By Chris Cooper

Fusing soaring gospel harmony with finely tuned bluegrass firepower, Doyle Lawson has forged an easily recognizable and smoothly accessible sound over all these years. On his most recent Rounder records release he and his band display an effortless command of the music, all the while sounding as fresh and vital as any of the many “up and coming” groups.

By Chris Cooper

See, the primary difference between Todd Snider and Ryan Adams is that Snider didn’t get so caught up in transforming himself into a freakish “just this side of Gen-X” version of Neil Young that he lost sight of what his gig really is: consistently writing great material that doesn’t eventually disintegrate and dilute itself into self-obsessed nattering and contemplation of one’s navel.

The Cowboy Junkies have this thing that only they can do, and as easy as it is to recognize that thing when you hear it, exactly what it is remains uncertain.

By Chris Cooper

Rebel Records, that esteemed purveyor of all that is and has been high and lonesome for the past 40 odd years, has just released (in some cases re-released) a slew of fine discs in the past month or so. Up for review is a new release by the legendary Larry Sparks, an important bit of history from the catalog of J.D. Crowe, and a fantastic collection from bluegrass innovators The Seldom Scene.

By Chris Cooper

Two very different artists and albums, but similar in the pursuit of uniqueness and mastery in their respective genres: the enigmatic Andrew Bird and Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas.

By Chris Cooper

If you’ve wandered down Main Street in the early part of a summer evening over the years, you’ve probably paused mid-step to the sound of a lady singing the blues bouncing off the bricks. And there’s a good chance that the voice belonged to Karen Barnes, long the local purveyor of all things classy and vintage in blues and jazz.

What exactly do you say about these guys?

There’s certainly something nostalgic in just how painfully arty what they’re doing is — like the old Sylvian and Gabriel stuff. But then there’s that slick, ultramodern sheen to the music, the lush backdrops of synth against the “water drops in a cavern” digital rhythms.

In 1992 Mary Chapin Carpenter released Come On, Come On, and though it’s a little hazy as to how I wound up with a copy, the album has since remained one of my favorite collections of songs and performances.

It’s the tambourine that gives it away. Those insistent eighth notes from the piano during the chorus, the sparkly harmonies — yeah, these guys are fans of “power pop,” all right. The good stuff too, like Joe Jackson (no, not Michael’s dad) and Alex Chilton, George Harrison’s earlier solo work and all that other stuff that manages to sound like a blindingly sunny day while somehow still breaking your heart.

I spend a considerable amount of time being disappointed by music. It’s sad, because I also happen to love music, and have for as long as I can recall. But when the Grammys were just around the corner, and I took a quick glimpse at some of the nominees, it just seemed a little depressing.

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