Trevor Alguire, Thirty Year Run
This world always has room for new easygoing, rootsy country music, as long as the songs are good, and Ottawa-based Trevor Alguire's new disc frequently hits the target. "Full of Rust," a basic, fiddle-charged, two-and-a-half-minute gem, opens the disc strongly. Other highlights include the slow-drawl waltz of "Troubles Me So" with its creamy harmonies, the insistently elemental "Like Old Times," the hard-edged, quirky "The One," and the rollicking "These Words," which asks an unusually honest question: "Would you hold me to / These words I say to you?"
The mostly brief songs don't overstay their welcome, making their statements and closing up neatly. "Away From You Now" is an exception, taking a while to get going but bearing fruit if you're in a relaxed, stick-with-it kind of mood — and that's the mood this disc will put you in, notwithstanding its sprinkling of up-tempo tunes.
Alguire sings in a smooth, unprepossessing, slightly vulnerable baritone that's both expressive and soothing. On the instrumental side, the performances are impeccable. Fine mandolin work by Gilles Leclerc and assured fiddling by Michael Ball stand out.
Melodic conventions pull certain songs down into country cliché, but most of the time Alguire stays on the honest side of the fine line between accessible and unoriginal. The sweet title track helps prove that although his music is rooted in tradition and country music commonplaces, he has a modern sensibility. It tells of a man who's spent his whole career working in a paper mill, but now those days are gone: "There's no such thing as a thirty year run today / Son, you're fired."
Stillhouse Hollow, Dakota
If Trevor Alguire is rootsy, Tennessee band Stillhouse Hollow is downright lo-fi. Their signature sound has a ragged charm, acoustic and old-timey, with banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and upright bass more prominent than guitar. The clear, light-spirited vocals from primary songwriter Nathan Griffin and the boys have a youthful simplicity with just enough quaver to convince. Standouts: "Strollin' In," which suggests the Byrds' country period; the jaunty "Painfully True"; and the silly, sad-eyed "Pimp Hand."
Hot Monkey Love, Speakin' Evil
Hot Monkey Love hits home with a barrage of Chicago blues all twisted up with strands of Southern rock and soul and a gritty New York City attitude. The disc opens with a crushing rendition of "Palace of the King," written by Leon Russell, Don Nix, and "Duck Dunn" in honor of the great Freddie King. (John Mayall also covered the song on a recent album.) The band is equally at home with Jimi Hendrix's "Angel," and lands a surprisingly tasty cover of Alicia Keys's breakout hit, "Fallin'."
The band can succeed with a song like that, first because they're good arrangers, but also because of clear-voiced singer Jack O'Neill's ability (like Lou Gramm, whom he resembles vocally) to convey a sensitive lyric as easily as he can belt out a rocker. This serves him very well in one of the strongest original songs on the disc, "Weight Off My Shoulders," a gorgeous duet with guest Antonique Smith (of Rent fame). Another great arrangement makes the original "Stay" a highlight, and the funky blues of the title track (also an original) brings Son Seals to mind. Overall the band's own songs stand up well against covers by the likes of B. B. King, Robert Johnson, and Artie White, and that's saying a lot.
Fans of electric blues can't go wrong with this disc. It has a little of everything, but a muscular, authentic blues sensibility infuses it all.