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Tag: americana rock

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.

 

Starkly Powerful Tunesmithing and Loaded Metaphors on Abigail Lapell’s New Album

“Time may judge this a classic,” this blog enthused about Abigail Lapell’s 2019 album Getaway. Raves like that as rare here as integrity in the Justin Trudeau cabinet. The small handful of albums which have earned that distinction include Karla Rose Moheno‘s Gone to Town and Hannah vs. the Many‘s All Our Heroes Drank Here, to name two of the best. How well does Lapell’s latest release Stolen Time – streaming at Bandcamp – stack up against her previous achievement? It doesn’t always have the same seething intensity, but Lapell’s songwriting is strong, and she has an excellent band behind her.

She opens it with the hypnotic, sparsely fingerpicked, subtly aphoristic Britfolk-flavored Land of Plenty. Dani Nash’s mutedly ominous, swaying drumbeat anchors the second track, Ships, Christine Bougie adding snarling electric guitar and sparse lapsteel alongside violist Rachael Cardiello and bassist Dan Fortin. It’s a metaphorically loaded departure ballad echoing a big influence in Lapell’s work, Sandy Denny.

Lapell moves to piano for Pines and its allusively ominous nature imagery. Scarlet Fever has stark oldtime blues inflections and plaintive viola from Cardiello. With “silver needles on the wall,” is this a subtle lockdown parable? Maybe.

All Dressed Up, a nimbly fingerpicked acoustic tune, may also have post-March 2020 subtext: “No way out of here, wake me up when the coast is clear,” Lapell instructs. I See Music, a stately piano waltz spiced with Ellwood Epps’ trumpet is next: “There’s no danger in a major key, there’s no harm in a harmony,” Lapell asserts.

She goes back to guitar for the similarly graceful Waterfall and follows with the album’s title track, Stolen Time, a swaying, crescendoing anthem lit up by Bougie’s incandescent lapsteel. “I dreamed I saw my baby, sewage in his veins, a rotten apple in his chest,” Lapell recalls in the next track: is this a tantalizingly brief, disquieting shipwreck tale, or is there more to the story?

“Dance in the ashes, gasoline and matches” figure heavily in the otherwise lilting, catchy nocturne Old Flames. Lapell winds up this often riveting, enigmatic album on an optimistic note with I Can’t Believe. It’s inspiring to see one of the sharpest songwriters in folk-adjacent sounds persevering under circumstances which have been less than encouraging for artists in general. Barring the unforeseen, Lapell’s next gig is an evening performance on May 21 at Paddlefest in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

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.

The Funniest and Most Serious Songs of the Week

Time for another short self-guided playlist today: half a dozen songs in about eighteen minutes. Click artist names for their webpages; click song titles for audio.

The most hilarious one that’s come over the transom here in the wake of the hissyfit that Neil Young (and maybe his hedge fund handlers) threw about Rogan and Spotify is Sold Man, Curtis Stone and Media Bear’s parody of Neil Young’s Old Man. They nail everything, right down to the whiny falsetto:

Locked down in this 5G town
Live alone in the metaverse
Klaus Schwab’s coming for you…
I’m alone at last when I failed to cancel Rogan

Download it for free here

On a more serious note, Dr. Dan Merrick has just released the protest song Wrong’s Not Right, a catchy update on classic 1950s-style country gospel. When’s the last time you heard a country gospel song that mentioned beer – and not in a disparaging way?

On an even more serious note, Dietrich Klinghardt just wrote a beautiful, haunting Appalachian gothic-tinged protest song, Angels Come:

A wealthy clique controls our leaders
And the internet, the media west and east
Are these billionaires ordained by God to lead us?
Behind their eyes we sense the mark of the beast

Last year, Lydia Ainsworth recorded a trio of songs from her Sparkles & Debris album with a string section. If you liked the Pretenders’ Isle of View orchestral record, you’ll love the new version of Halo of Fire: “Allow your thoughts to roam as freely as they desire”

On the mysterious side, Terra Lightfoot and Jane Ellen Bryant team up for Somebody Was Gonna Find Out. Find out what? It’s a good story, open to multiple interpretations. Two acoustic guitars, two voices: see if you can figure it out.

Let’s wrap this up with Elle Vance‘s La Beaute de la Vie – with Tayssa Hubert on vocals – which is part Edith Piaf, part reggae. It works. Go figure. This is the French version; sadly, the English version is autotuned.

Slashingly Lyrical, Darkly Amusing New Americana From Goodnight, Texas

Goodnight, Texas play sharply lyrical Americana with a mix of oldtime acoustic instrumentation and snarling electric guitars. Frontmen Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf can both spin a great yarn and have a sense of humor. Is their new album How Long Will It Take Them to Die – streaming at Bandcamp – a reflection on the plandemic? Actually not. It’s a mix of cynically amusing pre-bluegrass sounds, bristling highway rock and Nashville gothic. It’s also the best album of the year so far for 2022.

The first track is Neighborhoods, a 19th century front porch folk march with imaginative acoustic/electric production values. It’s a Tom Waits down-and-out scenario without the cliches:

My days are little neighborhoods where different people live
Never two to intertwine, not a damn to give
For anyone or anything outside of what they know
My days are little neighborhoods and in between I go

Hypothermic is a Nashville gothic masterpiece, a creepy fugitive’s tale and an instant contender for best song of 2022:

Gas up
With a credit card
And an alias
That I learned this morning
Dead flies
Round the heat lamp
No receipt, please
Hide face from the camera
Peel out
On a snowbank
But I landed
And I’m back on the highway
Northbound
To Alaska
Hypothermic
Where the sun can’t find me

The band follow that with Gotta Get Goin’, a funny stomping open-tuned oldtime string band tune with a surprise ending. They take a wryly choogling boogie tune into newgrass territory in Borrowed Time: Chuck Berry and Tony Trischka make a better mashup than you might expect.

The stark down-and-out ballad I’d Rather Not is a desperado scenario as Wilco would have done it in the late 90s. Don’t Let ‘Em Get You could be a ramshackle early Okkervil River-style revolutionary anthem, or could be lockdown-specific: “Comes a day when they shed their skins and everything you ever caught up in believing in.”

Jane, Come Down From Your Room, a sad country waltz, is a witheringly detailed portrait of trans-generational trauma. Lead player Adam Nash’s pedal steel sails over the spare layers of acoustic guitars and banjo in To Where You’re Going, bassist Chris Sugiura and drummer Scott Griffin Padden holding the shambling tune on the rails.

Solstice Days – “When the sky was overcast, and the present felt like the past, walking down a road that says Do Not Enter” – has a slow sway and a persistent sense of longing. The closest track to standard-issue 90s alt-country here is Sarcophagus: “Was it time for for examining or was it time for celebration?” is the operative question.

“If I’m gonna catch hell for speaking my mind, I might as well make it count,” is the big message in the album’s centerpiece, Dead Middle, a metaphorically loaded highway narrative which absolutely nails the existential questions and divergent realities screaming out for resolution in 2022. The concluding title track turns out to be a cynically humorous number with lingering hints of western swing.

An Inspiring Lockdown-Era Performance by a Heartland Rock Icon Immortalized on Video

Today’s installment of this month’s celebration of big sounds and epic releases is a massive 22-track live-in-the-studio video by a well-loved fixture in heartland American rock, Sam Llanas. The co-founder of Milwaukee legends the BoDeans put out two concert-length DVDs, recorded at JEM Studios there during the spring and summer of 2020. The first performance, from May 23 of that year, is the best. The show was webcast live and the audio is up at archive.org.

What’s coolest about this is that it isn’t all familiar BoDeans hits: Llanas has staked out a prolific career since then, strongly represented here. The band play without a break and barely any time between songs: by the end, everybody’s sweating under the stage lights. We don’t get to see the audience: much as he’s playing an intimate space, Llanas projects stadium-sized energy.

Recipe, from Llanas’ album Return of the Goya, Part 1 sets the stage. Joe Ellis’ lusciously textured production puts Llanas’ acoustic guitar high in the mix, reminding how crucial his dynamic, varied rhythm work was to the BoDeans. Sean Williamson adds spare, sizzling lapsteel riffs over Mike Hoffmann’s bass and Matt Rhyner’s drums.

Next is Follow Your Heart, a country-flavored Texas shuffle, and then a flinty, tightly ticking take of another country-flavored anthem, All Alone Again. Llanas tells the cameras that his country roots were already showing when he wrote Lookin’ For Me Somewhere back in the 80s; this version swings more, with atmospheric steel from Williamson.

Likewise, they reinvent another big hit, Misery as a simmering roadhouse anthem, straightening out the rhythm and letting Williamson off the leash for a searing solo. Llanas segues into Sylvia, something he’s been doing onstage for years. There’s also plenty of sizzle in the evocative minor-key highway anthem Long Way Home

The band reach for a rolling thunder Dylan atmosphere with Don’t Cha Just Know, the first of a handful of numbers from Return of the Goya Part 2. The band switch out the noir for a majestic blend of jangle and clang in The Best I Can, from Llanas’ 2014 album The Whole Night Thru and bring the energy even higher in a long, roaring version of Déjà Vu. And the band ramp up the angst and regret in Cold & Clean.

The last nine songs are as strong an ending to a setlist as anything Llanas has ever played. Wham, one after the other, starting with a fast, scorching version of Black White & Blood Red: it’s 180 degrees of how the BoDeans used to play it. You’ll have to supply the audience response on True Devotion yourself – although you won’t, a few songs later, on Still the Night

The best song of the set – and one of Llanas’ best ever – is 617. another version that’s sped up to the point where the claustrophobia and desperation in Llanas voice takes on new intensity, something he revisits with the next-to-last song of the set, Far Far Away From My Heart. He keeps the volume up but completely flips the script with a simmering, bluesy Hold on Tight, then a surprisingly fresh take of the obligatory Runaway

They race through Fadeaway and close with Naked, which Llanas surprisingly slows down even more than he would do with his old band, wrenching out undiminished passion after damn near two hours onstage. Lockdown? What lockdown?

Dark, Dreamy, Evocative, Sophisticated Americana-Inspired Tunesmithing From Peggy James

Peggy James’ 2018 album Nothing in Between was a lush, Lynchian masterpiece. The Milwaukee Americana singer’s latest album, The Parade – streaming at Soundcloud – is a little more stripped down, but guitarist Jim Eannelli rises to the occasion, supplying layers of keys as well. James’ misty, down-to-earth vocals are as unselfconsciously poignant as ever.

The opening track,I Go With Me is an escape anthem, but the past haunts her narrator “A brand new destination doesn’t change my reputation,” she confides over a mix of late 60s countrypolitan and 80s new wave textures that give away Eannelli’s roots.

Willow is a straight-up oldschool 60s-style country ballad with a grittier guitar edge and some tasty twin leads from Eannelli on slide. Thousand Reasons starts out like a demo by an iconic band from James’ home turf, the BoDeans, with a woman out front; Eannelli’s drifty, dreamy, late-period ELO style production from there is spot-on.

There’s more slide guitar and a steady gallop in Guardian Angel, which rocks harder without losing the nocturnal ambience. Hard Times, a steady, backbeat country tune, seems to reflect both the destruction in the wake of the BLM protests last summer, and then the devastation of the plandemic:

What will it take to bind us all together?
Hope to God it’s not another 9/11
We don’t miss the slogans that we never would forget
Now we’re more divided than we ever have been

There’s stark contrast between James’ acoustic guitar and Eannelli’s spacious, resonant electric leads in Best in Me. The guitar layers grow more luscious in the Buddy Holly-inspired So Subtle. Joan of Arc, a venomous, fire-and-brimstone political broadside, is a mashup of Badfinger and 70s Nashville: lyrically, it’s the strongest song on the record.

Likewise, the relentless storm metaphors throughout the most ghostly track here, the ELO-tinged Indoor Cat. James goes back to country in the loping, twangy Crossroad Moment and closes with the unexpectedly raucous but sobering title cut: the fall from grace James chronicles is a personal one, but you can’t help but wonder if that’s symbolic of a greater malaise. And her knowing, wounded voice really drives the song home. It’s a solid follow-up after a career high for James; here’s hoping there’s more from her sooner than later.

Colorful, Dynamic, Meticulously Arranged Loopmusic From Baritone Saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi

The big recording meme of 2020 was solo albums. Among the most interesting to hit the web so far is baritone saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi’s new solo release Hidemi, streaming at Bandcamp. Often using a loop pedal, he multitracks himself into a sometimes elegantly brooding, sometimes exuberantly rhythmic, catchy wind ensemble.

He constructs the opening number, Beachside Lonelyhearts from a somber tableau to an aggressively circling intensity, only to let it drift away into the waves. Tule Lake Like Yesterday is a lattice of staggered, minor-key blues loops with a solo at the center that moves from ominousness to a frantic squall. No surprise, considering that the title refers to the World War II concentration camp where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned.

Shiroishi follows the same pattern in Jellyfish in the Sky, but with a considerably more squiggly, playful series of concentric phrases. What Happens When People Open Their Hearts begins airy, spacious, and genuinely tender, but watch out!

Stand Up and Let Us Witness This Ourselves is built around a staggered bassline, and much shorter than that long title might imply. Shiroishi pulls out some daunting extended technique for the laserlike precision of the fluttery phrases in To Kill a Wind-up Bird: it’s the most cynically funny track here.

If Shiroishi is to be taken at face value, Without the Threat of Punishment There Is No Joy in Flight is bullshit, for many obvious reasons. He could also mean that sarcastically: the theme itself is on the carefree side and the most improvisational one here.

He goes for cartoonish in The Dowager’s Clipped Wings: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Daniel Bennett catalog. Shiroishi closes the album with The Long Bright Dark, a showcase for rapidfire articulation and prowess on alto sax as well, and is the lone moment with vocals: “Is this the end of the storm?” Shiroishi hollers in Japanese.

Midwestern Rock Legend Sam Llanas Haunted by the Ghosts of Yesterday’s Angels

If Sam Llanas never put out another album, he would still be a first-ballot hall-of-famer. As co-leader of heartland rockers the BoDeans, he built a body of work to match any other songwriter active since the 80s. But Llanas shows no signs of slowing down, and like his colleague James McMurtry, he just keeps putting out great records. His latest is Ghosts of Yesterday’s Angels, which isn’t’ online yet. It’s arguably his best solo release, and has moments that will rip your face off.

As the title implies, this is a haunted record, filled with regrets and disillusion, although there are plenty of upbeat moments as well. Much as it’s mostly acoustic, the atmosphere is lush and sparkling with layers and layers of guitar, mandolin, accordion and what sounds like autoharp. Llanas,, Mike Hoffmann and Sean Williamson handle the stringed instruments; Michael Ramos plays keys and accordion, with Susan Nicholson on violin.

Much as Llanas is hardly known for playing covers, he opens the album with an absolutely gorgeous, lushly jangly, bittersweet reinvention of the old Civil War folk song Shenandoah. The first of the originals, Lonely Girl, begins starkly and grows more nocturnally starry: it could be a prequel to an older song in the Llanas catalog, Two Souls.

Days Go By is classic Llanas, a big two-chord anthem on a more intimate scale and an angst-fueled look back on lakeside bonfires and people gone forever. His voice is still in great shape, as everybody who watched his webcasts during the lockdown noticed, and he really airs out his upper register in Straight to Hell, a brisk, gloomy country shuffle with a spiky twin guitar solo midway through.

One Summer Night is an aptly shimmery but propulsive take on Orbisonesque Nashville gothic pop. Here Comes the Dawn is next, a hopeful, catchy, gently bouncing pre-daybreak theme. A Place in This World could be an Everly Brothers tune, a fond look back at childhood influences: Llanas’ dad was a bass player, and the Mexican community in Waukesha, Wisconsin was fertile ground for musical cross-pollination.

Llanas goes back to early 60s Lynchian pop sounds in Down Here in the Cold: it’s imploring, but it’s also hopeful. Rave On is an upbeat, Willie Nile-ish pop tune – is that a glockenspiel, or just a Casio?

Autumn Is Falling is an anthem for our era, a metaphorically-loaded reflection on the grim passage of time. With its cheery, doo-woppy hooks, the most retro song here is Got Love. The big hit here is Bring Me to Light, a weary but defiant freedom fighter’s anthem flavored with chiming twelve-string and soaring slide work from Hoffmann. Llanas winds up the album with Wedding Ghost, a morbidly waltzing Louvin Brothers-style narrative: it’s a classic of its kind.