Reviewed by Mae Hunt

A large majority of We Still Go To Rodeos stems from the everlasting theme of romance, both the dreamy highs and the harsh pitfalls. On Don’t Give Up on Me, Rose sings about falling for someone and fighting for that love. Rose hums, “Don’t know what your momma told you, but I know what mine told me. When you find a thing worth fighting for, you fight until you bleed.” Her voice is sweet with acoustics dancing in the background, creating a dreamlike state that correlates a passionate romance. 

In Home with You, Rose croons about a continued flame and thrill in a long-term relationship. This optimistic song expresses dreams of creating a happy life with her lover. In a slow drawl, she sings, “You’ve been my man for so long. It blows my mind how much you still turn me on.” There’s a certain beauty in embracing that old flame that never dies.
In another track-of-frustration, A Hundred Shades of Blue, Rose sings not only about feeling depressed, but also about how often these feelings are invalidated. She sings, “I know a hundred shades of blue. Yes I do, yes I do. If I described each one to you, what would you do? What would you do? Would you understand or would you reprimand each of those hundred shades of blue?” I think this song is particularly important because it validates feelings of depression and despair by emphasizing how frequently they are pushed away as temporary and unimportant.
In stark contrast to the intense highs of love, Rose also sings about the pitfalls. In You’d Blame Me for the Rain, Rose seems to have given up on a relationship that has been going downhill for a long while. It’s calm, cool, and collected which is completely different from Believe Me Angela, a bold plea directly addressed to a younger woman who had an affair with her partner. Rose struggles to balance feelings of hatred and solidarity with Angela, singing: “Angela I like that name. I know you’re not who I should blame. I talked it over with my friends and went and keyed his car instead….” 
Last but certainly not least, I can’t review this album without mentioning the opening track, which also happens to be my personal favorite. In Just Circumstance, Rose empathizes with those who are handed an unlucky deck in life. I draw parallels between this track and In a Rut, which is a fiery track that encapsulated the frustration of being in an emotional downturn. Overall, Rose has an impressive ability to encapsulate many life experiences into 12 short songs. I will definitely keep tabs on this artist and recommend you do the same!
Listen to or buy We Still Go to Rodeos here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Country musician Ted Russell Kamp’s recently released album, Down in the Den, is dense with soulful and diverse tracks. Kamp is well-known as a bassist for popular bands (including Shooter Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Whitney Morgan) but takes center stage on these 14 tracks. This album, his 12th independent record, highlights Kamp’s powerful vocals, lyrical abilities, even his trumpet-playing skills. Most of the album was recorded in Kamp’s home studio, The Den, which inspired the album title. 

What impressed me most about the album was Kamp’s range, both lyrically and instrumentally. Though primarily rooted in Americana music, Kamp offers his listeners diversified tracks, which include a range of instrumentals: bass, acoustic guitar, trumpet, banjo, dobro, and keyboard. In addition, Kamp pulls in various artists to create a diverse mix of songs. All of these elements combine to cultivate an album that ranges from whimsical to sensitive to soulful. 

Down in the Den is kicked off with the upbeat and cheerful Home Sweet Hollywood. Country rock to the core, this song details Kamp’s experience being in the heart of Hollywood’s music industry and prioritizing music over money. His love for the place that he considers home is evident, as he sings: “Home sweet Hollywood, you gotta be crazy to stay. Home sweet Hollywood, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

In one of my favorite tracks of the album, Waste a Little Time, Kamp light-heartedly sings about romance. The song begins with a single trumpet (yes, it’s Kamp on the trumet!), which is later accompanied by guitars and keyboard (which are also by Kamp’s hand!). His musical prowess is certainly evident here, as in many other tracks. Other talented musicians join Kamp’s instrumentals, including Mike Bray (vocals), Jim Doyle (drums), and Bart Ryan (guitar). Together, the vocals and instrumentals coalesce to create a tongue-in-cheek melody: “We got nowhere to be and not a thing to do, we won’t do nothing that we don’t want to do. So waste a little time, waste a little time with me.”

In another whimsical track, Hobo Nickel, Kamp sings about a happy-go-lucky vagabond with few belongings, no destination, and loads of freedom. The song is brimming with fingerpicking banjo and guitar while Kamp sings cheerfully along. That same fingerpicking technique appears in Stick With Me, though this track introduces a sensitive element to the album. In this love song about a marriage proposal, Kamp drawls: “Must have been a million miles before I found you, waiting tables in an Oakland drive. I’m a better man and ready for a round two. I hope this ring will say what words just can’t.”

In the ballad Only Son, Kamp’s voice is joined by Shane Alexander on vocals and together their voices carry the deep track, accompanied by Dan Wistrom’s pedal steel. Only Son contemplates the concept of time and how quickly it passes: “Time rushes by like a river will flow. Years they will come and the years they will go.” As the pace and momentum increase, the instrumentals pick up and transform the track from soft to sweeping. 

Each and every one of the 14-tracks are worthy of attention, but to wrap it up, I’ll touch on the album’s finale. Take My Songs With You, written with Kristen Proffitt, is the perfect resolution. Down in the Den contains songs that can be listened to in various states. For example, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I might throw on the blissful The Good Part. On the other hand, when seeking comfort from a higher power, I would listen to the sentimental track, Hold On. Ultimately, the album’s closing track is Kamp’s hope that listeners will take pieces of the album with them moving forward. I certainly will!

Buy Down in the Den here.

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

Let’s have a big helping of 70s rock, courtesy of Robert Lester Folsom. Yes indeed, the Folsom cafe is open for business. I used to call this soft rock, but now this genre has a nice spiffy name, “yacht rock”. I love that moniker and I think it really describes this music extremely well. Lester’s vocals are absolutely perfect. He released his first album in 1976, 44 years ago. During that time he obviously learned a few things about singing and incorporating vocals with instruments.

I feel like Spring was slighted on this release. I mean, every other season is represented. You got Autumn Lament, Winter Warning, and Waiting For Summer, but no song about Spring. Oh well, I hope Spring’s feelings weren’t hurt too badly. Speaking of Winter Warning, this instrumental track is really powerful. Trust me, you don’t miss the words. There is a really nice little reference to “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaac. The transitions are handled masterfully by all the musicians.

And speaking of musicians, you have some of Jacksonville’s’ finest players on this album. Lester was on the acoustic and electric guitars; Legendary Roy Peak, the “mayor” of Jacksonville was on bass and co produced the album with Lester; Joey Kerr provided lead guitar and backing vocals; Darren Ronan was the man on the skins and percussion; Susan Touchton Boggs played piano, organ, and contributed to the backing vocals: and rounding out this “who’s who” of musicians is the man on the pedal steel or as it is sometimes called, the slip iron, Brian Homan.

This collection of music represents the ebbs and flows of a romantic relationship through the seasons. With songs like It’s Not You, Lies, Without You X 7, and See You Later – I’m Gone, Lester captured both the ups and downs of romance and the seasons are almost like pallet cleansers that wash all the bad away, once the new season is upon us. Yes, these are songs of heartbreak, but this is tempered with other songs on this collection that are a little more optimistic and upbeat.

There are some happy moments on Autumn Lament, it isn’t all sadness and sorrow. Hop Hop Hop Hop Hippity Hop and Dancing With Piano In The Rain are songs that have a bit more optimism. These songs are songs of inspiration and hope. Lester did a great job at balancing everything on this release, including the moods which are inter-dispersed through all of the songs. In other words, you don’t have four happy songs in a row or sad ones. The emotions are carefully handled and tempered with their opposites. If you are a fan of those 70s artists such as Michael Murphy, Christopher Cross, Gordon Lightfoot, et al., you will thoroughly enjoy this release.

Listen and buy Autumn Lament

Reviewed by Mae Hunt
Jaime Wyatt’s Neon Cross, recently released at the end of May, is simply spectacular. The bluesy album begins with Sweet Mess, an intense piano ballad that highlights Wyatt’s powerful voice. This track shares Wyatt’s raw emotions in the wake of a crumbling relationship. The undeniable abandonment and sorrow in her voice set the tone for the rest of the album. Throughout the 11 tracks, Wyatt details the raw emotions tied to overcoming personal battles and the empowering independence that follows. Though an arduous journey, her ultimate destination is self-discovery and self-acceptance.
I would be remiss not to mention all Wyatt has overcome, including a heroine addiction, jail time, and coming out as gay. Many of her battles clearly fuel the album, as she connects each track to her personal experiences. Personally, I think the autobiographical element of the album is what makes it so powerful. Wyatt draws on individual experiences to create raw, emotional, and moving lyrics paired with instrumentals ranging from melancholy to crashing.
In Mercy, Wyatt yet again shows off her vocals in a gut-wrenching plea for compassion. Her voice nearly breaking, she cries, “Mercy, I need Mercy…Mercy, don’t try to hurt me.” The song seems to be written from rock bottom in an almost-prayer for someone to offer her refuge. In the more hopeful L I V I N, she reflects on her challenges and seems to yearn for a way out of her challenged life. In this twangy (and slightly sassy) track Wyatt sings her heart out while instrumentals strum along in the background, creating arguably one of the catchiest songs on the album. 
Despite the heavy nature of the lyrics, Wyatt offers listeners plenty catchy, toe-tapping beats. In Make Something Outta Me, a country rock track, Wyatt aspires for more with her life, announcing: “If god made a world out of nothing, why can’t he make something out of me?” Similarly, the upbeat and hoppy Rattlesnake Girl is another one of my favorites. This edgy track is essentially Wyatt’s way of coming out publicly to the world: “I see my sweet friends out on the weekends, they all look happy and gay. They keep their secrets all covered in sequins, people have too much to say.” This song, manifesting the honky tonk spirit, is sung with pride as she declares her true identity.
The incorporation of personal experiences into the album continues. Just a Woman begins with a slow drawl and turns into an empowering ballad sung with country musician Jessi Colter. This song speaks to the experience of being a woman not only in the music industry, but in her day-to-day life. She says: “There is no man in this world I would rather be.” 
Finally, Neon Cross is the anthem that solidifies the album. In this upbeat and banjo-driven song, Wyatt declares her devotion to living her truest life, regardless of what others think. So devoted, in fact, that she is willing to be hung on a neon cross for it. Like in Mercy and L I V I N, there are evident references to Christ, but Wyatt replaces the wooden cross with a neon one. She is defiant, stubborn, and authentic. Though her battles have been burdensome, they have shaped Wyatt into who she is today, and she seems unwilling to be anyone other than her unique self. 
Listen to and buy Neon Cross here

Reviewed by Mae Hunt
Sarah Jarosz’s fifth album, World on the Groundis bursting with contemporary folk and progressive country tracks. Created in collaboration with musician and producer John Leventha, the lyrics share reflections on Jarosz’s hometown of Wimberley, Texas. Wimberley, a small town with a population of only 2,626, inspires a string of reflective songs that show off Jarosz’s lyrical and vocal skills. Her voice, never overpowered by the instrumentals, carries each song while banjos, mandolins, and guitars dance in the background creating an intimate listening experience. 
The highly personal album captures Jarosz’s storytelling abilities. Although I have never been to Wimberley myself, I can picture the small town from the vivid descriptions embedded into each track. The song’s opening track, Eve, begins: “A long, long time ago, in a little Texas town…” and describes “the wilderness and the cypress trees, and the night birds all around” that litter the landscape. Similarly, in Hometown, Jarosz depicts the “cedars and the oaks” and the “light above the hills” in a way that transports listeners to the quaint town. 
In addition to the scenery, some tracks call out and describe various small town characters. In Johnny, Jarosz’s honeyed voice describes a local boy’s return to Wimberly as she sadly wonders: “How could a boy from a little bay town grow up to be a man, fly the whole world round, then end up back on the same damn ground he started.” In this track and in many others, subtle key changes and silky vocals draw the listener in as Jarosz wrestles with a contradicting desire to both stay and leave her hometown.
Maggie depicts a girl who yearns to escape the small town, perhaps emulating Jarosz’s eventual relocation to New York City where she now resides. Maggie hopes to escape the “football games” and “processed food” of the small town by driving “across the desert, in a blue ford escape.” The unique melody and guitar work in combination with Jarosz’s soft voice create a feeling of nostalgia that coincides with the departure of her beloved town. 
The album’s finale, Little Satchel, speaks to the adventures that lay ahead. This bluegrass song is bursting with banjo strumming while Jarozs’s strong southern accent makes an appearance. This song depicts falling in love and dreaming of a full life beyond the little town, perhaps in California or Louisiana.
Despite a clear yearning to move on from her small town, a deep love for Wimberley is consistent throughout the album. This love is particularly strong in Orange and Blue when she says: “I think I found it now, and nothing else will do. A heart that burns so true, burning orange and blue.” Regardless of where life takes her, she will always find comfort for the place where she grew up. I don’t know about you all, but that sentiment speaks to me!
Buy World on the Ground here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Lilly Hiatt’s Walking Proof is a classic country album with hints of electronic pop and waves of indie rock that distinguish it as one-of-a-kind. This Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s music strikes me as classic yet quirky, traditional yet unique. How is it possible to balance such extremities? Listen to the album here and see for yourself.

Abundant with vivid imagery, the album for some may serve simply as a dream-like escape from reality. However, while this Rolling Stones article states that Walking Proof is neither autobiographical nor social commentary, I believe there are both meaningful and intentional themes strung throughout Hiatt’s 11 tracks. The songs include themes of love, transition, and adulthood that I believe serve simultaneously as light, leisurely tunes and inspirational, sincere reflections. 

I love the way the album begins, with a declaration of adoration for Hiatt’s younger sister, Rae. If you have sisters yourself, this song will hit home. In a sweet and twangy voice, Hiatt depicts the inexplicable connection between sisters: “Nobody gets it like you do Rae, I put so much on you Rae, ‘Cause nobody gets it like you do.” That platonic love is echoed in Brightest Star, which is an uplifting melody directed at someone overcoming innocent drama, such as boys and school. In this catchy and optimistic song, Hiatt writes: “The brightest star in my whole sky is you.”

In contrast to this platonic love, the album has many tracks that portray fleeting romances. P-Town, for example, shares the slightly humorous story of a romantic getaway gone wrong. Little Believer, one of the most rock-and-roll tracks on the album, is a classic tale of unrequited love: “I haven’t been there much for you, at least not how I’ve wanted to.”

Alright, enough about love. Despite the Rolling Stones article’s statement that the album is not social commentary, there are subtle messages about the world in which we live. For example, Candy Lunch begs the question, “Why does every boy I meet try to tell me how to live or what to eat?” Some Kind of Drug makes an explicit reference to both Nashville’s  gentrification and homelessness problem, stating: “Who are these strangers in my town that just want to tear everything down? And I know it’s everybody’s dream but I swear to god I can’t hear a heartbeat.”  While I don’t think the album is littered with social commentary, it is undoubtedly there, primarily speaking to Hiatt’s experience as a female artist and long-time Nashville resident. 

Finally, there are moments of empowerment and self-love that bring the album home. Never Play Guitar is essentially a love song written for her guitar. In this soft rock song, Hiatt implies that men rarely understand her need for a room of her own to play guitar. The final song, Scream, depicts a woman moving on from a man who made her give up parts of herself. “I played my guitar softly for you” she declares in one of my favorite lines of the album. At the end, she states, “I’m moving on for nobody but myself.”

Interestingly, the almost-eerie nature of the final song is completely different from the upbeat bops of other tracks, perhaps implying some uncertainty in taking life’s next steps. Regardless of whether you are seeking a catchy escape-from-reality, melodious reflections on life, or something in between, Hiatt’s album is definitely worth the listen.

Buy Walking Proof

Reviewed by Mae Hunt
I have a deep appreciation for talented artists who do not shy away from controversy. In Good Souls, Better Angels, Lucinda Williams does just that, addressing head-on many contentious topics, such as mental illness, domestic abuse, and the devil. The unapologetically loud lyrics paired with a unique bluesy-punk pulse coincide to create perhaps the best album I have listened to in a long while. 
Undefinable by just one category, the genre-hopping 12 tracks are versatile. At times, Williams emulates spoken word poetry (Wakin’ Up) and at others she echoes punk rock (Down Past the Bottom). Her raspy voice, which ranges from hissing to bellowing, is paired with pounding drums, electric guitars, and a velvety bass that generate a unique sound for each track.
Released in April 2020, in the midst of social movements, a global pandemic, and politically divided citizens, the album addresses the madness of our current world. In Bad News Blues, Williams voices the relatable inescapability of constant bad news – it satiates our TVs and magazines, reaching us in elevators, in the car, and at the bar. This despair is echoed in Man Without a Soul and, considering the political nature of the album, the unnamed man likely alludes to a man with an overwhelmingly recognizable name, our very own President Trump. 
In Big Black Train, Williams shifts away from punk rock and offers us a soulful ballad narrating experiences with depression. Her voice fluctuates between broken and unwavering, as she declares: “I don’t wanna get on board…last time through it took me far away…didn’t know if I was ever coming back.” Not surprisingly, Big Black Train is followed by perhaps the most triggering and raw song on the album, Wakin’ Up. This angry, grungy, electronic track shares the experience of a woman escaping an abusive relationship. The song consists of short syllables and simple rhymes, somewhat resembling a spoken word poem in which the woman’s anger and fear is palpable.
So, yes, Williams undoubtedly ventures to the dark places many artists are unwilling to go. However, she does not simply take us there only to abandon us. Undeniable hope glimmers through many tracks. In the Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Williams sings about resistance and perseverance through inner turmoil. In the quiet and melodious When the Way Gets Dark, she offers inspiring and hopeful words of wisdom. Her croons, “la la laaa”, sounds tired, perhaps from fighting countless uphill battles, but the message is clear: “Don’t give up, hang on tight, don’t be afraid, it’s gonna be alright….” 
I simply cannot get enough of Lucinda Williams. She uses her 42 years in the music industry, during which she has won three Grammy Awards and two Americana Awards, to create electrifying and thought-provoking music. Not only is she bold, daring, and unforgiving, but she is willing to display those characteristics in her music to create a downright inspiring album.
Listen and buy Good Souls Better Angels

Reviewed by Mae Hunt
Listening to Lessons & Lovers in full is a journey – Wonky Tonk captures the realities of life and love in eleven short songs. The ups, the downs, the good, the bad, and everything in between. Listeners of all ages can relate to these visceral moments of desire, anger, confidence, and longing all captured in a folk album that I can imagine jamming out to in my car, windows down, on a hot summer day. 
Before getting into specific songs, I have to say: man, can this woman sing! Her voice ranges from melancholy croons, like in Cryin’ Shame, to bellowing howls, like in Everyone’s Got a Brian. Her voice, paired with moments of overwhelming instrumentals, truly makes the album feel like a journey.
At closer listen, it is clear that there’s much more to the album than impressive vocals and instrumentals. Wonky Tonk’s lyrics share words of wisdom, grief, even comedy. Actually, Wonky Tonk’s persistent sense of humor struck me throughout the album. In Everyone’s Got a Brian, she curses out a helpless man named Brian, telling him: “Don’t be a dick, it’s easy.” She finds comedic relief in the stereotype that men can easily anger women and all I have to say is…well, I wouldn’t want to be Brian. The whimsical undertone comes full fledged in Suitors when she laughs about having too many suitors in her small town. It’s fun and goofy, which counteracts the desolate, longing tones in other tracks.
Somehow, Wonky Tonk makes moments of anxiety, depression, confusion, and loss palpable to listeners. In Cryin’ Shame, Wonky Tonk’s crooning mimics someone with a broken heart crying into the night over a lost lover. In Never Trust a Doctor, her soft and soothing voice juxtaposes the grief-stricken words of a recent heartbreak. She takes the traditional tropes of romance and throws them into a contemporary context, adding her own flare and uniqueness. In Stock Market, for example, Wonky Tonk asks the undying question: “Why does love bring me so much pleasure and so much goddamn pain?” Well, by the end of the album, it seems she has found the answer. 
The album wraps up with Lessons which perfectly ties together the raw emotions of the other tracks with binds of learned wisdom. Considering the profound insight and reflection in these lyrics, I think Wonky Tonk must have aged a decade between writing Everyone’s Got a Brian and Lessons …. She seems to answer her own question posed in Stock Market, why does love bring me so much pleasure and so much goddamn pain? All the ups and the downs described on previous tracks have led her to the realization that difficult times make her stronger. With empowering vocals, she declares: “I’ve got all the love I need.” Rather than seeking love from others she has found it within herself. 
I have all the respect in the world for Wonky Tonk for the cultivation of such a layered album. A strong, feminist country artist who speaks openly about personal experience with depression and anxiety? That’s what I like to see! More importantly, though, I admire Wonky Tonk’s depiction of her journey to self-love and acceptance, a destination that ends an uphill journey for many.
Listen and buy Lessons and Lovers

Track Listing
1.   The Germs – Lexicon Devil
2.   The Germs – ‘Round and ‘Round
3.   The Byrds – You Ain’t Going Nowhere
4.   Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers – All By Myself
5.   John Lennon – Isolation
6.   Sun Ra Arkestra – Nuclear War
7.   Grateful Dead – Morning Dew
8.   Bad Religion – Fuck Armageddon…This Is Hell
9.   Bad Religion – We’re Only Gonna Die
10. Total Chaos – Babylon
11. Death Or Colorado – Waiting For Godot
12. DreadFul – Biological Warfare
13. The Cramps – Fever
14. Mudhoney – Here Comes Sickness
15. Townes Van Zandt – Lungs
16. Townes Van Zandt – Waiting Around To Die
17. Badfinger – It’s Over
 

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
First and foremost, the book feels great in my hands. There is one material item that gives me immense pleasure, a hardback book. Those e-readers are fine for the airplane or train, but that doesn’t even come close to how a real book feels. This is no ordinary book. It’s called a coffee table book, but it is so much more. This book is an historical marker of events that transpired over 20 years ago. Luckily, this history is now preserved forever. 
The cover image is striking, a solo photo of Marty walking forward with his eyes gazing at the ground. He is wearing a black overcoat with a black hat. The hat is adorned by a metallic skeleton. The photo is grainy and the absolute perfect symbol for this book. The back cover contains the sepia toned photo of a train rolling along the tracks. Such powerful imagery that really sets the tone of what is in between the covers.
I love surprises and I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that a CD of The Pilgrim (Deluxe Edition) is included! It is the perfect accompaniment to this beautiful, one of a kind work of art. So many great country music and bluegrass artists worked on this album including Johnny Cash, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, Emmylou Harris, The Clinch Mountain Boys, and Pam Tillis.
The book is packed with photos of so many iconic musicians with Marty. The list is too long to mention all of the legends that appear in this book but pretty much all of the big ones are represented in both country and rock and roll. The likes of Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Keith Richards, Tom Petty, Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc. In addition to the famous folks that appear in the pages, Marty also includes many photos of the people that would normally be left out of such a book. That includes photos of hillbillies, hobos, an Elvis impersonator, circus performers, and go-go dancers.
Marty is part Choctaw Indian and he is rightfully proud of his heritage. He prominently displays photos of Marvin Helper, who is a holy man in the Lakota Tribe in South Dakota. In the book, Marty tells a story about the night before his wedding to Connie Smith. Marvin told Marty that if he saw an eagle before they were wed, “everything would be okay.” Marty confirmed that he and Connie did see an eagle on the way to the nuptials.  They are still married after 23 years so Marvin was right. One of the most emotional moments in the book for me is when Marty wrote, ” Marrying Connie, is without question, the greatest event of my life.”  
The book also goes through the songs on The Pilgrim and also the recording sessions. There are tons of pictures of both. This isn’t as much of a read as it is an experience. The emotion evoked from the words and pictures is a bit overwhelming. I felt many of the same chills when I watched Ken Burns’ Country Music. This is really the history of country music part two. 
I don’t usually talk about the price of things, but in this instance, I think it is important. The book retails for under $30. I have seen books with less substance go for upwards of $75 bucks. This is a bargain of epic proportion. If you don’t have a coffee table to display this book, buy the book and a coffee table too!  
Buy The Pilgrim – A Wall To Wall Odyssey