Saturday, July 15, 2006

John Cowan Band - New Tattoo

Pinecastle Records

In the 1980's and 1990's if you were looking for the future of bluegrass, the field was fairly limited. Alison Krauss and Union Station and the New Grass Revival with John Cowan and Bela Fleck were at the forefront of a generation of artists seeking to drive bluegrass into the new millennia. While traditional bluegrass will forever be a mainstay, artists like Nickel Creek or the John Cowan Band are taking up the mantra and breathing new life into bluegrass.

With the release this month of "New Tattoo," the John Cowan Band heralds a sound that is both old school and new, building on the foundations he and NGR laid in the last century.

Fronted by Cowan's magnificent tenor vocals "New Tattoo" rolls through a bevy of new material at breakneck speed. "Carla's Got A New Tattoo," sets the pace for the album, which also includes the traditional flavored "New Mine," "Misery & Happiness," a lament featuring harmony vocals from Patty Griffin, and the closing song, an auto-biographical piece titled "Drown" that explores the dark subject of sexual abuse and child molestation. Cowan explains, "for men this has become a taboo is a source of shame for us." "Drown" stands in stark contrast to the swift speed of the rest of the material. Even though the subject matter deserves recognition it might have been better served to be included on another album that might have a more diverse tempo and feel.

Even with the downer feel of "Drown," "New Tattoo" is a rollercoaster ride that is one continuous thrill until the end.

Tab Benoit - Brother To The Blues


The Blues is a difficult genre to master, especially for an artist who isn't blessed with black skin, a dirt poor background or a drug infested environment. Tab Benoit is the exception and his recent release Brother To The Blues is the testament to his domination of the genre. Mix in some special guests like Jim Lauderdale, Billy Joe Shaver and Waylon Thibodeaux, virtuosos all, and this album becomes one of the best blues albums to be released this year.

"Pack It Up" a Texas Blues number in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughn kicks off the album, highlighted by Benoit's Cajun vocals and electric finger work on the guitar. Benoit and company do a decent job covering Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" and Jimmy Davis/Hank Williams' classic "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle." "So High" is a breathless rock-tinged blues number while "Why Are People Like That?" relies more on rock than it does blues. "If You Love Me" returns to the slower mid-tempo flavor Blues before leading into the Cajun country flavored "Comin' On Strong" featuring Shaver's honky-tonk vocals and Thibodeaux's fiddle work.

Brother To The Blues is the kind of album that goes great with a beer from the fridge and sitting on the porch swattin' fly's on a sultry summer evening.

Jeff Black - Tin Lily


Once in a while an artist comes along that just begs for a further listen. Their music is engaging and pleasant yet simultaneously challenging and poignant. Jeff Black manages to capture your attention with Tin Lily, an album of all original tunes that evokes comparisons to artists as far ranging as Elton John and Randy Newman. Tin Lily as a whole is magnetic in its appeal with radio friendly numbers like “Free At Last” and “These Days,” or thought provoking tunes like ”Hard Way Out,” “Closer” and “Hollow of Your Hand.” The anthem-like “Libertine” draws you into the fabric of the music, making you want to get up and wave your Bic lighter.
What is lacking in Black’s music is a few more definitive hooks in his music and lyrics to take him to stardom. Even so, Tin Lily is a beautiful album with a feel and texture you can almost reach out and touch.