Author: James Orme

Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder

Cory Branan
The No-Hit Wonder
Street: 08.19
Cory Branan = Justin Townes Earle + Lucero + Todd Snider

It takes a unique blend of talent and experience to write the high-quality country-folk songs that seem to float and flow out of Cory Branan and his guitar. He’s been mostly known for his songwriting, but with this release, Branan is marrying his writing proficiency to the most accomplished record production of any of his releases. While there’s not a big difference content-wise here, everything seems brighter and more textured. Branan gracefully glides from folk to country—I do wish that he would lean a little harder toward country, especially if songs like the honky tonk “All the Rivers in Colorado” are the result, but even the folkier tunes are captivating. Until now, Branan has been a sort of kept secret in the alternative country scene, but records like this will ensure that that will no longer be the case. –James Orme

Dex Romweber Duo
Images 13
Street: 03.18
Dex Romweber Duo = Charlie Feathers + Joe Meek + The Fleshtones
Hillbilly garage punk madman Dex Romweber has been tearing up roots music since the mid ’80s when he was in the seminal Flat Duo Jets. Dex knows no fear when it comes to playing rock n’ roll. Even his ballads like “We’ll Be Together Again,” while wonderfully earnest and heartfelt, have an underlying tone of a caged jungle cat waiting to strike. Moody and dark with his guitar, Dex creates an intense atmosphere throughout this record while remaining versatile enough to hit his marks on bluesy tunes like “Roll On” and rock out on the surf-guitar-laden “Blue Surf.” While Dex is certainly the center figure of this duo, Dex’s sister Sara Romweber provides a solid bed of beats that allows Dex to drive the band anywhere he wants. Stripped of any and all bullshit, the Dex Romweber Duo is undeniably the real deal. –James Orme

The Tossers 
The Emerald City 
Street: 03.05 
The Tossers = the Pogues + the Dubliners + Rum Runner 
This is more traditional than many of the Celtic/punk acts out there, but that’s not to say Chicago’s Tossers ease up on the attitude. Just in time for St. Patty’s day, the Irish fury that is The Emerald City, starting with the rollicking tune “The Rover,” which exults the life of the nomad, whether drunk or sober. Then, after a few jaunty melodies, the record rests to a slower pace, which is where lead singer T. Duggins and company exceed the competition, because they are able to control rhythms and have different tempos in a song like “Whenever You Go,” which gives the song a manifestation that most bands couldn’t pull off. “God Bless You” has a dark and ominous tone, but moves along well enough to satisfy the rockers and the Celtic folk alike. So when you’re hoisting a pint and Dropkick and Flogging Molly start to fill stale, don’t fret, because the Tossers will be there to stoke the Irish fire that resides in all of us. –James Orme 

Various Artists
Sticks Over My Shoulder
Mississippi Records
Street: 06.19.12
Sticks Over My Shoulder = Bluesman of Georgia laying it down!
In the late 70s, documentary maker George Mitchell traveled the back roads of Georgia searching out the remaining bluesmen who could still play. All of these musicians are interesting to listen to, and all of them play in some unique way such as John Lee Ziegler, who was left handed and could play a right handed guitar upside-down with the bass strings on bottom. A great listen, this record supremely demonstrates that the blues is the folk music for the southern African-American population. This is music made by people who just wanted to play it for their enjoyment and that of their neighbors. My favorite track is the devilish “Baby Please Don’t Go” which carries all the desire and desperation of losing one’s woman. Another favorite is “Good Morning Little School Girl,” where James Davis lets his guitar do the talking and just plucks out this rhythmic tune like there’s no tomorrow. Each song is like finding some lost sonic treasure, and I like to think that somewhere someone is still pounding out blues like this. –James Orme      



Luke Bell

Thirty Tigers
Street: 06.17
Luke Bell = J.P. Harris + Don Gibson + Dale Watson

It’s amazing when something pure and simple hits your ears and you just know that it’s special. Luke Bell is a country artist, and although I could try for a more complicated title for this singer/songwriter, it would be a disservice to try for anything else when Bell seems to be trying and is succeeding at being just that: a country artist. Bell has led the life of a rambler that has taken him from being a Wyoming ranch hand to playing in bands in Austin, Texas, and to eventually landing in Nashville’s more independent music scene. Eventually, Bell self-released his music and slowly began making a name for himself, but got a major boost when Dwight Yoakam brought him aboard his tour as an opening act where, by all reports, Bell won over audiences night after night.

With traditional-sounding country artists like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson tearing up the charts this year and last, the stage is set for someone like Bell to make an indelible mark on the face of popular country music. This lovable, charming cowboy’s song delivery is good. There’s so much to like, and the album is so simple and straightforward that there’s nothing to hate.

Everything Bell sings has an easy, genuine delivery to it, as if he just thought of what he’s singing, but simultaneously means every word. The “Bullfighter” is a leisurely country song that’s about how you may not like him, but there’s greatness within him, with lyrics like, “I’m here to play for blood boys—I’ll be here ‘till the end / I am the greatest bullfight that ever there has been.” There’s no question that Bell is declaring that he’s found his place and isn’t going anywhere. “Working Man’s Dream,” a rollicking hillbilly tune, starts off with Bell’s yodeling skills and continues as a front-porch jamboree of a song. A ragtime-tinged hillbilly romper like “Ragtime Troubles” might seem out of place but comes across in such a way that the only conclusion you reach as to why it’s a ragtime tune is because Bell just wanted it to be. Bell’s more honky-tonk on songs like “Sometimes” and “Hold Me,” which are so classic country, they go down like an ice-cold beer on a hot Texas day. Part of me wants to go on a “I hate pop country” diatribe and how this record would be Exhibit A in my prosecution of that soulless enterprise, but this record is so great, I just want to enjoy what it is: wonderful music. –James Orme

Memphis Dawls
Rooted in the Bone
Madjack Records
Street: 11.04.14
Memphis Dawls = Emmylou Harris + The Everly Brothers + The Civil Wars

One of my favorite things, musically, are great vocal harmonies, and the Memphis Dawls are exceptionally good at them. To so many people, folk music is code for dusty and boring, but I would challenge anyone to get through one spin of Rooted in the Bone and dare to utter the word boring. Songs like “Liar” transform this three-piece, all-girl folk band into a ’60s soul group, and at the same time, the traditional gospel sounds of “Where’d You Go My Love” all feel at home on this record. Another standout is the wanderlust-filled country tune ”Ride Alone”—with steel guitar and the girls’ vocals, it may be the loneliest song I’ve ever heard. Folk being the root of all music, I think that might be why a group like these gifted gals can go anywhere musically and still seem to make it all come from the same place. –James Orme


Old Smokey – Wester Easter
Old Smokey
Wester Easter
Cloud Recordings
Street: 04.29
Old Smokey = Wilco + Kingston Trio + Warren Zevon

While there is no shortage of folk music being produced today, there is, however, in that massive effort, a shortage of originality and creativity. Old Smokey has the remedy for the stale folk recipe we all know. They shake things up on every track with instrumentation and arrangements that all at once conjure an old timey feeling, but are still far from the traditional. “All The Way Slow” stands out, as the band jams out on this ‘60s flavored rocker that feels comfortable amongst the earthy banjo and other string tunes. So much of this record is instrumental, but the impressive thing is how much of a story can still come through in a song without lyrics—a song like “Leggy” has so much texture and color to it, it’s is easy to feel a narrative, or maybe it’s simply a beautiful backdrop for the listener to set their own story into.
–James Orme


White Flag Down
Never Surrender
Skinflint Music
Street: 07.01
White Flag Down = The Templars + Lower Class Brats + Patriot + U.S. Bombs
Is there a set of specifications to be considered a Clockwork punk band? Because I’d imagine that The Adicts would be an example that most bands would look to. Sure, all of them are punk bands, but other than that they sound very little like one another. White Flag Down, for example, seem to be a very down and dirty crossroads of punk rock, mixing oi, hardcore, and even straight rock n’ roll. The theme of “no surrender” runs rampant through this record. In fact that’s what their name is alluding to. Now, what they’re unwilling to surrender is less clear, but that’s punk rock—rebellion for rebellion’s sake—and a good punk record is always fun to spin. No, this record doesn’t slap you across the face with anything new, but it’s plain to see that this quartet from LA treats this stuff more like religion than anything, and that sells them better that anything. –James Orme


The Chapin Sisters

A Date With the Everly Brothers

Lake Bottom Records

Street: 04.23

The Chapin Sisters = She and Him (they’re in that band) + Everly Brothers (they play their songs)

What began as a labor of love for the Chapin Sisters has become a terrific installment to their catalogue, and even though the entire record is made up of Everly Brothers tunes, its almost as if the record is a collaboration of the two groups. The Chapin Sisters take Everly classics like “Cathy’s Clown” and “When Will I Be Loved” and play them so sincerely and honestly that there’s no need to make drastic changes—these covers get out of the way and let the song take over, which is something that only the most talented players and vocalists can achieve. These girls sing these harmonies like they were sewn together, which is an amazing feat in and of itself, seeing as how a comparison to the Everly’s long celebrated harmonies seems obligatory, but I can honestly say these girls not only pull this off, at times, they even elevate.  –James Orme

Eddie Spaghetti
The Value of Nothing
Bloodshot Records
Street: 06.18
Eddie Spaghetti = John Doe + Lucero + Dave Alvin
Eddie Spaghetti evidently has just too much rock n’ roll in his soul. With his day job fronting the Supersuckers, you’d think he’d exorcise every rockin’ demon in him, but even that’s not enough, so where his previous solo endeavors are more straight country, he’s brought harder stuff to get the party going. Ironically, Spaghetti enlisted honky-tonk luminary Jesse Dayton to produce, sing and play all over this record. Country still finds its way to the surface on the laidback “One Man Job,” a fun back-and-forth duet between Spaghetti and Dayton. The out-and-out rocker, “Fuckin’ With My Head,” is a punk tune that would be at home on a Dead Boys record. Spaghetti is a force that I don’t believe can be stopped—he jumps from country-rock to straight country to wherever he deems the correct place to be: He’s no-bullshit, and that’s the best thing I can say about anybody. –James Orme