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Local musicians emerge from the pandemic with new albums in tow 

The pandemic was a disaster for musicians, venues, and music fans, but the downtime allowed for a lot of creative woodshedding, and now all those lonely hermit-like hours of contemplation and practice are coming to fruition in the form of a lot of really great locally produced music. Find below a few recently released full-length albums and EPs.

Wally Barnick, New Road

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF WALLY BARNICK
  • Image Courtesy Of Wally Barnick

Wally Barnick is best known as the bassist and vocalist for the famed urban bluegrass act Cache Valley Drifters, but that's never stopped him from sitting in to play with others any and every chance he gets. On his third solo album, New Road, he's backed by a who's who of musicians on a collection of a dozen songs—some originals, some well-known covers, and some obscure deep cuts. The Americana collection touches on several genres—blues, folk, Irish, country, gospel—and features amazing female backing vocalists by Lois Mahalia and Shawn Thies. The musicianship is superb, and Barnick's voice is smooth and warm. It's a beautiful-sounding album with ultra-high production values and slick packaging, and you can buy it in CD form directly from the artist on his website, wallybarnickmusic.com.

Bob and Wendy, Fault Line

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF BOB AND WENDY
  • Image Courtesy Of Bob And Wendy

Husband-and-wife duo Bob and Wendy Liepman have created a true pandemic record. They released its eight tracks as singles over the course of eight months, finally packaging the collection into the Fault Line CD, available on their website, bobwendy.com. Their songs and albums are also available on more than 150 streaming services. Wendy, who plays her mother's 1944 Martin guitar, writes the songs, and she's absolutely brilliant, creating emotionally deep and often personal lyrics that speak to loss, hope, and perseverance. Bob's soulful cello is always a welcome addition, and the duo added in percussionist Paul Griffith as well as producer and musician Damon Castillo on bass, mellotron, and guitar. These are wonderful songs, and Wendy's soaring voice brings them to life.

Eric Brittain, 1 Legged Chicken

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF ERIC BRITTAIN
  • Image Courtesy Of Eric Brittain

Eric Brittain is a master musician. If it's got strings, he can shred on it. His new album, 1 Legged Chicken, is 100 percent Brittain—he composed all the songs and played every instrument you hear, and though he's got a fine voice, these 18 songs are all instrumentals. The joy is in the complexity of the compositions. He layers in guitar tracks, adds subtle percussion, and mixes a variety of styles and musical genres. For guitar fans, it's pure ear candy to hear this virtuoso's fingers dance over the frets and play among the strings. You can hear clips of all 18 songs on ericbrittain.hearnow.com, and you can buy and download it on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, and Deezer. Prepare to have your mind blown.

Katie Chappell, self-titled

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF KATE CHAPPELL
  • Photo Courtesy Of Kate Chappell

Country-esque folk-rock singer-songwriter Katie Chappell recently released a four-song EP on Spotify and other streaming platforms. "I recently planted my roots here on the Central Coast," she said. "After a few years of playing local wineries and breweries, I was finally able to save up enough money to create an EP that I am truly proud of." She should be proud. These are great songs. I especially like the driving sound of "I Think I Do," though "Bang the Drum" is also super hooky. Chappell's got a lilting voice and a fair bit of swagger, and after listening to her music, she's on my list to see live. Catch her this week at Paso's Cal Coast Beer on Sunday, March 13, from 2 to 4 p.m. She's on Instagram @katiebirdchappell.

Phil Lee, Phil Lee & other old time favorites

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF PHIL LEE
  • Image Courtesy Of Phil Lee

Is Phil Lee the greatest knife-throwing, Rip Van Winkle-bearded, self-deprecating dapper-dandy amateur lothario singer-songwriter to ever walk the land? The answer is yes, yes he is. On his seventh album, Phil Lee & other old time favorites, he also proves once again that he writes ingeniously funny original songs and knows how to mine the rich public domain quarry for traditionals, such as "The Devil and the Farmer's Wife" and "Just a Closer Walk We Thee." He also sings with impish bonhomie and knows how to surround himself with terrific players, in this case producer, multi-instrumentalist, and backup singer David West (dobro, mandolin, bass, guitar, lap steel, piano). This simply amazing 10-track Americana romp is available at philleeone.bandcamp.com.

The Taproots, Tales of Wonderland

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAPROOTS
  • Image Courtesy Of The Taproots

The Taproots are an Americana/rock duo featuring Tom Walters and Nicole Cassingham, a pair that favors narrative songs, a blend of jazz and folk influences, and beautiful vocal harmonies. On their debut album, Tales of Wonderland, they've got a full band behind them, and on tracks like "Big Fat Love," the music really cooks. They also have some stunning ballads, such as "Haarlem," where their intertwining voices are stirring. In fact, each of the 14 tracks are terrific—an amazing debut! They also recently released a very cool video for the lead album track "California Life," available on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=LkYgM7gw2I8. Visit their website for more info and to learn about upcoming shows: taprootsmusic.com.

John Wessel, She Was the Devil in Disguise

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF JOHN WESSEL
  • Image Courtesy Of John Wessel

John Wessel, best known as a member of local bar band Shameless, is a hell of a bassist, saxophonist, keyboardist, rock flutist, and gritty singer—and pandemic or not, he seems to put out a new record almost every year. This time around, it's She Was the Devil in Disguise, his seven-song rocker that kicks off with the title track that's just killer! The chorus is a total earworm, and the lyrics are a rock star's dream of a groupie who picks up a musician after his show, takes him home, and steals his soul. Wessel is steeped in the traditions of classic rock, and his original songs are frequently narrative in nature. This album also includes a fun cover of "Piña Colada" that Wessel really makes his own. You can find this and Wessel's other albums on rhombus-records.com. Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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