April 22, 2015
Allison Moorer – Down To Believing (2015)
Allison Moorer has spent the last two years coming to grips with the end of her marriage to Steve Earle and their toddler’s autism diagnosis – and giving birth to some of her strongest songs in a career of writing forcefully about personal challenges.
The listening key to whether each song targets autism or Earle is that she’s disappointed in Earle and furious at autism.
Some songs are over-arranged, but maybe that’s for the best if you’re in pain and need a belt-out-loud anthem or crying ballad to ease the load.
April 22, 2015
Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Ruffian’s Misfortune (2015)
Ray Wylie Hubbard isn’t exactly morose on his latest album, but neither is he his usual lively bad-ass self.
He mines his niche well, the old (he’s 68) red dirt rebel; bluesy grooves, homespun philosophy, autobiographical stories and shout-outs on music making, but it’s less self-assured than we’ve come to expect. There’s a spark missing.
Hopefully bracketing the album with a blackbird portending death isn’t his misfortune. It’s a worry though because all the songs in between reference angels, heaven and/or seeking salvation, and the Ruffian, which Ray Wylie was until he got sober 20+ years ago, hopes he’s done enough repenting to get into heaven.
You have, Ray Wylie, but I’d be obliged if you’d stay put awhile.
March 11, 2015
Parker Millsap – Parker Millsap (2014)
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.
February 20, 2015
Wave Pictures – Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon (2015)
It 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!
February 17, 2015
Mark Erelli – Milltowns (2014)
Bill 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.
February 17, 2015
The Delines – Colfax (2014)
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.