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

I recently had the pleasure to speak with EmiSunshine. We spoke about her new album and her future plans. Emi is 15 years old but you wouldn’t know it based on her writing, performing, and communication skills. This is one of the most poised and mature 15 year olds I have met. Her star is definitely rising.
ES – Emi Sunshine                                          TL – TwangriLa

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Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Wowsers!!!! This is simply gorgeous. Completely reminiscent of a young Dolly Parton with the strong voice and the song writing chops of a seasoned veteran. I have to keep reminding myself that EmiSunshine is a mere 15 years old. Age is usually an unimportant number when it comes to writing a review, but in this case it is different. I cannot even imagine having the maturity and mindset, let alone creativity, to write such strong, memorable songs at 15 years of age. That in itself is astounding. 
What else is astounding is that that EmiSunshine’s band is a family affair. Emi’s dad, Randall Hamilton, is the bass player, playing upright bass, electric bass, and provides pitch perfect backing vocals. Brother John Hamilton plays acoustic guitar, mandolin, and also lends a hand on the backing vocals. Then you have Uncle Bobby Hill hitting the skins and keeping the time on drums. All that familial knowledge just adds chemistry to the mix and raises this album up a couple of steps on the ladder.
This is about as country as it gets. And Emi is putting her stamp on country music. Her version has some dark overtones and even a bit of a Gothic feel on some of the tracks. Jonas Black (Track 6) has some really nice picking and fiddles, but what really makes this song special is Emi. That voice can hit notes that we weren’t even sure existed. Take a good listen to the last 30 seconds of this and marvel at the amazing vocal range. 
Another track that I truly adore is The Ghost Of Hank Williams (Track 9), which also has some “Goth” in it. This track features Emi doing a yodel that is out of this world. The lyrics prove this young lady did her homework. At one point in the song, Emi mentions an incident about “kicking out all the stage lights” and that is completely awesome. It was Johnny Cash who kicked out those stage lights at the Opry. Both Cash and Williams were banned from the Opry. Hank never returned due to his untimely death. Johnny was able to return and even hosted his TV show from The Ryman.
The album commences with a pretty straight forward country song, Family Wars (Track 1). “Sister’s out here living in sin, Grandma’s on the dope again, and no one speaks to Daddy anymore.” How’s that for a powerful opening? I think Emi may really be a 40 year old pretending to be a teenager. These lyrics are definitely well beyond her chronological years. As I said, the young lady knows a thing or two about writing a country song. There is no sugar coating it. This is your family!
“Family Wars” is one fine album. This will definitely make EmiSunshine a household name. Not that she needs any help. She has 16 Opry appearances under her belt already and she isn’t even 18 yet!I digress. “Family Wars” is a must have and a good stocking stuffer. 
Listen to Family Wars
Buy Family Wars

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
I just got this in the mail today and immediately popped the CD into the player. I was taken by the beautiful sound quality of the CD. For a live album, the sound is brilliant and expertly mixed. That may not seem like much, but if those two things aren’t right, it can completely ruin a listening experience. And when I finally focused on the music, I was immediately transfixed and transported right to Tipitina’s in NOLA, where this was recorded. “Asteur” is crackling with energy from the first note to the last. The crowd noise adds to the frenzy. 

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Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
This was Sarah Shook & The Disarmers first time playing in Baltimore and they picked up a whole lot more fans after their fantastic opening set. I could hear the applause get louder and more enthusiastic after each song. I also heard many people in the audience state, “Wow! She is good!” Yes she is. And so is the the entire band. All of the band mates are incredible musicians. (more…)

Review by Harry Kaplan
This is my first review of a comedian. I realize this doesn’t fall in the format of country music, or music of any kind. I am compelled to write a review for a couple of reasons: 1) Lewis Black is hysterical and it was a wonderful evening. 2) This was a benefit for two worthy charities, Pathfinders for Autism and The Maryland Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I don’t want to lose focus of what the purpose of this great event was, to raise awareness and resources for two very important causes. More about the sponsors a little later….

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