Parker Millsap is making Americana relevant to post-teen Holden Caulfields

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Parker Millsap – Parker Millsap (2014)
parker millsap

Like many a young man today, Parker Millsap expresses himself through pop culture touchpoints – people At the Bar are in Wizard of Oz roles; nursery rhyme characters are Quite Contrary on drug corners. He yearns to be a good man when he grows up, asking a lover to Forgive Me for not yet being a full man and promising another he won’t be The Villain who ties damsels to railway tracks.

Much like fellow Oklahoman John Fullbright [Songs, 2014], Millsap is making Americana relevant to post-teen Holden Caulfields. He deftly uses humour, self-awareness and catchy rockabilly to poke at all the emotional conflicts of being, as he explains it, a largely happy person trying to keep adulthood from becoming a lifelong melancholy melody.

 

Marianne Faithfull has some home truths for the broken English

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Marianne Faithfull – Give My Love To London (2014)

Marianne Faithfull Give-My-Love-To-LondonNow 69, Faithfull imagines a vengeful return to the city that chewed her up and spat her out in the 60’s for naughtiness with rock bands, making her entrance as Pirate Jenny, the bloodthirsty maid in Threepenny Opera.

If London rings with the menace of a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill score, that’s no accident. Faithful played Pirate Jenny on stage in 1996, which led to an album of Brecht-Weill and Noel Coward music. And her mother was a ballerina who danced in Brecht-Weill productions in her native Austria. So she knows what she’s doing.

Never one to need help saying what she means, Faithfull nonetheless doubles down by co-writing with a couple of other pull-no-punch social assassins, Nick Cave and Steve Earle. Shrinking violets beware; London hits as hard – perhaps harder – than her previous pinnacle, Broken English.

Wave Pictures spins up a Great Big Flamingo of pre-aged classic rock

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Wave Pictures – Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon (2015)
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The_Wave_Pictures_-_Great_Big_Flamingo_Burning_MoonIt takes a lot of patience to be a classic rock aficionado. You’re kinda stuck listening to the same 100 or so songs until newer stuff properly ages enough that you can stop saying it isn’t as good as rock was in our day.

The Wave Pictures, a semi-pro English band that hasn’t been subsumed by the London hipster scene, has the answer with a fun, clever and irreverent album that’s a bit Kinks, a bit CCR, a bit garage, and a lot Jonathan Richman.

Call it pre-aged; you don’t have to wait 30 years to enjoy it!

The road less travelled leads Mark Erelli to Milltowns

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Mark Erelli – Milltowns (2014)

mark erelliBill Morrissey was a Robert Frost of folk music, capturing the natural beauty and harsh realities of New Hampshire and its decaying mill towns.

Mark Erelli, an accomplished northeastern folkie in his own right, was noodling around one evening and started playing a Morrissey song. Not bad, he thought, and tried another. And thus was born Milltowns, 12 covers and an original, the title track, about his relationship with the man himself.

Milltowns is – no exaggeration – an album no folk collection is complete without.

All-star cast takes center stage in Colfax with Willy Vlautin and The Delines

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The Delines – Colfax (2014)
willy vlautin

Willy Vlautin

One night while on tour with the band Richmond Fontaine, backing singer Amy Boone got drunkenly courageous enough to ask frontman Willy Vlautin to write her an album – and he didn’t say no. Instead, intrigued, he went to work shaping a fictional life for Boone in Colorado and assembling an all-star Portland band to tell the story.

Boone’s character, for it is a literary work, is a restless soul with responsibilities. She has a war vet brother with PTSD who regularly goes missing, a husband who works out of state on the oil rigs, and a boss who checks her till in front of staff when she cashes out.

Vlautin, who also writes short stories and novels, insists he’s not in the league of American realists like Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy or his hero Raymond Carver, but this a rich portrait of how millions of the working poor in America live, and the slow bluesy delivery is flawless.

Gretchen Peters: Hello Cruel World, Blackbirds is out to kick your butt

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blackbirdsGretchen Peters – Blackbirds (2015)

The grit in Gretchen Peters’ songs can be lost if you polish them up too much (ahem, 2012’s Hello Cruel World), and with a few opening bars of crunchy guitar, Blackbirds declares itself as anything but Cruel World II.

It’s the same team that made Cruel World, but you’d be excused for thinking otherwise. Cruel World was lush and melancholic. Blackbirds is bold and brassy, a daring departure for Peters, who said after Cruel World that “Woman On the Wheel is the closest to rock you’ll hear from me.”

But rock on she does, with judicious use of spiky guests (we hear you Jason Isbell & Kim Richey) and crafty triumphs of electric guitar, fiddle, piano, mandolin, and banjo. And Peters, fresh off her well-earned induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, gives a career-high vocal performance that, mea culpa, I didn’t think was there.

Blackbirds seems to have inspired all to pour out every ounce of heart, soul and skill they could muster. I’m impressed.

2014 in review – my WordPress stats

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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