Many songwriters in country and roots music tend to sing their own material, and this often yields fine results. Not always, though: there are plenty of situations when otherwise good material is spoiled because the vocals don’t measure up due to the limitations of the writer’s voice. LA alt-country performer Terry Lewsader avoids such pitfalls on The Beanfield Blues, his new album, by composing a batch of compelling songs, adding his considerable talents playing guitar, pedal steel, and other instruments, and producing - and leaving the singing on the 10-song project to nine others.
Aside from the diversity of sounds that this approach gives, another thing that is striking about this disc is the high level of musicianship, mixing, arrangements, and general studio wizardry present. It is an independent release, but sounds like the flawless product of a major studio. Some of the backing cats have played with top country stars, but Lewsader and the vocalists stand out the most. He is one of those “anything with strings” wonders, but mostly sticks to pedal steel, acoustic, and electric guitar.
David Upton is the featured singer on three tracks, and “Pieces” starts things off with his deep, rough-hewn voice leading the way on a power anthem about populist ideas like the rich man taking the birthright of the working man, “Load the wagons well/ We’re about to go through hell/ Fighting for all the pieces we lost.” It is a winner, and the level stays high as Upton is still at the mic for “Old Beliefs,” another ballad that packs plenty of punch, sailing on Lewsader’s pedal steel cries and sharp guitar solo; again it’s catchy and has something to say about how the values that built our society are getting shipped, just like our jobs, overseas. Sutter Zachman takes the vocal on “Story of My Life,” which is a softer and more traditionally country song, and it is excellent. This time, Lewsader plays guitars, pedal steel, mandolin, dobro, and accordion as Zachman confesses the failures of his wayward, gun and alcohol existence.
Linda Lamb is the singer for “Supposed to Do,” a lively, brisk country shuffle that has a super-catchy chorus featuring her clear voice climbing the heights, a highlight on a disc with many. The instrumental “Cades Cove” is a toe-tapping bluegrass/country piece with Al Perkins on dobro, Byron Berline (featured on several disc tracks) on fiddle and mandolin, and anchored by Lewsader on acoustic guitar and drums; it’s a tasty keeper. Upton (an LA singer with a gospel background who is a real find) is the perfect choice for “Stop Breaking Down,” which flirts with country-rock in delivering a high-octane, riveting protest message. He’s jumped the metaphorical train East from LA, and doesn’t like what he sees the 1% doing to the rest. “You made your moves so slowly/ You sacrificed the pawns/ Just so no one would notice/ That all their freedom’s gone.” Hard to disagree.
Terry Lewsader’s The Beanfield Blues is solid country, infused with rock energy, populist politics, and polished musicianship.
By Frank Kocher, The San Diego Troubadour, December 2012
Songwriter, studio musician, guitar slinger Terry Lewsader, now an LA resident, shoots from the hip as he combines roots country and rock awash in passion, as wide as his native western plains.
- On occasions with others handling the vocals Lewsader’s work may confuse his audience, but in all honesty it is a mainly gritty, unbending, and rockier styled fare.
- On second thought, and many listens later, this may not be the case (regarding the confused part).
- “The Lesson” has him play a heap of pedal steel guitar, acoustic and lead and Jason Mandell sings great! Aided by masterful fiddle (Byron Berline) and piano (Russell Wiener), Mandell scrapes the barrel of emotion, as images of the late Gram Parsons comes to mind. The song and vocals are that impressive, no kidding. What a fabulous heartache filled sound. Here my friend is a song bordering on classic proportion and will be an instant hit with all country rock fans. Lewsader plays a wealth of instruments on this his second album, acoustic, lead, pedal steel guitar, drums, accordion, dobro and mandolin to underline his prowess in the respective fields, plus you can add songwriting to his CV.
While he doesn’t sing a word there are plenty who do. For not only do we have the above noted, Mandell, but David Upton (three songs), Sutter Zachman, Linda Lamb, Jack Brand, Lydia Salnikova, Elexus Quinn and Andrea Peterman. Hence it’s more about the songs and instrumental arrangements than any particular vocalist, however Upton does lay claim on establishing his own distinctive sound on “Stop Breaking Down” (as hints of Otis Gibbs can be detected both in the vocals and songwriting) and on kicking up a fuss “Pieces”. The song that opens the album is very much southern (as in Hank Williams-esque); while with swirling lead guitar and organ in support, Peterman also builds a good case for herself on “Run Away From Love”.
Brand offers some credible country rock via “Reckless Ways” and special guests, Berline (fiddle, mandolin) and Al Perkins (Dobro) stir up a storm on the instrumental “Cades Cove” and on showing excellent restraint Salnikova and gravel-voiced Quinn press home in honest and gritty fashion on “Sad Song”, which is one of those songs that gains in stature on each listen, and could easily become my favorite performance of the album as drummer, Noah “Shark” Robertson spars with Lewsader’s pedal steel, guitar and Russell Wiener’s bass and piano. Excellent song, and all things considered this is a good selection of work.
Here’s a piece of independent work that not only sounds like it’s being meticulously crafted by a team of 10 top-notch sound engineers, but the songwriting and the skills of the musicians might easily fool you into thinking this is one of those good releases from back in the days, issued by big record label giants. And I say this just because it seems clearer than the music from few years ago when the record industry was better. There is a global independent tendency now and the music suffers a lot. Musicians don’t have the same budget to really put out some outstanding work. That’s not the case with this record. The really great songwriting is here, the beefy huge and beautiful production is here, and oh my god….the performers are real musicians, by all means. Guitars, lap steel, drums, bass - it all sounds really mature, and the playing and arrangements here are just very refined.
The best part of the whole record, I guess , are the male and female vocals. They
are powerful, big and manage to fit the songs and the message really well. You just don’t get these kind of powerful vocalists in today’s pop music anymore. The crew on this album blows away all the limited musicians that seem to get a bunch of praise nowadays. The lyrics and the vocal timbres seem like they were made for each other even though
the lyrics and composition are made by Terry Lewsader , the guitarist , and the star of
the record. The message strikes so hard it makes you listen to the album on and on. The album is a huge monolith; you can’t really break down some parts and describe it. It is melancholic, sad, and retrospective, yet a relaxing piece of music that’s a real delight for the listener’s ears. If you have a bit of taste it will reveal infinite sonic treasures.
I leave the genre and style of the album to be the last thing we talk about because as I said before, I want everybody to really understand how good this album is and how organized the compositions and the performance are. So it can take up comparisons with every rock or pop album that’s being released today. But guess what…this is actually a country record….and it’s so versatile and highly enjoyable that it really breaks away from its genre foundation and will smoke absolutely 90% of the records released this year. It has nuances from alternative country to rock and pop and covers a huge palette of human emotions. I call this a Sunday album because it’s better to just lay down and listen to this carefully, without doing anything else. It will relax the hell out of you. Try it!
Terry Lewsader’s Beanfield Blues hits the sweet spot of country rock cross over. On some songs you get a midnight rambler kind of rock and roll feel, other songs are slow sweet twangy heartbreakers. It’s interesting that the lead artist on the CD is Terry Lewsader, but lead vocal duties are carried by 4 or 5 different singers, most notably Lydia Salnikova and David Upton whose voice sounds like a ragged Kris Kristofferson. Highlights for me are “The Lesson,” “Sad Song,” and “Stop Breaking Down.”
Been listening to The Beanfield Blues, the new Terry Lewsader release. Lewsader wrote all 10 tracks and they are primarily on the gritty side of pop country. What I mean by that is that Lewsader's music has the qualities that country music has. And although it has some of the traits of pop country (pop) it doesn't stray to the point of losing its total identity as country. The Lesson has strong bones and illustrates Lewsader's understanding of real country roots. Reckless Ways is another track that stands out as a more pure flavor in the country ballad vein. Cades Cove ventures across the country bluegrass border and it is quite an enjoyable instrumental featuring Al Perkins on Dobro and Byron Berline on Fiddle and Mandolin. Lewsader has a barrage of associates working with him on the recording including David Upton (Vocals), Russell Wiener (Drums and organ), Todd Connelly (bass), Sutter Zachman (vocals), Jason Mandell (Vocals and bass), Linda Lamb (vocals), John Abella (drums), Ron Chicalese (bass), Lydia Sanikova (vocals), Elexus Quinn (vocals), Noah "Shark" Robertson (drums), Carla Tassara (vocals), Andrea Peterson (vocals) and Ashli Haynes (vocals). I don't profess to be an expert on country music but I do know it when I hear it. I applaud Lewsader for his efforts to put out a set of recordings that aren't just pop country.
Heck! I like what this guy is writing. Problem is I can’t hear everything being said because of the loud electric guitar. This is a kind of slow-rock style CD, a little too far into “loud” for my taste, but the songs are good. Terry Lewsader is the “creator” of all of these songs. On his song “Story of My Life” I can hear his words really well, and they are really good. He’s a good musician too: acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, dobro, accordion, and percussion. The same song “Story of My Life” has some nice mandolin chops in it. What’s amazing is the fiddler. It blows me away. Byron Berline played fiddle with Jake Simpson, and here he is again on a semi-rock-country session with Terry Lewsader, playing fiddle on the three best songs on the CD: “Story of My Life”, “The Lesson”, and “Cades Cove”. These three songs are the closest Terry gets to really good country. Most of the songs are kind of slow, but they are very meaningful. I worked with a band in Holland that had a sound like this. Matter of fact we did a concert together in Belgium, and I was really comfortable with them. The third song that I picked “Cades Cove” that Berline plays on, is a super good traditional country song. Wow, this is the one I like best. They go to a really unusual chord in this song, and it’s great. Berline also doubles on the mandolin. Without a doubt a brilliant piece of work. It’s an instrumental, but it “shines” like a rare diamond on this project. If you wrote this Terry Lewsader, you are that brilliant diamond. All of the vocals (Terry doesn’t sing) are done by various artists. “Sad Song” utilizes the very nice voice of Lydia Salnikova. She sounds a little bit like Lacy J. Dalton. Terry Lewsader is a little too far over into slow-rock-country-blues, but his songs done with an old-timey band would be absolutely great. Don’t forget music is very subjective, and here it’s also very good. I’m forwarding “Cades Cove” to the RRMC and see what they think. I don’t think we’ve done “Song of the Year”, but they should take this one under consideration.
The rural background cover says a lot but not everything of the musician: Terry
Lewsader has firm, beautiful roots in the American midwest, this is obvious,
but composes and records in Los Angeles where he works as a songwriter. The
Beanfield Blues is the latest of two solo releases which see him in the forefront as
the author (writing all the tracks and wielding guitars, mandolin and pedal steel),
leaving the rudder of the vocals to different interpreters: from the timbre baritone
country of David Upton who opens the door with the red dirt country-rock style
of “Pieces”, to the feminine side by Linda Lamb and Andrea Peterman, “Suppose
to Do”, and “Run Away from Love”, respectively. The styles range from hard
edged with rural accents (the best tracks, including The Lesson and Cades Cove)
to a general feeling that America does not disdain beautiful calligraphy, and some
shades of pop rock. There is the whole wisdom and shrewdness of the experienced
musician – a job that Lewsader has been developing in the background for years-
even if the tradeoff is a handful of songs a bit standardized.
Today in Santa Monica, California-based songwriter and musician (guitar, pedal steel) from the Midwest knows no fear of musical boundaries. As on his debut self-titled album, this newly released successor has again a mix of Folk, Americana, Blues, Alt Country, Bluegrass, Pop, Jazz and easy listening. On The Beanfield Bues Lewsader, himself – does not appear as a singer, but with extensive improvisations and a fine feel for the right drama this is convincing. The Vibe remains the connecting moment.