New York Music Daily

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Tag: americana music

The Bumper Jacksons Bring Their Hot, Eclectically Swinging Americana Party to the Bleecker Street Strip

The Bumper Jacksons play irresistible oldtimey toe-tapping music. If you got priced out of the Squirrel Nut Zippers reunion tour shows, this band will put the bubbles in your Moxie. Their latest album I’ve Never Met a Stranger – streaming at their music page – expands the band’s adventures of all sorts of Americana even further, embracing oldschool country and soul music as well as the swing they’ve made a name for themselves with. They’ve got an enticing show coming up at the Poisson Rouge on August 24 at 7 PM; $15 advance tix are highly recommended.

Guitarist Chris Ousley sings the jaunty opening track, Many Paths, over Dave “Duckpin” Hadley’s soaring pedal steel and the bouncy rhythm section of bassist Alex Lacquement and drummer Dan Samuels. Clarinetist Jess Eliot Myhre, trombonist Brian Priebe and trumpeter Joseph Brotherton join in a joyous dixieland raveup at the end.

Myhre takes over the mic for Find it Say Amen, a brisk mashup of country gospel, folk-pop and vintage C&W in the same vein as New York’s own Demolition String Band. I Sing the Body, a New Orleans cha-cha, features snazzy horns over resonant big-sky pedal steel, with a tantalizingly brief muted trumpet solo. Then Ousley sings the aptly titled, subtly hilarious western swing shuffle Get on Up, a showcase for Hadley’s sizzling chops.

The whole band join voices on the album’s brisk honkytonk title track: “I’ve never met a stranger at the bottom of a bottle, just like the friends all around me whose names I’ve forgotten,” is the chorus. Then they flip the script and take Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man down to St. James Infirmary.

Looming trombone and soaring pedal steel frame the matter-of-factly swaying, wistful Technicolor Waltz, an incongruous but richly successful blend of Bob Wills and Crescent City brass. Likewise, the pedal steel adds unexpectedly tasty texture to the vintage Memphis soul anthem Over Your Head. “Some of us will never grow up, never grow old, just ask those who tell us to do so,” Myhre sings in Old Birds, the album’s catchiest, most understatedly joyous, defiant track, the band shifting deftly between distantly gospel-inspired front-porch folk and New Orleans soul.

“If i called your name, would you answer, this city’s noise grow like a cancer,” Myhre broods in in the spare, bitter soul nocturne Waiting ‘Round Here. Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer) is just as slow but a lot more upbeat, risiing to a horn-spiced hokum blues party. The band winds up the album with a bouncy second-line version of Corina, Corina and then the blue-flame boogie Dirt Road Blues. It’s a party in a box.

A Brooding New Album and a Brooklyn Show from Dark Country Band the Whiskey Charmers

Ann Arbor dark country band the Whiskey Charmers made a big splash with their 2015 debut album. Their new one, The Valley – streaming at Bandcamp – takes their Lynchian twang and shuffle and raises the energy: this is much more of a blue-flame electric rock record. They’re making a rare New York appearance tonight, August 18 at 8 PM at the Way Station, making the trek out to the fringes of Bed-Stuy worth your while.

Lawrence Daversa’s bone-bleached slide guitar builds lingering menace throughout the album’s opening track, Desert, frontwoman/guitarist Carrie Shepard voicing an understatedly lurid scenario that probably doesn’t end well: it’s up to the listener to solve this mystery.

Brian Ferriby’s boomy drumbeat and Daniel “Ozzie” Andrews’ tesely slinky bass propel the defiant, honkytonk-flavored title track, about banishing an evil spirit who could be either dead or very much alive. The simply titled Melody is a straight-up, morose oldschool C&W shuffle: Shepar turns the art of crafting a tune into a metaphor for a relationship that probably won’t go anywhere.

The band returns to loping desert rock in Meet Me There, Shepard’s understatedly simmering vocals channeling hurt and abandonment: “Don’t you care that I was falling down the stairs?” she wants to know. Then Daversa detours into snarling Nashville noir in Dirty Little Blues: that creepy little ch-cha of a bridge is killer.

The band slow things down with the low-key Americana rock burner Fireproof and then bring back the luridly longing ambience in Full Moon, lit up by Daversa’s slashing, vintage elecric Neil Young riffage. And his sinuous, resonant country lines in the bittersweet Songbird might be the the album’s most gorgeous moments, anchored by David Roof’s vividly murky organ.

“Been looking for you lately on my lawn…been looking for you in the back of my car,” Shepard muses in the swaying, melancholy Red Wine. The album’s most epic track is Coal, a majestically gloomy, metaphorically bristling anthem that could be the Dream Syndicate at their countriest, capped off by a searing, careening Daversa solo. The album winds up with Warnings, an Americana-pop song in Halloween disguise. You have been warned: this band is going places. Catch them now before it costs you big bucks at a venue like Bowery Ballroom.

The Auspicious Future and Gloriously Melancholy Past of Americana Rock at Lincoln Center

For the last several years, the Americana Music Association has partnered to book the closing night of Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Yesterday’s festivities began with multi-instrumentalist Amanda Shires and her similarly brilliant band and closed soaringly and bittersweetly with the unselfconsciously gorgeous harmonies of the Jayhawks. There were other acts scheduled throughout the day, some of them rambunctious, one of them absolutely putrid, but if these two are the foundation and future of Americana, New York’s default listening music is in good hands.

Shires doesn’t exactly play violin like your typical Americana fiddler. From song to song, she’d fire off savage Romany chromatics, venomous tarantella riffs and stark blues along with plenty of extended technique, from muted pizzicato harmonics to slow, eerily surfacing glissandos. She’s also a hell of a storyteller, chooses her words and sings every song differently, in character. A brittle ingenue, wounded valkyrie and wistful red-dirt Texas songbird were just three of them.

She has a hell of a band. Her lead guitarist wove his way from biting minor-key blues, through menacingly Lynchian twang, often sparring with the bandleader. The bassist played what would have been new wave if the drummer hadn’t swung the music so hard: all those steady eighth notes and the occasional emphatic chord on the low end gave the music extra majesty.

They opened with My Love (The Storm), more or less a remake of Wayfaring Stranger, and brought the show full circle at the end, taking out Look Like a Bird with the day’s most searing guitar/violin duel. After a noir bolero and an amped-up romp through the sharp, bitter The Way It Dimmed, Shires told a funny story about an encounter with a Florida fan aromatic with “an herb that is legal in Colorado and other kind states.” He gave her a bag that turned out not to be filled with the obvious but with bits and pieces of a dead Siberian tiger – or so he said. “It’ll make you bulletproof!” he explained.

With that, Shires lit into  the song he inspired, which was funny for an instant but got dark quickly, a catalog of what might be worth protecting from gunfire, personal to political. A spare, lingering take of  Harmless, a cheating song that underscored dashed hopes rather than the potential fallout, contrasted with a loud, enigmatic rocker that brought to mind the Throwing Muses, then a loping, simmering Tex-Mex ballad that slowly crescendoed into growling psychedelia.

The Jayhawks have held up stunningly well since their glory days in the late 90s and early zeros. Frontman Gary Louris, pianist/organist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan still blend voices for the most glistening harmonies this side of the Balkans, and bassist Marc Perlman still makes his slinky, seamlessly melodic lines look effortless. Meanwhile, the band’s newsboy-capped latest addition filled out the sound, switching between mandolin, airy violin lines, acoustic guitar and Telecaster.

In the years since the band’s legendary turn-of-the-century triptych of albums – 1997’s Sound of Lies, 2000’s Smile and 2003’s Rainy Day Music – Louris has grown into the lead guitar god he was struggling to be then. He’s switched out most of the screeching, Stoogoid dry-ice attack for a precise, meticulously dynamic, texturally rich volleys that varied from Mick Ronson heavy blues, to many subtle shades of clang and twang, enabled by fast footwork on a pedalboard. His signature sound – a little Beatles, a little Bowie and a whole lot of Big Star – has held up as well as the band.

They opened with the mighty, indomitable powerpop anthem I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and followed with an appropriately towering version of the evening’s best song, the angst-fueled individualist anthem The Man Who Loved Life and its bitter on-the-road narrative.

Trouble, the centerpiece of Sound of Lies’ thread of rejection and alienation, was as shattering as the album version, Louris hitting his flange for extra surrealism to raise the effect of being “Hung out to dry, backs against the wall, stoned out of our minds.”

The rest of the show followed a dynamic arc up to a big crescendo with Tailspin, its gloomy perspective muted within the framework of a mighty singalong anthem. O’Reagan took over lead vocals on the moody, C&W-fueled ballad Tampa to Tulsa. The material from the band’s latest album Paging Mr. Proust was surprisingly strong, including a vampy, vintage soul-inspired number that could have been the Zombies. Even the slighter, poppier material – like Angelyne and Save It For a Rainy Day – was fresh and forceful. How many other bands who’ve been around since the 80s still channel this much passion and intensity?

Lincoln Center Out of Doors wraps up tonight, August 13 at 6 PM out back in Damrosch Park with oldschool 70s soul man Don Bryant and then veteran blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt, And the atrium space just north of 62nd Street continues to program some of the most exhilaratingly diverse acts from around the globe. Next up there: a rare twinbill of hypnotic, otherworldly, intense Colombian bullerengue with singer and tambolero Emilsen Pacheco Blanco along with singer Carolina Oliveros’ mighty 13-piece vocal/percussion choir Bulla en el Barrio on August 24 at 7:30 PM. The show is free; the earlier you get there, the better.

Pokey LaFarge Brings His Ruggedly Individualistic Americana to Williamsburg Tonight

Last night in between sets at Bowery Ballroom the PA played Los Mirlos’ creepy, otherworldly version of Sonido Amazonico, which is both the national anthem of cumbia and sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Take Five. A little later, the song was Don Gibson’s 60s country-pop hit Sea of Heartbreak. Both perfectly foreshadowed a deliriously fun show by rugged Americana individualist Pokey LaFarge and his fantastic seven-piece band.

On one level, what LaFarge plays is retro to the extreme, a mashup of early 50s hillbilly boogie, western swing, hot 20s jazz, vintage New Orleans soul, honkytonk, Tom Waits, Tex-Mex, mambo and a little southwestern gothic and noir bolero for deliciously dark contrast. On the other hand, there’s no one in the world who sounds like LaFarge: he’s taking a bunch of well-worn, familiar styles and creating something brand spanking new.

His band is amazing. Drummer Matthew Meyer energized the crowd with a pummeling Wipeout interlude. Bassist Joey Glynn drew a lot of chuckles with a punchy solo that quoted both the Who and the Violent Femmes. Midway through the set, LaFarge explained that he’s hardly the only good songwriter in the band, then left the stage for a smoke break or something. So banjo player Ryan Koenig switched to electric guitar and played one of the night’s best numbers, a gorgeously rueful oldschool honkytonk song about smalltown anomie titled This Main Drag (or something close to that).

Saxophonist Ryan Weisheit switched from alto to smoky baritone, to maybe tenor – it was hard to see through the crowd. Trumpeter Luc Klein played all sorts of wry effects with his mute. And lead guitarist Adam Hoskins adrenalized the audience with axe-murderer volleys of tremolo-picking, masterfully precise bluegrass flatpicking and fiery blues.

The songs really ran the gamut. With his matter-of-fact baritone, LaFarge doesn’t overemote. He added a little twang on the country numbers, and took a few Roy Orbison slides upward in one of the sad ballads, but he doesn’t try to sound like anybody else. And he only took a couple of guitar solos, but he made those count. A lot of the material was from LaFarge’s latest album Manic Revelations, including the title track, an unapologetic populist anthem, and the more upbeat but even more savage Silent Movies, a jauntily swinging nonconformist manifesto for an age where the performer onstage is reduced to a pretext for the selfie clusterfuck on the floor. Just so you know, there was none of that at this show.

Something in the Water – a subtly gospel-infused portrait of a hoosier chick who “drinks malt liquor for lunch and dinner,” and Manic Revelations, the title track to LaFarge’s previous album – went over well with the crowd, a refreshingly muiti-generational, multicultural mix of typical 99-percenter New Yorkers.

The band did Actin’ a Fool closer to subterranean homesick Dylan than the oldtimey swing of the album version. One of the night’s high points was a slowly crescendoing, blue-flame take of the flamenco-infused waltz Goodbye Barcelona. After LaFarge brought the lights down with a muted solo fingerpicked version of the cautionary ballad Far Away. “They’’ll lure with their eyes, and trap you with their thighs,” LaFarge intoned. He wound up the set with a rapidfire take of the triumphantly scampering Drinking Whiskey.

The encores were just as energetic and businesslike: an Allen Toussaint/Lee Dorsey soul-shout, and a choogling cover of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell. They’re doing this again tonight at around 10 at Rough Trade. If you want a rare asshole-free night out in that neighborhood, this is it. Tix are $25 at the door and worth it.

Blick Bassy, Cameroonian Connoisseur of Americana, Brings His Spare, Surreal Songs to Lincoln Center

Spare, mournful cello rises in the background, awash in reverb, over a stark, muted minor-key acoustic guitar riff. It’s the blues, straight from Africa but refracted back through the relentless heat of the Mississippi Delta. There’s longing in the catchy vocal hook that Blick Bassy sings in one of many of his native Cameroonian vernaculars. That’s the title track on his album Ako, streaming at Spotify. Bassy cites the otherworldly Skip James as a major influence, but that’s hardly the only one.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call Bassy a connoisseur of Americana in general. He’s bringing his eclectically dynamic, individualistic sound to the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. tomorrow night, July 13 at 7:30 PM. The show is free; getting there early is a good idea because a good crowd always shows up for these events.

Bassy switches to banjo, joined by the looming harmonies of Clément Petit’s cello and Johan Blanc’s trombone on the album’s second track, a jaunty hot 20s swing tune, sung with contrasting restraint. In the next song he takes that sound forward half a century for a surreal mashup of what sounds like Acadian folk and Nick Drake. Throughout the album, cello and trombone are frequently overdubbed for a lush, orchestral effect.

From there, rhythms vary from a balmy sway to the circling gait of Saharan Tuareg folk. Imagine a Malian guitar griot like Boubacar Traore, for example, scaling back his songs to two and a half minutes. Stylistically, the album runs the gamut from the bittersweetness of  Scots-American folk tunes,, to bouncy Appalachian string band music, to maybe Bill Monroe. Petit is similarly eclectic, sometimes a one-man orchestra, sometimes a bass player, sometimes adding spiky lower-register kora phrases

Screaming wifi isn’t exactly easy to find in Cameroon. Either Bassy was lucky enough to have internet access from a young age, or he was able to get his hands on a fantastic record collection. The Lincoln Center atrium is programmed with seemingly every culture base in the world’s most storied melting pot in mind; it’ll be interesting to see who turns out for this one.

Americana Icon Kasey Chambers at the Top of Her Charismatic Game in the West Village Last Night

“I’m so happy to be here. I’m so happy that I got into your country,” Kasey Chambers smirked,  drawing chuckles throughout the crowd at City Winery last night. The Australian Lucinda Williams shook off the effects of an attack of laryngitis that she said had left her literally speechless a couple of days before, tickled the audience all night with her sharp sense of humor, and left them breathless with her distinctive brand of Americana that’s as purist as it is individualistic.

“What I like most about what I do is that I get to take your music back to Australia – I don’t tell them it’s yours, I tell them it’s mine. And then I sell it back to you,” she grinned. While country and blues are not indigenous to the Australian outback, she literally grew up singing that around the campfire. By the time this evening was over, she’d related a few zany stories about living off the land there, as her lead guitarist father Bill Chambers did with his wife and young daughter for the first ten years of her life. The younger Chambers included that detail along with a whole lot more  in the wryly torrential lyrics of a Woody Guthrie-influenced talking blues that capsulized her career from those earliest days to her discovery of Twisted Sister in her middle-school years, to her surprise 2000 hit The Captain. That catapulted her to genuine stardom on her home turf ,and earned her a devoted cult following here.

She closed her set with that plaintively swaying, angst-ridden folk-pop number and got a standing ovation for it. Before then, she mixed up old favorites with a handful of bluegrass and oldtime blues-flavored tracks from her lavish new double album Dragonfly. Her band slayed all night. Dad drove home daughter’s catchy choruses with his red-flame blues and slide licks on Telecaster as well as lapsteel on a few numbers, while she switched between acoustic guitar, dobro and then banjo on a couple songs.

Guitarist Brandon Dodd and drummer Josh Dufficy took centerstage midway through the show with a lickety-split romp through a feral oldtime blues of their own, the bandleader beaming at how she’d discovered their duo project Grizzlee Train playing a random backyard beach bar and decided on the spot that she wanted them in her band. Alongside them, bassist James Haselwood added bluesy bends and nimble melodic runs, both on Fender and then bass uke, essentially serving as a third lead guitarist

The high point of the night might have been Ain’t No Little Girl, the centerpiece of the new album, with its ferocious, blues-fueled crescendos and bitterly accusatory lyrics. Or, it might have been a mutedly rapt version of A Million Tears, from Chambers’ debut album. Or for that matter, it could have been the title track to her second album, Barricades and Brickwalls, an indomitably female take on pursuit and conquest. Her youngest son, age nine, contributed both cajon and a little harmonica to that one. All night long, Chambers belted at full force in her signature twang, coming across as just as badass as she was fifteen years ago,when she sold out the old Bottom Line. She was six months pregnant with her first child at the time.

A Sepulchral, Saturnine Album and a Lower East Side Show from Dark Rock Guitarslinger Phil Gammage

Dark rock crooner Phil Gammage got his start as a teenager in the 1980s as the lead guitarist for legendary downtown NYC postpunk band Certain General. It’s probably safe to say that without them, there may have been no Jesus & Mary Chain or Brian Jonestown Massacre. While Certain General have been resurrected in various configurations over the years, Gammage has enjoyed a prolific career as a bandleader, sideman and small label honcho. His latest album Used Man for Sale is streaming at Bandcamp. He’s likely to air some of those songs out with his band on July 6 at around 9 at the Parkside, one of the few Lower East Side venues that hasn’t turned into a fulltime tourist trap.

The album opens with Arms of a Kind Woman, a blend of the purist Chicago blues that Gammage has been mining recently, but with a guarded Nick Cave optimism. Vocally, Gammage draws on both Cave and ’68 comeback-era Elvis, although Gammage could croon like this when Cave was still screaming about big Jesus trashcans. Interestingly, this record is more vocally than guitar-oriented — although the solo that ends it is a real monster.

Lowlit by Johnny Young’s oldschool slip-key honkytonk piano, Maybe Tomorrow is a gothic take on George Jones/Tammy Wynette C&W, Gammage’s brooding baritone in tandem with with Michele Butler’s uneasy harmonies over the slinky rhythm section of bassist Frank DiNunzio III and drummer Kevin Tooley (also of political rocker Mike Rimbaud’s band).

The band keeps the slinky, red-neon noir going through I Beg of You, part doomed fat Elvis, part haunted Otis Rush blues, with a knifes-edge guitar solo from the bandleader. The title track is a bitter oldschool soul ballad with a blue-flame guitar burn:

It’s my world, or what I tried to forget of it
All I am is a used man for sale
I had dreams, threw them all away
Hopes and schemes left for better days…

Ride With Railroad Bill is akin to 60s Johnny Cash fronting the Bad Seeds circa 1995.  Feeling the Hurt has echoes of Roy Orbison in rare optimistic mode: “It took me too long to get this far, and I paid too high of a price,” Gammage observes.

Before I Leave has an ominously vamping latin noir Doors/Frank Flight Band ambience: listen closely for a cool allusion to a classic cut from LA Woman. Fueled by Gammage’s slide work, Tenderloin comes across as a less frantic, more purist take on what Jon Spencer was doing 20 years ago (and sorry to bust anybody’s bubble, but even San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has been been overrun by yuppies).

“The city awaits, it’s your playground,” Gammage intones with crushing sarcasm in Lost in Loserville, a bluesy anti-gentrifier broadside and the album’s funniest track. It winds up with the Doorsy blues Staring Out Our Window. Gammage has been on a lot of good albums over the years, and this might be the best of them all; it’s inspiring to see a guy who’s been around this long at a high point in a four-decade artistic career.

A Tasty Guitar-Fueled New Album by Demolition String Band’s Americana Pioneers Elena Skye and Boo Reiners

One of New York’s funnest street fairs of the year actually isn’t in New York, it’s in Hoboken. This afternoon at 2:30 PM, Boo Reiners and Elena Skye – the brain trust of pioneering NYC urban C&W group Demolition String Band – are the main attraction at this year’s Hoboken Arts & Music Festival. It’s not the first time they’ve been the stars of this show and it probably won’t be the last. The stage is on the town’s main drag, Washington Street at 8th Street, just a short ten-minute walk from the Hoboken Path train station.

Elena and Boo also have a new album out, I Wait for the Light, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the second one they’ve released under their own names, after four with Demolition String Band, and it’s notable for being their most rocking one so far. The lineup on this one is much the same as the original unit: Reiners wailing and flatpicking up a storm on Telecaster and banjo, Skye on mandolin, guitar and baritone guitar, with Kenny Soule on drums, Winston Roye and Mike Santoro sharing bass duties.

The album kicks off with the highway rock anthem I Don’t Know, I Can’t Say. With her forceful, soulful, twangy delivery, Skye has never sung better: this song is like vintage 90s Wilco with a woman out front. The second track, Sea of Pleasure has a dynamic the BoDeans used to work all the time –  hushed and muted, then richly clangy, with a tantalizingly  brief, biting Reiners Tele solo out.

The tender ballad Red For You has a hushed vintage 50s Kitty Wells sway with 21st century production values, and a rich web of guitars that build to an achingly sunbaked peak. The album’s mightiest track, the big anthem She’s Nobody’s Girl is the kind of snarling guitar rocker that someone like Miranda Lambert could only wish she’d written. The band follows with the lingering ballad Deep Cool Green Ravine, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Emmylou Harris catalog.

Then they pick up the pace with the burning acoustic-electric Every Day An Angel and its subtle Beatlesque tinges. The duo reinvent Elegant Wind, a familiar number to Demolition String Band fans, as spare Gillian Welch-style folk. By contrast, the blazing Sailor Girl is a mashup of Revolver-era Beatles and shuffling vintage 60s honkytonk.

“Jesus was a peace freak, he took care of the weak,” Skye reminds in the Ramones-influenced Jesus Was a Liberal, the album’s most ferocious and arguably best track. “if Jesus had a radio show, or a tv show, he’d been on after Randi Rhodes, or Rachel Maddow,” Slye asserts, something you might expect from a singer who in the past decade would make it a point to dedicate Demolition String Band’s snarling version of Creedence’s Fortunate Son to George W. Bush.

The lush blend of banjo, mando and guitar textures throughout the wounded ballad Scar on My Heart are among the album’s tastiest moments. They wind it up on an upbeat note with You Keep Me Up, which draws a straight line back to the Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell collaborations of about ten years ago.

Rachael Kilgour’s New Album Transcends Trauma

Rachael Kilgour is the rare artist who sounds perfectly good in the studio, but onstage takes her formidable vocal skills to a level that few singers even attempt, let alone reach. Her Lincoln Center show last year was absolutely shattering. She cried during one of that evening’s saddest songs – that’s how deeply she inhabits her characters. And she’s hilarious, too: few songwriters can be so much fun, and so insightful, pillorying rightwing hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

But most of the material at that show wasn’t the political satire she’s best known for. The majority of the set was Americana ballads from her latest album Rabbit in the Road, streaming at her webpage. She’s bringing that harrowingly melismatic voice and alternately plaintive and biting tunesmithing to a couple of New York shows this month. On May 12 at 7 PM she’s at the Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave.in Cobble Hill; take any train to Atlantic Ave; The following night at 8, she’s at Caffe Vivaldi preceded at 7 by another eclectic songwriter with a sense of humor, Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls.

And now that you know how ferociously political Kilgour’s previous output is, now’s the time to tell you that her latest release is far more personal. It’s a breakup album.

Aie aie aie.

Michael Franti used to write brilliant political songs and raps back in the day. Then he decided that schlocky top 40 love ballads were his thing – and fell off the map. Paul Weller once fronted one of the best and most political punk rock bands ever, the Jam…and never wrote a song worth hearing after they broke up. Did Kilgour run out of gas too?

As it turns out, no. Her lyrics on the new album can be just as incisive and edgy, and she can still write a catchy hook and an anthemic chorus with the best of them. It’s just her focus that’s changed direction. It seems that Kilgour got blindsided in a particularly messy divorce. She’s been outspoken about how she wants to break down the barriers between audience and performer, and that she sees the new material as being therapeutic for both sides of that equation.

So it’s comforting on more than one level that she’s succeeded at what she wanted to achieve: this is the rare heartbreak narrative that doesn’t come across as mawkish or cliched. The album opens with a soul-tinged, somewhat stunned miniature that sets the stage. Deep Bruises is where the shock sinks in, Kilgour trying to talk herself through an endless cycle of despair: It’s the one song that best evokes her soaring, Orbison-esque angst when she slides up to a note to drive a chorus home. Steve Wynn’s Tears Won’t Help You Now is a good point of comparison.

Ready Freddie is the ballad that Kilgour had the hardest time getting through at the Lincoln Center gig. It’s an attempt to cheer up her adopted daughter, someone she’s obviously close to and missed terribly when she wrote it. it’s a theme she revisits almost as fervently later on the record. By contrast, Up From Down is a kiss-off anthem, if a muted one, set to a pleasant if innocuous full-band folk-pop arrangement.

Anger rises in Still My Wife, the homey imagery that Kilgour opens with giving way to a cheating tale straight out of a classic country ballad. The dismissive patronizing title track is songwriter vengeance at its most subtle and satisfying: in case you haven’t already figured it out, never, EVER mess with one, they always get even in the end

Don’t Need Anyone echoes the defiance of Kilgour’s political work as much as her vocals echo Neko Case. “You think I need a lover to save me from my grief? I don’t need distractions, I don’t need your second hand relief,” she insists. Likewise, Hit By a Bus balances mixed feelings with vindictiveness: guess which one wins.

Kilgour has had great fun mocking Christian extremists (some people mistake her for a born-again because they don’t get the joke). So I Pray might seem like quite a departure, but it’s a wish, rather than a call to some patriarchal force, and a launching pad for vocal pyrotechnics in a live setting. Even here, Kilgour can’t resist a delicious dig: “I pray, to no one in particular, that they’ll help you find your way.” The album’s concluding cut, Break Wide Open is the only place where it feels overproduced: it doesn’t really add anything. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what direction Kilgour goes in after this. We could use her stiletto wit and inclusive vision right about now.  

Courtney Marie Andrews’ Brooding Departure into Retro Americana Is Her Best Career Move

Courtney Marie Andrews’ latest album Honest Life – streaming at Spotify – sounds like a Melba Montgomery record from the early 70s, but with different production values. And it doesn’t sound anything like what Andrews has ever done up to this point. If there ever was a musician who’s earned a new lease on her artistry, it’s Andrews. As Americana, it’s more Memphis than Nashville, drawing a straight line back to Dusty Springfield. Among current artists, Tift Merritt is the obvious reference; Margo Price is also a point of comparison. In other words, Andrews’ strikingly purposeful turn in a retro direction isn’t dadrock – or momrock. She’s playing the Mercury on May 8 at 8 PM; cover is $10.

The album is short: ten songs, most of them around the three-minute mark. Many of the arrangements don’t have a rhythm section, which enhances the intimacy. Awash in Charles Wicklander’s gospel piano and Steve Norman’s distant lapsteel, anchored by Andrews’ bittersweetly swaying acoustic guitar riff, the opening track, Rooking Dreaming contains a pretty devastating admission. “I was too broke, too shallow to dive deep,” Andrews intones, an unexpected mea culpa from a recent refugee from the corporate pop machine. “I am a passenger to somewhere, I do not yet know the name…I am a when will I see you again,” she explains with guarded hope as the song ends, very much unresolved. She revisits that theme later on the title track, a bluegrass tune reinvented as quasi-gospel, spiced with her own tastily tremoloing guitar solo.

This Is Not the End, a lost-love lament, has a similar backdrop, but no drums, just steel, piano and Andrews’ delicate acoustic fingerpicking. Irene has a dramatic flair, a cautionary tale for a potential drama queen: “You are a magnet Irene, sometimes good people draw troublesome things.” Andrews throws in a funny, chugging solo on the low strings to drive the point home.

With nifty honkytonk piano balanced against washes of steel, How Quickly Your Heart Mends brings to mind Merritt’s early Nashville material. Let the Good One Go is slower and drenched in vintage soul, marinating in yet more of that terse, gospel-tinged piano. Table for One, a stark band-on-the-road narrative, comes across as one part Lowell George, one part Townes Van Zandt: “Found peace in the Redwoods, lost it twenty miles later,:” Andrews laments. Themewise, Put the Fire Out follows to a logical conclusion: get off the road. It wouldn’t be out of place on a recent Laura Cantrell album.

Andrews’ ache in 15 Highway Miles is visceral: “If fate is a dart that you throw at a map, then you can’t count on fate, you can count on that.” But the ending is optimistic. The album’s final cut, Only on My Mind is a quiet stunner, a devastating, string-drenched portrait of shattered dreams, with a cruel allusion to a popular Louis Armstrong hit. This is a good, reflective headphone album for a summery Sunday afternoon with a pitcher of lemonade and a scone…or a solitary stroll along the Brooklyn Prom, or the piers on Emmons Avenue, water bottle in your backpack, flask in your pocket.