Mar 042014
 

Joe Louis Walker has been guitar slinging for more than 30 years and could easily rest on his six string laurels but instead remains one of the most prolific song writing, blues guitarists around. You can’t listen to just one of Walkers albums and understand him the way you can so many traveling blues guitarists. Walker continues to grow lyrically and artistically while still highlighting the lightning in his fingers.

Many blues people get a reputation for impressive guitar playing but never really grow beyond that.joehornetsnest Their albums all sound the same and you go to their shows to see the solos. Walker never fell into that trap and Hornet’s Nest is his best album yet, one listen and you know he is as in love with that guitar as the day he picked it up, he is still experimenting and pushing himself.

Walker records for my favorite blues label, Alligator, and on this album, he worked with talented producer, musician, and songwriter Tom Hambridge, who spend time in the studio with other Alligator stalwarts, Buddy Guy and James Cotton.  Walker doesn’t settle into one style on this album, he strokes the strings tenderly on ‘Love Enough’ and heats them up with the blinding speed of the solo on the album’s title track.

The second song on the album, ‘All I Wanted to Do’ continues the power chord drive of ‘Hornet’s Nest’ but does it with a stylistic change towards a slightly more pop feel. Walkers vocals keep it planted firmly in the blues and anchor the music through the entire album.  ‘As The Sun Goes Down’ drags you deep into the swamps where his voice mingles with the guitar to create a vision so realistic you can smell the Spanish moss.

I feel the funk bopping in during ‘Soul City’ and the call to god in the gospel groove of ‘Keep the Faith’. This album shines from end to end and it seems to me that Walker has enough lightning in his pocket to propel decades more worth of albums.

Hornet’s Nest is well recorded and the backing band remains tight. I reviewed the CD release and was disheartened to find a lack of vinyl, at least for now. The CD sounds great and never feels overly digital or fatiguing. The music just sweeps you up and carries you to the end.

I highly recommend Hornet’s Nest and if you get the chance to see Walker live, don’t pass it up.

Feb 062014
 

TheDevilYouKnowTommy Castro is known for awesome guitar driven blues and with the help of his band, the Painkillers, he delivers in spades. In his new release, The Devil You Know, Castro plays beside some other great blues guitarists you may have heard of, like Joe Bonamassa tossing some serious guitar riffs on “I’m Tired” and Tab Benoit providing guitar and vocals on “When I Cross The Mississippi.”

I nabbed a special, red vinyl LP directly from the Alligator label website and I made the right decision. The vinyl comes with a passcode for an MP3 download which is a great touch that is thankfully becoming much more common. When I dropped the needle on the red wax I was impressed with the sheer speed the recording conveyed, something the MP3 version lacks. The vinyl creates a spacious soundstage and well-defined instrumental positioning. The 320 Kbps MP3 shrinks things down noticeably but is perfect for ambient listening or in the car.

The Devil You Know hits you in the chest at the first note of the title track and continues through the entire 13 tracks, driven by Castro’s mind-blowing guitar playing.  The Painkillers, Randy McDonald, Byron Cage and James Pace are tight and push the music along as they work effortlessly from song to song.

Tommy leaves no doubt that he belongs among the greatest bluesmen to ever pick up a six string, he is a gifted musician and songwriter and The Devil You Know is simply another amazing album in his discography.

Grab this one today; it is hot enough to get you through the rest of the winter.

Jan 222014
 

Last month I was looking for some fresh soul or funk when I ran across a new album from The Nightowls and before I knew it, I was boogying across the room to Good as Gold and wrote up a review. Not long after that, I headed to One-2-One bar for Motown Monday where The Nightowls were headlining. Motown Monday is a weekly event that you have to see to believe, you will be shaking parts you forgot you had.

After the show, Ryan Harkrider, the frontman and lead singer of The Nightowls took a minute to say hello and discuss a bit about the band and their music. Ryan is a charismatic frontman with a vision and I felt quite fortunate when Ryan agreed to do an interview.

Before we move on, I want to say that as good as the band is on their album they are even better live, make a point to see them soon. They will be playing at the world famous Stubbs BBQ on February 7th, a must see event.

The Nightowls

with Bus Stop Stallions

Now, without further delay, Ryan Harkrider -

Ryan, tell us about The Nightowls and your new album, Good as Gold.

NIGHTOWLS-045The Nightowls is a 9-piece soul/Motown band from Austin, Texas. Formed in the fall of 2011, the band has been writing, touring and performing ever since. With influences ranging from classic Motown to modern soul, our music is a fresh blend of vintage and modern soul.
Good As Gold is our first album. Last August, we spent about 3 weeks in the studio and tracked 12 songs. 9 songs went on our LP Good As Gold and the remaining 3 will end up being on a “B-Sides” EP scheduled for release sometime in 2014.

How do you maintain your creative vision with so many possible opinions in the room? Who is your right hand man or woman?

I do a lot of preparation before the band ever hears the song. This translates into endless home recordings and many different scratch versions of songs. But usually, I will have the entire song mapped out and very specific ideas for certain instrumentation, tones and style that I am aiming for. So, when I finally present the music to the band, there is very clear direction on where to take the music.
So, being prepared and clear with my own vision definitely helps maintain it. But additionally, our band is also full of both very talented and positive musicians. This helps to create an open environment in which we can all create and experiment together.

I do consider my bass player, Rob, to be my right-hand man and the Musical Director of the band. Where I have the overall musical vision, he has the ability to execute that vision and articulate it to the rest of the band in a more technical and musical way.

Good as Gold is very well recorded. What decisions did you make to ensure the best possible sound quality for this album?

To try and capture the rawness and authenticity of the band, we tracked live in the studio through vintage amps and microphones. Then to achieve the retro sound, we mixed the album on a 1969 Neve Analogue Console and dumped it to tape before mastering.

Right now, Good as Gold is available on CD and MP3, are you planning to release it on any other formats?

Yes, we are planning to release it both on vinyl and on 8-Track Tape sometime in 2014.

8-track is an interesting choice, what made you move in that direction?

I think that the style of music we play lends itself well to both the vinyl and 8 track mediums. Both of these tend to have a warming effect on the sound of the record that digital media doesn’t allow. And, we made a lot of recording choices knowing that eventually they would be enhanced by 8 track and vinyl. I also like the 8 track tapes because the way that the tracks have to be formatted often ends up creating a very unique and challenging approach to making and sequencing an album.

If you could play with some of the classic soul artists, who would it be and why?

Al Green because of his ability to take a simple musical idea and make it profound.

Bill Withers because of his honest approach to songwriting.

And, Stevie Wonder to learn how to break all the rules.

The internet and social media have changed the music industry for everyone, how does it affect the band, your music and your relationship with your fans?

Social media has been a great tool for us. Not only has it allowed us to have immediate and direct access to our fans but has also helped bridge the gap between new fans and us. Also, in an age when a huge amount of human interaction occurs via the internet, the ability to share our music and information in a unique, personalized way is priceless.

It hasn’t had an effect on the music that we create but it has in the way that we release our music. With the Internet, you can easily distribute your music via Amazon, iTunes and other streaming services such as Spotify, Rhapsody, etc. And at this point in the music business, these mainstream avenues are necessary for any artist because they allow you to distribute your music to a much wider audience. However, we try to take this a step further by offering our album directly for sale through our own website. Not only does cutting out the middleman allow us to reap the financial benefits but more importantly it allows us to connect directly to our fans in a very personal way.

Many music labels have failed miserably at monetizing music in this new era, what can the music industry do to right the ship?

To me, music is an art form that flourishes best when it is cultivated through honest patronage and true appreciation of that art form. And, this is where independent artists are beginning to gain an advantage. The ability of an artist to connect to its patrons (fans) and share relatable experiences is truly the lifeblood of the music industry. And, I think that record labels are failing because they have grown too impatient to cultivate music and artists. They’ve become another symbol of the mass-appeal, instant gratification culture that artists and music don’t always fit into.

I was impressed with One-2-One bar and their patrons when I saw The Nightowls live one Motown Monday. How did this weekly gig get started?

Motown Monday has been a Monday night tradition in Austin for over 3 years now. It started out at The Highball with The Matchmaker Band (a soul/Motown cover band that I and a couple Nightowls members are also a part of). Then, when The Highball closed down in 2012, we moved the residency over to The One-2-One Bar and added The Nightowls to the bill. Both bands have been at the One-2-One Bar for about a year and a half.


 

I want to thank Ryan for the interview and say that Good as Gold has continued to grow on me every time I listen to it, which has been pretty regularly the last month. It is modern soul gold and I can’t wait to get my hands on a vinyl copy, hell I might even have to hunt down an 8-track player.

Watch the Nightowls Facebook page for updates on when they will be in your area and if at all possible, step away from your turntable on Friday, February 7th and head down to Stubbs BBQ for Friday Night Fever and catch the Nightowls in their native habitat.

Jan 162014
 

Waiting for my vinyl copy of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, Give the People What They Want, reminded me of watching the last minute tick off the clock before the final bell range in fourth grade. I pre-ordered the stereo, plain old black vinyl copy but Daptone, Sharon’s label, offered a blue vinyl version and a mono version that probably would have gotten my money if I had noticed it when I ordered.

None of this mattered in the least however when I slipped the LP over the spindle. The strum of guitar, bass and then the ring of a bell echoed through my speakers before Sharon’s voice filled the room. ‘Retreat’ is a fare thee well to someone best left far behind.

sharonjones‘We Get Along’ is more than it seems, it is the story of our perseverance as people in a world that is far less kind to some than it is to others. In a more direct missive,’ People Don’t Get What They Deserve’ states the facts flat out, the American dream is more like a myth for many, no equal work for equal pay, no economic boost for being a hardworking, honest person.

Sharon is mesmerizing through this entire album, her inner strength powering outward in every song. Sharon is a master of soul timbre and nuance. She and her band transport back and forth through time effortlessly and you just want more and more.

The Dap-Kings are as tight as I have ever heard them and the mix throughout the album keeps them just behind Sharon in the soundstage, which is wider and deeper than many recordings.  The 10 songs on this album are gone long before you are ready, like ice cream in summer you just want more. Even the cover of this album is top notch, one of the best in memory even.

Sharon Jones is an unstoppable force with a spirit that refuses to surrender and we are all the better for it. I was lucky enough to watch Sharon and her band on Ellen playing ‘Stranger to My Happiness’ and I was thrilled to see her standing there, bald as a baby and full of the spirit that moves her.

Give the People What They Want is another amazing soul album that only exists because of find folks at Daptone. If you are just dipping your toes into the soul revival this is your gateway drug album, prepare to be moved.

Dec 262013
 

If you hang around Mojolists at all, you know that soul and funk are enjoying a huge revival. You also know that we support every last one of the folks who bring that horny goodness into our lives. Austin band, The Nightowls began their soul journey around 2011 and recently released their first album, Good as Gold, a catchy series of funk infused soul syrup too sweet to resist.

NIghtowls Good As Gold Album CoverLead singer and frontman Ryan Harkrider takes nostalgic walks through sacred styles of soul and Motown and makes it his own. It certainly helps to have eight talented musicians pumping out some of the funkiest beats found outside Detroit.  Soul doesn’t exactly have a geographic home right now, with bands like The Bamboos jiving out of Australia and the likes of Wily Bo Walker shaking things up in England. I can only dream we see a migration of musicians carrying their horns to Austin.

Good as Gold begins with the bands well-crafted take on soul, a modernization that leaves the raw emotion of the genre intact. You Don’t have to worry has a serious Jackson 5 vibe as the album takes to cruising the streets of Motown for a few songs. Good as Gold flows into a grinding, grooving, heartfelt and all together mesmerizing conclusion with Blood Run Cold, an eight minute piece that I could loop all day.

From a recording standpoint, this album is almost too clean. The songs scream raw but the recording screams digital. I did purchase the MP3 version rather than the available CD, which might – might reduce this slightly. The talent associated with the recording and mastering of this album is clear, I found no digital compression and it would be considered perfect by many, the music just begs for the warmth of analog to my ears. I think a vinyl release would help and is almost required considering the rebirth of vinyl and the crate diggers are largely responsible for the resurgence soul is enjoying right now. (See Daptone and RecordKicks)

The Nightowls Good as Gold is a must own despite my nit picking, so click the link now and start enjoying it. Please purchase the album directly from the Nightowls website to ensure the band gets the maximum revenue. It is nearly impossible for musicians to earn a living from their work in this day and age so please go out of your way to support them when you care enough to listen to their music.

Now, I gotta see where The Nightowls are playing because I think this band may be even better live!