Singer/Songwriter Zach Schmidt has lived enough life for a dozen lifetimes. He once rode his bicycle cross-country. He’s been a cattle rancher in Texas and a train-hopping hobo in Pittsburgh. Now based in Nashville, his follow-up to 2013’s Horse or Truck or Train is the self-produced and self-released The Day We Lost The War. The title song is about the time he had a gun pulled on him. “Company Man” is about working at a job you hate. “Dear Memphis” approximates letters written to your wife when you’re away for far too long. “Wendy” is about a woman who is absolute poison. His band is tight. His voice exudes confidence. This guy should be a much bigger star.


Speaking of guys who should be much bigger stars, singer/songwriter Danny Marks is a blues historian whose self-released Cities In Blue contains nine originals and two revamped traditionals that hit the road from Mississippi, Memphis and New Orleans to Houston, Chicago and New York. This soulful bluesy travelogue hits all the right notes be they “Houston To L.A.,” “Kansas City Shout” or “Land Where Blues Began.” Part history lesson, part midnight choir, it’s an Americana trip led by Marks and his mates on mandolin, banjo, jug, bass, drums, guitar, harmonica, trumpet and saxophones. It’s the kind of CD that when silence ensues at its conclusion, you just want to play it over again. And again.


I have this affinity for Austin singer/songwriter Alexandro Escovedo and it’s not because we’re both 65. I used to love his Rank & File band and even liked his San Francisco punk band The Nuns. His string of solo albums have maintained a consistency of excellence and when I finally saw him live in Pennsylvania a few years ago, he blew me away. The dude’s like a cross between Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen and Bruce Springsteen, with the accent on Bruce. Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy Records) contains the kind of insightful songwriting that makes me feel better (in a year in which I really need someone to do just that). He’s amassed a hell of a team. Co-produced and co-written by Scott McCaughey and REM’s Peter Buck, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and Neko Case’s Kelly Hogan provide sumptuous vocal back-up. Escovedo sings like the world-weary barroom denizen that he is, complete with unalterable truths. Steve Berlin of Los Lobos wails away on sax. I’ve been playing “Redemption Blues,” “Shave The Cat,” “I Don’t Want To Play Guitar Anymore,” “Beauty and the Buzz” and “Farewell to the Good Times” over and over again. Maybe someday I’ll feel better about my country and about how almost all of my heroes have dropped dead this year.


The James Brandon Lewis Trio play their jazz with the urgency of hip-hop, maybe that’s why they named this incendiary disc No Filter (BNS Sessions). Brooklyn these days is a teeming cauldron of creativity, rivaling Manhattan as the hub of new-music. Lewis, a young lion of the saxophone, goes out on a ledge on all six tracks but he always comes up swinging or bebopping or funkin’ it on up with the kind of bravado that just makes one really want to experience him live. He’s got the right mates. Bassist Luke Stewart is a monster. Drummer Warren G Crudup III plays the kind of fills that astound, confuse, mystify and, ultimately, makes one sit up a little straighter and ask, “Did he really just do that?” Reportedly, they blew away the folks at the North Sea Jazz Fest in The Netherlands. Play this thing loud and it will smack you right in the face.


Sam Phillips once said that Charlie Rich [1932-1995] was the most talented individual he ever worked with, and that’s something when you consider the level of artistry that passed through Sun Records in the 1950s. Feel Like Going Home: The Songs of Charlie Rich (Memphis International) has 13 Rich classics as performed by 13 artists who remain true to the core but add their individual essences to bring the music of this Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer to a new generation. Rich was a piano-playing son-of-a-gun who equaled Elvis vocally and Jerry Lee pianistically. Although in his later years, Rich would be known for his more middle-of-the-road ballads, early on he was a monster of the blues, honky-tonk country, rockabilly and even jazz. Jim Lauderdale opens with “Lonely Weekends.” Blues artist Will Kimbrough is “Sittin’ and Thinkin’.” Charlie Rich, Jr. does his dad’s “Break Up.” Shooter Jennings hits home hard on “Rebound.” Johnny Hoy declares “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave.” My only complaint is that my favorite Rich song, “Mohair Sam,” isn’t included. Legend has it when the Beatles visited Elvis at Graceland, he was sitting in his jungle room plunking out the bass line to that song over and over again. Oh well, at least my second favorite Rich song, “Who Will The Next Fool Be,” is righteously interpreted by Holli Mosley.


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