There’s so much good music flooding into our ears so far in 2017, let’s jump right into Part 2 or our survey of the keepers from the year so far. As in the previous post, we’re not going in any particular order neither chronological nor ranking preference. I have plenty to choose from across multiple genres. Here we go!
Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Volume 1
Chris Stapleton’s first solo album, which I wrote about two years ago, was such a huge hit, I assume all of you know about him and know he’s released a new album. Often an artist has a tough time following up something as big and as good as Traveller, but dadgum I think Chris has done it. That’s all I’m going to say about it now. Here’s his take on Gary P. Nunn’s “The Last Thing I Needed, The First Thing This Morning,” which was a big hit for Willie back in the eighties. I heard him on Sirius/XM radio describe it as just about the quintessential country song in terms of structure and content.
Charlie And The Regrets – Rivers In The Streets
Front man and primary songwriter Charlie Harrison and his mates sound at first like a bunch of good old boys from Houston (probably because they are.) But their songs on their first full length album stretch across quite a range of tempos and subject matter. They’re seasoned with humor, even when the subject matter is dead serious, and there’s plenty of depth in the lyrics. Fun songs like “Proud Man” are balanced by the beautiful “Houston Rain” with some very interesting dissonant chords that lift the melody from the ordinary. Band member and frequent co-writer Willy T. adds great work on lap steel and dobro. Best of all, the album is paced beautifully, so even when the mood is somber, it’s never dull.
Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ – TajMo
From a band of young newcomers, we jump to a couple of old pros with Taj and Keb.’ When you consider how much influence the former has had on the latter, you may ask why they’ve never collaborated like this before. Like much of the music on their individual albums this one is filled with blues and R&B that is more likely to make you feel good than bring you down. In short, listening to this album is fun with engaging performers, good guitar playing, and an excellent backing band with a tasty horn section. Music like this makes you want to dance and sing along. As one of the song says, “there’ll be nothing on the radio but good news.”
Here’s a fun look at just that tune with Taj, Keb’ and the “Late Show” Band.
Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band
This eponymous titled album features Robison, a hugely successful songwriter just on the basis of the hits he wrote for George Strait, and a few good friends having a grand old time. As he says on his own web site, it’s “recorded on analog tape with no digital shenanigans. Just like back when music was good…” There are three songs by Bruce himself and others by the likes of Jack Ingram, Jason Eady, Micky Braun and even Pete Townshend. (In a strange coincidence, The Who’s “Squeeze Box” is on both this album and TajMo.)
Even the quieter songs and sad ones like the old George Jones weeper, “Still Doin’ Time” reflect the joy the musicians find in this work. It’s short with only nine tunes, but I dare you to try and not smile while you listen.
Greg Graffin – Millport
Greg Graffin is a punk rock singer, songwriter and band leader (Bad Religion) who also holds a PhD from Cornell and more recently lectures on subjects like paleontology and evolution at UCLA as well as Cornell. In recent years he’s developed a solo music career as a folk-rocker influenced by the folk and country rock artists who emerged in the Southern California late 60’s – early 70’s music scene of his youth. He tackles serious subjects like Lincoln’s assassination and the demise of small town America with an earnest, energetic and engaging style executed with excellent musicianship surrounded by a band of merry me with comparable talent.
Ruthie Foster – Joy Comes Back
Ruthie Foster, like so many of her fellow Texans, is hard to pin down genre wise. She’s often listed under “blues,” but she’s also soul, folk, gospel, country and who knows what. Joy Comes Back has a little of everything from the gospel tinged title song to a re-working of an old Four Tops hit, “Lovin’ You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” to a toe tappin’ old time country ditty that Jerry Jeff Walker might do. You’ll probably want to add eight of the ten tunes to your regular playlist.
There’s so much fun in so many of the tunes from this batch of albums. What really unites them is the sense of joy all the musicians involved seem to find playing such good music. To tie it all together in a nice bow…I opened this post with Chris Stapleton, and I’m going to close it with one of his songs which became Ruthie’s kick off cut for Joy Comes Back. She’s accompanied by a great band on the album, but this solo, live performance really shows off her voice and Stapleton’s lyrics on his pre – Traveller tune, “What Are You Listening To?