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Coming to Belly Up: bands with CDs to sell

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Stewart Oksenhorn The Aspen Times

Bob Schneider “Burden of Proof,” produced by Dwight A. Baker (Kirtland Records)

A couple decades ago, Bob Schneider appeared regularly in Aspen as the charismatic frontman of the bands Joe Rockhead and the Ugly Americans, both funk-rock acts with an edge to their sounds. I wasn’t sure how Schneider would fit in when I saw him booked at last year’s 7908 Songwriters Festival at the Wheeler Opera House, but Schneider had taken on the guise of a singer-songwriter — acoustic guitar, solo, chatting with the audience, a lot of bite to his humor.

It’s another face that the Austin-based 47-year-old presents on the compelling “Burden of Proof.” The album crosses a singer-songwriter approach with pop sounds and an emotional quality balanced between dreamy and dark. For my ears, the strongest reference is Peter Gabriel, with a touch of Leonard Cohen, but Schneider isn’t looking backwards for influences. The plaintive “Please Ask for Help” echoes the folk-rock of the contemporary band Dawes. The equally sweet-hearted tribute “John Lennon” uses beats from modern pop, as Schneider proclaims that no bullets could remove from the world what the assassinated Beatle contributed to it.

Bob Schneider plays a solo show on Wednesday, June 19 at Belly Up.

Son Volt “Honky Tonk” (Rounder)

You’ve got to love truth in advertising. “Honky Tonk,” Son Volt’s seventh album, has a true honky-tonk flavor, which represents a new direction for the roots band. You’ve also got to love the pedal steel, which is spotlighted here and gives the album its distinctive old-country feel.

And mostly a nod to Jay Farrar. Son Volt’s leader has a voice that is wearing well. Farrar’s voice has become recognizable — patient, Midwestern, sorrowful — and, no matter the song or the style, it is the dominant sound in Son Volt’s music. Here, it balances beautifully with the bright tone of the pedal steel. It means that Son Volt doesn’t need to do anything fancy. On “Honky Tonk” the songs are simple, the rhythm gets locked in and doesn’t vary much, and even Mark Spencer’s pedal steel, while prominent, is never over-done. What you hear is the essence of country, and Farrar’s singing.

Son Volt performs July 17 at Belly Up.

Whitewater Ramble, “Roots & Groove,” produced by Tim Carbone

Take bluegrass instrumentation, but electrify it. Add drums, some keyboards, a little humor. Let your rhythmic sensibility run across the gamut, from rock to jazz to Latin. Now give it a Colorado setting and put it all in the hands of latter-generation hippies.

That was the formula for String Cheese Incident, and now it is the formula for the Ft. Collins-based Whitewater Ramble. So who could be surprised that Whitewater Ramble closely echoes String Cheese? “Roots & Groove” features loose-limbed jamming, jazz progressions, a couple of reggae numbers, some hippie drivel in the lyrics, and a bunch of guest players including banjoist Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon; keyboardist Bill McKay, formerly of Leftover Salmon; and dobroist Andy Hall of the Infamous Stringdusters. Producing is Tim Carbone, the fiddler from Railroad Earth.

String Cheese tended to disappoint with its studio recordings. And while “Roots & Groove” is no revelation, it might be a cut above any of String Cheese’s studio albums. But like String Cheese, this music should come to life best in a live setting.

Whitewater Ramble plays Thursday, June 20 at Belly Up.

Blue Sky Riders, “Finally Home,” produced by Peter Asher and Blue Sky Riders

The first stage of Kenny Loggins’ career had a strong Aspen connection. Barely 20, he wrote four songs, including the enduring “House at Pooh Corner,” that made it onto the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy” album, from 1970, when Nitty Gritty was practically Aspen’s house band. Loggins went on to other distinct career points: joining with Jim Messina in the hit-making duo Loggins & Messina; penning the hit “What a Fool Believes” with Michael McDonald; writing a string of improbably successful songs for movies (“I’m Alright” for “Caddyshack,” “Danger Zone” for “Top Gun,” the title track for “Footloose”).

Loggins latest move is the Blue Sky Riders. The trio, with fellow singer-songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman is ostensibly a move toward rootsier, more acoustic music, but “Finally Home,” their debut album, leans far toward the pop side of country, heavy on precision and production.

Blue Sky Riders play July 18 at Belly Up.


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