Mark Rubin & His Ridgetop Syncopators, Adam Ahrens, Ed Miller, Band of Heathens, and Will T. Massey
Dance, Adam Ahrens, Never Frae My Mind, Band of Heathens, and Letters in the Wind
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Nov. 17, 2006
For the Sake of Swing, Strings, and Soul
Mark Rubin & His Ridgetop Syncopators' brand of Texas swing is as authentic as it gets. Mostly acoustic, the local quintet follows in the steps of pioneer bandleaders Milton Brown and Cliff Bruner, accompanying hot fiddle with string bass, lap steel, guitar, and tenor banjo. Their debut, Dance (Rubinchick), neatly captures their enthusiastic rhythms on eight tracks that clock in at an all-too-brief 20 minutes. Guitar hounds will be interested in Adam Ahrens' self-titled debut on Trampa. His expansive repertoire of acoustic finger style and Hawaiian slack key leads to down-home blues à la his mentor Steve James, John Fahey-like explorations, and subdued singer-songwriter introspection. Ahrens' vocals are shaky at best but easy to overlook with the appreciable talent he displays on his axe. With Never Frae My Mind (Wellfield), his seventh CD, Ed Miller again mixes traditional and contemporary songs of Scotland in a manner that effortlessly highlights his love for his home country. Produced with amazing clarity by Rich Brotherton, it features Scots superstars Brian McNeill and Karine Polwart along with Miller's amiable but strong voice, affectionately chosen material, and a dash of wry humor. A collective of Austin singer-songwriters that's turned into a real group, the Band of Heathens is composed of Brian Keane, Colin Brooks, Gordy Quist, and Ed Jurdi. Live From Momo's (Fat Caddy), their debut, is an amalgam of well-played diversity. Traveling the paths of American music blazed by the likes of Little Feat and the Subdudes, these Heathens' brand of soul, country, and folk plays out surprisingly cogent. After releasing two well-received major label albums in the early 1990s, Will T. Massey dropped from sight. He returns with a vengeance on Letters in the Wind, a compelling collection of heartland rock that further cements his reputation as the Springsteen of West Texas.