Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

Tom Armstrong: The Sky is an Empty Eye

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Superb private press album of guitar instrumentals

When you can make a record with a USB microphone and cloud-based recording, it’s hard to remember the revolution that was home recording. TEAC’s 4-track reel-to-reel recorders (and TASCAM’s later cassette-based Portastudio) for the semi-pro market allowed home recordists to multi-track and overdub without the overbearing expense (and ticking clock) of studio time. Some of these sessions ended up in the commercial market, but many were unspooled only for friends and family, or circulated in local vinyl pressings. Tompkins Square sampled several of these small batch recordings on Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 8: The Private Press, and now expands on the theme with this first of several planned full album reissues.

Tom Armstrong had hung around the edges of the music business, playing bars and open mics, but when his engineering career took off, dreams of a professional music career were put aside. But a 4-track gifted to him by his wife kept his guitar playing alive, and provided a creative outlet into which he poured this original music. Though he kept recording for more than a decade, this is the one collection of songs he had mastered and pressed to vinyl, handing out copies mostly to friends and business associates. He favors meditative acoustic tracks, such as the harmonic-filled opener and the somnambulistic “Dream Waltz,” but he adds dripping neo-psych notes to “Keller,” picks electric slide on “The Thing,” and sings the title track.

The album’s variety might have driven a market-seeking record label crazy, but it’s exactly that free-spiritedness that gives the album its charm. The segue from the finger-picked electric “Mama’s Baby” to the echoed, nearly discordant “Bebop” suggests the evolution of blues into jazz, and the album continues to evolve as it closes with the driving spaciness of “Thunder Clouds.” Most of the arrangements appear to be two or maybe three guitars, sometimes rhythm and lead, often interleaving in original ways. Armstrong’s technique is good, but it’s his musical imagination and the freedom to follow his muse without commercial pressure that really gives these recordings their power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tompkins Square’s Home Page

Willie Nile: Positively Bob

Friday, June 30th, 2017

An acolyte pays tribute to Bob Dylan

Given the influence Dylan’s had on Nile’s singing and writing voices, this set of ten covers is a natural. That said, the reverence in which Dylan’s catalog is held and the lengthy history of Dylan tributes can make an album of covers quite fraught. Navigating a line between sacrosanct devotion and reactionary irreverence requires an artist who’s as familiar with himself as he is with Dylan. It takes someone with youthful naivete or aged confidence to avoid being intimidated into pale imitation. Luckily, Nile is both: an elder statesman whose lengthy experience has never eclipsed his youthful enthusiasm. The renaissance of his career’s third phase has proven rock ‘n’ roll the most potent elixir of youth.

Nile’s maturity and self assuredness allows him to revel in the Dylanesque tone of his voice, proving it not an imitation but a natural derivation. For him to sing these songs in any other voice would be a cop out, and so the nasal tone of Dylan’s originals are heard in these covers, even as Nile’s more sing-song delivery brands the interpretations as original. Like others before – including Dylan himself – Nile takes some liberties with the arrangements, but nothing that loses the songs’ souls or plays as attention-getting novelties. The selections stick primarily to well-known Dylan material from the early-to-mid ‘60s, stretching past this pivotal early period for the mid-70s “Abandoned Love” and early ‘80s “Every Grain of Sand.”

Nile was a teenager when Dylan (and Peter, Paul & Mary) burst forth with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s clear that the power of the song’s revelatory rhetoric hasn’t faded. Nile sings “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with a zeal that’s not just undimmed by the passing years, but renewed by experience. Dylan’s clarion calls, poetic flights and love songs resound with both history and currency as their joys and ills have come around again and again. Album highlights include a beautiful take on the oft-covered “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and a warm, family-styled reading of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Dylan’s songs harbor personal import and shared experience, and Nile reminds of both with these touching performances. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

Rosebud: Rosebud

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Bonus-laden reissue of 1971 one-off w/Judy Henske and Jerry Yester

Although Henske and Yester are both well-known, this one-off collaboration under the group name “Rosebud” has remained surprisingly obscure. Henske had come up through the coffee houses and folk revival of the early ‘60s, notching a pair of albums for the Elektra label in 1963-4. Yester had likewise played the folk clubs, with his brother Jim and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels and Modern Folk Quartet, before finding even greater commercial success as a producer. Henske, Yester and Zal Yanovsky (whom Yester had replaced in the Lovin’ Spoonful) released the eclectic Farewell Aldebaran on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, and two years later Henske and Yester teamed with Craig Doerge, David Vaught and John Seiter for this short-lived group’s one and only album.

Rosebud retains the musical eclecticism of Farewell Aldebaran, though not its sonic experimentation. The album is highlighted by the group’s tight execution of Yester’s superb vocal charts, and though Henske’s extraordinary voice is prominently featured, Yester, Doerge and Seiter all get leads. The songs, written by various groupings of Henske, Yester and Doerge, fit the singer-songwriter vibe of early ‘70s Southern California, with touches of country rock and 1960s San Francisco. “Roll Home Cheyanne” is redolent with the atmosphere of big sky country, and “Reno” (included here in both its album and single versions) would have fit easily into the Jefferson Airplane’s set. The harmonies take a baroque turn for the harpsichord-lined “Lullabye II” and to gospel rock with “Salvation.”

The album’s emotional high point comes in the chorus of “Western Wisconsin” as the group’s harmony singing vanquishes any hint of treacle in the lyrics’ sentiment. The legendary steel player Buddy Emmons is heard on “Yum Yum Man,” and again on the bonus track “Easy On Me, Easy.” Though justly proud of their album, the group split after only a few live performances, amid Henske’s separation from Yester, and before the group gained any traction. Most listeners will be surprised by the group’s mere existence, but those already familiar with the album will be shocked by the quality of the material that was left in the vault. Omnivore doubles the album’s original ten tracks with singles and seven previously unreleased recordings, along with new liners by Barry Alfonso. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Craig Doerge’s Home Page
Judy Henske’s Home Page
Jerry Yester’s Home Page

The Cherry Hill Singers: An Exciting New Folk Group

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Early ‘60s folk revivalists with bright futures ahead

The Cherry Hill Singers were one the many folk revival bands to follow in the form of the Kingston Trio. What makes them distinct are the futures of their members, Michael Whalen, who would go on to replace Barry McGuire in the New Christy Minstrels, and Ted Bluechel, who would become a charter member of the Association. The dozen tracks on this 1964 release are standard folk-revival fare, with strong harmonies, acoustic guitars, bass and banjo, all rendered in wide stereo. This is a nice period piece, though not one of the era’s more adventurous recordings. [©2017 hyperbolium dot com]

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

Joe Goodkin: Record of Loss

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

A singer-songwriter’s contemplative view of loss

On the second of a planned three-EP series, singer-songwriter Joe Goodkin continues to mine a deep streak of observation and self awareness. The first EP, Record of Life essayed a catalog of loss, regret and memory, rendered in detailed, personal images. This follow-up segues with the emotional fallout of its predecessor, recounting his losses nightly on tour, suffering additional bereavement, and finding that success doesn’t fully fill those voids. This time out he continues to sing of those he’s seen suffer and those he’s lost, but framed as celebrations of the remarkable and eulogies of the beloved, rather than lamentations of difficulty or loss. He’s mindful to appreciate what’s in front of him, rather than lament what’s gone, and to use each loss as an opportunity to refocus on what remains. The powerful closer, “For the Loss,” provides a rarely heard man’s viewpoint on the emotional consequences of abortion. Goodkin’s production, using only a 1963 Gibson ES-125T for backing, is remarkable as well. His multi-miked and overdubbed guitar creates a multitude of sounds, and vocals mixed from close-in and room mics build atmosphere around his singular voice. The third EP in the project, Record of Love, is due Summer 2017, but the first two parts stand strongly on their own and pair nicely as two-thirds of the full project. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Joe Goodkin’s Home Page

Michigan Rattlers: Michigan Rattlers

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Confessional folk-tinged country-rock

The debut from this Americana duo – guitarist Graham Young and bassist Adam Reed (with guest drummer Mike Avenaim) – pops with urgency and confessional intimacy. Produced by Johnny K (Plain White T’s, 3 Doors Down), Young shares confidences through his lyrics and the exceptionally moving tone of his voice. He sings of midwestern boys discovering themselves and building the confidence to ask for a date, but the story is far from ordinary, as the discovery is bittersweet and the date is with a widower in need of emotional rescue. Young’s vocals are mixed a half-step forward of backings driven by bass and drums, and the lyrical emphasis turns the closing “Strain of Cancer” into a harrowing recitation of a divorcee’s dismantling by a vindictive ex. Relocated from Petoskey to Los Angeles, the duo recorded the EP live at North Hollywood’s NRG Studios, giving the set an energy that’s hard to achieve piecemeal. Five songs, fifteen minutes, great debut. RIYL: Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Gin Blossoms. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Michigan Rattlers’ Home Page

50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Updated portrait of a pioneering folk trio

Peter, Paul and Mary was born in 1961, amid the artistic ferment of New York City’s Greenwich Village, and it was in that highly-charged atmosphere that their art sharpened into advocacy. Brought together by manager Albert Grossman, the trio’s debut album topped the chart in 1962, and led them to perform songs of social import at protests, strikes and political rallies around the world. They championed the early works of Bob Dylan, sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the 1963 March on Washington, endorsed Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 campaign with an original song, protested nuclear power at Diablo Canyon and documented the plight of El Salvador in the 1980s. They lived up to Mary Travers’ edict, “if you’re going it sing the music you have to live the music.”

Though their hits ended with 1969’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and they started a seven-year hiatus in 1970, they regrouped in 1978 and continued to record and perform until Travers’ passing in 2009. Jim Brown’s 78-minute documentary focuses primarily on the salad years of 1961-70, capturing the group’s deep conviction in live performance and interviews. The period footage, often in full-length songs, is incredibly moving as the trio sings with a strength of sentiment rarely seen on today’s national stages. The way in which Mary Travers was physically gripped by the music remains enthralling to this day. Their folk music galvanized a broad international audience in ways nearly impossible with today’s balkanized world of personalized streams. But in 1963, music was a rallying point that had wide societal impact.

Clips with Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger link to the broader folk and political milieus, and scenes from Mary Travers’ memorial service expand the program beyond Brown’s earlier Carry It On – A Musical Legacy. The film sticks mainly to the trio’s public, performing side, leaving out the inner workings of how they wrote, developed their sound, toured or recorded. Also missing is Yarrow’s 1970 arrest and conviction and its impact on the group. Interviews with the trio, along with spouses, children and managers provide period color. Those seeking more music and less story should check out the 25th Anniversary Concert. But those wishing to see PP&M’s intense earnestness in the context of their times will be greatly moved by this film. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter, Paul and Mary’s Home Page

Matt Costa: Music From the Motion Picture Orange Sunshine

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

mattcosta_orangesunshineSuperb evocation of late-60s psychedelic soundtracks

If you were making a documentary on a renegade 1960s LSD collective, Huntington Beach singer-songwriter Matt Costa might not be your first thought for a period-evoking soundtrack. But Costa’s roots in Orange County match those of the Brotherhood at the film’s center, and the seeds of his nostalgic musical constructions can be found in his catalog. The resulting soundtrack for the film Orange Sunshine is the sort of ersatz experience one gained from AIP’s exploitation films – music that is of the era, but doesn’t define it. Costa deftly evokes the ‘60s with fuzzed guitars, hallucinogenic flights, West Coast jazz odysseys, blue funk, folk fingerpicking, ragas and even a touch of strategically placed vinyl surface noise.

The compositions lean to mood-setting instrumentals, but the vocal tracks – particularly the Airplane-styled “Born in My Mind” – are spot-on. What rats this out as homage rather than artifact is the crisp fidelity – something that couldn’t easily be achieved on a shoestring budget in 1968. Most impressive is that Costa wrote, engineered, produced and performed the entire album – especially remarkable on “ensemble” jams like “The Fuzz.” Several of the cuts are under two minutes – often leaving you wanting more – but this works nicely as a standalone album of ‘60s-tinged psych, jazz, soul and rock, and provides a terrific complement to the film. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Matt Costa’s Home Page