Wednesday, October 24, 2012 1:40 PM
Available on Woodsist (Sept. 18, 2012)
Jeremy Earl likes to stay busy. The falsetto-prone singer and founder of the hazy folk band Woods has spearheaded a release by the group every year since 2006. Not creatively satisfied with just fronting the band, Earl also runs the successful record label Woodsist and hosts the annual Woodsist Festival at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. Some might take a look at these pursuits and see a man spreading himself too thin, while others might see an artist thriving in a culture bursting with free-flowing creativity. Despite this heavy output, Earl and the other three members of Woods have managed to create a new album, Bend Beyond, that is consistently engaging and artistically progressive.
All of the staple ingredients of a Woods album, like simple acoustic rhythms, reeling electric guitars, and Earl’s doubled lead vocals, find prominent positions on Bend Beyond. The instantly memorable “Cali In A Cup” employs each of these to great effect while adding a thick backbeat, wandering harmonica riffs, and a vocal hook as catchy as the best of them. On “It Ain’t Easy,” Earl picks lightly on an acoustic guitar to the stark accompaniment of a slide guitar and his voice. Reflective and earnest in his trademark casual manner, the lyrics rival some of Earl’s best – “It gets hard without much to say / A pile of stones in lieu of your grave / And ain’t it hard to say it ain’t easy / Lookin’ for different ways to makes things stay the same.”
While Bend Beyond still gives off a sense of the DIY ethos that has guided Woods in the past, the recordings here seem fuller and more realized than previous efforts. Luckily, the album contains several of those freewheeling and squealing beasts of guitar solos that have long come to help define the band’s sound, albeit they are now walked on a shorter leash. Bend Beyond improves upon the finest elements of Woods’ prior releases without stepping into the unforgiving trappings of a sterile and uninspired performance.
Ben Sauder is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. Find him on Google+.
Monday, August 27, 2012 12:20 PM
The Salesman and the Shark
Available on Anti- (Aug. 28, 2012)
Singer-songwriter Sean Rowe has a voice that grabs you and lyrics that keep it, and when you listen to the
fantastic collection of songs on his latest album The Salesman and the Shark, you'll wonder what took so long for Rowe
to get noticed.
While the 37-year-old Rowe probably wouldn’t have shied away from success
had he realized it with his first album, 27
(Rowe’s age at the time), he’s aware that what’s made him an exciting discovery
today required a lot of seasoning. He spent years honing his craft in noisy
bars filled with disinterested drinkers, exploring his many musical influences
and constantly finding new ones along the way. Eventually, he caught the ear of
Anti- Records, which eagerly put out his second album, Magic, in 2011. “I do feel like Magic
was a real starting point for me,” said Rowe. “Not that I hadn’t written
anything good before that, but it felt like Magic
had a real focus to it. Those songs hold some of my best literary work, I
The lyrical strength of Magic
earned him comparisons to Leonard Cohen and other lyrical and
vocal legends, something that Rowe appreciates, but has taken in stride. “It’s
natural to want to compare something we’ve never experienced with something we
already know,” said Rowe. “They are all artists I have identified with over the
years, but of course there are many more. I think the real key is absorbing
what you can from others, mix it with your own energy and then develop your own
Rowe has established his own voice on his latest album for
Anti-, The Salesman and the Shark. Compared
to the lyrical load of Magic, the new
record offers more opportunity for Rowe to literally breathe, which emphasizes
his impressive baritone. It’s a voice that rattles your bones on the deep end,
and gives you chills when it wanders into its highest range. “I didn’t think I
needed to repeat the same feel of Magic,”
said Rowe. “I wanted the new direction to be more cinematic. I guess you could
say it has a lot more color to it than the last one.”
That point is clear on songs like “Joe’s Cult.” With its Tom
Waits-ian qualities, it sounds right at home on an Anti- recording. “A lot of
that sound was producer Woody Jackson’s influence,” said Rowe. “I love the way
that one came out. I think we recorded three drum sets at once to get the boom
that it has.”
Here's a live acoustic version of "Flying," which gets the full production treatment on The Salesman and the Shark:
The Salesman and the
Shark was recorded live in studio with real instruments, and that organic
approach pays off throughout. On songs like opener “Bring Back the Night,” Jackson complements
Rowe’s larger than life voice with a chorus and full instrumental
accompaniment. Where Magic introduced
us to Rowe the folk singer, the production and song selection on the new record
introduce us to Rowe the soul singer.
While the entire record is outstanding, Rowe’s best moments
are those in which he taps into the spiritual connection he has with nature,
deftly knows when to let Rowe’s voice and lyrics and take center stage. On “The
Lonely Maze,” Rowe sings “I’ll never get to that star, but I’ve seen the
universe in a blade of grass.” The lyric speaks to Rowe’s appreciation for
nature, which fuels his passion, and has been the constant
driving force through all the ups and downs in his music career. “Ultimately,
it is the source for all of my writing,” said Rowe. “I cannot separate emotion,
feeling, sensuality, sexuality, life and death from nature. They are all
Listen to The Salesmen and the Shark in its entirety on NPR's First Listen
Tuesday, June 26, 2012 4:34 PM
Utne Reader is pleased to host the world premiere of the music video for “If Wishes Were Gold” by Sankofa, a modern string band that features Allison Russell (Po' Girl, Birds of Chicago) and Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Russell wrote "Wishes," and provides a sultry lead vocal on the track
while adding acoustic guitar to compliment an understated harmonica by
John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful, and the resplendent brushes of
percussionist Sule Greg Wilson. The result is a warm glow engulfing a
cool summer eve in the city:
Russell recalls the genesis of the song: "'If Wishes Were Gold’ is about as straight forward a song as I've ever written. There's no ambiguity to the particular kind of blues I am feeling there. I was ready to give myself to someone I loved and that person just wasn't ready the way I was READY. To some extent, it also stems from the vagabond existence I was living at that time. There's kind of a double yearning going on, not just for someone to love, but for a place that felt like home, ever elusive. The song was written during a sojourn in Chicago and came to life under the deft musical guidance of John Sebastian. We arranged and recorded it together at Nevessa Studio in Woodstock, N.Y.”
Describing the unique still photo quality of the video, Allison explains: "Rob Stegman, the videographer, decided he wanted to use still shots of me in a metropolitan setting for the video, and we saw it as an opportunity to pay tribute to the beauty and grit of The Windy City. Natalie Ginele is a fantastic Chicago based photographer and had always wanted to do a shoot by the train tracks off of Grand Ave. on the edge of West Town. We also did some shots in the vibrant Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Humboldt Park neighborhoods, which are favourite haunts of mine. I hope some of the atmosphere of Chicago comes through in the video. I can't think of too many better places in the world to be blue."
Since the release of The Uptown Strut earlier this year, the album continues to generate acclaimed reviews with SSG Music remarking, “Sankofa offers a spontaneous, raunchy barnyard romp that bridges the gap between hillbilly country, gospel, and soul” while Press Plus 1 noted, “...the instrumentation complements the songs perfectly. The result is an album that is every bit as fun and mirthful as immersed in heritage and history.”
The digital single for "If Wishes Were Gold" will be released July 10 on Cleveland-based Kingswood Records.
Thursday, June 14, 2012 1:42 PM
Langhorne Slim & The Law
The Way We Move
Available now on Ramseur Records (June 5, 2012)
Langhorne Slim sings like he’s in trouble with the law; pleading, explaining, laying everything on the line to be sure his actions are
understood to be honest and intentions known to be noble.
On The Way We Move, Langhorne Slim & The Law weave
their way through folk, Americana and rock, with Slim singing his heart out the
entire way. His scratchy, honest, not-quite-falsetto voice may not be
classically trained, but more importantly it’s emotive.
The title track opens things up with David Moore plunking
out a joyous piano bounce between the chorus and verses while the Law chimes
in, vocally echoing Slim’s declarations.
“I was born with a thorn in my soul/guess it could be worse.
I might not’ve gotten much/but I know what it’s worth” Slim sings on “Bad Luck”
over the top of a snapping one-two snare beat and banjo. He’s had his share of
trouble and hard times, but even though bad luck’s rooted itself in him, Slim
knows he’ll survive.
Moore shines again on “Fire,” putting down a funky key part
to set the stage for a tale about childhood crushes and the inevitable crushing
of adult life. Hardly a pity party, The Law settles into its best groove of the
album on the track, as Moore jams away on his keys like a Stax session man in
A good half of the album finds the boys in balladeering
mode. Banjos and guitars gently pick their way along as Langhorne wrenches
every drop of feeling he can out of his vocal delivery. Nowhere is that more
apparent than “Song For Sid,” an ode to the writer’s beloved, late grandfather.
“Move” tends to lean either toward patient ballads or up
tempo foot tappers and rarely land anywhere in between. But whichever pole they
happen to be leaning on, Langhorne sings it just might be his last song.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:18 PM
Hope For Agoldensummer
Life Inside the Body
Available now on
Mazarine Records (May 1, 2012)
At times, the voices in this Athens trio adopt the timbre of instruments
typical of their genre: violins and musical saws. Simple folk harmonies and
plucked guitar strings seem equally suited to float on a breeze through
summer’s open windows or hang in the air of a winter burrow.
Life Inside the Body
is founded on slow rhythms and old-fashioned close harmonies. A cappella tracks
like “Cold Cold Bed” and “Come Back” reveal a seemingly effortless intimacy
between the voices of sisters Claire and Page Campbell. Other tracks—“Come On,”
“Day Glo Grey”—add instrumental accompaniment, but keep a pretty straightforward
folk feel. The album is full of nuanced variation. While individual songs slip
into sub-genres, consistent vocals and pacing hold it all together.
The band is at its catchiest when edging into folk-rock
territory. Tracks like “Daniel Bloom” and “Shining Heart” borrow rock’s
backbeat for added texture. “Daniel Bloom” is the star of the album, with
ghostly, lyricless vocals and an enchanting guitar hook that immediately lure
listeners into the song’s fold. “Shining Heart” is not as immediately catchy,
but after a slow build, listeners are rewarded with an unexpected leap into a
joyous, longing refrain.
Other songs offer an even greater departure from tried-and-true
folk. The changing rhythms, bit of discord, and vaudeville feel of “Annie,” and
the wispy, high harmonies and playful lyrics of “Come Over” are welcome
experimental departures. These slightly eccentric vignettes seem the band’s richest
terrain for potential growth, especially if they can keep the tone more sultry
Hope For Agoldensummer was born of wishes: a reunion of two
sisters, an escape from the cold and dark of winter. Musically and lyrically, the
band seems to represent both the wish-come-true and an understanding that such
wishes cannot last. Claire and Page Campbell may be together, crafting soulful
indie-folk with musician-producer Suny Lyons, but winter will return and these
souls may part ways—if only to reunite later. It is fitting, then, that Life Inside the Body seems a bridge from
sorrow to satisfaction and back again.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012 9:42 AM
Father John Misty
Available now on Sub Pop (May 1, 2012)
"I never liked the name Joshua, I got tired of J.," reveals former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman on his
new album Fear Fun, opting for the less serious moniker of Father John
Misty. The shedding of his former identity and the arrival of a new one not
only comes in the form of a new name. It's as if the J. Tillman of old, the one
heard harmonizing in Fleet Foxes, and creating solo albums of harmless folk
songs, was born anew with an edgier style, a stronger propensity for
rock-influenced songwriting, and a fresh haircut.
While this rebirth of sorts may have fans of his previous
work slightly concerned, there is no need to worry. Fear Fun manages to
hang on to the core appeal of Tillman’s previous work while charting new
territory in both lyrical content and musical approach.
The Father John Misty aesthetic shines on the album’s first single, "Hollywood
Forever Cemetery Sings." Backed by a hypnotic drumbeat and a grinding electric
guitar, Tillman delivers darker lyrics than on previous projects - a staple of Fear
Fun. On the slow jam "Funtimes in Babylon,"
Tillman showcases his talent for tragic imagery, singing, "Ride around my
wreckage on a horse knee-deep in blood / Look out Hollywood here I come." Another, "I'm Writing
a Novel," channels the Beatles' "Ballad of John and Yoko" with a lively beat, a
gang of riffing guitars and a squealing organ pad. Other tracks find Tillman
paying homage to classic 70’s country western guitar work, handclapping fiddle
shufflers, and synth-laden disco grooves.
Tillman's announcement earlier this year upon his departure from Fleet Foxes
said, in part, "Farewell Fleet fans and friends. Back into the gaping maw of
obscurity I go." Lucky for us, Tillman was rejected by that maw, and it has
thrust him back into the spotlight as Father John Misty. Here's a stream of the entire album from the Sub Pop YouTube page:
Ben Sauder is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. Find him on Google+.
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