New York Music Daily

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Tag: bluegrass music

Nell Robinson Brings Her Historically Rich Antiwar Americana Songs to Joe’s Pub

Alabama Americana songwriter Hilary Perkins, a.k.a. Nell Robinson has an epic and historically relevant antiwar-themed new album out, The Rose of No-Man’s Land – streaming at Spotify – with an all-star cast of players and special guests. It’s a mix of classic and cult-favorite war-themed songs from the Americana songbook from across the ages, along with Robinson’s originals which draw on letters sent home from the wartime front from throughout her family history. As you would expect from such serious material, most of the music is on the slow side. What’s most interesting about it is that none of these songs are didactic or preachy: they let the war stories and veterans’ laments speak for themselves, reminding that pretty much everybody who goes to war and survives it comes home a pacifist. In concert, Perkins involves the audience a lot more actively than just in a singalong way, and she’s bringing that show to Joe’s Pub on Saturday night, Nov 22 at 7 PM with her band and special guest Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Tix are $25.

The album opens on an aptly somber note with a brief, slow instrumental take of Bill Monroe’s My Last Days on Earth, Jim Nunally’s steady acoustic guitar paired with Greg Leisz’s resonant dobro. Robinson’s direct, uncluttered, vibrato-infused vocals give the traditional song Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier an imploring edge. Kathy Baker reads the first of the letters – from the real Nell Robinson, Perkins’ grandmother, to her soldier on the front in World War I, offering some unexpected comic relief.

The rest of the band – David Piltch on bass and Zach Harmon on drums – come in on Luther Presley’s Waiting for the Boys to Come Home, Levon Henry adding a celebratory clarinet solo. But the optimism is short-lived, the band returning to gently sobering mode with the Civil War narrative Blue-Eyed Boston Boy and keeps that going with the old folk song One Morning in May

A bluegrass romp through Rodney Crowell’s Scots Irish takes the theme forward in time to the Vietnam era and then today with some sweet flatpicking from Nunally and mandolin from Leisz. They follow that with a blue-flame take of Johnny Cash’s Vietnam talking blues Drive On with similar energy and cynicism, Elliott taking over lead vocals. X’s John Doe duets with Perkins on her starkly wistful bluegrass original Happy to Go – a revealing look at the psychology of defending one’s country – as well as on an aching take of Mel Tillis’ Stateside, pushed along by Craig Eastman’s fiddle.

Guy Clark’s Heroes, a chilling narrative about a shellshocked Gulf War vet, gets a gorgeously hushed treatment. The Forgotten Soldier Boy, another slow number from the Bill Monroe repertoire, revisits the theme from a WWI point of view. A Nunally original, Poppies stays in that era, Piltch’s all-too-brief bass solo adding an aptly bittersweet edge. Perkins sings an a-cappella verse of the country gospel title track, then follows that with another purist bluegrass original, Wahatchee, a brutal battlefield ballad set during the American Revolution. The album seems to hedge its bets at the end, closing on a patriotic note with Gene Scheer’s American Anthem.

The rest of the letters are as affecting as the songs. Kris Kristofferson reads a bitter, pessimistic 1866 assessment of Civil War Reconstruction; Doe voices a funny 1944 vignette; Maxine Hong Kingston delivers a brooding 1932 recollection of the veterans’ march on Washington, DC; and Elliott reads Marcus Cumbie’s 2012 poem Grove Hill. Click here for the text and song lyrics. What does all this prove? For one, that veterans always get the shaft after their service is done, no matter how much ink gets spilled over their heroism. In 2014, the majority of Americana combat veterans, some of them poisoned by the radioactive waste in U.S. munitions, return home too disabled to work.

Aiofe O’Donovan Brings Her Cutting-Edge, Purist Americana Tunesmithing to the Upper West

Aiofe O’Donovan is cool. The Crooked Still singer/guitarist played one of the outdoor concerts at Madison Square Park a couple of months ago and wasn’t impressed by that burger joint there with the interminably long lines – and if you’d been standing downwind in the greasy smoke wafting from the kitchen, you wouldn’t have been either. “Is the food really that good?” she asked, skeptical. A lone guy sheepishly put his his hand. “OK, if you say so,” she grinned back.

O’Donovan makes her living on the road, whether playing bluegrass classics, singing in progressive jazz icon Dave Douglas’ group, with symphony orchestras, or doing her own stuff. September’s show was mostly original material, much of it taken from her debut solo album, Fossils, and it was consistently excellent. If you missed the show – and a lot of people did – she’s making a quick swing through town, in between Crooked Still reunion shows, for a free concert at 7:30 PM on Nov 13 at the Lincoln Center Atrium. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but she’s on the bill with a solid quartet of performers: explosive New Orleans trombonist/gospel shouter Glen David Andrews; Elle King, who is sort of an Americana counterpart to Cat Power; and charming guy/girl harmony duo the Spring Standards. These shows are a neighborhood institution and fill up fast, so the earlier you get there, the better: you can probably expect about a half an hour from each act.

O’Donovan, being a runner, likes to jump around a lot onstage, and reveled in the chance to do that at the park because, as she explained, she’d been playing on a boat where that hadn’t been an option. Backed by terse upright bass, drums and lead guitar, she mixed up ballads and more upbeat numbers. As you might expect from someone in a band whose name refers to moonshine, whiskey figures into a lot of her songs, from the swaying, John Prine-influenced opening number, Oh Mama, to a jaunty country blues punctuated by a bouncy bass solo a little later on.

They followed the broodingly shuffling Thursday’s Child, fueled by Austin Nevins’ lingering, red-sunset guitar leads with a slower but similarly simmering, late-summery tune. O’Donovan sang Briar Rose with a moodily insistence as ambulance sirens passed north of the park. It was cool to watch the group mash up trad styles with electric rock energy, without turning it into cliched 70s-style dadrock, then going deep into the Appalachian catalog. And through it all O’Donovan soared, and sailed, and brought edge and bite to the songs when they asked for them, as songs do. It’s not clear if O’Donovan will have a band with her at the Lincoln Center show or not, but either way she’s a lot of fun live.

Kelley Swindall Puts an Edgy, Individualistic Spin on Classic Americana

One of the cool things about Kelley Swindall‘s new album – streaming at Spotify - is that she sings every song differently. The funny ones have a jaunty southern twang, something you might expect from someone who originally hails from Stone Mountain, Georgia. On the darker ones – and there’s plenty of darkness here – Swindall’s voice takes on a mix of Eartha Kitt growl and Nina Simone bite. She’s opening the Lorraine Leckie album release show with a set at 7 PM sharp at the Mercury on Nov 13; advance tix are $10 and going fast.

Another cool thing is how Swindall uses oldtime Americana as a springboard for her songwriting: the songs don’t feel constrained by a particular era or style. And they’re completely in the here and now. For example, the first of the talking blues numbers – a style that Swindall really likes – is a cross-country weed-smuggling tale. Like A Boy Named Sue, it’s got a surprise ending, but one that you don’t see coming a mile away.

The big crowd-pleaser, also a talking blues, is a murder ballad – with an ending that’s easier to see coming, but when Swindall delivers it, it’s still irresistible. The country ballad You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want T0 sounds like a love song on the surface, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. The restlessness is relentless in Swindall’s songwriting and this is a prime example.

Swindall’s elegant oldtime delta blues picking fuels the hauntingly brooding opening track, Sidewalk Closed, a noir tableau fleshed out with Matthew Albeck’s eerily reverberating dobro. On Your Own, a spare, stark, bluesy minor-key kiss-off ballad, begins with a more muted delivery, but then Swindall’s vocals rise to a defiant angst – it’s the first place on the album where she actually belts, and she makes it count.

Dear Savannah, a wistful reminiscence of a romance that in retrospect was doomed from the start, blends Swindall’s delicate fingerpicking and tersely bluesy harmonica, Stephanie Allen’s upright bass and more of that spooky bent-note work from Albeck. He Ain’t You sets vintage jazz-tinged guitar lead over a classic country waltz tune, with a lyric that when you think about it, is pretty vicious. And Swindall’s own My Minglewood Blues, inspired by the famous folk song, mashes up blues and bluegrass via guest Phil Harris’ banjo. The lone cover here is Ryan Morgan‘s Maricopa, AZ , which fits well with Swindall’s darker material, a noir soul song done oldtimey shuffle style with fingerpicked guitar and more biting Albeck slide playing – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Dina Rudeen songbook.

Swindall’s sense of humor goes beyond the songwriting. The album title, Pronounced kel-le swin-dl (more or less – the machine on which this is being typed doesn’t have the phonetic alphabet) is a Lynyrd Skynyrd pun. And the cd cover shot references Francoise Hardy, not something you’d typically see on an album of rustic Americana. Like another moody Americana songwriter recently covered here, Jessie Kilguss, Swindall draws on a theatrical background (which might have something to do with why she always sings in character): she’s a member of the edgy downtown production company The Amoralists.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube - had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

Trampled by Turtles Bring Their Catchy, State-of-the-Art Americana to Terminal 5

Duluth, Minnesota’s well-regarded Trampled by Turtles personify the drift many of this era’s top tunesmiths have taken away from rock into Americana perhaps better than any band around. Imagine Andrew Bird plus Low, divided by O’Death in somber, lush mode, and you get a good picture of what their new album Wild Animals (streaming at Spotify and produced, appropriately enough, by Alan Sparkhawk of Low) sounds like. They’re at Terminal 5 at around 10 this Friday, Sept 12, with Hurray for the Riff Raff, a.k.a. torchy oldtimey Americana songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra opening the show at 9. Cover is $25, and with Trampled by Turtles as popular as they are, advance tix (available at the Mercury Lounge 5-7 PM Mon-Fri) are always a good idea.

The new album – their seventh, if you can believe – opens with the title track, a waltz, managing to be rustically bittersweet yet rousingly anthemic at once. It’s a good tablesetter for everything that follows, frontman/guitarist Dave Simonett’s gentle, unassuming vocals always just a hair below pitch – he’s sort of a male indie-era counterpart to the B-52’s Kate Pierson. White noise – ebow guitar, maybe – whooshes in and raises the lushness factor behind him.

The second track, Hollow, motors along on the graceful midtempo bluegrass groove of Dave Carroll’s banjo and Erik Berry’s mandolin as Ryan Young’s fiddle soars tersely and somewhat warily overhead. Repetition, another waltz, is where the stadium-rock-disguised-as-country really starts to take off, Berry’s mando cutting a Milky Way through a deep-blue nocturnal backdrop. Then they pick up the pace Are You Behind the Shining Star, which comes across as something akin to a vintage ELO hit with newgrass production values…or ELO doing newgrass. You might not think it would work, but it does.

One of the album’s most memorable tracks, the harmony-fueled Silver Light brings to mind another first-class Minnesota band, the Jayhawks circa 1997 or so. Come Back Home is another cross-genre mindfuck: Mexican son jarocho, chamber pop (those multi-tracked strings by Young are killer) and a brisk bluegrass romp. Ghosts aptly looks back to Orbison Nashville noir, but through the prisms of newgrass and post-Coldplay stadium rock.

“I think it’s time to go/The bartender is mean and slow,” Simonett warbles morosely midway through Lucy, an ethereal wee-hours lament. Then they blast through the lickety-split yet brooding Western World, a showcase for some searing banjo and fiddle that would fit in perfeclty on an album by The Devil Makes Three, Tim Saxhaug’s bass driving the beast forward. The most oldtimey track here is the country gospel-tinged Nobody Knows, followed closely by the closing cut, Winners, a warmly catchy Appalachian theme reinvented as a late 90s Wilco-style sway. Pretty much everything here is the kind of stuff that you find running through your mind long after the concert’s over.

Diverse, Soulful, Sometimes Shattering Americana from the Sometime Boys

With their catchy tunes, purist country blues-flavored guitar and violin and jaunty acoustic grooves, you’d never guess that the Sometime Boys started out as a spinoff of noisy, ferociously intense art-rock band System Noise. Which goes to show just how versatile that band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Leege can be. The Sometime Boys have a characteristically diverse, tuneful, smart new album Riverbed, streaming online, and a show coming up on August 28 at 9 PM at Bar Nine, 807 9th Ave. (53/54).

Summery, pastoral themes rub edges with funky rhythms, some folk noir, an instrumental and the album’s centerpiece, The Great Escape, a genuinely shattering song which might be a surprise to those unfamiliar with the Sometime Boys’ predecessor band. And it’s the best song any band has released so far this year. Mucho gets props and wins MAC cabaret awards for her gale-force, wounded contralto delivery and stratospheric, four-octave range, but she starts this one with practically a whisper as drummer Jay Cowit’s cymbals swoosh over Leege’s terse, warmly nocturnal acoustic work:

Wide awake
The night’s alive
I almost taste the black
This cold, it breeds
Bitter views
There’s no turning back
On the ground
Surrounded by
Expired fallen leaves
All now that’s left
Are crooked lines
Can’t flee the forest for the trees

Mucho hints at gospel and then picks up with a wail as the chorus kicks in, “Fade away, into me.” You don’t usually fade away with a wail but that’s what Mucho does here, then brings it down into the second and last verse, a bitter reflection on the lure of victory and the harsh reality of defeat. Leege’s elegantly virtuosic electric guitar and Pete O’Connell’s increasingly intense bass pick it up from there; it seems to end optimistically. It’s a long song, about five and a half minutes long: stream it, but don’t multitask when you do it because you really need to just let it wash over you and hit you upside the head. If you’ve ever faded away into yourself, scowling out at the lights in the distance and wishing you were there and not slaving away at some stupid dayjob – or whatever makes you scowl – this could be your theme song.

The folk noir shuffle The Bird House is another absolutely brilliant track. Rebecca Weiner Tompkins’ plaintive violin, which usually serves as the band’s main lead instrument, wanders forlornly as Mucho relates the eerie tale of a woman alone and abandoned and losing it. Leege takes it out with a spiky solo that mingles with Mucho’s graceful, haunting, hypnotic, wordless vocals.

Several of the tracks are updates on tunes by an even earlier Mucho/Leege incarnation, the delightfully funky, opaquely intriguing Noxes Pond. Much as Mucho’s writing tends toward the somber and serious, she has a devilish sense of humor, which comes front and center on Fake Dead Girlfriend. With a poker-faced calm over clustery, fingerpicked guitar and stately violin, Mucho explains that her family might think she’s nuts, but the world actually could use more people like her imaginary dead pal.

The rest of the album works a push-pull between a carefree, bucolic ambience and clenched-teeth angst. The album’s funkiest track, Modern Age, is an unlikely blend of soul-pop and Americana, Mucho insisting that “You can have my turn, I wanna watch it all burn.” The pensively sailing, bluegrass-tinged title track seems to be told from the point of view of a suicide. A Life Worth Living is more upbeat, hinting at a classic Grateful Dead theme, with a long, lusciously crescendoing multitracked electric guitar solo fom Leege. Irish Drinking Song isn’t the slightest bit Irish, but it’s a great drinking song, in a late-period Bukowski vein.

Pharaoh, another Noxes Pond song reinvented as newgrass, juxtaposes lithe, vintage Jerry Garcia-esque guitar with Mucho’s snarling, metaphorically bristling fire-and-brimstone imagery. There’s also the gracefully shapeshifting instrumental Wine Dark Sea; the comedic urban country number Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies; the balmy, sultry, gospel-tinged lullaby A Quiet Land; Buskin’, a tribute to performers in public spaces everywhere, and a brief instrumenal reprise at the end. The production is artful and pristine: all the layers of acoustic and electric textures build an ambience that on one hand sounds antique, yet absolutely unique and in the here and now. This band should be vastly better known than they are.

The Howlin’ Brothers Hit the Rockwood With 100 Years of Americana

What does it say about the state of New York nightlife that this Sunday happens to be one of the most happening nights this week? Is that just luck of the draw, a lot of good bands passing through town? Or, as more and more of this city turns into a tourist trap (or a permanent-tourist trap) on the weekend, is this a a sign that venues and maybe artists as well have learned that there’s money to be made from an audience who will come out on an off-night just to get away from the fratboys and their fraturniture? You be the judge. One of the most enticing shows this weekend is at the big room at the Rockwood on Sunday night at 8 where the Howlin’ Brothers are playing for a $10 cover.

That eclectic, virtuosically fun Americana trio’s most recent New York show was out back of City Winery just before the 4th of July, on what turned out to be a rare, blisteringly hot evening (that night aside, has this summer been just about the best on record or what?) Unperturbed by the heat despite being suited up in hats and sturdy plowman’s attire, the band looked like they were the happiest guys on the planet. Then again, wouldn’t you be if you could make a living traveling all over the world playing country blues and bluegrass and getting paid for it?

And it wasn’t all good-time drinking or partying music, either. Fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Ian Craft, guitarist Jared Green and bassist Ben Plasse worked the dynamics back and forth, throughout a tuneful, dynamically and historically rich set that went on for over an hour. Plasse, as it turns out, is also an excellent guitarist: he took the night’s longest and most energetic solo on electric guitar, one of only a few songs on which the band wasn’t all-acoustic. Craft started out on fiddle and then switched to banjo – interestingly, it was when he played that antique instrument that the music sounded the least oldtimey. Then he switched to bass, singing no matter what he was playing, which isn’t exactly easy. Green strummed and flatpicked expertly and blended voices with rest of the crew, through a couple of sad waltzes from their new album Trouble and the more upbeat stuff, including a raucous take of Carl Perkins’ Dixie Fried, from the band’s ep The Sun Studio Session. That one left no doubt that it’s about getting drunk and stoned and high on whatever else – probably a lot of stuff – that the guys who were making records there were doing back in 1956. No wonder the early rockabilly artists got into so much trouble with redneck politicians on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

Yet Another Great Album from the Old Crow Medicine Show

Is there a band anywhere in the world who are more fun than the Old Crow Medicine Show? In an age of overproduced, digitized-ad-nauseum albums, it’s amazing how the OCMS manages to capture the unhinged energy of their live shows in the studio. No wonder that they’re one of those bands that pretty much everybody loves. Giving them the front page here probably doesn’t mean anything in terms of ramping up their fan base – it just means that this blog isn’t asleep on the job! Their latest album is titled Remedy, streaming at Spotify; as usual, they’re on summer tour.

The new album’s first track is Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer: it’s a slinky, banjo-fueled, twisted killler’s tale, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the ending. That capsulizes OCMS’s appeal: killer oldtime Americana chops, funny lyrics, unstoppable energy. The lickety-split fiddle tune 8 Dogs 8 Banjos celebrates all the good things in life, from hot coffee and sweet tea to corn liquor and dirtweed. Although it’s one of the album’s quieter songs, the bittersweetly swaying, accordion-driven, Celtic-tinged Sweet Amarillo is also one of its best.

The band – Kevin Hayes on “guitjo;” Cory Younts on mandolin, keyboards and drums; Critter Fuqua on slide guitar, banjo and guitar; Chance McCoy on guitar, fiddle and banjo; Ketch Secor on fiddle, harmonica and banjo; Gill Landry on slide guitar and banjo; and Morgan Jahnig on bass – pick up the pace with the scampering kiss-off anthem Mean Enough World, an acoustic take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. The somber graveside scenario Dearly Departed Friend has a creepy, spot-on redneck surrealism: it’s a good companion piece to Lorraine Leckie’s Don’t Giggle at the Corpse. Firewater is a midtempo drinking song with soaring pedal steel, while Brave Boys takes a rapidfire detour into Irish territory.

Doc’s Day is a good-natured, harmonica-fueled country blues tune, setting the stage for the darkly rustic Cumberland River, spiced by some fiery fiddle from McCoy. The band goes back to a brisk Appalachian bounce for Tennessee Bound and then hits a peak on Shit Creek, a punkgrass take on an oldtimey high-water-rising theme. The hobo swing tune Sweet Home could be the Wiyos or for that matter, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The album ends on an unexpectedly brooding note with The Warden, which challenges the guy running the prison to look in the mirror and see if he’s really human after all. Brilliant musicianship and tunesmithing, clever wordsmithing, traditionalist chops, and everybody sings. What more could you possibly want on a hot summer night?

 

Marah Reinvents an Amazing Collection of Obscure Pennsylvania Folk Songs

There’s a serious imbalance of folk music in this country: so much of what we hear is from the southern states. But there’s tons of great old songs from the northeast as well, which so often get overlooked. Credit Marah for rediscovering a whole slew of them and presenting them in a ramshackle, aptly high-energy package titled Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, streaming at Spotify. All these songs were originally collected over one hundred years ago by musicologist Henry Shoemaker; this is the first full-length recording based exclusively on the lyrics he collected throughout the region. Marah do here what Wilco did with Woody Guthrie, setting (and sometimes rearranging) the words to a mix of period-perfect folk melodies livened with harder-rocking and sometimes more modern arrangements. The band are going to air them out at Bowery Electric on July 12 at around 10:30; edgy, lyrically-driven, 90s-style alt-country band Butchers Blind open at 9:30 or so.

Marah have earned plenty of props for their meat-and-potatoes, four-on-the-floor rock anthems, but as it turns out they’re just as good at roots music from their home state. There are no sizzling solos or virtuoso moments in these songs: instead, the band seems to be shooting for the sound of a raw, celebratory family band, employing the usual Americana string band instrumentation in addition to dulcimer, glockenspiel, tuba, simple drums and piano along with occasional electric guitar that adds an offcenter psychedelic edge.

The album opens with a joyously swaying one-chord timber-cutting jam of sorts with fiddle, harmonica, banjo and jaw harp: “Prepare for the shanty life before your health declines,” singer David Bielanko insists. A Melody of Rain shuffles along witha brisk 60s pop feel – it’s the least archaic of all the songs here. The album’s hardest-rocking number, An Old Times Plaint offers more than a hint of circus rock, bringing to mind recent adventures in that style by M Shanghai String Band.

With its unabashedly romantic strings, insistent piano and harmonica, the most lushly orchestrated number is Luliana, a wistful love ballad: “If I could be anyone but myself, I would be the one who stands beside her,” the narrator affirms. By contrast, Sing O Muse of the Mountain is another mostly one-chord jam, akin to the White Light White Heat-era Velvets doing a Pennsylvania folk tune.

Glockenspiel and pump organ double each other, a la Springsteen, on Ten Cents at the Gate, which veers unexpectedly from country gospel to eerily phantasmagorical rock. Mountain Minstrelsy has the album’s most regionally-specific lyric set to a warmly catchy midtempo sway. A sad, vividly resigned waltz, The Old Riverman’s Regret looks back nostalgically on 19th century commercial river rafting. The album winds up with a raggedly rustic dance instrumental. There’s also a shambling, punk blues-inflected track and a brief, skeletal stab at a Celtic-tinged anthem. The way the album was recorded – live, in a Millheim, Pennsylvania church with lots of natural reverb – more than suggests that Marah has a great time onstage with these songs.

A Free Show and Two Contrasting Americana Albums by the Howlin’ Brothers

It’s hard to keep up with the Howlin’ Brothers. The trio of bassist Ben Plasse, fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Ian Craft and guitarist Jared Green are one of those well-loved Americana acts who make a living on the road, but they also make excellent albums. They’ve got a brand-new one out, Trouble, streaming at Spotify and a free outdoor show on July 1 starting around 5 in the parking lot out back of City Winery.

A quick listen to the new one reveals it as both more electric, more intense and darker than the band’s previous material. The album before that is an acoustic ep, the Sun Studio Session, where the band went into the legendary room where Elvis and Johnny Cash and so many other legends recorded and put down four originals, a remake of an earlier tune and a cover of a Sun classic, Carl Perkins’ 1956 single Dixie Fried.

What’s coolest about that tune is that you can hear as much Chuck Berry in it as you can bluegrass – and Craft’s banjo solo is as wild and fun as anything Brandon Seabrook could wail through. There’s also a spare, brooding, piano-driven, Tom Waits-ish version of Tennessee Blues, which originally appeared on the band’s Howl album.

The first of the new tracks, Til I Find You sets lickety-split banjo over a steady bass pulse, with that rich Sun Studios natural reverb on the vocals. True to its title, the slow Troubled Waltz, another banjo tune, has an oldtime Appalachian feel. Take Me Down, fueled by Green’s dobro, works a swaying, dead-of-summer delta blues groove. Charleston Chew, a slightly more modern (if you consider 1954 modern) take on a 1920-style one-chord blues, is the lone electric track here, the slow-burn tone of Green’s guitar contrasting with Craft’s energetic fiddle. Taken as a whole, the ep is a smartly lower-key counterpart to the band’s raucous live show. It’s gonna get hot in the parking lot on Tuesday evening.

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