BEN BOSTICK – THE RASCAL IS BACK (2023)
Back in 2018, Ben Bostick released a record called “Hellfire” that I proclaimed on these pages to be “the country record of the year”. He followed this up in 2020 with “Amon The Faceless Crowd”, which was no less brilliant, but different in tone. I don’t remember why I didn’t review “Grown Up Love” in 2021, but I can tell you for certain that he’s back – as the title suggests – with this. The title track is a cracker, a troubadour decides the “straight life” isn’t for him and sells the Kia to get his old Harley back. As metaphors go….
Along the way there’s some brilliant moments. “My Sister And Me” is probably the highlight as Neal Wauchope’s keys elevate it to somewhere totally new (his brother Matt is the usual keys man) or the strident blue collar rocker “Big Train”. In truth, there are many on an album that’s genuinely superb. There’s a desire too, to take the music to somewhere new, “I Don’t Care” for example, is more punk rock than you’d imagine and underline an artist that’s really found his voice again.
Right down to the last one, the back porch acoustic blues of “I Remember Easy Street” it’s obvious that Ben Bostick really is back, the rascal.
TIM GRIMM – THE LITTLE IN-BETWEEN (2023)
For this, Indiana’s finest singer/songwriter has pushed the boundaries – literally as it was recorded in Oklahoma – and metaphorically as it’s comfortably his most confessional and personal work. There’s a world weariness about “The Leaving”, there’s a sense of trying to find a way through the confusion on “I Don’t Know This World” but there’s a warmth too. The title track is perfect in its poetry and the way the violin adds a texture is wonderful. On “New Boots” you almost feel like you’re intruding on a confessional and “20 Years Of Shadows” underlines the clever use of instrumentation that’s evident throughout.
Maybe thats what happens when you work with famed musicians like Sergio Webb (one of the worlds most pre-eminent slide players) but its more than that. The vocals for all these were recorded in one day, and there’s an energy here – as if Grimm simply had to get everything down while he could.
A quite brilliant record, the whole of “The Little In-Between” can be summed up by the note I made about the last song, “Bigger Than The Sky”. Simply put “Springsteen at his most early hours”.
CHRIS DUARTE – AIN’T GIVING UP
A Texas Blues man who has been known to literally bleed for his art, so hard does he play live, Chris Duarte emerged in the wake of the passing of Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Ain’t Giving Up” his 15th record, is a diverse affair, the catchy chugger of “Nobody But You” starts things off, and there’s a soul about “Big Fight”. “Bye Bye Bye” has a more classic sound, which is built upon by “Can Opener” which goes full on Walter Trout. There’s an impressive desire to experiment, “Come My Way” for example sees the use of drum loops and a darker sound, and the album closer “Weak Days” adds a real, genuine, palpable sorrow and a skill.
When this record gets it right – which is generally when its being more serious as on “Ain’t Giving up On Us” – there is much to commend it. Working with Producer Dennis Herring (The Hives, Modest Mouse) for the first time for a couple of decades, has clearly invigorated him and it seems that nothing was off-limits here, on his first album for the Provogue label.
Clearly a wonderful guitar player, there is a lot to like about this. The staying power is rewarded.
THE BLUEST SKY – THE BLUEST SKY (2023)
The new project of Bean Pickers Union man, ex-Chuck Melchin, The Bluest Sky makes good on his desire to make “more upbeat” music. A real musicians record, the wonderful “The Girl It Took The Universe” alone is enough to tell you he’s got it right this time around (just like he did for 15 years in BPU).
The guitar on “Amy Jean” is sensational, while the warm and breezy, “I Am James” has a similar vibe to bands like I See Hawks In LA.
Recorded by each musician in their home studio, there’s an astonishing coherence about songs like “Wake Up Suzy” – which if it had been released by Elton John in the 70s would have sold a million copies before breakfast. Jon Nolan plays the solo on “Drive Through Confessional” and that alone is worth buying the album for. A wonderful piece of work, it manages to go through the rock n roll of “Bunkhouse” and the barroom rumble of “Bulletproof Man” before its done.
“The Bluest Sky” is nothing more and nothing less than what happens when a collection of gifted musicians get together to do what they were born to do.
A quite brilliant new chapter in the great American songbook.