Todd Novak's unique approach to various American rock, punk, and pop genres has been legendary in Columbus OH and NYC for something like 30 years. But it's only in more recent years where that love of roots and country music has really blossomed. Whether its leading up The Cowlicks with a more twang-core approach or throwing it down "old timey" as on his recent "Raspberry Moonshine" release... a common element prevails. Powerful writing and playing with a very cool authentic voice. He truly is a 'national treasure!'
– Jon Peterson, Host of "Shakin It", NPR Radio, WCBE
This is a blast of fresh air: half an hour or so of exuberant mountain music played with a huge sense of fun and a real rocking drive. Todd Novak's day job is as the front man for The Cowlicks, but long association with Ralph Stanley and his family (including playing at Dr Ralph's birthday party) has led to this album being made with The Clinch Mountain Boys (Ralph Stanley's band, in case you didn't know). From the opening bars of the title track, this is music to put a smile on your face. Steve Sparkman's banjo drives the tune, but so does Todd Novak's vocal. If the whole band were a stagecoach team, then these two would be the lead horses working in perfect tandem. There's a superb balance between speed and grace; this is sharp and precise, driving along at quite a lick whilst giving the impression there's plenty of time in hand.
These are all Todd Novak's songs (apart from Roosevelt's Train) and he has a way of borrowing from various styles to make his own brand of music. There's a few slower songs here (The Number and I Love It When It Rains in particular) where the mountain music instrumentation seems a slightly odd fit on songs built for some other genre - nice enough songs but when it comes down to it, it's the fast ones that really work. There's plenty of highlights: Ralph Stanley sharing lead vocals on It's A Long Road is one, for sure. Hearing Todd Novak rap out the words of Cherokee Lake at machine-gun speed is another...ach, heck it's mostly just pure dead brilliant and those Clinch Mountain Boys are a wonder to hear. If you liked what Steve Earle did with the Del McCoury Band, you'll love this.
– John Davy, Flyinshoes Review, Roots Music Webzine UK
Todd Novak takes you on a ride down the Americana highway, through a landscape covered in bluegrass, dotted with stands of country, folk, and rock, and inhabited by hot licks, clever wordplay, and catchy melodies.
But Todd's new CD, Raspberry Moonshine, isn't a jaunt through gently winding roads crossing wide-open spaces in a droptop Cadillac. It's more like driving an F-350 crew cab up and down hairpin turns where your margin of error is about the thickness of a guitar pick. The driver needs experience, skills, and most of all, nerves of steel. Todd not only has all these qualities in abundance, but has enlisted the aid of an old friend and his band: Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Recording original songs with one of the most famous bluegrass bands on the planet requires a substantial amount of confidence, and Todd's got it – and then some. His songs, from the rollicking tall-tale "Manjo," through the beautifully crafted pop ballad "I Love It When It Rains," and the progressive bluegrass groove of "It's a Long Road" (with Ralph Stanley on harmony vocals), showcase his skill at cherry picking the best elements from different genres and molding them into a distinctive sound.
He's also known the Stanley clan for many years and has attended and performed at Dr. Ralph's birthday celebrations. So while he has the deepest respect for the accomplishments of his colleagues, he's not so awestruck that he can't get his point across in the recording studio. The results are a true musical collaboration between professionals who share a mutual respect of each other. Strings bend. Sparks fly. Nobody dials it in.
Raspberry Moonshine is a great album for a lot of reasons and for a lot of people. Bluegrass lovers will dig hearing the Clinch Mountain Boys playing these really catchy, modern tunes without compromising their Clinch Mountain style. Fans of Todd's Americana band, the Cowlicks, will get a chance to experience Todd pushing his boundaries into new territory. And anyone who just loves a good song will enjoy how the artistry of Todd's songwriting is immeasurably enhanced by the CMB.
So grab a fruit jar and pour yourself a long drink of Raspberry Moonshine. Smooth stuff.
– Chuck Poling, California Bluegrass Association "Bluegrass Breakdown"
Did you ever hear Hey, Hey, We're The Cowlicks? That was a fun cowpunk disc put out by Todd Novak with his regular band The Cowlicks. You might also remember their Psychedelic Service Station.
Novak's latest album has a different little back up band you might not have heard of, though. The Clinch Mountain Boys. If they don't sound familiar, think of Ralph Stanley singing "Man Of Constant Sorrow".
To my mind, having them on your album would be like having a little group called the Beatles helping you out just a little here and there. (If you'd like to play along, check out the cyber banjo you can pick at the top of the page on the Ralph Stanley Museum's website.)
On Raspberry Moonshine, you'll find these newbies instead of Novak's regular band: James Alan Shelton on lead guitar, Jimmy Cameron on bass and vocals, Steve Sparkman on banjo, and Dewey Brown on fiddle and vocals. I'm sure they have a couple hundred years of combined experience between them.
Raspberry Moonshine starts out the disc. It's pure fun (and pure bluegrass.) I could picture my uncle picking this in his living room. If this doesn't make you dance at least a bit, I don't know what would.
Be sure to listen to Roosevelt's Train if you like old time music. Be warned, kids could sing this endlessly and drive you insane. I Love It When It Rains went a totally different direction. Not fast like most bluegrass, it had a more haunting sound. "You take a little water and you take a little blood/You mix it all together and you get a little mud".
The effect of listening to the album has been compared to when Steve Earle worked with the Del McCoury Band, a genre crossing effort you don't want to miss.
"When you combine Todd Novak and the Clinch Mountain Boys, you ride down the Americana highway, through a landscape covered in bluegrass, dotted with stands of country, folk, and rock, and inhabited by hot licks, clever wordplay, and catchy melodies. The California Bluegrass Associations also advised you to grab a fruit jar and pour yourself a long drink of Raspberry Moonshine. Smooth stuff".
Though I did love the album, I can't fully agree with that. Personally, I was taught to use a Miracle Whip jar. That is, if you want more than just a sip. 10/10 stars
– L.H. O'Connor, Roothog radio, Texas
Fans of the contemporary/alt. country scene may know the name Todd Novak as lead singer of the Cowlicks, a group whose three albums have been critically acclaimed and with "C.W.A." beating Merle Haggard and Buck Owens to claim the California Music Award in 2004.
Todd recently released his first solo album, "Raspberry Moonshine" (Tres Payos), a collection of largely original songs that sound like old-time string band with a modern twist.
For this debut Todd recruited his old friend Ralph Stanley's band The Clinch Mountain Boys to provide the superb backings and Doctor Stanley himself appears on a couple of tracks. Largely uptempo with a splash of humour here and there the programme boasts such great tracks as "I'll Still Love You", "The Legend Of The Great Manjo", "Roosevelt's Train" (the only non-original), "It's A Long Road" (a duet with Ralph Stanley) and the title track "Raspberry Moonshine".
It is not unusual for country artists to associate themselves with bluegrass. On this outing the Clinch Mountain Boys are; James Alan Shelton (guitar), Steve Sparkman (banjo), Dewey Brown (fiddle), Jimmy Cameron (bass) and James Nash (mandolin).
In the past Tom T. Hall, Dolly Parton, Janie Fricke, John Denver and Steve Earl have recorded with bluegrass bands. I welcome Todd Novak to that illustrious group. Album and download from www.amazon.co.uk
– Pete Smith's Reviews, The Advertiser UK
Todd revisits some old Cowlicks gems along with introducing new material. It all works incredibly well. Novak is from Bay Area Alt.Cow-punks The Cowlicks. The Clinch Mountain Boys add a new dimension to the Cowlicks work that is neither better nor worse, but is certainly interesting in a very good way. If you're thinking that since you already have the the previous three Cowlicks records this one would be redundant, oh how mistaken you are. Rather, if you're a fan of the Cowlicks this is all the more essential to your collection. Ralph Stanley himself sings on one track.
– Bill Frater, DJ host of Freight Train Boogie on KRCB 90.9
Raspberry Moonshine is a welcome addition to the Old-timey cannon and a innovative New-timey exploration in equal and enjoyable measure.
– Rob Ellen, Medicine Radio Show, UKCountry Radio "Health & Happiness From The Highlands of Scotland"
Todd Novak has a unique way of turning a phrase and he has a knack of putting together melodies that stick in your head. Plus his singing is right on pitch. It was my pleasure to get to be a part of the "Raspberry Moonshine" project. It is a very good album!
– James A. Shelton, lead guitarist of Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys
The blue ocean surf of the California coast comes together with the bluegrass of Virginia's first family of music, the Clinch Mountain Boys, on this fine album. Todd Novak (originally from Ohio but now as California as they come) pairs his exceptional and sometimes twisted songwriting with some of the most traditional bluegrass around. One can only imagine what those studio sessions were like in Big Stone Gap, VA!
It's a little less twangy than Todd's last three recordings with his band The Cowlicks, but it's got the same punch and humor. The bluegrass instrumentation really allows the stories to shine through and pairs perfectly with Todd's vocals. Some songs, notably "She's A Tease" shine even brighter in this setting. "Cherokee Lake" bubbles along with Todd's rapid-fire vocals skipping over a roiling bluegrass tempo.
"The Legend of the Great Manjo," a humorous tale of a banjo factory accident, takes on added resonance with the Clinch Mountain Boys backing up Todd's composition. Dr. Ralph Stanley makes a couple of appearances, fittingly in "Manjo," as well as joining in a duet with Todd on "It's A Long Road." Rebb Firman's composition, "Roosevelt's Train," is also a standout piece on the CD and it sounds like he penned it specifically for this band.
James Nash of The Waybacks joins in the fun on mandolin and national guitar, and Bay Area alt-country drummer Ken Owen contributes some tasteful rhythms on a couple of tracks. Definitely a fun musical outing - go get it now!
– Lance Walker, Petaluma Church Concerts
Todd Novak is a Bay Area-based musician with the Cowlicks band, and he has an affinity for the eastern mountain music and a very special connection with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Joining Todd on the album are James Alan Shelton on guitar, Steve Sparkman on banjo, Dewey Brown on fiddle, Jimmy Cameron on bass, and James Nash on mandolin.
Dr. Ralph adds some vocal touches to the mix as well. Except for "Roosevelt's Train" written by Rebb Firman, the songs were all written by Todd.
"Raspberry Moonshine" has a pulsating instrumental backdrop, edgy vocals, and is of course a tribute to an intoxicating beverage. "I'll Still Love You" is an uptempo love song with catchy phrasing, while "She's A Tease" has a "sugar daddy man" and a frolicking rhythm that makes you want to dance and sing along. "Roosevelt's Train" is a tribute to Teddy Roosevelt's conservation efforts on a journey across America with John Muir. "The Legend of the Great Manjo" is a humorous story of a mishap in a banjo factory and the resulting radioactive transformation of the song's hero. Ralph and Todd trade vocals on the rollicking "It's a Long Road" and the song is a great example of Todd's goal- an album that's bluegrass, but Dylanesque "Basement Tapes" party vibe."
– Brenda Hough, California Bluegrass Association "Bluegrass Breakdown"
One sip of 'Raspberry Moonshine' and you will be hooked forever on Todd Novak's tasty tunes.
I'd bet The Clinch Mountain Boys had to learn and play some new-fangled chords and notes in order to keep pace with Todd Novak's craftily, cleverly constructed songs.
– Larry Carlin, Carltone Music
Raspberry Moonshine - Bluegrass with a bit of humour. Sure to please the Die Hards as well as the folks that love contemporary Bluegrass. I love this CD. If I were able to wear out the grooves on this CD I would have done it already. I can't stop listening to this album.
– Craig Eddy, La Honda Voice
I am not a bluegrass/Americana fan, admittedly. Or I wasn't until now! I love this album, mp3, download, whatever it is. The harmonies are polished, the music is joyful, the instrumentation is stellar and the music builds nicely. Great mix. Clever lyrics. Can't find a thing that I don't like. Every song is catchy and it will grow on you daily. FIVE STARS!
– Daryl Storey, singer songwriter
Another great project from Todd Novak, who never disappoints! Sweet licks, tasty riffs and beautiful songwriting. Novak always provides "go to" recordings, the "Raspberry Moonshine" disc is one of my new favorite listens! I love my Todd Novak recordings, and so does everyone else - they keep disappearing from my collection!
– Holly Lane, music producer, agent, manager, columnist
Who knew that the Crooked Road ran all the way to Skyline Boulevard? No bromance here, but Todd and his crew do play something called a Manjo and even Ole Pete chimes in. We, here in the El Cerrito Delta, love everything Todd does but can anyone really fail with the likes of the Clinch Mountain Boys breakin' the strings? Give me another sip o' that Raspberry Moonshine. Damn, that's good!
– J.C. Garrett, Down Home Music, El Cerrito, CA
Todd Novak with the Clinch Mountain Boys. Moonshine, Trains and Murder, and a rabbit dog poem, translates to the best bluegrass, Americana album of the year.
– Rebb Firman, Songwriter
Hay! Hay! Moo! Moo!
Bluegrass music won't make you blue
Moo! Moo! Hay! Hay!
Todd's new album deserves a play.
– Jon DeLong, Road manager
Todd Novak's new album just makes me smile every time I listen to it. Sure, he has a huge list of big-name personnel helping him out, but there are no show-offs here, just one well written and performed song after another. Raspberry Moonshine is full of surprises and should not be missed.
– Don Whitebread
This is a wonderful bluegrass-countryfication of Todd's music. Buy, play, and listen to this sucker!
– Jon Berke - DJ Berkestir, KALX radio 90.7, Berkeley CA
Wonderful phrasing, great picking, heartfelt lyrics. Recorded with an old time feel that really lets you settle into the music, like hearing the voice of an old friend.
– Jude, music lover
Terrific CD! The sound is special.
– A. Lander