to catch the ear of the alt-pop mainstream and more than enough cool elegance and detachment to create a cult following. And that is the perfect summation of the Screens 4 Eyes music. Commercial in an underground sort of way, the music that the music elite and the tastemakers will always revel in being the first to name drop in the right circles, but also accessible enough to attract a wider audience.

One day you’ll be watching TV and a Screens 4 Eyes song will appear as the play out to that year’s blockbuster movie or the score to the latest Toyota commercial, then you’ll wish you had listened to me. Trust me, I’m a journalist.

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In Deep – Smoking Martha (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

DSC_83242When the What’s Her Name? single landed before my reviewing pen a few months ago it seemed to have arrived at the perfect time. It gave me the perfect opportunity to rally against the conformity and unadventurous nature of the rock scene at the moment and hold up Smoking Martha as being exactly what was needed to shake things up a bit. The right band, the right sound, the right time. Right? But even with such a great musical calling card and a hint as to what might follow, it still didn’t fully prepare me for just what a joy to behold this full album would be.

 

In the same way that I waxed lyrical about that song’s ability to strip things back and capture the singular essence of rock, to be simultaneously raw and melodic, incendiary and infectious, cultish and commercial, with In Deep you realise that song was anything but a one off. Smoking Martha have only gone and filled up a whole album of brilliant musical balancing acts and fine-line generic tight rope walks.

 

With most bands you can probably pinpoint one or two musical references that seem to drive the music, with Smoking Martha things are not quite so straightforward. Although things drive along pretty much on a classic rock vibe or via a more visceral garage rock subversion, this is no mere rehashing of the past and whilst you can probably pick out many of the individual musical building blocks, what they have fashioned them into is a totally new piece of exquisite sonic architecture.

Find a Way broods and glowers with gothic undertones, Ebb of the Tide bristles with high drama and shifting dynamics, and opening salvo So Lonely blends punky skanking guitars with foot on the monitor seminal rock sounds. And the more you peel back the more you find; blues grooves pushed to the extreme, theatrical excesses, grunge intensity, biker bar swagger and effortless attitude. But despite this scattergun of references, or perhaps because of it, nothing here ever sounds derivative, familiar perhaps but just the right blend of comfort zone and new ground being explored.

 

Smoking Martha is a band looking for a bigger stage. You can hear it in their music, music crafted for big platforms, anthemic launch pads and stadium broadcasts – big songs looking for a big space to call home. I’m sure watching them play in a small music venue is still a brilliant, white-knuckle experience but what they have managed to capture on this album is the best argument ever for them being given the chance to step up and join the big leagues. When that door opens for them, not if but when, rock music will be in an altogether more interesting place.

 

 

The future of rock music isn’t just looking bright, it is positively smoking!

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Wild Change – Kalo (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Kalo_coverSome music seems to be a melting pot of sounds and ideas that takes some unravelling, if you’re that sort of person, one who feels the need to explore what’s under the musical hood of the car. I’m a reviewer so I am that sort of person. Other music paints instant pictures and conjures immediate imagery, so much so that you can instantly see what you are dealing with. Kalo are the latter type of band.

Right from the first bar you can picture them in some Southern roadhouse or dive bar firing off salvos of raw, bluesy, roots rock…groovesome r’n’b meets old-school rock and roll. A timeless rock sound that never goes out of fashion because it was never in fashion, just constant, ever present and undiminished. It is sassy, sexy and soulful and like all great trio’s gets its power from three musicians all contributing equally, nothing is wasted, nothing over played and everyone gets to play a role.

It is a sound that we are familiar with for sure, but it is a sound which is normally described in reviews containing words such as classic, iconic and seminal; swaggering rock and roll, bar-band attitude and raw grooves, and wholly unapologetic about it. And why would you need to apologise about something this great? Not every song has to break down barriers, not every band needs to explore pastures new, sometimes it is good enough to take a great sound and make it your own. This is one of those times.

 

There is a famous quote that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But I would add that those who do remember the past are free to take its finest moments, hone and refine them and use them to build bridges into the future. Kalo do just that.

 

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Quarter to Somewhere – Astroblue Express (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Astroblue-Express-350I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for kickstarter funding I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have is a very particular set of words. Words I have acquired over a very long career. Words that make me a nightmare for musicians like you. If you stop sending me your music that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will describe your music in the most verbose way possible.

Just as some of the more production line music, style over substance pop and unadventurous artists with their skinny jeans and complicated hair cause me to trot out the same well rehearsed lines, when I find myself on the receiving end of such mercurial music as that on the debut album from Astroblue Express, I feel like writing about it is what I have been training for all my reviewing life. Finally music so textured so well crafted, so layered, subtle and supple, that I feel like I am wielding a pen like a scalpel, that I am less reviewing, more attempting open surgery to dissect, reveal and understand what lies before me. But where to make the first incision? The heart!

 

The heart of this music, the pulse, the very lifeblood of the album is a wonderful blend of classical ethereality, sonorous dream-pop and ambient soundscapes. Sometimes this is driven by trip-hop beats or glitchy, futuristic sounds, but more often than not it is all about a sense of quiet majesty, one often built less out of the sounds being conjured and collided and more about the atmosphere and anticipation that lingers behind the vocals and between the notes.

 

Often these post-genre experiments feel less like songs and more like a series of musical statements that conjure scenes and scenarios of a fleeting cinematic memory or a glimpse of the future, otherworldly soundtrack or alien music being picked up in high tech laboratories. Ranging from atmospheric minimalism, though slow-burning post-rock dynamic builds, to soaring anthemic crescendos, and back to quiet classical granduar, it covers a lot of ground even within each individual track.

It is music based on mood rather than message, music that depicts scenes rather than tells stories, music about images rather than ideas. It is music of the isolation tank, just exist within it, become one with it, heavy meditation, a solitary experience. Some music is aimed at the brain, intelligent and intricate, some at the heart, emotive and alluring, Astroblue Express does nothing less than aim for your very soul.

 

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Boxes – Circus of the West (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Circus_of_the_West_coverAs well as being a candidate for the coolest name in music at the moment, Circus of the West delivers a song which strides confidently and compellingly towards the listener. This wonderful narrative about the absurdity of this demarcated and separated modern life plays out like a joke or anecdote moving the story on by circling the same subject before ending with the punchline that you always knew was coming. But the best jokes are often not about the pay off but the journey to it.

Musically they blend the college rock quirk of R.E.M with the strange, tongue in cheek poignancy of They Might Be Giants less wacky moments, the bravado of rock with the subtlety of indie. And out of this swirling crucible of musical thought emerges a sound that you can’t quite tie down, it is certainly familiar but it also sounds new! How does a band do that? But I guess that is the art of it. There is little happening in a medium so old and ubiquitous as making music that you can really call new but you can take those tried and tested musical building blocks and put them together in new and interesting ways. Circus of the West do it so brilliantly that you just can’t see the joins.

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A Thousand Mandolins – David Marx (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Final frontAn album is more than just a collection of songs; it is a window into where an artist is, mentally, physically and often more telling, logistically, at the point of recording. 2014’s compact and bijou five track The Ghost of Corelli found our hero leading a three piece band and wielding a sound very much dominated by big guitars, dynamic and punchy bass lines and driving back beats. It was effective, dramatic and to the point. And whilst such a rock and roll pulse has always beaten at the heart of his music, as it beats at the heart of almost every classic record irrespective of genre, in some ways it felt like a departure from the sound I associate with David Marx.

But A Thousand Mandolins is all about texture rather than testosterone, subtlety and suppleness rather than shock and awe, layered hues coloured by more instruments doing less work rather than fewer vivid and vibrant musical colours being painted boldly and to more dramatic effect. Not that there isn’t drama to be found here, it is just of a richer, more effective and better conceived nature, a Robert Altman to the previous release’s Martin Scorsese perhaps.

And even before you delve into the music, the Marxian cultural reference machine is fine tuned and offering tantalising hints, dropping names such as Caravaggio, Candide and the Venus de Milo, balancing tears and murder, beckoning silence and disavowing miracles. Even the title of the album speaks of points of reference that go beyond most modern artists and invokes Leonard Cohen’s poeticism or a more global Tom Waits vision.

 

If two songs define the limits of the album it is the back-to-back tracks Merry-Go-Round and Halfway Between Tears and Murder. The former built of a jaunty swagger, buoyant banjos and a light groove, the latter a dark, slow-building brooding song forged more of atmosphere and anticipation than the music that defines its structure.

 

But obviously this isn’t just a collection of musical stops along an arbitrary line drawn between the light and shade of those two songs; it takes some interesting and intriguing detours as well. She’s Just Not That Kind of Girl is an alternative take on that musical period when The Beatles were still a straight (-ish) pop band but where wandering, drugs in hand, towards more psychedelic landscapes and Face Down Like The Huddled Suicides is Elvis Costello getting all philosophical. Short, snappy and…well, deep! Country vibes ooze from Let The Silence Prevail, drums shuffle, organs swell (steady!) and guitars groove, in an underground, East Nashville, outlaw bar band sort of way with not a rhinestone in sight, thankfully.

 

So what has changed to make this album so different to the last? Well, The Ghost of Corelli was made against a backdrop of the logistical pitfalls of keeping a regular band on the road and possibly delivering sets that pandered, whether consciously or not, to the denizens of the gigging circuit. David’s recent live hiatus has relieved him of such considerations and he has returned to a state of freedom where instead of him making an album in search of an audience he has instead made the album that comes from a more natural place. Now the audience can come to him. Or not, but that isn’t the point. Not so much a creative rebirth, just an artist remembering that the ball was always in his court.

Posted in alt-folk, alt-pop, baroque -pop, folk, pop, pop-rock, power-pop, rock, rock and roll, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

New Music of the Day – CXCIII: Disposable – The Vampire Monkeys

17342492_412169869134287_6914669122856553046_nAccording to their bio The Vampire Monkeys take pride in being the voice of discontent in an unhinged world, even if they offer no valuable insights to its reformation.” And that’s fine, we don’t look to rock and roll for the answers to our worldly troubles, we look to it to act as a distraction from them. And Disposable is the perfect distraction. A strange video narrative that doesn’t take itself too seriously and a cracking riff and hook driven slice of rock.

 
All too often bands in such genres feel the need to take things to extremes; metal bands are too intense, rock bands using tricks and gimmicks, punk bands picking unnecessary fights with imaginary adversaries. The Vampire Monkeys, thankfully, remember that the power of rock and roll lies in melody and groove as much as it does in punch and power. And so they walk that perfect line between the two camps offering something you can boogie to for all the right reasons but that also ticks all the non-conformist rock and roll boxes regarding swagger and attitude.

You don’t have to take the band that seriously, you certainly don’t have to take the video seriously but as far as the music is concerned, this is serious business.

 

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New Music of the Day – CXCII: Manchester Rain – Manchester Rain

18010301_1915163275420946_5680014039234925455_nThere are so many reasons to love this eponymous debut track from Manchester Rain, not all of them totally to do with the music itself, so lets start there and work our way to the heart of this sonic treat.

Let’s start with the concept. Far from being just another single doing the rounds, Manchester Rain forms the hub of an interesting competition, one that asks participants to re-mix the song, the best four of which will receive substantial prizes. Then there is the altruistic aspect. The title and the message of optimism that runs through the song make it the perfect inclusion on the Manchester With Love compilation album that is helping to raise money for the victims of the Manchester Arena tragedy.

Those familiar with the city will find the video a nostalgic and emotive wander through its streets and across its skyline, taking in its modern cityscape vistas and its quieter, older corners and back streets. But more than that, it is a great song. It is dreamlike and hypnotic, ambient and pulsing, like a beating digital heart pumping hope and reassurance through its often cold, rain strewn streets as sonorous, haunting saxophones and distant electronica add to the desolate chill of the night.

Whichever part of the story of the story appeals to you, and to be honest all four parts are complimentary and entwined this is the right song for the time, a vision that tough times don’t last forever and a reminder that there is a brighter place beyond the metaphorical rain.

 

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Is There Something – Nelson King (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Front_for_spotify_JJJ___copyIt is possible that Nelson King subscribes less to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy and more to a “if it ain’t broke it’s still okay to beat the crap out of it and sculpt battered and interesting new shapes.” Maybe. What I’m trying to say in my unnecessarily verbose sort of way is that Is There Something is actually the best of both worlds, familiar enough to be immediately engaging yet original enough to bring something new to the table.

 

At the albums core is a bluesy, boogie, rhythm and booze sort of vibe, good time drinking den music, a rootsy, rock ‘n’ roll bar band sound and whilst it is easy to see where the man is coming from, make some educated guesses about his record collection and swap anecdotes about meeting Ten Years After, its where he takes things from there that makes things interesting.

 

Let me draw a line connecting the points on that journey, a line connecting West London underground r’n’b venues of the 60’s with smoky, back street Chicago blues clubs of an earlier era, another from New York’s proto-punk scene of the 70’s to the open highways of the west, the soundtrack to a road trip travelling foot on the floor, top down, beer in hand. Another joining rock with roots, the profound with the profane, the familiar with the exploratory. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music of this outstanding musician.

 

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Were You Ever Really Mine? – Rhett Repko (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

DSC04714Just as the opening strummed acoustic guitar lines have me thinking “here we go, another earnest, balladeering, unplugged troubadour to wade through” the weight of a full band drops in behind it and suddenly the world seems a brighter place. It would have been easy to follow some sort of angst ridden pop template and aim to tug teen heartstrings; instead Rhett plays a much cleverer card.

Driven rock guitars and punchy backbeats pull the song in an altogether more groovesome direction yet it still understands how to appeal to the commercial market, knows how to work with dynamics and drips with infectious melody. So essentially this is a new take on pop music, yes, pop music, we have spent so long being spoon-fed dance routined, production line dross that we have forgotten that pop, okay, pop-rock can be like this as well. In my book everything is pop music anyway…pop, popular, populist… but let me qualify that a bit.

Pop music is done often, but in general not done well. All too often it is happy to sacrifice creativity for formula, to wander very narrow, established pathways for fear of losing site of the pop-fan dollar. Rhett Repko shows us that if you flip this model on its head, draw in influences from a number of genres, you can write songs, which both appeal to the masses and retain the integrity required by the more discerning listener.

Posted in acoustica, alt-pop, indie-pop, math-rock, pop-rock, rock, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

CradleRock – Craig Johnstone (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2426392199_16When I first encountered Craig’s music it was via the refreshingly raw, honest and self-deprecating country-punk meets frantic folk collision of last years We Humans album. And if within that that wonderfully raw musical landscape of satire and sympathy, profanity and profundity the spirit of such mercurial artists as Tom Waits, Frank Zappa and the much overlooked Bob Log III lurked in the corners, here they act as a spiritual steering group.

 

And in the same why that Craig previously deconstructed, twisted, wilfully broke and then reassembled country music into stark new shapes, here he does the same job of stripping down and retuning any number of other genres from folk to country to indie and from rock to blues to pop and everything in between. If lazy journalists, like me, revel in our labels and pigeon-holes, Cradlerock will prove to be our undoing, existing in a place either way beyond generic borders or perhaps where they all collide and destroy each other, I haven’t quite worked out which yet and putting it into adequate words is often tough.

Holisticism will tell you that you can start anywhere and it will lead you to the right conclusion, so let’s start with the fact that there is a strange synchronicity at work from time to time, especially with the inclusion of the antique standard Big Rock Candy Mountain, a hobo’s dream of paradise which the character Rudy sings in William Kennedy’s depression era classic novel Ironweed. In the film that character is played by none other than Tom Waits! Coincidence? Well, probably but interesting none the less.

Interesting because it is the Waitsian pulse more than any other, which beats at the heart of this madcap musical adventure. There is the same feeling of being at a ramshackle apocalyptic carnival surrounded by circus freaks and tents filled with warped mirrors. There is also a strange sense of musical hall nostalgia, like the orchestra pit of an otherworldly theatrical show that seems to exist in a strange dimension were Clive Barker meets The Muppet show.

The music seems to serve as a sort of sonic Rorschach test, the industrial grind of Ear Bastards making me see car plants, the skittering sounds of The Tea Room conjuring bugs on a night light. You have a go…it’s fun. There are times when Craig is happy to sail better-charted waters and the brilliantly named Smoakumifyagottam is a raw, garage rock rabble-rouser that could have easily found its way on to a Gun Club or Bad Seeds album. Mainly, however, he likes to subvert expectation and it is this arch-eclecticism, which holds everything together.

You put one weird song on a conventional album and it is a gimmick. Two such songs and you reveal yourself as having had a short inspirational flash but then nothing to follow it up. A fifty-fifty split of convention and conviction shows schizophrenia in the song writing process. A whole album of songs that wander such uncompromising pathways with only fleeting contact with the tried and tested approach to form and function and you know that the artist in question is doing something outstandingly original. And CradleRock is nothing if not outstandingly original….not to mention humorous, self-deprecating, weird, brilliant, disarming, raw, honest, satirical, mad and everything else that goes with the glorious territory of being a total outsider.

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New Music of the Day – CXCI: Gold – Fassine

18922842_1549791551739121_6760479845550914864_oAs always, trying to pin Fassine down in words proves just as difficult a task as ever. Music journalism, reviewing the records at least, is often about making comparisons, noting influences and references, using words to create Venn Diagrams that help the reader envisage the music and then hopefully buy it. Taking this approach towards Fassine has never worked for me. Yes, I can talk about the chic yet minimalist musical landscapes that they build, the elegance of the production, the chilled eloquence, the hypnotic yet laid-back beats, the vulnerability yet classicism of the vocals, but does that really get us any further forward regarding communicating with the prospective listener.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that by and large, Fassine continue to have few obvious comparisons. Some of it is familiar, you have heard snatches of their sound in the hidden depths of cinematic indie bands, ambient, early hours, apres-club chill outs and long forgotten dream-pop explorers but can I give you a solid reference upon which to hang their sound? No. And that is the curse of originality and of course its blessing too. It is a world of comfort zones out there, one where tribute bands and TV show cover versions seem to get the spotlight and if that appeals to you then Fassine will confuse and confound you in equal measure. Of course, they might also be your saving grace.

They say that a prophet isn’t appreciated in his own land. Very true but Fassine know all too well that creating music is more about being prophets than being profitable.

 

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Weeding Out The Wicked – The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

IMG_0098Last time I dipped my toe into the crazy waters of The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show it was to experience their clattering cider-punk-country-hoedown Tightropin’ a song which gave me the opportunity to roll out all those literary juxtapositions and two worlds colliding musical metaphors. But a full album is a whole different affair. Here, rather than just the quick snapshot that a single offers, you get a fuller sense of the musical landscape this intriguing band calls home.

 
Opening salvo, Winter Walks, offers a wholly unexpected and slightly disarming start, a more plaintive, pastoral introduction to the band than the one I was subjected to, but never the less threaded through with wonderful dynamic changes, mournful stings and Beatle-esque descending progressions. This is quickly followed by the frantic cow-punk of Tick Tick and thus the boundaries of their sonic kingdom are quickly defined.

 

And whilst there is a lot about this album which reminds you that the folk urges of this side of the Atlantic and the country twangs of our colonial counterparts are certainly generic cousins, there is a lot more at work here too. Whilst Lose Your Step is classic wistful reflection with a UK postcode and Country Singer has all the references that its name implies, the most interesting tracks are the ones that throw you a few curveballs. Serial Killer is a strange punk musical hall gang show, Magazines is a classic pub rock era strut that Nick Lowe would be proud of and the track from which the band takes their name is a splendidly drunken waltz. And even after pinballing between all of those musical demarcation lines they still manage to surprise me with Circling The Airport, a cinematic, soundtrack of a song that, however hard I try not to, has be thinking of The Goo Goo Dolls Iris, for all the right, sky-scraping and emotive reasons.

 

Going into an album on the strength of one song is always interesting, sometimes you realise that a band are a one trick pony and the single is all you needed to hear anyway, other times you find that it isn’t representative at all. After hearing Tightropin’ a few months ago, Weeding Out The Wicked turns out to be the best of both worlds. That song is representative of only one part of the bands sound and through the course of the album they take wonderful sonic journeys through associated genres and conduct interesting cross pollinating experiments but all the while the sound is cohesive, fresh and original. It isn’t often that you find that happening, I can tell you.

Posted in alt-country, alt-folk, bluegrass, country, folk, folk rock, folk-punk, punk, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment