Harpers’ New LP Will Take Listeners Back To Their Own Childhood Home

Courtesy:  Stax/Concord Music Group/Prestige Folklore

Courtesy: Stax/Concord Music Group/Prestige Folklore

Childhood Home, the new album from Grammy award-winning musician Ben Harper and his mother Ellen, has easily made a place for itself on this critic’s list of the year’s best new albums. The ten track album is comprised of entirely new material written by both the elder and younger Harper. And being that it was released only days before Mother’s Day only serves to make it an even more touching album. The album speaks volumes of the lives of both Ben and his mother, both of whose music is rooted deeply in the world of folk and roots music. Harper has shown those roots numerous times over the course of his career. However, nowhere have those roots been so clear than on this beautiful collection of songs. The album proves its value right off the top with the Harpers singing of what really makes a home in the aptly titled ‘A House is a Home.’ The elder Harper, who wrote four of the album’s songs offers another of the album’s best moments in the lightly bluegrass influenced ‘Farmer’s Daughter.’ The whole thing closes with what is one of the most powerful and moving pieces in ‘How Could We Not Believe.’ The depth of the piece is certain to leave not a single eye dry after hearing it. Having heard it along with the album’s other songs, any listener will agree that Childhood Home more than deserves to have a place on any critic’s list of the year’s best new albums.

Ben and Ellen Harper open their stunning new collection of songs with an opus that is just as certain to leave listeners teary-eyed as the album’s closer. That song is the gentle ‘A House is a Home.’ The song emphasizes that no matter what a person’s house looks like, a house is still a home. It is a home because of the memories that it creates. The duo makes this clear as it sings, “A house is a home/Even when there’s ghosts/Even when you gotta run/From the ones you love the most/Screen door’s broken/Paint’s peelin’ from the wood/Locals whisper/When they gonna leave the neighborhood?/A house is a home/even when we’ve up and gone/Even when you’re there alone/A house/A house/Is a home.” The mother and son duo continue crafting such a vivid picture to which so many listeners can relate singing of chores left undone, life getting in the way as families are built, etc. They emphasize that through it all, a house is still a home. It is made a home through everything noted. The gentle strains of the guitar set against the even gentler backing percussion, and the Harpers’ vocal harmonies come together to paint a picture that will leave smiles on any listeners’ faces and tears in their eyes. Not tears of sadness, but of joy at remembering their own childhood homes. It is the perfect opener for this album. And the perfection continues throughout the album, too. This is evident even halfway through the album in what had to have been one of the pieces penned by Ellen Harper, ‘Farmer’s Daughter.’

‘Farmer’s Daughter’ is another example of what makes Childhood Home such a stunning work from Ben and Ellen Harper. It is such a wonderful example of what makes this album great because it shows the album’s versatility. Where the album’s opener was full on folk, this song is more rooted in an Appalachian/Bluegrass vibe. Ellen sings about growing up on a farm as a girl and the pain of her family losing the farm. Considering the song’s lyrical content, one would have thought the song to have a more subdued musical sound. But that’s not the case, interestingly enough. Mrs. Harper recalls in her song, “My daddy is a father/That makes me a farmer’s daughter/It’s no joke/We’re always broke/We live on dirt and water/We can’t live on dirt and water.” She goes on to sing about her family’s farm not even belonging to them and how the bank eventually forecloses on the farm. She sings, “Jesse James/He robbed the banks/Shot that boy to death/Now the banks are robbing us/We got nothing left.”   Along the way, she sings about the impact that these stresses had on her family. One of her sisters even left to strike out on her own. The song itself is quite the powerful statement. Again, the more powerful statement is the song’s less than stereotypical musical backing to those words. There is a certain tension in the music that heightens the emotion in Mrs. Harper’s lyrics. And it definitely helps translate the message to listeners. It is a far better choice for the song than what could have been used. It’s one more example of what makes this record such a joy, whether or not one is familiar with the work of Ben Harper or even his mother.

Ben and Ellen Harper present a vast sea of emotional depth throughout the course of the songs on Childhood Home. That depth comes courtesy of both the songs’ lyrics and music together. The album’s closer is the finishing touch on that exhibition. As with the nine songs that precede this song, the very first thing that will pull in listeners on this song is its simplicity. It is just the Harpers singing. Their vocals are backed by an equally simple percussion section. There is a shaker and what sounds like a Cajon Drum. The younger Harper and his mother sing about what would seem to be their religious beliefs. They sing, “So beautiful we had to stand aside/So beautiful we had to stand aside/We had to stand aside/With our arms open wide/So beautiful we had to stand aside/So beautiful we had to close our eyes/So beautiful we had to close our eyes/And listen to those sounds/It could be heard miles around/So beautiful we had to close our eyes.” Ben Harper alone has always had a knack for crafting songs that could tug at the deepest depths of the human soul. Alongside his mother, the duo’s harmonies in this song will tug at those depths like never before. When taken in as part of the whole that is Childhood Home, this song will most certainly leave not a single dry eye among listeners. Any listener not left even slightly teary-eyed after taking in this closer simply isn’t human. For that matter, anyone not left moved after hearing this song and the songs that precede it isn’t human. It is a beautiful work that boasts so much depth both musically and lyrically. That depth from the songs’ music and lyrics together makes Childhood Home one of this critic’s favorite new albums overall of 2014.

Childhood Home is available now in stores and online. Ben Harper is currently touring in support of Childhood Home. He is currently winding down the European leg of his tour in support of the album and will kick off the North American leg of his tour May 31st in Claremont, California. Fans can find out when Ben Harper will come to their town and keep up with the latest news from Ben Harper online now at http://www.facebook.com/benharper and http://www.benharper.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Carter’s New LP Is A Wonderful Tribute To Her Family’s Musical Legacy

Courtesy:  Rounder Records/Concord Music Group/Carter Music

Courtesy: Rounder Records/Concord Music Group/Carter Music

Veteran country musician Carlene Carter has crafted in her latest release Carter Girl an album that is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the top new country albums of 2014. The album, which was released early this month on Rounder Records, is one that in her own words, she had wanted to make for some time. She explained that “the songs on the album cover three generations of Carter Family music.” She pays homage to her family’s history, too in her take of ‘Lonesome Valley.’ Another of the album’s highest moments comes in the more up tempo take of the standard ‘Gold Watch and Chain.’ ‘Poor Old Heartsick Me’ will also impress listeners as its more upbeat sound is totally contrary to the song’s lyrics. These are just a few examples of why audiences will enjoy Carter’s new album. Audiences will each have their own reason for enjoying it. Regardless of which song or songs one chooses as one’s favorite, every listener will agree that this record is one of the best new country albums of 2014.

Carlene Carter noted in interviews that she had wanted to make Carter Girl for some time. That’s because, as she said, “the songs on the album cover three generations of Carter Family music.” The most obvious thought in terms of paying tribute to musicians is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But Carter’s updated rendition of the Carter Family classic isn’t just imitation. She partnered with fellow veteran Vince Gill on this song to make a heartbreaking piece that pays tribute to both her own mother and stepfather. Gill’s vocals blend almost seamlessly with those of Carter in the song’s chorus to make it seem almost like he’s not even there. The vocals are that tight in those sections. Even when Carter is singing by herself, she holds her own, singing, “Well Junie never knew a stranger/She was friendly like that/So we stood with our relations/And a bunch of strangers dressed in black/Me and Rosey wore bright colors/Momma woulda liked it like that/We laid her near her momma/Sing ‘Circle Be’/She always said she wanted that.” She sings these lines not so much with pained recollection, but more with a certain bittersweet feeling. That vocal style evokes so much emotion and makes this song one of the album’s best moments.

Carter’s update on ‘Lonesome Valley’ is such a powerful moment because of the emotion that it evokes. That is thanks to the musicianship of both Carter and Gill. An equally powerful but less bittersweet moment that Carter shares with her listeners on this album is her cover of ‘Poor Old Heartsick Me.’ Considering the song’s sad, standard lyrics of love lost, the song’s more up-tempo musical side gives the song a whole new identity. It starts off sounding like it’ll be the most commonly known down-tempo, woeful song. But the increased energy in this rendition makes it difficult to be down. If anything it almost makes it uplifting as it lets listeners know they aren’t the only ones to have ever gone through heartache in their lives.

‘Lonesome Valley’ and ‘Poor Old Heartsick Me’ are both excellent examples of what makes Carlene Carter’s new tribute album of sorts such an impressive release. Listeners can take away from Carter Girl at least one more example of what makes this such an impressive release. That example is Carter’s cover of ‘Gold Watch and Chain.’ This is typically a much slower and more somber piece when performed by most artists and bands. In Carter’s case though, it is more up-tempo. And the addition of Carter’s cousin Lorrie Carter Bennett makes the song even more enjoyable in this rendition. The two-part harmonies crafted between the women are just as subtle as those in her duet with Vince Gill on ‘Lonesome Valley 2003.’ Those harmonies set alongside other subtleties such as the addition of a mandolin part and what sounds like an old organ in the background round out this wonderful addition to Carter’s album. It is one more wonderful addition to Carter’s new album. And it isn’t the only one, either. Audiences can find their own favorites now that Carter Girl is available in stores and online. It can be ordered direct from the Rounder Records website at http://www.rounder.com/2014/02/new-releases/carter-girl . It can also be downloaded via iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/carter-girl/id828726425 and Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Carter-Girl-Carlene/dp/B00HYCINKQ/?tag=concordreco0c-20.

More information on Carlene Carter, her new album and future tour dates is available online at http://www.facebook.com/officialcarlenecarter and http://www.carlenecarterfanclub.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

McCartney Proves Old Dogs Can Learn “New” Tricks On His Latest LP

Courtesy:  Hear Music/mpL/Concord Music Group

Courtesy: Hear Music/mpL/Concord Music Group

Paul McCartney is an old dog.  But on his latest full length release, McCartney proves that he still has plenty of new tricks.  New comes just over a year after the release of his latest release, 2012’s Kisses on the Bottom.  McCartney showed his versatility with that album, branching out into the jazz world.  This time, he returns to the mainstream world with an album that offers listeners something old and something new.  Sorry, nothing borrowed and nothing blue.  Yes, that bad joke was fully intended.  All in all, McCartney has proven once more with this record that he is not afraid to take chances, unlike so many of his fellow musicians.  Whether it’s incorporating his older influences, a more modern vibe, or both together, it all works here to make New an album that proves once again why Sir Paul is an artist whose music transcends generations.

McCartney wastes no time on New showing that he remains fearless about taking chances.  That is evident right from the album’s opener, ‘Save Me.’  The staccato style guitar part mixed with the equally sharp drumming of Paul Epworth combine for a nice up-tempo modern rock style song.  Making the song truly interesting is the song’s urgent energy.  It is in direct contradiction to its lyrical content.  Lyrically speaking, McCartney writes a standard song based in a matter of a relationship.  He writes, “I can try to give you everything you ever wanted/You’re not hard to  please/And the only thing I’m asking/In return is something/You can give with ease/Keep on sending your love/IN the heat of battle/You got something that’ll/Save us/Save us now.”  Considering this lyrical content, the energy in the song’s musical side actually seems out of place.  Interestingly enough, the side by side of the two actually works when they are put together.  They come together to make ‘Save Me’ a good opener for New.

‘Save Me’ is a good start to New because it is new in every sense of the word.  The new material keeps coming in the songs that follow.  Each song will find its own special place for McCartney’s legions of fans.  One of the most notable of the album’s other new is one that actually looks back to the old, metaphorically speaking.  At the same time, it is also used as a response to critics’ words.  That song is simply titled, ‘Early Days.’  There is something very special about this song.  McCartney’s writing and his more subdued vocal style make this such an emotional moment among some rather interesting other pieces that comprise his new record.    He writes in this song, “They can’t take it from me if they try/I lived through those early days/So many times I had to change the pain to laughter/Just to keep from getting crazed/Dressed in black from head to toe/Two guitars across our backs/We would walk the city roads/Seeking someone who would listen to the music/That we were writing/Down at home/But they can’t take it from me if they tried/I lived through those early days/So many times I had to change the pain to laughter/Just to keep from getting crazy.”  McCartney makes visualizing these images so simple through his almost narrative style writing.  And his vocal style makes the song that much more of an emotional moment.  That combination of music and lyrics in this case make this song sure to be one of the surprising standout songs from New.

‘Early Days’ is easily one of the most surprising songs included in New.  The song’s combination of music and lyrics is certain to take listeners on a deeply emotional musical journey.  That being the case, it only makes sense that he would follow up that journey with a song that will take fans of both his solo work and his work with The Beatles back in time with the album’s title track.  From the moment this song starts, listeners will be transported back to their own childhood, hearing the “Fab Four” for the very first time.  It sounds like it would have been a perfect fit on the band’s hugely popular 1967 record, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, only it has been updated with a slight twenty-first century kick.  The song’s lyrical side is just as thought provoking and is sure to have listeners talking.  He leaves this song up to interpretation as he writes, “Don’t look at me/It’s way too soon to see/What’s gonna be/Don’t look at me/All my life/I never knew/What I could be/What I could do/Then we were new/You came along/And made my life a song/One lucky day/You came along/Just in time/While I was searching for a rhyme/You came along/Then we were new/We can do what we want/We can live as we choose/You see there’s no guarantee/We’ve got nothing to lose/Don’t look at me/I can’t deny the truth/It’s plain to see/Don’t look at me.”  On the surface this makes the song come across as having been written from the standpoint of someone that is rather unsure of himself or herself.  But again, that’s not entirely clear.  And that’s not a bad thing, either.  It will most certainly lead to plenty of discussion among McCartney’s fans for some time when they pick up New.  And it’s just one of so many other songs throughout this record that fans will find enjoyable for their own reason.  New is available now in stores and online.  It can be downloaded via iTunes at http://www.itunes.com/paulmccartney.  More information on this and other releases from Paul McCartney is available online at http://www.facebook.com/PaulMcCartney, http://google.com/+PaulMcCartney, http://twitter.com/PaulMcCartney, http://www.myspace.compaulmccartney, and http://www.paulmccartney.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Slide Brothers’ Debut LP Makes Its Way Onto The Year’s Best Records List

Courtesy:  Concord Records

Courtesy: Concord Records

The Slide Brothers’ debut self-titled album is without a doubt, one more of the year’s top albums. It is infused with a healthy dose of both blues and gospel that will light a fire inside any truly open minded lover of music. It all kicks off with an amazing cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s ‘Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’.’ The group’s take on this blues classic is an excellent opener, with its high energy music and equally powerful gritty vocals.  The transition to the softer gospel sounds of ‘My Sweet Lord’ makes for quite the change in both tempo and vibe.  Audiences are taken to a high energy song to open the album to something far mellower.

While it isn’t as mellow per se in terms of its general tempo and vibe, ‘Sunday School Blues’ offers audiences a piece that’s mellow in its own right.  Just as impressive is the band’s cover of the spiritual, ‘Wade in The Water.’  The band’s take on this piece is a full on instrumental.  There are no vocals here.  While some might view this as a bad thing, the total lack of vocals makes the entire song that much more powerful and impressive, especially in the blues/rock form presented on this record.  It has a real Blind Boys of Alabama vibe about it.  Things kick back up again from here as the band transitions into ‘Praise You.’  This song is just one more wonderful addition to The Slide Brothers’ debut album as it blurs that line between blues and gospel that much more.  It proves that music doesn’t have to fit neatly into one genre or another to be enjoyable.

As one can clearly see, the first half of The Slide Brothers’ album is top heavy with great material for music lovers across the board.  The album’s second half is no different as it keeps things moving smoothly right off the bat with another bluesy piece in ‘It Hurts Me Too.’  That song is followed up by another song very much in the vein of the Blind Boys of Alabama in ‘Catch That Train.’  The whole thing comes to a head in the album’s penultimate track; a cover of blues legend ELmore James’ ‘The Sky is Crying.’  What really makes this song so incredible is that the band manages somehow to maintain the original song all while making it into its own creation at the same time.  It’s doubtless that this song will become an instant hit with audiences both on the record and at live shows.  Speaking of live shows the band will hit the road in March in support of its new album, beginning with a performance at the Smith Opera House in Geneva, New York on March 6th.  Audiences can get a full tour itinerary and even order the band’s debut album online at its official website, http://www.slidebrothers.com and on its Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/TheSlideBrothers.  Fans can also get all the latest updates from the band on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slidebrothers.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.