Short Takes: Neal McCoy, The Dunwells, Joan Osborne and More

Videos by American Songwriter

Neal McCoy
[Rating: 3 stars]

Given the stamp of approval by the reigning king and queen of contemporary country– Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton who act as producers on McCoy’s first album in five years—the neo-traditionalist honky tonker should get some well deserved recognition. This is old-school in the best ways with occasionally corny comedy tracks such as Jamey Johnson’s “Mouth” and sweet love sick ballads like “Every Fire” sharing time with the sing-along good timing grooving “Shotgun Rider” and the whistle happy, up-with-life first single “A-OK.” McCoy’s smooth, classic C&W voice and firm, entirely unselfconscious grasp of his genre makes this a pleasure that goes down easy while invoking the genre’s past in a somewhat updated (ie: slicker) format.

The Hobart Brothers with Lil’ Sis
At Least We Have Each Other
[Rating: 3 stars]

While you can’t quite call this ensemble featuring singer/songwriters Jon Dee Graham, Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill a bona-fide super group, the collaborative environment and their journeyman history brings out the best in all three. The group’s unusual Hobart name derives from the brand of dishwasher found in many commercial kitchens. That shows that these three have held their share of menial jobs and provides a loose framework for these songs — predominantly about blue-collar life and recorded live in just a few takes — on which to hang. The strummy guitars and swampy, stripped down approach is fleshed out with a tough rhythm section that provides rugged underpinning to these descriptive, gritty and often melancholy tales of proud working class folks looking for a light at the end of a long tunnel.

Out of Mankind
[Rating: 3.5 stars]

Don’t let the turban, ever-present shades and foreign name of American-Sikh Hargo Khalsa deter you from experiencing one of this country’s better young singer-songwriters. Already praised by Phil Spector, whose production credit on Khalsa’s 2007 “Crying for John Lennon” was the famed producer’s last, Hargo’s strong melodic sense and emotional vocals are more reminiscent of Tom Petty, Peter Case, ELO and, well sure, the Beatles. While not necessarily Spector-ish, the terrific production adds heft to these ringing tunes by layering guitar, subtle strings, vocal harmonies and electronic touches that push already quality tunes such as the cascading “Soul Survivor” and the expansive “In Reverse” to the next level. A real find.

The Dunwells
Blind Sighted Faith
(Playing in Traffic)
[Rating: 3 stars]

Without checking its biography, you’d never know this 70s inspired folk-pop-rock quintet originated in Leeds, UK. Like fellow Brits gone States wild Mumford and Sons, the Dunwells’ sound is straight out of America although recording this debut at Willie Nelson’s Texas based Perdinales Studio also didn’t hurt its organic qualities. Two brothers (named Dunwell), two cousins and a friend harmonize like the Eagles and Poco at their best. Even if the conservative songwriting doesn’t always grab you at first and veteran/fellow UK resident John Porter’s production is a bit too Starbucks-ready, there is no denying the talent here. The retro approach seems remarkably vibrant and when those sumptuous harmonies kick in on the soulful ballad “Goodnight My City,” it’s clear this is a band with a bright future.

Joan Osborne
Bring It On Home
(Saguaro Road)
[Rating: 3.5 stars]

“Blues music rescued me when I was in need of rescue,” writes Joan Osborne in the notes to this collection of a dozen relatively obscure blues covers, and it sounds like they may have played the same role again. The live-in-the-studio performances are given extra warmth through being captured on old-school non-digital tape. While the results won’t have you tossing out your classic Chess albums, Osborne injects tremendous passion into sides originally recorded by Ray Charles, Sonny Boy Williamson, Al Green, Otis Redding and others. When she digs into John Mayall’s slow blues “Broken Wings,” the emotional torrent obscured in the original is brought to the surface through her fiery vocals. Guests Allen Toussaint (who assists on his own “Shoorah! Shoorah!”) and the gospel/blues group the Holmes Brothers (who Osborne has produced), help bring these sizzling tunes on home.


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