I met Rick Barth in June 2018 and at the time wrote about his 2015 debut album Hand Me Down Soul. Now the singer-songwriter from Budd Lake, N.J. is out with his second record titled Fade. It’s a nice continuation of his acoustic-oriented rock, singer-songwriter ballads, as well as country and roots-oriented music.
While Barth has been performing on the New Jersey music scene as a solo artist and a member of various bands and duos for about three decades, he only decided to start writing his own music less than 10 years ago. His named influences include Butch Walker, Ryan Adams, John Lennon, Ryan Bingham, Tom Petty, Michael Trent, Jason Isbel and Parker Milsap. I can also hear traces of John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle.
Let’s get to some music. I’d like to kick things off with the opener We Had Fun (Didn’t We?). Like all other tunes on the album, the song was written by Barth.
Next up is the title track featuring nice pedal steel guitar accents.
A vocal highlight on the album is Shine, in my opinion, where Barth’s voice beautifully blends with backing vocalist Louise Trezza.
Here is another tune I like: Stranger Things. Check out the nice dobro work!
The last track I’d like to call out is Change, a country song that to me is perhaps the musical highlight of the record. I dig the beautiful violin playing and the pedal steel guitar, which sound great together. This is perhaps somewhat ironical coming from a guy who used to say he doesn’t like country. Oh well, it just goes to show again that genres don’t need to define great music.
Apart from lead vocals, Barth handles guitars, bass and mandolin. In addition to Louise Trezza (backing vocals), other musicians on the album include Keith Dunham (bass), Wayne Wilson (pedal steel), Jim Reeber (keyboards), Rick Krueger (lap steel, dobro), Ralph Heiss (bass), Dawn Patrick (violin) and Rob Ot (percussion).
Fade was produced by Barth and Dunham and recorded at Rifftide Studio in Ledgewood, N.J. Dunham also served as recording engineer. The album is available on streaming platforms and since yesterday on CD through Barth’s website. By the way, the picture on the cover shows the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem, Pa., which during its heyday was one of the world’s largest steel producers.
Sources: Rick Barth website, ReverbNation, BandMix.com, GigMasters, YouTube
Of the more than 20 albums I reviewed over the year, TajMo (Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’), Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter) and Southern Blood (Gregg Allman) touched me the most. There were new releases from younger artists in the blues rock arena I find exciting. If there is any truth to the often heard sentiment that (classic) rock music is dying, this certainly doesn’t seem to the case for blues and blues rock!
Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/TajMo (May 5)
Overall, TajMo represents uplifting blues, which sounds like an oxymoron. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” explained Mahal who has been known to mix blues with other music genres. From the very first moment I listened to it, this record drew me in, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! You can read more about it here.
Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here.
John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter/Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (April 28)
John Mellencamp is one of my long-time favorite artists. I know pretty much all of his albums. While I dig the straight rock-oriented music on his ’80s records like American Fool, Uh-Huh and Scarecrow, I’ve also come to appreciate his gradual embrace of stripped down roots-oriented music. That transition started with my favorite Mellencamp album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies probably is as rootsy as it gets for the Indiana rocker. For more on this outstanding record, you can read here.
Following is one of the album’s gems, Indigo Sunset, which Mellencamp performs together with Carlene Carter, who co-wrote the tune with him.
Gregg Allman/Southern Blood (Sep 8)
Southern Blood, the eighth and final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, is the 2017 release that touched me the most emotionally. Reminiscent of his 1973 debut solo release Laid Back, this album feels like Allman came full circle. Given how ill he was at the time he recorded the ten tracks, it is remarkable that the record doesn’t project an overly dark mood like David Bowie did on Blackstar. Instead, it portrays a man who appeared to have accepted his time was running short and who took a reflective look back on his life. I also find it striking how strong Allman’s voice sounds throughout.
Here is the official video of My Only True Friend, the only original song Allman co-wrote with Scott Sharrad, the lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s band. Damn, watching is getting to me!
New music from young blues rock artists
There are some kick-ass younger blues rock artists who released new music this year. The first coming to my mind are Jane Lee Hooker and their sophomore album Spiritus, which appeared last month. This five-piece all-female band from New York delivers electrifying raw blues rock power. While you can read more the record here, how better to illustrate my point than with a clip: Gimme That, an original tune with a cool Stonesey sound.
Another hot young blues rock band is Greta Van Fleet, who also came out with their sophomore album in November. It’s called From The Fires. These Michigan rockers almost sound like a reincarnation of early Led Zeppelin. I previously reviewed the album here. Check out this clip of Safari Song. At first sight, these guys might look like some high school band, but they sure as heck don’t sound like one!
Next up are two blues rock dudes who are more established than Jane Lee Hooker and Greta Van Fleet but who are still fairly young artists at least in my book: 35-year-old Casey James and 40-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Plus, ultimately it’s about their music, not their age.
Casey James from Fort Worth, Texas, who was a third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010, started out playing pop-oriented country rock music. While his eponymous debut album from March 2013 brought some success, it didn’t bring him the happiness he was looking for as an artist. So he decided to leave the country world behind for electric blues and in June this year released Strip It Down. Here’s a clip of the nice opener All I Need.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is hardly a newcomer. The guitarist from Shreveport, La. has been active as a musician since 1990. In August this year, he released Lay It On Down, his eighth album. In my opinion, Shepherd is one of the most exciting younger artists out there, who are keeping the blues alive. Here is the official clip of the record’s great opener, Baby Got Gone – my kind of music!
Anniversary editions of standout albums
As a die-hard fan of The Beatles, to readers of the blog it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I was particularly excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which appeared in May – in fact, so much that I decided to get the double LP-set, my first new vinyl in 30 years! Producer Giles Martin, the son of the “fifth Beatle” George Martin, and music engineer Sam Okell created what The Beatles may well have wanted the iconic album to sound like, had they cared about the stereo mix in 1967. Here is more about this amazing reissue. Following is the official anniversary trailer.
Another great anniversary reissue, which was released about four weeks ago, is a deluxe edition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The original album appeared in December 1976, so this special edition came out almost one year after the actual 40th anniversary. While Hotel California is my favorite Eagles album, more than the studio versions of the original record, it’s the live tracks that excite me in particular. Released for the first time, they were recorded prior to the album’s appearance during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. For additional thoughts on this anniversary edition, read here. Meanwhile, here is a clip of one of the live tracks, Hotel California, one of the first live performances of the epic tune.
The last special release I’d like to highlight is the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People by R.E.M., which appeared in November. As I previously pointed out here, the 1992 release was the band’s 8th studio album, earning significant commercial success and a general positive reception from music critics. Here is a clip of what to me is the album’s standout, Everybody Hurts.
As a guy who primarily likes music from the 60s, 70s and 80s, it always reassures me when I come across great new music like this just-released album from Ryan Adams.
I have to admit I like to live in my time bubble when most music was true craftsmanship involving real instruments and real singing, not songs that oftentimes sound indistinguishable from one another and essentially computer-generated. When browsing iTunes these days, I primarily do so to see whether an “old act” has released anything new. I always get excited when I find “new artists” whose music I like.
I had heard of Ryan Adams before, but he wasn’t exactly on my radar screen. While as such he is new to me, the singer-songwriter from Jacksonville, N.C. is anything but a newbie – he’s been around since 1994, when he became a founding member of alternative country band Wiskeytown.
Prisoner is Adams’ 11th solo album. In addition, he previously released three albums with Wiskeytown; five albums with The Cardinals, a rock band Adams fronted between 2004 and 2009; and one album with hardcore punk band, The Finger. These are 20 studio releases (not counting various EPs) in close to 22 years, a sure indication Adams has been a pretty prolific artist! It begs the question what took me so long to find him? Oh, well, the bubble.
Back to Prisoner. Pretty much all of the reviews I’ve seen note the album’s 80s AOR feel. I would generally agree, though I sometimes think critics try too hard comparing new music to other artists. So, yes, you can definitely recognize some Bruce Springsteen and some John Mellencamp in Ryan’s music on the album. Actually, his voice reminds me a bit of Jackson Browne. But I don’t want to fall into the same trap noted above, so I’ll stop the comparisons here!
Before the album came out on Feb 17, Ryan already had released three singles: The opener Do You Still Love Me? and To Be Without You in December, followed by Doomsday in January – all pretty strong tunes. By the way, the not exactly cheerful titles of these and the album’s remaining nine tunes reflect Ryan’s divorce from actor and singer Mandy Moore, which was finalized last June. The music generally is more upbeat than the song titles suggest.
Some of the album’s other standouts include the title track, Haunted House, Anything I Say to You Now and Outbound Train. In addition to melodies that are easy on the ears and Ryan’s solid voice, I like the sparse instrumentation on most of the album’s songs. Many are dominated by acoustic guitar accompanied by bass and drums, with some accents of electric guitar and keyboards here and there. Where electric guitars are more in the foreground, Ryan barely uses distortion. Altogether, this creates a very transparent sound.
Here’s a clip of the album’s opener and first single, Do You Still Love Me, one of the few tunes with dominant keyboards and a more electric rock guitar sound.