This Provo, UT quartet has a modern rock sound that usually suggests the The Shins, but the A-side, “I Won’t See You,” of their new EP is sweetly rooted in the 1970s soft-rock hits of Fleetwood Mac, Andrew Gold and others. The song’s melody and harmonies are warm and comforting, and it’s not until the song transitions into a more angsty chorus that you realize you’re not listening to a period piece. Even then, a short guitar solo once again captures the mood of ’70s radio and leads back to another gorgeous verse. The EP’s second track edges more towards Gin Blossoms territory, but the rhythm guitars could still bring you back to 1976. The closing “Birds” returns more to the modern-rock sounds of the Shins or Morning Benders, though the harmony vocals and blues-heavy undertow still tug at you from decades past. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Archive for the ‘Free Stream’ Category
What if, after cutting his musical teeth in Phoenix, Lee Hazlewood had turned East to Nashville, rather than West to Los Angeles? And what if he’d met Nancy Sinatra in MusicCity rather than the City of Angels? The answer might sound like a twist on the Western-tinged landscapes of “Summer Wine” and “Some Velvet Morning,” and it might have sounded something like the opening track of this Nashville band’s debut. Vocalist Jessica Maros’ sings a bit more ethereally than Nancy, but with the same confident sass that was catnip to Sinatra’s fans. Maros’ cohort Tyler James fills Hazlewood’s role as vocal straight man, but with a grittier rock ‘n’ roll kick and a haunting trumpet sound that evokes the sun-baked deserts of Sergio Leone and forlorn mood of Bobby Hackett.
Despite those tips of the sombrero, Escondido isn’t a hipster rehash of Nancy, Lee or Ennio, as they also gear down to a dreamier sound that brings to mind Mazzy Star. At times, such as on “Willow Tree,” Maros conjures both Nancy Sinatra and Hope Sandoval, and James, along with bassist Adam Keafer, drummer Evan Hutchings and guitarist Scotty Murray paint the backgrounds in spare, atmospheric strums and echoing notes. Recorded in a single day-long session, the album is populated with ruinous femme fatales, lonely sirens and upbeat farewells. The band’s hard twanging “Don’t Love Me Too Much” was recently featured on ABC’s Nashville, which is a larger coup for network television than for a band whose original combination of influences should attract ears from both the mainstream and the outside lands. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Dave Armo is a Northern California ex-pat practicing law by day in Southern California, and chasing his musical dreams by night. He sings with a fetching uncertainty, and the guitars, mandolins and guitars that back him are played more for notes than chords or strums. There’s a dreamy quality to his tempos and a vulnerability to his alto singing that pull you in slowly and hold you tight. The effect is one of drifting with Armo through his thoughts as he serenades on “Lovers on the Beach” and buoys himself against uncertainty in “Destination Estimation.” He writes of declarations made too late to fulfill their promise, groveling lovers whose affection goes unreturned, emotional attractions weakened by distance, and on the stoner’s diary, “Blacked Out on Broadway,” he suggests a West-coast Paul Simon. Recorded over a two-year period, Amro lavished tremendous attention on his words, tone and expression, and the results are a hypnotic album of original material. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Twenty-somethings Pearl Charles and Kris Hutson may have grown up in the sunshine of Los Angeles, but their music is rooted in the hollers of Appalachia and the rolling hills of Southern Kentucky. Their harmonies span both high-and-lonesome and Everly’s-styled parallel thirds, and their folk and country is made from autoharp, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, piano and steel. Their vintage look (grandma dresses, suspenders and browline glasses) and the dour depression-era expressions they strike for publicity photos give a visual suggestion of their sympathies, but it’s the haunting ache of their music that sticks to your ribs. Their songs are stained with tears at nearly every turn – unrequited attraction, faded and forbidden love, desertion, natural disaster and even the treachery of demon rock ‘n’ roll; but the sad circumstances aren’t for want of trying. A Gram-and-Emmylou-styled stroll through the memories of “Walking Backwards” can’t salve the problems of today, and the deliverance of “Corn Liquor” ends up resigned to life-after redemption in lieu of mortal recovery. The jugband melody of “Tennessee Honey” provides a moment of uncrushed hope, though it’s anyone’s guess if the protagonist’s hat-in-hand apology will be accepted. In a sense it doesn’t matter, as the Driftwood Singers’ nostalgia-laden music is warm, even when its subjects are cold. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
The quality of music one person can create in a home studio is at times stupefying. The technology to make high-quality recordings can be bought, but the imagination to coherently layer instruments and voices over time is an almost otherworldly talent. Brian Wilson could hear complex productions in his head, but he relied on the talents of others to make them corporeal. Even a mastermind like Phil Spector was enabled by engineers, musicians and vocalists whose ideas, feedback and criticism fed into his final work. But there is a strain of lone wolf pop musician – Richard X. Heyman comes to mind – who are their own best company. They may also play well with others, but given the opportunity to hone their vision in solitude, over a long period of time, they can create something extraordinary.
Such is the talent of Shropshire (UK) singer-songwriter Jim Williams. After two albums with the Americana band Additional Moog, Williams launched this solo project and spent two years recording and refining, transforming the country sounds of his demos into the layered Americana-pop of these final mixes. Though this isn’t technically a solo album – Ben Davies plays drums and Gerry Hogan adds touches of steel – the heart and soul of the album is Williams. He plays guitar, bass and keyboards, and his voice is both the lead and backing chorus. What’s most impressive though, is that throughout the album the interplay between the instruments, between the instruments and lead vocals, and between the lead and background vocals all sound more like a band than a studio-bound construction.
Williams cites Whiskeytown as an influence, and his productions suggest the polishing leap of Strangers Almanac and Wilco’s Being There. His voice has some rustic edges, but is more often in line with the pop style of Matthew Sweet and Michael Stipe. His harmony arrangements suggest CS&N, and the album’s loping rhythms and pedal steel hint at Déjà vu. There are a lot of influences shoehorned into these eight tracks, and though the lyrics are mostly impressionistic, notes of melancholy, regret, resignation and hope filter through. The album’s calling card is the mood expressed in its melodic hooks, lyrical pacing and deft instrumental mix – a grand achievement for an artist recording and producing himself in a home studio. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
After an album of Blaze Foley covers in 2011, singer-songwriter Gurf Morlix returns to his catalog of forbidding originals. The album’s title provides a clever play on words, suggesting a man catching up to the moment only to find that moment overbearing. The title track focuses on immediate burdens, but Morlix also finds overwhelming baggage in a future lashed inextricably to the consequences of past actions. Morlix’s characters are left stranded at a turning point between decisions and their lifelong consequences. The prisoner of “My Life’s Been Taken” ruminates on his confinement, resigned to a life of wondering what could have been. The song provides a coda to 2009′s “One More Second,” in which a shooter considers the thin line between reaction and action; here the killer is doomed to reconsider that border until his life ends.
The tiny portal of “Small Window” frames an emotional impediment with a physical metaphor, and the imagery of “Series of Closin’ Doors” takes on a nightmarish cast when scored with languid guitar, atmospheric B3 and a hypnotic beat. Morlix often pairs dark lyrics with misleadingly neutral or bright melodies, and his understated vocals leave each song’s message to sneak up on the listener. His critique of American gun culture, “Bang Bang Bang,” begins with happy memories of Roy Rogers before decrying our modern-day barrage of bullets, and even the love song “Gasoline” draws on a fiery metaphor that aligns with the album’s premise of inescapable aftermath. Morlix exhales his lyrics more than he sings them, which fits well to songs that shrug at seemingly immutable futures. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Wayne Hancock’s been making great albums since he introduced himself with 1995′s Thunderstorms and Neon Signs. His vocal similarity to Hank Sr. hasn’t abated a bit in the subsequent eighteen years, nor has his fealty to the basic elements of Williams’ brand of twangy honky-tonk and haunted sorrow. But Hancock is more a man out of time than a throwback, and though his music takes on a nostalgic tint amidst Nashville’s contemporary style, he makes the case that the sounds he champions are timeless. He sparks terrific performances from his guitarists (Eddie Biebel, Tjarko Jeen and Bob Stafford), steel player (Eddie Rivers) and bassist (Zack Sapunor), and he sounds happy to be singing,l even when he’s singing the blues.
Hancock’s spent the past few years touring, riding his Harley and getting divorced. The latter has turned his music into an essential salve, and though he sings “it’s best to be alone than be in love,” he’s more likely to pine than actually swear off romance. The album opens at highway speed as Hancock tries to outrun his heartache with an open road, a full throttle and dueling electric guitar solos. He’s soon again singing the blues, low-down and alone, but the tears in his voice can’t disguise the pleasure he gains from vocalizing his troubles, a pleasure shared with anyone who gives this album a spin. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Gauthier’s strength as a live performer is evident from the riveting cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Your Sister Cried” that opens her first live album. Taken at a resolute tempo, Gauthier is at once haggard, reportorial and sympathetic, and her hard-strummed guitar is augmented by dramatic accents, a harmony vocal and a solo from violinist Tania Elizabeth that leaves the audience hooting in appreciation. Together with percussionist Mike Meadows, the trio proves that less can very much be more, as their presentations leave enough space for the vocals, harmonies, lyrics and instruments to each shine, but combine the elements into a musculature that a solo singer-songwriter rarely achieves.
Key to the proceedings is Gauthier’s way with a lyric. Whether singing or reciting, she’s magnetic as a master storyteller who’s in no hurry. Her harmonica and Elizabeth’s violin are similarly free in their pace, allowing the solos and accompaniment to ebb and flow with the lyrical mood. The song list includes selections from all but Gauthier’s first studio album, with a generous helping of four selections from 1999’s Drag Queens and Limousines and three Fred Eaglesmith tunes. She sings of outsiders: a hobo king, an addict and an alcoholic, a disillusioned father, an unmoored adoptee and a repentant murderer. But even with their troubled backgrounds, they form a surprisingly seemly lot, humanized by Gauthier’s telling of their stories.
There are autobiographical threads throughout Gauthier’s material as she recounts the hidden history of her hometown, personal tribulations and liberations, and the colorful friends with whom she’s traveled. Her songs form a compelling memoir that she sings night after night; and though she’s been lauded for both her studio and stage work, what’s captured here is a seamless confluence of craft and performance – the solid platform of her songs upon which she layers a dramatist’s appreciation of presentation. The CD highlights a detailed snapshot in front of an appreciative audience, one that will stoke the memories of those who’ve enjoyed Gauthier’s live sets, and provide new listeners a compelling introduction to her work as a singer, songwriter and performer. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Though “Chicago Farmer” was originally the name of his band, six albums in, it’s become a solo sobriquet for Cody Diekhoff. A native of Delavan, IL (population 1,825), Diekhoff replanted his rural roots in the big city whose name was bestowed upon him. He cites Woody Guthrie and fellow Illinoisan John Prine as influences, but there’s a good helping of country in his folk songs, and his voice cuts through with a high-lonesomeness that may remind you of Hank Williams, Green on Red’s Dan Stuart or Roky Erickson. He often performs solo (and does so on a few tracks here), but for this outing he’s gathered Chicago players on guitar, bass, drums, organ, resonator, dobro and pedal steel, and christened the aggregation “the Hired Hands.” You’d hardly know they were a session band, as the live-to-analog-tape performances have the we’re-so-tight-we-can-swing looseness of a road-honed unit. Diekhoff’s songs blend the details of country living with big-city realities as he sings of a small town’s suffocating embrace and the protective prescience of a rural upbringing. There are songs of rooted worry and existential angst, and the album’s title track, with its swinging steel and Merle Travis-styled picking, is sing-along ready. Audience participation is apparently a regular feature of Diekhoff’s live shows, and the inviting nature of his songs translates well to record. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Nashville singer-songwriter Jeff Black complements his previous volume of B-sides and Confessions (one he presciently suffixed with “Vol. 1” back in 2003) with this second helping. It’s an unexpected treat, given that his last album, Plow Through the Mystic, is just a year old. Though a couple of tracks, including the lead-off “All Right Now,” end too quickly, the notion of “B Sides” is more a humble moment of self-deprecation than a fair assessment of the material’s quality and readiness. The latter half of the album’s title is the more apt description, as Black’s country-tinged folk music is personal and touching. Whether singing in his own voice or that of characters, Black’s songs are revealing in their observation point. “Alice Carry” is a widow looking back, but rather than memorializing regret at what wasn’t, she displays contentment with what was. Black turns inward for “True Love Never Let Me Down,” but rather than simply observing himself, he observes others critiquing his work. Black is joined by fellow singer-songwriters Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters, and instrumentalists Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, but as on all his previous releases, his words and voice hold down center stage with a craft so deeply in the artistic pocket that it obscures anything outside. [©2013 Hyperbolium]