Brent Cobb “Shines On” In LP Debut

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Country music is such a funny thing. Mention it to the average person and odds are they’ll either wrinkle up their nose at you in disgust, or name a favorite artist. The odds also state that favorite artist is probably from the list of Nashville industry regulars who made the first person do all that nose-wrinkling in the first place, which is really quite the interesting phenomenon.

Rarely can I think of a genre that either inspires so much blind love of retread stereotypes, or blind hate of a style that’s way more than meets the eye. For every Toby Keith or Brad Paisley there’s a Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson out there folks, and for every trailer park-loving, beer-swilling, tractor-obsessed milquetoast songwriter…. there’s another out there stabbing at their own heart just so you can listen to it bleed.

Isbell and Simpson are just two examples of that along with many others (The Lone Bellow, Chris Stapleton, and Ryan Adams when he still cared about country music to name a few). But today I’d like to focus on a young Southern artist who much like Stapleton paved his initial way as a songwriter before bringing his quiet, rough-around-the-edges style to his first major label LP.

And while I can’t say if this album is going to turn out as well for him as Traveller did for Stapleton, regardless it’s a pleasure to welcome Brent Cobb and Shine On Rainy Day into the world here in 2016. Cobb is another break of blue light in the cloud bank of business as usual in the industry of country music. He is every bit the soft-spoken, pastorally-minded singer-songwriter who may not dominate a room vocally, but still captivates it in just his debut the way guys like Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson have their whole careers.

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Just listening to Cobb’s songs (led by his accent-heavy minimalist croon) is like taking a step back in time to the beauty of early country and folk music and what made them tick. I mean before there was “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” there was “She Thinks I Still Care” after all. There was “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. There was the real time honest sentiment from both male and female artists that made country music so relatable, because so much of it was just about the strong emotions tying us to our day to day existence.

And when it comes to Cobb, he eagerly joins the club that keeps their eye firmly fixed on that keyhole of a mentality. Take the title track for instance, which incorporates a basic backing arrangement and leaves all the soul-stopping up to just Cobb’s vocals and lyrics alone. The song forces you to take notice, feeling as fresh as today yet as priceless as a 1960’s era masterpiece B-side you find abandoned in a stack of old vinyl.

It’s certainly not alone in that regard. “Solving Problems” is an easygoing toe-tapping strummer that would get along well with the songwriting of Isbell and Josh Ritter, while “Country Bound” has all the sepia-washed innocence of a walk through the woods listening to John Denver songs.  Pair that with the strength of tracks like “South Of Atlanta” and “Diggin Holes”, and you’ve got a record that’s already preparing to blast into the stratosphere of the next generation of country music artists.

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Add the fact Cobb teamed up with country music super producer cousin Dave Cobb on this one, and Shine On Rainy Day has got a little bit of everything your roots loving heart could ask for. A little cheatin’, a little bleedin’, a little done me wrong, with a slice of a heart born as a result of living through the world as garnish on the side.

You know, just a few of the problems of the world. And that’s nothing to wrinkle your nose at.

Snider Emerges With Brilliant “Bulldog” Of A New Solo Album

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Todd Snider has always been a musician who simply seemed to let conventional labels slide off of him like oil to water. He is a folk singer yes, but he’s also been a rocker, a country crooner, a stoned out hippie jam band leader, and a storyteller not expecting to be around long so it’s time to party fast and party hard.

He’s a novelist, a comedian, a joker, a smoker, and a midnight toker. That last bit was just a Steve Miller Band lyric, but you see what I’m getting at here.

The point is, Snider has been around long enough to be able to call the shots his own way. Already this year (back in March) his jam band Hard Working Americans released the superb Rest In Chaos, an LP of nearly all original material. It saw the band evolving from a simple fun-loving cover group into a unit that not only SOUNDED tighter, but felt like it as well. It didn’t hurt that Snider brought along some of his best (and most openly vulnerable) songwriting too following a messy divorce and a lot of personal unrest swirling around in his own life.

Now: enter Eastside Bulldog. It’s classified as the first solo album for Snider in four years following 2012’s Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables, although technically the honors go to Elmo Buzz for this one. Buzz is the alter ego Snider concocted years before to play shows in Nashville when contractual obligations would have otherwise prevented it, while Eastside Bulldog is a band name/now album title that came from the school mascot Snider made up to represent his home of East Nashville.

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If Rest In Chaos was top notch blues/acid rock cut with a fair dosage of levity and wit, Eastside Bulldog is it’s sloppy drunk cousin after finishing a joint and a stack of rockabilly records. It’s Snider at his screwball finest as he and his band of Bulldogs plow through lyrics made up on the spot, all while trying to play in the style of recordings like “Louie Louie” and “Wooly Bully”.

On paper, it’s the type of arrangement that seems almost destined to be a highly uneven mess (or just an all out trainwreck). But this is Todd Snider we’re talking about, and I highly doubt there’s an artist more qualified to not only come up with such a scenario after being given free studio time, but to make it into something worth listening to.

And Bulldog more than delivers on that. With it’s blasts of saxophone, funky Jerry Lee Lewis pianos and party-like reckless abandon, the album is flat out one of the most entertaining pieces of music in 2016. Not because of it’s precision or a lengthy lyrical monologue on the human condition, but just because it’s a damn fun time wrapped into a turbo-sped 25 minutes of stoned out Buddy Holly-esque good time rock n roll.

Bulldog makes you feel like you’re right in the room with a group of people who are just clearly enjoying the hell out of playing music. And honestly, amidst all the Pitchfork reviews and critical album darlings that emerge in this era of music, it’s important to not to forget what makes it all so fun (and not so serious) in the first place.

So sit back, relax and crack open a cold one. It’s time to get down with “The Funky Tomato”, and Eastside Bulldog.

Grade: A

Standout Tracks: “Ways And Means”, “Enough Is Enough”, “37206”, “Come On Up”

EP Release Day Chatter With David Rothschild

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It’s almost the middle of February now as I write to all of you from this metaphorical foxhole in this ever-expansive musical battlefield. And, much like the weather outside this time of year is known for being almost as barren in activity as the leafless trees standing guard outside my window. The animals and insects have disappeared, the sun has gone behind the clouds to converse in silence with itself, and I’m left to piece away at time and daydream of warmth and the comfort of hammocks yet to be.

Thankfully, in an effort to perhaps snap me out of such monotone poeticisms, the musical community has once again chosen to send me a heat wave. Some lightning in a well-spun singer-songwriter’s bottle if you will. And that lightning comes in the form of none other than a New York musician by the name of David Rothschild. He and his band The Downtown Local are new on the scene (having only just formed in 2014), but they already have two EP’s under their belt and are just releasing their 2nd (entitled Carolina Seems So Long Ago) on this very day.

Carolina will be hitting the digital shelves of their Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon as well as being available to stream over on Spotify, plus the band has an EP release show planned for tonight in New York City over at The Studio At Webster Hall. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with David beforehand and get a few minutes of his time to discuss the new record, get a bit more info on he and his band’s background, talk about the lyrical/creative process and discuss what lies ahead!

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1. Now I know you formed your band The Downtown Local in 2014, and released your first EP (called Simple Changes) not long after in February of 2015. What was the origin of your band and what brought it all together? Did you have a batch of songs ready that you needed to build a band around, or was it just something that happened to come together with friends/fellow musicians in the creation process?

(DR): Forming the band and watching the band grow has definitely been the most rewarding part of this whole process. It all started with a few guys jamming at my friend’s apartment, at first just two guitars and a pianist, then I invited my buddy who played bass, and another friend who liked to sing showed up, and it was very informal. We’d hang out and play a bunch of jazz standards from a Real Book or pull up some other covers that we all liked, but eventually after a few months of sporadic jams, I sort of went out on a limb and asked, “hey would you guys wanna try one of my songs?”

I had always written songs, but never really put them out there — but I’d been writing a lot of late and had this batch I was really proud of, so I went for it. I kind of “proclaimed” I was going to start trying to take this music thing seriously, and pretty quickly over the course of a couple months we went from jamming in the apartment, to a trio of us playing cafes, to booking consistent gigs as a 6-piece band.

The interesting thing, though, was that I started recording “Simple Changes” sort of as the band was still coalescing, so there are a bunch of session musicians on the album. And so what makes this new record, “Carolina”, so special, is that after these sessions there was a moment where we all looked at each other and felt, “wow, we’ve officially found our sound.” But long story short, we were a bunch of friends who like playing music, and I’m really lucky to have friends who supported me and bought into what I was doing…and who also happen to be incredibly talented.

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2. I know it can be thought of as kind of a tired question, but I’m always fascinated by musical influences. Not only in how they bring an artist into music in the first place, but how that dynamic works within the committee of a band. What were those deciding factors for you, and how did that change or evolve as you got older/worked with other musicians? 

(DR): So this is something I actually find really important to our sound: we all have pretty unique influences, and are very much our own circle in the venn diagram, but each member overlaps with the others in their own unique way — so one of the things I love is hearing how everyone brings their own thing to the songs, most of which are not from influences I originally shared. It’s funny because I think the big unifying overlaps for all of us is a love of jazz and soul — which is not really the music we play at all.

I came from this country/folk place, Alex, our bass player, is more a funk kinda guy, Tim on drums loves to joke about bringing out his double kick pedal and metal-ing up the tunes, and the influences I share with James on guitar are very different from what James shares with Alex or James shares with Christian on keys. And still we’ve all found this great common ground that takes what could easily be described as musically un-interesting — I’m a folk fan through and through, but it’s not always the most musically complex of genres — and brought some cool flavors to it. I think we’re listening to a whole lot of everything, so it’s been great to feel out all those commonalities and take advantage of the differences.

Personally, I grew up on a mix of singer-songwriters — my parents were big James Taylor, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell types — with a lot of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye thrown in, but I also grew up playing saxophone, so everyone loved to buy me jazz albums when I was a kid before I could even appreciate them. I was all over the place, but I think I really began to find my voice as a songwriter when I stopped worrying so much about writing fancy guitar parts, or out-there chord changes, and started focusing on the storytelling.
I called that first EP “Simple Changes” because pretty much all of them were straight-ahead, four-chord songs. As I began to work with other musicians I learned that I didn’t need to supply all this complexity, but that I could allow my bandmates to create it naturally by bringing their own style to what I had written. 
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3. And speaking of influential music, what led to Paul Simon’s song “Graceland” being included on your soon to be released EP Carolina Seems So Long Ago? It’s probably one of my most favorite songs (as well as records) from Simon’s solo catalogue, and I love what you guys do with it on the record as sort of a building uptempo jam. 
(DR): I will actually give all of the credit to (our guitarist) James on this one, he suggested we do some Paul Simon. We’re all big fans of his, of course because he’s got this incredibly diverse discography, from the very folky stuff to the Afro-Carribbean and everywhere in between. So when James suggested we play a Paul Simon song, it clicked pretty quickly that we should do “Graceland,” because it was written like a song straight out of the American Roots catalogue, but it was played by South African musicians who brought their very unique interpretation to it.
I write a lot of songs that are meant to sound like country western tunes straight out of the American Songbook, and the band ends up interpreting them uniquely — it was an easy fit. We started playing it like a rockabilly Elvis tune, and of course all those other sounds just naturally came out.
4. Now I love your lyrical work on this EP. And I could make comparisons to Dylan and any other folk singer from the last 50 years (though I am sensing some early Bruce Springsteen vibes, which I really dig). I won’t slap on those labels though, because the point is, I really like how you approach YOUR songs as such a storyteller. From “Caleb” to the title track (which might be my favorite on the record) your stuff is very cinematic. Tell me, does a lot of that come from true experiences, or are you able to place yourself in a position where you can create characters and scenarios and your own stories?
(DR): Always appreciate when people say they hear early Springsteen. I am in absolutely no place to be compared to that, but I do listen to a whole hell of a lot of him. If vinyl was still a thing, his first three albums would be my most worn down for sure (Editor’s Note: Someone send David some Bruce vinyl and a turntable stat, it’s still a thing!).
“Caleb” is probably the exception that proves the rule, in that it’s one of the only songs I’ve written that doesn’t come from a very personal experience. It happens to be one of the songs I’m most proud of, but I’m not sure if that means anything. It also started as a lyric from something I’d jotted down a really long time ago… well, before I wrote the rest of the songs we play. I finished it later on, but that idea was first written down when I was a freshman in college. I guess I could give credit to the fact that I was an English major, and that jackass who thought he was going to write the Great American Novel.
But again, I think I started to find myself as a songwriter when I just broke things down to simple images and straightforward stories. Of course, if you get too straightforward, you get boring — but even a song like “Solitary Serenade” that doesn’t really have “characters” like most of the other songs, is still built around something concrete and has it’s own kind of “plot.” The first rule of writing is show, don’t tell, so I just think it’s more interesting to express myself through a story than through a soliloquy.
Nobody wants to hear me explicitly sing about my problems because, even if they’re relatable, it can come off as self-indulgent; I think it’s much better if you just lay out a story and let people take from it what they will. For the most part, yes, they’re all some version of my own experiences, or at least a thinly-veiled roman-a-clef…so I guess let’s all just be thankful that they’re not all about an ex-girlfriend anymore.
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5. And as far as the lyrical process goes, is that a journey you embark on alone and bring it in to form and shape into a finished product with the band? Or is that a process where someone suggests a part or a line or different melody and a song you thought was going in one direction initially becomes something else?
(DR): For the most part I write lyrics by myself, just because that’s the only way I’ve known how to do it. A lot of them are very personal, but I’ve gotten better at letting people into that process, which has been really nice. Typically, I will write a song on my own, bring it to the band with a good idea of how I hear it in my head, and then let them go wild with what they want to bring to it.
I’ll suggest something here and there, or try to give some shape or direction, but the challenging — and also fun — part is translating what I hear in my head into how the band wants to attack it. Lyrics though are just something I do alone pacing around a room over the course of several days, mostly just by hearing things in my head. It’s just hard for me to bring someone else into that, as much as I’d like to. I simply don’t know how yet.
But what’s been amazing is, as we’ve grown as a band, the other guys will bring songs to the group — either lyrics that I’ll help put to a melody, or a progression that I’ll help put lyrics/a melody on — and we’ve now begun to collaborate even more. I’ve always considered the band to be a big part of the songwriting process, just not necessarily at the stage of lyric writing — now we’re starting to figure out how to really write things together.
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6. And when it comes to the music as it blends to the lyrics, is there a singular process where the music comes first and the words shape themselves out of it? Vice versa? Or is it sometimes just a mix of the two as it grows in the studio? And also, what is the process like recording live in the studio compared to other methods? I know you do that on this latest EP, and you can really tell with how full the sound of the songs are. 
(DR): It can go either way — it used to be that I’d write up a guitar part or a progression first and then try to hear a melody or a hook out of that, but these days more often I just hear a hook in my head with some sort of words on it, and then can naturally build the progression out of that. It’s not very common, though, that I just have words without an idea of how they sound — if the words come before the progression, they typically come with a melody line that naturally has its own changes. There is definitely always a moment, though, usually after a verse and chorus are written, when I know, “okay, this is how this song goes.”
As far as recording live, this was just a very different experience from the first record because, as I mentioned, this was the first time we really recorded songs that we had built together in full. The first set of songs we kind of built and arranged as we recorded them, piece by piece, but these four were songs that we’d been playing for a little while. There’s always something nice about having multi-track recording and being able to overdub here and there, but it was really cool to go into the studio and just play through the songs a bunch of times until we felt like we’d nailed it. A lot more instant gratification that way as well. 
7. When it comes to making music, whether it’s creating the instrumental side, the lyrics, the collaborating as songs grow in the studio…. what is that music to you? Does it represent a catharsis and a way to really unload an emotional weight, or is just that you have these stories in mind that just need to be told? What keeps the spark going in you that keeps that creating fresh and inspiring?
(DR): Again, I think a little bit of both. At different times in my life there have been very specific things that I needed to get out: “Carolina,” the title track, for instance, was written very much at that quarter-life crisis stage of my life when I was trying to figure out where the hell I belonged and what the hell I was doing, so I wound up writing a very nostalgic song about simpler times. A song like, Caleb, though, just kind of came out of the aether — I heard it, got an idea of what it was, and just ran with it.
In any case, though, it is very much a catharsis just to finish a song. Whether I’m writing something deeply personal or just a fun rocker, I can sort of get lost in the process and then feel really refreshed when I come out on the other side. Sometimes it’s a real grind, and I’ll drive myself (and my roommates) insane just pacing around trying to figure out that next lyric, but I’m really fortunate to have found an outlet that I sort of know how to use.
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8. And finally, I know you’re just getting starting with the release of EP number two and getting that out into the world. But, do you see any future plans on the horizon for doing a full LP at some point? And do you have more songs waiting to go in the pipeline regardless of the type of record you want to make next?
(DR): We’ve definitely got more in the pipeline! Not to plug to shamelessly, but we’re finishing new songs pretty regularly, so odds are if you catch a show, we’ll be playing some pretty fresh stuff mixed in. No real plans for an LP at this point, but in this day and age of music consumption, the medium of the album itself doesn’t mean too much to me. Whether it’s four songs or six songs or twelve songs is really only a matter of how many songs are ready to be recorded.
These two albums felt very much like their own batches of songs that easily fit together — it wasn’t like we specifically wrote the songs for these releases, but just came to a point where we just organically felt, “these 4 songs fit together.” I’ve already got a bit of a sense of a next batch, songs we’ve been playing live for the last little bit that represent a unique stage of the band, but I imagine when the time comes, we’ll know what we have.
A big BIG thanks goes out to David Rothschild for doing this interview with me! As I said before, his new EP Carolina Seems So Long Ago is due out today, so get out there and buy it up on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon, stream it on Spotify, and be sure if you’re in New York City to go see David and The Downtown Local play their EP release show TONIGHT at The Studio at Webster Hall!
And be sure to check out my review of Carolina in the post up above!
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Photos are courtesy of the band’s Bandcamp and Facebook page. 

Ivy, Beck & Neill’s “Rockwood” Burns Bright as Powerhouse of Brooklyn Country

Live At Rockwood Music Hall

Brooklyn country music. It’s a genre phrase I was entirely unaware of up until a couple of years ago when I first started visiting this vast borough of New York City. The term began with some of my first musical learning experiences down there (as oh so many things have for me), and only grew in it’s shape and scope as I peeled down through the layers.

It’s been a fascinating study ever since, and one of the sweetest fruits to come out of this gradual enlightenment has been none other than the band Ivy, Beck & Neill. In fact since I first saw them perform down at Rockwood Music Hall back in August, the days and weeks since have simply been a (less than patient) exercise in waiting for their debut release Live at Rockwood Music Hall. 

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Thankfully that waiting came to an end on August 29th, and was well worth each second. The record finds the power trio of Trisha Ivy, Mike Beck and Amanda Simpson Neill tuned up and in top form for this release; filling out their largely low key lineup with bassist Zach Lober, drummer Mason Ingram and outstanding pedal steel work from Gerald Menke. This gives IB&N even more room to stretch their wings musically, and as a result these nine tracks pop off the speakers with an even deeper and more well-honed significance.

Whether it’s Lober’s bass work giving “5-Foot Chain” an extra drag from a slinky jazz hall cigarette, Menke’s pedal steel shedding unbreakable tears on an unhealthy love gone cold on “Blame It On The Whiskey”, or Ingram’s percussion skillfully leading the band across the triumphant tapestry of  “All The Way Across Texas”, it’s a joy just to listen to every line of the journey that makes these songs whole. Every tire and emotion tread is a chemistry…. an energy… a force that will fill you with nothing more than belief. Belief in sadness, belief in joy, belief in your soul, belief that there is good and bad and that there may be darkness in every light.

There’s a Warren Zevon song called “Desperados Under The Eaves” that says but except in dreams, you’re never really free. Yet when I listen to a song like “Texas”…. I believe I’ve already made it there.

And that’s the magic of a release like Rockwood. While every ounce of Mike Beck’s superb production places you next to the bar lights, the hardwood floors and the intimacy of one small room in one big bustling city, it’s the songs that take you out of it.

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“Buckshot” is bullet-riddled murder balladry at it’s classic country finest, while “One Day at a Time” is a yearning Kris Kristofferson-esque phone call hoping for a shot at redemption. Both tracks are buoyed by the sheer vocal presence of Trisha Ivy, whose versatile croon is somewhere between the beauty of a Skeeter Davis and the snark of a Natalie Maines. And just like those classic voices, Ivy’s power resides in how she can make your heart feel every note of her musical emotion. Whether it’s in the whisper of a wry smile or a voice made heavy by a sobriety of sadness, she paints a palette that holds your hand down every road she’s taken and all the feelings experienced on the way back again.

And the same proves true for Amanda Simpson Neill, who plays the bluesy soul-assassin murmuring regrets and confessions into the darkness of “Whiskey” in one moment, and the girl with her arm out the car window triumphantly blasting Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” in the next on “Texas”. And while Mike Beck may not jump on lead vocals very much, his Johnny Cash-ish saloon ball swagger on closer “Strong Place Brawl” with Ivy and Neill acting as his June Carters may be one of my favorite moments of the whole record.

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But ultimately, whether apart or together on moments like “If You Ever Leave Me” or the insanely infectious “Play Me a Record”, listening to IB&N and Rockwood is just simply about listening to the stories. Listening to the heart. I’ve heard major rock bands play sports arenas who could never pray or dream to have as much soul in the tips of their guitar fretting fingers as this band has altogether.

So listen, and behold. Because this is the essence of Brooklyn country music, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

You can buy Ivy, Beck & Neill’s album Live at Rockwood at their Bandcamp link below:

http://ivybeckandneill.bandcamp.com/

Brooklyn Band Has “Nothing Left To Lose” On Brilliant “Rockwood Live” Debut

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It seems like almost every time I travel to Brooklyn, I discover something new to add to the realm of my musical depth. And more often than not, it seems to be the borough’s knack for so-called “Brooklyn country music”.

First it was The Lone Bellow back in 2013 (as I wrote about on this blog), then back in March of this year it was the discovery of up and coming talent Lindsey Luff during a night at Rockwood Music Hall. And while I spoke quite fondly of Luff and her EP Real Gone for a video on Youtube, that wasn’t the only group I witnessed that night that happened to leave one hell of an impression behind.

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Enter Barefoot & Bankside. Led by the heavenly serpentine twine of vocalists Amanda Simpson Neill and Jamey Hamm as well as the laser sharp orchestration of guitarist Dylan Sneed, the BK-based sextet rattled Rockwood down to the stones and plaster with a beautifully wearied blend of alt-rock, country, gospel and folk-based jams. Every note seemed to electrify the confines of that little room, and the effect was only buoyed by the intensity of both Neill’s blissful croon and Hamm’s jagged growl.

Luckily B&B happened to be recording that night’s standout set for the purpose of releasing a live EP, and as a result here we now have their debut recording. AKA, Rockwood Live.  

Now I’ve already mentioned the band’s blending of influences, but it takes sitting down and carefully listening to these performances to truly understand just how deftly crafted they are. Where at one moment you might expect a folk/bluegrass band with banjo in hand comes the roughshod rock of opening track “Fall In Line”, a toe-tapping shot of lovingly bitter “Kerosene”, and the smoldering burn of the passionate “War For Your Soul”.10928204_431622000335157_7404922844955774366_nLyrically the band embraces their country notes with Gram Parsons-esque odes to lost love (“Nothin’ Left To Lose”), gospel overtones as buried in the blues as Robert Johnson running from the hellhound (“Pocket Change”), and the pure essence of love buried in human nature (“Hold On Love”). Add songs that are as captivating as they are earwormingly catchy to Neill’s musical chemistry with Hamm and Sneed, and you have a dance worthy of Gram and Emmylou themselves. Or at the very least somewhere at the crossroads of Melissa Ethridge and American Aquarium’s BJ Barham.

Either way, Rockwood Live ranks quite easily as one of the best pieces of music from an up and coming band that I’ve heard in quite some time. “Brooklyn country music” or otherwise. And while it is a debut only promising a hint of what Barefoot & Bankside has to offer, you need to go immediately and see them live if you happen to be in the same neck of the woods.

Just to say, “I saw them when”. This recording will be sure to convince you of that fact.

(Rockwood Live is available on bandcamp.com. Just search Barefoot & Bankside and download the fun that awaits!)

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