Bledsoe: Releases by local artists continue to shine

Once again I have been remiss by letting releases by local artists pile up. And, as usual, it will take at least two weeks to cover them.

"For Crying Out Loud," Scott Miller & the Commonwealth (F.A.Y. Recordings)

Scott Miller sums up the state of trying to make a living in 2009 with "Cheap Ain't Cheap," the rocking opening track on his new album. What follows is one of Miller's lightest and darkest discs.

There's a light-hearted cover of Tom T. Hall's "I Can't Dance" and a rockabilly-ish trifling-girl song "Claire Marie" and "Sin in Indiana," which has more serious intentions that the delivery would indicate.

There's no mistaking the subject matter of the Patty Griffin/Miller duet "I'm Right Here, My Love." It's a sad conversation between a loving couple - while one of them is dying. And, Miller closes with the acoustic "Appalachian Refugee," inspired by the death of Miller's father-in-law. It's a sweet, sad portrait of offspring returning for the funeral and it's one of Miller's best songs to date. Like all of Miller's albums, "For Crying Out Loud" takes a little time to sink in, but once it does, it sinks deep.

"Whiskey Angel," The Black Lillies (www.myspace.com/theblacklillies)

It took me a long time to stop hitting repeat on the opening/title track of this album so that I could hear the rest of "Whiskey Angel." The combination of Cruz Contreras' soulful vocals intertwining with Tom Pryor's steel guitar is gorgeous. The title track is easily my favorite country song of the year, thus far. The rest of the album has plenty of excellent moments, including "Midnight Under the Railroad Tracks." Those of us who followed Robinella and the CCstringband knew how much of the band's magic rested with Contreras. However, who had any idea he would be such a fine singer and songwriter? This combination of hard country, swampy rock, blues and even a little reggae bodes well for the future.

"No Excuses," Teenage Love (www.teenagelove13.com)

Was there ever a more dangerous Knoxville band than Teenage Love? Well, maybe one that didn't survive. "No Excuses" finally captures the legendary band in an excellent-sounding album. The band revives vintage numbers and makes them sound like they were just written and the new song "Dirty Side of Town" is one of those shoulda'-been-a-hit rock 'n' roll singles that keeps you punching the replay button. Not for the faint of heart, "No Excuses" is the kind of nasty fun that makes you still feel like you're getting away with something.

"Acoustic Stomp," Steve Kaufman (www.flatpik.com)

Pickers don't get much smoother, faster or precise than Steve Kaufman, but Kaufman's new album is less about speed than just delivering great songs - from an instrumental cover of "Mr. Bojangles" to a take on Steve Goodman's "Chicken Cordon Blues." Kaufman and ace bassist Rusty Holloway keep the music with or without lyrics. And while many thousands of pickers have probably learned from Kaufman's guitar instruction books and videos, those thinking of a professional career as a player might listen to "Would You Like to Swing on a Star?" parody "So You Want to Play the Guitar?" for further education.

"Canaries," The Lonetones (www.thelonetones.com)

I have no idea what to call the Lonetones. They're acoustic musicians who don't always play acoustic. They're folk musicians with a love of modern psychedelia. Whatever they are, they're great. "Canaries," the group's third album, stretches the Lonetones' borders a little more. Married couple Steph Gunnoe and Sean McCullough anchor the group with their consistently fine songs and vocals. Stand-out numbers include Gunnoe's beautiful and delicate "Gone Again" and McCullough's "Blue Vinyl" - a song that is so lyrically minimalist that it has no right to be so lovable. Bassist Maria Williams, drummer Steve Corrigan and accordionist/pianist Lissa McLeod help flesh good songs out into something purely beautiful.

Wayne Bledsoe may be reached at 865-342-6444 or bledsoe@knews.com. He is also the host of "All Over the Road" midnight Saturdays to 4 a.m. Sundays on WDVX-FM.

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