I did a lot of whole album listening this week; I believe all are listed below. You may notice more non-roots music this week as I have been feeling quite retro and dug old favourites. As always, shuffle and radio selections are not included.
Jackie Leven- Gothic Road Leven cops from Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen making familiar phrases sound all his own. What I love about this album is that I can listen to it while working and still be drawn into its tales and images. Who is Cornelius Whalen? Google the answer. Tilda Swinton? Oh, her. Yes, Patsy Cline may have been a bit crazy. “Island” is a gem of a song. Beautiful , poetic stuff.
Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers- Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers I heard Zoe several weeks ago on Allison Brock’s Wide Cut Country CKUA program and followed up by searching out this album. If Zoe had the spirit of Appalachia coursing through her veins, one might compare her to Iris Dement. It would be generous to label most of these songs as mid-tempo and Muth sings of topics that wouldn’t be surprising coming from Dement. Tears in her beers, Muth confesses all while punctuations of sparse instruments provide depth. Perhaps Nanci Griffith is as good a reference point as any.
The Schramms- Road to Delphi This album was recorded 20 years ago. I found the East Side Digital reissue on Friday in a used shop for two dollars. I think I have another of their albums around here somewhere. I like this one. Makes me wish I hadn’t missed so much great music from 1987 to 1993. Still playing catch-up, it appears.
Stephen Simmons- Live at Blue Highways The first of four artists discovered on the East Nashville Vol 3 disc and followed up with on eMusic last weekend. A short set from overseas, I believe, and serves as further evidence that I’m onto something here. “Drink Ring Jesus” and “Shirley’s Stables” are terrific. I’m going to enjoy pursuing his catalogue.
Amelia White- Motorcycle Dream I’m going to have to spend more time with this one; I think I got distracted listening. Listening to it again- as I finish some editing and revising, I realize that the songs seem to run together a bit. An occasional line or hook will attract me, but it isn’t sustained.
Matt Urmy- New Season Comin’ My new favourite. Like a hillbilly Gil Scott-Heron, Urmy tells it like he sees it. I listened to it a few times this week and found much to enjoy.
Jon Byrd- Byrd’s Auto Parts Concluding our hike through East Nashville. A voice that holds history. Straight-up, David Ball country.
The Violet Femmes- Hallowed Ground “Country Death Song” is obviously the classic, but this often-overlooked album worked its way back this week. Truly original.
The Cooper Brothers- In From the Cold I’m not sure why I downloaded this. My brother had their first two albums and I knew the singles from radio. Reflecting, I owe a lot to my oldest brother- he unknowingly introduced me to bands like Rainbow and Wings, and in doing so taught me about what I liked and didn’t. Anyway, I had a hankering for “The Dream Never Dies” and “Rock and Roll Cowboys” and when I found this new one on eMusic, I thought I’d take a chance while I was at it. “Jukebox” with Delbert McClinton is brilliant, name-checking dozens of songs in 4:40 of swampy, backroom rocking blues. This one appears to have legs and I am quite enjoying the album.
Mogwai- The Hawk is Howling One of three artists I’ve learned about/been encouraged to explore through Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels. I bought this one on a flier several months back and only got around to unsealing this week. The song structures are challenging but I found it quite accessible. I don’t think I need another Mogwai album, at least right now, but I’m going to enjoy spending time with this one.
The Rainmakers- Skin I don’t remember listening to this one before- must have uncovered it during a busy time. More of the same, and I don’t mean anything negative by that.
Mike Gouchie- Shattered Glass Arena country without the arena. Rather indistinct from all the other guys currently on the charts. The back-story is good and the songs hold some promise, but even the songs with the most hope (“Don’t Touch the Radio,” “Shattered Glass,” “Dust”) rely too much on easy rhymes and obvious sentiment. An unnecessary rendering of “Heart of Gold” serves as filler. Obviously, not intended for me. It’ll probably go Gold.
Scotty Campbell- Damned If I Recall Another $2 find. This ten-year old album is solid Canadian honky-tonk. Strong songs, great performance, and a killer voice. Glad I picked it up.
The Waves- Shock Horror I bought this album in university after listening to their first Attic album and interviewing Katrina Leskanich. I don’t know if these recordings were ever intended to be much more than demos, but the songs and performances of “Liverpool” and “Brown-Eyed Son”, while raw, hold up to the more familiar versions released elsewhere. All over the place, the remaining songs are pub- and glam-rock infused sketches that display Kimberley Rew’s (and the bands’) emerging talents.
Kimberley Rew- The Safest Place I didn’t realize this was out until, while listening to the previously mentioned Shock Horror album this weekend, I explored Rew’s site. I love his music and truly believe he should be held in esteem similar to that afforded Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. His last two albums are masterworks, and on first listen this one maintains the streak. I’ll spend more time with it. The title track could have been written by Lowe, and the intro to “Happy Anniversary” has a bit of “I Love the Sound of Broken Glass” to it. Deliberate, I hope. The third song, “Put A Little Sunshine,” could have been on the lost Partridge Family album. The hits (and the pop music allusions) just keep on coming! Pure pop for now people, says me.
Billy Joe Royal- Down in the Boondocks/Cherry Hill Park A two-fer. Atmospheric, southern sounding pop. Great songs. A timeless voice.
Carolina Chocolate Drops- Genuine Negro Jig Not bad, but not something I’m likely to pull of the shelf again.
Dead Men’s Hollow- Death Must Be a Woman I downloaded this one from eMusic based on a couple song samples. I quite enjoyed listening to it, but am not sure I am completely enamoured. DC area favourites according to their website, this stringband have a similar vocal sound to The Good Lovelies minus the Andrews Sister influences. “John Doe’s Bones”, the albums closer, is especially sharp.
The Go-Go’s- Vacation and Talk Show I likely haven’t put these two on the turntable in fifteen years. Everything I loved about the band came back in a flash- the spunk of Jane Wiedlin, Belinda’s voice, Gina’s drive. I remember reviewing Talk Show when it was released and being surprised to find so few positive words written about it elsewhere. I thought it was brilliant. Still do.
Blaze Foley & the Beaver Valley Boys- Cold, Cold World When Gurf Morlix was through town, he did a couple songs from this album. I couldn’t afford to buy the disc that evening but did purchase a download sometime later. The story of the album is at least as interesting as the music.
Ray Materick- Neon Rain “Linda, Put the Coffee On.” ‘Nuff said.
Various Artists- Best Loved Bluegrass I listened to this Rebel set on the mp3 player while doing housework on Friday afternoon. A terribly complete collection of standards (warhorses) performed in the class manner expected. I never realized how exceptionally well The Boys from Indiana arranged “Atlanta is Burning.” Great performance. What was it about willow trees? A must have collection.
Mary Gauthier- The Foundling The album holds together even more strongly the more I absorb. Listening, I feel I am about five seconds from tears.
Various Artists- WDVX: 10 Years Ray Benson explained, speaking of Townes Van Zandt in a recent edition of American Songwriter, that there is “something very honourable and necessary to really write the truth.” Those words came back to me listening to this incredible collection of cuts recorded in the camper and elsewhere from 1997 to 2007. James McMurtry starts things off with Irene Kelly, David Olney, Darrell Scott and others lending their songs and voices to a most inspired radio station. As many times as I’ve listened to this set, I find I am left with a new favourite each time; this time out, it is the closer from the Red Stick Ramblers- “Katrina.”
Frank Turner- First Three Years I’m missing something here. After reading some favourable reviews and comments, I downloaded this album months ago. I’m guessing Turner, who is a bit like Billy Bragg without the obvious substance, would appeal to some in brief, thirty minute folk fest sets. A whole album of him fights the listener and wins. Much caterwauling about nothing, as far as I’m concerned. It has taken me since December to listen to this one all-the-way-through, in one sitting. I’m thinking today will also be the only time.
Various Artists & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band- Preservation– My latest Sunday evening ritual; I’m enjoying it a bit more each time. Even the Del track is starting to work for me.