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THE ARCS- Yours, Dreamily

Album: Yours, Dreamily

Artist: The Arcs

Label: Nonesuch

Release Date: September 04, 2015

www.nonesuch.com

Arcs 9-4

The Upshot: Rock/Americana supergroup with solid intentions if somewhat spotty execution.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

A supergroup of sorts, the Arcs have recorded a debut disc that’s a hodgepodge of sorts, the result of several like-minded individuals all venting their insurgent interests. Comprising Dan Auerbach, Leon Michels, Richard Swift, Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon, Kenny Vaughan, and Mariachi Flor de Toloache, the band draws from the members’ mutual admiration and concerted input, but while it’s an admirable first attempt, it never quite gels into anything of enduring interest.

The most compelling element comes via their rhythmic motion, which is pronounced throughout, from the easy pace of “Pistol Made of Songs” and the reggae lilt found in “Everything You Do (You Do For You)” to the deliberate pull of “Put a Flower in Your Pocket” and the tangled tempos of “Outta My Mind” and “The Arc.” Yet whether its a mellow melange, a gentle sway or a combustible outpour, none of the hooks actually allow them to get fully up to speed. The one exception is found in the high-pitched ballad “Stay In My Corner,” which, though it borrows liberally from John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” comes across as generally pleasing nonetheless.

However, when it comes to truly attracting interest, the fold-out insert with its photo of a reclining woman wearing only headphones, offers the impression that’s most likely to endure.

DOWNLOAD: “Stay In My Corner,” “Put a Flower in Your Pocket”

SCOTT NOLAN – Silverhill

Album: Silverhill

Artist: Scott Nolan

Label: Transistor 66

Release Date: February 05, 2016

www.scottnolan.ca

Scott Nolan 1-29

The Upshot: “I enjoy the craft part. I just try to get better at it”: the Canadian singer-songwriter’s 9th album should be the one to put him on the international radar.

BY RAYMOND LEE

With nine albums already under his belt, Winnipeg, Manitoba, songwriter Scott Nolan has long been simmering just below the surface of popular consciousness. However, one does not reach veteran status without making some friends along the way, and his associations with the likes of Canadian powerhouse Mary Gauthier, the bottle rocket Wonder of Woodlands Hayes Carll, or the rising husband and wife duo Willie Sugarcapps, means that Scott Nolan might be at the very crest of the rising wave that is Americana.

And although Nolan has flown largely under the radar, his act favored more by genre aficionados than the weekend dancehall crowd, his steady rate of composition and ever increasing execution of craft means the time is right for his most recent work, Silverhill, to find a larger audience. Released January 29 on Transistor 66, it was recorded in a brief three days at the Admiral Bean Studio a few miles from the album’s namesake in Loxley, Alabama, and incorporating a revolving door of musicians, Silverhill displays all the hallmarks that have kept young Nolan on the road despite a career choice that for even top tier acts seems to be showing diminishing returns.

Silverhill’s tracks alternate between joy and pathos. The songs are immediately intimate, somewhat sad, but hopeful. Like a poor man’s family reunion, the characters that populate the album struggle in the face of overwhelming odds, finding salvation finally in each other. There is a great amount of love on Silverhill, both for people and the small passions that decorate our lives. Opening track, “When You Leave this World” is one of the best examples. A forlorn cadence recounts the exploits of a character whom let one look and a single conversation determine the course of his life. Outwardly the material seems dismal, but a closer inspection reveals an abundant stir of pride.

Not to be outdone, “Forever is a Long Time” echoes such sentiments but through a more worldly experience. If Silverhill as a whole is a love song to a small town, then this second track recounts the highway lines stretching beneath humming tires in the search to find it. It is a collage of interstate day-dreaming on past loves, a dog’s eye view of the American interior from Texas to Tennessee, the pattern of stars in foreign latitudes, and that old equation of distance times time.

Scott Nolan has always been a songwriter’s songwriter. His voice seems almost frail for the scope contained within his lyrics. It was never meant to take lead vocal duties, but its thinness, the hollow eyed delivery it contains, meets his subject matter perfectly on tracks like “Easter Down at the Waffle House,” or the song Mary Gauthier chose as her last album’s titular track, “Trouble in Love.”

***

In speaking with Nolan over the phone, that same voice contains a wealth of humor that stands in almost glaring contrast to his lyrical output. “I’ve been afforded a lot of time to think,” says Nolan. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t say [I’m] sad, but nostalgia is a powerful emotion. I feel a connection a lot of fifties music. There wasn’t a lot of music in my house growing up, but there was a lot of drinking. And the only time the music would come out was when there was drinking. Not so much Elvis, which is fairly obvious, but more like Franky Valli, all this really sentimental stuff.”

His childhood plays a small part on an album that he admits contains a lot of autobiographical influence. Third track, “Fire Up,” tells the story of how Nolan came into music. Explains the songwriter, “I grew up playing heavy metal in a fairly heavy drinking environment. I listened to heavy metal and rebelled. The aspect of that song goes back to my childhood where I was raised by my grandparents. An aunty left a guitar behind in this space at my grandparent’s house that nobody really used. It was an idyllic atmosphere. The feeling of the song is the feeling of my grandparent’s house as a kid. Very free. Very comfortable.”

Nolan can’t really be blamed for his emphasis on personal relationships, both on his records and in his life. Much of his career has been made in the same way relationships were formed before social media influence, and he notes that his best known work, “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” came to fruition from face to face interactions.

“Early on in my career I was playing Fort Smith at the Black Widow, an old Viet vet motorcycle bar, a new chapter in my life in terms of travelling, and I always write a lot when I travel. [“Bad Liver”] came together in real time around a lot of people. I wrote a verse of that song at an after-party in Oklahoma, but it ultimately came together in several places, particularly Arkansas. I was really trying to write firsthand from my experiences, and it was an example of where I focused on a feeling specifically.”

Nolan continues, saying, “‘Arkansas My Head Hurts,’ was just a late night poker playing lyric. One of the guys I was playing with over did it the night before and muttered it and the song went from there. Hayes Carll really made it known. He heard it from a guy in Beaumont named, Donny Corville, who played it at an open mic night and Hayes asked about it. We didn’t become friends until after the recording and it led to us travelling together through Canada and the states.”

Previous success aside, Nolan has a lot to proud of with Silverhill. The record is both accessible and enjoyable. Part entertainment but part life story, it’s as honest an album that can be hoped for in an increasingly opaque market. It’s doubtful whether Nolan will ever sell as many records as his peers Gauthier or Carll, but it isn’t entirely lost to the musician: “I enjoy the craft part. I just try to get better at it. I enjoy the travel; the strategizing and all that stuff is really not my favorite. Speaking of Hayes, that’s a really good example of generosity, not just that he cut the song, but that he shone a little light my way.  And I gotta be honest with you. If it was like the old days and I had the option to be a more anonymous song writer, I’d be into that.”

HURRICANE #1 -Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

Album: Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

Artist: Hurricane #1

Label: Tapete

Release Date: November 20, 2015

http://tapeterecords.com

Hurricane 1 11-27

The Upshot: A journey as personal as Alex Lowe’s can only translate into universal messages that people receive in their own way, regardless of which way their winds blow.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You – a double-edged phrase if there ever was one. The quote comes from the writings of Charles Bukowski, which automatically lends it a certain romantic caché. But what does it really mean? It’s tempting to see it as being about passion, about fully giving in to your desires to the point of total absorption. But it could just as easily be about addiction, especially when taken in its original context. “All things will kill you…but it’s better to be killed by a lover.” Good advice or macabre rationalization?

 

As the title for the third album (and first in 16 years) by Hurricane #1, it’s even more nebulous. Singer/songwriter Alex Lowe reformed the group with new members to give voice to a set of songs inspired by a successful battle with cancer. This is not a man eager to let anything kill him. Nor willing – despair rears its head from time to time, but never conquers. “Think of the Sunshine” (which features founding member Andy Bell on backwards guitar, on loan from the Ride reunion), “Best is Yet to Come” and “Has It Begun (Imitating Life)” let hope and defiance ride delicious folk rock hooks into confident optimism. The rocking “Crash,” grungy “Where to Begin” and wistful “Round in Circles” truck in lyrical uncertainty, but the forthright music translates them into joy. The penultimate “Leave It All Behind” wraps an intimate emotional rollercoaster ride in an acoustic arrangement that lets the beguiling melody rule.

 

The album ends with the title track, a near-ambient close harmony exercise that puts controlled passion into that phrase. It leaves us where we started – wondering how the sentiment fits into the worldview of a working musician and cancer survivor. Is Lowe taking the original poem to heart, preferring to die in the embrace of his obsession (music?) than at the hand of a common but deadly disease? Or is he celebrating its inherent double-sided meaning, as only someone who faced his own mortality can? Lowe, no doubt, isn’t telling, letting the listener figure it out for himself. And that’s as it should be – a journey as personal as Lowe’s can only translate into universal messages that people receive in their own way, regardless of which way their winds blow.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Leave It All Behind,” “Best is Yet to Come,” “Round in Circles”

 

PRIMITIVE WORLD — Purple Caps EP

Album: Purple Caps EP

Artist: Primitive World

Label: R&S

Release Date: December 04, 2015

http://www.randsrecords.com/

Primitive World 12-4

The Upshot: Primitive World manages to be riveting without offering much entertainment. It feels hard, visceral and necessary. No frills but lots of excitement.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Primitive World’s hard, beat-driven music is monochromatic but urgent, using the sparest, most austere sounds to construct driving, pulse-racing rhythms. This brief but mesmerizing EP sounds best turned up loud and accompanied by intense physical action. Run with it and you’ll run faster. Dance to it and you might hurt someone.

Sam Willis, who composes as Primitive World, used to be in a duo called WALLS with Alessio Natalizia. His work here is far less melodic and synth-driven, relying on adrenalized big beats to carry his ideas forward. You can hear the difference in the two “Purple Caps” tracks. This first, with Willis flying solo, twitches with dry, syncopated rhythms, an eighth-note scratchy foundation punctuated with brief glitchy eruptions of sound. The barest hint of non-percussive sound comes in at about three minutes, brief watery washes of sound lapping over the cadences, but they soon fade. There are very few concessions to melody or even tonal variation. The Not Waving Remix which closes the EP was recorded by Willis’ sometime partner Natalizia. It is immediately thumpier and more hedonistic, with huge reverberating upbeats punching out visceral space. Yet though the beat is still primary, more is happening around it. Synths burble and swagger, hinting at melody, even a kind of funk. The sound grows denser as it goes on, with Space Invaders bleeps arcing out over robotic strut, thick ribbons of synth winding in and through percussion. It is fatter, solider and more welcoming than the original track, but it loses a bit of the urgency.

“Purple Caps” and its remix suggest the direction that Willis has taken, but the best tracks are the ones where he fully realizes his beat-centric vision. I like “Q Tip” the best for its hypnotic (but still blood-pumping) use of repetition. This is a track that sound very much the same at the beginning as in the middle or the end or anywhere in between, but resists stasis. It feels like it is always moving hard, even if it never goes anywhere. Cymbal-swishing “Tides of Lust” is more varied and lush, but still disciplined. It sounds like a disco beat stripped naked.

Some listener might like more to hear in their music – more notes, more themes, more change and fluctuation – but Primitive World manages to be riveting without offering much entertainment. It feels hard, visceral and necessary. No frills but lots of excitement.

DOWNLOAD: “Q Tip” “Tides of Lust”

JOE KING CARRASCO – Chiliando

Album: Chiliando

Artist: Joe King Carrasco

Label: Anaconda

Release Date: August 07, 2015

www.joeking.com

Carrasco 4-7

The Upshot: He’s the friggin’ King of punk-Tex Mex Any questions?

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Joe King Carrasco’s redefinition of Tex Mex music has made him a staple in that ample arena for the better part of the past 45 years, thanks to a catalog boasting more than 20 albums and a solid reputation for mixing things up whenever the opportunity arose. Part punker, part rascal, part raconteur, Carrasco has maintained his rowdy reputation despite changing trends and a fickle public.

Consequently, Chiliando provides an apt summation of those skills in its fusion of rock, blues and, of course, the south of the border sounds that have always been his primary stock and trade. In that sense, it’s also a varied effort, one that veers from the relentless rock of  songs like “My Ding Dong Daddy (Don’t Daddy No Mo),” “Oaxaka” and “Who Put the ‘P’ en Pendejo” to the bluesy shuffle of “No Way Jose” and “Adios Terlingua,” with ample doses of funk and Tejano music tossed in besides.

It’s rare to find an album that seemingly makes room for Chuck Berry, ZZ Top, Prince and Richie Valens as part of the same set-up, but the former Joseph Charles Teutsch does so seamlessly and without pretence. There’s no reason to doubt that this King still rules.

DOWNLOAD: “My Ding Dong Daddy (Don’t Daddy No Mo),” “Oaxaka,” “Who Put the ‘P’ en Pendejo”

THE PINES – Above the Prairie

Album: Above the Prairie

Artist: The Pines

Label: Red House

Release Date: February 05, 2016

www.redhouserecords.com

Pines 2-6

The Upshot: Featuring a guest spot by late Native American poet-rocker John Trudell, it’s one of the young year’s most haunting and beguiling albums to date.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It would be hard to imagine an album more haunting and beguiling than this fifth opus by the Minnesota-based band who refer to themselves simply as The Pines. Co-produced by Bo Ramsey, the man frequently behind the boards for Greg Brown, Above the Prairie unfolds as a series of shimmering, seductive soundscapes that effectively convey the other-worldly imagery asserted in its title. Within this beguiling set of songs, a dream-like scenario with a nocturnal gaze unfolds; on songs such as “Aerial Ocean,” “There In Spirit,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Hanging From The Earth,” these elusive entries resonate with an unworldly allure capable of stopping listeners in their tracks. The brooding chorus on “Here” — a gathering that includes guest appearances from Ramsey, Brown, Iris Dement, and Pieta Brown among others — is as solemn, somber and moving as any hallowed cathedral choir, adding to the celestial feel that permeates the proceedings overall.

However the most moving sequence of the entire album emerges with the final entry, the mystical “Time Dreams,” which fittingly features the late Native American singer, poet and fearless activist John Trudell and his band Quiltman. (Listen to the track HERE.) Trudell, who passed away just this past December, seals the spiritual set-up with a final spoken narrative that not only illuminates the song’s quiet embrace, but also raises the emotional bar overall. Indeed, for all the hushed musings, the reverence accorded and afforded this indisputable icon is as inspiring as it is affecting.

DOWNLOAD: “Aerial Ocean,” “There In Spirit,” “Time Dreams”

BUDDY MILLER & FRIENDS – Cayamo Sessions At Sea

Album: Cayamo Sessions At Sea

Artist: BUDDY MILLER & FRIENDS

Label: New West

Release Date: January 29, 2016

www.newwest.com

Buddy Miller 1-29

The Upshot: Live album captures the multi-talented Miller and his special guests hanging out and playing a set of great old (or semi-old) country tunes out on the high seas.

 BY MICHAEL BERICK

Listening to this CD is like eavesdropping on an all-star picking party. Recorded at the most recent Cayamo music cruises, the disc captures the multi-talented Buddy Miller and his special guests hanging out and playing a set of great old (or semi-old) country tunes.

Miller recreates some classic Nashville duets by teaming up with Lee Ann Womack on “After The Fire Is Gone,” Nikki Lane on “Just Someone I Used To Know” and Elizabeth Cook on “If Teardrops Were Pennies” although their renditions shed some of the originals’ Countrypolitan gloss. He also creates a new one by turning Don Williams’ “Come Early Morning” into a charming duet with Jill Andrews.

Ever the considerate host, Miller frequently cedes center stage to his guests. Kacey Musgraves lights up the Buck Owens’ honky tonk gem “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” while Shawn Colvin gives a spare, soulful reading of “Wild Horses.” Lucinda Williams’ stirring version of “Hickory Wind” wrings the blues out of that Gram Parsons’ songs. Another of the disc’s real treats is hearing Richard Thompson put his distinctive stamp on the Hank Williams hit “Wedding Bells.”

Not every performance is a cover, however. Kris Krisofferson’s craggy vocals well suits his hangdog classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” while Doug Seegers leads a spirited run through his “Take The Hand Of Jesus.”

The disc ends on a high note with Brandi Carlile and the Lone Bellow joining Miller for a rousing version of that Americana “spiritual” – John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Then, all too quickly, the party is over. Like many a good party, you wish it would have last longer (the other minor qualm is that there isn’t a mention of when the specific songs were recorded). But hopefully this disc will be first of an ongoing series of Cayamo recordings.

 

WEBB WILDER – Mississippi Moderne

Album: Mississippi Moderne

Artist: Webb Wilder

Label: Landslide Records

Release Date: September 25, 2015

http://www.landsliderecords.com/

Wilder 9-25

The Upshot: The Full Grown Man roars back with his strongest collection since Doo Dad, proving wine is not the only thing that improves with age.

BY BILL HOLMES

Webb Wilder shouldn’t be an acquired taste, but since he hasn’t sniffed significant airplay since…well, ever, you more than likely have to do quite a bit of rock-flipping to find him. It’s not his fault that a man who seamlessly blends roots rock, country, blues and soul is penalized for his versatility rather than celebrated for it. Always an old soul, Wilder sounded like a grizzled veteran when he first appeared thirty years ago. Now at 61 – sounding exactly the same – do we say he sounds revitalized? Put simply, six years since his last record (*More Like Me*) Webb still hasn’t strayed far off his path.

Wilder’s beefy baritone voice is emotive and brash without approaching sandpaper, and for the most part that power is required to sail above the barroom bluster his quartet produces. But no stranger to heartfelt slower songs (ballad being too tame a word), Wilder can knock a gem like R.S. Field’s “I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool” out of the park on cue. Ditto “Only a Fool”, his collaborative effort with Dan Penn, complete with guitar tones that echo Penn’s work with B.J. Thomas and The Box Tops.

Wilder always throws some borrowed chestnuts on the fire, and one need only look at names like Charlie Rich, Ray Davies, Jimmy Reed and Otis Rush to see his confidence (and reverence) for good songwriting. He’s also smart enough to know that limiting his own output to co-writes and one solo effort allows an eccentric effort (the gospel-blues “Stones In My Pathway” sounds like it was recorded in 1932) to be a side dish and not the main course.

DOWNLOAD: “Rough and Tumble Guy”, “Yard Dog”, “I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool”

 

STONE CUPID WITH JULIE CHRISTENSEN – The Cardinal

Album: The Cardinal

Artist: STONE CUPID WITH JULIE CHRISTENSEN

Label: self-released

Release Date: January 22, 2016

http://stonecupid.com

Stone Cupid 1-22

The Upshot: Erstwhile Divine Horse-woman and Leonard Cohen vocalist finally leads her own outfit, bringing songwriting excellence and a passionate voice.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Julie Christensen has a hell of a resumé, from bouncing around the Austin music scene in the early ‘80s to joining then-paramour Chris D. in the wooly and wonderful Divine Horsemen to a quarter of a century singing for Leonard Cohen. It’s taken decades, but now she’s finally leading her own band: Stone Cupid. Joined by guitarists Sergio Webb (David Olney) and Chris Tench, drummer Steve Latanation and bassist Bones Hillman (formerly of Midnight Oil), Christensen makes essentially styleless rock, guitar-oriented and loud but rarely raucous.

Craft dominates, with all arrangements circling the song – not unexpected, given her many years with Cohen. Which isn’t to say that Christensen doesn’t cut loose when she feels necessary – her quavering wail sometimes injects a bit more passion than is really necessary. But she generally keeps herself in check, serving the songs – mostly original, and it’s a testament to her writing that she’s on par with tunes by Kevin Gordon and Chuck Prophet – with aplomb, whether she’s singing ballads (“Broken as I Am,” “No Mercy”), rockers (“Shed My Skin,” “Gasoline”) or epics (“Live and Not Die Trying,” “Saint on a Chain”). Solid and soulful.

DOWNLOAD: “Shed My Skin,” “Live and Not Die Trying,” “Broken as I Am”

 

CACTUS BLOSSOMS – You’re Dreaming

Album: You're Dreaming

Artist: Cactus Blossoms

Label: Red House

Release Date: January 22, 2016

www.redhouserecords.com

Cactus 1-22

The Upshot: JD McPherson-produced platter channels Brothers Everly and Louvin via spot-on harmonies and terrific countryish arrangements.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

The Cactus Blossoms’ debut disc boasts an apt title. Dreaming? Dreaming that somehow Phil Everly was able to make one final appearance with brother Don and this was the result. This sibling duo sound every bit like their famous predecessors in both their delivery and t choice of material, and emulate them so convincingly, a novice would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Jack Torrey and Page Burkum may not share the same last name, but they’re both blessed with a gift for spot-on harmonies, and their songs, which veer from the tenderest of ballads to a sound akin to a honky tonk revival, mine an archival approach. Written mostly by Torrey, these tracks appear ageless even on an initial listen. Songs like “Stoplight Kisses,” “You’re Dreaming” and “Powder Blue” would certainly have found the Louvin Brothers nodding their approval, while finding favored status in the classic country firmament.

No small wonder then that JD McPherson produced You’re Dreaming, the brothers’ ultra impressive debut. Wisely, he didn’t clutter the arrangements with unnecessary garnish, allowing the brothers’ voices to take the spotlight atop melodies that flow in a seamless sway. Their tenderest tunes dominate this set, and given Torrey and Burkum’s combined vocal caress, it’s all too apt. They encourage the listener to lean in, with results that are simply sublime.

DOWNLOAD: “Stoplight Kisses,” “You’re Dreaming,” “Powder Blue”