Blood MoonToo Slim and The Taildraggers CD cover
Underworld Records

Over the length of his career, Tim “Too Slim” Langford has delivered us with a multitude of directions he’s pursued on the guitar. Whether it’s slide, swampy, rockin’, psychedelic, acoustic, or back porch country blues, he delivers all in the same splendid fashion that keeps our ears in tune. Now I have heard over the years that he sounds just like this guitarist or that guitarist. Pointing to one person sounding like another is a bit easy at times to do. But perhaps that is because Langford can be so chameleon-like and possesses the skills of his craft to come across exactly in any direction he wishes. They say that imitation is a form of flattery. But just wait a minute, maybe it’s those other guitarists who are trying to sound like Langford.

Case in point, just take a look at the most recent recordings of the Too Slim and The Taildraggers discography. This past decade has seen great releases, from Fortune Teller, Free Your Mind, Shiver, Broken Halo, and Blue Heart, with the band jumping across many musical pathways. Each of them are awesomely fantastic with directions showing so clearly and true. It’s as if they keep reinventing themselves and get better every time out. If that’s possible for a band that has brought home the goodies every time already.

Underworld Records has just released Blood Moon. It is the band’s nineteenth recording. And guess what? It is another exemplary collection of enchanting tales with descriptive lyrics that set you on the edge of your seat. And these stories truly do capture your mind. The onset of death is prevalent on “My Body”(“don’t want no wood box wrapped around my bones”). There’s the “Gypsy” who cast her spell causing our hero to fall in love with her. And the traits of the most despicable of people noted in “Evil Mind” who just want you to fail or to be looked down upon for their own pleasure. The humor behind the man waiting for his baby to get ready to go out on the town, but she keeps him waiting and waiting in “Get Your Goin’ Out On.” But in the end he thanks his friends for being there in a “Letter” and after years of traveling and playing around the globe it just does work out sometimes that “Good Guys Win.”

Blood Moon is another masterful recording for Too Slim & The Taildraggers. Musically and lyrically this disc has it happening. So “come on giddy up giddy up giddy up” and get out and pick up your copy of Blood Moon right away. It’s going to make want to you play a little air guitar along with a smile on your face all day long! Fun indeed!

Total Time: 48:43

Evil Mind / Blood Moon / Twisted Rails / Get Your Goin’ Out On / Gypsy / My Body / Dream / Letter / Good Guys Win / Twisted Rails (Slight Return)

Moreland and Arbuckle CD cover

Promised Land Or Bust
Alligator Records

Band co-founder and guitarist Aaron Moreland describes Moreland & Arbuckle as “gritty blues and roots rock from the Heartland.” Hailing from Wichita, Kansas, they couldn’t be more centrally located in America’s Heartland and they’ve developed their own unique sound that could also be viewed as Kansas Hill Country (with apologies to Mississippi for the term). Influenced by artists stemming from Mississippi like Junior Kimbrough and RL Burnside, alongside Chicago legend Hound Dog Taylor, a hint of The Black Keys and even a slight dose of punk, the trio takes raw energy and blends it with clever lyrics inserted with their own reflections and perhaps an occasional touch of humor. And as the years roll forward, this band consistently gets better.

Moreland & Arbuckle’s latest release, Promised Land Or Bust, is their seventh recording and their debut on the Alligator label. They’re the perfect mix for the label who have been at the forefront of exposing new acts and sounds as well as developing established artists to an even higher plateau. The band brought back renowned producer Matt Bayles who helmed their previous release 7 Cities. Bayles also contributed his own playing on a couple tracks on guitar and keyboards. Alongside Aaron Moreland’s exceptional guitar work on electric, acoustic and cigar box, Dustin Arbuckle’s harmonica, and Kendall Newby’s drums, the album also features guests Scott Williams on keys and Mark Foley on bass.

Promised Land Or Bust is filled with tunes that tell the tales of a variety of unsavory characters. The lowest of society (“Mean And Evil”), the cheaters and betrayers (Long Way Home”), jealous lovers who take things to the extreme (“Hannah”), and other people that should be avoided at all costs. It’s greasy and often filled with sexual tension and strutting (“When The Lights Are Burning Low”). And the music delivers in spades! Listen to the intensity of the guitar and harmonica pairing on Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” and the cover of fellow Kansas native Lee McBee’s “Woman Down In Arkansas” is exemplary or spot on target.

When people speak of how music must evolve to bring in newer audiences then Moreland & Arbuckle just may be the group to best display exactly that. They began following the patterns of those who influenced them, but they’ve expanded into their own sound that reflects Americana and roots music’s new directions, but still maintain their true base in the blues. Powerful and magnificent, Promised Land Or Bust is another winning disc from Moreland & Arbuckle.

Total Time: 39:01

Take Me With You (When You Go) / Mean And Evil / Hannah / When The Lights Are Burning Low / Woman Down In Arkansas / Mount Comfort / Long Did I Hide It / Waco Avenue / I’m A King Bee / Long Way Home / Why’d She Have To Go (And Let Me Down)?

Love Wins Again
Fathead Records

Janiva Magness CD coverJaniva Magness continues with her tales of love and its power and pain on her latest disc Love Wins Again. Her songwriting is personal and full of imagery that can only be reflected through experience. Happy or sad, Janiva draws us into her lyrics and as we have seen in the past she can show us the skeletons in the closet or the over-abundance of happiness she has found through true love. For Love Wins Again she is joyfully taking us on the latter of those two directions.

It is clearly evident in tracks like “When You Hold Me” or “Say You Will” that her new-found love fills her life. She bares her soul to everybody to see that she has discovered the feeling that she felt may never come her way again.

But there is often pain through love, too, and she has not forgotten how that emotion can still hold true from the past, as she lets us in within “Just Another Lesson” or “Moth To A Flame.” The attraction may have been there, but was it only one-sided? Was it really that easy to push away?

Funkified “Your House Is Burnin’” has an upbeat flare starting out that is quite James Brown-like, right down to the opening “Get up!” But even here she speaks of coming to terms and starting again, ”You have to rise on up if you care.”

The lone cover on the album is John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.” In Janiva’s hands it is beautifully rendered and flows evenly with the theme of the entire album.

“Who Will Come For Me” closes the disc and allows us to enter Janiva’s thoughts about what is ahead of us. When all may be lost, when we’ve aged and we’re no longer as young as we once were, who is it that will be there for us?

Love Wins Again follows suit with Janiva’s previous outing, Original. This is solid material, an exceptionally crafted collection that is meaningful, touching emotional and honest. Janiva Magness and Dave Darling have become one of the foremost songwriting teams working today. Love Wins Again easily ranks amongst the best recordings of the decade, in the blues or any other genre hands down.

Total Time: 43:04

Love Wins Again / Real Slow / When You Hold Me / Say You Will / Doorway / Moth To A Flame / Your House Is Burnin’ / Just Another Lesson / Rain Down / Long As I Can See The Light / Who Will Come For Me

Lost Cause Records

Clint Morgan CD coverClint Morgan’s sophomore disc, Scofflaw, follows a theme that portrays the lives of society’s downtrodden, outcast, and outright bad guys. These are people with often very little remorse, living on the edge, and given the option would probably do things the same way all over again. How else would you explain titles such as “I Love Robbing Banks” or “Bad Man Blues”?

Morgan is a prolific piano player as well as a songwriter. He has been an instructor and performer at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshops in Clarksdale, Mississippi and he plays a blues and boogie-styled piano. Yet his stories on Scofflaw take a route through blues, alt-country, and even a little gospel. His vocal delivery is sometimes reminiscent of Johnny Cash or Tom Waits — almost deadpan, but often with humorous and sometimes vivid descriptions.

The cast on Scofflaw is also an astonishing group. Guest vocalists include both Grammy winner Maria Muldaur and Blues Music Award winner Diunna Greenleaf. The musicians backing Morgan on the album is superb. The session players’ credentials read like a who’s who of some of the biggest names going that they’ve worked with, from Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakum, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, kd Lang, Vince Gill, and more.

But, this collection of stories reflects those from the wrong side of the tracks. And Morgan’s sense of phrasing in his lyrics depict the characters into believable figures. In “I Got A Gun,” a man feels he’s become so empowered that when somebody calls him scrawny butt, he reacts by shooting him in the gut. Or the fast-paced run in “A Sackful of Cash” where he states that Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, but I bet that Jesus is pretty mad seeing how I turned out this bad. Of course he has this running through his mind since he’s running from the law with a sackful of cash and a body in the trunk. Or the judge giving a sentence of five years so that maybe he’ll learn the lessons he’s been taught in “Eastham Farm.” Even the cover songs Morgan includes are based on reckless abandon such as Bessie Smith’s “Send To the ‘Lecrtic Chair” or Johnny O’Keefe’s “Wild One.”

Well, maybe there is a bit of remorse in the thoughts of the protagonists by the time Scofflaw reaches towards the end, as the songs begin to speak directly to the Lord seeking redemption in numbers like “Softly And Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling,” “I Remembered You “ and Muldaur’s “I Done Made It Up In My Mind.” And the inclusion of “This Little Light Of Mine” opening and closing the album also may show that there is a hope of salvation that these bad men may be wishing for after all is said and done.

Scofflaw is truly a prime example of Americana at its best. Deeply rooted in folklore and legend, bringing images from the old west and the depression years up into modern times. The characters are timeless and this is an album that will continue to grow on you with each subsequent listen. Each number is like watching its own movie. Spectacular story-telling done right.

Total Time: 1:15:42

This Little Light Of Mine (Intro) / Waco / Wild One / I Got A Gun / I Don’t Know Where To Turn / Eastham Farm / DB Cooper Blues / I Love Robbing Banks / Bad Man Blues / Thief In the Night / Wanted Man / The Face In The Mirror / A Sackful Of Cash / Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair / Softly And Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling / I Remembered You / I Done Made It Up In My Mind / This Little Light Of Mine (Outro) / I Got A Gun (Alternate Take)

Good Days A Comin/
Right Side Up Records

Ivas John CD coverWhen you start to listen to Ivas John’s Good Days A Comin’, it’s like a warm summer day sitting on your back porch with a pitcher of fresh-made lemonade and slabs of meat slowly grilling on the barbecue. You’re transported to a day meant for lazing in the sun with good friends, as Ivas provides feel good music on his guitar played just for you. That’s exactly how it feels.

Ivas John grew up in Chicago and fell in love with the blues as he was exposed to some of the city’s best. Over time he put together his own band, building a reputation with his high-powered electric blues throughout Illinois and SE Missouri. He released four albums under that style, and has also worked in band led by regional heroes Rip Lee Pryor and Martin Albritton (formerly with Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows). But his latest release, Good Days A Comin’, is a departure from that electric band direction, and delves deep into acoustic folk, bluegrass and country blues arrangements. It is rich in Americana roots music. Sharp and clean, with extraordinary story-telling, mostly original compositions of his own, a few co-written with his father and a cover here and there from people like Merle Travis, Tom Paxton.

Aside from John’s adept solo guitar picking and soothing vocals that highlight the album throughout, he also employs side musicians in a totally acoustic format, using fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, drums and dobro.

The album opens with the sprightly pace of “Goin’ Back to Arkansas” which encompasses a nice jug band old-timey feel. “Things Ain’t Been The Same” is a mournful tune about lost love and heartbreak. Tom Paxton’s “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” takes a personal reflection of just where life may be taking him as he travels down the road and the people he meets. John retells Merle Travis’ “Dark As a Dungeon,” filled with emotion befitting the tale of coal miners seeking better working conditions. There’s a nice ragtime flair to “Payday Boogie.” And the album closes with John’s spectacularly beautiful solo instrumental of “Sunday Morning Blues.”

If you like the blend of the early works of Ry Cooder and JJ Cale, the joyfulness of Keb’ Mo’ or the impact behind Doug MacLeod’s story songs, then Ivas John will fall right into your idea of guitar playing songwriters. He may have cut his teeth with the electrified sound of the city’s blues, but John has found a true niche with his acoustic delivery. Rootsy and full of heart.

Total Time: 42:19

Goin’ Back To Arkansas / Here I Am / Roll Mississippi / Dark As A Dungeon / Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound / Greenville Trestle High / All Along / Things Ain’t Been The Same / Keep Your Train Movin’ / Payday Boogie / Wrong Road Again / Sunday Morning Blues