Posts Tagged ‘ReviewShine’

Owen Temple: Mountain Home

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Country, folk, bluegrass and blues from talented Texas songsmith

Owen Temple’s last album, Dollars and Dimes, took its concept from the socio-political ideas of Joel Garreau’s The Nine Nations of North America. Temple wrote songs that explored the regional ties of work and cultural belief that often transcend physical geography, zeroing in on the life issues that bind people together. With his newest songs, he’s still thinking about people, but individuals this time, catching them as a sociologist would in situations that frame their identity in snapshots of hope, fear, prejudice, heroism, and the shadows of bad behavior and disaster. As on his previous album, his songs are rooted in actual places – isolated communities that harbor dark secrets and suffocating intimacy, a deserted oil town lamented as a lost lover, a legendary red-light district, and the Texas troubadours in whose footsteps he follows. The album’s lone cover, Leon Russell’s “Prince of Peace,” is offered in tribute to a primary influence.

Temple’s songs are sophisticated and enlightening, offering a view of the Texas west that’s akin to Dave Alvin’s meditations on mid-century California. He writes with a folksinger’s eye, observing intimate, interior details of every day life, and painting big, mythological sketches of Sam Houston and Cabeza de Vaca. The latter, “Medicine Man,” was co-written with Gordy Quist, and recently recorded by Quist’s Band of Heathens. Temple’s music stretches into country, bluegrass, gospel and blues, and he sings with the confidence of a writer who deeply trusts his material. Gabriel Rhodes’ production is spot-on throughout the album, giving Temple’s songs and vocals the starring roles, but subtly highlighting the instrumental contributions of Charlie Sexton, Rick Richards, Bukka Allen and Tommy Spurlock. Temple has made several fine albums, but taking intellectual input from Garreau seems to have clarified and deepened his own songwriting voice. This is an album that ingratiates itself on first pass, and  reveals deep new details with each subsequent spin. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | One Day Closer to Rain
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Daniel Romano: Sleep Beneath the Willow

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Lee Hazlewood meets Gram Parsons

Lee Hazlewood or Gram Parsons? A little of each, with a hint of Johnny Cash’s gravitas thrown in for good measure. On the opening number Daniel Romano sings in the deadpan style of Hazlewood, but by track two he embraces the sweet and sad melancholy of Parsons. There are low twanging guitars and period touches to suggest the former’s Phoenix years, but also slow waltzes and country-rockers that evoke the latter. At times the two combine as Romano reaches down from his middle range to darker notes at the bottom end. The ghost of Gram Parsons is inescapable, but it floats through a lot of musical variety. There are gospel harmonies, a Celtic fiddle melody and subtle organ backing for “Louise,” and the broken-hearted “Lost (For as Long as I Live),” is waltzed along by acoustic guitar strums and fiddle. The lonely “I Won’t Let It” suggests a downcast, morning-after ‘50s country ballad, and the dark lyric “there are lines in my face that don’t come from smiling” is matched by the song’s emotionally spent vocal tone. There are countrypolitan touches in the harmony backings of Misha Bower, Tamara Lindeman and Lisa Bozikovic, and several of the songs, particularly the fiddle-led “Paul and Jon,” sound as if they could have been collected by A.P. Carter. This is a fascinating record with roots both familiar and obscure. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Time Forgot (To Change My Heart)
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Little Faith: Spirituals

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Hammond organ spirituals flavored with sounds of Nashville and New Orleans

The Hammond organ is no stranger to spiritual music, but seasoned with jazz, blues and country flavors of second line drumming, saxophone, fiddle, and lap steel, Little Faith delivers on what it calls “Madri Gras erupting at a tent revival behind the Grand Ol’ Opry.” The material also mixes things up, ranging from the nineteenth century African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water” (led here by the violin of Leah Zeger) to Christian hymns “I’ll Fly Away” and “How Great Thou Art” to the traditional New Orleans funeral dirge “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (with a terrific blues guitar solo by Nelson Blanton) to the Hebrew “Kol Dodi” and the Carter Family staple “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The album includes only two vocal tracks, a full gospel chorus on “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” and a reprise of “I’ll Fly Away” that complements the opening instrumental. Organist Jack Maeby’s pulled together an assortment of Los Angeles roots musicians who take these tracks to interesting new places anchored by the rock-solid soul of the Hammond. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Debate Team: Wins Again

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Catchy SoCal power-pop side-project

The best known names here are OK Go drummer Dan Konopka, OneRepublic guitarist Drew Brown and The Hush Sound bassist Bob Morris, but the songs (and vocals) come from guitarist Ryan McNeill. Collaboration between McNeill and his then-roommate Brown began in 2003, but was sidelined when OneRepublic scored a hit with “Apologize.” Flash forward a couple of years to a chance meeting between McNeill and Konopka that reignited interest in the abandoned band’s material, drew the drummer into playing as a side project. Though some of the material had been around for years, it was fresh to the newly formed band and the result is a buoyant collection of guitar pop whose instantly memorable melodies spring from ingratiating hooks; the playing is tight and the production polished, but retains the imaginative ideas (such as the chance meeting of racially diverse lookalikes in “Curious Pair”) and sincerity that major labels would worry away. Fans of Velvet Crush, Rooney, Sloan, and Teenage Fanclub (not to mention OK Go, OneRepublic and Hush) will take a strong liking to this all-too-short eight track mini-LP. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Curious Pair
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Yep: Once

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Loving covers album from a Rubinoo and a Belleville

Though Jon Rubin and Tommy Dunbar, the two remaining founders of the Rubinoos, often refer to Al Chan as “the new guy,” he’s entering his fourth decade of playing and singing with the band. His partner in Yep is the singer, songwriter and guitarist Mark Caputo of the pop-meets-Americana band Belleville. Together they’ve lovingly recorded an eclectic collection of ten cover songs (and one Caputo original), ranging from hit singles by Elton John (“Rocket Man”), the Kinks (“Waterloo Sunset”), and the Everly Brothers “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” to lesser-known titles by deeply respected songwriters that include Richard Buckner, Alan Wauters and Justin Currie. Ironically, the indie nature of this album makes the better-known songs the more daring picks, challenging Chan and Caputo to find original approaches to chestnuts. Happily, the duo is quite up to the task.

“Rocket Man” retains the dramatic build from a quiet intro to a rock ‘n’ roll finish, but John’s bluesy piano is replaced here with the singer-songwriter strum of acoustic guitars, and Yep’s bass-drums-guitar and duet vocals are heavier, embellished by spacey flourishes of Dave Zirbel’s steel. “Waterloo Sunset” is sung in close harmony to acoustic guitars, giving the song a more melancholy end-of-the-day vibe than the signature single, and “So Sad,” though sticking closely to the Everly’s harmony style, replaces the original’s tremolo guitar with steel, creating a deeper country feel. It’s particularly great to hear Don Everly’s songwriting highlighted in the company of both commercial legends and underground heroes (and a bit of both with Jeff Tweedy’s melody applied to Woody Guthrie’s “Hesitating Beauty”).

The uncertainty and yearning of the hits also flows through the insular world of Justin Currie’s “Make it Always Too Late,” the uneasily accepted inevitability of Teiture’s “Sleeping with the Lights On,” and the tearstained power-pop heartbreak of Joe Pernice’s “Crestfallen” (note to self: check out the Pernice Brothers’ 1998 debut, Overcome by Happiness). Producer John Cuniberti balances the clarity of modern recording with the warmth of DIY; on “Noise and Confusion,” for example, the track retains the thick center of Alan Wauters’ original, but the voices and instruments are given more definition than Wauters’ muddier production. Singing together, Chan and Caputo give these covers a fresh voice while drawing lines back to the originals’ legacies; they’re respectful but not slavish, just as fine covers should be. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | The Rain Song
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Patrick Sweany: That Old Southern Drag

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Heart-stopping Southern soul from a Northern immigrant

Ohio native and Nashville immigrant Patrick Sweany makes rootsy sounds that are out of place on Music Row, but will be welcomed in the home of anyone who likes a side order of the ‘60s with their rock, soul, and blues. The album rolls through Southern soul, vintage rock ‘n’ roll and anguished R’n’B, dovetailing punchy production with memories of Delaney and Bonnie, Arthur Alexander and the throwback sounds of Marshall Crenshaw. The bass, drums and rhythm guitar bolster the melodic howl of Sweany’s voice; his singing is edgy, pleading, and emotionally raw from blue disappointment. The nostalgic “Rising Tide” hits a ‘70s rock groove that might have belonged to Bad Company, but the deep bass, funky horns, vamping organ and guitar figures of “The Edges” return the listener to the Memphis that Dan Penn laid on the Hacienda Brothers. The tour de force ballad “More and More” is given the Otis Redding treatment with hard percussive stops, while the acoustic plea “Frozen Lake” is gut-wrenching in the blue-soul of its romantic apprehension. Sweany is well-known as a guitarist and songwriter, and he bolster each accolade here, but it’s the deep well of emotion in every vocal that will make this record stick in your heart. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Frozen Lake
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Emory Quinn: See You at the Next Light

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Tuneful country-rock with influences of Dylan, Petty and Knight

If you charted the Texas trio Emory Quinn amid the circles of a Venn diagram, you’d find them at an intersection that neatly combines twang, beat and melody. For those who like their country to rock, and their rock to sparkle with catchy melodies, these ten original songs will have you humming along as you imagine yourself moving to the band’s guitar-bass-drums in a Texas dance hall. Clint (Quinn) Bracher sings with enough rootsy emotion to keep country radio at bay, but in a world where the Eagles and Wallflowers once had hit records (and numerous Nashville acts are only a pace or two away from rock), one can hope this sort of musical hybrid could again find a mainstream audience.

Bracher’s an ace wordsmith who employs a mix of detail and allusion, setting concrete moments amid more ephemeral thoughts. The group’s melodies are often misleadingly upbeat, hiding the dark murder and unhinged smile of “Holes Through the Windows” behind Byrds-like jangle and harmony. The banjo closer “Falling Down Again” is among the more chipper songs about detoxing you’re likely to hear, and though Dylan and Petty are obvious touchstones, there’s also the wariness and foreboding of Chris Knight in “Tear Down the Walls.” Bracher explores both sides of a vagabond’s life in a pair of songs; the rootless party times of “Moving On” offer contrast to the enduring loneliness of constant motion in “Finds Danger.”

Emory Quinn is a talented band with impressive original material and the musical chops to bring their vision to fruition. They create fuller arrangements in the studio than the basic sound of their stage performances (such as heard on Live at Gruene Hall), but they never overdo it. Nathan (Emory) Rigney adds finely played touches of guitar, violin, banjo and pedal steel, bassist Case Bell offers up a tasty keyboard solo on “When I Dream,” and touches of strings add atmosphere without overshadowing the group’s basic sound. Here’s hoping the band finds a way to break out of the Texas dance hall and college circuit!  [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Hand in Hand
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Jesse Dayton: One for the Dance Halls

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Heartfelt Texas dance hall honky-tonk

The Texas-born Jesse Dayton was weaned on classic country, taking particular interest in the sounds of George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, and the firebrand individualism of Waylon, Willie and the boys. He developed a presence in the world as his 2001 release Hey Nashvegas seemed to both critique and court Music City. The album’s mainstream touches couldn’t hide lyrics more deeply personal than the typical Nashville songwriting appointment could produce, and his underlying fealty to rockabilly, honky-tonk, Cajun and latin sounds was similarly out of step with country radio hits. Though he released an album of soul-tinged country in 2004 and an album of covers in 2006, he dropped off of many country music fans’ radar. But Dayton didn’t stop making music.

In 2005 Dayton released Banjo & Sullivan: The Ultimate Collection 1972-1978 as a fictional aside to Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects, went on to contribute songs to the Halloween 2 soundtrack, recorded a follow-on as Captain Clegg, and released a superb album of hardcore honky-tonk duets, Holdin’ Our Own, with Brennen Leigh. Dayton doubles-down on the honky-tonk roots on this latest album, cranking out the sort of shuffles, two-steps and waltzes that make Texas dance halls such special places to listen, dance, romance and drink away one’s problems. The opener perfectly captures the magical feeling of a Saturday night, spinning away your aches and pains, taking a smoke break in the dirt parking lot, and tipping the band (with cash or a drink) for that special song.

The rhythm section sets the pace, but Warren Hood’s fiddle and Nat Flemming’s pedal steel supercharge the performances. Dayton revs things up with the freewheeling hoe-down “Camden Town,” and though he might be a quart low on love, he hangs on to his optimism with “Pretty Girls Make the World Go ‘Round.” Things aren’t so sunny for the bloodshot morning-after of Nick Lowe’s “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” or the chilly relations of Billy Donahue’s “Back to Back.” Damon Bramblet’s “Falling Apart” is given a two-step beat that improves upon the Johnny Cash train rhythm of the original, and Bramblett’s anniversary waltz, “The Years,” is sung with an emotional quaver aside Mickey Raphael’s harmonica.

Thursday night gigs at Austin’s Broken Spoke have honed Dayton into the very thing he most admired as a child: a country singer. His voice has deepened and weathered favorably over the years, getting him closer to Dale Watson territory. Brennan Leigh provides the perfect vocal foil, particularly in duet on “Falling Apart.” The album has the arc of a live set, mixing two-steps, ballads and closing with the Western swing of “Texas Bound.” You can easily imagine the dancers taking one more whirl around the floor before heading out to their pickup trucks, the band packing up, and everyone going home feeling satisfied. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | One for the Dance Halls
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Dan Kwas: Dreams Die Hard

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

A power-popper succumbs to the existential worries of middle age

What happens when a power pop songwriter’s 20-something angst resurfaces in the voice of a married, 50-something father? Dan Kwas answers that very question with his second solo album, a dispirited collection whose mid-life crisis runs a great deal deeper than adolescent heartbreak. Kwas finds that the end-of-the-world urgency of his earlier years was little more than naivette, while the disillusion of middle-age is considered from a vantage point that affords little remaining time for achievement. In contrast to music careers that stretch continuously from youth to middle age, Kwas put his musical dreams away at a young age, only to crack open the amber twenty-five years later. The emotions he freed no find youthful romantic crises upon which to alight; instead they weigh him down with the tired sense of mortality one develops in middle age.

Kwas first solo album, 2007’s A Life Too Long Forgotten, was meant to be a “catharsis for the longings of middle age,” but in making new music, he awakened long-dormant dreams and ignited the realization his musical ambitions were killed off prematurely. His early-80s band, The Sidewalks, found regional fame in Milwaukee, but failing to attract a larger audience or record label, the group folded and Kwas moved on to other endeavors, including marriage and children. Dreams Die Hard is a home-brew affair, with Kwas singing and playing all the instruments, and writing everything save a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” The tracks were “recorded in a cold, damp basement in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin,” which befits his intimate complaints of middle-age’s settlement.

Kwas isn’t (or isn’t any longer) a hot-shot guitarist or drummer (the bass sounds to be his main instrument), but that works in his favor, as the home-spun folk-rock productions befit the album’s ragged emotional tenor. His slow-motion take on the Stones’ “Last Time” leans more heavily on the song’s indecision than its spittle, and by the time he finally sings of romantic distress on “My Heart” and “Never Saw it Coming,” it’s overshadowed by the larger disappointments that have already been cataloged. Kwas existential crises surface in “Nowhere to Go But Down” and “One More Nail in My Coffin But One Less Day of Pain” mulling death more closely, and he closes the album with a Salvation Army band rhythm and bitter faithlessness in “Jesus Saves (Save for Me).”

There’s tremendous irony in a happily married power-popper discovering that romantic harmony leaves room for larger, previously unimaginable life disappointments. The issues of earlier years have been replaced by the forsaking of a musical mistress (“Don’t Dreams Die Hard”), the repetition of work life (neatly echoed in the clock-like rhythm of “Worn Down”), and religious disillusion (“Magic Touch,” which could also be heard as begging a second chance with his artistic muse). Kwas’ middle-class jealousy, depression, and emotional malaise are topics well explored in books and films, but less regularly a wellspring for pop music. Listeners of a certain age will find that having these realizations couched in the power-pop tones of their youth is a powerfully depressing combination. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Worn Down
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J.R. Shore: Talkin’ on a Bus

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Canadian singer/songwriter shows that Americana is of the Americas

Canadian singer/songwriter J.R. Shore brought home a whole lot of the South from his two year sojourn to Nashville. Ironically though, his new music is more redolent of New Orleans and the Tex-Mex border than it is of Music City. The banjo that opens the album gives way to a hearty second-line rhythm, dixieland trombone, and a vocal that suggests Dr. John. Shore’s songs combine images of America (he seems particularly fond of baseball) with Texas twang, the funky swagger of the Meters, and the soul of Randy Newman and Van Morrison. He writes in poetic vernacular and literary allusion, and sings with both the sweetness and rough edges of Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and Levon Helm. Much like the latter’s Band, Shore simmers his Americana influences into a stew whose flavors tell of the ingredients (country, folk, blues, soul and trad jazz) but whose whole is harmonious. This is a finely made album whose far-Northern origins are barely evident in the warmth of its South-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line sounds. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Two Strike Foul
J.R. Shore’s Home Page