Hardened and Tempered (from the album The Trailer Sessions)
The decisions of the characters that make their way through the songs of The Trailer Sessions walk a fine line. The album, the latest from Austin, Texas-based duo, Hardened and Tempered, edges out on branches growing from the same long ribbons of highway travelled by the musicians behind the words and music. The Trailer Sessions investigates the love/hate relationships between the humans standing in the songs and the stage of their surroundings. Hardened and Tempered look through microscopes of song that examines the flesh and blood bodies as they march towards sudden edges that fall into deep pits as well as soft ground that requires careful footfalls. Kristin Davidson and Carolyn Philips aka Hardened and Tempered infuse their characters with hard-won dignity and a pride born in beating the odds as they push against the grain, toasting the moon in a “Dry County”, finding fortune in the heat of another human with “My Wildest Ride”, taking a seat on the “Heartbreak Transit Line”, and reading the hard-luck history tacked to the walls of “House of the Soiled Dove”.
Hardened and Tempered turned to Grammy award winner Lloyd Maines to produce their debut, The Trailer Sessions. He backed the duo with some of the Austin A-list talent found in the Texas music capital for songwriting influenced by the time Kristin Davidson spent living in an Airstream on the Texas-Mexico border. The Trailer Sessions shares “Family Secrets” on gently plucked notes and warm harmonies, weathers “Hard Winds” fortified by a tough groove as it makes its way on a current of Tex-Mex rhythms for “Cross Over the Rio Grande’ while Hardened and Tempered make plans for “Leavin’ in the Morning” on an assured beat and step lightly on the shuffle of “Path Already Paved”.
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Applewood Road (from the album Applewood Road)
Fate, AmericanaFest, and the musical magic in the air of East Nashville were the backdrop when Amy Speace, Emily Barker, and Amber Rubarth met, write their first song together, and immediately enter Welcome to 1979’s all analog recording environment to timeline the tune. “Applewood Road”, backed instrumentally with just a double bass, became the title track, and band name that the threesome would operate under. The trio reconvened six months later, once again returning to Welcome to 1979, and bringing in some of the fine Eastsider musicians to back the voices of Applewood Road with Telisha Williams, Aaron Lee Tasjian, Fats Kaplin, Jabe Beyer, and Josh Day playing in the band.
The songs of Applewood Road sparkle with the purity in the trio’s voices, captured with no overdubs and gathered around a single microphone. Lead vocals are shared and at times tenderly accompanied by ooh-ahh harmony as in “Bring the Car Around”. Applewood Road adds age to an “Old Time Country Song” by backing the three voices with scratchy banjo, guitar strums, and fiddle while a bounce becomes the beat for “Sad Little Tune”, hushed notes barely whisper to match the storyline snowfall in “Home Fires”, and echoes of Tin Pan Alley join the touching emotion found in the vocal and harmonies of “My Love Grows”. Raucous Country Folk is reflected from “Lovin’ Eyes” and a dreamy melody drifts over the tale of a young boy and his radio in “To the Stars” as thick bass notes partner with percussion to float “Row Boat” and Applewood Road revisit R.E.M. with Folk take on “Losing My Religion”.
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Over the course of a career that has spanned decades, John Mellencamp has delivered the songs in his rock’n’roll heart against an ever-moving landscape of musical styles. He has accepted his fame with dignity, managing his role as rock star with class and keeping the music a part of a fickle Pop culture by recording the way he hears a song as opposed to fitting the tracks into a popular format. That ability to follow a muse rather than running with the pack continues on the most recent release from John Mellencamp, Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. The album bears John’s name on the marquee as well as giving well-deserved credit to his partner on Sad Clowns and Hillbillies with the added notation, ‘featuring Carlene Carter’.
John Mellencamp finds his recent album offerings perfectly at home in the Roots music community, a territory he has long cultivated and developed in his own music. Sad Clowns and Hillbillies embraces the benefits offered by Americana as it shifts between melodic moods, saddling up with a Country Folk trot for “Battle of Angels”, taking a seat at the “Early Bird Café” as its jukebox sounds off with a raggedy rock’n’roll Roots, and following the lead of a snaking fiddle riff as to dials in “Late Night Talk Radio”. The rumble of Country chords guides the steps of John Mellencamp and dueling duet partner Martina McBride as they wrestle with living in “Grandview”. The voice of Carlene Carter comes through in the fading lights of “Indigo Sunset”, powerfully attached to the telling of the story as she is throughout much of Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. The burdens of “Damascus Road” are vocally shared with Carlene and John Mellencamp as the pair climb “Sugar Hill Mountain” with a shuffling ramble rhythm, brew a caffeinated bounce to walk a path to glory with “On My Soul’s Wings”, and hush to whispers to discuss “What Kind of Man Am I”. Fiddle, mandolin, and guitar notes play tag with the beat as “Mobile Blue” boards a west coast bus while Sad Clowns and Hillbillies takes pride in the less-than-perfect male dressed up to sashay onto the stage as the “Sad Clown” on a classic country ramble and quiets the musical moods for John Mellencamp to poke at politics on “Easy Target”.
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