This page is part of an opinionated overview of "alt.country" music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... Naturally, it's a work in progress, and quite incomplete, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is the fourth page covering the letter "R"
(Produced by Jason McCoy & Scott Baggett)
These gnarly Canadian gearjammers show a lot of promise, at least from the will-they-make-it-in-Nashville? point of view... This loud, live-wire set of modern-day trucker songs (with some well-chosen cover tunes) has a rough, muscular, rockin' edge to it that may appeal to fans of Confederate Railroad or Travis Tritt's early work; they also prove themselves unafraid to try out a few cheesy ballads, and to submerge themselves into pure formula, the kind of formula that can spell big commercial success. This current album has some liabilities and it probably won't take them to the top, but it might get the band's foot in the door -- the drawbacks are mostly, I think, due to the production, which is a little too edgy and jarring (although Southern rock/blues-rock-oriented fans may be drawn to it...) Even though this isn't my kind of country, I think these guys are a band worth keeping your eyes on... They're almost a "red dirt" band, and twangy enough that some altie/Americana types might be drawn to them, and definitely commercial enough that a major label will probably pick them up soon. In the meantime, cover tunes like "Girl On The Billboard," "East Bound And Down" and even Lowell George's "Willin' " are pretty enjoyable, and also tell us a lot about this band's roots. Worth checking out.
Robinella & The CC Stringband "Blanket For My Soul (EP)" (Columbia, 2002)
I honestly, simply, don't get the attraction. I mean, there's nothing wrong with this set of laid-back, acoustic-based, jazz-tinged Americana crooning... But I can't figure out how it wound up being released on a major label and all... Singer Robinella Contreras is adequate, but not arresting; it's like hearing a confident, if somewhat blase, local gal singing at open mic night, working with a band that's into mixing standards in with the hillbilly stuff. Not amazing, but nice enough. My guess is, they're hoping to tap into the Norah Jones fan base... and who knows? It just might work.
Robinella "Solace For The Lonely" (Dualtone, 2006)
Bruce Robison - see artist discography
A great album of tuneful, tounge-in-cheek, wiseass honkytonk songs, chock full of great melodies and amiably snide humor. Thematically and vocally, this early, long-haired incarnation of Charlie Robison reminds me of what John Prine might have been like if he'd followed his hard country inclinations a bit further, instead of going the folkie route. At any rate, Bruce's brother has definitely got the goods, and this disc has one good song after another... An impressive debut album, well worth tracking down.
Robison takes the hard-partying ethos of Jerry Jeff and Joe Ely to its inexorable, unenviable conclusion. This is one of the seamiest collections of drinkin' songs you're ever likely to hear, climaxing in "You're Not The Best," in which our ne'er-do-well narrator basically says, "baby, I wish there was a bag over your head..." These songs are awfully clever, but kinda depressing, while the music is pure, driving bar-band honkytonk. Another winner, but with a real mean streak to it.
Making his best pitch as part of the outlaw-poet lineup, Robinson's style is just a little too showy and self-conciously craftsmanlike for my taste... His band's pretty solid -- there's a strong undercurrent of Dave Edmunds/Rockpile-like bar band bounce, and the tone is pure, well-produced honkytonk pop -- but I personally just don't much go for the whole country profundity thing, and the lyrics seem wildly over-written. I'm sure there's plenty on here to hold lots of folks' attention... but I found mine wandering. The rambling, absurdist tall-tale, "One In A Million," is kind of fun, in a Pecos Bill/Paul Bunyan kinda way. If you're looking for an alternative to the synths and strings of Nashville, this certainly could fill the bill.
A likeable, fun set of acoustic outlaw country, full of familiar themes that feel like tall tales told from a Texas porch in the still-hot twilight of a hot dusty day. Which is to say, that while this isn't an all-out hellraising set like Robison's last few albums, it might just be the best record he's done to date. At least, I liked it. You probably will, too.
The Roche sisters are back and, as on all their recent records -- well, all their records, really -- this disc has a few songs that will stand out and charm you immensely, and a whole slew of other tunes that might simply get on your nerves. These gals have always had an unusual harmonic sensibility, and the odd tones and dense melodies they delve into are probably not for your average folkie or pop fan... But in terms of their lyrics, they sure have a lot to talk about, and a distinctive way to say it... Highlights include "Who Cares," which looks mournfully at 9/11 and its global aftermath (still a high priority and an ethical muddle for these New Yorkers) and Suzzy's "Long Lonely Road To Nowhere," which skewers the self-help scene, holding it up to the cold, calm light of self-acceptance and embrace of the imperfect. There's a real maturity and absurdism at play here that you simply don't hear in much of our glib modern art... Whether the folks who will appreciate the message will also be able to put up with the atonalities and dissonant melodies of the Roche sibs is another matter altogether... But if you like folk music with substance to it, this is worth checking out...
Rockhouse Ramblers "Bar Time" (Hayden's Ferry, 2000)
Amiable, independently produced rockabilly/honkytonk with plenty of spunk and a few rough edges. The songwriting, which is spread evenly among the bandmembers, is generally pretty clever, and shows a strong command of the style. The singing, however, is occasionally awkward, frequently hitting the wrong beat and throwing the band off its rhythm. It's a distraction, but not a fatal flaw, as the music -- equal parts Buck Owens, Gene VIncent and Buck Owens -- is pretty engaging. I thought this album was charming, and look forward to the next.
Jim Roll "Ready To Hang" (One Man Clapping, 1998)
An odd and alluring intersection between spacy, ear-candy indiepop and plangent twangcore, this album has a nice melodic core to it; a few songs are a little difficult or loosely constructed, but others are quite nice, the kind of stuff that'll get your toe tapping and your head bobbing along, keeping time to some song that makes no sense, but sounds mighty fine. Fans of Richard Buckner, Jay Ferrar, Jeff Tweedy and the like will find this a pleasant listen... Among the many colaboratorson here are multi-instrumentalist Drew Glackin and drummer-producer Walter Salas-Humara, who anchor the band, and guest stars like John Dee Graham and Gurf Morlix, who play on several tunes. After a while the lyrical obliqueness may wear thin, and for more country-leaning listeners the sometimes-trippy production may lead you fairly far afield, but on the whole, this is a nice record, with more emphasis on melody and listenability than many contemporary records. Worth checking out!
Hmmmm. Roll kinda of loses me on this one. Much of this album goes too far afield into the rock end of the spectrum for me, with spacy, meaningless songs and the twangy elements getting pretty much lost in the mix... But there are also moments of unexpected beauty, like the soft, acoustic "You," that'll make you sit up and take notice. Most of the material on here sounds like someone just making sounds and filling space in yet another self-indulgent 4-trackish lo-fi non-sequitor album... and it doesn't reach me emotionally at all. Oh, well.
He sure has uglied up his sound quite a bit... Here, ex-Flat Duo Jet-setter Dexter Romweber plows through a rapid-fire set of rockabilly-surf-garage rock... I dunno; seems like he's trying too hard to prove how alt-y he can be... It seems more slapdash than raw and rebellious to me, though... But then again, maybe I just ain't raw and rebellious enough to appreciate it.
An amiable, easygoing set by these Canadian hillbilly bop enthusiasts, onetime rockabilly fans who went back a few years further to the style's musical roots, much along the line of Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys or the Dave & Deke Combo. Musically, this set doesn't completely catch fire, but the two dozen songs are all pretty nice, especially considering that almost all of them are original compositions by steel guitarist Jimmy Roy and lead singer Cam Wagner. These recordings date back to 1989-93; bandleader Jimmy Roy later went on to work with Ray Condo, as well as with Big Sandy and his band.
An oddball solo outing by one of the fellas from the Gourds. Yeah, sure, he's trying a little too hard to be all weird and stuff, but his songs are still catchy. In a weird kinda way. The first track that really got my attention here was "(Somebody Get Me A Flower) I'm A Robot," which has a strong refrain... Turns out it's also the only song I can remember, even after this album was stuck in my CD player for several days. If you dig weird, goofy, outsider-arty type stuff, then this record can be pretty fun, and fans of the Gourds will probably not be disappointed. But ultimately I'm not sure how much "there" is really there.
Tom Russell Band "Heart On A Sleeve" (Rounder-Philo, 1984)
Tom Russell Band "Road To Bayamon" (1987)
Tom Russell Band "Poor Man's Dream" (Rounder-Philo, 1989)
Tom Russell Band "Hurricane Season" (1991)
Tom Russell "Cowboy Real" (Rounder-Philo, 1991)
Tom Russell "Box Of Visions" (Rounder-Philo, 1993)
Tom Russell & Barrence Whitfield "Hillbilly Voodoo" (East Side Digital.,,m , 1993)
Tom Russell & Barrence Whitfield "Cowboy Mambo" (East Side Digital, 1994)
Tom Russell "Rose Of The San Joaquin" (Hightone, 1995)
Tom Russell "The Long Way Around: The Acoustic Collection" (Hightone, 1997)
Tom Russell "Song Of The West: The Cowboy Collection" (Hightone, 1997)
On this disc for the Hightone label, Russell chose to re-record several of his older songs, since the original versions were largely in limbo at the time...
Tom Russell "Borderland" (Hightone, 2001)
Tom Russell "Modern Art" (Hightone, 2003)
Tom Russell "Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs" (Hightone, 2004)
A fifteen-song retrospective of latter-day folk/boho troubadour Tom Russell's work on the Philo label, drawing on five albums he recorded over the course of a decade... And a few previously unreleased bonus goodies as well!
It took me a long time to get around to reviewing this record... Latter-day folk/boho troubadour Tom Russell's work tends to be thematically dense and require active listening and some mental heavy lifting, and these days I'm kinda pressed for time and a little bit of an airhead. But, finally, one night as I drifted off to sleep, I popped Hotwalker into the stereo and let in unfold. It's a pretty cool album. Russell pays convincing homage to the bygone days of the beatniks and outsiders of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when "rebel" still rhymed with "outlaw," and alternative, countercultural lifestyles hadn't yet been packed in shrinkwrap for the irony-numbed masses hanging out in the malls. This is mostly a spoken-word record, with a circus calliope and a but of twang providing the musical backdrop for Russell's, gruff-voiced nostalgia -- he apparently hung out with writer Charles Bukowski many moons ago, but it's his recollections of folk bluesman Dave Van Ronk's tiny New York apartment that really drew me in. In conjuring the rough-hewn, square-peg individualism of the Beats and the free-thinkers of his youth, Russell deftly manages to avoid all the traps of language that have allowed mainstream culture to trivialize and shunt aside the cultural shifts of the 'Sixties... There's no talk here of hippies or bra-burners or freedom riders, just of the personal journey of a kid from Southern California who felt the pull of roots music and earthy, American culture -- all of which rings quite true today, when entire lives feel mediated and prepackaged to a depressing degree. Its nice to remember a time when the open road was really open, an you never knew quite where it would go...
In the last few years, songwriter Tom Russell has built up a reputation as an Americana auteur given to sculpting dense, ambitious (and impactful) concept albums; this disc is notable for the catchiness and clarity of the individual songs. It's packed with chunky, challenging tunes that, while they may not be hummable pop ditties, nonetheless have a way of getting under your skin and making your toes tap. They're also gritty and hard-hitting, miniature indictments of the hardships and heartbreak of modern life. The input of co-producer Gurf Morlix, a mover-and-shaker on the Austin scene, probably has a lot to do with how seductive and immediate this album is. While Russell's other albums have heft to them that will pay off well for attentive listeners, this disc is more readily accessible and requires less heavy lifting on the part of listeners... I think it also makes the same points as the other stuff, just in a way that lends itself better to the confines of radio playlists and busy lifestyles. Anyway, it's pretty darn good. I was pleasantly surprised.
Romping rockabilly and rhythm-heavy honky-tonk from this CD-area band. Ruth Logsdon is in the same vocal range as Dee Lannon and Rosie Flores -- not quite a diva, but able to project enthusiasm and love of the style. She has a few other records out, although this is the only one I've heard... It's worth checking out if you can track down a copy; bar band guitar whiz Bill Kirchen pitches in on a few tunes.
With plenty of Sun Records-y reverb and hiccuppy vocals, Ruthie and her pals keep the rockabilly vibe going strong, while covers of old country classics like "A Dime At A Time" and "Fist City" help balance things out in favor of the country crowd. The most notorious song on here would be Logsdon's own "He's A Honky Tonk Man," a spoof of Johnny Horton's old hit wherein, yeah, he's all man, but not for long: the cowpoke is looking for a sex change! Yee-haw, little buddy.
Alt.Country Albums - Letter "S"
Hick Music Index