River, Rails or Road
At 18 tracks, River, Rails or Road, Tom Breiding’s 13th release, is an epic offering. Inspired by the struggles of coal miners in his home state of West Virginia, this record moves easily along despite its length and showcases some of the best traditional folk songwriting of the Pittsburgh transplant’s career. Where his past releases have occasionally sidestepped into singer-songwriter schlock, River, Rails or Road finds Breiding doing God’s work. As the musician in residence for the United Mine Workers of America, Breiding has played some of these songs at rallies across the country, and his musical storytelling has been a powerful force in helping retired coal miners win pension and health benefits. In this cynical age, it’s a heartening reminder that protest music still has power.
TOM BREIDING Noon. Thu., Dec. 24. Leaf and Bean, 2200 Penn Ave., Strip District. Free. 412-434-1480 or www.leafandbean.com
Perhaps best known for his years playing with local blues luminary Billy Price, Lenny Smith is a seasoned guitarist and multi-decade veteran of the Pittsburgh music scene. With the ’60s counter-culture aesthetic of the cover art, and songs drawing from a range of classic-rock and blues influences, it’s easy to imagine American Stew — Smith’s third solo release — as the soundtrack to a Cameron Crowe period piece. There are staring-out-the-Greyhound-window songs (“Wonderful Day With You”) and dancing-in-a-dive songs (the boogie-woogie-ing “Sinking Down”) and mad-cap montage songs (the jazzy, piano-driven “Too Much Coffee”). Not every song is a hit but, like a good soundtrack, the range of styles holds together as a cohesive whole.