Album Review: Caleb Sweazy, ‘Lucky Or Strong’

Caleb Sweazy Lucky Or StrongArtist: Caleb Sweazy
Album: Lucky Or Strong
Our Verdict: 7/10
Release date: 28th April
Find it at: Blue Barrel Records
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

“A soulful brand of blues-inflected Americana, Lucky Or Strong is a subtly impressive affair.”

Somewhere there is a movie being made that is just crying out to be soundtracked by Caleb Sweazy. Not only does the singer and songwriter’s name sound like he should be bedecked in fedora and full length coat, tommy gun secreted by his side, but his soulful brand of blues-inflected Americana comes steeped in the kind of jazzy heritage that would blend easily in to the milieu of 30’s and 40’s American night clubs.

Indeed, as you listen to Sweazy’s Blue Barrel Records debut, Lucky Or Strong, you can almost hear the chink of the shot glasses and see the haunted looks of women and men who are – consciously or otherwise – asking themselves whether their luck has just run out, or whether they will prove strong enough to make it to tomorrow.

“I like things that are kind of bittersweet, that are melancholy but not overt – not overwhelmingly sad,” says the man himself of his work. “It is so much of who I am as well – I just see the balance in things. To me, that’s kind of the sweet spot of music. The songs I’m most drawn to from other artists are the kind that make me happy and sad at the same time.”

And that’s exactly the sort of twilight space in which Lucky Or Strong resides.

“This is not my American dream” sings Sweazy on the opening track of the album, having been “…busted down to nickels when I didn’t have a dime I could hold.” And yet the hard-won lyric is offset by a swaggering piano motif and percussive shuffle that suggest the smile, nod and a wink of someone who has found happier times.

The picked guitar and woozy accordion of “My Love” tell a poetic story drawn from childhood, utilising biblical imagery and leaps of imagination that lend an added sense of drama and weight. Elsewhere, “Tattoed Teardrop Streak” conjures images of a Twin Peaks-esque, Lynchian waking nightmare, or perhaps the brawny, bloody Bayou depicted in the likes of True Blood, it’s slow staccato guitar and brushed drums creating a tense and humid atmosphere in which the protagonist is “Drifting in a dream, a silent memory, that’s hidden deep inside you.”

Recorded at Music+Arts Studio in Memphis with some of that town’s finest musicians (Jesse Dakota, Logan Hanna, Rick Steff and John C. Stubblefield amongst them), Lucky Or Strong is a subtly impressive affair. Its themes are many and strong and run through it like the blood of a pedigree. There’s an energy and freshness here that make it feel like Sweazy has somehow only just arrived, yet there is the wisdom and deep knowledge of an old soul in evidence too.

One suspects that Caleb Sweazy has both called on inner-strength and stumbled across a little luck in order to make a record this fine. Here’s to his continued supply of both.

You can find Caleb Sweazy at his official Facebook page, and listen to the title track of Lucky Or Strong via the stream below:

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Watch! Mighty Souls Brass Band release “Squir-re-ly” video

The Mighty Souls Brass Band vid cap

Memphis collective The Mighty Souls Brass Band have released a live performance video of their piece “Squir-re-ly.”

The track is lifted from the ensemble’s debut album, Lift Up!, released today via Blue Barrel Records.

“One of the great things about this group,” says saxophonist Jim Spake, “is it’s so elastic, musically and in terms of personnel. Sean’s [Murphy] got to be there, he’s our font of craziness… but it’s like [drummer] Tom Lonardo says: We’re all just moving wind. It can be a different band on any particular night, because there are so many things we can do with the music.”

Check out the group’s video for “Squir-re-ly” below:

Read the Skin Back Alley review of Lift Up! here and find out why we called the LP “…a soulful, joyous, life-affirming slab of sparkling and spirited brass, moving head, heart and hips in equal measure. It is at once sophisticated AND celebratory. In short, it’s a delight and you don’t want to miss it.”

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Album Review: Mighty Souls Brass Band | Lift Up!

Mighty Souls Brass Band - Lift Up CoverArtist: Mighty Souls Brass Band
Album: Lift Up!
Our Verdict: 8/10
Release date: 27th January 2015
Find it at: Blue Barrel Records
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

“…a soulful, joyous, life-affirming slab of sparkling and spirited brass. You don’t want to miss it”

Those of you familiar with Skin Back Alley will have noticed that we’ve had something of a penchant for the mighty sounds of the Memphis music scene of late. With such deep roots in American music heritage, it’s no wonder; the range of extraordinary talent scattered across the city is in many ways unparalleled.

Add to that roster now the Mighty Souls Brass Band, a funky rotating collective of brass musicians and composers steeped in everything from soul to swing, jazz to funk, New Orleans funeral to world music and beyond.

Anchored by sousaphone/tuba player and composer Sean Murphy, the group have slowly but surely coalesced around his vision of a Memphis brass ensemble capable of traversing that terrain of funk, soul and world music whilst honouring the traditions of Memphis’ own historic output. Accompanied by sax soothsayer Jim Spake (Alex Chilton, Al Green, North Mississippi All-Stars amongst others) and a host of Memphis’ finest session musicians, that vision is brilliantly realised on the collective’s debut album, Lift Up!

A collection of a dozen pieces, ten originals and two traditional, the LP was largely recorded live in order to capture the vibrant essence of what the band is all about. Opening track “STS” provides jazzy swagger by the proverbial bucketload, whilst the traditional “I’ll Fly Away” pares back proceedings to a statelier southern pace. Semi title track “Lift Up Your Mighty Soul” does just that with its own particular brand of bluesy stomp n’ holler, and elsewhere across the record is an astonishing array of exquisite composition and musicianship that demonstrates just how flexible this band can be.

“That’s the great thing—one of the great things—about this group,” says saxophonist Jim Spake. “It’s so elastic, musically and in terms of personnel. Sean’s got to be there, he’s our font of craziness… but it’s like [drummer] Tom Lonardo says: We’re all just moving wind. It can be a different band on any particular night, because there are so many things we can do with the music.”

Well quite. As with the best musicians working in any genre today, for all the hard work and finely honed skill on display, Lift Up! proves to be far more than a simple showcase for such talent. It’s a soulful, joyous, life-affirming slab of sparkling and spirited brass, moving head, heart and hips in equal measure. It is at once sophisticated AND celebratory. In short, it’s a delight and you don’t want to miss it.

Find out more about Mighty Souls Brass Band at their official website. You can buy your own copy of “Lift Up!” via the Blue Barrel Records website. Check back tomorrow for a live performance video of Mighty Souls Brass Band performing track “Squir-re-ly”.

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