John Cadley, The Hard Years (Caity Mae Records): Like so many great singer-songwriters, John Cadley is a storyteller at his core. Every track on The Hard Years takes the listener through an experience, lesson or event. Some songs reflect personal thoughts while in others Cadley seems able to communicate the experiences of those around him through his own words.
“Nashville Queen” talks about a girl who got more than she bargained for after she earned “the big star on the door.” “If She Don’t Like Dogs” tackles the subject with humor: “She don’t have to like sports or huntin’ deer/ she don’t have to like fishin’ with a case of beer/ she don’t have to like spiders or snakes or frogs/ but don’t you ever trust a woman if she don’t like dogs.”
The flawless instrumentation features Cadley on lead vocals; Clay Hess on rhythm and lead guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmony vocals; Nick Keen on mandolin; Tim Crouch on fiddle; Irl Hees on bass; and Cadley’s wife, Cathy, on harmony vocals. The players capture the laid-back feel of the songs in a way that doesn’t sacrifice emotion. The solos are fluid and highlighted by tasteful fretwork. Nothing is forced or clichéd, but rather comfortable and natural.
Like an easy read, the album offers smooth listening but is never boring. Each tune brings a new flavor, complemented perfectly by the players and lyrics that can capture any ear with the stories they tell and the turns they take. The Hard Years is a record that music lovers of all kinds can appreciate: true to itself and well done from start to finish.
Favorite track: “The Way It’s Always Been”: “He said love is just another word/ for you belong to me/ and every time they say it/ you can hear them turn that key/ By the time you got it figured out/ exactly what they mean/ well, you’re locked up like a convict/ inside someone else’s dream.”
Undergang, Fin (Conniving Scoundrels Music): Delivering dirty rock like only Undergang can, Fin captures the attitude and energy that drip from the group in live performance. Fronted by the legendary Al Smead and backed by Nathan Angell on guitars and vocals, Jim Drago on guitars, John Thomas on bass and vocals and Stefan Ilnitzki on drums, the band is fierce and more honed than ever on their latest work. Fin was engineered, recorded, mixed and mastered at Moresound Studio with Jason Jacko Randall.
The group walks a line somewhere between the Foo Fighters and the Eagles of Death Metal, taking pieces of each, but adding an intangible quality, perhaps wrapped up in Smead’s completely one-of-a-kind delivery. Poetic words seem to wander, but there’s always more to them than meets the ear, keeping listeners perpetually on their toes.
Driving songs like “S.A.D.” push the album with ripping guitar on a racing pulse. “Breaks Begins” stands out as its words provoke: “There scents a nose keen/ amongst the senses crawl/ crouching stance on a target/ good humor, playful things/ hey, hey, hey, hey/ have a nice day/ the game is on.”
With strength, energy and delivery that is completely their own, Undergang never fails to bring the raucous noise we all need sometimes. For details, visit their Facebook page.
Favorite track: “Breaks Begins”: “New day begins again/ dawn breaks into light blue/ deep breath on the front porch/ feel air exhilarate/ sit upon a throne of good hope/ drifting off into the state of things/ await — the game is on.”
J.T. Hall Jazzz Consort, Rain After Midnight (independent): With a variety of styles explored, J.T. Hall and his crew dip into rumba strides and Latin-flavored rhythms featuring tunes that light up with Hall’s own flugelhorn, Tom Witkowski on keys and highlighted most of all by John Magnante’s guitar. The disc admirably features original music, not standards. It’s remarkably clean, capturing the songs precisely, but perhaps sacrificing some of the natural ebb and flow.
“Zanzibar” opens the disc with a smooth swing and Magnante’s expert delivery, channeling a tone reminiscent of the great Pat Metheny. Hall and Witkowski follow suit, providing tasteful takes on the theme. John Dancks on upright bass and Jason Jeffers on drums work to provide the backbone of the disc and do it right. Josh Dekaney and Ron Keck also provide additional Latin percussion, Tom Walker adds sax to “Carlo” and Cookie Coogan croons on three of the six tracks.
Lyrics are not the highlight of the disc and for the most part, the instruments communicate the essence of the tune with no words necessary. However, “Carlo,” “Rain After Midnight” and “I Feel Like Feelin’ Blue” do tell stories through Coogan’s voice with some beautiful moments, especially on the disc’s closer, “I Feel Like Feelin’ Blue.”
Favorite Track: “I Think of You.”