Songwriter Herring has the whole package
Hang on, here comes the holy flood of music to the valley. And some of the acts will be coming with reasonably fresh CDs to peddle. Following are reviews of recent CDs by acts headed this way in the days and weeks ahead.Caroline Herring, “Wellspring”produced by Rich Brotherton (Blue Corn Music)Here’s a good bet: not too many years from now, people will be telling envious listeners that they saw Caroline Herring at Steve’s Guitars.On her second CD, “Wellspring,” Herring displays the full package that puts her right close to the company of Lucinda, Emmylou and Gillian. The Mississippi-born, Texas-bred singer-songwriter has that same brand of unaffected Southern twang that transforms the smallest bit of lyrical phrase into something fraught with meaning. Her emotional range is huge: “Colorado Woman” is about being strong like the mountains; “Mistress” is from the perspective of a slave; “Texas Two Step” is sly, old-style swing that opens with the great line, “You’re what I call reasonably attractive.” “Wellspring” is expertly underproduced. The CD sounds almost scratchy and thick, like vinyl. It’s an ideal setting for these timeless folk-country songs.Caroline Herring plays at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale on Saturday, June 26.
Rebirth Brass Band, “Rebirth for Life”produced by Lee Frank (Tipitina’s Records)”Rebirth for Life,” a studio recording by New Orleans’ long-blowing Rebirth Brass Band, sounds like it was recorded live in the tiniest, grungiest of Big Easy dives. This both gives the album the genuine, immediate feel of New Orleans brass music, and makes the sound claustrophobic, as if the big sounds of tubas, trombones, etc., were trying to blast their way out of a box. There’s no arguing, though, with the exuberance Rebirth – led by founding brothers, tuba player Philip Frazier and bass drummer Keith Frazier – brings to the music.Rebirth Brass Band plays tonight, Friday, June 25 at Club Chelsea, as part of Jazz Aspen’s JAS After Dark series.Chatham County Line, “Chatham County Line”produced by Chris Stamey & Brent Lambert (Bonfire Records)I’m in the habit of cringing when I see a CD cover with a bunch of guys sporting cowboy hats and matching suits. It’s the visual clue that the music inside is going to be yet another attempt to play perfectly authentic bluegrass. (Bands with “county” in the name is another bad sign.)”Chatham County Line,” the debut CD by this North Carolina quartet, has the hats, suits and name. And the songs, too, are filled with bluegrassy nostalgia: “Closing Town,” about a dying economy, refers to Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”; “WSM (650)” is about the days when radio was the main link to the world and a radio station could lure a young picker to Nashville. Elsewhere, Chatham County Line sings about boxcar hobos, late bluegrass icons Bill Monroe and John Hartford, and the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
But the sound here is refreshingly original. Especially in the vocals, Chatham County Line has an edge, roughly halfway between smooth bluegrass and a Steve Earle slur. They manage to give the old subjects a new twist, finding current meaning in old themes. Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” has been done over and over, yet their version, if not essential, is worth hearing. “Song for John Hartford” is in the mold of a Dylanesque talking blues, further showing the band’s willingness to break ground. Another bonus is the versatility. On different tunes, the sound leans toward country, old-timey and folk-rock.Chatham County Line plays Aug. 1 on Aspen Mountain in the Bluegrass Sundays series.Asylum Street Spankers, “Mercurial”produced by Brian Beattie (Spanks-A-Lot Records)The zany, theatrical, not-quite-retro swingers Asylum Street Spankers are a band that beg to be seen live. But the Austin, Texas, seven-piece hasn’t never had much problem transferring their character to CD, and “Mercurial” generally captures the spirit of this off-kilter party.The Spankers’ sixth CD, “Mercurial” collects a group of mostly cover tunes the band has played live over its decade of existence. The songs – an eclectic batch ranging from the novelty tune “D.R.I.N.K.” to the blues classic “Got My Mojo Working,” the ancient “Shine on Harvest Moon” to Black Flag’s “TV Party” – get the sharp Spankers’ tweak. Much of that comes from singer Christina Marrs, whose voice teeters between absurd and virtuoso, often in the same song.The Asylum Street Spankers perform at the Jazz Aspen June Festival, with sets on Saturday, June 26 at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. on the Cooper Ave. Free Stage, and Saturday and Sunday nights at Club Chelsea.
Tinsley Ellis, “The Hard Way”produced by Ellis (Telarc Blues)On “The Hard Way,” almost every blues style comes easily to singer-guitarist Tinsley Ellis. The album tours through Cream-style blues-rock on “Still in the Game,” stomping acoustic blues on “And It Hurts,” and psychedelic, wah-wah blues on “La La Land.” On “Me Without You,” Ellis does a dead-on impersonation of Robert Cray soul-blues in sound, lyrics and vibe. He handles all the styles with ease, but the constant jumping around makes you wonder who the real Tinsley Ellis is under all those guises.Tinsley Ellis plays in the Carbondale Council on the Arts and Humanities’ Performances in the Park series today, June 25, in Sopris park, Carbondale, at 6:30 p.m.Jenna Mammina & André Bush, “Art of the Duo”produced by Mammina (Mamma Grace Records)I don’t imagine the baby-girl voice possessed by San Francisco vocalist Jenna Mammina is going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But on “Art of the Duo,” on which she teams with guitarist André Bush, Mammina’s voice is more playful than grating. Wisely, she selects breezier, more upbeat tunes, and an interesting collection of those: George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and Elvis Costello’s “Everyday I Write the Book,” the standard “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and the original “Butterfly Blues.” Bush’s chordings complement Mammina’s voice nicely, making for a cohesive, light-hearted listen.Jenna Mammina appears at Jazz Aspen’s June Festival, with performances today, June 25 at 4 p.m., and Saturday, June 26, at 3 p.m. on the Cooper Ave. Free Stage, and today and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. at Syzygy. Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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Amid the pre-Thanksgiving gloom of grim pandemic news here in Aspen, across Colorado and the mountain west came a small but significant dose of hope in the unlikely form of an Aspen Music Festival and School announcement.