Thursday, January 23, 2020

Anna Rose Beck - Glass House In Outer Space

Anna Rose Beck - "Glass House In Outer Space"
—A review by Charlton Wiggins

  Anna Rose Beck is to me quite literally an angel. Her voice is angelic, supple yet teeming with depth and feeling. Her guitar playing is malleable yet strong.    
  I suppose I should by way of disclaimer state that I was introduced to Anna and her music at a juncture in my life when I was quite low and in the hospital after serious surgery. As a volunteer at Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC. she roams the halls to rooms where she is invited to play and sing songs for patients as part of their music therapy. I was privileged and blessed to have her come through my door twice and her voice lifted my spirits to great heights. So maybe this review is a little prejudiced but I don’t care for I feel it also to be accurate.
  Glass House In Outer Space is Anna’s second album and available for purchase in CD format on her website - The nine tunes on the album are cohesive in tone, each sounding and providing a feel of being a building block on the one before it.
  The first and last songs on the album, Bandaid and Carolina Moonshine are dissimilar in tone from the rest of the album yet nicely bookend the other seven songs included.
  Bandaid introduces the album with the intricate sounds of a classical guitar played with a Spanish flair which adds to the sad theme of the lyrics which speak of the chasm between two lovers who “lay alone in the dark” and psychological abuse when “every stone you have thrown leaves a scar.”
  Carolina Moonshine on the other hand is plaintive song relying solely on Anna’s lucid vocals and a simple piano. Just as you get comfortable with the sound Anna throws a curveball when she joins in as her own vocal accompaniment.
  My favorite song on the album is the second tune “Where The River Ends.” When in the hospital I enjoined Anna to play an original tune (she was performing mostly covers as I’m sure that was what most patients identify with) and this was the song she played and sang. It is such a beautiful song and for me is a superb example of her music.
  I suppose next to her vocals, it is the imagery that appears in my mind from the lyrics in Anna’s songs that enthralls me most. Her songwriting paints images and the images gathered together paint a story. The poetic beauty of her writing and singing is reminiscent of the wonderful works of Tish Hinojosa, a Hispanic singer/songwriter.
  Am I prejudiced towards Anna’s music? Absolutely. Am I wrong about her music? No. No I’m not. Buy her album and see for yourself.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Jimmy Fortune - God & Country

Jimmy Fortune - God & Country
by Charlton Wiggins

When the Statler Brothers’ Lew Dewitt had to step back from the group in 1983 due to health problems, it was Williamsburg, Virginia native Jimmy Fortune who stepped in to fill the vacancy left by Dewitt. Fortune filled that vacancy so well he remained with the group until the other members retired in 2003. But he wasn’t done with his career and immediately continued on as a solo artist releasing seven albums between 2003 and 2017. Now with the recent release of God & Country, his eighth solo effort, Fortune continues to build on his catalog of work. Previously Fortune had released religious themed songs however with God & Country he takes it a step further by combining popular hymns with classic American patriotic tunes.
What better way to start a patriotic album off than a medley of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the Woody Guthrie staple “This Land Is Your Land.” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” utilizes sparse instrumentation and instead focuses on Fortunes clear crisp vocals before segueing into “This Land Is Your Land” with a rousing tempo punctuated with fiddle and banjo - always an excellent combination.
The religious tunes are dispersed throughout the album with the beloved “The Old Rugged Cross” being the first of the more traditional gospel tunes which also includes the solemn and heartfelt “In The Garden,” “Because He Lives,” “Softly & Tenderly,” a very poignant “It Is Well With My Soul.” One that holds a special place in Fortune’s heart - “It Is No Secret” is preceded by a spoken word explanation of why it holds that special place. “I Love You More” is a more contemporary religious tune which expresses the love God has for us, especially when we are at our lowest points in life.
But the title is “God & Country” and while “Country” can be representative of the genre it is more indicative of the patriotic  tunes scattered throughout the album. In addition to the aforementioned “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “This Land Is Your Land” Fortune includes a rendition of “Battle of New Orleans” with an opening riff that brings to mind Jerry Reed before transitioning into a very enjoyable foot-stomping tale that memorializes the famous battle of New Orleans from the War of 1812, which actually occurred after the war was won. 
“Meet Me At Arlington” is a tear-jerker story with modern relevance that tells the tale of a parent who has lost a son in war. In the same vein of current relativity is “More Than A Name On A Wall,” which reflects on the life of a son lost in battle and the parents’ memories of times past and how he is missed, especially on holidays. 
In a day and time when it seems our nation has turned it’s back on God, “In God We Trust” defends those who seek to put God first and trust in Him to lead our nation and extols our citizenry to not forget our freedoms and He who gives them to us.
The final patriotic tune is a heart-felt rendition of “God Bless America” combined with “America the Beautiful” which features complimenting vocals from Sonya Isaacs.
Clearly with the patriotic tunes Jimmy Fortune has tapped into a genre of music missing from todays popular music landscape that has a need to be revived. Gospel tunes have a loyal following, and the ones included on this album will be much enjoyed even as they greatly compliment the patriotic songs.

I found this to be a wonderful album to listen to on Sunday mornings especially to help put me in the right frame of mind as I get ready for worship. I’m sure it will find a place in your day or week just as easily.

Celeste Kellogg - Keep It On Repeat

Celeste Kellogg - "Keep It On Repeat" EP
—A review by Charlton Wiggins

  Celeste Kellogg has been on my radar for a couple of years now and the quality of her music has remained strong, her vocals crisp and clear. I get the impression Celeste was born a seasoned musician, songwriter, vocalist and performer. The persona that comes through her songs make you believe she is strong yet vulnerable but always a genuine happy person. In fact her music is just like her vocals - both are perpetually smiling and you can’t help but smile back when her songs play.
  The title track of the EP, “Keep It On Repeat” and in fact the entire EP itself, is full of sass and attitude, attributes that make it clear Celeste is the heir apparent to many artists including Taylor Swift and Shania Twain. 
  “There’s a Beach Somewhere” not only mentions country artist Kenny Chesney in the lyrics but seems to channel the spirit of Chesney’s music with a dash of Alan Jackson for seasoning. With wonderful instrumentation “Beach Somewhere” is a great summertime tune that hints at innocent mischievousness and will definitely make you look for your sandals and sunscreen and get away to the waves, wind, sun and sand.  
  “Carolina,” in contrast, is a wistful tune with lyrics to match that bemoan the waning of both summer and summer love that ends with the approaching fall. The song speaks of the desire to not be forgotten but to always hold onto the memories of a Carolina summer.
  “Last Chances” has poignant direct lyrics that reflect the angst of a love that has come to an end. The song along with “There’s A Beach Somewhere” and “Carolina” were all co-written by Celeste and Aaron Goodvin.
  “La Di Da Da” is a song Celeste wrote in 2016. When Celeste played it for EP producer Sal Oliveri he wondered why she had never recorded it. Celeste likely wondered the same thing once the track was completed. The tune begins with a sound that brings pop superstar Lady Gaga to mind but quickly melts into pure Celeste, again complete with the same sass and attitude that is prevalent throughout Celeste’s music.
  It would be neglectful if I didn’t also mention that Celeste plays the guitar like a master artist but she did have abundant accompaniment on this EP. In addition to producer Oliveri (who has produced for PiNK and Stapleton), Danny Rader, guitarist for Keith Urban, and Jenee Fleenor, fiddle player for Blake Shelton, also added their touch of perfection to the EP.
  Perhaps it is wrong to liken Celeste to superstars like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney and Lady Gaga. Perhaps. But then again this young lady has the talent, the twang, the charisma and the stage presence to stand along side each of those great names as an equal and quite possibly far superior to them. “Keep It On Repeat” is an EP that in years to come will be referenced as the point where Celeste Kellogg made the music world stand up and take notice.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Donna Ulisse - Breakin' Easy

Donna Ulisse - Breakin' Easy
Breakin’ Easy
Donna Ulisse
By Charlton Wiggins

            Labels can often be misleading and especially in the musical landscape of the world we live in today. What is called “country music” today has little resemblance to the country music your parents grew up with. The same can be said of bluegrass music. At one time the word “bluegrass” would conjure up images of banjo’s, fiddles and high lonesome twang and yet the term today envelops instrumentation and vocals that are much further reaching.
            Donna Ulisse is one such artist. Though much of her music makes full use of traditional bluegrass tools, the sound of her songs seem to have reached further than simple twang and high lonesomeness. Now with her tenth album, Breakin’ Easy, Donna’s songs are easy on the ears and can reach down into your inner soul. You’ll find your foot tapping time and head nodding with the rhythm from the outset. Throughout Breakin’ Easy Donna’s country roots shine and meld beautifully with the bluegrass instrumentation.
            “Without Trouble Please” leads off the album and plays close to home with its mountain bluegrass sound while “Back Home Feelin’ Again” feels like sitting on a front porch of an evening with an autumn breeze. Throw in “Made For Each Other” and you can image a family all sitting around that porch making beautiful mountain music.
            By contrast “Drive This Cold Out Of Me” has a sound reminiscent of Suzy Bogguss. Add to that “Til I Fin’lly Let Go” and the cover of the Dottie West and Will West penned “Here Comes My Baby Back Again” and Donna’s traditional country influence is easily and wonderfully expressed.
            A trio of tunes call on a more traditional bluegrass influence. “We Are Strong,” “I’m In A Hurry To Go Nowhere,” and “We’ve Got The Love Thing Figured Out” all rely heavily on banjo, mandolin and fiddle.
            With the exception of the aforementioned Dottie West tune and “I’m In A Hurry To Go Nowhere” all the songs on Breakin’ Easy were written or co-written by Donna. The quality of the songwriting proves the Virginia native is worthy of the accolades she has received, including the 2018 Songwriter of the Year from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association (SPBGMA) and the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Songwriter of the Year.
            Donna Ulisse is a special talent, both with song writing and performing and if you are not familiar with her you should be. Breakin’ Easy is the perfect album to introduce you.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Dan Jarboe - The Woodshed Project

Dan Jarboe
The Woodshed Project
by Charlton Wiggins

  If you want country, southern rock or even a little melodic rock you can turn your radio dial and find a sound to match your musical taste. But what if you like several different styles and just can’t decide which will satisfy your need for a musical fix. Well, you pull up The Woodshed Project on your playlist and let the Dan Jarboe Band put it all together for you.
  As the debut album from the Dan Jarboe Band, The Woodshed Project is a wonderful listen and crafted to quell your musical hunger, whether you wear flip flops, a Cowboy hat and boots or tennis shoes and a ball cap. 
  All the tunes on The Woodshed Project are originals and written by Dan or Billy Lee Williams or both. 
  “Between Country & Rock N Roll” leads off the album with an outlaw country flavor that kindles thoughts of Hank Williams, Jr. 
  The rockin’ “The Big Easy” and “Get Yo Buzz On” are great driving songs, the latter along with “Forever Young” delivers a sound reminiscent of the Noise Boys, a DC area rock band from the 80’s.
  If your tastes run more to the melodic country sound you’ll find what you desire here too. “Hopeless Prayer” and “Those Were The Days” could easily be cuts off a Restless Heart album.
  “New Life” and “Party Down South” makes you want to head down to the beach or lake at night, let the tailgate down, start a bon fire and pop some tops with good friends and your honey.
  The Woodshed Project isn’t without a couple of powerful ballads too. “Better Man” is extremely heartfelt and painful at the same time and will bring a man to tears. “Unconditional Love” may not be a traditional type ballad but it pulls at the heartstrings just the same while “Ballad of Uncle Ronald” comes in as more of an ode rather than a ballad.
  The flavor of The Woodshed Project will whet your appetite for more and hopefully this delightful debut effort will be augmented with a sophomore release somewhere down the road. But for now try to catch the Dan Jarboe Band at a local venue and purchase the CD - it’ll fill you up!

Friday, June 05, 2015

David Hales - On My Own

Independent Label

   Regional rocker David Hales pulls together a smattering of styles for this his second independent album and he does so in successful fashion. Indeed, "Drama Queen" a hard rocking number and "Waiting" have both garnered radio airtime in the Knoxville area.
   On My Own is at times poetic and thoughtful ("Fairy Tale" and "You Were There") yet maintains a visceral feel in tandem with the more potent and hard rock tunes like "Breadmaker" and "Drama Queen." Hales' textured vocals compliment his diverse collection of tunes and add a quality that is felt rather than heard.
   "Ashley Judd," an unusual bonus track is worthy of mention solely because of its engaging "talking" song style and the story it tells when he encountered the actress.
   Though not a album that will race up the charts it is a worthy listen for alternative rockers.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Back Porch Orchestra - Volume I

  Simply titled Volume 1 the debut album from Back Porch Orchestra is a light and lively romp through fourteen original numbers by this highly talented bluegrass/country group from Burlington, NC. Just as their live performance is an exhilarating display of exquisite musicianship, so too is the wonderful songwriting skills demonstrated on Volume 1.
  Behind the principle vocals of Jeremy Brady and Bonnie Reed each song on Volume I comes to life with vivid clarity against the backdrop of simple intelligent instrumentation. Brady, Chris Reed and Bonnie Reed all offer up wonderful guitar work with Jeremy also providing banjo and pedal steel licks and Chris indulges the mandolin when necessary while bassist Keith Miller adds the bass lines. From "Wherever," the leadoff song, to "Favorite Pair of Blue-jeans" to the almost anthem-like "Who Am I" Back Porch Orchestra has an intoxicating allure, but it is "Gate City Girl" that demands a closer listen as it names familiar places in the Triad.
  This wonderful collection of original songs will leave an indelibe impression and a thirst for a Volume II.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Meghan Shanley - Ready for Love

  Infusing elements of Jazz, Soul and R&B, the music of Meghan Shanley has a wonderfully distinct sound capable of transporting your mind to a cabaret, lounge or a Broadway stage.   Each of the songs on Meghan’s debut album Ready for Love creates an atmosphere all their  own.
  Full of high energy, and exhilarating instrumentation, each song on Ready for Love is punctuated with Meghan’s powerful vocals. Amid the soaring horns and sublime strings Meghan’s voice comes through strong, clear and clean - stirring a joy within the soul.
  The title track kicks this album off with a blues sound wrapped around a jazz flair before nicely transforming into a full blown R&B number that seems to set the tone for the album. Following the opening track the song “One Day” is a driving number featuring horns reminiscent of the group Chicago with Meghan’s vocals providing a strong compliment to the horns.
  From the high energy of “Ready for Love” and “One Day” the album segue’s into a slower tempo. “Break My Heart” could easily be a solo number in a Broadway musical while “Never Will” is pure R&B as is “Mysterious” with it’s horns and synthesizer.
  “Better Left Unsaid” would be right at home in a smoke-filled lounge with it’s heavy Blues flavored R&B qualities in contrast to the sassy “Shake It.”
  The moody “Without You” sets the stage for the final cut “Smile,” perhaps the most emotional song on the album. A tune written by silent film star Charlie Chaplin for his film “Modern Times.” Meghan’s rendering of this classic song is extremely moving, dripping with emotion and will raise the goosebumps on your arms and neck.