By Elmer Ploetz
It was a great year for local Americana music. With that in mind, I decided to do a favorites list for 2019, focusing on one song each from a number of Western New York-connected artists.
I won’t presume any sense of objectivity here. Many of the musicians here I count among my friends and it’s fun to hear them adding to their well of great music.
Well, here goes … in no particular order:
“Old Bones Dance,” David Myles Meinzer. Dave Meinzer’s “Tambourine” is an homage to the music of the ‘60s, with moments of happy pop, rock ‘n’ roll, folk and country. Of course, everything Meinzer has done over the past 40-plus years has had an element of Americana, and this CD is no different. This song is a call to “grab a beer and stay right here and watch these old bones dance.” Don’t mind if I do.
“Cliffrose,” Savannah King. Savannah King’s home is an RV that is most frequently found in the desert southwest this days, but her Western New York roots are deep. This is the title song on her “Cliffrose” CD. The whole disk is killer, recorded exquisitely in Nashville with great guitar sounds. Favorite line: “I was told not to run too fast without looking back, but I don’t know, I don’t know any other way.”
“County Line,” Ten Cent Howl. Another great album is the Howl’s “Hard Times.” Maybe it’s the echoes of the Last Waltz show still echoing in my brain, but this one brings thoughts of The Band to my mind. It’s got a timelessness that seems totally modern while recalling the country/rock mix of the early 1970s.
“Seize the Day,” Nick Kody. Speaking of The Band, this arrangement of Nick Kody’s song certainly has echoes of that group, with an old-timey jazz intro and outro. Kody is a southern rock-inspired guitarist out of the West Valley/Springville area. On his “Year After Year” CD recorded at GCR audio, he mixes new songs, fiddle from Lydia Herren and redone version of a couple of his earlier songs. And yes, I’m resisting the urge to pick his redone version of my song, “They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore” from this disk, although I think he nailed it.
“Low Bridge, Everybody Down,” Tyler Bagwell. Tyler Bagwell is a singer-songwriter who has taken a scholarly approach to 19th century Buffalo music. His voice is a rough-hewn instrument akin perhaps to Tom Waits, and that gives a sense of menace to this folk chestnut which, you’ll learn if you see his one of his presentations, came out of an era when the Erie Canal was waning as a commercial force.
“Faith,” Leroy Townes Band. This “This Side Up” disk is new enough (December release) that I’m still absorbing it, but I love this song at first listen. The twin guitars have a southern rock sound and Ashley Beatty’s harmonies with Beave Sorensen on the chorus help lift the song to the next level.
“Why I Oughta,” Greg Klyma. Klyma is another artist who has kept his WNY roots strong, although he performs out of the Boston area these days. He released three (yes, three!) albums this year (“Fake Songs,” “Maybe the Ocean” and “C&W.”). In a different era the songs might have been reconfigured into one great double LP. But in the current age, it allowed him to put out three sets with a lot of candidates for best song. I picked this one from “C&W” because it’s a deadly ear worm with a modern variation on classic country drinking songs like Willie Nelson’s “I’m Gonna Get Drunk.”
“Frayed,” Steam Donkeys. It’s always hard to pick a “best” Buck Quigley song. There are so many great ones. I decided to go with the title song of the Donkeys’ newest CD. A combination of wordplay and depth, it captures the feel of the country right now. The album itself is a triumph for the band, which seems to have completed reinvented itself from the days when Charlie Quill’s guitar and Doug Moody’s fiddle were signature parts of their sound. These days they seem totally at home in their sound with Dave Kimball defining his own style on guitar and Dan DeLano making his keyboards an essential part of the band’s sound. I’ve got to move on to my next entry before “Coal Dust Memories” makes me rewrite this section, though.
“That Sweet Song,” Fuzzy & the Rustbelts. This really is a sweet song. A laid-back groove. Sweet, soulful harmonies. Is that slide guitar, or just something that sounds like it. This is a band that I was introduced to by the SAM Foundation’s Emerging Artist Showcase and I look forward to seeing how they develop.
“Lake Erie Come Home,” Tough Old Bird. Hailing from the Allegany County community of Fillmore, Tough Old Bird recorded its CD at GCR and it’s got a Great Lakes theme going on. Plus they play here a lot. This song is a modern-day dirge of lost love … and water.
“Keep You in Mind,” Roger Bryan & the Orphans. This one is still sinking in, too. It’s great to hear Roger Bryan again after a multiyear absence (at least to the best of my knowledge). This title song from their new album is a rock song, but flies along the Americana border (as does the whole album) the way I view the Jayhawks or Tom Petty.
“Boys From Versailles,” Sean Patrick McGraw & Uncle Ben’s Remedy. Classic country from McGraw and UBR from their five-song EP, the song reflects on WNY’s working class history along with a killer chorus of “I’ve had too many ales with those boys from Versailles and I think that it’s time to go home.”
“Apocalypso,” Pine Fever. They call themselves “A Red-Hot Ramshackle of Old-Time Dixieland Western Swing, Urban Hillbilly Hokum, and Swanky Viper-Jazz Calypso,” so who am I to argue. These guys are just a fun mash-up of American music. Plus they feature a trumpet. This one is from the “Long Gone” collection.
“Pot Farmer’s Daughter,” Folkfaces. And for old-timey insanity, where would we be without Tyler Westcott and his accomplices in Folkfaces. This song from the “Fat Ol’ Rat” set should have Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders dancing alongside the denizens of Nietzsche’s.
“My Heart Keeps Pounding,” Gurf Morlix. Morlix’s “Impossible Blue” is another perfect combination of storytelling, sweet guitar and imagery. This one gives Gurf (based out of Austin since … forever) a chance to rock out.
ADDENDUM: “River Rollin’, The Brothers Blue. OK, I knew I’d miss somebody. This song is the title track for the Brothers Blue album that came out last May. The Brothers are a great string band and they’ve got a pretty cool cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Factory Girl” on this album, too (after all, who doesn’t love a good countrified Stones song!). The guys manage a sound that’s totally vintage and totally modern at the same time.
OK, Buffalo music fans, now it’s your turn. Tell me, what (else) did I miss this past year? Let me know on Facebook, on the JAM blog or at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, if you want to listen to these songs (minus a couple that weren’t on Spotify yet), you can hear them on this Spotify playlist at https://spoti.fi/363UEdQ.
Meanwhile, since the quirks of our email notification program (where many of you receive notice of the newest JAMs) has some limits, our monthly New Music Alert is also on this post. Here goes with some releases to watch out for!
Only the Song Survives
Man of the Road
Is It You, Is It Me
New Riders of the Purple Sage
Thanksgiving in New York City