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Tag: don gibson

Understatedly Troubling Music For Troubling Times From the Nine Seas

Folk noir superduo the Nine Seas take their name from the long-defunct, legendary Alphabet City bar 9C, located at the corner of 9th Street and Avenue C. Years before Pete’s Candy Store was anything more than a numbers joint, and more than a decade before the Jalopy opened, 9C was New York’s ground zero for Americana music. That’s where Liz Tormes and Fiona McBain cut their teeth at the wildly crowded, weekly bluegrass jam.

In the years since then, both would become important voices in Americana, as solo artists and with other bands (McBain best known for her longtime membership in the gospel and soul-tinged Ollabelle). This project, which began as a murder ballad cover act, also goes back several years, attesting to the chemistry between the two musicians. Their long-awaited debut album Dream of Me is streaming at their music page. It’s a mix of originals and imaginative covers, the two singer-guitarists occasionally abettted by keys and horns.

Tormes’ first number, Am I Still Your Demon is the album’s quietly potent opener. It has a classic Tormes vocal trick that she’s used before (see the devastating Read My Mnd, the opening number on her 2010 Limelight album). J. Walter Hawkes’ looming trombone arrangement perfectly matches the song’s understated angst.

The duo reinvent the old suicide ballad I Never Will Marry with a hazy dreampop tinge, as Mazzy Star might have done it. They do E.C. Ball’s fire-and-brimstone country gospel classic Trials, Troubles, Tribulations much the same way. Here and throughout the record, Jim White’s spare banjo, organ and other instruments really flesh out these otherwise stark songs.

Likewise, his glockenspiel twinkles eerily in Go to Sleep, an elegaic Tormes tune. McBain’s I Really Want You is just as calmly phantasmagorical: it’s more about longing than lust. Then Oliver de la Celle ‘s Lynchian guitar and White’s banjo raise the menace in a radical reinvention of Charlie Rich’s Midnight Blues

The hypnotic version of the murder ballad Down in the Willow Garden, a concert favorite, is all the more creepy for the duo’s bright harmonies and steady stoicism, White adding airy pump organ. McBain switches to piano for the even more atmospheric, Julee Cruise-ish Where He Rests.

They wind up the album with a pair of covers. They transform Midnight, a bluesy, Jimmy Reed-style 1952 hit for Red Foley, into minimalist girl-down-the-well pop. And they remake Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak as jungly exotica: nobody plays with more implied menace than the Nine Seas.

The album also includes stripped-down alternate takes of Trials, Troubles, Tribulations and Midnight Blues. Beyond this album, since they’re unable to play shows at the moment, the Nine Seas have a weekly webcast, the Quarantine Chronicles, where they run through many other songs from the immense dark folk repetoire they’ve amassed over the years.

Dark Crooner Mark Sinnis Releases His Catchiest, Hardest Country Record

There’s not a little irony in that baritone crooner Mark Sinnis’ catchiest and hardest country record comes out of the most difficult and arguably most complicated time in his life as a recording artist. His latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves – streaming at Spotify – picks up the doomed tangent he began in 2012 with It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter. At that point, his marriage was on life support this one traces the despair that followed in its wake, yet paradoxically it’s Sinnis’ most hopeful album ever. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

As you might expect from Sinnis’ most traditional country album, there’s plenty of reverence for and references to to a century of tradition. The Elvis homage In Tupelo opens it; a homage to New York’s one and only country station, 1050 WHN, which aired at that frequency on the AM dial from 1941 to 1987, closes it on a similarly nostalgic note.

In between, there’s On This Thanksgiving Day, a cruel Johnny Cash-flavored anthem chronicling Sinnis’ departure/eviction from his Westchester home (he’s since resettled in North Carolina). There’s the towering, angst-fueled, Orbison-esque bolero that serves as the album’s title traack, inspired by an actual flower Sinnis discovered the day he moved out of his home in the frigid winter of 2014. It graces the album’s back cover.

Why Should I Cry Over You is a brisk, propulsive minor-key honkytonk blues number. There are a couple of older songs dating from Sinnis’ days fronting gothic-tinged art rock band Ninth House, notably the haunting When the Sun Bows to the Moon – “You create your own atmosphere, breathe your own tainted air” – and the creeping, low-key, doomed Jealousy.

There’s surprisingly upbeat, optimistic material here too. Love, Love Love (You’re Such a Four Letter Word) is a funny and wickedly catchy update on Don Gibson-style 1960s country-pop. Five Days, Seven Nights looks back to the roots of alt-country and bands like the Mekons, but with more finesse. Where It All Ends, a 70s style country ballad, serves as the album’s quietly triumphant coda.

Siting at the Heartbreak Saloon wouldn’t be out of place in the classic-era Merle Haggard songbook. And the album’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got, is one of the all-time greatest kiss-off anthems ever written. See, on the surface, this retro chick – as he tells it, Sinnis’ ex – looks like a classic car from 1956 or so. But wait – pop the hood! Fans of classic country from Lefty Frizzell, to Waylon and Willie, to Jack Grace will love this album A period-perfect and smart, tersely recorded performance from multi-instrumentalists Stephen Gara-  who plays everything from banjo to bagpipes – ass well as W. D. Fortay on lead guitar, Ken Lockwood on fiddle, Brian Aspinwall on pedal steel and trumpet, Lee Compton on lead trumpet, Mike Gross on bass and Michael Lillard on drums.

Mandy Barnett Covers Don Gibson: A Whole Album’s Worth, and It’s Good!

Believe it or not, without much fanfare, Mandy Barnett has released an album, I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson, marketed primarily as a point-of-purchase impulse item through a chain of mini-marts. For those who don’t follow country music, Gibson came up around the same time as George Jones. In a period whenNashville hits were penned mostly by an assembly line of hired-gun songwriters, Gibson distinguished himself by performing his own material. Several of his songs have become standards; other singers’ covers (notably Conway Twitty’s version of I Can’t Stop Loving You) have often overshadowed his own recordings. Gibson’s best songs have an angst-ridden quality, and as a singer, he comes across as something of a gentle, vulnerable soul.

Mandy Barnett? OK, say what you want about New Nashville, how it’s all just putrid pop, that it’s about as country as One Direction and full of annoying product placements. But anybody who disses Barnett forgets that it was her starring role as a teenager in a Patsy Cline revue that jumpstarted her career. She knows her classics, which makes it less of a surprise that she’s put her heart and soul into this one. Likewise, the all-star, veteran band behind her, with Hargus “Pig” Robbins’s terse, thoughtful piano, Lloyd Green’s pedal steel and Andy Reiss’ electric and acoustic guitar along with a string section that gives most of these tracks a plaintively lush early 70s Nashville feel.

You wouldn’t think from Reiss’ dirty rock guitar on the intro that the album’s opening track, (Yes) I’m Hurting would fly back to that era on the wings of the strings, but it does – and it’s over really fast. Barnett bends her way through the blue notes with a grim knowingness, which she does with even more wrenching angst on an absolutely knockout, deftly orchestrated version of Too Soon to Know.

Look Who’s Blue starts out with more than a hint of southwestern gothic, then switches to a vintage honkytonk guitar arrangement. Sweet Dreams also gets reinvented, this one with Tex-Mex overtones, as Barnett goes all out with the Patsy phrasing – she really goes deep into it and dredges up all the bitterness.

Just One Time plays up the Spanish tinge in the tune, with Barnett gamely channeling a Roy Orbison wariness. With its Alison Krauss cameo, Blue Blue Day goes back to a wintry, orchestrated early 70s Nashville ambience. Oh Lonesome Me has been done to death by a million singers, but this version transforms it into jaunty western swing.

Oh Such a Stranger is one of Gibson’s best songs, and the version here is the album’s most Lynchian track, fueled by the longing in Barnett’s delivery in tandem with Robbins’ gospel-tinged piano. Barnett takes it up another notch over the distant gospel choir (is that the Jordanaires?) on Far Far Away, a surreal but strangely successful blend of Elvis P. balladry and Tex-Mex. Lonesome Number One keeps the gospel choir, switching out the Spanish guitar for pedal steel. Barnett ends the album with a slow, restrained yet vividly wounded take of Legend in My Time. The only dud here is – big surprise – I Can’t Stop Loving You. Barnett and the band really try to redeem this one, but ultimately it’s a song that needs to be permanently retired. Strange as this might seem to say, the album ranks among the best stuff Barnett’s ever done. Now – where can you hear this unexpected treat? Soundcloud? Nope. Spotify? Not there, either. There are a few tracks up at youtube, however – click the links in the song titles above.