Rebel records, the venerable bluegrass-only imprint that’s as much a home to royalty like Ralph Stanley as it is young upstarts like Steep Canyon Rangers, has issued a slew of fine CDs in the last few months.

By Chris Cooper

A rather popular band was recently branded with the criticism of being “a small band trying to sound big.” It’s an interesting idea, because in a different context (and in regards to a different band), it could easily be taken as praise.

By Chris Cooper

There’s an age-old argument that rears up whenever there are multiple acts on the roster for a show: who goes first? Nobody wants to go first. It’s like being “volunteered” for the chore everybody else skillfully avoided. So what to do when you find your group in this somewhat unenviable position?

By Chris Cooper

Late Friday night, after the festivities died down and the crickets had begun a serenade for the wee hours, I asked Jason and Karin Kimenker to imagine what they might say 40 years from now about their experience as proprietors of Soul Infusion Tea House. Jason waxed poetic about the whole thing; describing the reciprocal nature of giving and receiving he’s learned from a community he’s grown to love. Karin said she’d just laugh.

By Chris Cooper

The best rock album of the year is about to be released. No kidding.

My first encounter with Roman Candle was sometime in 2002. I was slinging beer in a little venue in Charlotte, and the band I was playing with was offered a slot opening for these guys. Of course there was a scheduling conflict, the opening gig fell through, and I wound up bartending the show.

By Chris Cooper

Claiming influences as far apart stylistically as Iron Maiden and Ravi Shankar, Mother Vinegar lean further toward the rocking side of the jam ethic than the majority of their tie-dyed brethren. Off kilter lyrics (understatement?) and a blatant disregard for genre boundaries are the name of the game for these guys, and thankfully their overall instrumental prowess allows them to play musical hopscotch with a minimum of skinned knees.

By Chris Cooper

Some songwriters have the gift of saying volumes with very little. They don’t need to spell it out, plaster it with tinsel and candy, and do a little dance to get your attention — it’s as if they really don’t even have to try. It’s a few bars into “Here Tomorrow, Gone Today” that you get the idea that Mike Strauss just may be one of these artists, painting with just a few colors, but always the right ones.

By Chris Cooper

To say that Col. Bruce Hampton has carved a colorful swath through the music industry is likely an understatement of considerable proportions. Tossing equal parts Zappa-inspired lunacy, gritty Southern rock, spoken word rants from Mars, gospel, funk, jazz and blues into nearly every recording, Hampton has achieved an instantly recognizable sound in spite of all his stylistic schizophrenia.

IN Review

By Chris Cooper

The Wilders: Throw Down

Reading about bandleader Ike Sheldon’s love/hate relationship with old-time music is almost as entertaining as listening to The Wilders’ latest, Throw Down. That somebody could be such a natural talent in this style and spend so many years avoiding it is pretty darn funny when you think about it.

I’m going to take a brief detour from the regular album/show review format and present five CDs that I feel are worth seeking out. The idea started out as a “top 5” of the last year, but apparently I got a little sidetracked. Thus, it evolved into what you’re reading now: a roundup of underappreciated aural gems from the past, well, decade or so.

 

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