Posts Tagged ‘Americana’

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

Zach Schmidt: The Day We Lost the War

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

zachschmidt_thedaywelostthewarPittsburgh keeps its hold on an East Nashville singer-songwriter

Zach Schmidt’s a Pittsburgh native who relocated to East Nashville, closer to, but still a river crossing and an artistic universe away from the country music industry. His first full-length album is the product of five years of songwriting, an Indiegogo fundraising campaign and the musical contributions of friends who tracked, mixed and mastered the album in two days of live sessions. It’s a mark of the talent in Schmidt’s tight-knit musical community that two days was plenty of time to get ten solid masters on tape. It probably helps that the songwriter had been polishing his songs over the years in front of or with these very musicians, as their affection for the material is heard in the shuffling drums, bending steel and twanging guitars.

Schmidt’s mood echoes the weary side of Guitar Town-era Steve Earle, and while his protagonists are often tired and defeated, they still manage to muster a look forward. The nowhere town of the title track is a jail in which hope has faded, and from which escape seems unlikely. In Schmidt’s world, a lifetime of hard work may be redeemed in the hereafter or taken away in the blink of the eye, but either way, your burdens are what carry you forward. His songs are populated with orphans and widows, the departing, and on James Maple’s “Buried in Burgundy,” the departed. Schmidt sings with the twang of his adopted Nashville, but the rust of his native Pittsburgh has clearly left its mark. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Zach Schmidt’s Home Page

Michael Fracasso: Here Come the Savages

Friday, September 9th, 2016

MichaelFracasso_HereComeTheSavagesPowerful album of 60s-tinged singer-songwriter melancholy

Austin singer-songwriter Michael Fracasso has certainly earned his Americana stripes, but his latest release connects to a time when singer-songwriters were emerging from multiple musical vantage points. His albums have threaded together, folk, pop, rock, blues and country, and his songwriting craft has shown the years spent sharing New York City stages with Steve Forbert and others. His new album mixes original material with cover songs, and though the latter include interesting choices and performances (highlighted by a droning psychedelic ending to the Young Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure” and a crawling take of Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” that surely holds live audiences in thrall), it’s the original material that shines most brightly.

Fracasso conjures the sing-song melancholy of Harry Nilsson on “Say,” “Open” and “Daisy,” and transforms an unexpected reaction into the title track’s moody meditation. Wounds are pondered, forgiven, healed, and in the case of the “Boy in a Bubble,” broken hearts are glimpsed as an escape from emotional numbness. The latter’s orchestration evokes Curt Boettcher, Burt Bacharach and the Left Banke, and on “Little Scar,” you can hear the influence of Emitt Rhodes. Fracasso’s tenor is arresting, with slight hitches here and there, in case the purity of his tone doesn’t get you first. The album closes with the Kinks’ bittersweet “Better Things,” bookending Fracasso’s album-opening look forward at divorce, and edging the album painfully towards redemption. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Michael Fracasso’s Home Page

Various Artists: On Top of Old Smoky – New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Various_OnTopOfOldSmokyReviving the music of 1930s Appalachia

In the late 1930s, as those living on the land that became the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were leaving (some voluntarily, some forcibly) their homesteads, farms, mines and logging camps, folklorist Joseph Hall collected field recordings of their dialectical speech and music. Selections from those aluminum platters and acetate discs were first released by the Great Smoky Mountains Association on 2010’s Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music [1 2]. Six years later, the GSMA has commissioned contemporary performances of twenty-three traditional Appalachian songs and popular material that had made its way into the mountains via commercial recordings.

The new recordings use of fiddle, guitar and banjo lends the performances the sort of informal backporch feel that Hall captured with his original field work. Ted Olson’s liner notes provide a brief history of the national park’s foundation, detail on Hall’s research, brief song notes and lyric transcriptions. The material includes fiddle tunes, ballads, blues, children’s songs, rags, harmony duets, yodels, westerns and sacred songs. The range of music that was created in the isolated hollars of the Smokies is truly impressive, and these new performances add links to the folk music chain. Dolly Parton and Norman Blake are the name artists, but the entire cast does this music proud. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Great Smoky Mountain Association’s Home Page

Matthew Szlachetka: Heart of My Hometown

Friday, August 5th, 2016

The first single from Matthew Szlachetka’s upcoming album adds a hint of John Mellancamp’s heartland sentiment to Szlachetka’s California canyon rock. Produced by David Bianco, who’s worked with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams, and featuring Doug Pettibone, Kevin Savigar, Shiben Bhattacharya, Derek Brown and Dave “Mustang” Lang. A nice taste of what’s coming early next year!