As you’ve no doubt noticed, I like to find great music, but I also like finding links that tie several albums together. Some of my essays around these links can get a bit lengthy, so for the next few weeks I’m going to do shorter more frequent posts to feature one or two albums that deserve attention even though they may not fit easily into a larger theme.
In addition, sometimes I find an album that has only one or two cuts that really catch my ear. I’ll add those tunes to my collection while ignoring the album as a whole. I call it cherry picking. I thought I’d share a couple of my cherry picks with each of these short posts.
Here we go with #1.
Luke Bell – Luke Bell
I’m racking my brain, but the only country singer named Luke that I can recall is Luke the Drifter, which was, of course, an alter ego for Hank Williams. (Okay, you can include Luke Bryan on the Luke-list if you like.) This Texas based Luke is the real deal, however. When his album’s opening track, “Sometimes,” came loping out of my speakers, my head spun around. I was hearing something very new and very old at the same time. He doesn’t sing about being country; he is country. He doesn’t sing about Hank Williams and Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and Roger Miller, Bell is the threads of all of these and others woven into a new rope to pull those traditions into today.
He was raised in Wyoming as a working cowboy. Along the way he picked up the guitar and singing. That led him to a couple of years playing honky tonks in Austin, Texas – a perfect training ground in my opinion. From there he went to New Orleans and added a little spice to his musical recipes before heading back to Wyoming. After spending some time working on ranches and writing songs, he made the move to Nashville becoming somewhat of a regular performer at the semi-legendary hard core honky tonk Santa’s Bar.
All of that is in his music: wide open spaces, honky tonk shuffles, surprising musical gestures, tough choices and hard living. What separates him from the pack is the quality of his songwriting. He tells colorful stories, confesses sinful shortcomings, and paints blue pictures, while working with a variety of melodies, rhythms and tempos. He also slyly infuses his lyrics with the dashes of humor that are trademarks of the great honky tonkers going all the way back to Jimmie Rodgers. The result is an album that surprises at every turn, yet remains true to its core.
Luke can go from the barroom lament of “Sometimes” to the train like drive of the harmonica flavored “All Blue” to talking to his own reflection in the mirror (“Where Ya Been”) to a sawdust covered dance floor shuffle, “Hold Me,” and never miss a two step to the end of the album. To say this album gets better every time I hear it is to sell it short. Rather, I’d say its pleasures keep luring me back to it again and again. Isn’t that what you from a new album – and an old one too.
CP #1: As a tribute to the recently departed, great Tar Heel born songwriter John D. Loudermilk, here’s Texan Becky Hobbs with a spirited version of his tune “Talk Back Trembling Lips.”
CP #2: In my last post I wrote about Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. Their daughter Bekka Bramlett is a damn fine singer as well with a varied career including backing vocals on many great songs, a stint as Stevie Nicks’ replacement in Fleetwood Mac, and modest success as a solo artist. “What Happened” is her great cut from an album talk radio host Don Imus compiled with a variety of artists called The Imus Ranch Record.
Ah, what the heck, here’s Becca again showing her soul chops with the immortal Sam Moore.