Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tift Merritt - Travelling Alone

Tift Merritt has outdone herself. She just released the best CD of her career. I am not kidding. Bramble Rose was her ground breaking first release. Another Country equaled Bramble Rose, but it didn’t best it. With the release of Travelling Alone, she has set a new standard for herself. The album is truly a masterpiece in every way.She chose Tucker Martine to produce it. His other credits include My Morning Jacket and The Decemberists. Many of the songs are unembellished and simple. However, they have a feel that is evocative of Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. There is a subtle dreamy echo on many of the songs, and that sound fits the theme of the album. The title track opens up and lays out an interesting premise. Merritt redefines the word alone. Alone is not isolation. Alone happens in relationships and community. It happens when you are among or with others.

“Drifted Apart” is an excellent emotional but subtle duet with Andrew Bird. In this song there is loneliness is a faltering relationship. In truth our significant others have the ability to make us feel completely insignificant. “I am going to lose everything I love, only for a minute just to be alive”, she sings on “Spring”. Later as the song begins to cut loose with some up tempo ethereal blues riffs she says that “Beauty is defiance in the face of death”. It is a powerful metaphor and certainly not how beauty is thought of by the general public.  
In addition to great production, she enlisted an all-star cast of musicians including Rob Burger (Lucinda Williams, Iron & Wine, Rufus Wainwright), John Convertino (Calexico), Eric Heywood (The Jayhawks, Son Volt, Alejandro Escovedo). As for the songwrting, there is only one writer. We can thank Tift Merritt. She wrote them all on her own, but hopefully not alone.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Whispering Pines

It is a digital world, mp3s are our music, the internet provides our news, and we can read on multiple devices. Oh and by the way we are connected wherever we go. Digital communication is the best …. Or is it? Along comes Whispering Pines. They take us to their world of analog recording. The band is based in California, and their music brings to mind The Byrds, The Band and Gram Parsons. Listening to the self-titled second album by Whispering Pines, makes the listener revisit the days when Country and Rock were becoming kissing cousins. There are all out slide guitar rockers like “Fine Times” and songs that utilize Byrds influenced Harmonizing vocals. “Love is Free” is an up tempo Jam that brings the keyboards to the front. While “Come and Play” is the most singular representative of the music on the album. It begins as a country song and gradually evolves into mid-tempo Rock and Roll. The opening song “Move On” will reach out and grab you. Then the songs that follow will not let you go.

It is not a long album. It clocks in at just under 40 minutes and has only 10 songs. In fact, four of the songs are less than 3 and a half minutes. Whispering Pines would not be able to claim their California roots if they did not know how to jam. Fortunately “Purest Dream” shows that indeed they are fully immersed in the California Roots Rock tradition. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is that all four band members write and sing their own songs on the album. Such virtuosity allows every song on the album to stand on its’ own. However, Whispering Pines do not lose site of the fact that they are a band. Thus all of the songs work together and fuse the individual talents of the band members together.

So go down to your local record store and hit the vinyl section. Read an actual newspaper, and get a book that requires you to physically turn pages. (You can steer clear of listening to eight track tapes though.) Whispering Pines has provided a reminder that digital is not always better.      

Monday, August 27, 2012

La Resistance - Philosophy

Sometimes gaining momentum is better than a sprint. Greg Summerlin has passionately pursued his craft for years. As a solo artist his songs have been used in numerous TV shows. He has even owned his own record label. His new band, La Resistance, is an ambitious undertaking evocative of bands like Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. “Philosophy” is permeated with atmospherics but without the loss of melody that some indie artists fall into. Momentum also characterizes the music on the album. The songs generally begin with a thematic synthesized undertone and uses the guitar to build up to something much more complex. 

Lyrically there is a blunt spirituality in each song. The words are not hopeful, but they are not hopeless either. The songs seem deeply personal with simple observations of reality. After initial creative acclaim, La Resistance is starting to travel the country. From their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama to Manhattan and Missouri they beginning to be heard by a wider audience. The album was released last year, but it their growth has been organic . Recognition has come gradually, but they are now expanding their geographic reach. Like I said … momentum.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Video: Corb Lund

A lot of great music comes from north of the border, and Corb Lund is one of the best. A great songwriter and ambassador for Canadian Country music, he is finally starting to get his due down here in the lower 48. Well deserved critical acclaim has been directed at his new album, "Cabin Fever". Here is a video so you can hear why:

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mindy Smith's New Masterpiece

Mindy Smith’s new self-titled album finds her moving back to her roots. She delivers the music in a way that is truly her own. It is a rare quality to be able to exude this kind of passion so overtly. However it is natural for Smith, the emotions of each song rise up from  inside of her, and then overtake the listener like a Geyser. For example, on the Blues and Soul infused “Don’t Mind Me” she expresses a loneliness that she needs to experience and work through. It is ironic, but while loneliness is painful, the words of others aren’t always the best help, healing must start from within. The album is full of such brutal honesty. The message is delivered in many forms. There is the upbeat Country-Swing of “Tin Can”, melodic mid-tempo songs like “Pretending the Stars”, and more mellow and atmospheric songs like “The Devils Inside”. The latter song says ”Those devils inside, those demons you hide, they keep your angels inspired. Thank God for the devil’s inside”. When an artist can combine such deep and thoughtful lyrics with careful musical craftsmanship the result is usually a masterpiece. That is certainly the case for Mindy Smith’s current project.

The album opens with an excellent but more radio friendly song “Closer”, which is in rotation on CMT. I just hope fans and listeners dig deeper than their TV screens. The young songwriter, who took the world by storm with her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and followed it up with her own highly acclaimed song “Come to Jesus”, has recovered the raw emotion and spirituality from her early recordings and created the defining masterpiece of her career. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Jason Eady to tour with Flatlanders

The new Jason Eady album AM Country Heaven is the best pure country album released this year. It is getting great reviews and recognition. Eady has been a Favorite of mine for a while. Glad to see he is getting the recognition he deserves. Further street cred for the album is the producer, Kevin Welch.

Now Eady has been asked to tour with the Flatlanders during June. They will be playing some great venues:

6/12-Kunckleheads in Kansas City, MO

6/13-Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, MN
6/15-Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, IL
6/16-The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI
6/17-Grand Valley Dale Ballroom in Cleveland, OH
6/19-Beachland Ballroom and Tavern in Cleveland, OH
6/24-Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA
6/25-BB King’s Blues Club in New York City
6/27-YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bay Shore, NY
6/28-Sellersville Theater 1894 in Sellersville, PA
6/29-Birchmere in Alexandria, VA
6/30-The Shed in Maryville, TN

Here is an Acoustic version of the title cut which is a "kiss off" to Nashville:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls - Packed for Exile

LA based Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls release their new album Packed for Exile on July third. It is an impressive release with a blend of Americana roots and 70's Album Rock. Interestingly, the band's keyboardist is Jason Federici, who is the son of the late E Street Band member Danny Federici. The band may be from the West coast, but Heath's lyrical themes play to the American heartland. The songs deal with emotional, romantic and spiritual struggles. However, this is not an album stuck in some neurotic depression. It is about day to day struggles seen universally throughout the lives of everday people. At times,the album is also upbeat and hopeful, capturing the circadian rythm of the ups and downs of life.

The music is not lost in the message. In fact, the musical arrangement of each song conveys the message of the song as much as the lyrics.  A perfect example is the song "A Fighter's Lullaby", which attempts to infuse hope into pain by using a beautiful melody, that builds from a slow tempo to a culmination that exudes the hope found within the lyrics. "Packed for Exile" is a cohesive collection of songs that delivers what the artist intended.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wrinkle Neck Mules - Apprentice to Ghosts

The Wrinkle Neck Mules are back again, but this time with a little bit of help from a celebrity Gecko. (Down South we think that is just a fancy name for a Lizard, but I digress.) The song “Central Daylight Time” is straightforward Honky Tonk and apparently the folks at Geico liked it so much they made it the background music for a commercial filmed in a Country bar. The folks at Geico are even sponsoring the video which will of course, feature the little green celebrity. 2012 may be the end of the world after all, The Wrinkle Neck Mules have gone commercial.

Wait just a minute, this isn’t 60’s, some commercials actually feature good music these days. (Rhett Miller/Old 97s “Question” was in a commercial too). Simply put, it isn’t “selling out” to sell anymore. Apprentice to Ghosts encompasses the gamut of the Mules styles; Country, Bluegrass, Jam and more. Andy Stepanian’s gritty drawl is as distinctive as ever. What this album adds is solos worthy of a rock anthem. For example, the opening track “When the Wheels Touch Down” slowly builds to a mesmerizing finish. The Mules seem to get better with each outing, and hopefully the notoriety the little lizard offers will bring new fans into the corral.

The Video

The Commercial

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mindy Smith New Album July 26th

It will be a self-titled release on Giant Leap/TVX records. She joins Giant leap after a string of releases on Vanguard records. She has assembled a band including Brian Sutton on guitar. I hope she will move back toward the raw emotion of her earlier releases. The first single, "Closer", seems very promising. It seems she feeling some freedom on this independent release.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

10 Under the Radar for 2011

Instead of focusing on a best of list, I wanted to highlight 10 albums released in 2011, by artists that aren’t household names. There are so many hard working and passionate artists who deserve to be noticed. The current landscape of the music industry makes it difficult for artist from local and regional scenes to break through. The blogosphere provides a conduit for these artists to be heard, but most bloggers, like those of us here at Twangville, have day jobs  and can’t listen to everything that is submitted to us. However, we try to listen to as much as possible. Listed below are 10 under the radar albums that caught my ear in 2011:

The New Familiars - Between the Moon and Morning Light

The Barr Brothers - Self-Titled

Mark W. Lennon - Home of the Wheel

Hotel Lights - Girl Graffiti

Dan Hubbard and the Humadors - The 
Love Show

Blind Pilot - We are the Tide

Big Fresh - The Moneychasers

River Rouge - Not All There Anymore

Old Californio - Sundrunk Angels
Exene Cervenka - The Excitement of Maybe

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Craig Finn - Clear Heart Full Eyes

Craig Finn has always had a reputation as an accomplished lyricist. In fact, he is as much of a poet as he is a Rock and Roll musician. His lyrics invoke an emotional connection that is evident as the crowd sings along at Hold Steady gigs. After all, this is the man who weaved the suicide of John Berryman into “Stuck Between Stations”. Not surprisingly, Clear Heart Full Eyes brings Finn’s poetic distinction to the forefront.

To be sure, the front man for Hold Steady has not forgotten the importance of the music. For this project, it tends to be more mellow and introspective, but is powerful none the less. My friend David, who has a daughter that is a budding musician at 13, recently made the point that musicians are sometimes far too serious and afraid to make people laugh. In fact, humor is a quality he is trying to encourage in the music of his daughter (Katie Deter). Humor has certainly never eluded Finn, as shown by the song, “New Friend Jesus”. He also invokes religious imagery often on Clear Heart Full Eyes. Consider this verse from “No Future”:

“I’ve been reading about the Calvary. The crucifixion still gets to me. I guess Golgotham meets the mount of execution. The best advice I got comes from ‘ol John Rotten. He said ‘God save the queen’ no future for you , no future for me”.

Finn is a modern day creative genius, and, Clear Heart Full Eyes is the perfect conduit to display his prodigious creativity.