Vetiver (from the album Up on High available on Mama Bird Recording Co) (by Bryant Liggett)
Up on High may as well be a guided tour through the rich past of the Folk Rock genre. The latest from release from Vetiver, Up on High, watches frontman Andy Cabic trot through a neighborhood ripe with the acoustic yearnings of young Pink Floyd while their dreams play a soundtrack of 1970’s Country Rock from the neighbors of Laurel Canyon all while digging into the 1980’s across the US from LA’s The Paisley Underground to the indie vibe of Athens, Georgia’s R.E.M. “The Living End” and “To Who Knows Where” kick Up on High off on a beautiful hush with “Swaying” and “All We Could Want” picking up the pace. A big lyrical hook announces ‘hold tight, we’re already there’ on the subtle keyboard Funk of “Hold Tight” while “Wanted Never Asked” is loaded with a 1980’s guitar jangle. “A Door Shuts Quick” sings a quietly melodic lullaby, a quiet song of lament, saying goodbye with Vetiver singing ‘forever’s just a day away’ while mentioning ‘regrets, last requests’.
The Up on High title track unfolds in a psychedelic Folk backdrop when six-strings strum while another guitar picks out a quiet melody and pedal steel offers ambience with its atmospheric sounds below Cabic’s dreamy vocal. “Lost (In Your Eyes)” closes Up on High with a picturesque love song that dreams of diners and cheap hotels with a loved one. Vetiver live comfortably in the Indie Ambient-Folk community, Up on High quiet like the Wilco ballads of the last dozen years with hints of the desert noir of Calexico, its lyrical and melodic laziness its strength. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Sarah Lee Langford (from the album Two Hearted Rounder available Cornelius Chapel Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest, Two Hearted Rounder, from Sarah Lee Langford matches the worth of any Country record released in the last decade. Perhaps a strong statement but toss Sarah Lee Langford in the same as the (Sturgill) Simpsons and (Chris) Stapleton’s along with the ever-growing number of Indie Rockers repurposing themselves as they freely in and out of Psychedelic Folk and Alt Country neighborhoods to hear her hold her hi-lonesome, lowdown, dirty own. Sarah Lee Langford sets out to prove her boldness from the get-go, calling out a partner and drawing a line in ‘the words that you speak in are such a god-damned riddle, I won’t play second fiddle’ in the mid-tempo opener that owes more to Indie Rock than Honky Tonk.
Proof that Sarah Lee Langford respects tradition can be heard when “Bar Stool” shows itself as a classic two-stepper while “Growing Up” and “Watch Me” give a solid nod to 1970’s-era Country. “What Came First” and “Coattails”, both with a pedal steel that was born to lay under her vocals, come from the Country Rock, AM Gold radio dialed from a time machine. Langford aches in “Sing My Own Love Song,” the dramatic closer the exits with the line ‘if you don’t want to get down with me I’ll be just fine’, more proof that Sarah Lee Langford is standing strong and on her in her own line. Released on the Cornelius Chapel Records label based in Birmingham, Alabama, a city and label on the forefront of pushing out the best of any-genre Indie. Two Hearted Rounder provides crack colleagues when Sarah Lee Langford is backed by label-mates members from Vulture Whale and The Dexateens. The pedal steel floats through Two Hearted Rounder airy and swirling, the guitar punchy and clean, the rhythm section metronome solid and ready to waltz, the Rock’n’Rollers backing Sarah Lee Langford ready for the dance hall. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes (from the album Cypress Grove available on Easy Eye Sound)
Consider Cypress Grove, the recent release from Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, a calling card, bait with a musical hook, and a personal invitation to head to Bentonia, Mississippi for some Blues. If you are planning the trip, know that Saturday night is the time to be present for Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes to take the stage at his Blues Front Café. The venue is America’s oldest running juke joint, Blue Front Café opening its doors in 1948, begun by Jimmy’s mother and father, who were sharecroppers. Cypress Grove is the sound of Saturday night in Bentonia, Mississippi, Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, the last of the original torchbearers of Bentonia Blues. Cypress Grove begins its Blues run with man and guitar, Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes crying out on “Hard Times”, bringing in the band for his take on “Little Red Rooster”, making a low swamp groove the bed for “Catfish Blues”, and coaxing a rumble from the Blues for “Devil Got My Woman”.
Produced by Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Cypress Grove is raw visceral Blues, the producer bringing the 72-year old musician to his Easy Eye Sound Studios in Nashville to record. A percussive rattle is the signal that starts the trance Blues of “Goin’ Away Baby” in motion. Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes hops on board “Train Train” with a shuffle to match its rails hum and strums out scratchy notes to back his observations in “Gonna Get Old Some Day” as Cypress Grove relates the Blues of its title track on persistent revolutions.
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Karen and the Sorrows (from the album Guaranteed Broken Heart available on Ocean Born Mary Music)
Creating a safe space for Country music fans within a genre that does not always love them back, Brooklyn, New York’s Karen and the Sorrows proudly don the western wear of Queer Country trailblazers. Forming Karen and the Sorrows as a trio in 2011, Karen Pittelman took the sound of the band as well as the arrangement of players in a different direction for album number three. Guaranteed Broken Heart opens with its title track loping along on a country and western shuffle, using Classic Country as the soundtrack to introduce “Queen of Denial”, ripping memory from a mind in “Your New Life Now” with dark mountain Folk as it spins in a honky tonk glow of neon swirling inside “Your My Country Music”.
In addition to championing their brand of queer Country, for eight years Karen and the Sorrows have been at the heart of the community with Gay Ole Opry Festival and the Queer Country Quarterly. Handclaps make a path for the story of “Jonah and the Whale” while a bright Country lifts up a broken heart in “Third Time’s a Charm”. Karen and the Sorrows gather for front porch Folk acoustics to soundtrack “When People Show You Who They Are”, strumming sepia tones into the music to create to Old Tyme textures for “Something True” and wondering “Why Won’t You Come Back to Me” on a molasses thick groove that explodes into a revival conga line heading down a highway to hell.
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Simon George (from the album I Am the Wanderer: Tales of the Old West available as a self-release)
Guitar strums urge exploration, striking chords to support the promise of adventure heard in “The Mountain Calling”, the cut Simon George uses to open his recent release, I Am the Wanderer: Tales of the Old West. The track falls into a dream, Simon George reading from a reverie as the melody drifts gently to the song’s ending. Simon George paints an image of the past, touching a tinge of Blue to the guitar work as a spark for the story of young lovers in “We Used to Love Each Other” while I Am the Wanderer sifts through cascading notes to create “Where the Problems Lie”, tenderly making a wish with time-worn platitudes on the soft sway of “Good Lord Willin’”.
Street life unfolds underneath the Texas sky as Simon George spits out a lyrical resume of bravado for the characters claiming corner rights in “Bigger Than Dallas”, giving his guitar work free run over the percussive pull of “The Pure”, and advising “Save Your Tears for Sunday” on a Country ramble as I Am the Wanderer: Tales from the Old West struts out on the shake and groove of its title track to tell a tale of New Orleans.
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EmiSunshine and The Rain (from the album Family Wars available on Little Blackbird Records)The backing soundtrack for EmiSunshine is a soft sway, The Rain cradling and comforting her role as storyteller EmiSunshine reads the tales with a firm grasp, her delivery clear, the words as crisp and concise as her vocal on her recent release, Family Wars. The song’s on Family Wars bear EmiSunshine’s name as a co-write, the tracks penned with a number of Nashville-based songwriters, including Jim Lauderdale, who guests on his shared credit cut, “There Got to Be More”. The tune strums up optimism, a good feeling island on Family Wars, EmiSunshine using her words and music to provoke thought, and ideally change, the songwriter believing that ‘“the album is about working through different types of conflicts. I’m just voicing my opinion about what I see going on in the world, looking at problems and trying to make something beautiful out of them’.
Family Wars opens with its title track paging through an audio photo album of images as EmiSunshine tosses siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, mom, and dad under a dysfunctional family bus. While her bloodline takes a beating in the Family Wars title tune, EmiSunshine keeps them close in The Rain, the make-up of the players featuring dad, Randall Hamilton (upright and electric bass, vocals), brother, John Hamilton (acoustic guitar, mandolin, vocals, and “Uncle” Bobby Hill (drums). Co-songwriter Alisha Hamilton, EmiSunshine’s mother, is on board in the songs as well as matriarch for The Rain. Facing loss is a glass half-full for EmiSunshine as she is joined by The McCrary Sisters for “Crimson Moon”, the Nashville-trio returning for the bonus-track warnings of “Jonas Black” on Family Wars. An abusive relationship spotlights the survivor in “Scarecrow” while corrupt leaders get schooled as they learn some new steps in “Politician’s Dance”. “Same Boat” makes room for everyone to grab a seat and “Meanwhile in America” sweeps across a vast territory to choose its characters’ roles.
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Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley (from the album World Full of Blues available on Compass Records)
Keeping their brand of Bluegrass in the mix, Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley offer a new release, World Full of Blues, making sure the soundtrack for their album title claim comes with a pedigree as the pair welcome Folk Blues icon, Taj Mahal, into the song. Keeping the mood in Blues time, “Suzanne” tells its tale on a percolated groove as World Full of Blues counts “Thirty Days” on a rambunctious rhythm, tenderly strumming memories into “There’s Always Something to Remind Me of You”, and welcoming Vince Gill in for a version of Grateful Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women”.
Rob Ickes grew up in San Francisco, California, discovering the dobro in his teens and moving to Nashville to seek session work. Going on to take home fifteen IBMA awards for Dobro Player of the Year, Rob was playing dobro in Earl Scruggs’ band when the Bluegrass legend brought a young Trey Hensley up to perform on guitar. Years later, Rob Ickes ran across an older, more seasoned player and formed a duo. The friendships and family ties of a traveling troubadour become the storyline for “Both Ends of My Rainbow” as World Full of Blues begins its song cycle with opening cut “Born with the Blues” taking its music on the road. Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley give a honky tonk tune a cabaret makeover for “Nobody Can Tell Me I Can’t” and showcase master-class playing for “The Fatal Shore” as World Full of Blues exits the album taking “Rugged Road” over a path of runaway beats and fast-paced playing.
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Ian & Sylvia (from the album The Lost Tapes available on Stony Plains Records)
Toronto 1959 saw the first performances of Ian & Sylvia. After their beginnings, the Canadians relocated and were living in New York City by 1962, entrenched in the Greenwich Village Folk scene. The pair secured a recording contract with Vanguard Records through Albert Grossman, manager of Peter, Paul, & Mary as well as Bob Dylan. Early releases were in the Folk music vein, with album number two producing a huge hit in Canada, “Four Strong Winds”, the track garnering kudos years later when it was named as the greatest Canadian Song of All Time by CBC-Radio. Marrying in 1962, Ian & Sylvia continued to release their own recordings, many of the album tracks becoming hits for other artists with cuts such as “You Were on My Mind” and “Someday Soon”. Heading further south, Ian & Sylvia recorded two albums in Nashville beginning in 1968, the pair of Folkies breaking ground for Country Rock.
The cuts on the recent release, The Lost Tapes, reflect both the Folk and Country sides of Ian & Sylvia. The live collection presents the singer/songwriters tenderly showcasing masterful guitar work alongside powerful vocals/harmonies. “Darcy Farrow” makes an appearance as well as traditional Country Gospel cuts (“I’ll Fly Away”) and contemporary (for the times) tracks (“Sweet Dreams”, “Heartaches by the Number”). The Lost Tapes gather their own hits with “Four Strong Winds”, dipping their toes in the Blues with Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen” and walking the line between Country and Soul on “Crying Time”. Ian & Sylvia seamlessly moved through genres, mastering any sound and branding the tunes with blended harmonies and a Folk Singer’s fire.
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James Lee Stanley (from the album Without Susie available on Beachwood Recordings)
The rich voice of a Folk singer journeyman resonates in the songs of Without Susie, the recent release from James Lee Stanley. Filling in the musical background for a man and his guitar, Without Susie sophisticates its Folk music, laying a light Latin Jazz tint over the percussive patters of “We’re Not Alone”, James Lee Stanley offering a public service announcement with “Hang Up and Drive”, traipsing after a hefty beat to cross “Redwood Landing”, dusting off rock’n’roll shoes for “Live It Up Now”, and following ‘acoustic roots across the heartland’ with “Every Highway”.
Life, love, and politics as well as the frustrations that come as a result of the living-life trinity are the backdrop for Without Susie. James Lee Stanley heads down “Dark Road” armed with an edge to his voice as he blends memories with his present state of mind to find a direct line between then and now in “Still Crazy Over You”. A cacophony of percussion vibrates throughout “Ripples on the Dance Floor” while Without Susie makes a mighty groove to James Lee Stanley’s hold on the claims of “Never Say Never Again”.
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The Milk Carton Kids (from the album The Only Ones available on Milk Carton Records/Thirty Tigers)
Tenderness wraps around the words and music of The Milk Carton Kids on their recent release, The Only Ones. Backing their songs with a full band effort on their last release, The Only Ones returns The Milk Carton Kids to beginnings and to the form they established as an origin for the band. Formed in 2011 with a mission to make ‘quiet music’, the pair went from their Los Angeles base to the world, rising fairly quickly in the musical landscape based on a mastery of harmony along with their intruments, the fragile beauty of their songwriting, and a sly wit that made live performances a multi-media event of story, song, and stand-up. The Only Ones opens cradling a goodbye in a blend of harmony and melody in “I Meant Every Word I Said”, bordering the first cut with album closer “I Was Alive”, TMCK sharing words and music as Kenneth Pattengale strums and tells the tale while Joey Ryan freckles the air with guitar note accents.
The production of The Only Ones captures a delicacy of playing, headphones allowing the ability to hear the guitar take breaths before entering the tune. The texture of early albums, songs relying on two partners creating one voice/melody is present in the make-up of The Only Ones. Speaking in the voice of an immigrant, The Milk Carton Kids present “My Name is Ana” as delicate notes flicker over “As the Moon Starts to Rise” and Folk Country spreads out a summer tune, watching the seasons change in the title track. The Milk Carton Kids couple the recording with a tour, kicking off on October 27, 2019 in Washington D.C., keeping the evenings intimate and affordable with all tickets under $20, dubbing the effort A Night with the Milk Carton Kids in Very Small Venues at Very Low Ticket Prices Tour. Coffeehouse Folk fills the musical space of “About the Size of a Pixel” as The Milk Carton Kids pick up the pace in the playing to put an edge, and an exit plan, underneath “I’ll Be Gone”.
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