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Urban Pioneers- Ivas John- Travis Green- Clint Morgan

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Urban Pioneers
Feast or Famine

(Uprooted Records)

Ostensibly a bluegrass trio, Urban Pioneers prefer to think of themselves as a "hillbilly swing" band and you'll understand why as soon as this one starts playing. The opening cut, an instrumental called "Maybelle's Farewell," is a speedy, try-and-keep-up-with-this-if-you're-dancing barn burner that will resonate with fans of Balkan music. The band is Jared McGovern on banjo, guitar and vocals, Liz Bloom on fiddle and vocals and Martin Sargent on upright bass and the three have dancers in mind once again as they joyfully bounce along on "He Didn't Know My Name Back Then," a song where McGovern and Bloom sing about overcoming a life of perceived ordinariness. All the songs here are band originals except for a take on the mournful "High on the Mountain," a cut written by the late folk singer Ola Bell Reed. Excellent picking throughout and lots of wholesome fun too, like on the slightly-woozy "Lazy Bones" with its lyric of "You never get your cornbread made" and the June Carter and Johnny Cash-informed truck driving tune "Never Had a Waffle at the Waffle House."

Ivas John
Good Days a Comin

(Right Side Up Records)

Singer and guitarist John wrote the bulk of the material here, a set of acoustic performances enhanced with fiddle, Dobro, mandolin and upright bass and featuring lyrics that reflect bucolic settings. The earthiness fits John's voice perfectly, especially on "Roll Mississippi" where you can just picture the singer lazily meandering down river. The mode of transportation changes to the railroad on James H. Jett's "Greenville Trestle High," a reminiscence of how things used to be in days gone by. Not all of John's stories are steeped in history; "Payday Boogie" for example is a swinging cut that mimics the high times of spending by Monday the paycheck that was cashed on Friday. In a nice tribute to one of his influences, John also covers Merle Travis' somber miner's tale "Dark as a Dungeon."

Travis Green
A Little Too Late

(Self-released)

Fans of acts like Dwight Yoakam will hear a familiar, swinging country sound on this album's opening cut "A Little Too Late" but Green proves to be quite diverse here; the singer and guitarist is in a funky mood for the R&B-tinged "Everybody Knows," revisits the '50s for the crooned bluesy pop of "The Only Love" and mashes up Bakersfield and Dave Edmunds for "Keep You Off My Mind." Perhaps the best cut on A Little Too Late is "Damage Done," a somewhat ominous confessional complete with lurking organ, a pedal steel solo and a loping, Johnny Cash-style rhythm.

Clint Morgan
Scofflaw

(Lost Cause Records)

As the album's title suggests, the theme here is those that live on the wrong side of the law (and to a lesser extent, their redemption) and listeners would definitely not want to meet up with the hombre that Morgan depicts in the self-penned "Waco;" the guy is dreading going back to prison but hardly keeping to the straight and narrow, describing armed robberies (and intimating worse) that he's done along the way. The song is a pure gem but Morgan also borrows from other songwriters, turning in strong covers of Bob Dylan's "Wanted Man" and Bessie Smith's "Send Me To the 'Lectric Chair" where Diunna Greenleaf guests on vocals. Maria Muldaur joins in the fun too, but not of the felonious sort; she guests on the gospel cuts "I Done Made It Up In My Mind" and the appropriately mellow "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling." Lest you get the idea that Morgan is just a little too familiar with bad guys, know that this fine musician is also an attorney.

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