Hailing from the foothill fringe of Northeast Ohio, State Bird may be the most original musical outfit to ever roam these parts. The Dover, Ohio-based duo of Coby Hartzler and Jared Riblet lead a motley musical combo that merges banjo, trumpet, accordion, ukulele, steel guitar and more into a countrified tribal ensemble that gracefully migrates across hybrid bluegrass (“I Saw the Light”), hoedown country (“The Hollerin’ Mountains”) and supernatural lullabies (“Ghost King Pt. 2”). There are so many places it could all go wrong, but it never does aside from the anticlimactic closer “Hair of the Buffalo.” By the end, you’re wondering if “Mostly Ghostly” is high concept or pure quirk. It really doesn’t matter. Neither answer makes this collection any less enjoyable.
Our Pick: “The Hollerin’ Mountains”
After more than a decade and a half of playing music, 32-year-old Chris Castle is still a well-kept secret. Maybe it’s because the Norwalk, Ohio-based singer-songwriter put down his guitar for six years before re-emerging last summer to record this 11-song collection, which feels like a confession from the heart of the American Midwest. His soulful voice and engaging lyrics rest easily over stripped-down skeletons of acoustic guitar that shuffle along dirt roads and through tired towns. These are songs shaded with longing and loss and redemption. Castle says he aimed to create “an album of songs rather than production and arrangement.” What he ends up with is an authentic connection to the world-weary soul of American roots music.
Austin “Walkin’ Cane”
The myth says blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to Satan for his guitar-playing talent — a tall tale that forever tied the music and its offspring, rock ’n’ roll, to the devil’s side. But it was a glass of poison whiskey that cut Johnson down. And it’s that story that Cleveland’s Austin “Walkin’ Cane” Charanghat growls through in the title track from this batch of gritty blues songs. Walkin’ Cane’s brand of blues works because it stays true to the music’s roots. He even covers Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind” as a tribute to his friend, the late Robert Lockwood Jr. (for whom Johnson had served as a stepfather and musical mentor.) Walkin’ Cane proves the blues isn’t so much about dealing with the devil as it is working like hell to stay a few steps ahead of him.
12:00 AM EST
April 23, 2008