Los Angeles-based artist Kyle Lalone revealed his musical prowess in his latest album, Somewhere in Between. Released in April 2020, these five songs epitomize classic country music with unmatched lyrical and instrumental cohesion – which is no surprise considering he graduated from Berklee College of Music. Lalone wrote each song based on his personal journey with sobriety, heartbreak, and self-exploration. Though this is the first time I’ve encountered Lalone’s music, I know it won’t be the last!

The short album kicks off with Think Myself to Death, a youthful take on life’s uncertainties. The combination of pedal steel guitar and Lalone’s smooth voice (which was made to sing country music, by the way) creates a classic, upbeat twang. Lalone questions past choices, like moving away from his hometown and choosing to pursue country music. He speaks on the dangers of overthinking – oh, how relatable – and admits: “If I keep doing this, I might think myself to death.” 

The second track, Our Love, is a light-hearted song about falling out of love. Similar to Think Myself to Death, this song has all the key tenets of classic country music, from heavy acoustics to a honky tonk swing. In the uncharacteristically upbeat breakup song, he sings, “Our love ain’t what it used to be, it’s like driving around on a tank that is empty.” Lalone reminisces on “how it used to be” with a charming level of acceptance that he needs to move on. 

The heartbreak theme prevails in Warning Signs, though this song shifts the album from upbeat to melancholy. The slow rush of guitar emulates the aching pain of a breakup while Emily Hulslander’s soft vocals echo in the background. Lalone sings about adjusting to life without his partner, acknowledging that, “You and I rode that train until it came off the tracks, got back on time and time again….Never thought this ride would ever end.” The slowest of the five songs, Warning Signs, depicts a man struggling to balance his lingering affection for a past partner with his awareness that the relationship is over, perhaps for the better.

Lalone continues to share pieces of his past in Always Trying to Quit, a song about battling addiction. He reminisces to the days that he spent getting drunk and high only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. He sings: “I’ve put down the bottle dozens of times, thrown my bag away…then I start thinking, get lost in my head and be drunk by the end of the day…” Similar to Our Love, this song addresses a somber subject with a level of charm and optimism unique to Lalone.

He leaves us with a truly hopeful song, as the closing track, I’m Not Gonna Drink Over You, is about moving on from his two major struggles: heartbreak and addiction. And he’s right to end the album on a positive note, as the future looks bright for this budding artist! Lalone is currently recording songs that will be released in 2021, so keep your eyes out for his newest music.

Listen and buy Somewhere In Between here

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This is just what the doctor ordered! Some old fashioned noise rock in the vein of The Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain, Stooges, et. al. Just some great psychedelic tinged rock and roll. I was beginning to think that rock music out of the United States was dead on arrival, but here comes Slacker Paint by the Mary Veils. I know it is only one release in the sea of auto-tune, but I am still very optimistic. I scan and listen to new releases almost every day and most are disappointing. Then I found this diamond in the rough.

The Mary Veils are A Philadelphia, PA based garage rock act. Starting out as the solo project of songwriter Brian Von Uff. Maybe Philadelphia is becoming a hub for ambient and garage-y rock and roll. The Mary Veils fit in nicely with other Philly based bands such as The War On Drugs, Low Cut Connie, and Ron Gallo. Ron now lives in Nashville, but he still has very deep Philly roots.

This really takes me back to the 80s when noise pop was in its infancy. The use of cacophonous sounds blended with lush vocals and harmonies to create a sound that is gorgeous and complete ear candy. I haven’t used that phrase in a while, but this is well deserving of that description.

Cold As A Knife is the first song that caught my ear and it isn’t letting go. This number touches me at a deeper level than just auditory. With vocals that are reminiscent of Gish era Smashing Pumpkins, this song is a musical journey and not just a song. Plenty of feedback and atypical sounds are blended with pitch perfect vocals and a serious groove that is as deep as a trench. The feeling this song evokes is a combination of contentment, peacefullness, and a tinge of chills. This is a song in the Twangri-La wheelhouse.

The Mary Veils dabble into some good punk rock power chords and vocals as well. These guys know their way around the world of 80s and early 90s post punk. Time is a little punk ditty that is effervescing with pure sonic energy. This may have been recorded in a studio but this has such a live feel. It seems they let the tapes run and just fuckin’ play. I respect the hell out of that. Plenty of ear-pleasing feedback. In case you were wondering what my favorite instrument is, it’s feedback. In addition to the lovely feedback, there are some luxurious backing vocals that in perfect balance with the feedback and the noisier elements of the song.

If you like your psychedelic music pure, as I do, then you must have a listen to The Mope. This song is heavy and dirgy, and oh so pretty. The super loud and distorted guitars are in the right place at the right time. Once the vocals begin, it’s like a Mevins/Black Sabbath hybrid. A perfect rock and roll number, if ever I have heard one. Because there is great vibe and a great melodies and harmonies, it doesn’t play quite so heavy.

It certainly has been a while, I thought rock and roll was on life support. Slacker Paint has made me change my mind. This is the auditory equivalent of having a meal at a four star Michelin restaurant. The big diffy is it won’t set you back $500 per head and you can keep your distance.

Listen and buy Slacker Paint here.

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This is such an intriguing release! I had never heard of Bob Frank before I got this package. I am glad this was sent to me for review. Bob Frank was a great songwriter and his music was perfect for the late 60s and early 70s. In a time when people like Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens, and John Denver were at the top of the charts, Bob Frank would have been an incredible compliment to those artists. Bob sang about everything including drugs, bugs, and vagrants. His writing had an incredible feeling to it. Bob was able to get down to brass tacks when describing any subject and write about it in a way that hadn’t been written before. Bob Frank was picked up by Vanguard Records in the early 70’s when Vanguard was a really big deal.

The relationship went south when Bob realized that the label wasn’t being completely honest with him. It seems executives told Bob that he had veto power over the album and that anything he wasn’t comfortable with, he could over rule. Unfortunately, this was not the case and didn’t sit well with Bob. This conflict came to a confluence one night in New York City and Max’s Kansas City. Max’s was a very famous music club at that time with the who’s who of alternative music playing there. Artists such as Iggy Pop, David Bowie, The New York Dolls, and the Velvet Underground were regulars. Bob was scheduled to do a musical showcase playing live versions of the songs on his Vanguard release. Because of the acrimony and broken promises, Bob decided not to play those songs and played new songs he was working on. When an exec from Vanguard intervened and try to get Bob to play the songs on the album, Bob retorted, ” If they want to hear those songs, tell them to go buy the fucking album.” If you are trying to make it in the business, that’s probably the worst thing you can say and it pretty much ended the relationship between Bob Frank and Vanguard.

When Bob was speaking of the story years later in the documentary, he described the events in a very matter of fact and unapologetic way. The cavalier attitude that made his song writing so great is the same thing that essentially killed his career. How is that for irony? Bob toured for a while after the Vanguard deal feel apart and eventually settled in the Bay Area where he remained for the rest of his life. The documentary has a great flow to it. Great stories and great music fill the 75 minutes.

Over the years, people began to discover Bob’s music and Bob became somewhat of a cult hero with a fervent fan base. Bob continued to write and record in the 80s and 90s as a personal pursuit. The legend of Bob Frank kept growing and even increased after Bob’s untimely death in 2019. This release is a stunning collection of Bob’s music over time and will hopefully increase the interest in a songwriter that had the musical and writing chops of one of the greats.

Buy Within A Few Degrees here

Interviewed by Mae Hunt

In this interview with Girls On Grass lead vocalist and guitarist, Barbara Endes, we discuss her roots in music, the recording process of her new singles, and what we can expect from the band in the near future!

BE: Barb Endes TL: Twangri-La

TL: So let’s start from the very beginning. You’re an extremely talented guitarist and musician. I would love to learn a little bit about your upbringing and what inspired you to become invested in music initially. 

BE: I wouldn’t say I come from a musical family. I come from an artistic family. My dad played accordion growing up and his father played. And my mother’s father was a piano player and a classical music aficionado. And there was always music around, of course. But the formal education in music I had was just in the grade school orchestra. But pretty quickly, I started cheating on that. I don’t know why just reading music didn’t appeal to me as much as memorizing it.

So I just learned what little skill I did pick up, but I was able to learn how to remember things and played by ear on the violin. I stopped focusing on the music reading aspect of it and just learned to play by ear because I think it was easier for me. And that was kind of the beginning of playing the instruments for me, but I didn’t keep doing it. At that time, there was a lot of stuff going on at my house, and I don’t think I could relax and focus on it.

But a few years later, my sister started dating this stoner guitar player guy. And I would hang around with my sister and her friends. Her boyfriend was in a band, and they’re into prog rock and all that stuff. So I started hearing a lot of guitar-oriented prog rock, a lot of King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, all that kind of stuff. My sister’s boyfriend was a really sweet, friendly guy. He would come over with his guitar all the time. He had this refinished Strat and he was a really good player. I made a guitar out of a yard stick and a piece of cardboard, which a ton of kids do, right, like playing dress up in front of a mirror, but I played with a fake guitar. Later on, Dave (the boyfriend) gave me a cheap guitar. I had a few lessons with him and then just kept going on my own.

Slowly throughout my teenage years, I picked up some stuff. I was all basically playing by ear. I was pretty young when I played in a band for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. I was awful. But we played in the middle school talent show. I actually tried to play in the jazz ensemble in my middle school. Again, I was really floundering. I don’t know if I couldn’t get guitar lessons or I just was not focused on it or something. 

I didn’t really get anywhere until I was high school or college in terms of really understanding the instrument at all. And I feel like I still barely do. I feel like I’ve really hunkered down and focused on a few kinds of things. But I’m playing a long time, and it really has been a lifeline for me throughout my life. I don’t really have a lot of technical skill, but it’s like my therapist. Throughout my life, I’ve really depended on playing a lot. 

So I’m really glad that I’m stuck with it because there are a bunch of times in my life, I put it down. But I always picked it back up. And now, I’m writing music, and I have a band and it’s really fun. 

TL: It sounds fun. And on my end, it sounds like you’ve mastered the guitar as a listener. When did you begin to transition into songwriting? Or has that always been a part of playing the guitar for you?

BE: No, I spent pretty much all of my time learning songs of the bands that I loved growing up. I think the first song I learned was a Pink Floyd song. I learned a bunch of prog stuff when I was a teenager, which was fun because it was challenging. And then I got into jangle pop, REM, all kinds of stuff from the Grateful Dead to the Gear Daddies. And then I learned about The Clash. And I got into punk rock a little bit. In college, I learned about the Pixies and a bunch of other post punk stuff. 

But I didn’t really start writing songs until my late twenties. I wrote a bunch of songs for a little EP, I guess you’d call it. I didn’t release it or anything, but it was the first time I assembled a bunch of songs. I recorded them on a four-track cassette deck or a mixer. And a friend of mine, who is a musician, wrote commercial music and mixed it for me. 

After that, I started playing with a series of other bands and didn’t really write again until maybe my mid-thirties really, early thirties. And at that point, I was actually classic country. Here in New York, at a place called The Weal and Woe, I formed this band with my friend, Russell, who is a great country and bluegrass guitar player and harmony singer. And that’s when I started really writing enough songs where I could put together a whole set of my own material. We formed the band with Russell and Jason Cade, this amazing fiddler, and Mark Deffenbaugh, a great lap steel, a guitar player. And that was my first taste of having a band and doing my own material, which was horrifying but really helpful and gave me a lot of confidence.

TL: That’s awesome. I feel like a lot of your songs or the lyrics, at least, are both very personal and very honest. It seems as though you’re not afraid to take a political stance. Is it difficult for you to write about personal events or writing about politics, or does it come naturally?

BE: I think it’s just my personality. I have a hard time writing abstractly or about experiences that aren’t my own. Sometimes, I have a song idea and I won’t know where to take it other than to try to relate it to a personal experience. And I think that’s one of the reasons I love country music. Getting really sucked into the older classic country genre is what made me feel like I could write songs.

I mean, of course, there are examples in other genres of this. But listening to someone singing about an experience that seems really personal and straightforward and honest…it felt like that’s the way that I could express myself and not feel like a phony. So when I was in a classic country band, it really made me want to write songs for the first time. And then I went back to rock music and started Girls on Grass. But I think that that kind of lyrical approach is still the only way that I really feel comfortable writing. 

The only song on Dirty Power that is neither super political or very personal about a specific thing that’s happened to me or a series of things is Friday Night. And I just wrote that song on a whim—it was probably spurred by a movie or a show or something I don’t remember exactly. But that was the only time I’ve ever written something that was completely made up. 

TL: You mentioned this earlier but it sounds like writing is like a release, a space where you can release your energy and thoughts, which is really amazing. And I do want to talk a little bit about your most recent songs. First of all, congratulations. I am sure it feels great to be putting out music in a time where the world feels like we’re in a standstill. Would you mind telling me a little bit about the recording process, where you recorded, how long it took, things like that?

BE: It’s been really nice to be able to put something out during this time because it does feel like we’re at a standstill. The band started to really pick up some momentum finally last year. We went on a couple of short tours and played the Swamp Stomp Festival again. We were applying for festivals and trying to get out of New York more. Recording those songs was intended to build on that so that we could have something new to tour behind because Dirty Power came out in April last year. It seemed like a good way for us to keep that momentum going. 

There’s this group of musicians in New York City. There’s a scene that was around in the ‘80s here, and I guess probably early ‘90s, of all these incredible musicians who are now doing a lot of recording and producing. And mostly because Nancy’s (my drummer’s) social network, I’ve met a lot of these people and we’ve recorded with a bunch of them. 

So Jay Sherman-Godfrey did the first record – he engineered it and helped produce it. And then Eric Ambel did the last record. These guys are like titans of the alt-country scene here. And the third person in that group that we’d been talking to about maybe recording with is Mark Spencer, who’s a phenomenal musician. He’s a touring musician with Sun Volt. And he’s worked with Cheri Knight and all kinds of people. Just so talented. 

He has a studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn called Tape Kitchen, and we had considered doing Dirty Power there, and then we thought, let’s just try to do the single there. It’s a really cool, old, light industrial building on the Gowanus Canal. It’s got a recording studio on multiple floors and it’s got this big kitchen. It’s a really cool vibe. We recorded live as a trio and then did a little bit overdubbing. And we had a friend, Glenn Spivack, come in to play harmonica. And he’s just an incredible player. I mean, he basically played all of this stuff on Spill Your Guts off the cuff, right? Just one of those guys. 

It was a good experience, but it’s also really different for us because I threw the songs at the band without much rehearsal time. I just thought, let’s see what happens. Who’s Gonna Cry had a really short rehearsal time. We had two or three weeks with that one. We worked out Spill Your Guts a little longer. It was really fun to see how the band responded to a shorter gestation period for the songs. It made it really fun to record them, if kind of anxiety-inducing. But that kind of energy can be really good in the studio because the last thing I want to do is to go into the studio with the band and have everybody be bored with the songs and know exactly what they’re going to play. It’s just not as exciting. There’s always that possibility that you’re going to regret not doing something on a song because, six months later, you know the song better. It was a good experience and I think I’d like to do it again.

TL: It sounds like it was a fun experience! And it sounds like it speaks to your chemistry to be able to pull it all together without as much rehearsal as songs typically have.

BE: Yeah – they’re both really talented players. Nancy’s a pro. And she puts with up with my….I can be a little control freakish. I think a lot of songwriters might be like that. But we’ve gotten to a good place in collaboration. Again, she’s just super talented and able to lay down all different kinds of things. And Dave, too, they’re really tight as a rhythm section and they love playing together. So it’s pretty awesome place for me to be as a songwriter. 

TL: It definitely, it sounds it. I also wanted to mention the Who’s Gonna Cry music video. I’m curious as to how that idea came about. 

BE: I just love stop animation. I mean, I’ll be honest. The specifics of it were largely left to Wendy Norton, the creator. We had a collaborative connection. She told me about her concept after I pitched the general idea to her and I was into the concept. I think the southwest theme was a response on her part to the kind of spaghetti western music behind it. I just loved how she rendered us in puppets. And I actually have the puppets in my house. Well, I have the Trump puppet and I have my puppet. Nancy and Dave have their own puppets. 

TL: That’s awesome. I love that video. 

BE: Yeah. Nancy and Dave didn’t want the Trump puppet. (laughter) I don’t know what to do with it. I’m thinking of doing various things with it. 

TL: (laughter)

BE: But I’m taking my time.

TL: That’s funny. Yeah. Take your time. Think of something good.

BE: Yeah, I’m glad you like it. I love the animated videos.

TL: It’s a creative way to pair visuals with songs.

BE: Also, it’s also really fun for me to collaborate with visual artists and see what they’ll do with music that we make. I like supporting people doing their art and keeping money flowing directly between artists. I’m really happy about being able to do that.

TL: Yeah. I think that’s great. And it turned out awesome.

BE: Thank you. Yeah, I love it. It’s cute, right? 

TL: Yeah (laughter). It’s definitely cute. Thanks for all of that. I’m just curious, for my last question, what’s next for you? I know you mentioned you have a day job, so I’m sure that’s eating up a lot of your time, but what can we expect from you next music-wise?

BE: That’s a constantly evolving question in my own mind right now. This is a very tenuous time. This isn’t sexy or anything. Honestly, I’m struggling to find my creative flow right now. I’m really distracted by everything that’s happening in the world and in the US. It’s definitely throwing me off my flow. At the same time, the situation we’re in has, out of necessity, forced me to get my home recording situation more squared up. I’ve learned some new skills and done some recording that I’m really excited about. I feel like I needed to get those tools back because the only home recording I did previously was on a cassette-deck type situation.

It’s been a good time for me to work on some other skills. I’m constantly thinking about how to use those to try to adapt to the current situation with the band. So we’re working that out together. As far as playing together and songwriting, it’s [the pandemic has] slowed us down. I’ve got some new songs brewing and we’re hoping to sort out a cold weather situation where we can start playing together again. But our rehearsal space doesn’t really lend itself to being in the same room together. It’s super depressing. 

I have no doubt that if the veil of all of this pandemic is lifted and everything reset, we would just fall back into the pocket and keep going. But I don’t think it’s going to be that simple. I think a lot of the venues certainly are struggling and may close. And the festival—we got into the Waking Windows, and that would have been this spring in Vermont. But who knows.

I think even outdoor festivals might struggle to get back up and running. The only crazy but fairly solid plan we have right now is to start doing outdoor concerts this spring and try to get the gear together to make that happen. Maybe start songwriting with the idea of recording again as a band next year. But it’s just so hard to know what’s going to happen.

TL: Yeah. I think the pandemic has definitely impacted everybody in different ways. I am sure that your anticipated 2020 plan has changed. But it’s also caused a lot of us to cultivate new skills, like producing music inside. So hopefully, that brings along some new material. But whatever you have in store for us, I’m sure it will be great.

BE: You’re very kind. We’ve really received a lot of support this year, like a support for the 7-inch. And it’s really helped us keep going mentally. And so we really appreciate your interest and your willingness to help us get the word out.

TL: Yeah, of course. It’s good music. So it makes it a lot easier when it’s good music. 

BE: Thank you. 

TL: No, thank you! Thank you for taking the time today. I really appreciate it and have really enjoyed speaking with you.

Buy Girls On Grass music and merch here.

Take a Look in the Book by the Legendary Ingramettes is composed of ten electrifying tracks strung together by the voices of three inspiring and talented musicians. Not only that, but this album carries 65 years worth of stories and history led by the incomparable voice of Almeta Ingram-Miller.

The story of the Legendary Ingramettes began in the 1950s when Maggie Ingram performed as a gospel singer amidst the rising popularity of black male gospel quartets. A mother of five, Maggie worked to balance her familial responsibilities with her label as the “Gospel Queen of Richmond”. She performed alongside bands including the Six Trumpets and Silver Stars Quartet until 1961 when she recruited her children to perform as Maggie and the Ingramettes. 

Throughout her tumultuous life, battling a divorce, poverty, and oppression, her reliance on Jesus and gospel music persisted. When Maggie passed away in 2015, her daughter Almeta took over the group and kept the voices of her family alive. Take a Look In the Book is the first album produced with Almeta at the head. 

The first of many memories is that of family prayer time. The Family Prayer, the first song on the album, commences with an electrifying keyboard riff followed by excited anticipation for this sacred time of day. The vocals are intense as a consistent chant, “Come on, come on, come on…,” calls listeners to share their enthusiasm. Almeta recalls that her mother would “call us ’round the table Sunday morning, one by one, name by name.” As the first song on the album, it solidifies the album’s purpose: to uplift humanity through the gospel.

The album then transitions to the title track Take a Look in the Book which maintains the feverous gospel performance. With a chorus echoing behind her, Almeta assures listeners that “You’ve got an answer to all of your problems” if you read the Bible. Other songs that highlight the relentless devotion and powerful voices of these strong women include Rock of Ages and Time Is Winding Up

As the tracks continue, dark images of realities for African Americans’ in the twentieth century pierce the gospel fervor. Grandma’s Hands, originally produced by the late Bill Withers, incorporates memories of her own grandmother who “would pick that cotton until her fingers would bleed” in rural Georgia. Another song that allows us a glimpse into Almeta’s life is When Jesus Comes. This song was written with family hardships in mind, specifically the years that followed Maggie’s husband leaving her with five young children to raise. Despite the difficulties, Maggie’s dependence on Christ assures her that “everything will be alright.” 

Perhaps the most powerful songs are those that speak to resilience and glory. I’ve Endured, originally written by Ola Belle Reed, is an eight-minute ballad that parallels the life of Almeta’s mother, Maggie. I imagine Almeta’s emotional voice is inspired by the gratitude she possesses for her mother. The final song on the album, Until I Die, speaks to the family’s devotion and strength that will persist through the hardships of life. 

Coming from someone who doesn’t consider themselves particularly religious, this album still managed to resonate with me. It exemplifies not only that faith is crucial in enduring, but also that music is a powerful means of story telling. 

Listen and buy the album here

Juanita Stein’s 10-track album Snapshot offers a profound take on grief. Produced alongside Ben Hillier, Snapshot processes Stein’s emotions following the unexpected death of her father in 2019. With her brother Joel on the guitar, Evan Jenkins on drums, and Jimi Wheelwright on bass, the talented group comes together to create a remarkable album. 

The bluesy tracks take many twists and turns as Stein leads her listeners down a psychedelic path bursting with folk, rock, and country music. The unique sound pairs well with the exploration of perhaps unanticipated feelings associated with grief. I say unexpected because grieving artists so often center their music on feelings of anger, despair, and loss. While there is no shortage of those emotions in Stein’s album, she also grapples with curiosity, shock, emptiness, confusion, and many other emotions associated with death. The instrumentals echo in the background of the lonely journey Stein takes as she encounters a new world without her father. 

Stein’s sultry voice kicks off the album in 123456 and continues to play a distinctive role throughout all tracks. Her voice works in combination with guttural electric guitars and resonant percussions to create a dream-like sensation. In the reflective LOFT, Stein ruminates on fond memories of childhood and uncovers feelings of nostalgia. In a bluesy voice she croons, “The endless starry skies, vast coastline, the distance between us and the rest of the world….” Feelings of innocence persist through this song, painting the picture of an angelic time in life.

However, songs like Hey Mama and Snapshot shatter this image of perfection. In Hey Mama, Stein addresses both her parents and expresses concern about how grief may be impacting specifically her mother. She shares, “Hey mother I’ve been thinking about your heart. The weight of this boulder drags you down too far…Hey mother, I’ve been thinking about you.” It appears she is battling not only her own grief but that of her loved ones.

The eeriness remains in the title-track Snapshots where she asks: “You are a snapshot of my mind. All I can do is build a frame, assess the memory yet again. I call your name, no one’s there. There’s no spell to ease the pain, only a photograph remains.” She sings not with anger but with a curiosity as she explores a new life without this person who played such an integral role. These feelings are perpetuated by a pulsing guitar and Stein’s luminous “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing”. 

In Lucky, perhaps my favorite song on the album, Stein questions her ability to overcome challenges. Her voice fluctuates from low and steady to high and honeyed. She begs the question: “Do I have the courage and do I have the strength to do everything I can? Start all over again?” The final song, In The End, is more upbeat and optimistic with hearty guitars strumming in the background. Stein still struggles but seems to find some comfort in the shared human experience of grief and loss. 

Juanita Stein is searching for meaning in a time of deep loss. I give her credit for sharing such a deeply personal and salient experience with the world. 

Listen to Snapshot here.

Buy Snapshot here.

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.

Listen HERE

Buy HERE

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 Mae Hunt

Arlo McKinley’s soulful album, Die Midwestern, is chock-full of vulnerability and brutal honesty. Released on August 14th and recorded with Oh Boy Records, the 10-track album contains songs reminiscent of indie folk (We Were Alright) and others that are cut and dry country (She’s Always Around). The album highlights McKinley’s versatility, which is also evident in his Post Malone and Rihanna covers! In all, the album can get just about anyone feeling both sentimental and appreciative of good music. 

In 2014, McKinley released his debut album with his band The Lonesome Sound, which turned into nominations for Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Best Americana Act from the Cincinnati Music Awards. Since then, McKinley has performed alongside musicians including Tyler Childers, John Moreland, and Jason Isbell. The highly anticipated Die Midwestern speaks volumes about McKinley’s talents. I particularly enjoy the intensely personal look McKinley gives us of his life as he often reflects on his experiences living in Ohio and breaking free from ties there.

Let’s start with the title-track, Die Midwestern. The bluegrass song begins with light-hearted instrumentals – a guitar, violin, and keyboard – just the right ingredients to create a classic country cocktail. The lyrics reflect on McKinley’s rocky relationship with his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He sings: “I’ve been thinking that I should go, ’cause if I don’t leave now I’ll never leave Ohio.” This song is a great segway into the rest of the album as it introduces the physical place where many songs take place.

The raw and emotional Bag of Pills is a frank reflection of the drug abuse plaguing his home town and impacting both his loved ones and himself. He begs, “Hell Jesus, can you save me? Didn’t think so, guess that you’re busy.” The stark contrast between powerful instrumentals and voice-cracking vocals emulates the rockiness and unsteadiness of drug use. The passion and grief McKinley puts forth in his vocals tells me how close to home this song hits.

Similarly, The Hurtin’s Done shares the harsh realities of mental illness (without glamorizing it, might I add). In chilling lyrics, McKinley sings: “Ghosts that still haunt me, I’ll fight one by one, ‘tiIl the hurting is done.” In so many of his songs, including this one, his voice is paired with simply a guitar, emphasizing the loneliness of the lyrics.

Finally, what is a classic country album without a little heartbreak? Songs like Whatever you Want and Once Again detail the different waves of falling in love. In the slow, violin-based, ballad Whatever You Want McKinley shows his romantic side and admits to being so in love he will do whatever she wants, almost giving himself up. Once Again shares that softness and vulnerability by expressing the simultaneous fear and hope that loving again may bring. Mckinley croons: “My heart is rusted I’ve been broken and I’ve been busted. But if you tell me that I can trust it, maybe this heart can love once again. 

Despite overarching themes of grief, McKinley includes glimmers of hope towards the end. In the final track, Walking Shoes, McKinley sings “I don’t wanna get high anymore, I don’t wanna fight anymore, I don’t wanna settle old scores I just wanna come home.” He appears transformed – ready to mend relationships and better himself, moving onto bigger and better things!  

Listen to and buy the album here