Album Review — Justin Moses’ ‘Fall Like Rain’

Bluegrass is a genre I admittedly had trouble appreciating when I was younger. I’ve always respected the genre, but it was something that was hard for me to sit down and truly enjoy. In the earlier days of the blog I covered some bluegrass and writing a review was like pulling teeth from me. Even before that I was exposed to bluegrass from my grandpa. Maybe that’s why when Sturgill Simpson mentioned having a similar experience with his own grandfather that it allowed me to connect to this two volumes of Cuttin’ Grass even more. So admittedly these albums finally made me wake up and appreciate bluegrass a lot more and I’ve been slowly diving into the genre since the release of Simpson’s first volume.

When I was searching for upcoming bluegrass releases, Justin Moses’ album caught my eye and I gave a listen to some of the pre-release singles. The sound immediately caught my ear. Keep in mind I didn’t even know until I dove into Fall Like Rain that he’s the husband of bluegrass star and mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull, who blew me away with her work on Simpson’s bluegrass albums and her own album 25 Trips released last year was quite impressive too (definitely worth your time if you haven’t heard it). Moses’ work though is quite talented in his own right, as he delivers a really good record in Fall Like Rain.

The title track kicks off the album and it should be noted it’s an Eric Clapton cover from his Pilgrim album. Moses does a great job making it his own and re-contextualizing it within bluegrass, as the aching pain of heartbreak that permeates in the lyrics suits the bluegrass sound well. Hull joins Moses on “Taxland” for a captivating instrumental that shows off both of their impressive picking abilities. It’s so much fun and the energy of it is amazing. When I hear a song that jams this hard it only makes me miss live music even more, as I imagine this song would be even more fun to hear in-person.

Prominent bluegrass artist Dan Tyminski joins Moses on “Between the Lightning and the Thunder.” Even if you don’t listen to bluegrass, Tyminski’s voice is quite distinctive, as he’s been featured in some major hits in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Avicci’s “Hey Brother.” With that in mind I was surprised at the restrained nature of Tyminski’s vocal performance. It’s a solid track, but as someone used to Tyminski’s vocals being more prominent this caught me off guard. Not to mention the theme of the song centering around the clashing of lightning and thunder would be seem to call for a more powerful sound to reflect this.

“Walking to Lebanon” has an appropriately Middle Eastern-inspired sound to open the album, which really catches my ear. The songwriting is just as distinctive, as Moses tells the story of a young girl who lives amongst violence and chaos in a Middle East country and is forced to walk across the desert to Lebanon with her sister to escape the bombings that have ravaged her home. It’s a tragic story with a small sense of hope that peace can be found for the young girl. I also appreciate the line from Moses when he sings “It’s hard on us all, but it’s meaner for some,” contextualizing the difference of a tough life in a first-world country versus a tough life in a third-world country. For me it’s a small reminder that somebody somewhere is experiencing something that I will likely never have to go through and I should both take solace in this and sympathize with those who are struggling.

Moses gets a chance to show off his own picking chops in a solo capacity on tracks “Wise & Born” and “Watershed.” As I said in my review of Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History, the key to great instrumental music over the course of an album is variety and conveying mood within the listener as they listen to it. And Moses does this quite well on Fall Like Rain. There’s a distinct character to each track, as “Wise & Born” feels like you’re taking an exciting ride along the countryside and “Watershed” has a soaring, flying feel about it that captures my attention.

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury joins Moses on “My Baby’s Gone.” The impressive picking of Moses combined with the high-pitched twang of McCoury make for a sweet combination on this heartbreak song. I particularly enjoy McCoury’s closing vocals on the track as he hits the highest notes of the song, as it leaves a lasting impression. It also shows the blues of bluegrass and it’s influences on the genre (hence why I liked Moses’ pick of a Clapton cover too). By the way the guest features on this album are great and Moses delivers one more when Shawn Lane of Blue Highway joins him on “Looking for a Place.” I had never heard Lane sing before this, but his voice really stands out with it’s distinctive softness. It also makes for great harmonizing with Moses on the chorus and adds to the breezy melody that envelopes the song.

“U.F.O.” and “Locust Hill” close out the album in a strong way. The former is a quiet observation of the climb we all experience in life, but remaining hopeful that we can one day find the “streets paved with gold.” It works not only in a biblical context, but also striving to find that inner peace in life too. This song underscores the subtle theme throughout the album of acknowledging the rough spots we all experience, but still finding the strength and hope to overcome them and reach the heights we aspire to in our lives. It’s quite the uplifting message to take away from this album. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the tight instrumentals too. The small break before the instrumental reprise at the end of “U.F.O.” is a nice touch. It also provides a good contrast to the fast-picking of “Locust Hill,” as Moses leaves the listener with a real shot of energy and allows all the players on the record to really stretch their legs, which is a standard in the world of bluegrass. The collaborative nature of the genre is without question a shining aspect.

Justin Moses really delivers a fun and memorable listen with his first full-length bluegrass record Fall Like Rain. Almost all of the features are utilized well and there’s plenty of catchy melodies throughout. And unsurprisingly the picking by all the players on this project is top-notch. I would liken this album to warm comfort food for me: it’s not the flashiest nor the most distinctive. But it’s something I can come back to again and again because it’s just so solid and reliable all-around.

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Album Review — Tyminski’s ‘Southern Gothic’

[This post originally appeared on Fusion Country in October 2018. It’s being re-posted for reader visibility and appears as it was originally posted, with the only changes being for grammar/spelling. While a divisive release amongst country listeners, I feel it’s a great album that will possibly serve as an important release in the future for the genre.]

Sometimes it can take years for people to recognize an impactful piece of music. This can happen because the music is by an artist that isn’t well-known or the music is so different that it takes the genre and audience years to catch up. I fully believe this when it comes to Tyminski’s Southern Gothic album he released last year. When it becomes more common place for electronic elements and country to be fused together, people will look back and point to this album as a pioneering effort in electronic country. Dan Tyminski was the perfect artist for an album like this one with his extensive bluegrass experience and being the voice behind the hit “Hey Brother.” Southern Gothic may not be a perfect album, but it shows us just how excellent electronic country can sound.

The album’s title track opens and right away Tyminski delivers one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a scathing, cynical and dark look at the average small town in America. What were once regarded as little Mayberry-like towns with hard-working people is now full of sin and hypocrites. I particularly enjoy how the song shows the dissonance of how the town full of God-fearing people and churches on every corner demonstrate themselves to be anything but Christian-like. The production on this song is so spot on, perfectly creating the haunting, creepy vibe that lulls over the town being described in the song (credit to producer Jesse Frasure). This song is such a refreshingly real look at really the state of small town America right now, exposing the flaws and problems that plague modern society that many seemingly don’t want to acknowledge.

“Breathing Fire” is your “I don’t give a shit anymore” anthem. It’s about being fed up of turning the other cheek and just raising hell instead. It’s fun and catchy, making it impossible to not bob your head along with the beat. The next song “Gone” is about the loss of small town love. While his love leaves the small town, the man is left to be haunted by her memories and wondering what if. I enjoy the urgency Tyminski shows in his voice throughout, showing the passion and heartbreak of a broken man well. The bouncy and infectious “Temporary Love” just grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in recent memory in country music. Throughout the song the man decries one-night stands and his short-lived relationships, blaming both himself and the intoxication of quick sex. He’s ready for something more permanent and meaningful, but can’t pull himself away to find it. The rhythmic clapping with the interludes of drum machines makes this song so damn danceable, an element that gets under looked in the genre.

Tyminski follows this with another catchy song in “Perfect Poison.” It could easily serve as the song about the short-term and hook-up relationships mentioned in “Temporary Love.” The opening of the chorus, “You’re no good for me/Like a methamphetamine”, is delivered perfectly by Tyminski and the song just sounds like the chaos of the relationship. “Devil is Downtown” deals with the access of opioids in small town America. It goes into detail of how easy it can be to get a quick hit from the drug dealer downtown and how easy it is to fall into the trap of drugs. It’s a dark, but necessary glimpse into something that is a real problem.

“Hollow Hallelujah” is one of the more underrated moments on the album. I interpret the song to be about being afraid to get help and look for answers, instead just crawling on your own and wandering in your own darkness. The song’s ultimate message is it’s okay to ask for that help and that God and friends are there to help you through. This song demonstrates the importance of showing the light in a dark song, as it provides the contrast necessary to drive home the message. The Celtic folk-influenced “Good For Your Soul” gets back to the fun side of the album. It’s an enjoyable ditty about a man expressing how great of a fit he is for his woman and his desire to always be with her. “Wailing Wall” follows a similar line. The heavy bass of the drums gives the song a swaggering, pounding tone that sticks with you.

“Haunted Heart” puts me in the mind of one of my favorite books, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It reminds me of the part of the story where it reaches the sweaty and dark jungle. It conveys a sense of urgency, fear and loneliness, just like the heartbroken man described in this song. Tyminski reflects upon his love of music being handed down to him by his family on “Bloodline.” It’s a nice homage to where and who he’s come from, showing how it went from a hobby to a passion for him. For those who dismiss this album for its sound, they miss out on the many meaningful songs like this one.

Tyminski addresses the end of a relationship on “Wanted.” He’s ready to walk out the door and be gone for good, knowing both him and his woman got what they wanted in the relationship. She got his love for a while and he leaves, as he knew what the relationship was destined for from the beginning. It’s a solid track, albeit maybe unnecessary with the album run time going a bit too long for my liking. The album closes out with the ominous sounding “Numb.” It’s one of the rawest moments on the album, as a man realizes he can’t recapture the old feelings of a past love. He feels nothing about her, as the pain of the fallout has made him empty inside from his inability to let it go. In an album full of dark moments, this is perhaps the darkest as it shows a window to the inside of the loneliest type of heartbreak imaginable.

Tyminski’s creativity and innovation is on full display on Southern Gothic. As I said this isn’t a perfect album, but its brilliant moments outshine the few flaws. A big credit should be given to Jesse Frasure, who produced the album and helped write many of the songs. He’s helped introduce many new wrinkles in country music (some good, some bad) and this is perhaps his best work so far, perfectly capturing the dark and chaotic nature of the songs throughout this album. I hope this pairing will continue to work together and create more projects in the future. Tyminski is the one who should lead this electronic country sound and demonstrate its potential to the rest of the genre, as Southern Gothic is without a doubt a pioneering effort.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Randy Rogers Band’s ‘Nothing Shines Like Neon’

Randy Rogers Band Nothing Shines Like Neon

If you asked me to list the ten artists in 2015 in country music who had the best year, Randy Rogers would be near the top of this list. His collaboration album Hold My Beer Vol. 1 with buddy and fellow Texas country artist Wade Bowen was one of the best of 2015 and reminded everybody just how great these two are at making music. It felt like many country fans had forgotten about them, especially after their less than stellar stints on major labels in Nashville for the last few years. But now both have returned to their roots in Texas and are wholeheartedly pursuing the music they want to make.

Rogers is back with new music again in 2016, with his own Randy Rogers Band. The group is made up of Rogers, Geoffrey Hill (guitar), Jon Richardson (bass guitar), Brady Black (fiddle) and Les Lawless (drums). It’s been three years since they’ve released an album of new music. Combined with the intriguing details that have been revealed in the months leading up to this new album (being produced by the well-known Buddy Cannon and the announced collaborations most notably), it’s something many country fans have been anxiously anticipating to hear. Rogers and the band promised that this new album, Nothing Shines Like Neon, would be full of traditional country music. And after listening to this album several times, I can say they wholeheartedly lived up to this promise.

The album begins with the easy-going “San Antone.” It’s an ode to Texas and how proud they are to be back home in Texas after trying their hand in Nashville for the past several years. It’s sort of their re-introduction as a Texas country band and an appropriate opener for the album. Plus it’s quite catchy and features plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. But this is something I can say about the entire album. This is followed by the romantic ballad “Rain And The Radio.” The song is about the power being out and a couple being together in the darkness of their house. I know some listeners will express concern this song is too much like the romantic slow-jams on country radio the past few years, but I don’t think this is in that territory. This song is sincere in its romantic intentions and implies it’s more than quick fling, but rather an honest, loving moment between two people. That being said it is one of the weaker songs of the album, although not a bad song in any way.

“Neon Blues” is your classic drinking song about a woman trying to drink her heartbreak away. The woman isn’t in any mood to talk about it, but rather continue to put back shots to dull her pain. After you hear this song a few times, you’ll undoubtedly catch yourself humming it randomly as I’ve found out (this is a good thing). One of the standouts of Nothing Shines Like Neon is “Things I Need To Quit.” It’s about a man realizing a list of habits he needs to quit, most importantly a woman from his past he can’t let go of. He knows he needs to move on and quit waiting around for her to come back because it’s never going to happen. The songwriting on this song is great and really captures the feelings of someone experiencing this well.

Randy Rogers Band team up with the talented Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski on “Look Out Yonder.” This is another song that demonstrates just how far and how great this band has become over the years. Perhaps a self-reflection song for Rogers, it’s about a man returning home to his family and how he’s been many things over the years, but has always had the best intentions in mind. The instrumentation and production are light-weight, which is quite beneficial the song. This really lets the lyrics shine and tell the story at hand, allowing the listener to connect with the song and experience their own feelings with it. For many this will probably be their favorite song on Nothing Shines Like Neon.

Following this is “Tequila Eyes,” a song about a woman drinking tequila to drown her sorrows away, but as her friends explains it can only hide her true feelings for so long. It’s a solid drinking song with some great fiddle play and slightly catchy lyrics. Nothing Shines Like Neon is at it’s most fun and exciting on “Taking It As It Comes.” Rogers duets with the Texas country music icon Jerry Jeff Walker and their voices go together perfectly. Walker hasn’t missed a beat after all these years. The instrumentation is fantastic, blending piano, fiddle, steel and electric guitar throughout. It’s just one of those songs where you just can’t help to move your feet and sing along with it.

There are a lot of really good songs on this album, but none are better than “Old Moon New.” It’s a tender love ballad about a man nervously trying to profess his love to a woman through various ways. Whether it’s his love letter that he knows has a “thousand clichés” or the eleven red roses he gives her just to shake it up from the usual number, he knows the love he feels for her. He knows there’s nothing new being done under the old moon that night, but she makes it feel new when she’s with him. It’s such a refreshing and enjoyable take on the romantic, moonlight, country ballad that has been tainted in recent years. This is the type of song I could have easily seen Alan Jackson and George Strait cutting back in the 90s, with the genuine lyrics and heavy steel guitar and fiddle.

“Meet Me Tonight” is your classic “ex regret” song, as a man reaches out to a woman from his past to meet up with him tonight to rekindle a lost love. But it’s not going to be successful, as it’s just a failed relapse out of desperation. This song has the misfortune of following the best one on the album, but you shouldn’t overlook it. Jamey Johnson joins the band on the next song, “Actin’ Crazy.” Johnson did a lot of cool collaborations with fellow country artists in 2015 and to start off 2016 he’s part of another. It’s another really fun song and features the best and most witty line of the album when the duo utters, “The rent is high as Willie.” That definitely made me chuckle. Randy Rogers Band did one hell of a job picking guest artists for this album and it’s reminder that more country artists need to do fun collaborations like the ones on this album.

Nothing Shines Like Neon is capped off with “Pour One For The Poor One,” another strongly traditional country song with plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. A man has had his heart-broken after professing his love for a woman and she responds by leaving in the middle of the night. Now he’s stuck on a bar stool and asking the bartender to continue to poor out the drinks for his “poor, pitiful” self. Once again the band captures the feeling of heartbreak perfectly.

The year 2016 is quite young, but I can say with certainty that Randy Rogers Band has released the first great country album of the year with Nothing Shines Like Neon. It’s an album full of entertaining and engaging traditional country music that is sure to wet the whistle of any country fan. Randy Rogers Band does a fantastic job of balancing serious songs and fun songs. I was most impressed by the depth of the serious songs, one of the few small concerns I had coming into this album. I always knew they could make entertaining, fun songs, but to make as great of love ballads as they did on this album it demonstrates to me how much this band has grown. This is a big step forward for Randy Rogers Band and reminds everyone that they’re still one of the best in the Texas country scene. Traditional country music doesn’t get much better than it does on Nothing Shines Like Neon.

Grade: 9/10

Kenny Chesney Unveils Video for “American Kids”; Announces Album Name & Date

Kenny Chesney unveiled two things in his interview with Rolling Stone Country yesterday. First was the unveiling of the music video of Chesney’s new hit single “American Kids.” If you missed Country Perspective’s review of it, you can find it here. Check out the video below:

Chesney also announced a release date for his new upcoming album. It’s called The Big Revival and is set to be released on September 23. Chesney talked about how about how he wanted to make an album that “inspired” the fans. There will be guest appearances on the album by Alison Krauss, Grace Potter and Dan Tyminski. He also had this to say, which I found to be quite interesting:

“There’s so much more to country than trucks, creek beds and cut-offs,” he says with a laugh. “That stuff is fun, but when you look at how people really dig in and work, the things they face every day, you wanna remind ’em how hardcore they really are… and also show ’em that you know there’s more to ’em than people might think.”

Perhaps Chesney is getting back to making serious music like he was early in his career? It looks like he’s at least getting away from beach songs. We’ll have to wait and see if he lives up to his word.