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The Cantrells
The Heart Wants What it Wants
Sombrero Records

In live settings, Al and Emily Cantrell accompany themselves on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, but on The Heart Wants What it Wants, they employ some of Nashville’s best go-to players: Bela Fleck (banjo), Rob Ickes (dobro) and Mark Schatz (bass). The efforts of these slick guest musicians bumps up The Heart –a dizzying concoction of folk, swing & bluegrass–from what might have been an appropriate soundtrack for getting cozy with a mug of tea to a collection that makes you do-si-do in the kitchen while stirring your grits.

Most of these tracks are nature-laden love songs written by Memphis-native Emily: “You can see it in my eyes/when the winter whispers/that the spring is near/the high and lonely-hearted coyote cries.” Informed by Joni Mitchell, Emily’s voice is a little more embellished than other female folk singers. For instance, at times the catchiness of a song’s melody suffers because her vocal frills command so much attention. Her husband, Al, deftly adds harmony vocals, smooth fiddle and perky mandolin to the album.

The Heart is a mild acoustic formula, but it’s a perfectly decent recipe that’s kept The Cantrells picking successfully since the ’80s. (Caroline Keys)

The Cantrells play at The Crystal Theater Friday, Sept. 9, at 8 PM. Tickets are $12 in advance from Rockin Rudy’s or $14 at the door.

Damon Castillo
Revolving Door
self-released

Damon Castillo does a perfectly nice job on his five-song debut “demo” EP, Revolving Door, of mimicking the pop inflections, acoustic sincerity and overall coffeehouse vibe of, at best, John Mayer and, at worst, a host of other singer-songwriter wannabes who never dated Alyssa Milano. Channeling a commercial success like Mayer may not be an outright sin, but let’s just say it doesn’t necessarily make for an entrancing listen.

The title track is a catchy single with a stuck-in-your-head chorus as maddening (and innocuous) as “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” Over smoothly arranged acoustic guitar and percussion, Castillo sings, “It feels good to be back/right here where I am,” and then repeats it a few thousand times for a radio friendly three minutes and 25 seconds. “Annie Hall” is of the same ilk, but is—for better or worse—easier to forget.

The Berklee College of Music grad who formerly fronted Central California’s JND, also takes a swing at soul (“All I Really Want”) and funk (“Weird World”), but both efforts seem short-armed. Castillo’s soul comes across as overly influenced by over-produced R&B Top 40 and his funk falls flat; both efforts lack authenticity.

Castillo has a warm vocal delivery and shows glimpses of making mass-marketable music, but there’s not much more to chew on. (Skylar Browning)

Damon Castillo hits the Top Hat Monday, Sept. 12, at 10 PM.

Saltlick
A Face Only a Mother Could Love
self-released

Self-described as “Steve Earle meets Pavement,” Saltlick has been together for five years and just recently released its debut album. The 11-song effort, written by lead singer/songwriter Steve Taddei, deals with the washboarded distances between all individuals. Each track has several different orchestrated sections or movements, and instrumentally the songs twist and turn like an episode of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the pedal steel and keyboards steering the listener around blind country curves. Taddei’s corrugated vocals, reminiscent of Jay Farrar or Vic Chestnut, populate Saltlick’s narrative landscape of lonely bars and dusty highways with complicated real people.

The only hints that this album originated in Eugene, Ore., and not from a band of seasoned Austin or Nashville alt-country rockers, are the segments of recorded bar chatter and traffic sounds. Perhaps recording the mundane noise of Saltlick’s inspirational locales seemed like a smart way to pay homage to the fertile white noise from which their music sprang. A photo in the liner notes would’ve served as a better, less intrusive thank you.

The soundscape samples don’t necessarily offend, they just take up airtime that should have been dedicated to Saltlick’s satisfying sound. (Caroline Keys)

Saltlick plays Sean Kelly’s Friday, Sept. 9, at 9 PM. Call 542-1471.

Willie Nelson
Countryman
Lost Highway

It’s easy to see why someone thought it might be a good idea to match hard-toking country songman Willie Nelson with a mess of reggae tunes—a genre still defined as much as much by Bob Marley’s pseudo-sacred spliffing as by any particular rhythmic quality. And it’s equally easy to see why the result—Countryman—sat on a shelf for the better part of 10 years, waiting until either the time was ripe (it isn’t) or Nelson found himself overdue to deliver something, anything, to whichever record company is pressing his disks this week. It’s easy to see a lot of things about Countryman, but it’s a difficult listen, especially if you care about Willie Nelson, or reggae music.

Nelson has proven himself an adept stylist in multiple styles—blues, jazz, pop crooning, country, etc., over the years, but reggae’s pulse eludes him. And the loungey interpretations here probably wouldn’t have harmed anyone if he’d left Jimmy Cliff’s classic “The Harder They Come” off the set list. But he didn’t, and even Toots Hibbert’s presence on “I’m a Worried Man” can’t pull Nelson’s band back from the resulting credibility precipice. Thankfully, this forgettable Caribbean diversion is a drop in the bucket of Nelson’s ocean-deep repertoire. Take another hit and let’s just pretend it never happened. (Brad Tyer)

Willie Nelson plays the Big Sky Amphitheater at 7:30 PM, Thursday, Sept. 9.

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