This week’s reviews feature a mixed bag of music releases, including the solo debut of the Café Wha band leader, Bryan Stephens, a new collection from the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers and Nashville player Steve Azar’s return to Mississippi to record with The Kings Men.
‘Village Of Dreams,’ Bryan Stephens (Blue Elan Records, ☆☆☆1/2)
Singer/guitarist/songwriter Bryan Stephens is the band leader at Café Wha?, and this recording was released July 21.
He’s backed here by guitarist/producer Dave Darling, guitarists Nicholas Ansara and Connor Pasich, drummer Matt Laug, bassist Carl Sealove and keyboardists Arlan Oscar and Brockett Parsons. I’m not sure if they’re part of the Wha band.
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Personal favorites include the mid-tempo “River Flows,” the percussion-heavy “In June,” “Deprivation,” which features a short, nifty guitar solo, and an almost-too-faithful cover of The Guess Who’s “No Time,” that still sounds pretty cool.
The slower/mellower songs may be preferable to some readers, but this is a tuneful, well-thought-out recording that I enjoyed listening to.
‘No Glory,’ The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers (Independent Release, ☆☆☆☆1/2)
This July 14 release is the follow-up to the group’s 2015 debut, “Heavenly Fire.”
The singers are William Wadsworth, Jeremy Horton, Kevin Collins, Kim Garcia and Andrea Chita. Some of these are also instrumentalists/songwriters, and lead singers vary from tune to tune. The album was produced by Matt Wignall.
My favorite songs are the opener/title tune “No Glory” (William: drums/vocals, Jeremy: guitar/vocals, Kevin: bass and others singing), “Haunted,” a live “Church Fire” recorded at Lincoln Heights’ Church of the Epiphany, a baritone sax-powered “Til I Got Your Love” and “Over Me,” with Jeremy’s pedal steel.
This is an excellent album combining a number of musical genres tied in with gospel.
‘Down At The Liquor Store,’ Steve Azar and The Kings Men (Ride Records, ☆☆☆☆)
The opportunity to record this Aug. 11 release at Indianola’s historic Club Ebony with B.B. King’s backing musicians is what brought Greenville-born singer/guitarist/songwriter Steve Azar back to his home state following a long Nashville career. The Kings Men are Walter King/horns, Ray Neal/guitar, Regi Richards/bass, Herman Jackson/drums, Dr. Alphonso Sanders/horns and Jimmy Lee Jr./keyboards. Steve brought Nashville compatriots David Briggs/keyboards (who played with Elvis) and percussionist Jason Young with him.
The songs aren’t traditional blues patterns, and the lyrics are often impressive. My favorites are the catchy opener “Rena Lara,” the organ-drenched “She Just Rolls With Me,” a regretful-seeming “The Road Isn’t There Any More,” an easy-swinging “Ode to Sonny Boy” and the autobiographical “Greenville.”
This is a cool album from a Mississippi-born artist.
Ricky Flake, a former punk rocker and current music fan, lives in Biloxi. Reach him at email@example.com.