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Music Reviews

The Coal Men

The Coal Men

Pushed to the Side

Vaskaleedez Records

You’d think that a band as classically tuneful and deep as The Coal Men (Dave Coleman, guitars and vocals, drummer Dave Ray and Paul Slivka on bass) would be huge stars by now- Pushed to the Side is their fifth album- but instead of fretting about that, the trio just keeps making great records. Coleman is a Nashville legend of sorts, using his skills to create somber slices of alt-country magic, from the opener “Depreciate” or the laconic “Willy Jett”. His guitar style has a touch of Mark Knopfler, being that the space between the notes is just as important as the melody. This record slowly unfolds, its twelve cuts sneaking up on you, long after the initial listen.

Beyond the great songwriting and guitar, this record sounds simply fantastic. Songs such as “Fast Rider” or “Lilly Hurst” seem to float in space, (Coleman produced and mixed the album), with subtle pedal steel and the steady drumming of Ray. But not all is low-key, with their tribute to Jason and the Scorchers “Speeding Like A Demon” with Coleman sounding like the second coming of Don Rich or Bill Kirchen with some gnarly Tele licks, letter perfect.

The record ends with “The Singer (In Louisville)”, adapted from a short story by Tommy Womack on Based On: Words, Notes and Art from Nashville, and it sends the record out on a strong note, in what seems to be a semi-autobiographical look at the ups and downs of a life on the road, which Coleman and crew know all too well. Pushed to the Side is what you call a sleeper, a work that slowly engages as it unfolds its measured mysteries. Play on Colemen, play on!

www.thecoalmen.com

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Music Reviews

Cornflower Blue

Cornflower Blue

Invincible

Hailing from Ottawa, Ontario, these guys do American roots rock better than most of the acts you’d find in the lower 48, primarily because they refuse to be kept in any one genre or fashion. Led by the vocals and guitar of Trevor May and Theresa McInerney, the group can go from twangy alt-country of “Way Down Town” to the full-on thrash of “Catherine”, which is a bit like what you’d imagine Bob Mould would sound like if he played a Telecaster and laid off the electronica.

The secret weapon on Invincible is the soaring violin of Deanna McDougall, whose melodic lines lift numbers such as the Cowboy Junkies-ish “Long Walk Home”, reminding you a bit of Rolling Thunder-Dylan and his work with Scarlet Rivera. And when May and McInerney sing together, such as on “Around My Heart” or “Snowed In”, you can’t help but be reminded of the great Richard and Linda Thompson duets. Their tribute to the Bakersfield sound on “The Ballad of Don Rich and Buck Owens” is a hella-fast romp with some nifty Richian twang fills, while the acoustic title cut tells of “feeling invincible on the playground”.

Cornflower Blue break out of the standard roots pack with good songs, great guitars and that sublime fiddle. A little bit Bottle Rockets, a bit of Sugar, mixed with a healthy dose of twang make Invincible a can’t miss. That’s an order!

www.cornflowerblue.com

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Music Reviews

Buck Owens

Buck Owens

Buck ‘Em!: The Music of Buck Owens (1955-1967)

Omnivore Recordings

If your only recollection of Buck Owens involves him playing a red, white, and blue guitar in the corn-pone country variety show Hee Haw, then you don’t know Buck. Buck ‘Em! will go a long way toward enlightening those among us who — tragically — don’t know the Bakersfield sound. Longtime fans will welcome this two-CD collection with its nearly fifty tracks, including previously unreleased cuts and early takes.

Starting with his early singles on the Pep label (“Down on the Corner of Love,” “Hot Dog,” and “There Goes My Love”), and continuing with his long string of hits on Capital, this set is one consummate example after another of Owens’ classic sound. After meeting guitarist and fiddler Don Rich in the early ’60s, the two formed the Buckaroos. They went on to an astonishing 21 number-one singles, all of which were built around Owens’ honky-tonk sound, a direct rebuttal to the “Countrypolitian” dreck coming from Nashville at the time. Songs such as “Act Naturally,” (a hit for The Beatles in 1965), “Under the Influence of Love,” “Together Again,” and more led Buck and the Buckaroos to Carnegie Hall and tours in Japan. This was unheard of for country performers of the time period.

Owens’ easy going singing style and uncomplicated themes were made for radio and juke boxes. With the dazzling guitar of Don Rich on his Telecaster, they helped create history with what has become known as the “Bakersfield sound.” It’s a mixture of twin guitars, pedal steel, and fiddle that was bred in the rough and rowdy bars of the California city and has gone on to become a lasting, influential school of country music. It’s one that can claim Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons (“Close Up the Honky-Tonks”), Emmylou Harris, and even the Rolling Stones (“Far Away Eyes”), as examples. Dwight Yoakam has made a career of it and coaxed Buck Owens back to performing after he abandoned the stage following Rich’s death in 1974.

Owens was a brilliant songwriter, either solo or with luminaries such as Harlan Howard (“I Got a Tiger by the Tail”), or Red Simpson (“Pray Every Day,” “We Split the Blanket”). This collection has them all, from the oft-covered classic “Cryin’ Time” to the slice of life “Sam’s Place.” This set further cements Buck Owens as a masterful chronicler of the everyman and one of country’s most beloved and celebrated stars. Buck ‘Em!, indeed!

Omnivore Recordings