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Flaming Lips 4/2/17, Atlanta

Dates: April 2, 2017

Location: Tabernacle, Atlanta GA

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At venerable Atlanta venue the Tabernacle, Wayne Coyne & Co. made jelly out of the crowd’s collective brain…. Photo gallery follows the text. Wait, is that guy above naked?

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY TIFFINI TAYLOR

The Flaming Lips is a legendary band that will take you on a magical journey throughout their show. The Lips proved it in Atlanta on a warm Spring night in an old church that is the iconic music venue Tabernacle. Literally, standing room only and we were all like a jar of pickles ready to explode, and then it happened, The Flaming Lips took the stage. A great roar from us all in attendance to what can only be describe as a uniquely creative experience. Gigantic inflatable mushrooms, strobe lights, confetti cannons, huge helium balloons floating throughout and the Lips front man, Wayne Coyne, conducting a musical journey.

This is how memories are made. People coming together to celebrate music. I’ve seen the Lips quite a bit and they are a band that doesn’t disappoint when performing live. It is almost like a psychedelic circus where imagination and creativity knows no boundaries. It is all wonderful.

Music is never lost by the wonderment of the psychedelic imagery projected on the screen behind the band or by the giant disco ball or even by the confetti falling. They are a rare band that incorporates creative genius and musical genius. This does not come along often enough in music in this present day. Yes, they have been around for years and yes they are a band that some say is the new Pink Floyd. Whether that is true is up to personal opinions. To me, they are and always will be the definition of creativity.

Rope lights that looks like fringe is lifted and lowered to the stage, at one point during the show while it is lowered to the stage a giant inflatable rainbow arch is lifted in it. Wayne Coyne is underneath and beautiful music is the result. Confetti cannons shoot confetti during the show and huge helium balloons float back and forth and the crowd helps in keeping them afloat. A few of the balloons burst and make a loud pop, but that does not stop the fun that we are having in the audience. Laser lights, strobe lights, even Wayne Coyne coming into the crowd riding on top of a mannequin horse wearing inflatable rainbow wings this is what dreams are made of. We were all amazed by this sight of him riding through the audience. A psychedelic dream came true from a band that will always be the band to see on everyone’s bucket list, my advice to you, Don’t Miss this Show!

Their new album is “Oczy Mlody” and is out now.

The band is wrapping up its tour TONIGHT, April 4, in St. Petersburg, Florida, at Jannus Live. Did you miss it?

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GARRETT PIERCE –Dusk LP

Album: Dusk LP

Artist: Garrett Pierce

Label: Crossbill

Release Date: April 14, 2017

www.crossbillrecords.com

The Upshot: A contemplative, at times remarkably downcast, record, but one which brings with it a recurring whiff of redemption—like a cinematic travelogue.

BY FRED MILLS

There’s an aesthetic intensity, leavened by a delicacy of purpose, at play on Sonoma, Calif., singer-songwriter Garrett Pierce’s fourth full-length, the product of his bearing down for an extended period of time last year in his newly-constructed home studio—and as a result, being able to emerge with a precise musical statement not always available to artists forced to watch, budget-consciously, the clock. Pierce, who freely admits to being primarily inspired by literary figures (he singles out Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Brautigan—the latter, full disclosure, among yours truly’s personal heroes), is also willing to express admiration for progenitors and peers such as Elliot Smith, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, Will Oldham, and Jeff Buckley.

The latter, in fact, comes to mind more than once while listening to the masterful Dusk, not necessarily as sonically similar; Buckley was given to multi-octave swoops, while Pierce is far less operatic, though still able to command the wings of Pegasus when the material calls upon him to soar. Instead, there’s a daredevil quality that emerges in places, such as during “Enough,” a haunting, almost hymnal elegy for lap steel (courtesy Pierce’s collaborator Timothy James Wright) and drone that allows Pierce to explore, with uncommon sensitivity, the metaphysics of enforced homelessness and eventual farewell to a friend.

Elsewhere on Dusk we encounter gentle, lilting Americana (the banjo-powered “Distant Thought,” which would not be out of place in an Avett Brothers set); a dark, minor-chord waltz (mini-drama “Get Me Out Of This Place,” as much a plea for forgiveness as for freedom, the song’s institutionalized protagonist explaining, “All your psychologists can’t clean this up/ This mess has been made by Jesus’ son/ Holy in camouflage—you know we are one”); and the strummy, part-forward looking, part-regretful closing track “This Town of Mine,” a kind of farewell song (“If this be a mistake, well I sure enjoyed the ride”) that manages to leave its creator and his future open-ended.

It’s a contemplative, at times remarkably downcast, record, but one which brings with it a recurring whiff of redemption—like a cinematic travelogue, no fixed ending, but full of potential. As is Pierce’s future.

DOWNLOAD: “This Town Of Mine,” “Distant Thought,” “Enough”

 

HEATHER WOODS BRODERICK & BENJAMIN SWETT – Home Winds (Book + 7” 45)

Title: Home Winds

Author: Heather Woods Broderick & Benjamin Swett

Publisher: Planthouse

Publication Date: April 28, 2017

www.planthouse.net

The Upshot: An environmental elegy, and an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus, and revelation. 

BY FRED MILLS

While it’s a given that more than a few culture vultures have hopped onto the #vinylresurgence bandwagon (Taylor Swift, anyone?), eschewing relevance for trendiness, and the accompanying misguided “cool” factor, some entries have come along that not only defy that assumption, they transcend it so beautifully that you almost assume they were beamed down from another dimension or era.

Such is the case with the printed/recorded artifact at hand. Home Winds is, on the one hand, a 7” vinyl single by songwriter Heather Woods Broderick, offering up a haunting environmental elegy, a shimmery, pulsing song for the trees. “Do I truly recall your face from when it was young,” sings Broderick, in a hushed, partly quivering voice, recalling at times Sandy Denny, adding gospel touches on the chorus, and musing upon a permanent image of a tree, as if it were a beloved family member, possibly no longer with us. “Or from a photo I’ve seen, on the wall on which it was hung,” she adds, acknowledging that memories are tricky, and how they can somehow be replaced, due to the passing of time, by a photograph that survives and reinforces itself via repeated viewings. (The B-side, “Shoreline,” is similarly low-key, its lilt no less engaging and ethereal.)

She’s joined, visually, by photographer Benjamin Swett, who set out to document Gladstone, New Jersey’s Home Winds Farm, a parcel that has been protected via the New Jersey Farmland Protection Program, for its owners, who also operate Planthouse Gallery. Swett’s mandate here is to create permanent portraits of the many trees—many of them huge or otherwise so broad and expansive that they can dominate an entire two-page spread in a book such as this—dotting the farm. Pink-blossomed spring arbors alternate with snow-spackled wintry residents, as well as the sturdy green boys of summer, and the yellow, orange, and crimson citizens of autumn. The result is a permanent record of nature as it cycles through its annual beauty.

Contributing to the project is journalist Elleree Erdos, who provides historical context as well as an insightful analysis of the nuances that Swett’s images bring to the fore. Ultimately, Home Winds is like an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus and revelation.

That the participants opted to present the music not on CD or a mere link to a digital file, but a 45rpm record housed in a lovely full-color, thick cardboard picture sleeve—yes, adorned with Swett’s trees—additionally speaks to the care taken in the presentation of Home Winds. It’s a subtle, personal touch that counts for a lot in certain quarters (such as mine).

Additional note: Go to Planthouse.net to view a video for Home Winds, created by Jeffrey Rowles. Below, watch the promo video for the book/45, followed by a live clip of Broderick from late last year. The exhibition dates at Planthouse Gallery will be April 28 through June 20, with the reception being held on April 28 from 6PM to 8PM.

CILANTRO BOOMBOX—Shine

Album: Shine

Artist: Cilantro Boombox

Label: self-released

Release Date: March 03, 2017

https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/cilantroboombox3

The Upshot: A compelling Lone Star State (!) mashup of global sounds, mostly Latin and funk, but also weaving in bits of jazz, rap, rock and Afro-pop.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Cilantro Boombox, out of Austin, stirs up a polyglot babble of global sounds, mostly Latin and funk, but also weaving in bits of jazz, rap, rock and Afro-pop. Built around the foundation of Félix Pacheco (who also plays bass for Black Joe Lewis and Ocote Soul Sounds) and saxophonist Joe Woullard, the band has evolved into a large ensemble, with a full-throated brass, reed and percussion sections.

Shine, the band’s second album, begins in “Living in a Box,” an Earth Wind & Fire-storm of stylish falsetto chorus’d 1970s soul, while making a very 2017 point: put your phone away and dance. “CU Dance” swaggers with brass, percolates with hand drums, fever dreams in jazzy flute, an old-style funk opened out into the present with hip-hopping spoken intervals. “Makossa Son Soul” veers Afro-centric, with Woullard’s sax sallying out over chugging high life syncopations. A few of the tracks verge upon smooth jazz or even disco (“Onan’s Disciples” the most extreme example), but mostly, rougher, more urgent energies prevail.

Of course, with bands like these, the record is always a pale shadow of the live experience, but in a pinch, Shine will bring the party to you.

DOWNLOAD: “Living in a Box” “Makossa Son Soul”

RAY DAVIES – Americana

Album: Americana

Artist: Ray Davies

Label: Legacy Recordings

Release Date: April 21, 2017

www.legacyrecordings/com

The Upshot: Though not an Americana album in the truest sense, with the Jayhawks on board to translate The Bard’s rootsy vision, it’s a 5-star album across the board – one of Sir Ray’s finest, period.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It ought to come as no surprise that any new album from the recently-knighted Ray Davies is a special event. After all, as the singer/songwriter/chief architect of the Kinks, one of the most indelible bands not only in British rock history, but in the entire spectrum of rock ‘n’ roll in general, Davies has created one of the most memorable musical canons of all time.

Of course, that’s a lot to live up to, and for some artists, a superb back catalog can become something of an albatross, a set of standards that’s practically impossible to live up to. So while Davies has occasionally floundered, by and large he’s never failed to attain the high bar he set early on.

To some, Americana may seem an unlikely subject for him to tackle, given his inherent Englishness and cheeky sense of humor. However one needs only look back at Muswell Hillbillies to understand that he’s always been fascinated and fixated by the American ethos.

“I had this dream America/Was always a very special place,” he explains in the rousing “The Great Highway.”

Even so, this isn’t an Americana album in the truest sense. Though its inspired by his travels around the U.S., the sound is more akin to that of klassic Kinks, as evidenced by the wistful “The Deal” and “The Invaders,” the astute whimsy of “Americana” and the frolicking and finesse of “A Place in Your Heart,” which, with its down home trappings brings it closest to the genre the album title alludes to. Mainly though it’s as perfect a substitute for an authentic Kinks album as anyone would wish for, filled with the same mirth, cleverness and sweet sentiment that’s always been a trademark of Davies’ discography.

Recruiting the Jayhawks as his backing band, nothing strays off the boards, keeping things concise and accessible in an easily engaging sort of way. A trudging mid-tempo rocker like “The Mystery Room” ruminates on the darker side of things, bringing to mind the headier concerns voiced on the album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. Likewise, the pensive ballad “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys” recalls the best of his ballads, sharing a certain similarity to wistful Kinks lament “Celluloid Heroes.” Frankly, comparisons don’t get better than that.

Given these references, Americana is damn near as excellent an album as Davies has delivered since the ‘70s, a set of songs that will someday be seen as among his best. That’s a tall order, but here again, Davies delivers. His first album in a decade, it’s a wonderful way of welcoming Ray back.

DOWNLOAD: “The Deal,” “Americana,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys”

CHRIS POTTER – The Dreamer is the Dream

Album: The Dreamer is the Dream

Artist: Chris Potter

Label: ECM

Release Date: April 28, 2017

www.ecmrecords.com

The Upshot: Reedist Potter hits a new peak as composer, player and bandleader,

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Following up the rich and ambitious Imaginary Cities with his Underground Orchestra, reedist Chris Potter turns to a more compact vehicle – the classic jazz quartet of horn, keyboard, bass and percussion. But that’s not to say The Dreamer is the Dream goes for a small sound. Indeed, such a thing would be impossible with this group. Pianist David Virelles, clearly too busy lending expert support to others to keep up with his own increasingly remarkable solo career, brings his distinctive hybrid to the table, effortlessly blending avant-garde, Latin, worldbeat and straightahead jazz styles into a sound all his own. Drummer Marcus Gilmore keeps the rhythms in the pocket and on the move, adding flamboyance that never crosses over to bombast. Bassist Joe Martin acts mainly as an anchor, though his big, round sound never gets lost in the shuffle. Potter himself is no shrinking violet, putting his skill, taste and experience into every note, no matter if he’s on tenor sax or bass clarinet. He solos as if the greats have been downloaded into his hard drive and rewritten in his own programming language.

But where Potter really distinguishes himself is in his writing. After two-plus decades of playing with the best – Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Paul Motian, Dave Douglas and more – the saxist knows how to paint a picture. “Ilimba” subtly incorporates African music into its post-bop workout, giving Gilmore a chance to shine on a solo and Virelles plenty of room to weave a spell whose origins seem familiar but add up to something unique. “Memory and Desire” builds a multi-faceted diamond out of balladry, bebop and classical music, letting samples and overdubbed woodwinds put its traditions into the 21st century. “Yasodhara” ostensibly adds Indian music to the mix, but the epic track’s almost dizzying blitz of styles, held together by Virelles’ furious improvising, rears its own beast. “Heart in Hand” and the title track – which features Potter on the bass clarinet, making a case for increasing the instrument’s prominence in jazz – take on classic balladeering, the former’s supper club soul and the latter’s trembling nerve mixing in the right touches of humor and passion. The relatively brief closer “Sonic Anomaly” gleefully romps through a field of whimsy, Potter happily skronking away and Virelles running up and down his keyboard like a rabbit in the sun.

With a catalog as extensive as Potter’s, it’s hard to define a masterpiece. But hitting a new peak as composer, player and bandleader, Potter definitely makes The Dreamer is the Dream at the very least a triumph.

DOWNLOAD: “Ilimba,” “Memory and Desire,” “Yasodhara”

 

 

BILL SCORZARI – Through These Waves

Album: Through These Waves

Artist: Bill Scorzari

Label: self-released

Release Date: March 10, 2017

https://www.billscorzari.com/home

The Upshot: Let’s just say you’re a brilliant poet and songwriter but, admittedly, you sing like you’re the spawn of bullfrogs. So, to compensate, you surround yourself with like-minded musicians who coalesce around your limited vocals to weave a magical spell of epic proportions. Americana gets a serious reconditioning for the better.

BY ERIC THOM

 Have you ever first heard a piece of music that was so good, you start to wonder if music can ever get any better? Bill Scorzari’s sophomore release is just that kind of album. Oh sure, you might need some time to warm up to his somewhat raggedy vocal style but, by then, the writing and arranging and the delicate atmosphere conjured by his hand-picked cast of players will hammer you to the floor and steal your heart as it locks down your undivided attention. A few names are familiar – Will Kimbrough, Joachim Cooder, Kim Richey. Yet, this 12-track smorgasbord is more immaculate collaboration than it is any attempt to harness star power. Absolute simpatico might be the best way to describe how each track gels with the next – these players play as one.

“A Dream of You” begins oddly enough, sounding not unlike a George Harrison tuning session for “Within You, Without You” – the dilubra or tambura drone replaced by Jonah Tolchin’s hypnotic lap steel and electric guitar effects and Eamon McLoughlin’s beguiling fiddle work while Joachim Cooder quickly establishes his unique percussive gifts, which will become the backbone of the album. All this before the simple sounds of acoustic guitar form the melody beneath Scorzari’s raspy surprise of a voice. It’s as if someone left the back door open and Tom Waits stumbled in. However, the Waits reference is not entirely accurate. If Casey Affleck could sing after a bender, he would sound like Bill Scorzari.

In stark contrast to this sleepy, contemplative opener, “A Brand New Deal” is surprisingly upbeat with a strong bluegrass bent as fiddle, banjo (Kyle Tuttle) and acoustic guitar drive this comparatively robust country workout, Scorzari’s vocals stretching and fitting to the material. Yet nothing much can prepare you for “Shelter From The Wind” – an epic highlight that will instantly transform you into a hardcore fan. In addition to Scorzari’s acoustic guitar and earnest vocal, it’s guitarist Danny Roaman whose accompaniment on lead guitar haunts the track when it’s not seething, laser-deep and dangerous, against a backdrop of Cooder’s washes of military snare and rolling cymbals. Credit Cooder’s inventive percussive techniques, too, for the fat, fun groove of “Hound Dog Diggin’” – another instant favorite which mines the strengths of Scorzari’s poetic approach, transforming lyrics into rhythmic effect.

Guitar lovers will gush at the unholy scrum between Roaman’s electric guitar, Chris Scruggs’ steel guitar and Laur Joamets’ slide as this dog springs to life, aided by the breathy gasps of Marie Lewey. And here comes another of those perfect songs: “More of your Love” is as intimate a conversation between lovers as has ever been had. More spoken than sung, Scorzari’s poetic charm strikes the bone to a backdrop of gentle acoustic guitar, simple percussion and the butter-softness of Annie Johnson’s backup vocal. Breathtakingly beautiful.
The strummed acoustic guitar intro to “Holy Man” is deceptive, as Kim Richey, sweetly offsetting Scorzari’s most aggressive vocal on the disc (read that as “full bleed”) merely sets up Laur Joamets’ sinewy slide guitar as it winds its way through, and around, Cooder’s wall of cymbal crashes, military snares and colorful percussive fingerprint. The plaintive “She Don’t Care About Auld Lang Syne” positions Scorzari’s lonely, poetic outlook with little more than acoustic guitar and viola while “For When I didn’t See” bursts forth with Brent Burke’s sturdy dobro in a gleeful country accompaniment of violin, banjo, acoustic guitar while Scorzari attacks the vocal confidently and in a way that makes even more of his smart wordplay. The sadder-than-sad “Loser At Heart” redefines how far down one can go as Scorzari’s delivery accentuates his words, spitting them out with utter disdain. Matt Murphy’s upright bass adds warmth as Roaman’s slide adds salt to the wound. The comparably confident “I Can Carry This” becomes yet another contender for raw beauty, Scorzari’s scratched rasp fitting the songs like so much shrunken laundry – no other voice would work. Jonah Tolchin’s lap steel joins Kimbrough’s B3 and miscellaneous acoustic guitars, together with Lewey and Walker’s soaring bed of backup vocals to forge a blissful, mesmerizing state of mind.

The last two tracks on Through These Waves serve as soothing balm, neutralizing all pain. “It’s Time” puts forward another surprisingly rich vocal as Scorzari inhabits the character, while gentle percussion melts into Jon Estes’ upright bass, a quiet squall of acoustic guitars and Tolchin’s ever-ghostly lap steel, completing the bleak landscape. “Riptide” passes like a dark grey dream sequence, its gentle guitar, standout percussion and little more ebbs and flows behind Scorzari’s weary, whisper-talk of a vocal. Like the aforementioned Affleck and the living tragedy that is Manchester By The Sea, “Riptide” conjures the pungent tang of salt air, the rhythmic monotony of the waves and, listening close, the scolding of a distant seagull.

Despite allusions to greyness, darkness and halftones, Bill Scorzari and crew paint a dramatic picture with a depth of musicianship that adds significant color to the singer’s seemingly monochromatic voice. The end result is a thoroughly uplifting experience that, given the care that’s been taken to graft the right music to the voice of a true poet, borders on the fully cinematic. Through These Waves is a life-changer.

DOWNLOAD:A Dream of You,” and “Holy Man

 

DEPECHE MODE – Spirit

Album: Spirit

Artist: Depeche Mode

Label: Columbia/Mute

Release Date: March 17, 2017

www.columbiarecords.com

 

The Upshot: Who is the master, and who is the servant?

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Depeche Mode may not be as prolific as they were in the ‘80s, but they certainly make up for it once they deliver.

Spirit, the band’s follow up to 2013’s Delta Machine, is a loud clarion call to anyone who questioned whether these synth kings were still relevant 30-plus after they started. You have to go back to 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion to find a more consistently flawless record from the band. Lyrically the trio is in top form, especially on a song like “Where’s The Revolution,” tailor made for a post-Brexit, Trump-led world (“You’ve been pissed on for too long/Your rights abused/Your views refused/They manipulate and threaten with terror as a weapon/Scare you till you’re stupefied/Wear you down until you’re on their side”). The anger boils over onto the next track as well. “The Worst Crime” is a little slower tempo, but the sentiment is still front and center (“We’re setting up the truss/Once there were solutions now we have no excuses/They got lost in confusion so we’re preparing the nooses”). Not exactly subtle, but that’s part of the brilliance here. You get lulled in by the hypnotic beat and Dave Gahan slaps you awake with his vocals.

But the band’s not all piss and vinegar here. “Eternal” is a love song in true Depeche Mode fashion (“And when the black cloud rises/And the radiation falls/I will look you in the eye and kiss you”); just a reminder that one of the band’s last great love songs was “Master and Servant,” so “Eternal” fits the Depeche Mode mold.

It’s not ideal that it took electing a wildly dangerous clown and having a country vote in favor of their own economic demise to bring back Depeche Mode. But, they are back and that makes life just a little bit better.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Where’s The Revolution,” “Cover Me” and “So Much Love”

 

MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES – Way Out West

Album: Way Out West

Artist: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives

Label: Q Prime / Superlatone

January 01, 1970

www.qprime.com / www.martystuart.net

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson, Marty Stuart is an American original, part of an older breed of tattered troubadours whose obvious affection for the essence of true and traditional country music is part and parcel of his inherent musical repertoire. So it’s no accident that his 18th studio album, Way Out West, becomes an unblemished token of his appreciation for the music’s timeless heritage.

 

Produced by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, the album is brimming with the vivid imagery of wide open spaces, stark landscapes and the classic visage of the great American west. Not surprisingly, much of it unfolds as a sprawling soundtrack that invokes that last great frontier, a dazzlingly orchestrated melange that would serve well as a Sergio Leone classic of the western cinematic variety. In fact, after opening with a brief Native American invocation, “Desert Prayer,” Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, launch straight into “Mojave,” a surf instrumental with overt spaghetti western flavorings.

 

When Stuart veers away from that format, he does so discreetly. The title track pits cowboys and Indians against outer space aliens in an eerie narrative laced with psychedelic suggestion. The staunch south of the border sounds of “Old Mexico” is stirred with authenticity and rugged romance, while the unfettered stomp of “Quicksand,” the rollicking rhythms of “Torpedo” and the robust delivery of “Time Don’t Wait” add their own air of authenticity, all of which affirm Stuart’s diehard devotion to his subject and his stature as one who has never lost faith in the form.

Incidentally, if you happen to be a vinyl aficionado, Stuart’s own Superlatone imprint is offering the wax version of the album—autographed, at that.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Old Mexico,” “Way Out West,” “Time Don’t Wait”

 

 

 

 

Claire Lynch – North By South

Album: North By South

Artist: Claire Lynch

Label: Compass

Release Date: September 16, 2016

http://www.clairelynch.com/

The Upshot: America’s premiere bluegrass belle looks north to Canada for fresh material and the results are beyond stupefying. Her ability to reconstruct and own each composition, extending the reach of each original while adding to the impact of every song covered is pure magic. North By South signals an end to all borders, if not the beginning of something truly powerful.

BY ERIC THOM

 It’s happened before. It took Britain’s post-war adoption and incorporation of traditional American blues into ‘invasion’ rock’n’roll to awaken American interests in its own homegrown treasures. Likewise, the reigning Queen of American Bluegrass, Claire Lynch, helps grow a greater appreciation of Canadian folk amongst Canadians – and all music fans, by covering a select group of Canadian singer-songwriters. Most of these are, for lack of a better term, folk musicians, ranging from the better-known (Gordon Lightfoot, Ron Sexsmith and Bruce Cockburn) to those most deserving of attention (Cris Cuddy, Old Man Luedecke and Lynn Miles). In-between, you’ll discover under-exposed giants like J.P. Cormier, Willie P. Bennett and David Francey. Yet this release has little to do with musical tourism. The fact that Lynch responded to a Canadian fan’s email request to come to Canada and, over time, ended up marrying him (to whom the lone original, “Milo” is dedicated) will only provide the backgrounder to why America’s three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year has turned her attention to music penned by Canadian artists. What’s truly remarkable is realized in Lynch’s ability to flawlessly inhabit each and every track with a voice that’s long been a natural wonder in its ability to completely transcend musical genres. Over her storied career, she’s effortlessly fused elements of folk to bluegrass to country and back. Joined by members of the Claire Lynch Band (Mark Schatz, Jarrod Walker, Bryan McDowell), Lynch adds prestigious guests including Stuart Duncan, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Kenny Malone, Alison Brown and David Grier to the mix.

Beginning with Sexsmith’s “Cold Hearted Wind”, Lynch rebirths it into an instant bluegrass classic, featuring graceful harmonies from Matt Wingate, McDowell’s mandolin and the piercing precision of Douglas’ dobro. Here – as throughout the album – Lynch’s frail, delicate flower of a voice has the ability to register its commanding presence. J. P. Cormier’s distinctive maritime ballad, “Molly May” is rebuilt in her name as McDowell’s fiddle and Walker’s mandolin join Jeff Taylor’s accordion to create one of the disc’s highlight tracks. Old Man Luedecke’s own “Kingdom Come” has its banjo part played by Fleck while fiddle, guitar and mandolin serve to pick up the song’s overall pace. This, again joined by Wingate’s harmonies, helps Lynch make the song all hers, rendered in a more upbeat, robust style. The much-revered Willie P. Bennett’s gorgeous “Andrew’s Waltz” is softened by a gentler vocal, dual fiddles and Walker’s mandolin delicately intertwined with David Grier’s acoustic guitar, underlining the original’s true waltz characteristics as its elegance earns a makeover. Jerry Douglas’ dobro drives David Francey’s “Empty Train” down the tracks as Walker’s mandolin and McDowell’s playful banjo tangle to create, with Douglas’ help, a slightly offbeat, jazzy tribute to the original. Cuddy’s “Gone Again” features Béla Fleck (banjo) and David Grier (guitar) as McDowell’s fiddle and Lynch’s lonesome vocal makes one wonder how this could ever have been anything but a beautiful bluegrass song. The always-there impact of Mark Shatz’s warm-toned bass, coupled with Kenny Malone’s inventive percussive techniques provide Lynch with a solid foundation to stand on as this rhythm section lends substantial depth to each song tackled. Cue the moody darkness of Lynn Miles “Black Flowers” – itself a masterpiece – as Lynch & Co. move the song into even darker territory, slowing things down to feature Lynch’s world-weary vocal, barely accented with sparse accompaniment (banjo, mandolin, fiddle). Like Miles, Lynch is a master of melancholy, adding just enough pain and disappointment to the recipe to keep it thoroughly human. The somewhat out-of-the-blue “Milo” is a Lynch-penned love song, pure and simple – the marriage of city to country, played with a big bounce and a bigger smile (that’s Mark Schatz’s mouth harp). You always hear the Gordon Lightfoot in a Gordon Lightfoot song, no matter what and Lynch’s addition of Jerry Douglas’ dobro keeps “It’s Worth Believin’” in full character, yet Lynch’s vocal – in duet with Bryan McDougall – tends to soften the impact of the original, which also benefits from the rich instrumentation of its remake. Bruce Cockburn’s already beautiful “All The Diamonds In The World” gains in its bluegrass transformation, its descriptive lyrics glistening amidst the cascading notes of guitar and mandolin, as Lynch and Wingate wrestle its hymn-like stature and bring it back to earth, extending its allure.

North By South succeeds on so many levels, not the least of which is in Claire Lynch’s ability to find and nurture the true song in every composition she finds, getting inside it and making it sound like it’s always been one of hers. That she’s found fresh inspiration north of the 49th Parallel, is the North’s gain. Here’s hoping the South will rise again.