Master Thieves. Robbing the Blind (Melvin Recording Company). The Grateful Dead influence is obvious on Master Thieves' debut album. Not only do the guitar riffs send listeners on a trip back to Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, but toss in singer Denise Shuart and you've got your Donna Jean Godchaux base covered, too. Most of the tracks run longer than the typical pop piece in true jam tradition, with psychedelic themes coming to the forefront on "Back to Reality," a fresh take on 1970s-era style that the Thieves pull off skillfully.
The album's tone is clear from the first notes of "Goin' Back Home" as listeners get time-warped to the times of "Scarlet Begonias" and Volkswagen vans. The quintet of Chuck Dorgan (guitar, vocals, harmonica), Shuart (vocals, viola, hand percussion), Eric Tozer (drums, vocals), Brian Golden (guitar, vocals) and Jacob Alaniz (bass, vocals) takes a firm step into the blues on "Blues #12," while Shuart shows off her vocals by taking the lead on "Trainsong." The album stays fairly upbeat, jumping around jams, until "Prove Me Wrong" heavily hits the brakes. "Slowly/ softly/ I fall down,"Golden's full voice sings with Shuart echoing behind.
The album ends with an Assembly of Dust-like song, "Friends," powered most significantly by the anthemic vocals: "What in the world would we do/ without, without you?" It's appropriate as the band seems to be tight-knit, something they draw attention to in their Facebook bio: "Dorgan said it's the band's commitment to the music, and each other, that defines their collective sound." If so, it's working.
- Jessica Novak
Tara Nevins. Wood and Stone (Sugar Hill). Just beneath the curly hair of Tara Nevins is a guitar-slingin', fiddle-swayin', accordion-crushing, straight-up singin' bad ass. Just when you thought that combination of instruments couldn't get more honky-tonk, Nevins' new album throws you through a loop with a solid jam delivered in her distinctly effortless style that puts all the cool there never was back in bluegrass.Nevins' air of confidence carries through both in her live performances with Donna the Buffalo and on the album. Her clear-cut style never wavers as she pushes through tunes with consistent, clear vocals and killer musicianship, provided by Nevins herself or the signature styles of guest musicians including The Band's Levon Helm on "You've Got it All" and "Beauty of Days Gone By." Additional guests include Allison Moorer, Teresa Williams and Jim Lauderdale among others throughout the 13 tracks, but Nevins has her heavy mark on every cut.
Recorded at Helm's studios in nearby Woodstock, there's a New York state vibe laced throughout Nevins' latest, perhaps given away by the absence of a southern drawl and the presence of Nevins' northern attitude. With fringe hanging from her suede western-style jacket and jeans sagging low around her skinny waist, Nevins reeks of a presence that knows its worth. Hand her a microphone or plop her on a stage with any number of instruments and the woman will work it. Pick up Wood and Stone and you'll be shakin', foot-stompin', clappin' and inevitably drawn to Nevins' style. No need for vocal runs or crazy shreds: Simple is best when every subtlety is right where it needs to be.
Nevins and Donna the Buffalo visit Utica's Uptown Theatre, 2014 Genesee St., for an all-ages show on Saturday, Feb. 4, 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door and available at www.donnathebuffalo.eventbrite.com. For more information, call 738-0377. And check out the Feb. 1 edition of the Syracuse New Times for our preview.
- Jessica Novak