40 Below Records is an indie record label based in Los Angeles which includes an eclectic group of rock, blues, and Americana artists. The label has just released 40 Below and Friends Vol. 1, a free digital-only sampler that includes new artists, rising stars, blues great Walter Trout, and the legend, John Mayall.
KaiL Baxley is the first artist on the collection. He is a favorite of NPR and his double album, Heatstroke/The Wind and The War was recently nominated for NPR Album of the Year. “It Don’t Matter to Me” is a modern mix of blues, folk and a repetitive, street-smart beat. His other number on the sampler, “Boy Got It Bad,” is the stronger of the two, with a trance-blues sort of groove, simple lyrics accented by a slow clap.
Next up is Sam Morrow, who is currently garnering a lot of critical praise. This sincere, country blues ballad about heartbreak sounds similar to Springsteen and features riveting fiddle playing by Freddy Koella, who also plays with Bob Dylan.
Another new group on the sampler is Bonson Berner from Argentina. They are just about to release their first album. “Running Days” strikes this reviewer as a combination of electro-swing dance music and rock.
A highlight among the unknowns is Joanna Wang. Her “Adult Crap” is jazzy, torchy and the lyrics are refreshingly honest.
One number on the sampler, “Not Familiar,” is by 40 Below founder Eric Corne, a strong singer-songwriter. “Not Familiar” has a laconic, L.A. punk sort of vibe.
For Ann McCue’s “Bright Light of Day,” Nancy Wilson of Heart makes a guest appearance on mandolin. This is pure Americana and another highlight of the album, as is Tim Easton’s bouncy Dylan-ish “The Weight of Changing Everything,” which highlights his fine picking. The song was recorded live to analog tape.
That only leaves the two artists whose names are likely to be familiar, Walter Trout and John Mayall. Trout is a very popular modern blues artist, and here he does one of his strongest numbers, “Take a Little Time,” which actually is a lot more Chuck Berry than it is blues. It is a blast, however you categorize it.
And of course, Mayall is one of the most famous names in blues and rock. Here, he does “Just a Memory,” which is pure Mayall all the way.
This sampler is free and it is an opportunity to get acquainted with some extraordinary new artists and to visit a couple of well-known friends of the label as well. It is definitely worth a listen! Not every artist will be to every taste but you just make find some new favorites.
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