Friday, April 2, 2010

The Dry Frontier - Justin K. Rivers

The Dry Frontier Cover

The Dry Frontier
- Justin K. Rivers -
Johnny Desolation Records

This is my second solo album, about dreams and disenchantment on the western frontier. In the tradition of John Stewart.

  1. Prospector
  2. The Parlor Trick
  3. The Lone Trail
  4. Geranium
  5. Bitches and Weed
  6. Wagon Ruts
  7. New York Postcards
  8. Doctor John Holliday
  9. My Little Main Street
  10. The Mind's Eye
  11. Cement
  12. Gotta Get Back to New York
  13. The Sweetness Within
Download here

The Sere Street - Justin K. Rivers

The Sere Street Cover

The Sere Street
Justin K. Rivers
Johnny Desolation Records

This is my first solo acoustic album. It's about urban decay in the Northeast, in the tradition of Bill Morrissey and Leonard Cohen.

  1. The Twentieth Century Limited
  2. Sweet Jenny
  3. Blue Satin Smoke
  4. Mutineer
  5. Give Me Peace Again
  6. Sunspot
  7. Nicholas
  8. One Last Time to Leave This City
  9. Homestead
  10. Last Days of the World
  11. The Main Street Girl
  12. The Twenty-First
Download Here

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Skanky Ole Drug Songs - Squint Todd


"Skanky Ole Drug Songs"
Squint Todd

This is some real outlaw country music. All of these songs are posted for free download on various web sites, apparently by Squint himself, which is why I am posting them here. They are not from a record, but I love these songs and think you will too. A shout- out to my buddy Kyle for discovering them.

This is a collection of 18 mp3s, that I have sequenced into a collection I have called "Skanky Ole Drug Songs." They're lo-fi, bare bones songs sung with a textured, throaty voice. They're songs about drugs, drinking, and women - dirty, profane, and darkly comic. This guy writes brilliant lyrics and delivers them with an easy, authentic manner. He rides a fine line between the comic and the tragic. I particularly like "Smokin You Off My Mind" for that balance. "Welcome to Purgatory" is haunting and urgent. "Canadian Whiskey" is a straightforward ode. I also particularly enjoy "Hillbilly Skid Row." But if there's one outstanding perfect song in this collection, it is hands down "Fifty More Miles to Waco." That's the instant classic. Kyle and I obsessed about it to the point where we wrote it down and learned to play it.

I don't know anything about Squint Todd. Don't know anybody that does. I heard some things about him, but don't know if they're true. Someone told me he was in jail. It's just a rumor like everything else.

Track Listing:
  1. Canadian Whiskey
  2. Hillbilly Skid Row
  3. Truckstop Sleeping Pills
  4. Fifty More Miles to Waco
  5. On the Smokey Side of the Hill
  6. Pearl DeVere
  7. One More For El Paso
  8. Skanky Ole Drug Songs of Mine
  9. Smokin You Off My Mind
  10. The Saddle Tramp
  11. Takin the High Road
  12. When I'm Comin Down I Think of You
  13. A Stranger's Cry
  14. Texas Weed
  15. The DT's
  16. The Ole Horned Toad (Autobiography)
  17. I Guess I Came Back Just to See
  18. Welcome to Purgatory
Download Here

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Third Time Around - Bill Staines


Third Time Around
by Bill Staines
Catfish Records

If "A Bag of Rainbows" is the Holy Grail of Bill Staines albums, this one is the Life of Brian, if you will. It's been a long time looking for "Third Time Around." The condition is not bad, and overall this one and "Somebody Blue" sound pretty good, considering my turntable is on its last legs and is not long for the world.

This is not his third album. It's his fourth. The one (the only one) I'm missing is "Bill Staines," his self-titled album on Evolution Records from 1971. Here, two years later, Staines has matured into the sound that we are most familiar with. His voice occupies that fine mid-range, and his guitar work and songwriting seem more confident and in-step with his subsequent body of work.

There are some great tracks on this record. I particuarly enjoy "Sunshine Islands" and the ultra-rare "Staines Trumpet Concerto in E," the latter of which he wasn't terribly pleased with, and subsequently has never appeared again anywhere. It's a mouth trumpet concerto, you see. The final track "Ballad of the Maples" is also a good one, in that it showcases his considerable yodeling tallent. The guy wasn't a champion yodeler for nothing, although you don't here him doing it much these days. I think it's probably his only yodel showcase on any of his albums.

1. Sunshine Islands
2. That's the Way it Happens All the Time
3. This Song is For the Birds
4. Whipporwill
5. Staines' Trumpet Concerto in E
6. I can Feel the Sweet Wind Blowin'
7. Railroad Blues
8. Loving You is All I know That's Real
9. Just for Love (a Race Horse)
10. Ballad of the Maples

Download Album Here

Somebody Blue - Bill Staines


Somebody Blue
by Bill Staines
Champlain Records

Bill's second album, recorded in Massachusetts not long after "A Bag of Rainbows." You can see his solo technique developing and already he has his trademark gift for simple engaging melody. There's more info about this album in his memoir but I don't have my copy with me. Will update in a few months when I have it again, to fill in the whole story of how the record came to be.

I particuarly enjoy "Country Boy" and "That's the Way it Happens All the Time," which also appears on his fourth album.

1. Happiness Is
2. Highway North
3. Prairie Winds
4. Country Boy
5. Somebody Blue
6. Campbell Street
7. That's the Way it Happens All the Time
8. Once in a While
9. Magnificent Morning
10. Liliana
11. Blue Eyed Mountain Maid

Download Here

Friday, November 13, 2009

La Belle Poisoneuse - Guthrie Thomas

La Belle Poisoneuse 1

La Belle Poisoneuse
Guthrie Thomas
Eagle Records

I had never heard of Guthrie Thomas before, a fact that I deeply regret. He's had quite a career, with a ton of albums (most of seem to be very hard to find, even the ones released on CD recently) and a ton of connections. He's played with Ramblin' Jack, Arlo Guthrie, and Ringo Starr. He's also a pharmacist. And a damn good singer/songwriter.

This album is a collection of acoustic songs. It's just Guthrie and a guitar and a set of well-crafted songs. There's some good fingerpicking on these tracks, but it's not the focus. He's got an earth baritone voice that is expressive and appealing and imbued with confidence and urgency. He reminds me of one of my heroes, the great John Stewart. Lyrically, he is more straightforward than Stewart. His songs don't have the poetic imagery or clever hooks that Stewart has, but there's something warmly honest about these songs, in their archetypal nature, and in their balance between sorrow and joy. I don't think any of these songs could be called "sad" or "happy," they are a mixture of the two. On one hand, these songs celebrate life and love, on the other, they regret the toll of the road, and loneliness and uncertainty. He mentions his daughter more than once, and I get the sense that the "poisonous beauty" alluded to in the title is the life of the folksinger - the allure and freedom of the open road, the compulsion to write and sing, offset against the responsibilities of fatherhood and the loved ones left behind. My personal favorite is "Knowin' that She's Waitin'."

Released in 1979, only 500 copies were pressed. It's now a pretty rare find. I really want to get some more of his albums. His web site is really the only source of information about him, and it doesn't give any details about tour dates, and it doesn't have an online store, which is frustrating. I don't know about the rest of you, but with a lot of my favorite artists, I try to buy their albums directly from them, at a concert, to make sure the money's not going to some chain store or something. If anyone's seen him in concert, I'd love to hear about it.

Here's his official page. Looks like he's a jack-of-all trades, selling guitar picks and such as well.
Guthrie Thomas Official Web Site

  1. You Can't Buy No Love Songs
  2. You Make it Easy
  3. Knowin That My Baby's Waitin'
  4. Come to a Road
  5. What Must I Do
  6. Will I Love Again
  7. If I Could Find the Words
  8. Sarah Maris
  9. Catch the Clown
  10. Lady on the Piano

Download Album Here


Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Moon by Charlie Ortman

New Moon 1

New Moon
by Charlie Ortman
Private Release
Desert Rose Music 1986

A gem. This was a chance find on ebay, and my rip from the vinyl does not do it justice. Singer/songwriter Charlie Ortman got his start in Chicago and performed throughout Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin for about 20 years. He even toured Europe briefly. This album from 1986 is his lone recording, a collection of original songs brimming with warmth and energy. I especially like the title song "New Moon," and "It Won't Take Long," a catchy but bittersweet tune about unrequited love.

The best thing about the album is Charlie's voice. He reminds me of Billy Joel in a way - a clear, powerful voice that renders the songs with nuance and feeling. He's also got a great group of background singers, and the vocal arrangements and harmonies offer solid support. The instrumentation is nice, but I think his vocal work is the best part. The songs have a dynamic range between long and short notes, and express a positive and energetic view of humanity. Listening to New Moon left me wanting more.

Charlie retired from performing in 1990, and is now a Unitarian minister. He's currently writing a book about his adventures bicycling across the US.

I hope you all enjoy this album as much as I have. This is definitely going to be on my car stereo next spring on my big road trip back home, as soon as I hit the Illinois border, heading east.

  1. Illinois Prairie
  2. New Moon
  3. Once Again
  4. Desert Rose
  5. Lady of the Ozarks
  6. It Won't Take Long
  7. Rainy Day Momma
  8. Will's Song
  9. Peggy Jones
  10. Spring Fever
  11. Mississippi River Song

Download New Moon Here