Posts Tagged ‘Americana’

The Everly Brothers: Studio Outtakes

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

Alternate takes from the Everly Brothers hit-making years on Cadence

Among early rock ‘n’ roll acts, the Everly Brothers’ catalog is one of the most thoroughly documented. In addition to album reissues and greatest hits collections on numerous labels, Bear Family has issued three omnibus box sets (Classic, covering the ‘50s, and The Price Of Fame and Chained To A Memory, covering their years on Warner Bros.), along with two themed compilations (Rock and The Ballads of the Everly Brothers), a two-disc reissue of the classic Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, and a one-disc “mini box” titled Studio Outtakes. That latter disc, featuring 36 illuminating alternate studio takes from the brothers’ Cadence-era sessions, including 26 that were not included on the Classic box set. Studio Outtakes fell out of print and is reissued here in a jewel case with a 34-page booklet that’s slimmed down from the original issue’s 64-pages.

Unlike the multi-disc Outtakes volumes on Johnny Cash, Billy Riley, Gene Vincent, Johnny Tillotson and Carl Perkins, or the grey market two-volume Cadence Sessions, the conciseness of this single disc doesn’t require slogging through the repetition of false starts, incomplete takes and a half-dozen alternates of the same title. The multi-disc outtakes sets make a nice addition to a collector’s archive, but this 79-minute single disc is the more musical experience, playing as a well-curated compilation of hits, B-sides and album tracks with the twist of alternate takes. The evolution heard in these alternate takes offer listeners a peek inside the Everly Brothers creative process, and for the most familiar songs, an opportunity to relive a bit of the experience of hearing them for the first time.

What’s truly impressive is how quickly, and seemingly easily, the Everlys struck up their brotherly chemistry in the studio. First takes of “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog,” “Bye, Bye Love,” “Claudette” and “Wake Up Little Susie” hadn’t always settled on the vocal lines or instrumental accompaniment that would turn the song into a hit, but you could hear the magic building, particularly in the brothers’ magnetic harmonies. The differences are often subtle changes in rhythm, harmony, tempo, accompaniment, instrumental balance or production effects, offering an aural lesson in the tweaks a producer and artist make as they search for a hit. For example, the softening of the vocal attitude between takes 1 and 5 of “All I Have to Do Is Dream” finds the song evolving into its dreamy final form, while tempo, lyric and key changes differentiate takes 3, 5 and 7 of “Poor Jenny.”

Rather than arranging the disc with multiple takes of the same song side-by-side, the producers have curated the track list for spinning from beginning to end. The mix of hits and lesser known sides plays like an album, with one song segueing thoughtfully into the next. The selection of material is complemented by the high quality of the original recordings, Jürgen Crasser’s mastering, Andrew Sandoval’s liner and song notes (along with quotes from Phil and Don Everly) from the set’s original 2005 issue, and numerous candid and promotional photos. As a behind-the-scenes look at the Everlys’ recording process, this set is hard to top; fans who want to dig deeper into the Everlys’ methods should also check out the songwriting demos featured on Varese Sarabande’s 36 Unreleased Recordings from the Late ‘50s and Early ‘60s. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Jimbo Mathus: Incinerator

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

The healer lays hands on himself

The laying on of spiritual hands offered up on 2016’s Blue Healer is now turned inward, with a dramatic album that finds Mathus moving from guitar to piano, and enriching his musical brew with space. Space for the vocals and lyrics, and space for instrumental backings that aren’t exactly spare, but often stray from the thick gumbo of his earlier albums. He ranges easily and authoritatively through Americana, folk, country, R&B, rock and electric swamp, turning his lyrics inward to explore the underpinnings of his own artistic life. The songs often drift into being, as though Mathus is gathering his thoughts as he addresses the microphone; he’s relaxed, confident and intensely present as he reveals himself. There’s an immediacy in this approach that casts a new light on his earlier records, suggesting they may have been more of an outward manifestation of the internal truths he mines here.

Some of these personal revelations are delivered directly in the lyrics, but elsewhere, such as the title track, poetic images are rendered with expressive singing and backed by instrumentals that essay mood rather than narrative. The basic revelation of “Really Hurt Someone” is heightened by intense violin runs and vocal dynamics that suggest Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” The drifting piano and backing chorale of “Been Unravelling” add a meditative counterpoint to a palpably lonely vocal – as if Joe Cocker was fronting the Friends-era Beach Boys. Mathus turns to an R&B groove for “Sunk a Little Loa,” swampy electric blues for “Alligator Fish,” trad-jazz for the story song “Jack Told the Devil,” boozy C&W on “South of Laredo,” and tips his melodic hat to Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel” on “Sunken Road.”

The album’s lyric sheet reveals how Mathus reduced his words to increase focus. The songs are typically three or four minutes in length, but with lyrics that may be only ten or twelve short lines. Instead of traditional verse/chorus, he lets emptiness have its say, highlighting what’s said by not saying too much. “Never Know Till It’s Gone” lays out its lament in eight lines, surrenders its sorrow and longing to an instrumental interlude, and repeats itself for good measure, and the closing cover of A.P. Carter’s “Give Me the Roses,” offers an insight illuminated so clearly as to belie its intellectual depth. The latter is emblematic of the album’s offer of deep, almost subconscious thoughts brought to the surface to be mulled over in the explicit light of day. This is a powerful new approach for Mathus, one that his fans will find both emotionally and intellectually captivating. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Shawn Mullins: Soul’s Core Revival

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

A flash of inspiration turned into an essay of experience

Shawn Mullins was six years and four albums into his recording career when he waxed the 1998 breakthrough album Soul’s Core. He was at the point in a musician’s career when they start to wonder if they’ll ever break out of the artistically-rich but commercially-lean orbit in which they’ve been traveling. The pace of recording often turns studio sessions into snapshots of inspiration, with a long tail of discovery ahead as the album is toured. The initial writing and recording are coated in layers of experience as songs are contextualized in the flow of a live set, developed by a road band’s chemistry, reflected by audience reaction, and interpreted through the changing circumstances of the performer. Material with artistic depth is in a sense never finished.

Given the pivotal role that Soul’s Core played in Mullins’ career, it’s no surprise that many of the album’s songs have remained central to his live set, and that over time, his relationship to the material, and his perspective on its meaning has deepened. For this self-released double-CD, Mullins has re-recorded the album twice: once with his road band, and once in an acoustic solo setting. The former’s live-in-the-studio setting captures the band’s decades-long development of the songs as stage material, while the latter more deeply introspects the songwriter’s changes in personal relationship to his younger self. The band disc perfectly blends the tight playing of oft-played material with the stretching and exploration of songs whose core theses have become second nature; the solo disc gives Mullins an opportunity to look back twenty years on his own.

Mullins has doubled down on the soulfulness of these songs with both his singing and touches of organ and horns. His feel for the entirety of each song allows him to hang back at key points so as to emphasize others, exchanging the glow of the adolescent incarnations for versions steeped in the added details of nightly retellings. The spoken word intros to the acoustic renditions nominaly return the material to its songwriter roots, but as with the band versions, Mullins long-term relationship with his material yields a deeper connection than could have been captured at its genesis. This is a terrific gift to longtime fans of the original album, and an interesting entry point for new fans to capture both Mullins’ early years and his current state. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Shawn Mullins’ Home Page

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