The Freelance Mentalists.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
  From Life's "Other" Side: 2016 releases, Nashville Scene ballot & comments

TOP TEN COUNTRY ALBUMS OF 2016:
(just in the order they come to mind)  
  1. Loretta Lynn: Full Circle
  2. Lori McKenna: The Bird and the Rifle
  3. Chely Wright: I Am the Rain
  4. Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories
  5. Tomi Lunsford: Come On Blue  
  6. Austin Lucas: Between the Moon & the Midwest    
  7. Western Centuries: Weight of the World   
  8. Willie Nelson:  For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price
  9. Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings
  10. Maren Morris: Hero


TOP FIVE COUNTRY REISSUES OF 2016:

  1. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt: The Complete Trio Collection Deluxe Edition

  2. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966  

  3. Merle Haggard: Live In San Francisco 1965
  4. Hart Valley Drifters: Folk Time

COUNTRY MUSIC'S THREE BEST NEW ACTS OF 2016:

  1. Maren Morris
  2. Aubrie Sellers

Made-Up Categories:

HON. MENTIONS:

Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, Kelsey Waldon: I've Got A Way, Brandy Clark: Big Day In A Small Town, Charlie Daniels: Night Hawk, Aaron Lewis: Sinner, Dwight Yoakam: Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars…,  Randy Rogers Band: Nothing Shines Like Neon, Carrie Rodriguez: Lola, Various Artists: Southern Family  

ABOUT HALF GOOD (60-45%)

Amanda Shires: My Piece of Land,  Wynonna Judd & the Big Noise: Wynonna & the Big Noise, The Honeycutters: On The Ropes, Colvin & Earle: s/t. Aubrie Sellers: New City Blues, Dolly Parton: Pure and Simple, Hank Williams Jr.: It's About Time, Margo Price: Midwest Farmer's Daughter, John Prine: For Better Or Worse,  Corb Lund: Things That Can't Be Undone

AMERICANA/COUNTRYOID/RELATED:

  1. Lucinda Williams: Ghosts of Highway 20
  2. Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus
  3. Freakwater: Scheherazade
  4. Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor's Guide To Earth
  5. Lydia Loveless: Real
  6. Shovels & Rope: Little Seeds
  7. Peter Stampfel and the Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Fiddle/Mandolin Swarm: Holiday for Strings
  8. Minute2Minute: Postcards From El Bossa



RELATED HON. MENTION:

Aaron Lee Tasjan, Silver Tears

RELATED REISSUE:

NRBQ: HIgh Noon: A 50 Year Retrospective

Maren Morris, Hero: First heard as a single, out of the album's context (unbidden, uncomfortable insights, updates, reminders: notes to self & others), radio bait "My Church" seems like it's county in ways perhaps not altogether consciously intended  by those who put together the 100% Bona Fide Certified Yessireebob Country celebration up front: here we have the tradition of show biz congratulating itself via the artist-as-fan-surrogate, namechecking the safe, placeholder icons while (since it's still now, not yet quite Springtime for Cheetos),plugging into a received, expertly performed carefully filtered version of "gospel", waving hands in a slo-mo, laidback way, because this is a secular, love song-based sort of "Church":  a conceit (in more ways than one), so let's turn it up for a minute, yet not get too excited, folks. Right on cue, thank y'all.
As first read about, reviewer-bait and clickbait "80s Mercedes" seems like another auto- controversy: is she another naive young bling head, or seeking/preaching Empowerment?
But as actually heard, it's convincing: Morris is seeking and savoring the quest, as much as the object of her desire and release---which might be out of her financial league, and that of many if not most other "90s bayyy-bies" she's singing for, but hey life is a journey so ride on, dream on, you go girl--- this good song, and even "My Church", are best understood as brief necessary detours and pit stops, from and versus. the overall sense of hard-won, still struggling awareness of how relationships work and don't work: how the sausage gets made, in both cases.
And the stress comes  not just from realizing you've been had by a sweet-talker, the most adept one yet, and not even from realizing the self-deception, the self-sweet-talking, but also realizing you aren't just warning and testifying for other young women---you're also, still, lambasting the sweet talker, who may not even still be around, at least for the moment, but you're still hooked. And you keep coming back, whether that person does or not. Not just in your mind, either----there is this newfangled thang called a cellphone, with whatchacall a speed dial.
Aside from being hooked on That Person, "I could use a love song", sung like someone might sigh, "I could use a drink"---"to take me back", to before she knew. So yeah, she is a country fan, in the age of Beyoncé, for instance, who makes wised-up music, about having your foundations shaken, and figuring out how and when to slam the doors and move on. Beyoncé, with her own circuits of self-awareness, of being trained by tough "Daddy Lessons", about how to deal with/be wary of men like Daddy: lessons based on his own stated sense of self-awareness.   (And on this album, the influence is a given, the drama is never affected or too hectic: even "My Church" seems more like filling out a form for airplay than overselling.)
But, That Person  aside, there is also another (not trying to be weird about gender, but sounds like she addresses that other as "girl" initially, later says "boy" more clearly), screwed over by another woman, thus (in part because observably not invulnerable) a suitable case for treatment: she explains, suggests, anyway, to this other person and herself "How It's Done": could start with, for instance clasping hands as if in a movie----as also suggested sometimes in acting classes: instead of trying to relate to the character from your own experience, generating and then figuring out how to externalize a feeling---instead, you might go through the right motion, act as if you feel, and then you might indeed begin to feel it---so: encouraged, and
becoming aware of your improved acting, you feel and act more---and the process continues, as you become more of a pro, hallelujah.
Not so say that she doesn't keep a sense of suspense going, right to the end--will it work this time, has she continued the spiral  beyond her still-accruing powers and responsibilities and stakes, beyond her depth, her range, her potential, her luck? This is the question as she climbs the staircase to knock, one more time, in "Once"--the question she leaves us with (after and perhaps self-deluded/made overly hopeful by the joyful relief of "Second Wind"). Stay tuned, as the voice-over hosts of serials used to say  (and what is country without history?---as astute student and compulsive seeker Morris would surely ask).

Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus: If she has indeed experienced triumph over tragedy, as some some reviewers suggest or announce, that's great, but part of the artistic triumph or effect of the album itself is that I can't really be sure,  especially when looking for unmistakably triumphant or coming-into-the-light themes---well, there's one, "Dharma Gate," which sure sounds like a cosmic transition point, where you might die and go to drug heaven, and then whatever comes next, if anything, or come back for another chance---or just where the penny's dropping, a moment of lucidity: "What are you doing? The chance, the choice is Now"--but that's more implied by the musical undercurrents than any upfront therapyspeak. It seems to come from and be personal experience, something ongoing, or a fresh memory, like the rest of the album.
She seems to be trying to make sense of chaotic scenes, all around and/or in her head, without reducing them in any way, incl. exploiting what's obviously melodramatic enough already. A couple of tracks still seem too even-handed, monotonous, as strung-to-dried-out stringer E. Cook reports again from the battlefield, over burnt-dry, steady rolls, with periodic guitar solos providing equally dry, electronic heat lightning: effective jolts, but they work better when she doesn't rely on them so much. Mostly, she lets the spare, somewhat metal-associated beats flex a bit more, even get to a kind of New Orleans hip hop rattle at times, and the guitars get to flex too, nothing musclebound.
Her voice eventually gets to flex some too, taking the band out for a run in "Straightjacket Love," which alternates a high lonesome hillbilly (nasal) waltz, with meth bursts: "Look out look sugar, Mama needs her drug, better come and save her, with yore/Straightjacket Love." Also, she chirps like Dolly Parton while taking her first tour of the methadone clinic, where Dr. Feelgood is all squeaky-clean and "socialistic," no bad boy appeal atall, but oh well, showing up for regular no-drama doses "adds some structure to the week," and she can sell what she doesn't use up.
Prob be some argument, but to me, for now (especially with some of the guitars on relative mainstreamer Miranda Lambert's new set not that far from the more consistently "out" sounds of Lucinda Williams and cookin' Cook), this is a country album: the pitch and cadence of her voice, the turns of phrases, as written and sung, guide and shadow the grooves, bringing out the bluesy elements of crossroads sounds, without trying to pretend they're pre-digital; the subject matter, layers of atmospheric consistency---the fixations of an addict, recovering enough for perspective on same---though getting the fix, "getting straight," as they used to say, can provide enough detachment for moments of insight even inside the thing, as "Dharma Gate" and others suggest---all merge with certain classic themes of country, even if she's not meditating on a shot glass all of the time.
From a later online discussion:
Going for what I called her "sonic grid"---that dark, spare, hard-edged but flexible framework for the throughline of her narrative themes---has some of the same appeal as Stapleton and Eric Church's recent albums, something of a Jamey Johnson atmosphere too, but I doubt that she expects as much radio play as they've gotten. The main challenge is writing about this stuff at all, without becoming too dependent on  lurid imagery or therapyspeak, or seeming evasive. Her current solution seems to be just to begin in the middle, to tell it like she might have told it then, in her most self-aware, lucid and candid moments. And maybe she's still in the middle of it, for all we know--but I have the impression (because the self-awareness etc is so sustained here) that she's been through some kind of therapy, with whatever lapses experienced or still possible, and of course the idea is to know yourself to be a recovering addict, present tense, no matter how long you've been sober. So, while these songs may not be the deepest, as Edd prev. mentioned, this is how far she's gotten writing-wise (with anything she'd want to show us now, at least).

The other dark thang Ah thank Ah love now is Lucinda Williams' The Ghosts of Highway 20, which is similar to Cook's album conceptually, incl. the sonic grid, although here we get up to four guitars---Williams regular Val McCallum, with guests Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, who plays acoustic as well as joining the electric mesh, along with Williams' own strings (think she's credited with some acoustic too): intricate treble skeletons, sometimes whole nervous systems, though never too detailed, more like instant afterimages, visions already falling away---what her voice and words would say if they could, if they weren't bound to testify down here on earth, in the dry and moist and funky shadows of the barn (the voice, not slurring as much as on some previous albums, but occasionally decaying, as all things must, especially when "all of my thoughts turn to dust"; also also the bass and drum kits and hand drums are funky shadows etc.).
But the guitars are light through holes in the roof, and also big blowing chunks of her family tree on the title track, for instance, and she's not trying to grab hold of those, just be mindful of them and dodge and otherwise work around them. Like several of the lyrics are about different kinds of solace. The thoughts turning to dust are from her father's notes (he died with Alzheimer's), about what he gets when he might expect tears, and the guitars burn that dust, instead of having to sling around tons of sobs, so it works out pretty well, musically, anyway. And Woody Guthrie's "House of Earth" channels a witchy woman, who will show you how to make better boys, also you will take this back to your wife and she will make better girls--she foretells this, in a stoned lullaby sway, while sometimes sliding into him---"you will leave drops of honey" on the couch, she/he will leave money---although (there's a punchline of sorts).
Yadda yadda, some of it doesn't work, but another effective use of vocal clarity-to-decay comes in "Louisiana Story," and also I like the effects of two extended grooves, "Doors of Heaven" (kind of parade gospel, she gets in There and struts her stuff), and "Faith and Grace," (a big ol storefront church on Main Street, for Exiles, but not for choirs, or handclappers) remind me, as does Cook's album, of the pitch for this promo I haven't listened to yet: supposedly, it's metal and associated atmospheres for recovering addicts doing yoga, who aren't scared of triggering sounds, who don't want the sweety-pie BS of New Age.
Too long, but mostly keepers.
Southern Family: more of a compilation than a concept album. with contributions from Isbell, Mr. and Mrs. Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, Brandy Clark, and many more of producer Dave Cobb's famous and not-so-famous clients and other colleagues. John Paul White starts it with a farewell, but also a promise not to cry anymore, or not forever, being neither martyr nor saint, and most of the rest is a lot earthier, faster, funner and even funnier (with no lack of feeling) than I'd half-feared, while reading some of the song titles. I would like Zac Brown's track, "Grandma's Garden," to be shorter---we get it Zac, also lose the strings, please, and although Jamey Johnson's tendency to sound like Merle is getting handier, with the original sometimes fraying on his '15 duet album with Willie, JJ's "Mama's Table" unwisely invites comparisons with Hag classics like "Mama's Hungry Eyes" and "Mama Tried," not to mention Willie's "Family Bible."
But then young Anderson East pops up with "Learning," showing what he's learning from Sly Stone---only the good things, that is. (Which reminds me, as a Southerner: no mention of drugs, car crashes, title pawns, casinos, sure cures, tanning parlors, fracking---although Isbell's narrator does mention a relative going to "work way up North, where the weather goes berserk," which could be about the great Alaska Pipeline of the 70s or more recent eco-adventures). Shooter Jennings leads a stream-of-consciousness hoedown though a lively childhood, apparently; pretty good variety overall (though could use more of a sense of overalls, for atmosphere at least).

Speaking of  Dave Cobb, conceptual compilations are not quite his best move (are they anybody's?). but as usual, he tailors the production to the artist on Lori McKenna's The Bird and The Rifle---title track may be more sparse than spare, but that's the way she wrote it. More often, the arrangements and sound design are just polished enough to reflect emotional undercurrents (and tunefulness), carefully guarded by candid, succinct, sometimes blunt, occasionally harsh (but going for judicious, not kneejerk-judgmental) words.
The arrangement is timed to go with emerging, perhaps reluctant degrees of empathy w both fules in "Old Men Young Women": kind of a head-shaking, been-there perspective---she's, what, 47 now, after all.
Not that she's incapable of sentiment---would have been interesting to hear her version of "Girl Crush", which she co-wrote; she does include "Humble and Kind", a hit for Tim McGraw (didn't somebody on Nashville cover this set's opener, "Wreck You"? If not, they should). And in "All These Things" she lets the shiny imagery run and run through her fingers. But soon enough, she's waking up early enough to slip away from a reunion, leaving a couple of good goodbyes, especially "If Whiskey Were A Woman, " which is also a note to self, to get real about her own limitations. Mind you,  McGraw's cover of "Humble and Kind" is a thrilling social love quest, inspiration as tingle, humility and kindness as in imaginative realness.
Brandy Clark, Big Day In A Small Town: Alfred Soto's review is otm, especially re Clark's tendency to otn writing and recording, now, as he says, mostly compensated for----or *more* compensated for---I did enjoy some of the tracks on the debut, like one confiding one woman's secret way of dealing with mundane miseries (weed), but then o course gotta have a Drugs Are Bad number. But, as he also says, the writer's workshop self-policing is still there. I haven't stayed interested in the first three tracks yet (though I like how the first one is a more cheerful and sardonic incarnation of the Kinks' "Everybody's In Show Biz," just which it built/sustained more musical momentum), and all three basically give us the whole thing in the first verse and chorus---that Music Row thing---but "Broke" finds fuel "drinkin' generic" and econo-gas bass, while still-narrowly selecting from familiar materials, like the previous songs. Starting here, though (maybe earlier; I'll keep listening), she seems to trust the pickers and herself (as lyricist, melodist, co-writer, whatever, also as singer)to
let the sounds find more meaning in and under and around, even in front of the words.
And yeah, now her tendency to under-sing can pay off better, especially in the candid closer, where she advises her long-dead, still much-missed Daddy that he checked out right on time: "Since you went to Heaven, the whole world's gone to Hell." Good election year song, but seems personal enough, like my fave, "You Can Come Over": "I'd put on that record/You'd give me that look"  with strong, gently persistent bass and drums vs. stern "You can't come in." Also "Daughter" builds from familiar materials, with just the right details (not presenting detail as significance itself, a tendency Alfred pegs), incl. the last second twist of the punch line.
Willie Nelson, For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price----thought it might be a mite solemn, with him thinking of his late great early boss, longtime colleague---they made some good duet albums, though the one where they added Merle was a bit too solemn, or so I thought at the time--but no, it's fun, without getting happy in the wrong places, and though Willie's voice is worn, he's focused and intense, without overdoing it, of course. Guest house band The Time Jumpers are ace, and even more (unfussy) detail is added from time to time by Jim Horn's reeds, Charlie McCoy's vibes, Mickey Raphael's harmonica---even get some countrypolitan strings, conducted by subcult figure Bergen White, also on backing vocals---Edd Hurt got me into him, diggin' deep---they glide behind and occasionally among Willie and the Jumpers, never getting in the way. 12 songs, 40 minutes, like this oughta be. (Dunno if Ray himself recorded every one of these, like Willie-writ "It Will Always Be". but they all meld with his sound and feel).If I were a vinyl man I'd buy the LP, if I were a drinking man I'd crack a cold one now---shine on, Indian Summer pre-Harvest-Moon noon.



Chely Wright, I Am The Rain: the title doesn't mean she cries all the time; it's a line from "You Are The River", which, in a classic country way, develops logically and poignantly and selectively from the observable physical relationship of rains and rivers. She takes realism inside "Blood and Skin and Bone": "I'm like a guillotine that's lost its point in a room of petty thieves/I'm like a teenage boy with a rake in his hand, starin' up at the leaves." And that is because "nothing around here makes sense since you've been gone." And the title is because she's a hunk of physical reality going to waste, "after God went to all the trouble to make me this way" (incl. "gay", as inferred here from a context subtly but never coyly provided on this album, as on 2010's Lifted Off The Ground, where she and producer Rodney Crowell (who also contributes backing vocals and a couple of co-writes here; ditto current producer Joe Henry) began to map a new country mainstream, or the old one modernized as a given: personal expression via personalized signposts pointing toward the familiar, incl. stuff maybe not talked about too much, or talked about too much, but the discipline of music can create the balance, externalizing without generalizing too much. And the careful clarity of writing and performance is never hesitant (if she doesn't know where or if she's going, she just says so), never murky (the sound is grounded in shades and planes of bass: maybe upright, and/or fretless electric, with just as much unobtrusive, non-chamber-y clarinet, occasional notes from the left side of an electric piano; steel, 12-string, other guitars glint and glide just fine, passing through).
Scenes shift: "Mexico" is from the POV of a truckstop waitress just this side of the border: "Every shift is different and the same....long-distance truckers, runaways and thieves...they're all headin' for the promised land...the dusty TV blares the local news." No complaints: it pays okay, and she's gotten  away from her dangerous husband, but sometimes she wonders about "heading further South". in a good way, of course. "Where Will You Be" seems at first like it could be about the Rapture---"when it happens, will you be driving your car?"---and maybe it is, but mainly it's about "when you realize what the mess you've made." Tough, but she gets more empathetic in a sequel: "You're fighting battles in your head...we messed up what God said"---which is even more reason to give the singer a call sometime so they can hash it out. Just maybe incl. face to face.
"You" might often mean "I", judging by her autobiography, rather than the traditional gender-avoiding gay usage of the second person; she doesn't change "lying by her side" covering Dylan's "Tomorrow is A Long Time"--the best version of this song I've heard, other than Elvis P.'s. (And she pays tribute to a cosmically beautiful female "born at midnight...Haloma, Princess of the Prairie Rain", who also brings fire, but no complaints (so could be about clearing the underbrush, like Mother Nature intends).
But "you" doesn't always mean herself, or doesn't seem to in the sad 'n' sexy "Next To You", though she might be talking to the mirror in a house divided in "Holy War", a spooky modern descendant of Floyd Tillman's late 40s winter field report, "This Cold War With You."
Carrie Rodriguez, Lola: songs in English, Spanish, Spanglish, combining country, conjunto, ranchera, other, in shifting shades and tones of saudade (doesn't always play her fiddle, but it def informs her writing and arranging)--also considerable vitality, but she's among the young and restless still, more than ever, really. "I dreamed I was Lola Beltran, and you were Javier Solis" could be blissed out, but it's in a foreboding minor key, like she knows how it will be when she wakes up. How sad 'n' sexy songs can change when you're living them. But she's proceeding, and ready to school Nashville on latina blends, even wants to "tell country where to stick the 'e'." Is this a drug song?
Aubrie Sellers, New City Blues: As must always be mentioned in front, she's the daughter of Lee Ann Womack, stepdaughter of Frank Liddell, who produced primo albums of Womack, Lambert, Pistol Annies, and this Aubrie debut, which also incl. writing input from her biological, Jason Sellers, but she doesn't seem that anxious about the pressure. Maybe over-counters it some, though, when her opening "garage country" tag seems applied a tad too literally, as a whole roomful of heavy sounds can make her voice seem a bit anti-climatic, But when she's singing in front of vivid rhythm tracks (varied just so, and discreetly in check on a strong, flexible leash), with thee guitar effects as judiciously applied framing devices, she's got the presence to make it all work, rather than seem like some kind of trendy faux-indie applique on suburban mall denim (we'll probably get the latter from someone else).
Also, Sellers seems implicitly to acknowledge her apprenticeship with some speculative glosses on the tried 'n' true, but nothing overused: "Dreaming In The Day" combines sinuous verses and a sensuous chorus with crisp beats like early and even relatively recent Rosanne Cash, when RC  leads her  art-pop-country moves out of the woodcuts and into a more radio-ready direction (def not overused)' "Liar Liar" doesn't bother to set yore pants on fire like the younger, pyro Lambert did, because they already are on fire, in her level gaze, 'til she drops you (so she sounds more like the present Lambert, solo or w Annies). "Humming Song" brings convergence and reconfiguration like recent Ashley Monroe. "Like The Rain" even sounds a bit like Mom, but Womack is probably never going to be this young-girl optimistic about a bad boy again (even a few Beach House/The xx fluttery-heart arpeggios toward the end, for more generational irony, if you want to take it that way).
And somehow, most of the album comes off as distinctive and satisfying, so far. Helps that her point of view, despite the co-writes, provides a convincing, unity: no striking insights, but like the title says, here's some new, some city, some blues. The young voice of experience. (PS:  "Paper Dolls" sounds solemn and monotonous so far, so haven't really heard the words yet, but out of 14 tracks, I liked about 7, 8, maybe 9, initially and later. Still might lose or gain a few (jeez, 14 of these really are too many, either way).
Randy Rogers Band, Nothing Shines Like Neon: Mostly not terribly hooky, although "Old Moon New" and "Meet Me Tonight" are back-to-back exceptions, being Toby Keith-worthy prom ballads. Rogers doesn't seem to have the vocal range of Keith, but he knows he can finesse it, so doesn't strain. And that's how it all works out: journeyman smarts and skills, with an insistence that doesn't oversell, just finds familiar ways, fresh enough here, to get through more gray days and nights, especially nights, with another dance, or another sway, limber and tight enough. Lots of restlessness, discontent, wry self-awareness, "Things I Need To Quit," and "Take It As It Comes,"the one song about being satisfied and even laidback, for the moment, is also the most cranked-up. Guest Jerry Jeff used to spend all his time "chasin' life, but tonight I'm livin' mine"---before mentioning "ridin' deranged" rather enthusiastically, like he might be working his way back to that (he's sitting down, but not still). On "Actin' Crazy," Jamey Johnson does his best Merle---but that's about it; this ain't no guestfest ---okay, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski show up on another one, but these unoriginal stalwarts never get upstaged. So,"Pour One For The Poor One", and know like they know: they got something to be modest about.

Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin: No surprises, but in a good way. Voice and guitar are relaxed, but always right there for every turn and shade of words & music. He knows when to play the old man card for just a little more vulnerability, also humbly grateful/ready for appearance of Sheryl Crow on "Embraceable You." Good off-handed on-point duet with Cyndi Lauper on "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," where Paul Franklin's steel guitar seems to fill in for reed instruments during the b-sections; usually, he brings a suggestion of western swing or that Hawaiian trend in country & pop (from the 40s, was it? A friend's greatuncle's band played a lot of that in Alabama and Georgia back around then).
Willie's bluesy, sometimes corrugated picking and strumming keeps things from getting too smooth (Dean Parks' guitar is just smooth enough for nice contrast), and the small combo turns on a dime of course: we get sister Bobbie's and Matt Rollings' acoustic and/or electric pianos, with occasional Hammond B-3s, Mickey Raphael's harmonica, Jay Bellerose's brushes & kickdrum, and a couple guys' bass guitars sounding acoustic. Limber ballads and up-tempos; the seemingly performer-proof title track seems like the deepest thing here, prob cause it is, as written (and performed).
Re lack of surprises, not quite a morning buzz, but fortifying. So the minor key melody of "Summertime" can seem like depths of irony waiting in the creek, depending on your circumstances.
The Honeycutters, On The Ropes---something of a---I don't quite wanna say "antidote"---but a refreshing change from the derivative, predictably enjoyable limits of Margo Price's debut (a Loretta Lynn knock-off would have more of a kick if emulating LL's daring-for-the-times topical testimonials, and oops here's the original back with a good new album of her own). Amanda Anne Platt doesn't sound like anybody else I can think of: she and her bandmates (especially the drummer) grab my attention right away, in a straightforward yet detailed way; obviously they've been around, gaining the confidence not to oversell the pictures from life's other side, and their well-traveled set list. However, her plain voice could use a bit more of her good overdubbed harmonies (some harmonies are also credited to the musicians, but I haven't noticed male voices yet). And she should leave more room (shut up more often) for solos, though the accompaniment gets breathing room, even swirling room at times, without things getting crowded--except, done this way, her songs can seem wordier than they might in a different kind of production. Still, track by track, I already like and am intrigued by most of it--well def keep listening, which seems to be the plan.
(One exception: will prob keep fast-fwding past the sole cover, an exceedingly long-ass version of L. Cohen's "Hallelujah"---enjoyed Willie's version, but jeeeez Rufus Wainwright's, Jeff Buckley's, who knows how-many others...this is not one if your more performer-proof songs.)
Colvin & Earle: Her gentle voice, sometimes in-one-ear-and-out-the-other solo, seems to draw out the tune-friendly side of his, compatibly enough with the tuneful tunes he (as usual) writes, and their co-writes are thoughtfully straightforward, sometimes with unexpected nuance in the performance: first verse of "Tell Moses" slyly promises "milk and honey on the other side," then shifts to exhorting Selma-to-Montgomery marches---nice jump, although it just now led me to fleeting connection w MLK's love life: truly, truly perish the thought. But there might be some subconscious Goodbye Earle link he's making between his own, frequently outspoken idealism and even longer history of zig-zag wandering between the sheets and divorce courts (not to mention child-support schedules).
(Colvin's proximity may also have something to do with the old coop-flyer actually bearably singing "Don't question why she needs to be so free," while waving a wet hankie at departing "Ruby Tuesday.")
The best in the writing-advanced-by-singing class is also best in show: "You're Right (I'm Wrong"), which is succinctly confessional, but also prowly, even Stonesy without taking the "Miss You" booty call suggestions----even "I'm missin' you tonight," with just a tad of thirsty harmonica----too much past the furtive urgency of tempo (no disco, heaven forbid) and headphone Easter eggs of certain notes played by Earle and producer Buddy Miller (who never gets to noodle like on some BM albums).
Also! "The Way That We Do" so far seems like a good Cobain ballad, though without the KC moan. "You're Still Gone" is good too. But sometimes the gentler side can seem the wimpier side of folkie summer camp, maybe being reconciled to your own emotional range involves too leads to too much resignation,too much writing, mebbe (although the other covers, of "Tobacco Road" and "You Were On My Mind," are not as spirited as they should be either).
Anyway, several keepers so far for sure.

Listening to Tomi Lunsford's Come On Blue, and so far have 0 clue why Marcus hears it as "sometimes hobbled", though with 12 unhurried tracks in 37 minutes, there's a lot to take in: the turns in her phrases, arrangement and maybe rhythmic sense(s) have kind of an oops upside the head effect, which seems deliberate, though maybe something about impulse control too, another theme. See, right off, she's cheerfully acknowledging that things get kinda wild around her, but she's hoping you'll keep an open mind and come see her again, the good Lord willin' and whether the creek rises again or not during tomorrow night's cocktail hours. The playful and versatile aspects of her musicality do remind me of some tracks on Terry Garthwaite's solo debut, more than TG with Joy of Cooking, but the voice and lyrics make me think about what if Janis Joplin had reached middle age, bumping along in her dusty urban sprawl country excursions, the ones she began near the end, via "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Mercedes-Benz."
"Go To People" finds her noting that the light's green but she's sidelined, not used to driving, but all her go-to people are gone; for instance, she had "a couple in town, but one got married, and the other got drowned." Oh well, take a headache pill, check her dog in the backseat, he's turning into a cat and giving pithy advice, so seems like he can be go-to too, at least for now.
But she's socially concerned as well, wants to see all dreamers taken care of, and reminds us that "Jesus Was A Union Man", a jumpercablestronica affirmation.
What a trip. Back to listening.
Kelsey Waldon, I've Got A Way: amen to that. Although don't agree w Powers' First Listen intro: "deadpan"? She's right that it be a pan full o' feeling, but Waldon sounds pretty upfront emotional, without ever emoting---she's still indignant when she thinks about people who have fucked with her, or tried to, but mainly impatient, cos she's on her way, so get out of it---unless you've got some endearing young or old charms; she can take a detour while looping back to where "Life Moves Slow", although she's only passing through and doesn't slow down that much herself, and what she really likes about it is it's where "folks still speak their minds": her true roots, or the ones she wants to claim.
Although, like Lori McKenna, she can still relive-live the spooked early displacement in a hometown, like "I couldn't be what my friends wanted me to be"---even aside from what her parents etc. expected. This is "There Must Be A Someone (I Can Turn To), where she's reaching way back to perhaps commercially, even culturally premature country-to-rock-folk etc crossover tendencies of the Gosdin Brothers' original, from an album they made before the one with Gene Clark (her  dogged cover cuts the mopey Byrds' version).
Whole thing has spare, denim jacket, Byrdsy, pre-Eagles, electric country-folk appeal, not too trad and certainly not too fancy, though as with Honeycutters, this could use a little vocal variety, like occasional duet or harmonies. Steel guitar and maybe 12-string, sometimes, for the rhythm guitar---especially like that they both get more to do on "Travelin' Down That Lonesome Road", over a dark drone, and Waldon's voice is fuller and more projected than usual. Bass and drums always good, esp. on headphones.
As on Tomi Lunsford's album, this is in the old LP ratio: here we get 11 songs/38 minutes and change---doesn't get me going like Lunsford's, but it's pretty good
Dwight Yoakam, Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars…: he's high & lonesome, but not too thin, nasal or tight, got that bluesier side of bluegrass, flexible enough for all the twists and turns of yonder Hollywood and Beverly Hills, also almost a bit of blue yodel, at appropriate intervals. Like the occasional guest voices too, would like more or any females, since female voices have kept me listening to contemporary bluegrass, somewhut (also to contemporary punk-new-wave-etc).
Took me a couple of tracks to focus, but particular faves so far incl. "Listen", which is a little slower than usual and has kind of an Everlys feel, also Dolly Parton's"Two Doors Down", with the barstool as tombstone and/or urn: seems like that honky tonk bluegrass I've always wondered about (title of an early Ricky Skaggs album, but considering how pious he got and maybe already was, hard to picture him in such a place). Good if not strictly necessary revamp of "Guitars Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music", also, fave of all so far is "Purple Rain", now with a brisker, still pensive bluegrass cadence, reminding me a little of Hindu Love Gods' version of "Raspberry Beret."
(Would like to hear Willie sing "Purple Rain" at the original tempo(Also him and/or Yoakam doing "Pale Blue Eyes", but that's another matter.
Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth starts with "Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)" some kind of basic training, initiation ritual, hazing, pop quiz, agility test for the ears: all over the place, and think fast in them headphones. "Breakers Roar" is the pop narcotic, an invitation to oblivion, rapture of the deep, hang yore head over, Billy Bob, while protesting that "it's just a dream." And it is, like the dutiful jive you recite in "Keep It Between The Lines, " while you and the night and the music also signal what the military calls "Insubordination of Manner." But still, you keep on with it, so it's mixed signals too. Then "Sea Stories" brings a bold old salt, hopping over the waves to Waylon's trademark wun-too, eat-shit bass lick, just fine 'n' dandy 'til your hick accent mangles all those foreign names you're bragging bout having been through. Some guys are like that, no matter how far around the globe they trot---maybe a take-off on "politically incorrect" Duck Dynasty etc professional rednecks, but considering the title of the album, maybe a note to self as well. Ditto the neurotic hipster pegged in "In Bloom"---but then a couple of romantic tributes, sincere, not sappy, no strain--with the early 70s Waylon-Van Morrison vocal elements going more to the latter: no scat-singing, but hard short bursts, of notes, clearly conveying the lyrics and tune (or tunefulness).
Plenty of gusto in all the layered tracks, suggesting at times Norman Whitfield's psychedelic soul productions of the Temptations, but also Waylon's eat-shit bass going to psychedelic soul disco, kind of? But also steel guitars, and other things that show he's been listening to all that crossover, all that back-and-forth, really, of the late 60s and early 70s, of Elvis, Tony Joe White, the aforementioned artists, maybe some Lee Hazlewood too, and cratedigger bait as well. The can't-be-satisfied lyrics, in terms of what's up front and implied, find musical release anyway, but a very restless kind. And the romantic tributes, all two of 'em, are followed by the bellowing "Call To Arms"-- all this attitude, yet NPR's Ann Powers says he isn't a punk; supposed to have something about the birth of his son? Not reading much of that backstory stuff yet; I always try to let the music do the talking, and so far this hasn't let me drift back to Websurfing w the headphones on (I try not to do that face to face or screen to screen, but if music lets me, so be it).
Charlie Daniels, Night Hawk: the title character, that quiet fella over there, lost his wife and babies in a sagebrush fire, so best not mess with him, This here set is at home on the emotional and musical range, so we also get a cowgrass "Big Balls In Cowtown" and Western Swing "Stay All Night"---riding econo, and sounds like he might be playing all the instruments (no drums, that I've noticed yet, anyway---plus a couple of re-done co-writes, "Billy The Kid" and "Running With The Crowd", plainspoken, but more cautionary than preachy, as he keeps a sharp eye on the party (the latter song could be taken as something about runaway populism, as well as reg'lar Saturday nights getting carried away, turning into shoot-outs and necktie parties----I wonder; he's managed to stay out of any political news that I've seen this year, unlike his sometime talk radio colleague, Ted Nugent).
My favorite is "The Goodnight Loving Trail", a real place, main route of many a cattle drive, and name of course ready for implicit irony in this campfire waltz, at first tweaking the beard of the "old woman"---somebody who can't work the range no more, so he's the cook--but the narrator then admits "someday I'll be wearin' the apron too," cos what else can he do? No place else to go, as the desert wind dries him out, first preserves and then scatters his increasing flakiness---I'm paraphrasing, but not by much---also helps that CD's voice is as dry as the wind; no tears. (This is by Utah [Bruce] Phillips, AKA "U. Utah Figment", as referenced by the elusive UP's sometime duet partner, Rosalie Sorrels.)
Also "Ghost Riders In The Sky" and "The Old Chisholm Trail" give us more of the cinematic side, while a somewhut self-mocking serenade of a leetle cowboy fan makes for a slightly sly finale, mixing sentiment and sediment (he knows he's old and his themes are too, duh).
Merle Haggard's Live In San Francisco 1965 opens with a series of endings, which work pretty well: the last 48 seconds of "Devil Woman" is about all I can take, especially since he clones the hair-oil sanctimony of Marty Robbins' original delivery---then make way for the exciting climaxes of "Movin' On", "Orange Blossom Special", and "Love Is Gonna Live Here Again"! First full-length (2:58) is a very fine "Blue Yodel", with Johnny Gimble's blue fiddle swinging out and back into a tensile combo of early Strangers (later, Bonnie Owens is the effective singing actress on "Lead me On", and caps the uptempo "Cowboy's Sweetheart" with her own, Swiss-tending yodels, while the rhythm guitarist enjoys working at "Harold's Super Service", except for the big guy who always wants like the sign says for a little bitty amount of gas, even at the Pearly Gates). Mostly we get Reader's Digest editions of mostly original early highlights, some already classic, all quite fresh, as is the Hag's voice, yodeling and all---the more striking after last year's collab with Willie, Django and Jimmie, where his always right but economizing sometimes ragged delivery made it not that much of a shock when he checked out with respiratory problems. But the deft terseness of his final round is accentuated here too, making the candid pictures, cards from life's "other" side. cut just right: ain't that it, often as not. "Okie From Musgokee" and "Fightin' Side of Me" have yet to show up, but/and "A Soldier's Letter" certainly works as a sign-off. 16 songs, 30 minutes.

This isn't great, but fun, and gets better as it goes along (they credit New Lost City Ramblers for what they've lifted, and the folks NLCR lifted it from as well)(spoken stuff is is speedy, brief, and all at the beginning of this live-in-the-Stanford-radio-station set: no interviews, station IDs etc) orig posted on the Garcia side projects thread:
Hart Valley Drifters' Folk Time: not trying to sound strictly mountain-y---maybe a little too relaxed at times--but the picking is sharp and vivid, also without trying too hard, as Garcia trades off guitar and banjo with Ken Frankel; David Nelson's rhythm guitar and Robert Hunter's bass keep chugging along, and things get more engaging when Frankel plays fiddle for just about all of the second half (not much dobro that I've noticed, but Norm Van Maastricht gets bonus points for his name). Bluesier on "Sugar Baby" and then, right at the end, Mississippi Sheiks' "Sitting On Top Of The World", cool and bouncing us to another, contiguous world, just down the mountain aways, where Garcia has no prob suggesting Mississippi John Hurt sitting in with the Sheiks. I'd put this track in a Garcia acoustic comp (he's already the star here, but never ever hogging the spotlight, not that there is one).
― dow, Friday, December 2, 2016
dow, Tuesday, December 6, 2016 5:16 PM (three weeks ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink
Also digging Peter Stampfel and the Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Fiddle/Mandolin Swarm's Holiday for Strings, which, on "New Polly Wolly Doodle", for instance, and also this cosmic string band version of "Telstar", and all over, really, is quite action-packed, without seeming too busy or tweety. The voice sounds older, but still distinctively right and ripe for this music.
Minute2Minute, Postcards From El Bossa: Even more border-crossing than rough-edged, concisely eloquent lead throat Catherine Zavala's mostly late, often great co-led Irish-Latin-polka-bouzouki & Western band The Mollys* (who still materialize on some St. Patrick's Days), this set soon produces a CZ-ized Irish ballad that zings and twists my heartstrings for a while; more often we get dusty, tough-minded, klezmer-gypsy-Iberian-accented traveler's tales, frequently instrumental, through the shadows and flames of a campfire on some frontier.
*for more on The Mollys, please see (c'mon!) my archived Voice saga: https://myvil.blogspot.com/2005/12/clockwork-pinata.html

Loretta Lynn, Full Circle: Other than Sheila Jordan, can't think of an octogenarian who sounds this youthful, though never callow, heaven forbid (although callow could be okay  at this point). So into it she even tends to rush the beat on some ballads, which is fine by me--well, mainly notice it on "Secret Love," which is appropriate: "My secret love's no secret any more," awright. Never hasty, and always very up front: last night she lay in a warm bed with her husband and baby, now she's lying on the cold cold ground beside her "Blackjack Davy", not sounding rowdy, but ready for the next chapter, w no regrets (so far). More about love/martial conflicts, warnings and logged crashes, some other perspectives. Good duet with Willie as finale. Still prefer Van Lear Rose for new original songs, but this has several chestnuts I hadn't heard. Good stuff.
Been listening to Amanda Shires' 2016 This Is My Land some more, and guess she's trying for a transparent effect, letting and trusting us to make what we will of her crisp, flexible, sometimes prowly, always at least somewhat evocative tunes and words--but she sure keeps a lid on things. 10 songs, 33 minutes could have a classic effect, but some of the narrative and clues stop too soon for caring, the slow tempos get to be too similar in overall effect, despite some hooks and astute turns of phrase, also the accompaniment is constrained; husband Isbell's guitar gets to release exactly two, perfectly placed, unmistakably Isbellian notes, one acoustic, one slide electric; too bad Dave Cobb, though here as always the sympatico producer, couldn't have seen his way to negotiate just a bit more instances of cuttin' loose, here and there, if not, perish the thought, for a whole track.
And her thin, clear, quiet voice (Isbell in there occasionally, but muffled) really is the lid, however transparent; it doesn't shine that much, and may be all she's got to give as a performer, aside from her under-utilized fiddle, which does add a few highlights or glints.
But she can write, and here's hoping somebody (Bonnie Raitt, Miranda Lambert, Jason Isbell) covers her.
Buck Owens and the Buckaroos' The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 starts with so-what songs and subdued settings, but his voice is already flexible and on point, mining each note and syllable just enough to check for whatever might be worth extracting--carefully but quickly (2 hours, 12 minutes of music here, and virtually every track is under three minutes, some of the best and worst just over two).
In the booklet he's the first to assert that these early tracks were not so hot, because he didn't have the cred to do things his way, until the success of "Under Your Spell Again" proved his point (several follow-ups glance off its template; whatever the commercial results, takes a while before one sounds nearly as good). It's still a startling quality bump---to a leap, the classic BO suddenly materializing, declaring (no complaints, not like in those apprentice chores), "You've. Got. Me. Unn-der, your spellll again, " doing all the things he does with beats and short phrases in the California melding of country with rock 'n' roll appeal----in brief of course, though later he'll sometimes bring in a suggestion of Latin and/or Caribbean curvature in the held vocal notes and supporting sounds, or, more on the per se country side, wail each note of the chorus over a thin ticky-tocky snare and rhythm guitar pick: this is music from another hit factory, for sure. Starting, as he says, with the rule of treble---no more tracks "where it sounds like the bass player is standing in front of the singer"----and little mono speakers in the control room, to check how the mix will sound on transistors and car radios: he wants it clear, and it sounds like he wants it edgey, baby: the bright metallic "Bakersfield Sound" of money-making machinery, in synch and bouncing off the tin roof sun, with jangling wires, currents, breezes, dust, foliage, and the available or at least glimpsed waters: all in California chrome reflections, cruising by.
Cruising by what, you may ask. Well--- not that he spends much time, after label-imposed early stints, hunkered down and brooding, but when he does, it's all somebody else's fault. Or, if he gets up and stumbles by the house that used to be his home, where his wifenkids still live, where he mumbles that he maybe kinda blew it---but he paid for it, and there they are, all warm and together and shit---but he can make himself grudgingly acknowledge his sins and thus join them in Heaven someday, after everybody's dead---and this is all, at most, that taking responsibility etc can get you---so the exception proves the rule.
But he has no flair for "J'accuse!", nor for guilt and expiation and other whiskey-selling Jukebox Gothic rituals, none of that cobwebbed indoor stuff. This is Cali, dude! Responsibility and wide-opening-mindedness gradually appear organically---transition first noticed in "Mental Cruelty", where he brings Rose Maddox into a Divorce Court reenactment of how she took him to the cleaners; really nobody's fault, shit happens, but all she had to do was drop those two little words---one starts with an "M.", the other with a "C."---and cha-ching. But, as she recites her part, dryly enough to seem wry, and hollow-toned, suggesting a prisoner-of-war's forced confession, subliminally conveyed---time enough to devise a code, in that cell, she caps it all by barely bearing down on the mention of his "way of life", which she declined to participate in any longer...and this is allowed! In a perhaps alternate time, he proposes that they stop "Kickin' Hearts Around", 'cause it's just too time-and-maybe-other consuming; in "Loose Talk", he and Maddox rally against a common threat, of a mobocracy of gossiping, even gaslighting neighbors and fremenies: he assures her that the terrible things they tell her he does go ditto for tales of that flaming Rose. This same thing happens in another song on down the line----see, you just gotta keep moving. In yet another possibly alternate-universe turn, he gets turned on, not scandalized, by her going out, "Foolin' Around"---didn't know she had it in her, maybe, or maybe his competitive side, gets turned on, in a sporting way---he cheerfully proposes that she "come on home, and fool around with me.." Subsequently, when he's got "A Tiger By The Tail", he sounds a bit apprehensive, but also "one hand waving free", as young Mr. D, can only wish for---here 'tis, over the Buckaroos' rodeo jolt and swirl (despite a few duds and placeholders, sound quality gets better and better, with more room for instrumental interplay, without stretching out).
The swirl gets get a tad braincloudy in the resonant street-wide sunlight of "Waiting In Your Welfare Line", where an inspired gentleman caller is sure you'll give him another shot---after all, he gave up everything the first time he saw you, and it'll all make sense when you bring it back---and if you do so in a "Welfare Cadillac", that's gravy---that song isn't here, but it's nice the way this one leaves its strictures in the dust of absurdist pop social commentary, if you want to take it as such. Mostly, of course, we get good clean fun---the speedy corn-plucking seasons of Hee-Haw aren't far away--and here we also have some vocal x instrumental turns that still conjure drooling Byrds, Beatles, Parsons, Mavericks, and certainly certainly Yoakam (for instance).
John Prine, For Better Or Worse: got this pegged as About Half Good, usually the half when his duet partner takes off and leaves him modestly murmuring along in the background, but also for instance Iris DeMent and Amanda Shires know how to get the repartee going (usually his strong suit, o course).
Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, The Complete Trio Collection: the title isn't quite accurate, as the Wikipedia article on this round-up points out: several more tracks from the original Trio and Trio II's 80s and 90s sessions turned up on solo albums, as did a few of the 20 that are included on the bonus disc. Some of the alternate takes and previously unreleased titles (which could have added variety of style, detail, and/or dynamics to the troika's LP-length albums) sung strictly or nearly solo, seem more effective than the previously released versions: when the song is about and from a solitary place, other voices, at least when they enter at predictable points, can slightly dilute the brew, pad the impact, no matter how much they want you to know, " You 'n' me both, Kid" and furthermore ," I'm with you, Sister."
But those responses are never far away, even in the darkest, starkest moments. It may seem, especially given Parton's weepier tendencies as singer and writer, that they'll all get stuck on a lover's cross, and they def have their hang-ups, but don't we all, and ain't that country, but mainly there is, often enough (usually every few seconds, only a few DOA, although that's another country tradition too, of course), at the very least, an implicit yet not too polite strength in self-assertion and solidarity. Which certainly goes with the blend of traditional and modern, in the sounds and sentiments. "Lover's "Return", written or anyway copyrighted by principals of the Original Carter Family, is mountain-y and civil, while informing the one who once dumped her, and now comes crawling back, "God doesn't give us back our youth." Parton writes and sings "Wildflowers" with folk tropes calmly moving to her wish granted, "the garden set me free.(Had to be, for the garden's sake as well: "The flowers grew/Too close together.").
Ronstadt's robust tones are at their most flexible here, sometimes suggesting Karen Carpenter negotiating the maybe chromatic turns of "Goodbye To Love", but then again (sounds like) LR wisely lets Parton and Harris take most of the highest notes, but say if Carpenter had lived to cover "Live To Tell" or something with the same burnished intrigue---not the cheesier 80s….mainly I'm thinking of the 1987 Trio version of Anna and Kate McGarrigle's "I've Had Enough", which is immediately recognizable by its combination of romantic to almost but never quite post-romantic eloquence, blunt and frilly, in lyrics and melody. It sounds sophisticated, wised-up yet still maybe naive and nostalgic at some points, or wanting to be, hoarding the crumbs, the scars, the hopes, the history (in the Wikipedia entry, Parton is quoted as saying they didn't understand what the hell "After The Gold Rush" meant, and supposedly they called Neil and he said he didn't know either, but conceptually it's perfectly, ruefully at home in these sessions, while still sounding a little drippy, as always--though more so here, when Parton changes the candidly confessional "I felt like getting high" to feeling like she could cry). The alternate "I've Had Enough" is one of the few easy choices for exclusion, since it draws the harmonists into tiny waves of insular, rainy day consolation around the old upright (no longer the cosmopolitan, note-bending electric on Trio II). This is good as far as it goes,(which is backwards, sonically: they're not walking it like they talk it), but reminds me of the stylish young Canadienne secretary in an 80s (maybe early 90s) documentary about the McGarrigles, who said that their songs reminded her of "what the nuns used to make us sing," and why she moved to the big city.
(Meanwhile the Sisters McG. mine their rich mix of signals in several directions on the 2016 CD debut of Pronto Monto, from 1978: the sometimes exhilarating results are still mixed too, appropriately enough)(wonder what 70s Neil Young thought about them?)
Emmylou Harris's choice of material is not so striking, but in this context, her solo voice can seem to draw in properties of the other two---who, when they come in, can seem like further definitions, a new mix, of her high and low ends---until the unified effect becomes a sonic spectrum (helps with the nuances and other details too).
As far as left-behinds now adding the aforementioned variety of etc., the hymn "Softly and Tenderly" is just like the title says without cloying or clotting. The Roebuck Staples-co-written "You Don't Knock" truly and briskly believes in abstaining from timidity at Heaven's door. "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" is Parton leading a tailfeather tambourine handclapping parade in the face of and past another no-good ex, with another reminder of what's being missed on the Hallelujah Trail (a good thing or three).
Austin Lucas, Between The Moon and the Midwest:  wow---New West let him and this go because "didn't hear a single"? Not "Wrong Side of the Dream" or "Pray For Rain" or "The Flame", among others? Were Loveless etc. not on there yet? True that his own voice is pretty plain, sorta Sturgilly without SS's Waylonisms, but it's expressive enough and (increasingly) transparent enough for the writing and arrangements and overall sound quality, even without the other singers, who come in just enough; he's not riding their coattails.And "William" is one of the best tracks, with just his voice and acoustic. (Closer "Midnight" is follow-up maybe to "William" as well as "Kristie Rae", which also involves William.)
Western Centuries, Weight of the World: Thanks so much, alpine static, I'm totally smitten with this! Even the rueful philosophical response to life's funky details with is part of the honky tonk catchiness--just bite the token and roll with it, son. And daughter. Along with  Kelsey Waldon's album, here's another unexpected source of cool steel guitar. And the philosophical asides from daily-nightly rounds def. go w their Donna The Buffalo inclinations/connections, though all three songwriter-vocalists interact pretty seamlessly. I figure they bond via primo Hunter-Garcia x country jukebox staples (incl. yer better b-sides)

Lydia Loveless, Real: (after initial listens) Plenty of tumult in several, as written and sung, also nobody's slacking, but aren't shredding and headbanging sideways into the walls of the barn, cos no barn, for one thing: we're somewhere, several wheres, relatively smoother and more spacious, also it just isn't 'llowed : "On these January nights, when I hate my life, and try to start a fight, you're not falling for that one any more." So there's circling each other, plenty tension, building too, some sparks and pullme-pushyou, but relatively civil fuckyou, and meltdowns are (relatively) more implosive or one-to-one than previous, though no mumblecore; she can still project.
First couple tracks are gonna have to grow on me, with vocal lines smoothly extended, guitars tumbling and tunneling around her, but with a space between her and them--kind of like Petty and Heartbreakers with a better Petty. "More Than Ever" is where she laughs a little and then starts to let it blurt---"If you want self-control I'd have to break my fingers"---but doesn't let it rip past a certain dramatically timed point.
"Heaven" has slightly shuddering bassheart core, with very spare electronics occasionally flickering, checking in, whole thing pulling me in through the silence around it (in space no one can you scream).
"Out On Love" seems like she's been listening to (good) Patti Smith, with the well-paced drama again, "Bilbao" starts kinda like that, but suddenly she turns around, "Marry me, there's no place I'd rather be," kinda dreamily, but then again, "Even when the waves are ten feet tall, you don't look up", and when she comes back to the chorus, it might be "Bury me," working the Ohio country accent in a sneaky way, but just as sweet (maybe relating to how she wants a boy to come along and tell her not to jump off the roof--"There he is now, man!"---in "Real" which is not headbanging, but headjangling, and maybe she's been listening to Big Star too, yadda-yadda this is different but she's got me into most of it so far.
Later: Hell yeah, it adds some different (jangle, dance etc.-associated, but still chunky) sounds, didn't grab me like the previous sets did, yknow from the first second (I'm spoiled), but it keeps building, and it's always her and no other: that voice, those words, sometimes almost spinning out of control, willfully and compulsively I reckon.



Later still: In response to a query about Lydia Loveless's Real, re country etc. content: you should def check her previous albums ( and we should both check the EP Boy Crazy). The country elements come through more consistently, more variously, maybe more compatibly than on Real, which I hear (compared to previous) as indie rock, for lack of a better term: personal expression, but in a more or differently familiar context---also she quotes the object of her romantic challenges etc. to the effect that he's wise to her emotional fireworks now, so she's trying something different, sometimes cool, sometimes uncertain, but up front about that too, and--despite outbursts, there's now something along the lines of: "Think it, feel it, all the way through---but then: hold onto it, squeeze it, make it bleed, if it can, and then send it thisaway."
(Somebody says she reminds him of PJ Harvey, someone else gets very excited by idea of "country PJ Harvey.")Wouldn't surprise me if she's thinking of PJ Harvey. I should add that this is also the first album that hasn't grabbed me by the back of the neck on first listen. And while The Only Man is her most consistently country-per-se album, there's a lot of punk, punky tonk (and some old school alt-rock and country) in her saga; she def belongs on the same label as the Mekons and Fulks and, lately, Freakwater. Since you like her and the idea of a country PJ Harvey, you might like Whitney Rose's Heartbreaker of the Year. which is revolving ballroom showdowns at last year's (and 1963's) Senior Prom, still savored: kinda Twin Peaks, but that was a country town too. (Meanwhile on Real, Loveless still works that drawly-flat-sharp-roiling Central Ohio country accent, but for comments on her peak more-overall-countryoid album so far, Somewhere Else, see http://thefreelancementalists.blogspot.com/2012/01/son-of-deed-poll-insightsalibites.html See also my coverage of her early works: http://thefreelancementalists.blogspot.com/2014/02/punky-tonk-purl.html

And my and others' comments on many matters Loveless on http://www.ilxor.com/ILX/ThreadSelectedControllerServlet?boardid=41&threadid=96598)

For the most part, I'm really enjoying Robbie Fulks' Upland Stories, especially the way he can shift from credibly translucent-oblique-opaque inner monologue, also something flatter, like an inner take-it-or-leave-it testimony, warning and/or epitaph, to something up front and nuanced. For the latter, "Needed" is sweet, fair-minded, bravely self-revealing straight talk from a youngish Dad to his late-teen son, inevitably a little bit of a guilt trip too, cos hey it's Dad. Could well imagine Tim McGraw or George Strait covering it, though would have to be just for wanting to; they'd probably hear this original version as definitive.
He can be funny too, finding new sprouts on the wooden sounds while picking retro with his widder aunt's stubborn (anti-Scruggs banjo) "new old man", and noting the latter's more practical-minded skillz; as for other aspects of his geriatric appeal, "Awww, I don't wanna think about that!" Later he does a loose-limbed, looser-livin' asshole dance to another inspired coffee breakdown----also a mellow acoustic-electric romantic ballad groove thing that comes off too James Taylor-y for me, and "Alabama At Night" seems way too wordy and awed-tourist-y to be the opener, especially, but most of this is pretty darn good.
I'm also wondering how (the heck) he fits in with the Mekons on their Jura....

hyped non-entity like Nashville's Aaron Lee Tasjan as a savior when all Tasjan is a Monkee-ized Nesmith East Nashville Traveling Wilbury with a line on well-made studio-bound "ironic" pop-country that doesn't say as much about normal guyz' needs This (Edd Hurt comment) made me want to listen! And (on Silver Tears) I like his pop sense--right away, he's bouncing me back to Shel Silverstein and Nilsson and any number of other whacky early 70s Top Forty maestros, incl. def incl. denim-jacketed one-hit wonders--but the only irony or "irony" I'm catching so far is the pop knack being married to discontented, self-and-other-observant lyrics, which can be trenchant--he knows he's hung up, not just an alienated depresso Americana-retro dreamer, warning of the urge to "lose yourself in refugee blues". but also sometimes finds himself wanting to "sleep through my dreams", which might be even worse! Although we all need a good night's sleep. And just like he warns us and himself, sometimes he does get lost in the spoon-June-goon-mooning, when the early 70s thing gets to early Eagles. But for instance "12 Bar Blues" is even intentionally funny, also discontented of course, pop and kind of barthought freeflow, and he's too restless to gets bogged down for *too* long---though I would cut a few of these tracks, but even they fit with the warts 'n' all self-portrait.
He should go up the block and roll another number for the road with the cool couple known as Shovels & Rope: they've been where and maybe what he's been, and they can still write from there, and even being a really cool couple with lots of friends all over, some of whom get to tell their own fave stories on Little Seeds, sometimes means, like after gruesome cop-civilian encounters, notes to self-and-others can incl. "Get together and share the bread/Let's get together and share the dread" and even the lovely "St. Anne's Parade" can incl. feeling like you're pinned in place, even when you've made the right turn, even when/because you keep a-goin--but hey, just keep a-goin', through the strangest feelings and the occasional slips, like recycled invocations of Gram Parsons and Tom Joad and "The Last Hawk"--"flyin' over Wood,stawk"--nooooo! But said Hawk seems to be Garth Hudson, who comes across as sly to possibly squirrelly in rare interviews, and this one does eventually land and takes off his boots and walks around and disappears down some side street after exploiting the high-flown Americana stuff one more time, so it all works out in character, as usual.
Opening track is instant classic, from somebody in the crowd, or maybe S&R's professional rival, or maybe them to rival: "Ah know exactly who yew think yew are/Ah found the little notebook yew left layin' on the bar"--also been to all of the same shows, dug in the same crates, took the same drugs prob'ly: "Call it even, call it even..." but maybe not in the best way, considering the tone.) A few duds too, but the good stuff gets better the more I listen. Reminds me I want to get back to some of those Delaney & Bonnie records, especially Motel Shot, without most or maybe any of their famous Friends, such as Clapton and Allman and Harrison.
Aaron Lewis, Sinner: title and theme song doesn't give us the devilish details, nor does Lewis's voice (though common-man robust and expressive, like the production) project the shadow of dark thangs you shouldn't ask about (so he gets a bit upstaged when Willie Nelson shows up occasionally on this track, albeit with an somewhat messed-up voice, alarmingly enough oafter two good albums this year; can go fast at that age). And Lewis is unwise enough to ask for even more comparison with Chris Stapleton by covering "Whiskey and You", this soon after the original release, too. Oh well, this album turns out to be all about a self-destructive man, after all, and about how there's more than one way to detail the damage.
Not that he can't enjoy it, and doesn't have a sense of humor, like "That Ain't Country" is not the usual tiresome sermon, and he does have a point, complaining about "good times and happy endings", at least, I'd like to think, if they're fake, but he (the guy in the song anway) does seem to be a stubborn cuss, who wants it to be all miserabilism all the time--then again he gets so happy with his Christmas misery list ( of tropes as sung by his hee-ros) that it starts to sound (well kind of) like "Twistin' The Night Away."
Also, there is kind of a perhaps accidentally pre-emptive strike/parody/answer song (re xpost Maren Morris on country as church), "Sunday Every Saturday Night", in which "whiskey fills the cracks in my soul...the preacher calls "Last Round"...Jesus says, "Son, you'll be alright", for a little while, o' course. It is whiskey and wry, close enough (and not too close) to deadpan to get banned, so far.
There are several a little too crisply articulate and well-balanced for convincing desperation---again, considering his handy, familiar vocal skills and their limits---but others tilt toward chaos or inchoate just enough---- the guy in "Mama" laments being "pieces glued together" in stead of scattered, and it unsettles me every time---he may be the guy (or a forerunner, John the Baptist) of the self-made, outward success in "Lost and Lonely", who is also a Richard Cory in the making, "an albatross around my own neck", hoping his wife (or maybe the other, previous woman) can hold everything together 'til he gets back, and they can "get back to where we started so long ago, before my demons took over"---a long-distance trucker with a speed habit (among other problems)? A serial killer? Surely something more like the former--"He sounded so normal, Officer."
"I Lost It All" is a very tuneful, graceful, soulful (not over- or undersung) blurt, and his 13-year-old daughter Zoe gets to rush the beat but not over- or undersing "Travelin' Soldier", yay.


Lewis is unwise enough to ask for even more comparison with Chris Stapleton
hmmmm. Almost stopped reading your post there.
― curmudgeon
He gets wiser pretty soon.
dow,
Perhaps its me, but wasn't sure from your lyrics-heavy description whether you liked the record, or not
― curmudgeon
I liked the *sound* right away---he recently closed out some late night talk show, you know how they usually put the musical artists right at the end, and I was shuffling by, getting ready for bed, but he caught my attention, held it, and I perked up enough to go google his album title (no idea of the Staind connection, had completely forgotten about them. Liked the sound of the stream right away too: Lewis's voice (though common-man robust and expressive, like the production) quite tasty high generic neurotic grooves, for the most part. I've come to like a few tracks more, a few less than I did early on, but it's worth checking out (especially on free Spotify, but might buy a nice-priced copy for somewhat spooky traveling companion, to keep me on my toes). I was also glad to find something sustaining yet plainer than much of my recent subtext-laden listening fare, something with yer more basic ups and downs.
― dow

NRBQ, HIgh Noon--A 50 Year Retrospective: in 1969, co-founder and sole constant of all line-ups Terry Adams was quoted by the New York Times as declaring that  NRBQ was based on "the Sun---Sun Ra and Sun Records." It's a good hook, and basically true---and would be, in the sense of an adventurous, driven and canny spirit shared, whatever the stylistic differences----even if, as he recounts in this set's booklet, Adams hadn't first visited Ra at the end of the 60s, when too much was up in the air; he was given a Saturn Records 45 RPM single of "Rocket Number Nine"---hearing this, Adams realized he had to get NRBQ back together and dedicate his life to music (the reunited combo's own version of "Rocket..." soon blasted off, sonically if not commercially).
High Noon's Disc I, from 2005-15, with Adams' all-new crew, is as consistent as the older material that follows, and makes another point by starting with "Love In Outer Space", a Sun Ra jazz  pop song, and
soon provides reminders that Sun Records was also a source in orbit through slices of the pie rising from the mid-20th Century after all that extended gestation, World Wars and more money spread around for a while and what-not, so variously tagged music and its consumers all had to get along somehow, and yadda yadda, American Studies stalwarts don't forget your songsters, or pop process---so Sun Records ( like canny outlier-unifier Sun Ra, who was already working on the come-all-ye's, incl. Ra and his Arkestra backing doowop and R&B voyagers from all over, along with much else, even aside from the three-disc Dec.'16-released Ra comp Singles--The Definitive 45's Collection 1952-1991)(see "Nothing Can Hut Me":Pazz & Jop comments, posted sep), was syncretically, reflectively, maybe even reflexively  countryoid as hell at times---thinking of Cash's more cranked up stuff on Sun, reminded by the cranked-up "Get Rhythm" here, also some Jerry Lee and other Out There Down Yonder sprinkles on Adams' keys at times) and NRBQ can be countryoid too, sometimes in unexpected ways. Sure, sure Adams often sees to it that the sonic sandwich incl. a four-to-the-floor piano-couch jalopy, reet peteet and gone, also replete with stockcar stomps and twangs and  springs and sprongs (rude keyboard elbows, lest the time-honored sounds of upstarts get too tasteful), challenging the passing trash dump, as hydraulic rhythm sections and  guitar-dawgs lean way out the window. I knew about all that, like I knew that singer-guitarist Al Anderson had the country-pop-rock songwriting smarts (his "Every Little Thing" gave Carlene Carter the countryoid rave-up hit that Nick Lowe couldn't, and he became a full-time Nashville Cat, after 22 years of recording and touring with the Q). But I didn't know about the way long-time vocalist Joey Spampinato's sometimes weedy (incl. into-the-weeds) vocals and lyrics, both tending to the sing-song, could lead from moony snoozers  to jangle to twangle and (as with the more pensive side of Terry Adams, as co- and sole writer) to countryoid to Relatable puzzling through hopes and fears, somes maybe taking a lesson or influence straying from Pet Sounds-associated couples therapy (Joey S. especially seems to like Brian Wilson, also Buddy Holly and Merseyside hopefuls). So, along with the many more vivacious tracks, here are at least a few good used indie-rock-to-country-pop vehicles of unexpected origin, for  singers who can sustain more listening interest, hopefully (putting a lot on hope this year, as always).
Speaking of vehicles and car songs, over among the potential Todd Snider bait, somebody squawks 'bout how you're "One Big Parking Lot", but it's not a complaint, or not an unconflicted one, cause this Adams-written,  descendant of 50s car songs stars and fuels and spins the human who sounds like he knows he's still all caught up in it, well before he gets to "and whatever else survives, we'll go see it on a four-wheel drive." And speaking of "we", co-founding picker-singer Steve Ferguson (quoted on the booklet, as saying he "has the right hand of a country guitarist and the left hand of a blues guitarist") is leads and sometimes pushes some barefoot community sings early on, and is at his best with my Vacation Bible School favorite "Down In My Heart"---the VBS Kool-Aid may have a something extra this time, judging by his guitar solo, but also has the totally characteristic Joy down in there too, beyond irony )(not that we don't get some ace country parodies later).
                                                                                                                       Don Allred

















    
 
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