REVIEWS OF “SONGS THAT MAKE THE JUKEBOX PLAY”
|Crispin Sartwell, No Depression
|An astonishing achievement…there is not a weak cut on the album. What is perhaps most surprising is that all the songs but one are originals, though they could all have been written circa 1963. “I’ll Match You Tear for Tear” could hardly be bettered as a honky-tonk composition. Every gesture is assured. The cover art is itself a sweet evocation of Armstrong’s chosen era. The arrangements are simple, traditional, perfect. The playing is understated but excellent. And Armstrong’s singing could hardly be better. “Songs that Make the Jukebox Play” has got to make you hopeful that a new Elmore James and a new Beethoven are likewise lurking somewhere in San Francisco.
|Craig Baguley, Country Music People
|Tom Armstrong astounded us with his debut release, Sings Heart Songs, and now he’s gone and done it again with Songs That Make The Jukebox Play. The Illinois-born, West Coast-based performer has written all the material…and once again defies his history as a free jazz punk-rock musician to produce material good enough to have graced any recording session by Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Wynn Stewart, and other legends during their heyday. Tom Armstrong delivers an album that is essential listening for hardcore country fans.
|Marc Bristol, Blue Suede News
|This is another of those discs that tend to make this whole job worthwhile – the ones you’ll want to play again and again. 13 more honky-tonkin’ country songs solidly in the tradition, without any sort of nod to more recent thematic trends. Armstrong’s tight vibrato works perfectly, reminding one a bit of Hank Snow without sounding like him. The production is right in the pocket. Such great, matter-of-fact straight ahead country music…seems like a dang miracle to me. Highly recommended to anyone who likes REAL country music and great songwriting.
|John Conquest, Third Coast Music
|Armstrong is a superb singer and songwriter, with almost unbelievable mastery of classic honky tonk style and sincerity.
|AnnMarie Harrington, TakeCountryBack.com
|Wynn Stewart. Ray Price. Web Pierce. Carl Smith…this San Francisco based artist is making country music that hasn’t been heard since the days these country greats ruled the airwaves. Not only is Tom a terrific singer, but he also writes his own songs, and those songs are more than worthy enough to have been recorded by any of the aforementioned great s. He writes (songs) about the classic country music themes…that avoid overused cliches, yet don’t come across as being “highbrow.” He paints vivid pictures in his songs with honesty and clever wit, that keeps it real and instantly connect with the listener. While Tom’s songs and his style may be a sound from days gone by, he manages to avoid being pegged as a “novelty” or “retro” act, as he breathes something fresh and up to date in them, making them sound new, sincere, and most of all, honest.
|Frank Goodman, PureMusic.com
|A real live honky tonk hero…Armstrong is a barroom belter, a full-throated crooner in the tradition of Webb Pierce and Ray Price. It is uncanny how much the spirit of west coast country of the 50s and 60s rings true in these songs. Tom is so inside this genre that his original repertoire sounds like Bakersfield classics. You may hear and revel in the strains of what originally turned you on about Country music.
|Lawrence Kay, San Francisco Weekly
|Old fashioned, well-written, and well-performed honky-tonk. Armstrong (is) a modern-day master of the booze-soaked ballads that echoed throughout America’s beer halls in the ”50s. While many of today’s crop of twangcore artists wade in waters an inch deep, Armstrong dives headlong into the swirling current of authentic pedal steel and fiddle-driven Texas shuffles. His latest disc is packed with fab new material, original songs that are worthy of old masters like Harlan Howard and Leon Payne. Clever, tongue-in-cheek ballads of broken hearts and romantic misadventures…tailor-made for auditioning with a beer under your belt. (Armstrong & band) breathe life into a classic sound that once was called hokey, but now sounds pretty darn hip.
|Joe Sixpack (Lawrence Kay), Slipcue.com
|Armstrong…has a remarkable ability to write modern honkytonk songs that are every bit as good as the ’50s artists he’s out to emulate. This album is twice as punchy as his debut, packed with a dozen top-notch original compositions…mighty good stuff.
|Michael Berick, All Music Guide
|Armstrong takes listeners back to the days when giants such as Ray Price, Hank Williams, and Buck Owens ruled country music. A traditionalist in the best sense of the term, Armstrong has a purity of style that fits with this seemingly old-fashioned brand of honky tonk. He stocks his sophomore effort with a dozen originals that have all the grace and grit of the songs from country’s golden era of the ’50s and ’60s.
REVIEWS OF “TOM ARMSTRONG SINGS HEART SONGS”
|Country Music People
FIVE STARS “Never have I heard a modern album that so authentically recreates the sound of the 60s…Armstrong has written all the tracks, and has a perfect feel for the era he’s embedded in…An album with a difference…You need to approach Sings Heart Songs as a past life experience, not just a musical one…It is totally unique and cannot help but be an album of the year. Be warned. Tom Armstrong makes BR5-49 sound like Nashpop.” – Craig Baguley, Country Music People
|Freight Train Boogie
FIVE STARS “Wow, who is this guy? He’s channeling the classic country sounds of the early 60’s with such ease and simplicity that it’s hard to believe they’re all his own songs…He’s done his homework on the great singers from the days before my time; people like Wynn Stewart, Lefty Frizzell and some of the lesser known artists like Frankie Miller and Tibby Edwards. What’s refreshing with this recording is that although they used vintage microphones along with steel guitar and fiddle, he doesn’t sound like some hokey imitator. It’s obvious Armstrong has been listening with his heart as well as with his ears and he’s created something brand new and very special.” –Bill Frater & Kay Clements, Freight Train Boogie
|Blue Suede News
|“This 1999 release almost got overlooked – shame on us. Modeled after Ray Price’s first album of the same title (from 1957) the cover art alone is worth a closer look. The whole CD sounds so much like ’50s country music it’s pretty unbelievable we’re not listening to the lost recording session of one of our favorite country heros from that era…”Sleep Never Will Come” reminds me of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” others bring back memories of Webb Pierce and Faron Young. Superb honky tonk, haunting ballads (“I’m Damned”) and songs of broken hearts blend together so well, Marc and I rate this: nicest surprise of the year – highly recommended!” –Gaby Maag-Bristol, Blue Suede News
|“On Heart Songs, Armstrong offers twelve original tunes that could easily serve as a soundtrack for a lonely, heartbroken night at the local tavern. Whether it’s the dark introspective ballad “I’m Damned” or the gentle “See The Sun Again,” his crooning, honest vocals and well-crafted songwriting hail back to the days when jukeboxes were filled with singles by Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.” –Kevin Odle , No DepressionREAD THE WHOLE FEATURE STORY FROM JULY-AUGUST 2000 NO DEPRESSION
|Made In America
“If names like Skeets McDonald, Warren Smith and Ray Price mean anything to you, then Tom Armstrong is the musician for you…Tom lays down twelve tracks of hard core early to mid-sixties country with no questions asked and no apologies… None of the music comes of as hokey or retro… Really and truly it’s about THE SONGS, and there are more than a few outstanding ones to choose from…Throughout the disc there is interesting word play and a nice twist on all the standard country topics…I look forward to hearing more of Tom Armstrong’s music in the future.”
– Clint Holley, Made In America
“Tom Armstrong Sings Heart Songs, Armstrong’s first album, is littered with stories …, songs that revolve around the lonely moments where you’re forced to confront yourself and don’t quite like what you see. In addition to “I’m Damned,” there’s the bitter potshot of “What Did I Lose,” cataloging all the things he doesn’t miss about a relationship (the sleepless nights, the constant second-guessing); the pull of the “River & Railroad Track”; listening to his heartbeat for company on “Sleep Will Never Come”; and the lovers’ last conversation on “Start Talking.” On song after song, Armstrong’s either lonesome or working damn hard to get there. Armstrong’s songwriting style and vocal approach echo Hank Williams’ I’m-so-lonesome-I-could-cry misery, Lefty Frizzell’s way with a clever line, and the sense of fear that pervades every Louvin Brothers song. In fact, he echoes — but doesn’t imitate — those old masters so well it’s surprising he’s been playing honky-tonk for less than a decade.” – Mark Athatakis, SF Weekly
“A sweet tribute to the heyday of the heart song, that style of weepy ballads perfected in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s by the likes of Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells and George Jones…I love the graphics, an homage to the Columbia label’s late ’50s look…Best of all, Armstrong backs up his obvious love for the style with a lot of talent, especially as a songwriter. All twelve tracks on here are original compositions, written with an intentionally old-time feel. The material ranges from goofy Harlan Howard-style paradox tunes to abject weepers and loser tunes galore.” –Joe Sixpack, Slipcue
|“From the opening track’s fiddle intro I settled in for some honest to goodness, Webb Pierce and Carl Smith-styled country music…(the) steel guitar fills cry and sing in perfect accompaniment to Armstrong’s full, mournful vocals…as good as the CD sounds, the lyrics and songwriting may be its most outstanding feature. This is topnotch heartfelt country songwriting.” – Sean Burns, Texas Jamboree