Saturday, December 24, 2016

Roger Hoover. Pastures

Roger Hoover. Pastures.
Last Chance Records, 2016.  Roger Hoover:

I’ve always associated Roger Hoover with the Whiskeyhounds, which tells you that I’m seriously out of date with his music and living in the past. He’s been with other bands and also on his own for years. I also think of him more as a rocker than the folk/blues/Americana singer-songwriter he really is (although he doesn’t want to be restricted to such labels), influenced by people such as Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. I’ll try to catch up.

This new album has him singing a set of original songs, recorded in isolated places on Lake Erie and in Northwestern Pennsylvania. He’s out front and center on every song, although he has a fine group of musicians behind him, who seem to change duties from song to song, depending on whether their rockers, ballads, or something in between. In any case, Hoover describes the set as a song cycle, concerning the vicissitudes of life in the Midwest, with a touch of hope for the future. Subjects range from romance to work to more abstract questions about the meaning of existence and why we’re here. You can dissect the lyrics on the website, or you can just sit back and enjoy the music. Either way, the album is a success on every level.

The album itself had me bouncing back and forth: musically, I like the rockers and more raucous tunes, but lyrically, I prefer the ballads. “Dust” and “Life We Create” fall into the first category, the first being the only true rocker, the second more of a bluesy honky tonk, with some heavy piano work. But I can’t lay off the ballads, because the lyrics are touching and cutting, plaintive and hopeful. “Give What You Get Back” and “Cool Blue Starter” are among my favorites here. The one that combines everything perfectly is the title track, a loping, echoey, haunting song that speaks to desires for life and the future. In all cases, Hoover sings with an expressive, slightly gravelly tenor that simultaneously soars above the music and soaks into it. Hard to beat.

Roger Hoover will be appearing at the GAR Hall in Peninsula on December 30th, and at the Beachland Tavern in late February. I’m looking forward to seeing the show in person.

Personnel:  Roger Hoover (vocals, guitars, bass, percussion), Ray Flanagan (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, background vocals), Kevin Martinez (upright bass, background vocals), Russell Flanagan (piano, Hammond B3), Ryan Foltz (drums, percussion, trumpet, background vocals), Ysabel Hoover (background vocals), Danny Jenkins (drums), Doug McKean (electric bass).
Tracks:  Give What You Get Back, Oh How Times Have Changed, Dust, Just a Little, Always on My Mind, There’s Something in My Heart, St. John, Devil in the End, Cool Blue Starter, Pastures, Life We Create.

Jeff Wanser

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rock Salt and Nails. Trouble in Mind.

Rock Salt and Nails & Friends. Trouble in Mind.
Self-produced, 2016.  Rock Salt and Nails:

We seem to have followed the career of this band from Alliance for several years, and reviewed both of their previous albums, Pickin’ Up the Pieces (2013), and Run to the River (2014). With their third album, they continue down the trail of traditional music and Americana, a core trio this time,  enhanced by three additional musicians with special skills. The group includes more material from other songwriters this time around as well, including Bill Morrissey, Randy Newman, Steve Earle, Tom Waits, and John Hiatt, but with plenty of originals (7 of 14). Each member of the trio is represented in songwriting, although Priscilla Roggenkamp has the lioness’s share of the credits. One of the marks of good songwriting is when you have to check the liner notes to figure out which songs are by big names and which are originals.

This is certainly an enjoyable and mostly upbeat album. The variety of songs, the change in lead vocals from song to song, and the excellent musicianship make for a satisfying listening experience. The CD begins with an unexpected tune, “Big Legged Ida,” played with a jazzy feel (helped by Jim Perrone’s clarinet) and the sense that the group was about to start laughing any second. “Put Me on the Top of Your List” is Roggenkamp’s first song on the album, and continues the friendly and open atmosphere of a bunch of folks getting together for a good time. Each of the new songs sounds like old friends. I especially like “Blue Ridge,”, a lovely waltz, and the loping “You Know More than You Know.” “One Lie at a Time,” by Roggenkamp, is prescient  in light of current politics. “Satchel’s Reel,” by Keith McMahon ends the album as an instrumental showcase.

The title track is a traditional blues, and like other songs they’ve done has somewhat downcast lyrics but is presented in an upbeat fashion. Harmonica by Mark Huddleson provides fine punctuation to the vocals. Of course, the songs by the big names are delightfully done. I particularly enjoyed Hiatt’s “The River Knows Your Name,” and Earle’s “Goodbye,” both somewhat mellow in tone, and gorgeously sung and played.

In all a highly worthy effort from a group folk music fans should get to know. The band isn’t scheduled for a concert until late January, in Alliance. Catch their show if you can.

Personnel:  Jim Dutter (guitar, mandolin); Keith McMahon (guitar, mandolin); Priscilla Roggenkamp (bass); vocals by all. With Mark Heddleson (harmonica); Jim Perrone (clarinet); Jon Scott (banjo).
Tracks:  Big Legged Ida, Put Me on the Top of Your List, Feels Like Home, Morning Bird, Blue Ridge, Greenville Trestle High, If It Hadn’t Been for Love, One Lie at a Time, Goodbye, The River Knows Your Name, Promise, I Hope that I Don’t Fall in Love with You, The Wind Calls You on, Trouble in Mind, Snowblind, You Know More than You Know, Satchel’s Reel.

Jeff Wanser