A Bushel and a Peck of Album Reviews

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August 2, 2012 by Jay Minkin

River City Extension.jpg I seem to have a boatload of albums that caught my attention and will finally be giving them there due in this issue of my liner notes.

At the top of the list is an album from the New Jersey band River City Extension that came out in June on the XOXO record label. The sophomore release titled Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Angerliterally just blows me away.  Singer/songwriter Joe Michelini crafted 14 beautiful flowing songs that weave stories of love, screwing up relationships, and resolution.  The band utilizes an eclectic mix of instruments including cello, trumpet, mandolin, and banjo to bring the album’s vision to a vibrant, dynamic life. Recorded at Chicago’s Engine Studios with producer Brian Deck, it has touches of My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, and Bright Eyes.  But Michelini was most influenced by the music of Townes Van Zandt and his songwriting shows with an Americana vibe on songs like “Standing Outside A Southern Riot” and “Golden Tongue”.  Favorites include the songs “Slander”, “Welcome to Pittsburgh”, “The Point of Surrender”, and “Vanessa’s Song”.

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Next up is a lovely bluegrass album with sweet harmonies released last week by the Raleigh, North Carolina group The Kickin Grass Band called Walk With Me.  This is the band’s first full-length album since 2008 and features the latest lineup since originally forming in 2002. The album is a musical story of grief, acceptance, and understanding as the band members endured 3 years of ups and downs with the loss of bass player Patrick Walsh’s wife to ovarian cancer, the birth of a beautiful daughter to the Lynda Wittig Dawson (guitar, banjo, and B3 organ) and Jamie Dawson(mandolin), and the sudden and unexpected death of Jamie Dawson’s brother.  Original songs were penned by vocalist Lynda with assists from newest members fiddle player Pattie Hopkinsand banjo player Hank Smith. Each member takes vocal leads on one of the 13 tracks with tasteful harmonic seasoning throughout. It’s hard to narrow down my favorites, but sample songs like “No One Can Live Forever”, “Ghosts In My Head”, “Everything And Everyone” to get a flavor this outstanding outfit and beautiful record.

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Batting third is Andrew Leahey & the Homestead with their self-titled debut record which came out last September.  I think you may hear more about this young indie singer/songwriter, so it’s worth going back before looking ahead to a potential new fall release.  A little bit of rock, Americana, and alt-country, the Richmond, Virginia native Leahey began singing at Juilliard but has since ditched the classical and now calls Nashville home. I love when artists bring it strong on the opening number, and Andrew leads it off with a great jangly rocker called “Penitentiary Guys”.  Originally set to be just a solo project, The Homestead is a work in progress with an evolving line-up of musicians that hopefully will soon be Leahey’s permanent backing ensemble.  Key tracks to spin include “Since I Climbed a Lighthouse”, “Dillinger’s Letter”, “Flyover Country”, and “Virginia”.

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Last but not least is of course Uncle Neil, who got the band back together and decided to cut a record in the garage out back detached from the house. Make no mistake; Neil Young has a spot on my Mount Rushmore of singer/songwriters.  Bringing together his classic backing band Crazy Horse after nine years to record Americana is just another one of Uncle Neil’s brilliant shifts of musical styling that has always been part of his storied career.  Don’t expect to compare this record to such recent classics like Rust Never Sleeps, Sleeps With Angels, Harvest Moon, or Prairie Wind.  But his reworking of classic sing-a-long songs that talk about death, darkness, protest, and struggles get a rougher interpretation that emphasizes these themes with a wicked guitar and rhythm section. Listen to tracks like “Tom Dula”, “Gallows Pole”, “Travel On”, and “High Flyin’ Bird” as Young plays them only like Uncle Neil can.  The one track which is played pretty straight up is “This Land is Your Land” as Uncle Neil must have thought Woodie Guthrie got it right the first time.

Stay tuned next week for a full feature on a new release by one of the best singer/songwriters ever to grace the stages of Northeast Ohio.


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