NEW ROADS: Composer, vocalist, guitarist and Ottawa, Ontario native Sue Foley has once again outdone herself with her most recent release for the Edmonton, Alberta-based Stony Plain label, The Ice Queen. The album features guest appearances by Charlie Sexton, Jimmie Vaughan and Moving Sidewalks co-founder Billy Gibbons. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).


Kevin Breit (Stony Plain)

If thinking outside of the box is a primary goal for a musician, then Kevin Breit has taken a paper cutter to the box and sent the remains to the shredder.

The guitarist and McKarrow, Ontario native has confounded any possible expectations with Johnny Goldtooth And The Chevy Casanovas, his most recent release for the Edmonton, Alberta-based Stony Plain label. The largely instrumental album draws from a wide array of inspirations, from Juan Garcia Esquivel (Zing Zong Song), Ellas "Bo Diddley" McDaniel (One Mo Bo) and Link Wray via Earl Bostic (Chevy Casanova) to Phil "Snakefinger" Lithman (C'mon Let Go), Chet Atkins (I Got 'Em Too) and Buddy Merrill (The Knee High Fizzle).

A seasoned session veteran, Breit has collaborated in various capacities with such greats as the Rankins, Roseanne Cash and Norah Jones. He has also in recent years devoted a significant portion of his schedule to working with his band, the Sisters Euclid. 

To be certain, Breit's fierce individualism has made him an ideal addition to the Stony Plain roster, which also features such visionaries as Sue Foley, Duke Robillard and Ian Tyson. While on the surface his work may seem a bit more difficult to approach than that of his label mates, even a cursory overview of Johnny Goldtooth And The Chevy Casanovas suggests a revelation borne of the familiar; an attribute used to full advantage by such like minded pioneers as Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. To invoke one of Breit's stellar compositions, A Horse By Another Stripe that won the race.

Sue Foley (Stony Plain)

For roughly the past two decades or so, the genre known as the blues has seemingly been its own worst enemy.

Inspired by the visionaries that preceded them, many of the blues' current exponents have (however unintentionally) nonetheless drawn from those inspirations and followed through in such a manner that lost something in the translation between intent and execution. The results are often a generic twelve-bar template that is rendered somewhat homogenous by presumed solidarity with immediate post-Woodstock era arena rock.

All of which makes a new release from veteran composer, vocalist, guitarist and Ottawa, Ontario native Sue Foley a reason to rejoice. Beginning with her acclaimed Young Girl Blues album in 1992, Foley's various subsequent releases for the Antone's Records, Shanachie, Ruf and Blind Pig labels (the latter of which heretofore seemed to be the most sympathetic to her cause) found her consistently striving for the diversity, passion and individuality that seemed to be lacking in concurrent releases by others. 

The Ice Queen marks Foley's debut for the Edmonton, Alberta - based Stony Plain label, and the pairing could not have been more fortuitous. Long known for championing creative autonomy within their artist roster, Stony Plain herein has afforded Foley (who long ago relocated to Austin, Texas) a sympathetic vehicle to shine accordingly. The results are borne out accordingly in the doom-laden 81, as well as the exuberant swamp rocker Run, the mid-tempo, soul-tinged Gaslight (not to be confused with the 1967 Ugly Ducklings single of the same name), the conventional twelve-bar duet with Moving Sidewalks co-founder Billy Gibbons, Fool's Gold, the playful Jimmy Vaughan collaboration, The Lucky Ones and inspired covers of Bessie Smith's Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair and the Carter Family's Cannonball Blues.

Whether rendering from a purist perspective or one that professes varying degrees of solidarity with sympathetic genres, Foley is herein (as always) astute enough to remain a cut above the herd. And with The Ice Queen, she has once again (to invoke the title of her classic 2000 album for Antone's Records) used her Secret Weapon for maximum impact.

The Hot Texas Swing Band (Indie)

In terms of prerequisite technical proficiency, there are simply some musical genres which are not for the faint hearted. 

One such genre is Western Swing. By definition, the intricate arrangements, as well as the frequent key and time signature changes (not to mention the ongoing need for vocalist and instrument to play off of one another) make it among the most demanding of forms to render both competently and with conviction. 

To wit, a 1955 color video clip has most thankfully survived in which country music giant Jimmy Dickens introduces an instrumental workout of the monster classic Decca label single, Roanoke by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. What follows Dickens' opening remarks is roughly two and a half minutes of full on, no holes barred virtuoso assault by some of the most jaw dropping technical masters in all of music, including the great Jackie Phelps on banjo and Monroe himself on mandolin. Without uttering a word, Monroe and company come to a cold ending with looks of a job extraordinarily well done that at once suggest both gratitude to the Lord for being blessed with such remarkable gifts, offset by a self-satisfaction that dares one and all to, "Try and top that!" before casually walking off stage.

Indeed, it is attaining and retaining that level of proficiency, inspiration and the indispensable attribute of heart that inspires the Hot Texas Swing Band on to similar heights. Fronted by bassist and primary lead vocalist Alex Dormont, the ten-piece band in this, their fourth album, comes closer to that goal than ever before. Meshing astutely chosen covers with duly inspired original material, the band herein draws the necessary fine line between dutiful imitation and thinking so far outside the box as to lose sight of the original vision.

To that effect, one particular cover places them in solidarity with their professed inspirations of Bob Wills, Cindy Walker and Johnny Gimble. Composed by the great Stuart Hamblen (who also wrote This Ole House for Rosemary Clooney, as well as Dean Martin's Remember Me), Texas Plains has been recorded by such absolute masters as Gene Autry, Hank Snow, Roy Rogers and others. This vivid tale of life Off The Beaten Trail affords Dormont the best opportunity herein to soar, with his unique vocal persona (a potent mix of the best of Sollie Paul "Tex" Williams and the late and much missed Beat Farmers drummer, Daniel Monte "Country Dick Montana" McClain, with a touch of Fugs co-founder Tuli Kupferberg) and the band's judicious accompaniment providing the closest realization of the basics of their professed mission statement. 

In turn, co-lead vocalists Selena Rosanbalm and Liz Morphis are also featured prominently throughout the proceedings. And once again, it is a well chosen cover that brings out the best of that facet of the band's focus, in the form of the great Ella Mae Morse's 1942 signature single, Cow Cow Boogie, as well as the endearing 6/8 romp, Baton Rouge Waltz.

And while spot on interpretations of Julie London's 1956 default Liberty single, Cry Me A River and George Jones' Jiles Perry "The Big Bopper" Richardson-penned White Lightnin' may seem like curious diversions, they nonetheless double as both examples of the flexibility of the band's mission statement, as well as the instrumental dexterity of steel guitarist Dave Biller, trumpeter Jimmy Shortell and saxophonist Joey Colarusso, all of whom especially shine accordingly on Snow In Amarillo and the Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington and Lester "Les Paul" Polfus-inspired instrumental, Bull Whip.

Indeed, while the Hot Texas Swing Band may envision themselves in the physical realm as being drawn Off The Beaten Trail, from a musical perspective, they are making decisive and inspiring steps towards attainting the level of perfection consistently demonstrated by their inspirations. Herein, they profess to be Headed Back To The Barn to do so. But irrespective of their venue of choice, it seems that being Off The Beaten Trail is actually remaining on the right track.

The Greg Kihn Band (Riot Media)

It is always most gratifying when veteran artists continue to outdo themselves with each successive release.

Such is the case with renowned vocalist, composer and Baltimore, Maryland native Gregory Stanley "Greg" Kihn. An integral part of the artist roster of the vaunted Beserkley label in the 1970s (which also launched the careers of the Rubinoos, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and Earthquake), Kihn has continued to record and tour prolifically in the ensuing years. To date, he has more than fifteen albums to his credit, and has also authored several novels. 

But with Rekihndled, Kihn has more than lived up to the plays on words that have often defined his album titles. Buoyed by a sympathetic and savvy line up that currently includes Robert Berry on keyboards and Kihn's son, Ry Kihn on lead guitar, Rekihndled is as much of a solid, articulate and cohesive chronicle of life and art at his particular stage of life as was the Monkees' landmark 1996 Justus album and the Beach Boys' like minded late 1970s - early 1980s releases. 

To wit, the album's hard rocking opener, The Life I Got matter of factly incorporates a universal metaphor into a mid-term report card of sorts. The territory and approach is familiar, yet executed with a first time freshness. Likewise, the tongue in cheek Big Pink Flamingos invokes Kihn's long standing penchant for word play, underscoring the point with a template inspired by Golden Earring's signature Radar Love single and reaffirming solidarity with the everyman by deftly name checking everything from Judy Jetson to (indirectly) Carl Perkins and mobile home parks. 

In turn, the Nick Lowe-flavored (a la Heart Of The City) Cassandra does much for the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" perspective. Furthermore, Good To Be Me defers to the mainstream overview extant during his initial heyday to simply affirm his artistic resolve.

Lest the faithful fear compromise, the no nonsense The Brain Police and Trained Monkey decisively reassure that Kihn's core mission statement continues unabated. And with Rekihndled, Greg Kihn and his band most encouragingly not only affirm and celebrate a mission statement that is still in peak form, but they also take decisive steps to assure all concerned that, from his perspective, It's Never Too Late.

Rob Martinez (Karma Frog)

As Karma Frog Records founder and president Adam Marsland continues his sabbatical overseas, the label's remaining artist roster is persevering with a vengeance.

Foremost among them is the Albuquerque, New Mexico - based composer and vocalist Rob Martinez, whose Today My Mind.....Tomorrow The World was released in the closing weeks of 2017. A firm believer in the potential of the tried and true verse, chorus and bridge template, Martinez once again takes that basic framework far beyond the parameters of his professed primary inspirations of Cheap Trick and Crowded House.

To that effect, the ten originals in this collection (each of which were either written or co-authored by Martinez) all boast exceptionally strong bridges (as evidenced in abundance in the album's opener, Let Me Tell You Why), which serves as a pause for reflection in between the slices of relentless optimism that bookend it. In turn, the slightly psych-tinged, mid-tempo Sooner Or Later finds Martinez relying more on atmosphere to deliver a message that is somewhat incongruous with expectations. Taking it a step further, Conspiracy confounds expectations by mixing relational, spiritual and socio-political metaphors to revisit the basis of the human experience, underscored by a score with a propensity towards the fatalistic.

Aiding and abetting Martinez in this project are the usual world class support team, including Adam Marsland on the majority of instrumental responsibilities, Dragster Barbie's utterly stupendous Teresa Cowles on backing vocals (on the album's closer, Will U B My Lover, aided and abetted by Pacific Soul Limited) and the legendary Earle Mankey seeing the mastering process through to completion. Once again, in his endeavors to state his case decisively, Martinez has managed to, in the words of one of this collection's standout cuts, Get It Right.

The Tol-Puddle Martyrs
(Secret Deals)

Among many still active veteran artists, the tendency has been among their long faithful press colleagues to afford them a free pass, irrespective of their current level of creativity or ongoing acumen in live performance. Much of that assessment is often borne of unwavering respect for their catalogs which, in the case of many, still set the standard of excellence more than a half century after the fact. 

As such, it is somewhat disconcerting when some such artists presume that their present day audience is unable to discern their legacy from that of others who may have for whatever reason attained and sustained a relatively greater degree of notoriety. The result is often a live set bereft of much of what has made them, in favor of overdone cover material by a small cadre of like minded and more obvious artists who really don't need the additional exposure.

Such is most assuredly not the case with the still very much active and prolific first generation garage rock pioneers, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs, who are still led by band founder, principal architect and Bendigo, Victoria native Peter Rechter. A veteran of both Peter and the Silhouettes and (later) the Secrets (not to be confused with the legendary Cleveland, Ohio vocal quartet that released He's The Boy, Here He Comes Now! and The Boy Next Door for the Philips label in 1963 - 1964), Rechter reactivated the Tol-Puddle Martyrs in the twenty-first century after a decades-long sabbatical, with nearly a half dozen albums of all new and primarily original material to their credit. 

With Polyphony, the band once again relies on the strengths of Rechter as composer and instrumentalist (keyboards) and long time collaborator Graham McCoy (guitars). The twelve selections herein vary slightly from the more psychedelic-oriented offerings that dominated their A Celebrated Man and Psych-Out USA albums. To wit, the opening track, When I Was Young is not a cover of the Animals' 1967 single, but a straightforward and candid account of how concurrent visions continue to resonate and inspire.

In turn, the genial 20/20 To Zero provides an upbeat showcase for a number of universally recognized causes for change. That pattern reoccurs throughout the proceedings, from the everyman impasses highlighted in One Drop In The Ocean to the somewhat abstract clarion call outlined in Mrs. Merkel. Rechter even went as far as to draw from the inspiration of Gary Lewis and the Playboys with Count Me In, an original inspired by that band's March 1965 single of the same name.

And while the issues highlighted in the lyrics may be somewhat generic, the execution is most assuredly well arranged, well executed and (most of all) resplendent in that most essential attribute: heart. One more reason for the band's resident visionary to continue to be A Celebrated Man.