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Tag: americana

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.

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.

Violinist Lily Henley Reinvents Haunting, Ironic Ancient Ladino Folk Tunes

Like most good violinists, Lily Henley has been called on to play all sorts of different styles of music. She got her start in New York playing bluegrass and front-porch folk, but also gravitated toward klezmer music. On her latest album Oras Dezaoradas – streaming at Bandcamp – she takes a deep dive into original Ladino songcraft.

There’s actually plenty of historical precedent for Henley’s decision to take a bunch of old ballads and set them to new melodies: until the advent of recording technology, folk musicians had been doing the same thing, largely uncredited, for thousands of years. One of the main themes that runs through the record is female empowerment, underscoring how important women musicians have been in keeping the tradition of Sephardic Spanish Jewish music alive since the terror of the Inquisition.

For the uninitiated, Ladino is to Spanish what ebonics are to English, more than what Yiddish is to German, so Spanish speakers won’t have a hard time getting the gist of these songs. Henley sings the first of several new versions of centuries-old lyrics with clarity and an airy understatement: the humor and irony in these songs is no less resonant today. The wistful, gently swaying tale that she opens the album with is a prime example, a mother confiding to her child that dad is sneaking home in the middle of the night from his girlfriend’s place. Henley fingerpicks a delicate lattice of guitar on this one; Duncan Wickel adds airy, atmospheric fiddle over the terse pulse of bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo.

Henley and Wickel swap instruments for a mashup of klezmer and Appalachia on the second track, jumping from a brightly waltzing intro to a biting, dancing escape anthem. Henley follows that with a defiant party-girl’s tale set to stark, bouncing minor-key tune with Wickel’s cello front and center.

There’s a cruel undercurrent to the broodingly fingerpicked, minor-key Alta Alta Va La Luna – “how high the moon,” basically. It’s a mother telling her child that they might be better off if they hadn’t been born. From there Henly goes back toward brisk, moody bluegrass for Arvoles Lloran Por Lluvia (Trees Cry For Rain), a bitter tale of exile common in much of diasporic Ladino music.

The album’s title track – meaning “Timeless Clock” – features the first of Henley’s original Ladino lyrics, a melancholy if energetically picked seaside tableau echoing a pervasive sense of abandonment. Esta Noche Te Amare, with equal hints of simmering flamenco drama and rustic Americana, is a fabulistic tale of a fair young maiden who sees her knight in shining armor revealed for what he really is.

The three musicians bounce darkly through the album’s lone instrumental, Muza de la Kozima: the acidic bite of the violin and cello is luscious. In La Galud, Henley paints an aching portrait of celebrations and traditions left behind, maybe for forever, set to a fast, steady waltz. She winds up the album, her anguished voice reaching for the rafters over a bass drone, a young woman recounting her boyfriend’s grim demise. It’s the most distinctly klezmer-adjacent melody here and a spine-tingling closer to this fascinating, imaginative record.

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.

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

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.