September 30, 2015
Case Hardin – Colours Simple (2015)
If Jason Isbell had written Colours Simple it would be top of the charts by now; Pete Gow‘s thoughtful, crafty songs are that good.
Alas Gow is in a semi-pro ‘Americana’ bar band in London, a UK anomaly – roadside bars? In England? – with four DIY albums in eight years, gigs here and there, and day jobs.
Now on a (small) label, armed with character sketches as good as the next guy’s, well seasoned and with plenty of good musical ideas, it’s fair to ask – are we playing for keeps, or playing for tips?
September 17, 2015
Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays & Wedding Rings (2015)
After a decade or more on the road with Austin country outfits, Jamie Lin Wilson invites you into her big old sprawling Texas home alone. She sets you down with an iced tea, tucks herself into the big comfy chair by the window and starts to show you around the room, telling stories and sharing memories.
Lori McKenna is the undisputed queen of ‘still life’ songwriting; using wallpaper, a whiskey flask, a kitchen table, an old car … to convey a life story in a couple hundred words that rhyme.
She may soon have an heir apparent.
September 9, 2015
Neil Young + Promise Of The Real – The Monsanto Years
Anger at a world he sees driven by corporate needs fuels some catchy and crunchy guitar from Neil and Willie’s son Lukas Nelson (the band is his).
The lyrics are either forthright or trite, depending on your world view, but this is Neil is at his confounding best – having a laugh, firing darts.
Do people just want to hear silly love songs? Or equally vacuous protest songs?
August 1, 2015
Lianne La Havas – Blood (2015)
Lianne La Havas’s English grandparents raised her right. She is an independent young woman of the world, mindful of her Greek-Jamaican bloodlines (hence Blood) and determined to deflect any hijacking of her sweet, neo soul voice for profit.
A lot of big names can be bandied about in describing Blood: Beyonce, Sade, Lauren Hill, Florence Welch, Adele, the lesser known Diane Birch. That’s not wrong, but what separates her is a Hepburn-like grace audible in the quiet spaces, like a more assertive version of countrywoman Corinne Bailey Rae.
La Havas sought an allspice of collaborators to flavour (doo wop, funk, gospel, rock) the follow up to her triumphant 2012 acoustic jazz/folk debut, Is Your Love Big Enough? Her new collaborators range from pop hitmaker Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence), who co-wrote the single, Unstoppable, to Jamaican reggae legend Freddie McGregor’s son Stephen to the underappreciated Jamie Lidell’s experimental urban sounds of London and Nashville.
The result is breathtaking; sensual, aching but hopeful. The folks will be proud.
July 12, 2015
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (2015)
Jason Isbell’s last album, Southeastern, was a brave reckoning of his drinking, drugging and catting around and the pain of quitting. The songs were raw, bold and deservedly celebrated.
So now what? You’ve reformed and repented. What does life look and sound like now? Better than Southeastern, Isbell has notably tweeted.
‘Now what’ is living mindfully, as it is popularly known, or with ‘bare attention’, as it is known to meditating Buddhists. Psychiatrist Mark Epstein explains: “It allows us to observe the many individual ‘frames’ that make up the self-created movies in our minds, to separate one’s reactions from the core events themselves.”
This is how you savour life. This is how you face challenges. This is how you connect, really connect, with others.
This is how you learn to live.
This is 24 Frames – the speed (per second) you film at to make people look the most ‘real’, and the album’s lead single.
June 3, 2015
Randy Bachman – Heavy Blues (2015)
Old Winnipeg friend Neil Young told Randy Bachman to get risky for his new album. “Don’t do the same old shit and call it new. Do something scary. Scare yourself.”
Good advice that Neil famously follows himself, but Randy just doesn’t have that kind of imagination. Heavy Blues isn’t particularly bluesy, but it is heavily laden – with vapid lyrics and well-meaning guitar friends (Bonamassa, Frampton, Gibbons…).
BUT, it also has Little Girl Lost, a driving, must-buy collab with Neil Young. It’s like Guess Who on PEDs – complete, of course, with cowbell.
June 2, 2015
The Lowest Pair – The Sacred Heart Sessions (2015)
Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee are an unlikely banjo duo, living five states apart in cities (Olympia; Minneapolis) not top of mind for bluegrass.
Yet their sophomore album ambitiously invokes legendary banjo-poet John Hartford in name and style, and at times there’s hints of the eastern mysticism that can inform the royalty of banjo duos, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn.
The Lowest Pair only need their voices and two banjos or guitar and banjo, and harmonize in true duet form.
Disabusing the notion that only rubes play the banjo is a long row to hoe when you dress like they do, but they’re ambition is clearly not perching on hay bales at country fairs.