After a less-than-satisfying engagement with his last record label, Marshall Crenshaw’s taking his music straight to the people. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, Crenshaw’s developed a subscription project that will turn out a series of six three-song 10” vinyl EPs, each featuring a new song, a cover and a remake from the singer-songwriter’s rich catalog. The EPs also include a code with which the analog-deprived can download digital versions of the recordings. The first EP was delivered earlier this year, and this second entry features a new A-side, “Stranger and Stranger,” filled with lyric uncertainty and underlined by Bryan Carrott’s vibraphone. The B-sides include a superb acoustic remake of Crenshaw’s “Mary Anne,” that was originally recorded for the 2008 film God is Dead, and a fully orchestrated cover of the Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” The latter is played straight, with smooth choral backing vocals and a trumpet solo by Steven Bernstein. The EP with digital download, as well as a one-year three-EP subscription, is available through Crenshaw’s on-line store. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Posts Tagged ‘Singer-Songwriter’
After an album of Blaze Foley covers in 2011, singer-songwriter Gurf Morlix returns to his catalog of forbidding originals. The album’s title provides a clever play on words, suggesting a man catching up to the moment only to find that moment overbearing. The title track focuses on immediate burdens, but Morlix also finds overwhelming baggage in a future lashed inextricably to the consequences of past actions. Morlix’s characters are left stranded at a turning point between decisions and their lifelong consequences. The prisoner of “My Life’s Been Taken” ruminates on his confinement, resigned to a life of wondering what could have been. The song provides a coda to 2009′s “One More Second,” in which a shooter considers the thin line between reaction and action; here the killer is doomed to reconsider that border until his life ends.
The tiny portal of “Small Window” frames an emotional impediment with a physical metaphor, and the imagery of “Series of Closin’ Doors” takes on a nightmarish cast when scored with languid guitar, atmospheric B3 and a hypnotic beat. Morlix often pairs dark lyrics with misleadingly neutral or bright melodies, and his understated vocals leave each song’s message to sneak up on the listener. His critique of American gun culture, “Bang Bang Bang,” begins with happy memories of Roy Rogers before decrying our modern-day barrage of bullets, and even the love song “Gasoline” draws on a fiery metaphor that aligns with the album’s premise of inescapable aftermath. Morlix exhales his lyrics more than he sings them, which fits well to songs that shrug at seemingly immutable futures. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
It’s been nine years since Chris Stamey’s last solo album, Travels in the South. In the interim he’s worked with Yo La Tengo on A Question of Temperature., re-teamed with fellow dB Peter Holsapple for Here and Now, regrouped with the dB’s for Falling Off the Sky, and continued a busy career as a recording engineer and record producer. The long years between solo outings are certainly understandable, if not necessarily a happy state of affairs for fans; but those same fans should feel rewarded by this collection of eleven magnificent new productions. Stamey’s melancholy tunefulness has never sounded more graceful, rendered in contemplative tones and finely crafted instrumental textures that shift seamlessly between rock, soul, jazz and classical.
Stamey’s formal education in music theory and composition has never been a secret, but his recent work on the Big Star Third concerts seems to have deepened his thinking about how orchestral instruments could fit into and augment his music. He interleaves strings, woodwinds and brass with guitars, bass and drums, dotting his musical landscape with cello, bassoon, flute and trombone. The results are both ethereal and dynamic, offering everything from neo-psych dreaminess to symphonic vigor, sometimes within the same song, as on the sky-gazing “Astronomy.” This coalescing of musical influences is seemingly foreshadowed by the merging of souls in the opener, “Skin.”
At 59, Stamey’s long since expanded upon the punchy guitar rock with which the dB’s introduced themselves, though “You n Me n XTC” has a chorus hook that will make listeners think back. The album plays as late-night ruminations on metaphysical wanderings, philosophical wonderings and haggard day-end inventories. Stamey sings with a thoughtful absorption that suggests Paul Simon’s folk songs, and the self-referential “I Wrote This Song for You” has the charm of an Alex Chilton love song. Stamey’s lyrics remain poetic, but his vocabulary and singing have softened from their earlier percussiveness – a change that fits these pensive songs. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Though “Chicago Farmer” was originally the name of his band, six albums in, it’s become a solo sobriquet for Cody Diekhoff. A native of Delavan, IL (population 1,825), Diekhoff replanted his rural roots in the big city whose name was bestowed upon him. He cites Woody Guthrie and fellow Illinoisan John Prine as influences, but there’s a good helping of country in his folk songs, and his voice cuts through with a high-lonesomeness that may remind you of Hank Williams, Green on Red’s Dan Stuart or Roky Erickson. He often performs solo (and does so on a few tracks here), but for this outing he’s gathered Chicago players on guitar, bass, drums, organ, resonator, dobro and pedal steel, and christened the aggregation “the Hired Hands.” You’d hardly know they were a session band, as the live-to-analog-tape performances have the we’re-so-tight-we-can-swing looseness of a road-honed unit. Diekhoff’s songs blend the details of country living with big-city realities as he sings of a small town’s suffocating embrace and the protective prescience of a rural upbringing. There are songs of rooted worry and existential angst, and the album’s title track, with its swinging steel and Merle Travis-styled picking, is sing-along ready. Audience participation is apparently a regular feature of Diekhoff’s live shows, and the inviting nature of his songs translates well to record. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
After a less-than-satisfying engagement with his last record label, Marshall Crenshaw’s taking his music straight to the people. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, Crenshaw’s kicked off a subscription project that will deliver a series of six three-song 10” vinyl EPs, each featuring a new song, a cover and a remake from the singer-songwriter’s rich catalog. The EPs also include a code with which the analog-deprived can download digital versions of the recordings. The first EP was delivered in November 2012 as a brick-and-mortar exclusive for Record Store Day Black Friday, and it’s now being more widely issued through additional retailers. The record’s A-side is a new song recorded with Andy York and Graham Maby that chronicles Crenshaw’s reaction to the amoral sharks of Wall Street. Given the financial misdeeds of the past decade, it could just as easily have been written about Enron’s greedy traders or deceptive practitioners of imaginary investment funds. The B-sides are a cover of Jeff Lynne’s “No Time,” sung in harmonies that suggest CS&N more than the Move’s original, and a remake of “There She Goes Again” recorded live with the Bottle Rockets. The EP with digital download, as well as a one-year three-EP subscription, is available through Crenshaw’s on-line store. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Nashville singer-songwriter Jeff Black complements his previous volume of B-sides and Confessions (one he presciently suffixed with “Vol. 1” back in 2003) with this second helping. It’s an unexpected treat, given that his last album, Plow Through the Mystic, is just a year old. Though a couple of tracks, including the lead-off “All Right Now,” end too quickly, the notion of “B Sides” is more a humble moment of self-deprecation than a fair assessment of the material’s quality and readiness. The latter half of the album’s title is the more apt description, as Black’s country-tinged folk music is personal and touching. Whether singing in his own voice or that of characters, Black’s songs are revealing in their observation point. “Alice Carry” is a widow looking back, but rather than memorializing regret at what wasn’t, she displays contentment with what was. Black turns inward for “True Love Never Let Me Down,” but rather than simply observing himself, he observes others critiquing his work. Black is joined by fellow singer-songwriters Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters, and instrumentalists Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, but as on all his previous releases, his words and voice hold down center stage with a craft so deeply in the artistic pocket that it obscures anything outside. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
“Singer-songwriter” usually labels someone who sings their own songs, but in Jimmy LaFave’s case, it describes someone who’s as talented at originating material as he is in lending his voice to others’ songs. His first studio album in five years balances eight new songs with five covers, three of the latter selected from the catalog of Bob Dylan. Perhaps the most surprising reinterpretation is his resurrection of John Waite’s “Missing You” from its 1980s chart-topping power-ballad origin. As a writer of emotionally-laden songs, LaFave could hear the finely-tuned angst of Waite’s lyric, and reconstruct it into rootsy rock ‘n’ roll. The production’s guitar adds a touch of Southern soul, and the emotional choke in LaFave’s voice mates perfectly with the song’s mood.
The Dylan covers “Red RiverShore,” the oft-covered “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” and Empire Burlesque’s “I’ll Remember You.” LaFave adds something special to each, reading the first in slow reflection, and warming the latter from the chilly production of its original version. The album’s fifth cover is Bruce Springsteen’s recently released (though earlier written) “Land ofHopes and Dreams.” LaFave strips the song of its E Street bombast to better reveal the tender heart of its inverted allusions to the gospel-folk classic “This Train.” LaFave uses the covers as a launching point for his original songs, weaving a continuous thread through expectation, melancholy, sadness and second chances.
There’s aNew Orleansgroove to “Red Dirt Night,” gospel devotion in “Bring Back the Trains” and righteous grief in “It Just is Not Right.” The latter ruminates on the numbness society often displays towards its most helpless members, and the album closes with a farewell whose metaphor neatly twines people and places. Throughout the album, LaFave sings with deep soul, harboring a waver in his notes that may remind you of Steve Forbert. He takes his songs at tempos that provide room for thought and expression, as befits the songs he writes and covers. This album will appeal to your ears on first spin, and grow in your thoughts over time. [©2012 Hyperbolium]
There’s no shortage of live albums on Billy Joe Shaver, including well-picked gigs from the ‘80s (Live from Austin, TX) and ‘90s (Storyteller: Live at the Bluebird and Unshaven: Live at Smith’s Olde Bar), but when you’re an honest-to-God troubadour, each performance is a unique combination of people, place and songs. This two-disc (CD/DVD) document of Shaver’s September 2011 show at Billy Bob’s Texas, is just as essential as the earlier volumes. Though one could never expect Shaver to fully recover from the passing of his son Eddy, he sounds more energized – and less haunted –than he’s appeared in several years. No doubt the stage is both a reminder and a sanctuary, and he throws himself into these songs in a way younger performers couldn’t even imagine. His voice sounds great, and his band plays in a deep, empathetic pocket.
The set list holds few surprises for Shaver’s fans, but mostly because they’re so fervent about his music. Those new to Shaver’s catalog will find many of his best-known songs here, and even his most well-traveled tunes are sung with enthusiasm for words that clearly remain both important and true. The two new titles are the Johnny Cash-styled “Wacko from Waco,” recounting a 2007 shooting incident (also memorialized in Dale Watson’s “Where Do You Want It?”), and “The Git Go,” deftly casting modern ills against biblical antecedents of temptation, truth and fate. Studio versions of the new tunes are also included as bonuses. Shaver’s musical range – from delicate old-timey tunes and folk-country to stomping country-rock – would be impressive at any age, but at 72, he’s hotter than most musicians a quarter his age.
On the DVD, Shaver looks older than he sounds, though his dancing and shadow-boxing, not to mention easy smile, speak to his vitality. The rapt attention and enthusiastic response of the audience clearly add fuel to his performance. The multi-camera wide-screen video runs down the same twenty live titles as the CD but also includes stage dialog and band introductions were edited out of the music-only program. Also included on the DVD are video inserts that provide comments and stories from fellow Texans Willie Nelson and Pat Green. Shaver’s mastery as a performer continues to deepen over the years, so while earlier live sets captured the firebrand energy of younger years, this one showcases his seemingly effortless state of grace. This is a superb collection for Shaver’s longtime fans, and a good introduction for those who’ve only heard his songs covered by others. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]
While Jon Dee Graham’s earlier albums haven’t exactly been super-shiny mainstream productions, his latest release takes organic to a deeper level. Recorded over several months of gifted studio time, the album pulled itself together without an up-front plan, and the lack of a clock ticking away budget dollars manifests itself in more loosely finished productions. This isn’t a collection of leftovers; it’s a set of songs and performances that weren’t pre-conceived for release. It’s more finished than a sketchbook, but not as polished as a framed work of art, and the less finished corners reveal some of the artist’s work method.
The confidence to release such an album has grown from Graham’s life experiences, including a near-fatal car crash in 2008. The opening “Unafraid” provides a manifesto, and the album shows Graham’s not so much a fatalist as one who’s no longer derailed by doubt or fear. Working against his own recording history, Graham came to the studio with only fragmentary ideas, developing them with his studio hosts, John Harvey and Mary Podio. Rather than worrying the songwriting ahead of time, he developed the concepts, lyrics, melodies, production and instrumentation in unison. Graham overdubbed most of the instruments himself, but the album hits many of its strongest points when he sings against a lone guitar or piano.
The performances are heartfelt in their immediacy, confessing to a loved one, comforting a fellow orphan, and lamenting the ephemeral nature of time and memory. Among the album’s most affecting performances is the voice-and-piano “Bobby Dunbar,” with resonant chords that hang gloomily over an elegiac melody. The drippy slide guitar and vibraphone of “#19” provides a tranquil moment of exotica before the challenging crawl through “Collapse,” punk-rock “Where Were Yr Friends,” and experimental soul closer “Radio Uxtmal.” A lot of variety, some wise words and a lack of varnish that leaves the album’s grain open to the air. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]
Demos are an industry currency that fans don’t often get to hear. They’re an audio notebook in which songwriters sketch their vision, either for themselves, or more intriguingly, for those to whom they wish to sell songs. In the case of a singer-songwriter like Carole King, there are both kinds of entries in her notebooks – writer’s demos that were inclined towards the sound and style of a potential client and initial renderings of songs that King would sing herself, including five tunes written for her 1971 breakthrough, Tapestry, and another, “Like Little Children,” written in the mid-60s but recorded 30 years later for the film Crazy in Alabama.
An earlier, unauthorized, volume of King’s demos and early solo recordings, Brill Buliding Legends: The Right Girl, gave a glimpse into her years as a Brill Building songwriter. But that volume fell short of its full promise, by including demos for songs that were never commercially recorded or never broke on the charts. Though interesting in their own right, these lesser works said more about the hard work that goes into getting a hit single than they did about the development of King’s best-known titles. Not so with this authorized volume of King demos, which not only offers up a few key Brill Building-era demos, but extends into her solo work as a successful performer.
The three major Brill-era hits included here in demo form are the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby” and the Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain.” The first is surprisingly different from the hit single, with King’s folk-rock demo more wistful and forgiving than the skeptical and mocking tone of the Monkees take. The second, on the other hand, seems to anticipate Bobby Vee’s style, and though the single is more fully orchestrated, the mood and hooks were all there in the demo. Others, such as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” reveal their foundations – in this case, the gospel chords of King’s piano and the freedom of her vocals – even more clearly in these stripped down versions.
As with The Right Girl, this volume is only a small taste of the demos that led to King’s catalog of hits and terrific album tracks. The Monkees’ obscure “So Goes Love” (recorded for, but not released on, their first album) is no substitute for “Take a Giant Step,” “Sometime in the Morning,” “Star Collector” or “The Porpoise Song,” and demos for hits by Gene Pitney, the Cookies, Little Eva, Steve Lawrence, Freddie Scott, the Chiffons, the Drifters, Maxine Brown and many others, not to mention most of King’s terrific solo work, are still to be heard. Rumors have swirled as to the song publishers blocking release of King’s demos, but with this peek inside the vault now public, it’s time for whatever else that can be found to see the digital light of day. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]