Posts Tagged ‘Americana’

Hawks and Doves: From a White Hotel

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Returning from self-inflicted wounds and widespread destruction

Kasey Anderson’s hard road back to rock ‘n’ roll is a journey that he wasn’t sure he could, or even wanted to make. Alcohol and substance abuse, addiction, bipolar disorder, self-delusion, desperation, deceit, fraud, conviction, prison, sobriety, probation, recovery, amends and restitution are a deeper well of troubles than most songwriters accrue in a lifetime, let alone before they turn thirty-four. Released from prison, he edged back into playing music as an artistic outlet rather than an onramp to a former career, and with the support of friends and fans, his writing and performances have grown over the course of a couple of years from a restorative avocation into an ongoing concern.

Fans who can look beyond the damage Anderson wrought will find an artist whose commitment to music was deepened by the limited opportunities he found in prison. The physical and mental isolation of incarceration taught Anderson to use his imagination rather than leaning solely on experience, and the endless hours of self reflection allowed him to ponder questions of redemption. Patience has replaced drug- and bipolar-induced binges, letting his songwriting craft flow in whatever time it naturally takes. That said, his passion for what he writes is unhindered, and when he steps up to the microphone, there’s an urgency to express what he’s learned about himself.

The album opens with the chaos that’s engulfing the world, but quickly turns personal as Anderson reflects on the freedoms and indiscretions of youth, suffers the debilitating “Lithium Blues,” and takes a sober look at the personal turmoil that consumed him. Yet even as he thinks back, he’s careful not to be trapped by the past, nor, perhaps owing to his own track record, measure others by his personal yardstick. The solemn “Geek Love” paints a touching portrait of sideshow freaks (which, for the few who know it, pairs beautifully with the Babylon Minstrels’ “Gibsonton”), and demonstrates Anderson’s growing ability to parlay seeds of personal experience into rich fictional stories.

Musically, the album stretches from anthemic rock that recalls Willie Nile and early John Mellencamp, to moody tracks that include the clanky bottom end of “Get Low,” the soulful horns of “Every Once in Awhile” and the pump organ of “Lover’s Waltz.” Anderson’s been quoted as noting that the forced disconnection from his audience has left him, perhaps only temporarily, less inhibited as a songwriter. Unknowing of who’s likely to be listening, he can only write for himself – a rare opportunity for a seasoned songwriter, and one that Anderson and his gathered musician friends – Jordan Richter, Ben Landsverk and Jesse Moffat – make good on. Very good. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Kasey Anderson’s Home Page

6 String Drag: Top of the World

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Long-lost Americana pioneers pick up the trail

Having disbanded in 1998, only a year after the release of their Steve Earle-produced (and recently reissued) second album, High Hat, these Americana pioneers went their separate ways for more than fifteen years. The group reunited in 2014 for live dates, and a 2015 album of new material, Roots Rock & Roll, showed their premature ending left plenty of juice for an encore. That encore has now extended to a second reunion album, with vocalist/songwriter Kenny Roby and bassist Rob Keller joined by multi-instrumentalist Luis Rodriguez and drummer Dan Davis. As good as the first reunion album sounded, this second is even more vital and energized.

Roby’s new material is filled with kaleidoscopic memories of younger, more daring days, but there are also songs streaked with troubled and failed relationships, and the wear of an adult’s daily grind. Much of the discord is camouflaged behind poetic lyrics and melodies that belie the personal gravity. As with the band’s original incarnation, the musical influences cast a wide net. There are Brill Building flourishes of baion beat and baritone guitar, vocal hooks that suggest Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty, pop punk, pub rock, and psych flavors in both the somnambulistic title track and the faded “Waste of Time.”

It was surprising that the reunited band could rekindle their chemistry, and it’s even more surprising to hear that DNA transplanted into a refreshed lineup. This album is neither a rehash, nor the long tail of what was once great, but a lively continuation of something that was interrupted. The time off hasn’t so much dimmed the flame as it has stoked the fire with new musical and life perspective. The dynamic between Roby and Keller is as strong as ever, and Rodriguez and Davis add new flavors to an already flavorful band. This is no longer a reunion, but a vital, on-going concern. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

6 String Drag’s Home Page

Janiva Magness: Love Is an Army

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Award-winning blues soul singer explores wider roots

Janiva Magness had an artistic coming out with her self-penned 2014 album, Original. Though she’d dabbled in songwriting before, the album marked a turn from interpreter of other people’s stories to essayist of her firsthand emotions. She continues that direction with her latest, co-writing four of the album’s twelve tracks, and selecting material from collaborator and producer Dave Darling, as well as Paul Thorn and others. She also welcomes several guests to the album, including vocalist Delbert McClinton on “What I Could Do,” harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite on “Hammer,” and most surprisingly, Poco pedal steel player Rusty Young on the shuffle “On and On.” The latter, taken with Doug Livingston’s dobro on the Western-tinged “Down Below,” shows off the range of roots Magness has been exploring.

The album opens on an emotionally low note of romantic dissolution, but Magness doesn’t stay down for long. She admits her faults, pines, lauds the resolve needed to power through heartbreak, and continues to leap forward with a spirit whose optimism isn’t grounded by past falls. When knocked to the canvas, she picks herself up before the bell, and when serving as the cornerman, she provides unwavering support to those she loves. The 60s-styled soul of “What’s That Say About You” offers a moving message of community, but elsewhere she excoriates the divisions sewn by America’s leaders. The album closes with the gospel faith of “Some Kind of Love,” complementing the threads of Memphis soul and Nashville country that have inspired a winning display of songwriting and vocal versatility. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Janiva Magness’ Home Page

K Phillips: Dirty Wonder

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

An Americana biography of romantic dissolution

A West Texan singer-songwriter named after Kris Kristofferson has a lot to live up to. But there’s a soulfulness in Phillips’ voice, the sort you hear on deep Van Morrison tracks, and a redemptive faith in his songs that suggests Bruce Springsteen. His album ponders the end of a relationship, and though written in the first person, the stories are biographical rather than autobiographical. The split viewpoint lends a philosophical angle that musters a friend’s pain and outrage from an observational angle. The songs battle the lethargy of aftermath, ponder second chances to end things cruelly, and find their way to forgive and move on to what could be renewal. “Had Enough” opens the album with a moment of realization that signals the oncoming emotional thaw. A growing understanding of just how unraveled he’d become leads to confession and confrontation as he begs for reaction, castigates himself and looks for an exit.

Phillips finds out that letting go sometimes turns out to be harder than remaining unhappy, as neither the conventions of “Rom Com” nor the rebound of “18 Year Old Girls” prove to be a sustainable escape from real world endings. The latter features a terrific neo-psychedelic guitar coda that suggests Television playing Americana, and elsewhere the album explores country, gospel, and in the closing “Hock the Horses,” a Latin rhythm. Gordy Quist’s production balances guitar sustain with deep bass notes and gently shuffling drums, pushing Phillips ever-so-slightly forward in the mix to emphasize his emotional isolation and personalize his plight. The crucible of a failed relationship leaves scars on the tested, but even one step removed, the sparks of recrimination and salve of forgiveness make for intensely revealing stories. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

K Phillips Home Page

Greg Wickham: If I Left This World

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

The return of Hadacol’s co-founder

It’s been fifteen years since Hadacol founder Greg Wickham dropped a new album. He hadn’t intended to leave the music industry, but a break blossomed into marriage and children, and though he continued to make music, he stayed away from the business. But it was the family that led him towards hiatus that also led him back to the studio, as he sought to complement his pre-parenthood work with songs created as artifacts for his children. And with that motivation, he began writing the sort of contemplative and mortal songs one couldn’t feel or even imagine as a 20-something singleton. Think of it as parental advice from a rock ‘n’ roll father whose adolescent excesses taught him not to carelessly blunder into a banal midlife.

On board with Wickham is his brother and Hadacol co-founder, Fred, along with the group’s former bassist Richard Burgess, who combine with Wickham’s voice to produce a familiar sound. It’s not Hadacol 2.0, but something grown from the same roots in a different time and emotional place. The blue country rock “How Much I’ve Hurt” would have fit easily into Hadacol’s repertoire, and you’ll hear the waltz-time of the band’s “Poorer Than Dead” in the opening “Angel of Mercy (Song for Sophie).” The latter, however, replaces the former’s downbeat surrender with an expectant tone of home, and stretches out the backing with organ and horns.

Co-producing with Kristie Stremel, Wickham’s indulges his love of roots music with the back porch strings of “Me Oh My” and “I Will Comfort You,” and turns downtempo for the somber “Small Roles.” He confronts his baggage and contemplates how the remaining roads will shape his legacy, drawing experience from the former to inform the choices of the latter. He places a quiet duet of contemplation, “If I Left This World,” back to back with a brash moment of realization, “Wake Me Up,” turning philosophical questions into a call to action. The album closes with the previously recorded “Elsie’s Lullaby,” a father’s catalog of wisdom, wishes and advice, capping a strong return to the stage, and lovely future memories for his children. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Greg Wickham’s Home Page

Guy Clark: The Best of the Dualtone Years

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Selections from his last three albums, plus demos

The Nashville-based Dualtone label has an enviable catalog, including albums by the Lumineers, Shovels & Rope, and perhaps most precious of all, Guy Clark. Clark arrived at Dualtone in 2006 as an oft-covered songwriter and a well-loved recording artist. His three studio albums for the label were each nominated for a Grammy, and 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You took home the trophy. Clark’s May 2016 passing turned these recordings into a capstone to a thirty-nine year career that made earlier stops at RCA, Warner Brothers, Asylum and Sugar Hill. Dualtone’s 19-track collection cherrypicks Clark’s three studio albums and his 2011 live release Songs and Stories, and adds a trio of previously unreleased demos that were co-written with Hal Ketchum, Marty Stuart and Holly Gleason.

No song in this collection is more emblematic of Clark’s observational powers than “My Favorite Picture of You,” in which he draws a lifetime’s worth of knowing – “a thousand words / in the blink of an eye” – from a bent and faded snapshot of his wife. Elsewhere in the collection he turns a thrift store guitar into a ghost story, and under his watchful gaze, a roadhouse parking lot harbors the drama and detail of a novella. The dreamlike interior of that dancehall is extolled in “Cornmeal Waltz” as a fiddle moves dancers gently around the floor in three-four time. Clark was a writer’s writer, musing on the physical and psychic costs of his art in “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and turning fierce weather into humorous poetry with “Tornado Time in Texas.”

The live tracks add several of Clark’s most-loved songs to the collection, including “L.A. Freeway,” “Homegrown Tomatoes,” and “The Randall Knife.” The former features a mid-song monologue that further illuminates Clark’s poor fit in Los Angeles, while the latter draws a portrait of his grief from an elegy to his father. Clark’s mantle as a songwriter is represented by songs that were covered by Kenny Chesney, Jerry Jeff Walker, Brad Paisley and John Denver, and his influences by a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” The three newly uncovered recordings that end disc two are guitar-and-voice songwriter demos that emphasize the songs’ folkloric qualities. The tri-fold digipak includes liner notes by Gleason and spreads 68 minutes of music across two discs. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Guy Clark’s Bandcamp Page

Scott Nolan: Silverhill

Monday, February 27th, 2017

A singer-songwriter balances hope against defeat

There are several shades of weariness in Scott Nolan’s latest album. He’s exhausted by a lifetime of emotional weight on his shoulders, both his own, and that which he’s assumed, and his soul seems worn by having to tell these stories. It’s a tone that effectively brings the listener into both the confidence of the story and of the singer. Nolan sings of emotional dead ends and the positive expectations that make them all the more depressing, drawing fragmented details that reveal a shared picture in the chorus. He opens the album with a canny observation of the dichotomy between temporality and immortality, surrendering to the inevitability of change while still seeking to guide its course. He may feint to fatalism, but there’s a current of hope animating his songs.

Recorded in Alabama with the band Willie Sugarcapps, the tempos are contemplative, almost tentative in spots, as the group discovered the songs live, without rehearsal. The result taps into the slower pace of the South, and turns the session into an intimate performance. Nolan draws on childhood nostalgia for “Fire Up,” but it’s tinted blue by innocence lost. Grayson Capps opens “Curl & Curves” inhaling and exhaling long notes on his harmonica, building up the nerve of Nolan’s quest for love – something that turns hoarse with sleepless expectation on “When Can I See You Again.” The album is beautifully crafted without being overworked, and closes with a pair of melancholy portraits that touch on the moods of John Prine and Neil Young. Nolan may be haggard, but he’s not defeated, and his music harbors a spark of hope. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Scott Nolan’s Home Page

Mark McKinney: World in Between

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Texas troubadour’s fifth album

Austin-based Mark McKinney inhabits that special nation of singer-songwriter that is the Texas music circuit. Though he’s gained recognition outside the Lonestar State, notably through song placements with NASCAR and ESPN, it’s his home state that supports the bulk of his extensive annual touring. His fifth solo album (he’d previously led the roots-rock band Cosmic Cowboy) will remind you of circuit stalwarts like Jack Ingram, Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Charlie Robison and Kevin Fowler, the latter of whom McKinney’s written for. Produced with his brother Eric, the record is both rootsy – acoustic, electric and slide guitars, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica and drums – and modern at the same time. It’s a clever sound that could hook Nashville fans without alienating the Austin base.

McKinney opens with a bluesy version of the Cosmic Cowboys’ “90 Miles,” the lament of a lifer musician who’s always got another gig just down the road. It’s not a revelatory sentiment, but one that rings with an authentically weary smile, and he celebrates the road in “Stories,” highlighting its personal impact and lingering memories. The music slips into strutting modern country anthems in a few places, but establishes real intimacy through the emotional strength of “Sunshine.” There are love songs and broke-up songs, and the romantic models of “Bacon & Eggs” include the unlikely duo of Bonnie and Clyde (though, to be fair, they did stay together until the very end). No doubt these songs will play well as McKinney entertains 90 miles at a time. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Mark McKinney’s Home Page

Wayne Hancock: Slingin’ Rhythm

Friday, November 25th, 2016

waynehancock_slinginrhythmThe king of juke joint swing swings the juke joint

Twenty years into his recording career, the most surprising thing about Wayne Hancock is the lack of surprise in his unwavering pursuit of hillbilly boogie. What might have looked like a faddish nod at the start of his career has evolved into the heart and soul of his artistry, transcending the nostalgia that connects him to Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson and others. His first album since 2013’s Ride is stocked with swinging original material, sublimely selected covers of Merle Travis’ “Divorce Me C.O.D.” and Pee Wee King’s (by way of Hank Williams) “Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine,” and steel player Rose Sinclair’s instrumental showcase “Over Easy.”

Hancock is front and center, but he gives his band (Sinclair, electric guitarists Bart Weinberg and Greg Harkins, bassist Samuel “Huck” Johnson and producer Lloyd Maines on dobro) room to stretch out and solo. You probably won’t even notice the lack of a drummer until someone points it out. Hancock writes of a working musician’s fortitude, the toll it takes on off-stage life, and the rewards it pays. Messy homes give way to mistreating and long-gone mates, with “Divorce Me C.O.D.” taunting a soon-to-be ex and the original “Wear Out Your Welcome” kicking the problem to the curb. The few moments of respite include the apologetic “Two String Boogie” and the sweet invitation “Love You Always.”

There’s a conversational looseness to the sessions, with longer songs, such as “Dog Day Blues,” designed to stoke improvisation that suggests the jazz side of Western Swing. The players are up to the task as the rhythm section vamps, the guitarists take their turns in the spotlight and Hancock picks his spot to return to the mic. “Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine” closes the set, reframing the album’s travails with the sympathetic observation that someone, somewhere always has it worse. And in Hancock’s case, a lot worse, since he’s found the thing he loves the most – juke joint swing – and carries it with him everywhere. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Wayne Hancock’s Home Page

Various Artist: Highway Prayer – A Tribute to Adam Carroll

Friday, November 11th, 2016

various_highwayprayeratributetoadamcarrollSome of Americana’s finest songwriters salute a peer

It’s one thing for a songwriter to be fêted with a tribute album at the relatively young at of 42, but to be honored by a who’s who of one’s peers speaks louder than words. And with the likes of James McMurtry, Hayes Carll and Slaid Cleaves having satchels full of terrific original material, their willingness to saddle up a favorite from Adam Carroll’s catalog is both a tributary offering and an artistic opportunity. The largely acoustic productions of Jenni Finlay and Brian T. Atkinson rightly leave the limelight on lyrics whose emotional resonance is immediate, and whose meters are so natural that they barely sound composed.

Each performer finds a natural fit to their chosen song, with the Band of Heathens’ digging a gospel groove for “Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler” and Matt the Electrician adding anxious fingerpicking to “Old Town Rock ‘n’ Roll.” There’s two-stepping mandolin and steel as Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh sing the story of Bob, the “Karaoke Cowboy,” and Walt Wilkins explores a showman’s life in “Highway Prayer.” Carroll’s lyrics derive from fleeting moments, snapshots whose studied details conjure life stories. His narratives drop their baggage on the platform to chase expectation down the tracks, one step ahead of consequence.

Carroll slips easily between observed detail and poetic flight, framing everyday images as literary moments. He’s particularly adept at portraiture, whether it’s a colorful hustler, a rural taxi driver or a karaoke singer, he sees what you might feel, but couldn’t verbalize, capturing a person’s essence in the details of their physical being and actions. The titles draw heavily from Carroll’s first two albums, South of Town and Lookin’ Out the Screen Door, as well as 2008’s Old Town Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Carroll himself appears at CD’s end to honor “My Only Good Shirt.” It’s a sweet way to close this tribute to a much loved songwriter. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Adam Carroll’s Home Page