Reviews / Turnstyled

Turnstyled: Steep Ravine, The Palominos, Kandia Crazy Horse,Grady Kelneck and Bradford Lee Folk


By Jonathan Shifflett

Steep RavineSteep Ravine
Trampin’ On

Bay Area string band, Steep Ravine, combines folk, bluegrass and hot jazz with a strong sense of dynamics and harmony. Sensitivity isn’t easily found among west coast, generic-ana groups. Throughout each track, guitar, fiddle and mandolin blend solos and rhythms together like only true acoustic performers can.

The opening track, “Prairie Rose” has a gentle lilt that creates an immediate desire to take a seat and listen. The instrumentation is clean and polished and the lyrics, loaded with familiar americana images, are sung with purity in a high, breathy register. Recorded in San Francisco in an analog studio, the warmth of the tape and the reverb give each track a sunset hew.  “Wooden Floors” feels distinctly Californian. While the guitar plays a steady jazz progression, the fiddle doles out gypsy arpeggios between the verses. Descending doowop vocals chase Simon Linsteadt’s smokey voice. If you like punk inspired bluegrass, look elsewhere. But, if you like jazz harmonies backed with bluegrass instrumentation and virtuosic solo exchanges, this is a band for you.

Steep Ravine has been featured on many Bay Area radio stations including NPR’s West Coast Live and has played such festivals as Outside Lands (2013) and the Northwest String Summit (2013). The group is currently on a west coast tour with their new album Trampin’ On.


Come On InThe Palominos
Come On In
(Randm Records)

The Palominos’ newest album, Come On In, is the kind of straight up, no frills, vintage country that makes that after-work beer taste even sweeter. The San Diego honky-tonk group writes their own tunes, weaving every day images with working class themes. The simple verses and catchy choruses of Come On In satisfy a need for country music at its purest.

The title track “Come On In” boasts everything great about the vintage Bakersfield sound. It’s a no nonsense, country shuffle with plenty of cool finger picking from guitarist Thomas Zurek. The words speak from the heart but with simplistic messages of lost love, loneliness and self-pity. “Mr. Used to Be” highlights lead singer Lance Hawkins, whose edgy baritone envelopes like Charlie Feathers and flourishes like Lefty Frizzell. You won’t be distracted by overt digital studio work on this album. Produced and engineered by Mike Butler at Lost Ark Studio, the record, clear and present, glows with vacuum tube warmth. Finally, Buck Owens can stop rolling over and listen to good, clean country live on.


Kandia Crazy HorseKandia Crazy Horse
(Bluebilly Records)

From Washington D.C., Kandia Crazy Horse is a music critic turned country/soul singer. The knowledge of rock and country music she developed as a writer accounts for the tasteful ballads and up tempo grooves on her new album Stampede.

“California” kicks off the track list, blending her varied influences. It’s a soul ballad that pays homage to the place that first inspired her musical imaginations. She quotes Stephen Stills as a major influence, with his combination of country, soul and world music. “Quartz Hill,” a complex composition that alternates between lush verses and a banjo breakdown chorus, suggests a much wider range of influences. The nuances of her phrasing in “Cabin in the Pines” recall Phoebe Snow, but the driving force of “Congo Square” brings to mind the edge of Lucinda Williams.

For a personal look at a wide scope of country music, be sure to check out Kandia’s soulful debut album.


Grady-Kelneck_Take-My-Hand-300x300Grady Kelneck
Take My Hand

Grady Kelneck’s 2014 release is a mature and reflective collection of compact, driving folk tunes. The music is instantly approachable, but the words, though spoken plainly, mask inner feelings. If you’re searching for an excuse to feel like a rainy day, look no further.

Kelneck’s quavering voice, reminiscent of fellow Toronto native Neil Young, immediately instills trust and wisdom. “No Time For Crying” depicts a man who favors courage before sympathy. Kelneck’s words imply that to enjoy life in the face of death, one requires a firm resolve, a bottle of wine and a serious song. Delicate harmonies and trudging slide guitar support “I’ll Shoot You Down,” a confident warning to wild things and a cynical reminder of institutional supremacy of the law. Kelneck’s characters are far from perfection, yet they are honest in their conviction whether they be killers or daydreamers.

Keeping with the country tradition of letting melodies evolve out of spoken vernacular, Take My Hand comes across as casually nostalgic and effortlessly contemporary.


Bradford Lee Folk and the Bluegrass PlayboysBradford Lee Folk and the Bluegrass Playboys
Somewhere Far Away

Bradford Lee Folk is an expressive songwriter who composes within a true bluegrass tradition. His band can drive as hard as the best pickers, but, more often than not, the Nashville group mirrors the reflective qualities of the songwriting. Colorful lyricism enhances Folk’s personal experiences and expands the emotional depth of a bawdy genre that is more accustomed to rural realism.

Set to existential lyrics, the minor tonality of “Soil and Clay” could qualify as a grunge ballad or as a Scotch-Irish lament. Though stark in execution, the descending lines avoid resolve yet evoke subtle emotions. Not every song is so elusive in meaning, however. “Foolish Game of Love,” a bluegrass breakdown with machine gun banjo solos and high lonesome vocals, wastes no time with lofty questions.

There’s a Whitmanesque quality to Folk’s new album Somewhere Far Away – it calls attention to everyday miracles and encourages present mindedness through nostalgia. But when you think about it, that’s just the definition of good country music.

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