Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

Mike found me, I didn’t find Mike. About a year and a half ago, I got a message on Facebook from Mike about his music. I get a lot of music and it runs the gamut. Some is fantastic, but most of it really isn’t my style. I try not to say “good or “bad” since it is just a matter of taste and opinion. So when I got the package from Mike with his first two CDs, my expectations weren’t too high. Once I listened, I was a convert. I couldn’t believe my ears. The singing, songwriting, musical composition, and overall sound was fantastic. I ended up putting Mike’s first two albums on Twangri-La Radio, where they remain in full rotation.

When I was starting the record label, Mike was one of the first people to reach out and offer his support. When he told me he wanted to put an album out on Twangri-La Records, I was ecstatic. Once I heard the demos, I knew we had a winner. The songs are great and the subject matter is dealt with so eloquently.

Mike has had issues with depression and anxiety his entire life. As a fellow sufferer of such ailments, I know how debilitating it can be. Rather than retreat, Mike decided to become a musician and tell his story through his songs. It is incredibly inspirational to see someone with these obstacles not only work past them, but completely destroy them. I know Mike’s main hope is that his music can comfort people and get them through some of life’s tougher moments.

The first single off the album is Worst of Me and it is about ego and those times when our ego gets bruised and causes us to make decisions that we probably will regret at some point. Stapleton eloquently explores this subject and even adds a touch of humor to describe something that is by any measure very difficult to articulate. Mike doesn’t have any problem. He can be our collective voice. The opening guitar riff for this song is absolutely gorgeous and seems to be right out of the alternative music playbook from 88 through 92.

There are no shortage of sad songs on Dark And Deep, but that isn’t a bad. Country music and folk music is supposed to evoke emotions. On My Own evokes enough emotion for three songs. It is value packed full of emotion. You need to be ready. Once you make it to the end of the 2 minute and 53 second song, you will definitely feel better. Sometimes a good tear purging is all we need.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Take the song Leather Cross, for instance. The title song has a split personality. The music is very peaceful and serene, but the words reveal a different story. This story is about a man running from his past and making leather crosses for people almost as a way to heal his soul. Mike dedicated this album to his deceased father. It is a wonderful song that reveals pain and sadness.

This isn’t necessarily party music. This music is deep (hence the album title, Dark And Deep) and is not to be taken lightly. Mike’s soothing voice is our tour guide through this 15 song experience. It’s the voice that keeps us from completely losing it. As I have stated before, Mile has a voice that everyone can love. Once you listen, it will be difficult not to get smitten with Mike Stapleton.

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Note: Twangri-La and Twangri-La Records are wholly owned subsidiaries of Twangri-La Media

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

There was huge surge in music sales after people saw Ken Burn’s documentary, Country Music. All of the Mount Rushmore country artists saw a huge increase in their royalty checks. That is great, but it also highlights the fact that people are unaware that the music that people revere is still very much alive and well.

These aren’t tribute bands, these are performers carrying on a long tradition. One of those such bands is The Reeves Brothers. This is not just a copy, this is a case where performers are giving an interpretation of traditional country music. They are using modern recording equipment and are incorporating influences from rock, jazz, and singer/songwriters. But it is still as “country” and twangy AF.

One listen to a song like I’m Still Crazy and it will invoke those feelings that one gets when they listen to the classics. The pedal steel is front and center and makes me shake my head and move my legs to the beat of the music. This is pretty typical subject matter for a classic country song. You got a romance gone wrong, drinking, and spending too much time at the bar. But, it seems that maybe that isn’t the complete truth. Maybe a touch of regret in this song that the relationship is in fact finished.

I’ve Lost All My Strength To Sing The Blues is the perfect second part of a one-two combination. While I’m Still Crazy is a song of heartbreak where the main character is happy, this song is sung from an entirely different perspective. In this case, the main is very distraught and doesn’t know how he will get by. If the last song didn’t make you cry just a little, I’ve Lost All My Strength To Sing The Blues will finish the job. I double dare you not to shed a tear.

There is no shortage of sad songs on The Last Honky Tonk, but that’s what people who love country music adore. No, not all the time, but a good healthy dose now and again does the body good. As Charlie Pride said during Country Music. “You may cry, but you’re gonna feel better afterward.” That quote couldn’t be more true. It Gets Cold At Night In California is the perfect song for that. Yes, it will make you cry, but you will feel so much better when you get it off your chest. It’s group therapy with a beat. A song about loneliness and using cold weather as the ideal metaphor.

It is my sincere hope that this review will convince those non believers out there that real country music is alive and well. That’s why Twangri-La is here, to hopefully bring some of these fantastic artists to the public’s attention. You don’t have to lament about the “good old days” of country music. No, in fact it is all around you. Let The Last Honky Tonk by The Reeves Brothers be your gateway drug into the world of country. Welcome!

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Reviewed by Mae Hunt

In a fearless, edgy, and downright badass single, Girls on Grass put their musically talented heads together to create a fiery and politically-charged sound. The three band members, Barbara Endes (vocals, guitar), Nancy Polstein (vocals, drums), and Dave Mandl (bass) combine punk rock with elements of country to create all-encompassing, emotionally-stimulating, and instrumentally-exciting music. 

Girls on Grass, a historically anti-capitalist, pro-LGTBTQ rights, and politically oriented band, has not not veered from their past on this one. Spill Your Guts is appropriately titled as Endes truly does spill her guts with empowering and honest lyrics. This song shares Endes’ experience coming out and the feelings of freedom that follow. Endes’ powerful vocals intermix with an on-again off-again but oh-so-powerful harmonica that adds to the excitement of the song. Endes admits, “I let the straight world control my head,” but then proudly declares, “I spilled my guts, I let the doubts fall out!” The free flowing and unrestrained instruments emulate the emotional release that follows coming out.

Who’s Gonna Cry is yet another unapologetic and opinionated piece accompanied by flaming instrumentals. This upbeat song is a not-so-subtle condemnation of our current president, full of urgency and anticipation of his hopeful fall from presidency. The 2 minute and 30 second song includes sounds ranging from twangy guitar to upbeat percussion. Endes exclaims: “When you go down, down for all time, we’ll have a ball, this whole fuckin’ town will go crazy!” 

I love when unapologetic lyrics and honesty meet raw talent. Girls on Grass is a consummate example of this perfect storm. 

Listen and buy here 

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This is pure country gold! I am completely smitten with In The Works by The Robert Henry Band. Where in the hell did this guy come from? Apparently, he was born in Florida and lives in Canby, Oregon. This is what country should sound like. Twang out the wazoo and some insanely beautiful pedal steel and electric guitar licks throughout this 20 minute EP. I know, 20 minutes? Well, I think this is the Robert Henry Band’s first release on all the platforms so I hope this is just the beginning. This is only the appetizer course and I now want an entire entree of what Robert Henry is serving up.

The last song on this EP, Something Better takes me right back to 1971 when honky tonk reigned supreme. If fits right in there with Buck, Willie, Waylon, and Johnny. This is a song about a stormy relationship. This song was penned by the Robert Henry Band drummer, Jake Mauro. Unfortunately, the other party in this romance wants out to find “Something Better” and Jake, being the generous fella that he is, is willing to let her go. Even though he still is in love, he doesn’t want to be hanging on a thread. As perfect a country song as you can get.

It seems that no real country artist can exist without making a statement about the current state of main stream country. Storm The Gate is pretty self explanatory. It’s time for a changing of the guard or to “Storm The Gate”. The days when outlaw country was supported by the Nashville elite is now over. And in it’s place was put something that barely resembles country music. Robert knows a thing or two about country music and he also knows the right accompaniments to make a country classic. Another song with gorgeous twang. “They’ve torn down and paved over all the roots that run so deep, don’t that make it kind of hard to grow?” Well stated, Mr. Henry.

In The Works, the title track is a really nice little country ditty, chock full of honky tonk piano, pedal steel, and string bending guitar. As far as the piano goes. I have to say, that is the true standout on this track. Absolute ear candy. It has a little bit of that cosmic cowboy sound of Laurel Canyon, back in the day. In the works is about being bullshitted, plain and simple. That phrase has gone viral and is used all the time to placate people. Q: when will there be a vaccine for COVID 19? A: It’s in the works. Q: when will there be a plan to promote racial harmony in this country? A: It’s in the works. Q: When will the Robert Henry Band release a full length album? A: It’s in the works.

This EP, while only containing six songs, packs a real wallop. It is pure honky tonk, circa early to mid 70s. I can’t wait for the day when I can see all these songs live performed by Robert Henry and company. Unfortunately, I will have to wait for that. In the meantime, I have these songs that are as good as any outlaw country release I have heard in a long while. Anyone who claims to love real classic country needs to git yer hands on this, pronto!

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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

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Before I get into the music, I want to address Tami’s look. It is a look that is quite familiar to me. This is Baltimore in the late 50s/early 60s. If Tami were around about 35 years ago, she would have been in serious consideration for a role in Hairspray. The original Hairspray directed by the one and only John Waters. The rockabilly tinged tunes on CHICKABOOM! also fit in with the look. This is not garden variety rockabilly. Tami’s voice makes sure of that. Her strong and powerful vocals are equally matched by her range. There is no stress in her singing, she grabs high notes like an acrobat reaching for the trapeze. 
I am definitely in the mood for some straight up, old timey sounding rockabilly, which is why I am choosing Tell Me That You Love Me (Track 7) to be the first track I discuss. This infectious little ditty makes it impossible to sit still when listening. Tami’s strong vocals take first place in this contest. Let’s make it a four-way tie because the lead guitar, bass, and drums are also very important elements. That guitar solo is stellar and equally matched is the rhythm section that holds perfect time. 
How about one that’s a little darker. When I say a little darker, I kid. It’s about as dark as a black hole in space. 16 Miles Of Chain (Track 6) is a song about heartbreak and betrayal and possibly murder. Yes, I said murder. I am not completely sure but something is brewing:
“Come on down from the roof, my dear, see what I have found
Into the chest that I love best, I pushed that black heart down
And in my lovers face I saw betrayal and the pain
And now I’m tied to that cold black heart with 16 miles of chain”
I will let the reader and listener be the judge as to how the story ends. Tami leaves us something for the imagination.
Call Your Mama (Track 1) is more blues influenced. No problem, Tami has the blues covered. Her voice is all encompassing and perfect on this track. Another song about betrayal and heartbreak.  Tami writes from a strong woman’s point of view and will not tolerate any nonsense. Damn straight. Don’t mess with the victim in this story. Treat her right or you will be out the door. Or worse! 
The common theme of CHICKABOOM! is pure rock and roll, the way it ought to be. No frills or overproduction, just great singing, writing, and musicianship. The songs are all very listenable and are begging to be played more than once. I for one have already followed my own advice. 
Listen and buy CHICKABOOM!

 

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
I started my rendezvous with Paul Kelly in 2017 when I reviewed Life Is Fine. I made a comparison between Paul and Bruce Springsteen. Paul has been described by me and other as the “Bruce Springsteen” of Australia. As I listen to this collection, I would like to change that. Paul seems to be a kindred spirit of Billy Bragg. I hear more similarities in style between Paul and Billy. While all of the accolades and comparisons to Springsteen do have some merit, I am going to go with Billy Bragg. 
Anyone who has been reading my reviews for any length of time will know that I usually shy away from reviewing compilations or greatest hit collections. In this case, I will waive that rule because the material is so amazing. Most greatest hits compilations usually contain a few good songs thrown in with a lot of “filler”. Not the case with Paul. Every song is a winner. There are 43 that all pass the quality test. 
Not only can Paul observe and recount, but he also has a wicked sense of humor. Just listen to Every Fucking City (Track 22) and you will get a taste of Paul’s quick wit and how he uses humor to tell a great story. “And I’m staring at a label on a bottle of cerveza, and every fucking city feels the same.” Anyone who travels for a living will appreciate this song. Not only every city, but every hotel, hotel room, fast food restaurant, and bar look the same. It is a “Groundhog Day” feeling. I can definitely relate to these words.
I just realized that I recognize one of the songs. Dumb Things (Track 7) was a pretty big hit in the late 80s/early 90s on college and progressive radio.  I haven’t heard this song in close to 30 years. I didn’t know this was Paul Kelly until now. Sorry Paul. I am going to right that wrong. This song was one of the mainstays in heavy rotation when I worked at a record store in 88 and 89. Lotta memories. 
Paul can write and sing a ballad as good as anybody, but he can also rock out when it’s necessary. Darling It Hurts (Track 4) is all the evidence you need. My headphones are smoking. This is a song The Cramps would endorse. This is seedy rock and roll with the smell of stale beer and cigarettes in the air. Somehow Paul was able to capture the trashy side of things while still delivering a song that has perfect production value. 
Highlighting only three songs does not do this collection justice. Take a leap of faith and trust me on this one. This is an essential collection for anyone who fancies themselves as superior music enthusiast. Paul is the real deal and a legend in Australia. Let’s do our part and make Paul a legend in the states. This collection is proof that it is well deserved. 
Listen to Songs From the South. Greatest Hits (1985-2019) 
Buy Songs From the South. Greatest Hits (1985-2019)

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Man o man. From the first note an onward, this album cooks like Wolfgang Puck. This is not my first go-round with the “Girls” (which also consists of two fellas). Their fist self-titled release was one of my favorites of that year and frankly it is still one of my go to’s. So, as a reviewer, I need to forget the first album and judge Dirty Power by its own merits. What I discovered by doing that is that this album is even better than the first. And that means something, considering how much I revere the first one. I can hear the recording evolution and the maturity in the playing and songwriting.  
Barbara Endes, who plays guitar has really developed into one fine master of the axe. When I reviewed  the first album, I coined the term “twangle pop” as the genre for this music. I think that moniker still applies as I hear a melding of late 80s/early 90s noise pop and some good country tinged rock and roll.  All throughout the album, the harmonies are heavenly and really help to balance out some of the noisier elements. But what always comes through is Barb’s signature sound. 
The most compelling song on the album for me is Two Places At Once (Track 5). It’s four minutes and change and the first three minutes are all instruments. I though this song was going to be a guitar laden instrumental ala Dick Dale, but then we get a surprise. Barb starts singing about being in two places at once. Brilliant and unconventional. The Girls are really pushing the envelope and changing the definition of pop music for the better. 
No great album would be complete without a protest song. And the Girls deliver with Commander In Thief (Track 10). I don’t think I need to go into too much explanation about the song meaning. The clever title pretty much sums it up. This track has some exceptional writing, harmonies and great guitar work. This should be played repeatedly at every college radio station throughout America. 
The album starts off with one of the most inspiring and “twangry” guitar solos ever. Down At the Bottom (Track 1) seems to have more than one meaning. A double entendre, if you will. Another example of Barb’s songwriting prowess. “Come hang with me down and the bottom. Come play with me where the sun don’t shine.” Sounds romantic and a little dangerous. I like danger and this song has plenty of it. You know the old saying, “The greater the risk, the greater the reward”. Let’s all take some calculated risks. This song inspires me to do so. 
I want to take a minute to mention all of the players on Dirty Power since there is plenty of great sounds that need to be praised. As I already mentioned Barbara Endes is on lead vocal duty and electric guitar. On bass is Dave Mandl. The other part of the rhythm section is occupied by Nancy Polstein, playing drums and providing backing vocals. David Michael Weiss also plays electric guitar and sings. Other musicians that contributed were Eric Ambel on the Wurlitzer piano and Graham Norwood who provided vocals on Got To Laugh To Keep From Cryin’. 
This album has all the elements of greatness: strong writing, impassioned singing. loud and energetic instruments, and a strong sense of experimentation. Do I really need to say, “Go out and buy this album?” I hope the review speaks for itself. 
Listen and buy Dirty Power 

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
What a pure and honest voice! There are some strong Dylan and Prine elements but the music on Caught It From The Rye is 100% original. I think Tre’s contributions to Americana music and folk is exactly what we need right now. There aren’t enough troubadours anymore. Those men and women that believe that music is their calling and they will do anything to spread their art, irrespective of money. 
Tre Burt is a Sacramento native and states that John Prine is one of his three all time favorites. Based on listening to this entire album, I don’t think I am stepping out of line by assuming that Dylan is probably on that list as well. Most of the album is just Tre and the acoustic guitar with what I would call light instrument accompaniment. Tre and the acoustic are definitely the heroes here and the album prominently displays that fact. There is a very, very big sound that Tre has created and it is glorious. 
Where to start? All of the nine songs on this release are worthy of praise and some ink. One song for me rises to the top and that song is Get It By Now Blues (Track 8). What an absolute masterpiece that carries the torch from Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seger, Dylan, and Prine. This song shows its beauty starting at the first note. This is a song of heartbreak that is so good, it will be around for a long time. The powerful writing and a voice that speaks to us directly is something that music has been missing for a while now. Hopefully Tre can fill that void. 
Franklin’s Tunnel (Track 4) is the only song on this collection that features another voice. Jules Bee (Sea Of Bees) provides vocals on this track and it is amazing how well her voice melds with Tre’s. It truly is something magical. Two voices completely intertwined to create a third voice. That’s called synergy. There is no shortage of it on Franklin’s Tunnel. 
Another astounding number is the title track, Caught It From The Rye (Track 2). Tre’s voice pulls off this number because of his vocal strength and ability to switch between notes flawlessly. According to Tre, the song is about the cycle of life from birth to death. This song was not written in the traditional sense but came to Tre during a visit to the forest in southern Washington state. He states after the first line, the rest of the song was created in a state of subconsciousness, similar to a hypnotic state. 
The album is a bit short, only 27 minutes. But, there is no filler here. This is all substance with no artificial additives or by-products. Listening to Caught It From The Rye may be the fastest half an hour you ever spent. If you are anything like me, you are grateful for the rewind button. 
Listen and buy Caught It From The Rye