2008 has been an exceptional year for mining musical gold. With the major labels in an uphill battle not knowing how to go about getting physical copies of music into hands, music lovers have taken to the net--in more ways than one--to find some of the best music the few local music stores may not be carrying.
The past few months have been rich in hidden treasures.
Blending medieval times with a rock pedigree isn't always easy, but former Deep Purple/Rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore has been doing it for over ten years now with Blackmore's Night, a partnership with his wife Candice Night (vocalist). Their brand of 'Renaissance Folk Rock' on the new CD Secret Voyage has cut across all genres, helping lift the band to #1 on the Billboard New Age charts for over four weeks. Bursting with stinging electric and flavored acoustics, Secret Voyage is perhaps the most well rounded disc Blackmore has released since his days in Purple. If you want to walk the line between the past and present and hear it done with class A vigor, look no further than this CD.
An up-and-coming vocalist from Texas is starting to gain momentum with her strident tunesmith writing and a flare for feel in the Americana/Folk vein. Autumn (below, whodoesn't use her last name Boukadakis) has just returned from her UK debut to unleash Velvet Sky October 7, keeping her independence via her own imprint Ghostlight Productions. Truly floating under the radar, Autumn utilized the quality production team of famed Texas producers Walt Wilkins and Tim Lorsch for this sophomore effort. With the ability to cross many radio stations if she can be heard (with her outstanding voice and pen), the musicianship on Velvet Sky is outstanding to say the least. Check her out at www.myspace.com/autumnonline.
An acoustic guitar master that was at White's Bar not too long ago has released a blistering piece of art. Monte Montgomery has just issued his self-titled new CD in late September. Comprised of acoustic/electric workouts and his finest songwriting yet, Montgomery could be the equivalent of Steve Vai with an acoustic guitar, while playing music that would be at home for fans of Dave Matthews or Eric Johnson. It's sonically satisfying with both his vocals and lyrics taking the listener into a different level of musicianship. Voted one of the 'Top 50 All-Time Greatest Guitarists' in Guitar Player Magazine, Montgomery has a CD that could be at home in any CD player. A must have and one of the top releases of 2008.
Former Screaming Cheetah Wheelies front man Mike Farris has been keeping low-key over the past few years turning down his wild-rocker persona. Being a family man with a newfound sobriety, Farris has found his roots literally with a more religious overtone. The superbly recorded Salvation In Lights features traditionals and originals side-by-side for a flavor that is reminiscent of Mavis Staples (as of late). Sometimes blues rocking, other times alter-raising, Salvation allows Farris' soul-crunching vocals to be the man he is, while shaking hands with his past. Give it a sample at www.myspace.com/mikefarris. He has many surprises in store to keep his name a household friend.
English legend Gary Moore has just offered up his 31st album in 35 years. Bad For You Baby continues the blues-rocking stamp of feel and tone that has been a trademark of Moore since his Still Got The Blues release of 1990. Original and cover material weave side-by-side in one of his best offerings to date. For a guitarist known for his ability to turn-it-up on a dime, Moore gives more space and feel between notes on many takes, altering his guitar history even further. Bad For You Baby isn't just a stroll down a familiar lane with Moore, but more of a coming of age listen. Moore can get better with age like a fine wine.
'B-double E-double-R-U-N, Beer Run' singer/songwriter Todd Snider has issued an election year EP that only he could muster up. Peace Queer, featuring a cover/lead-off single of John Fogerty's Fortunate Son is eight songs of acoustic ramblings and poetic wonder from the famed underground folkie. Mission Accomplished (because you gotta have faith) kicks off the CD with a familiar groove (think George Michael) and Snider's witty banter. No other songwriter has the ability to give humor and scorn the same space to a thinking listener like Snider can. Patty Griffin, Kevn Kinney, Will Kimbrough and others join him on this short parade. Live it up at www.toddsnider.net.
Stealing some sunshine spotlight during a daytime slot at Rothbury this past July, southern blues-groover JJ Grey & Mofro gave debut to some new tunes from his new CD Orange Blossoms. Upon release a few months back, you can smell the album unfold with his swampy-slide guitar and gut-bucket drums rhythms that have driven the group up the Mississippi and stamped it's sound. Grey is no slouch at the pen, painting pictures with dreamy backgrounds and poignant viewpoint, all with his rootsy snarl voice and overdriven guitar tones. No one sounds like JJ and there is a reason why--he has the unique ability to cross the sounds of time between Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside with the soul of Stevie Wonder and Luther Allison.Orange Blossoms is worth checking out and a fine way to maintain his own scene.
Hometown hero Stewart Francke will be performing with his 'Soul Revue' on Saturday, November 8th at 7:30 PM at The Village Players Theatre, 34660 Woodward in Birmingham to release his new cd: Stewart Francke Alive & Unplugged at the Ark.