Albums Of The Month – October 2023

Our Top Six Albums October 23

Steep Canyon Rangers – Photo: LTTL

Top Six Album Releases

October 2023

Our Top Six Albums October 23

By Rob Dickens

Ben Gage

Two Singing Songs


3 November 2023

Despite the title, there are ten captivating tracks on Two Singing Songs. From Akron, Ohio, Ben Gage only ditched his tech-sector job in 2021 to pursue a much more precarious career in music. I can see why he made that choice. A sonorous, distinctive voice overlays a collection of songwriting vignettes as honest as the day is long.

Most songs are starkly delivered with vocals preeminent. There is instrumentation as well, with Gage leading the way on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, percussion and harmonica, while producer Tuck Mindrum on percussion and Dan Socha helping on most everything.

Two Singing Songs heralds a new talent.


Via Broken Jukebox Media

Cruz Contreras


Cosmico Records

15 September 2023

I learned first-hand of the talents of Cruz Contreras in Memphis 2013. The frontman of The Black Lillies led a charismatic alt. country outfit with colour and verve. That band has shifted personnel in the interim with sound and vibe changes, but always delivering tuneful and focused output, both live and on record (five full-length releases between 2009 and 2018).

His solo show at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum (Bristol, Virginia) in 2018 was a joyous occasion and beyond-doubt evidence of his ability to go solo. It was perhaps inevitable that Cruz would at some time strike out on his own in the studio and break the shackles of the demands of band cohesion and shared songwriting/microphone time.

Cosmico is a jubilant milestone in Cruz’s impressive career. The tracks range from delicate crooning to jamming riffs to hippie trippy back-drops, but always carry the signature of measured vocals and catchy melodies.

I was recently reminded by the publicist that Contreras remains the frontman of The Black Lillies. Whether than means another group outing or solo project next, I don’t know. But either way we will be the winners.


Via IVPR Nashville

Dunlap & Mabe

Horses & Horsepower

Bell Buckle Records

10 September 2023

Completely new to me, Dunlap & Mabe‘s second album is a showcase of masterful players perfectly in synch with immensely strong performances over a canvas of lively, jamming bluegrass. The personnel returning from their debut release are Jack Dunlap on guitar, Robert Mabe on banjo, Alex Kimble on bass and Mason Wright on fiddle. For Horses & Horsepower, Danny Knicely on mandolin joins in with aplomb.

There are also guest appearance from three of Jack’s siblings – Buddy Dunlap, Elizabeth Baker and Mary Dunlap – throughout the collection which includes six original songs by Jack Dunlap, three by his brother Buddy and a New Grass Revival cover.

Robert Mabe brought Jack Dunlap into the Robert Mabe Band as a guitarist in 2019. The following year, they formed Dunlap & Mabe and have gone from strength to strength since.


Via Bell Buckle Records

Jared Dustin Griffin

Battle Cry Mercy

Need To Know Records

17 November 2023

Jared Dustin Griffin has a weathered voice and crafts lyrical themes that exude a tough and hardened path. He took to the road at an early age, travelling relentlessly to improve, piece-by-piece, his foothold on the Americana/singer-songwriter scene.

He spent most of his 20’s and 30’s sleeping on couches and picking up odd jobs so that he could focus on songwriting. Combining solo work and fronting a few bands, he eked a living, managing to record and support acts such as Emmylou Harris and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

The pandemic provided the opportunity for Griffin to stockpile enough songs for more than one album and Battle Cry Mercy is the result, an album bristling with gripping songs about acute self-awareness, broken hearts, struggles and redemption, delivered with brutal honesty.


Via Broken Jukebox Media

Mikhail Laxton

Mikhail Laxton

acronym records/Howling Turtle inc.

18 August 2023

Hailing from the KuKu Yalanji Tribe in Mossman, Far North Queensland, Australia, Mikhail Laxton grew up on one of the few Indigenous-owned and operated farms in the region. His drive to pursue music as a career led him to make the bold decision to move to Ottawa, Canada to start from scratch, even though he already had a steady foothold in the Australian music scene.

The album Mikhail Laxton is a cathartic release. It reflects seven years of trying to rebuild his musical life, the passing of his mother to cancer and the pandemic.

“I didn’t intend to write a new album, I just started writing. Even just prior to the pandemic, I think I was caught up in this idea of what the industry wanted from me, and the work wasn’t feeling as enjoyable anymore. I had to face up to the fact that I wasn’t being true to who I am – with a big part of that being my identity as an Aboriginal man. Once I reconnected with that, the songs started pouring out of me, containing the entire spectrum of emotions.”

Mikhail Laxton

Indeed, the songs are imbued with passion and insight, with topics of loss, broken hearts, home sickness and profound love. And then there is Laxton’s striking silky, soulful vocals. A triumphal mix.


Via Skye Media

Steep Canyon Rangers

Morning Shift

Yep Roc Records

8 September 2023

I feel that Morning Shift‘s place in this month’s best was inevitable. On my current music travels in the USA, I teed up, on the recommendation of a friend, a visit to Citizen Vinyl‘s pressing plant in Asheville, North Carolina. It was during the week that the album was released, it was where the record was pressed and, coincidentally, the Steep Canyon Rangers were having a listening party at the premises that night.

Witnessing the band expand on how the new record was created, particularly as it was the heralded collective’s first outing since founding guitarist and frontman Woody Platt had departed in what could have caused life-threatening injuries to the band. The other serendipity for me was seeing the new lineup at Americanafest in Nashville later that month where they cleaned the floor.

The recruitment of replacement Aaaron Burdett was a masterstroke, enabling the band to continue on their journey of being more song-based, rather than being tied to a traditional bluegrass sound. Morning Shift delivers in spades.




More Music Adventures Await!


Our Top Six Albums October 23

Our Top Six Albums October 23

Our Top Six Albums October 23

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Author: Rob Dickens

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