Dianna Cristaldi’s voice is ‘sometimes husky, haunting, sensitive’ on new CD

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Dianna Cristaldi/Dianna Cristaldi

You won’t find that many modern country albums with the kind of compellingly personal songwriting and evocative, beautifully crafted music that is on Dianna Cristaldi’s self-titled latest effort. Cristaldi unites folk, roots rock, and the blues into seamless slices of life. Her voice – sometimes husky, haunting, sensitive – doesn’t stay in one gear; it shifts with the varying tones of the song, the up and down emotions of the lyrics. On “I’ve Got Nothing Left,” Cristaldi sounds as if she’s been through the most serious heartache possible and is as drained as the tune admits. “From the hollow, I look up in pain/I am not strong enough/There’s nothing left to gain,” she sings with moving passion.

Many of the tracks here are slow and take repeated spins to grow on you; however, the finest LPs are the ones that reward with multiple spins. “Bye and Bye” is a heartbreaking meditation on dying and acceptance with Cristaldi trading verses with Bethany Cristaldi Wurster. Part Gospel, part country duet, it is the highlight of the whole CD, and like the rest of the record, it will stick with you long after you’ve stopped playing it.


Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Side F/X spices pop/rock grooves with helpings from the blues, country, and funk

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Side F/X/Contradictions

Major-label tastemakers would probably have a headache of a time trying to pigeonhole Side F/X. Here we have a fairly straightforward pop/rock group that spices their grooves with helpings from the blues, country, funk, jazz, reggae, and even New Wave. A decade ago, when musicians were still expected to find a single unifying sound and stick to it, Side F/X would’ve gotten the same three-letter grade and question mark: WTF? However, times have changed, and the creation of the iPod is making the record industry, whether they like it or not, realize that most people do not restrict themselves to one form of music.

Side F/X take the plunge, liberating themselves from any stylistic shackles, even in the same track. On “My Hero,” Side F/X stitch together light funk, reggae, and ’70s Adult Contemporary; in “Her Escape,” Side F/X marry jazz and blues, letting sweaty sax glide across sizzling Robert Cray licks; the slow, emotionally evocative “Come a Little Closer” contrasts AOR riffs with moving piano. On paper, it reads like a car crash, but when you listen to it all, it is smooth sailing. There isn’t a wasted moment here; the nine cuts that populate Contradictions express real feeling with ambitious musicianship, blending together with ease and excitement.


Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 4:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Diverse tastes like the Clash and Dierks Bentley shaped singer/songwriter Tony Cutino

Written by Carson James

Tony Cutino offers a different flavor to roots rock. Instead of merely displaying his country influences, both Cutino’s voice and sometimes his ’70s-leaning pop/rock is reminiscent of glam-era David Bowie. Considering the glut of underground Americana acts today, delivering a slight twist on the genre is always a plus.

Carson James: Every singer/songwriter has their own method of inspiration in crafting their music. What is yours? Does it begin with a specific line popping in your head or a riff?

Tony Cutino: When writing songs, sometimes it’s an experience or event that happens which spark a catchy phrase or an idea for a story line or a hook. Then again, there are times I can be playing my guitar and come up with a musical riff that strikes a nerve and gets things going. But its always those personal moments which happen in our lives that create the best songs.

James: When did you first pick up the guitar? What compelled you to play it? Was there anybody who encouraged you to do so or was it something you did on your own?

Cutino: The first time I picked up a guitar I was about five years old, a plastic guitar with a crank on it that played the Mickey Mouse song. I used to play for my family at holiday gatherings. But seriously, I was about 12 when I got my first electric guitar and amp. I happened to hear some older kids in a band practicing in their garage and I’ve been playing since.

James: Which of the tracks on your album are the most personal to you and in what way?

Cutino: The songs that are the most personal to me are the songs I wrote about experiences in my life. I wrote “Find Your Angel” after turning on the TV one morning and watching the World Trade Center towers fall. “Cowboy Now” is a song about my dad who was a real John Wayne kind of guy, a cowboy at heart.  He told me once if he could ever come back as someone else he wanted to be a cowboy. “Big Joe’s Dad’s Guitar” is a song about a dear friend who gave me his dad’s guitar because he couldn’t play it and wanted me to have it.  I took the guitar home and this song just poured out.

James: Growing up, what musicians had the biggest impact on you creativity?

Cutino: Musicians and groups that inspired me while I was developing my talent and playing in a band called Toby Redd, were The Who, Zeppelin, The Beatles, U2 and then early English groups like Elvis Costello, The Clash, and The Jam.  More recently Keith Urban, Jeffrey Steele, and Dierks Bentley.

James: Do you “read” music? Or are you mostly a player by feel?

Cutino: I can read music but not fluently. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve done that. It’s mostly what feels right and sounds good to me and how things flow. Sometimes too much correctness can cause distractions.


Published in: on June 7, 2008 at 6:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Americana singer/songwriter Lisa Dudley finds inspiration in patriotism, sacrifices of troops

Written by Carson James

America seems to be in a state of confusion right now, caught in a whirlpool of political divide and indecision, fatigue over the war in Iraq, and a troubling recession. So singer/songwriter Lisa Dudley caught me by surprise with her unflinching and sincerely felt patriotism, one that does not swing left or right but instead reaches into this country’s warm red, white, and blue heart.

Carson James: “Bring ‘Em Home, Lord” can be interpreted as being about soldiers currently serving in Iraq. Was this the basis for the lyrics? Or does the tune actually predate the current war?

Lisa Dudley: I wrote “Bring ‘Em Home, Lord” for the miners when they were trapped in the hole.  It’s a prayer I used to say when I handed my husband his lunch box and sent him off to work.  “Bring him home, lord.”  Then I found myself doing it when I put children on a school bus.  “Bring them home, lord.”  When I found out all those men were trapped, I sat down at my piano and wrote the song, “Bring ‘Em Home, Lord.”  If you remember, one man did get out of there alive. Prayer works. And miracles happen.

James: You have a lot of classic country influences in your songs. Is that the music you grew up on? How did you become exposed to it, and who were your biggest influences within that genre?

Dudley: I was raised on classical music almost exclusively and a little Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio when I was very little.  As an adult, I bought a new car that had a new radio feature — scanning — and I heard a voice that blew me away. It was Vince Gill. I stopped the radio at that country station and never changed it again. I was completely hooked on Vince Gill, and he changed my life forever. The song was, “I Never Knew Lonely.” I was stunned that one song could do that to me. I was made so aware of how lonely I was in my marriage. Two years later, I divorced my husband and moved to Nashville. I am very influenced by Dolly Parton.  I have big boobs, too!  The other influence was Townes Van Zandt.  I met him before he died.  We partied together.  I don’t drink so I just watched him drink a whole bottle of something or another. But he kept asking me to sing more and more of my songs and telling me how good they are. I keep a photo of him in my office so I can remember how good my songs are.

James: What’s the story behind “Twenty-One Guns”?

Dudley: Harry Moore and I were living together in my pace arrow motor home in the driveway of Valerie Amerling’s home in Lebanon, TN, about a half hour east of Nashville.  One night I went into the house to shower and found her husband Ray Shell had passed over and met his maker – right there in his favorite chair.  We transported him and Valerie to Kentucky to be buried, and he had a full military funeral for an officer of the Air Force. I had never seen a military funeral before and I was blown away by the white gloves and the way they move their hands across the flag as they fold it. We wanted to honor Ray because the last thing he had said the night before he died was, “I never got any respect for Korea, and I never got any respect for Vietnam.” Originally we wrote the song for Vietnam veterans and we sang it that way for a long time. Vietnam veterans would cry when they heard it. Harry was a Vietnam vet. When Harry’s son went into the Marines and was sent to Iraq, he asked me to rewrite the lyrics to be more modern and reflect all war.  Shortly after I did that, Harry died.  Three friends of mine, all Vietnam vets, died a month apart that year.  That was tough for me.  All the songs on my next album, Angels Will Carry You Home, came from that experience. There’s only one more thing he asked me to do before he died.  He asked me to get “Angel on My Shoulder” to Josh Turner. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

James: There are many young people who feel that patriotism is corny and outdated. Why do you think they’ve grown to feel this way and have you encountered experiences to the contrary?

Dudley: I don’t think patriotism is corny and outdated at all. I was raised overseas, and I have experienced martial law. It isn’t funny to always wonder if you’ll be put in jail and to live in fear in a world with curfews. We have incredible freedoms here and I for one appreciate them. However, let me say this.  I do not believe we should curtail our civil liberties. I am fiercely patriotic but it doesn’t mean I always agree with what our government does.  But as an American citizen, I still have the right to speak how I feel. Unfortunately, now I can have my phone tapped if I say it too loudly.  My grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants from Germany.  I remember them taking us with them to vote.  It was a really important thing to do, especially after becoming American citizens.  They held hands and it was a loving, patriotic, magnificent thing to watch.  I wouldn’t have a man in my life who didn’t vote.  Voting is important. In my town, we recently lost the election by 17 votes.  If 18 people had gotten off their bottoms and voted we would have won. I don’t have kind things to say to people who think their vote and their voice doesn’t count. 

James: You don’t make a political statement in your EP as either being pro or against the war. Was that a conscious decision?

Dudley: I feel I have to support our troops and their families and the returning veterans.  But I have allowed my song to be placed on Neil Young’s site.  And it was in the Top-10 three times. I could have put out a longer CD. I have lots of “soldier songs,” and I play them for veteran’s events.  I chose to put out just the EP because I think it says it all.  I pray for the troops to come home safely, I sing an anthem to my country (that contains the line “I will fight for their right to speak as they please…”), and I celebrate the life of a soldier who believed in his country enough to die for it.

James: How long have you been writing lyrics? Do all of your songs reflect real-life experiences or about people that you know? Is it easier to write that way?

Dudley: I started seriously writing lyrics after a bad car accident with a double head injury.  Believe it or not, angels came to me and started speaking to me, and I was told to purchase an old autoharp and to write songs.  Yes, all my songs are true stories.  I wouldn’t know what to write about otherwise. For example, I am working on a demo of a new song called “Buford’s Heart.”  It’s basically a true story in that my uncle stayed alive long enough to get to the hospital and have his parts harvested for transplant.  We got a letter thanking us and telling us 16 people had benefitted – two retinas, two corneas, two lungs, two kidneys, his heart… but not his liver! So the new song is about Buford, a man who parties hearty and then dies in a car crash.  His heart is transplanted to a librarian-type who starts dancing on tables.  It’s going to make a great video.  In the song, she sends “Buford’s babies” a letter “thanking them for…Buford’s heart!”


Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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Harmonies highlight old-school country album from Amy Gallatin and Roger Williams

Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Amy Gallatin and Roger Williams/Something ‘Bout You

What is missing from country music these days? Just about everything that is on Amy Gallatin and Roger Williams’ Something ‘Bout You. You can call me a purist even though my introduction to country music was through the film Urban Cowboy more than 20 years ago. But once you hear the greats – Patsy Cline; Hank Williams, Sr.; Johnny Cash; etc – it’s really hard to stomach the designer jeans stitched by Nashville since achy-breaky hearts were broken in the early ’90s. Gallatin and Williams belong to the old-school country crowd, which is oddly finding a devoted audience amongst indie college kids these days.

For authentic, whiskey-drinking, beef-jerky munching Americana, it doesn’t get any more pure than Something ‘Bout You. There are no slick studio add-ons here, just the melodic voices of Gallatin and Williams accompanied by traditional country instruments such as pedal steel, fiddles, and mandolins. The harmonizing of Gallatin and Williams is delicious to to the ears; on the title track and “I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name,” the duo reach emotional highs and lows with eloquence and heartbreaking drama. The singing alone makes this record one that is highly recommended. However, the music rises to the challenge of capturing the wounded sentiments of its vocalists. Listen to Wayne Benson’s radiant mandolin playing on “Forever Has Come to an End” and tell me that you’re not touched.


Published in: on March 25, 2008 at 7:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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Vickie Russell evokes laughs, tears on new album


Reviewed by Brooke Curtis

Vickie Russell/Next

Don’t be fooled by the smiling, innocuous face on the cover; there’s a wicked wit hiding beneath the pop country flavors and Adult Contemporary hooks on Next. More specifically, the title track which is about searching for Mr. Right and, well, sometimes ending up with Ms. Wrong. “Big, blonde and built/You thought he was a steal,” Russell sings playfully. “Then you caught him dancing/In your panties and heels.” Pretty funny stuff, and the kind of song which could leap onto country radio with its hilarious lyrics alone. (Actually, knowing the market quite well, it’d probably take a cover from a popular country act to get it onto the proper airwaves, which is too bad.) That tune alone is worth having this CD. Every woman should be able to relate to it, the frustrations of the dating scene wherein each seemingly good find turns out to be a bust – or even an arsonist.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to peg Vickie Russell as a novelty singer, either. “All the Time” is a moving tale of romantic reconciliation with a sad beginning and a happy ending, breaking away from country music’s soap opera formula of napkin weeping. Russell strays from her country roots, too. The piano-driven, cello-colored “Painted by Monet” showcases some elegant artistry while “Tell Me from Your Heart” recalls early ’80s AM radio Adult Contemporary. On “He’s Your Man Now,” Russell manages to be both humorous and melancholy, simultaneously missing an old flame while warning his new girl about his faults. 


Published in: on March 22, 2008 at 5:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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