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Category: country music

A Lustrous Solo Album From Dobro Stylist Abbie Gardner

Abbie Gardner is one of the most distinctive dobro players in  Americana. She has a seemingly effortless grace and otherworldly precision on an instrument that often bedevils other acoustic guitarslingers. Despite her vaunted technique, she plays with a remarkable economy of notes. She may be best known as a member of well-loved harmony trio Red Molly. but she had fearsome chops before she joined that band. Her new solo album DobroSinger is streaming at Bandcamp

As with her other solo records, almost all the tunes are originals. The opening number, Down the Mountain is a steady coal-mining blues. Gardner’s liquid chords contrast with her stiletto-articulate fingerpicking and slithery slide lines. She sings in an expressive down-home delivery equally informed by oldschool gospel, blues and front-porch folk music.

The second track, Only All the Time is more enigmatic, a stripped-down throwback to the alt-country sounds of the 90s. Gardner slows down for See You Again, part sophisticated blues ballad, part country waltz, with a spare, suspenseful solo on the way out. Born in the City has more of Gardner’s signature, silken legato: the gist of the song is that urban people stick together just as tightly as country folks do.

Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if the next song, Three Quarter Time was in, say, 7/8? It actually isn’t: it’s in 6/8! The intimate arrangement is an artful approach to what’s essentially a vintage Memphis-style soul ballad. Gardner digs in hard for a wicked but nuanced vibrato for a starkly original, grim take of Cypress Tree Blues. Then she flips the script with the wryly aphoristic Too Many Kisses, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook.

The brisk, bouncily swinging Honky Tonk Song is the one number here where an overdubbed rhythm track would have come in handy: the absence of a band isn’t an issue anywhere else. Gardner interrupts the playful mood for the stark, understatedly harrowing memoir When We Were Kids: in a quiet way, it’s the most stunning song on the album.

Gardner closes the record with a couple of covers. The first one is a spacious, pouncing version of Those Memories of You, a minor hit for Pam Tillis in the mid-80s. And Gardner reinvents the proto-Lynchian Jo Stafford hit You Belong to Me with a distant, uneasily dreamy feel. If you play guitar, there’s plenty of inspiration here for you to take your chops to the next level. If you don’t, it’s a characteristically sharp, smart Americana record.

Faithless Town Release the Best Freedom Anthem of 2022 So Far

There’s been a lot of great freedom music released this year, but the best song of the bunch so far is Atlanta band Faithless Town‘s Live Free. It’s a defiantly swaying protest anthem, a mashup of ELO and peak-era Oasis, a bittersweet symphony for 2022. Frontman/guitarist Gene Owens reminds that now is not the time to be riding the fence:

Open your eyes
And see the lies
That you’ve been told
Your mind doesn’t belong to you anymore
Fear is not a virtue
It’s time to be brave
Do you wanna live free or die as a slave’

And the video is inspiring, a montage largely taken from the Highwire coverage of the London protests last summer.

The song is the centerpiece of the band’s new album Into The Light Vol.1, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the first part of a full-length record that’s on track to be finished later this summer. The band have been through some personnel changes, but the current lineup of Owens with Aaron Rogers on lead guitar, Nathan Rudolf on bass and Vic Fischer on drums is arguably their strongest ever. Owens’ smartly crafted tunesmithing spans from punkabilly to Americana to lyrical, singalong stadium rock, occasionally bolstered by organ or strings behind the twin-guitar attack.

The opening track is Berkshire, a stomping, Celtic-tinged punk tune that brings to mind Stiff Little Fingers or Wormburner. The group follow with Not Goodbye, a soaring, bittersweet anthem in the same vein, with a tantalizing, slashing Rogers guitar solo at the center

What I’m Dreaming Of is a swaying, distantly Beatlesque, midtempo salute to being openminded in an era of endless divide-and-conquer: “Don’t trust the TV, don’t believe your feed,” Owens cautions. The band take a detour into a vein they explored earlier in their career with Coal Mining Man, a Nashville gothic-flavored workingman’s lament about the decline of the domestic coal industry.

They go back to a Reducers-style garage-punk punch with Someone to Think Of and close the record with Do Not Comply, a relentless, hard-hitting, cynical singalong:

One shot to buy your freedom
Two shots to go outside
Three shots to see your family
Four shots and then you die
Do not comply
See through their lies
Do not comply or you’ll die

Faithless Town’s next gig is May 27 at 9 PM at Smith’s Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Ave NE in Atlanta with swamp rockers Handsome Jack; cover is $10.

An Urban Country Legend Makes an Unlikely Stop on the Lower East Side

Alex Battles may have earned a place in New York music history as a bandleader and scenemaker in what was once a thriving Americana music scene, but he wouldn’t have reached that point without some good songs. With his wry, aphoristic lyrics and unpretentious baritone, the frontman of the Whisky Rebellion was a fixture for years at places like the old Hank’s and Sunny’s, just to name two of the more popular joints he could be be found at. It may seem a little odd that he’s playing the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow night, May 14 at 9, but these are weird times. As a bonus, all-female, soaring front-porch Americana harmony band the Calamity Janes play beforehand at 8. It’s a pass-the-tip-jar situation, and there are no restrictions on entry.

Battles’ catalog is well capsulized by his single A Perfect Game For Lenny Barker, an older song which is up at Bandcamp. It has a lot less to do with the big, burly Cleveland Indians pitcher’s wicked curveball on the historic night of May 15, 1981 against the Toronto Blue Jays than simply the civic pride he brought to a decaying rust belt city whose population was leaving in droves. These days, the same could be said for this city, although there hasn’t been any rust belt here to speak of since the 1960s.

Battles’ 2011 album Goodbye Almira has also been fairly recently digitized and is up at Bandcamp. You can hear his voice suddenly toughen up as he takes control on the mic on the one full-band song on the record, Tom Sawyer’s Island, over the fiddle and the honkytonk piano. Otherwise, it’s something of a change of pace for Battles, a mix of solo acoustic songs and a handful of fetching duets with Aiofe O’Donovan, long before she got off the bluegrass circuit and started playing shows with symphony orchestras.

Battles gets a lot of credit for helping to jumpstart the urban country sound here, and there’s a lot of the pull of the devil city on innocent, goodnatured out-of-towners here. Marilyn Monroe hits the road to get away from two of the main sophisticates who chased her. A nameless Nebraska girl finds out the hard way that being queen of the prairie doesn’t mean anything to the wolves of Wall Street. The two singers shoot for a low-key Gram-and-Emmylou vibe when Battles isn’t painting wistful and sometimes sharply evocative scenes of late-night battles of the sexes, a sad post-carnival tableau and a couple of tales where the big takeaway is what’s left unsaid.

This blog hasn’t been in the house at a Battles show in ages: the last one wasn’t actually his show, it was a birthday party at 68 Jay Street Bar in Dumbo where all his friends from the Roots and Ruckus scene gathered together to sing his songs. Memory is foggy on that one, but it was definitely a party. As for the Calamity Janes, it’s also been awhile; back in 2016, they battled an inept sound mix at a Williamsburg gig and emerged with a decisive victory. That won’t be a problem at the Rockwood.

Epic Americana Anthems and Sobering Narratives From Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters

At a time when most artists are struggling to get any music out at all, Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters are on a rare creative tear. They’re one of the very few bands in history to release two consecutive double albums (the Grateful Dead did it twice). Their bristling, epic Live at the Grey Eagle, recorded in their hometown of Asheville, North Carolina is one of the most compelling Americana releases of recent years. They pick right up where they left off with their vast new release The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, streaming at Soundcloud.

It’s a concept record: the first disc is generally upbeat, the second quiet and immersive. “Sometimes you’re drowning in the deep blue sea and you need the devil to pull you out,” is Platt’s explanation. There’s a lot of poignancy in her painterly narratives, none more than in the album’s opening track, New York. For anyone who’s been driven out of the city in the last two years, or is staring down that prospect, it will rip your face off. There’s a point right after the first chorus where pianist Kevin Williams takes a tentative little downward riff and leaves it dangling, unresolved, an elephant lost to memories.

Burn – as in “burn it down” – is a low-key Dusty Springfield-esque Memphis soul tune anchoring one of Platt’s signature, aphoristic portraits of rural anomie and discontent. She details the quick disollution of a couple who were way too quick to tie the knot in The Devil, a honkytonk shuffle that Matt Smith colors with his spare, sailing pedal steel.

Likewise, Dallas affords Williams a chance to color the downcast ambience with his vintage Nashville piano lines. There’s subtle mystery in Saint Sebastian, a surreal summer vacation tableau set to a tiptoeing mashup of vintage soul and Tex-Mex.

Bassist Rick Cooper and drummer Evan Martin kick in harder in the catchy backbeat anthem Great Confession, Smith’s tantalizingly brief Telecaster leads ringing out over Williams’ organ. Platt’s cynical sense of humor reaches redline in Girls Like You, a propulsive reminder that determined, individualistic women haven’t always been regarded as role models.

Platt reflects on the legacy effects of girls who can’t resist the wrong guys in Eurydice, a low-key oldschool country ballad. “I didn’t drink a bloody mary on the plane because I wanted you to see me how I was raised,” Platt’s emotionally conflicted narrator recalls in Perfect Word, a gorgeously bittersweet, brisk requiem. She winds up the first disc with Desert Flowers, a swaying cross-country tale that looks back to late 90s alt-country songwriters like Kim Richey.

Disc two begins with Open Up Your Door, an angst-fueled vintage Emmylou Harris-style ballad, just Platt’s vocals over Smith’s steel and Williams’ sparse electric piano. The band return cautiously for the similarly regret-laden Another Winter Gone, then slow down even further for Rabbit, a hypnotically swaying, gloomily imagistic portrait of rural decay.

Smith’s dobro lingers over Platt’s gentle fingerpicking and Williams’ judicious piano in Reverie, one of the more wryly funny narratives here. “They burned the city you loved…they talk about mercy, but you ain’t seen her face,” Platt sings in This Night, a defiant call to rebuild that may reference the BLM riots of 2020.

Platt keeps the drifting, starry milieu going in Even Good Men Get the Blues, lit up by a gorgeous Williams organ solo. She offers hope amidst disappointment in Always Knew, a front porch-flavored love song, then brings back the organ and angst in Lessons in Gravity, a makeup ballad.

The band sway their way through Only Just to Smile with a mid-70s Fleetwood Mac vibe and close this long, evocative album on a guardedly optimistic note with There May Come a Day. Their next affordable gig is May 25 at 7 PM at Potters Craft Cider, 1350 Arrowhead Valley Rd. in Charlottesville, Virginia. Advance tix are $20.

 

Lots of Laughs and Surprising Subtlety in the Righteous Gemstones Season Two Score

What could be more ripe for musical satire than an over-the-top comedy series about a dynasty of hypocritical televangelists? On one hand, the soundtrack to season two of The Righteous Gemstones – streaming at Spotify – gives the cast the chance to chew some musical scenery. Composer Joseph Stephens distinguishes himself by taking a deep dive into a vast number of musical styles – cheesy autotune corporate pop, soca, powerpop, Stonesy rock and various Nashville sounds from across the decades – infusing much of it with ersatz gospel touches. On one hand, this is The Sound of the Sinners by the Clash, on steroids. On the other, it’s surprisingly subtle, to the point where some of what is obviously a spoof becomes such a spot-on evocation of one Christian subgenre or another that it could pass for the real thing.

The album is as vast as the Gemstones’ shady financial empire: a grand total of fifty tracks, most of them under the two-minute mark. The first part comprises a series of songs delivered in fluent southern accents by cast members including Joe Jonas, Jennifer Nettles, Edi Patterson, Danny McBride and Adam Devine. After that is a long series of instrumental set pieces ranging from tense horror-film interludes, moments of southwestern gothic menace and grittily pulsing synthesized action sequences – it’s funny how the country influence completely disappears in favor of deftly orchestrated suspense. When the churchbells ring, it is not for a rousing hallelujah but a grim amen.

The best song is Some Broken Hearts Never Mend, an absolutely perfect parody of fluffy, orchestrated 1970s Nashville country-pop where McBride, Patterson and Devine take very diverse vocal parts. It wouldn’t be out of place on Ween’s classic 12 Golden Country Greats album. Children appear as an obvious but long overdue punchline, more than once. Christmas music gets a well-deserved crucifixion. There’s a song-length homoerotic joke, later echoed in a lurid stripper instrumental snippet titled Manscaping. By contrast, track forty-three, Memphis Confrontation is a gem of a mashup of stark oldtime gospel and macabre cinematics. It’s rare that a composer gets called on to deliver as many good laughs as shivers, and Stephens rises to the challenge.

Slashing Hard Country and Memorable Flyover America Stories From Kaitlin Butts

The title of Kaitlin Butts‘ previous album is Same Hell, Different Devil. That pretty much sums up the Nashville-based songwriter’s worldview. She comes out of a red dirt Oklahoma background, and she’s been around. Her new vinyl record What Else Can She Do is streaming at Spotify. She’s a fiery, expressive singer, a vivid storyteller and has a hard country band behind her who can rock out just as hard if the song calls for it.

Butts doesn’t wait fifteen seconds before she revisits the Devil in the album’s first track, It Won’t Always Be This Way. “Waiting for the first turn in my gut,” is how she puts it in this big, angst-fueled ballad, soaring over Joshua Grange’s flaring guitar leads and Justin Schiper’s pedal steel. It’s a great song: Tift Merritt got her start singing stuff like this.

Bored If I Don’t – as in, damned if I do, etc. – is a twangy, guilt-racked cheating song, propelled by bassist Lex Price and drummer Fred Eltringham’s swinging beat. Butts traces an all-too-familiar blue-collar story of slow decline in the album’s wistfully waltzing title track: “Her smalltown pretty didn’t play in the city too well/And the life that she thought would be heaven now feels more like hell.”

Jackson, a vindictive, blue-flame 6/8 ballad with a tasty steel solo, is a sort of sequel to the Johnny Cash/June Carter classic. “Mama says it’s like losing a child without the flowers or the casserole,” Butts explains in She’s Using, a searing chronicle of the opiod pandemic. It’s the best song on the record.

A month ago, this blog described the next tune, Blood as “a very subtle protest song disguised as a fierce kiss-off ballad” – listen closely and you will be rewarded. Butts winds up the record with an impassioned Nashville gothic cover of In the Pines that’s closer to Neko Case than that overrated Seattle band from way back when. It’s early in the year, but this is one of the small handful of best records of 2022 so far.

Defiance and Dread: Songs and Useful Information For the End of March

Today’s playlist runs from the ridiculously catchy to the tantalizingly allusive. Tunes first, then the news: click on artist names for their webpages, click on titles for audio or video.

First up is a Media Bear parody protest song (one of a growing bunch, most of them pretty hilarious, at the master page here). Today’s pick is their update on the 1976 C.W. McCall country-rap classic, Convoy. This new one has Pureblood and Rubber Glove going back and forth over the CB radio behind a pastiche of heartwarming footage from the Canadian trucker convoy to Ottawa. Meanwhile, the US Freedom Convoy is back on the road again, headed for Grand Park in Los Angeles just in time for the massive freedom rally there on April 10 at noon.

Catchiest song on this list is Tracy Shedd’s retro 90s sunshine pop song Going Somewhere. Nothing heavy, but it’s hard to get the jangle and swirl out of your head.

Dallas Ugly‘s Part of a Time is a catchy midtempo country tune, frontwoman Libby Weitnauer reflecting on what might have been but never was.

Hang in there with the DelinesSurfers in Twilight. It’s s a nocturne but not a surf song, and it takes awhile to get going. But this narrative of casual police brutality really packs a punch.

Staying in serious mode, here’s another good Sage Hana video, this time using Chris Isaak‘s Somebody’s Crying as a requiem for all the athletes murdered and maimed by the Covid shot. The cruel tagline is “I know when somebody’s lying.”

Delicate guitar figures flicker amid the enveloping gloom in Darkher’s latest dirge Where the Devil Waits. It really speaks to the relentless dread so many of us have experienced over the past two years.

Because music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, here are a couple of brief must-reads from the world around us. First, the irreplaceable Emerald Robinson articulates just how the Ukraine war is being weaponized by the Biden regime to collapse just about every supply chain in existence, including the food supply, as a pretext for instituting programmable digital money. This is not meant to scare anyone, just to underscore that we need to keep our eye on the ball, especially here in New York where raw materials for just about everything are imported.

And here’s Dr. Meryl Nass’s latest masterpiece, a concise timeline of how hydroxychloroquine was demonized in the mad dash to create a legal framework for the rollout of the Covid shots. Nass covers all the key dates, all the coverups and the essential study data; This is the Rosetta Stone of what become known as Solidaritygate and its aftermath. If you need a single comprehensive source that covers all the bases, this is it.

Singles for the (Almost) Ides of March

This blog predicted that 2022 would be way better than 2021. The global totalitarians’ ongoing death throes have been ugly – Justin Trudeau building a shitlist and seizing citizens’ bank accounts for wrongthink seems to be a prototype. But the blowback has been fierce, and reason for real optimism. No wonder the narrative has suddenly been shifted from hygiene theatre to the latest circus of two corrupt-AF ex-Soviet kleptocrats duking it out, with no thought to the colossal toll on their respective nations’ populations.

Another reason for optimism is that more and more musicians are stepping back into the ring. Today we celebrate that with a short, roughly twenty-five minute self-guided playlist. Click on artist names for their webpages, click on song titles for audio.

Americana songwriter Kaitlin ButtsBlood comes across as a very subtle protest song disguised as a fierce kiss-off ballad, set to a simmering oldschool country backdrop with some tasty resonator guitar. “My name dragged through the mud, and godawful things swept under the rug.” Relatable, huh?

Dr. Jordan Peterson may be known as one of the most insightful researchers and analysts in the reality space, but as it turns out he’s also a songwriter! His latest anthem, Wake Up is an aptly creepy, Floydian art-rock tune with a shifting cast of vocalists.

Lowly Weep, by UK songstress Darkher, is a heavier art-rock take on the mystical gothic sound that New York’s own Kristin Hoffmann was exploring back in the late zeros and teens. Don’t let the awkward title put you off.

Here’s Good Before, by another moody songwriter, Maria BC, rainy-day jangle-and-clang spacerock. All is not so safe in her hotel womb.

Let’s wind up the playlist on a positive note. Rapper Bryson Gray‘s No Mask No Vax – featuring his bud Forgiato Blow – is a singalong Pitbull-style banger. Gray is a man of many lyrical styles and as rugged as individualists get, as he makes clear in Controlled, a hilarious, golden age-style dis at everyone who hates on him. “Big Pharma must be lobbying rappers.” Thanks to fearless investigative journalist and incorrigible listmaker Sharyl Attkisson for the tipoff.

Today’s last song is an oldie, from 2016. How did Debris, by Neia Jane, pop up on the radar here earlier this week? It was on autoplay after a completely unrelated Soundcloud clip. Imagine Guided by Voices at their majestic, multitracked peak, but with a woman out front

In Memoriam: Dallas Good

One of the world’s most mesmerizing, versatile guitarists, Dallas Good of the Sadies died Friday shortly after being diagnosed with an undisclosed coronary condition. He was 48.

Good and his guitarist brother Travis led the Sadies from stardom in their native Ontario to global fame, beginning in the 90s as one of the more bluegrass-oriented of the wave of bands in the alt-country movement. Over the years, they moved further into psychedelic rock, developing a jangly, eerily reverb-drenched sound they called “northern gothic.” They collaborated and recorded with a wide range of artists including Neko Case, Andre Williams and Gord Downie.

Dallas Good was equally adept at twangy country fills, nimble bluegrass flatpicking, serpentine surf rock and long, searing psychedelic passages. Although he propelled the band’s songs to a volcanic intensity onstage, he was the rare lead guitarist whose style was built on subtlety rather than flash. In recent years, he had become the group’s primary songwriter. Sharing lead vocals with his brother, he had a strong baritone voice and a flair for vintage suits.

Offstage, Good was a thoughtful, erudite presence, a connoisseur of vintage guitars and amps, with an encyclopedic knowledge of music that ranged far beyond the band’s many stylistic influences.

In an eerie stroke of foreshadowing, the Sadies’ final single, recorded last year, was titled Message to Belial (a Biblical name for Satan). “The end of all nations, the darkest of ages has come,” the brothers harmonized over the band’s usual plaintive, ominous wash of jangle and clang. Deepest condolences to his family, his bandmates Sean Dean and Mike Belitsky, and everyone who had the good fortune to know him.

A Simmering, Visionary, Lyrical Americana Album From Linda Draper

Linda Draper has few equals as a songwriter. She’s a formidable tunesmith, a dynamic singer and a sharp, perceptive lyricist with a slashing sense of humor. Over the course of nine albums, she’s followed a steady path from what could be called acoustic rock, toward Americana. Her latest one, Patience and Lipstick – streaming at Bandcamp – is her hardest-rocking effort yet. It also may be her best.

This record is also as much David Mansfield’s as it is Draper’s. As a one-man honkytonk band, playing pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and banjo, he’s Mick Ronson to her Bowie. And there’s as much simmering roar as high lonesome rural flavor here. Jeff Eyrich handles the bass and distinguishes himself with his tastefully robust production; Doug Yowell plays drums, with occasional piano from Bennett Paster.

The best song on the album – and arguably best song of the year, so far – is Tether. As protest music goes, it’s a very allusive indictment of lockdowner mythmaking, set to a subdued, moody Appalachian-tinged minor-key backdrop. To Draper’s further credit, just her mention of 9/11 is brave. She leaves it to the listener to take it from there.

Another obvious lockdown-inspired song here is the catchy anthem All in Due Time. “They know who you are with all those games they play, you push yourself away, they don’t have the heart to help you,” Draper intones over a lush bed of acoustic guitars. She’s always been a strong singer, but she really reaches for the rafters on the chorus.

The opening number is ’81 Camaro, Mansfield building roadhouse ambience with twangy. spaciously layered baritone guitar and pedal steel. It’s far more poetic than the “now or never again” situation Draper references, a romantic hope against hope from the point of view of a rider in a flashy but relatively underpowered edition of a classic musclecar.

“Before you throw away the key, you gotta lock the door,” Draper explains in Begin Again, a 90s-flavored backbeat twang-rock tune. “Nobody knows about your broken history, everybody’s got one including me.”

Draper channels gritty determination in the album’s title track, the loudest song here, contemplating how to keep a relationship strong as the years go by:

Adjust in the rearview mirror
It’s a blessing disguised as a curse
I took you for better
You took me for worse

Surrender is not a cover of that overplayed powerpop hit but an optimistic original with a 80s chorus-box rock feel. With its “better times ahead” refrain, it’s a good anthem for 2022. Draper follows that with a slightly amped-up cover of Barbara Keith’s wistfully aphoristic 1972 Nashville pop hit Detroit or Buffalo

“I hear churchbells and gunshots ring; the birds fly, then silencing,” Draper observes over a loping groove in Roll With Me, an enigmatic but seemingly hopeful love song. She returns to a familiar, grim theme, how history repeats itself, in The Undertow, her voice dropping to a Karla Rose-like purr. After that, String is even more ominous String, Draper’s cynicism reaching boiling point as the acoustic multitracks jangle behind her – and yet, she reminds that if we actually manage to retrace our tracks, we can find a way out of the trouble coming down the pike.

Set to Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan changes, I Go is classic Draper, both a sympathetic portrait of working-class exhaustion but also a subtly aphoristic portrait of what happens to people who don’t see what lurks beneath the surface. She closes the album with a second take of Tether, built around terse layers of acoustic guitar. It’s early in the year, but this is the best album of 2022 so far.