Posts Tagged ‘Singer-Songwriter’

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

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

Mason Summit: Gunpowder Tracks

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

Mason_Allport_cover-1400x1400.inddSouthern California pop prodigy spreads his wings

On the cusp of adulthood (his twentieth birthday party was held October 15th at Genghis Cohen), Mason Summit’s already on his third full-length album of original music. He’s a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose music brings to mind the craft of Brian Wilson and Chris Stamey, and the emotional delicacy of Elliot Smith. Working with engineer John McDuffie and a selection of top-flight L.A. studio players, Summit has fashioned an even more sophisticated version of his introspective sound, and his lyrics showcase the emotional and artistic discovery that marks the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Summit wrestles with the onset of outside awareness (“What I’m trying to say / Is that I don’t know what to say”) and the disturbing things it can bring to light. He struggles with relationships that are out of balance, the mystery of temptation, the banalities of daily living, and – surprisingly for a teenager – mortality. His introspection gives voice to teenage thoughts that aren’t often spoken aloud, at least not within earshot of adults. “When Time Was Mine to Spend” ruminates on the heavier burdens and narrowed freedoms of adult life, and though sung in the second person, “Suede Pockets” rings with first-person break-up details.

Without a band identity to maintain, Summit is free to give each song a unique mix of instruments, and though the mood is typically pensive, the textures are varied. The music thins to guitars for “Side Street,” turns jazzy with the muted trumpet, piano and guitar of “Detour,” and gains a Nilsson-like feel on “Snakeskin Shoes and Crocodile Tears.” Summit’s put a lot of craft into the arrangements, vocabulary, meters and rhymes, using his freedom as a developing indie artist to experiment. He’s also gained experience interning with Rob Schnapf, working shows at McCabe’s ,and attending music school, all of which should multiply the opportunities for this talented singer-songwriter. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Mason Summit’s Home Page

Shane Alexander: Bliss

Friday, August 5th, 2016

ShaneAlexander_BlissCalifornia singer-songwriter spans acoustic folk and canyon pop

After five solo albums, and earlier records recorded with Young Art, Damone and the Greater Good, singer-songwriter Shane Alexander has self-produced his most sonically fetching work yet. The sparseness of 2013’s Ladera can still be heard in the opener, with Paul Simon-styled finger-picking and a double-tracked vocal that suggests Elliot Smith. But the album quickly expands beyond acoustic folk with the second cut’s driving drums and atmospheric piano and steel, echoing 1970s canyon rock with a melancholy lyric of haunted memories and a memorable chorus hook. And melancholy turns into panic as a relationship dies in the power ballad “Hold Me Helpless.”

Alexander can be abstract as he introspects his history and surroundings. “I Will Die Alone” is lined by moments in time, but they’re connected weigh-points rather than a linear narrative, and the allusional “Nobody Home” has the rhythm of pursuit for its fractional imagery. Alexander’s bliss may be in the act of observation rather than the observations themselves, but he shines a lovelight on “Heart of California,” pledging his undying gratitude for the state’s inspirational bounty. His greatest bliss, however, was likely the chance to record in his own studio, allowing his songs to unfold without a meter running. For those who haven’t met Shane Alexander, this is a great introduction. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Shane Alexander’s Home Page

Tommy Womack: Namaste

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

TommyWomack_NamasteA songwriter finds his center

Brushing up against death will make you philosophical. Or at least that’s the impact it’s had on songwriter Tommy Womack, whose 2012 recovery from near-fatal addiction and 2015 recovery from a life-threatening car accident has deepened his introspection, magnified his gratitude and optimism, and sharpened his sense of humor. All are on full display in this new collection of songs, essaying everything from wry takes on aging to blunt confrontations of faith and death.

The album opens with hope and wit in “Angel” and “Comb-Over Blues,” before turning to a Lou Reed-styled monotone for “End of the Line.” The latter reflects on the heightened awareness of mortality brought by recovery’s second chance, and segues seamlessly into the Dylan-ish “It’s Been All Over Before.” That second chance is met head on in “I Almost Died,” a harrowing first-person account of a drug-fueled near-death in which Womack recreates an addict’s obstinate dependence on “almost.”

Now in his fifties, Womack’s more sanguine about bad times, drawing from them an ability to see his own beliefs in context. He stacks his religious views against Christian history in the twangy country shuffle “God III” and his beat poem “Nashville” is a love letter to a city of contrasts, one in which songs are written by appointment and swapped in informal songwriter nights. He closes with the optimism of “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” a sentiment that’s knowing rather than naive, and a fitting cap to stories of hard-earned lessons. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Tommy Womack’s Home Page

John David Souther: John David Souther

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

JohnDavidSouther_JohnDavidSoutherThe debut of a ‘70s L.A. songwriter w/7 bonus tracks

Like many singer-songwriters, J.D. Souther is better known for songs performed by others, including the Eagles (“New Kid in Town”), Bonnie Raitt (“Run Like a Thief”) and Linda Ronstadt (“Faithless Love”), than for his own performances. But in the early ‘70s, the Detroit-to-Texas-to-Los Angeles transplant was introduced to David Geffen by his downstairs neighbor, Jackson Browne, and found himself signed to the nascent Asylum label. This 1972 debut features ten originals, and includes accompaniment by Souther’s then-roommate, Glenn Frey, as well as handpicked session stars Bryan Garafalo, Gary Mallaber, Wayne Perkins and Nashville West fiddler Gib Guilbeau.

The album’s sound helped develop the templates for ‘70s Southern California music, adding country to rock, while keeping the singer-songwriter sensibility front and center. The album was recorded at Pacific Recorders in Northern California, rather than one of the reigning L.A. studios, but you wouldn’t know it from the musical vibe. Souther sounds a bit like his pals Browne and Frey, and his songs have a similar shade of inviting introspection. In “Kite Woman,” which Souther had previously recorded with Frey as the duo Longbranch Pennywhistle, and “How Long,” you can hear the voice that would carry him forward, and the songwriting that would come to fit the Eagles. The latter song was in fact resurrected by the Eagles for their 2007 comeback Long Road Out of Eden.

The album failed to click commercially, and it would be four more years until Souther waxed his second solo effort, but the lack of sales doesn’t reflect on either the songs or the performances. Souther apparently didn’t have the commercial “it” of Browne, but his music is heartfelt and effective. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue augments the original ten tracks with seven period bonuses, including an alternate version of “Kite Woman” and six demos. The latter, stripped mostly to guitar and vocals, provide more intimate readings than the band versions, and include the otherwise unrecorded “One in the Middle.” Delivered in a digipack with a 12-page booklet, this is a worthy upgrade and a good introduction for those who haven’t yet dug J.D. Souther. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

J.D. Souther’s Home Page

John David Souther: Black Rose

Friday, February 12th, 2016

JohnDavidSouther_BlackRoseJ.D. Souther’s 1976 sophomore solo album reissued with bonuses

After releasing his 1972 self-titled debut (which has been concurrently reissued with seven bonus tracks), J.D. Souther joined with Chris Hillman and Richie Furay to release two albums as the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. So it wasn’t until 1976 that he returned with this second solo album, produced by the red hot Peter Asher, and featuring performances from Lowell George, Joe Walsh, Waddy Wachtel, Jim Keltner and Andrew Gold, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, Art Garfunkel, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and other luminaries. The album is more refined and musically expansive than the debut, and Souther sounds more assured as he lets his songs unfold and reach beyond a singer-songwriter style.

Souther draws upon an expanded set of musical roots and allows himself to linger, as on the gospel-tinged vocal coda of “If You Have Crying Eyes.” Souther and Asher let the performance build to a crescendo and then wind down with emotional vocalizing atop the backing of Asher, Gold and Ronstadt. The musicianship is more sophisticated as well, with the opening “Banging My Head Against the Moon” taking on an island tone as the rhythm guitar, drums and Paul Stallworth’s bass provide intricate accompaniment. By 1976 Asher was hitting full stride as a producer, with seminal albums by James Taylor, Tony Joe White and Linda Ronstadt under his belt, and he helps Souther draw something deeper from his music.

Comparing the demo of “Silver Blue” to the album track, the song’s despairing, open-ended questions become more nuanced, and Stanley Clark’s beautiful double bass adds a duet voice. The recording is a textbook example of how instrumentation can reinforce and amplify a song’s tone, as does Donald Byrd’s flugelhorn on the late night “Midnight Prowl.” David Campbell’s arrangement of cello and flute on “Faithless Love” isn’t as surprising, but provides interesting contrast to Souther’s blue, crooned notes, and strings also add drama to “Doors Swing Open.” The latter’s wariness of hollow relationships weaves into Souther’s pessimistic tapestry of romantic turmoil, unrequited love and lost partners, culminating in the title song’s funereal symbol.

The album didn’t launch any singles onto the chart, though “Simple Man, Simple Dreams,” blossomed into a Ronstadt title song and inspired the title of her autobiography. But even with only limited commercial success (charting at #85), the album was a fuller expression of Souther’s music than was the debut, and remains a high point of his catalog. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue adds five demos, a live version of “Faithless Love,” and “Cheek to Cheek” from Lowell George’s Thanks I’ll Eat it Here. The demos highlight songs recorded earlier (by Ronstadt and Souther-Hillman-Furay) and later (by Souther), which are worth hearing, but don’t expound upon the album itself. Buy this for the original ten tracks, enjoy an under-heralded mid-70s classic, and get bonus tracks in the bargain. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

J.D. Souther’s Home Page

Denny Lile: Hear the Bang – The Life and Music of Denny Lile

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

DennyLile_HearTheBangA sad, brilliant gem of early ‘70s singer-songwriter country

Talent and hard work aren’t always enough. They can pave the path, but fame is at the end of a road pockmarked with “timing” and “connections” and “luck.” And though hard luck provides grist for the artistic mill, it can also keep a career from catching fire. Such was the case for Louisville singer-songwriter Denny Lile, whose talent, ambition and artistic brilliance weren’t fully rewarded by the popular recognition they deserved. Other than a song turned into a 1987 Top 10 Waylon Jennings hit (“Fallin’ Out”), Lile’s music, including this long-lost 1973 solo album, were consigned to virtual obscurity. His hometown renown brought feelers from New York and Nashville labels, but the sensitivity that made his songwriting so touching also fueled the alcoholism and self-doubt that sabotaged his career.

Lile wended his way through a number of Louisville bands, including Soul Inc. and Elysian Field, before striking a deal for this solo album. At only twenty-two years of age, his voice was decades older, with the weary, wary confidence of someone who’d logged more miles on his soul than his feet. His singing offered elements of Jim Croce’s melancholy, Gram Parsons’ grief, and, unusually in this company, Neil Diamond’s power; but even among those monumental touchstones, it was the candid voice of his lyrics that really stood out. Backed by guitar, fiddle, steel, dobro and a tight rhythm section of bass, drums and piano, Turley Richards’ productions of “Hear the Bang” and “If You Stay on Solid Ground” garnered a well-deserved offer from Hilltop Records; but while Turley was selling the single in New York, Lile signed with the local Bridges label, in a deal that would haunt him to his 1995 death.

Bridges’ distribution agreement with Nashville’s Starday-King did little to help the single or subsequent album gain traction, and both disappeared without much more than local notice. It’s hard to imagine in this hyperconnected, digital age that an album this good could vanish so completely, but Lile’s deal had surrendered both the recordings and his song publishing, and as the accompanying DVD documentary explains, it took more than four decades to untangle the rights and find the tapes. Once revived, the tapes revealed productions that are crisp and spacious – the sort of record that made your mid-70s stereo system shine – and performances that hold listeners in thrall with their confused and wounded heart. And that heart, Lile’s heart, was worn quite visibly on his sleeve as he sings of loving, leaving and being left.

Lile found that fading love doesn’t always fade evenly, and that its slow decay may not even be noticed until realizations are past due and apologies are rejected. Resignation to sad truths permeated Lile’s life, and in turn, his best songs. It led him to recoil from opportunity and sabotage possibilities for success. By the time his solo album was ready he said “Every time I’ve tried to get out of town – with Field, with Soul – something’s gone wrong. Every time I turn around an older musician is telling me his plan for making it. But nothing so far has worked. I think it’s better not to plan.” That feeling of futility suffused his songwriting, even as he spent years honing his lyrics and melodies to perfection.

The productions include many terrific touches, including congas on “If You Stay on Solid Ground” and phased fiddles on “Rag Muffin,” and there are several optimistic songs of love on the horizon (“She’s More to Me Than a Friend” and “After All”) and in full bloom (“Oh Darling” and “Rag Muffin”). But it’s the sad songs that will haunt you, especially after you’ve viewed the accompanying biographical documentary. “Will You Hate Me When I’m Gone” offers a prophetic echo as Lile’s daughter speaks of his passing, and “After All” could be a memo from Lile to himself as he sings “so tell me how you’re feeling today, tell me if I got in your way.” As the documentary shows, Lile’s alcoholism often got in his way as the industry tried to help him capitalize on his talent.

Lile had a knack for sabotaging himself, starting with his momentum-killing solo contract, and extending through numerous fumbled opportunities. Worries about his marriage and his duty as a father – a hangover from his parents divorce – kept him from touring, and a chance to play FanFest in 1973 fell prey to one-too-many nerve-calming drinks. Follow-up meetings with Waylon Jennings’ staff also suffered from the rough shape in which his alcoholism often left him. Even an accident that landed him in the hospital with broken bones and a lacerated liver didn’t deter his drinking. His world narrowed to a home studio purchased with the royalties from Jennings’ single, and then to a custom van in which he lived the last few years of his life. He died alone in the van, estranged from his family, at the age of 44.

Lile’s one stroke of luck came twenty years after his death, when former bandmate Marvin Maxwell bought the production company that owned Lile’s album. That led Lile’s nephew Jer to send a copy of the album to Fat Possum’s Bruce Watson, who immediately put this reissue in motion. The album stands as a lost classic, but fleshed out by Jer’s documentary interviews with family, friends, bandmates and industry associates, the package draws a picture of an artist more interested in art than fame, and a writer whose fragility and sadness were simultaneously his muse and his downfall. Big Legal Mess’s reissue includes five bonus tracks recorded during the album session, the DVD documentary and an eight-page booklet, all of which adds up to one of the year’s best vault discoveries. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Lloyd Cole: Standards

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

LloydCole_StandardsLloyd Cole renews his rock ‘n’ roll license

Thirty years into his career, Lloyd Cole can’t exactly “go” electric; that honor belongs to the Commotions’ 1984 debut, Rattlesnakes. But after a decade making what he terms “age appropriate music,” he’s “re-gone” electric with an album that reteams him with several players who help shape Cole’s 1990 solo debut, including Fred Maher on drums, Matthew Sweet on bass and Blair Brown on keyboard. Guitarist Robert Quine is missed from that lineup (having passed away in 2004), but Cole’s son Will, along with Mark Schwaber and Matt Cullen fill the guitar spot well.

You could call this a return to form, if the past decade’s acoustic work wasn’t such a pleasing form of its own; perhaps “welcome return” is more apt, given Cole’s previous forsaking of electric pop and rock. The group (which also includes Joan As Police Woman on piano and Michael Wyzik on percussion) sounds tighter than the 1990 aggregation as the album opens with its lone cover, John Hartford’s “California Earthquake.” Written for (and recorded by) Cass Elliott, Cole’s vision is more grittily determined, almost shell-shocked, with guitars that bring to mind the intertwining drone of Television.

Cole’s songs have always been literate and poetic, but often with strong narrative lines. The narration is fragmented in the scenes-from-a-college relationship “Women’s Studies” and the nostalgic “Period Piece.” The latter is sung as (rather than about) the Berlin Wall, and offers a first-person view of the wall’s existence and demise. The lyric’s mention of “Hansa” likely refers to the West Berlin Hansa recording studio, an easter egg that might escape many listeners’ notice.

Such references are easier to decipher in the Internet age, but you still have to recognize there’s something there to decode. The lyric “And I should be the one touched by your very presence, dear,” for example, will strike a chord with Blondie fans, yet seem wholly original to most everyone else. It’s really not cheating, since the original lyric is there to be found, and provides context to the astute listener. For each one you find, there are no doubt two more that pass you by.

Cole spends considerable time looking at relationships, including the tugs-of-war “Myrtle and Rose” and “Opposites Day,” and the dissolutions of “Silver Lake” and “No Truck.” The latter cleverly shifts the opening lyric’s acceptance (“don’t mind”) to the closing lyric’s expectation (“won’t mind”), as the narrator steadies himself for the exit. The album is filled with ambivalence in its knowledge of what needs-to-be butting heads with a sense of what’s possible. It’s encapsulated neatly in the paradoxical lyric “I can’t stay / But I can’t leave you like this.”

“Kids Today” takes an ironic stroll through the perils of bebop, heavy metal, rock ‘n’ roll, electric guitar, long hair, comic books, body art and decades of fashion as Cole realizes there’s nothing more wrong with the kids of today than the childhoods of his own generation. The album returns to failed relationships for “Diminished Ex,” admitting that “Maybe I aimed a little too high / No question that I failed in my endeavour,” and suggesting that Cole is coming to grips with a music career that’s rich in dedicated fans, but not worldwide hits. Lucky for him (and his fans), the lack of the latter won’t keep the former from embracing this superb album. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Lloyd Cole’s Home Page

Matthew Szlachetka: Waits for a Storm to Find

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

MatthewSzlachetka_WaitsForAStormToFindSinger-songwriter’s solo debut recalls the hey-day of ‘70s L.A. canyon music

After seven years fronting Northstar Session, this Los Angeles singer-songwriter has begun a solo career that favorably echoes the ‘70s pop-rock of Jackson Browne and Bob Welch. The opening “Wasting Time” quickly evokes the former’s “Running on Empty” with its loping tempo, buzzing steel and cascading piano, but it’s Szlachetka’s extraordinary voice and the breadth of his songwriting that are the most arresting elements of this album. The productions are modern and crisp, but exude the warmth of mid-70s L.A.’s canyons, and Szlachetka’s originals reach beyond pop and rock to folk, soul, blues and touches of country.

Szlachetka’s years as the lead singer of a band gave him a great sense of how to fit his voice into an arrangement. Together with his co-producers George Johnsen and Joe Napolitano, he’s assembled a band that augments the guitar, bass and drums with Wurlitzer organ, piano, lap and pedal steel, slide guitar, accordion, harmonium and a few horn and string charts. Wisely, the arrangements are never crowded, and Szlachetka is never overshadowed; Fender Rhodes and baritone sax add soul to “Little Things in Life Can Show You Love,” and the organ and horns  of “I Can’t Look at Your Face” frame Szlachetka’s blue mood.

The relationships in these songs are often combative, but surprisingly free of bitterness, whether pleading for a second chance or simply moving on. Szlachetka is fond of boxing metaphors (“waiting for the bell to go off” and “dodging all the punches”), but he’s even more fond of music. He decries a friend who sold out to (or was burned out by) those who “got their fingers in you when you were young,” provides a view from the road with “You’re Home to Me,” and revels in the magic powers of music in “Carry Me Home.”

The latter provides something of a thesis statement for this album, as Szlachetka explicitly acknowledges the musical influences that have implicitly shaped him. Shaped not just his music; shaped his whole life. This will resonate with those for whom music is more than just background sound, those whose live have their own musical soundtracks, and whose personal chronologies and geographies are inextricably tied to songs, records, shows and bands. Szlachetka’s sentiment is full of heart and respect, and builds a fresh set of songs from roots planted in fertile canyon soil. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Matthew Szlachetka’s Home Page