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Ben Bridwell / Iron and Wine – Sing into My Mouth

It turns out that bearded gents Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses were friends in their hometown of Columbia, South Carolina back before they were ever touring-bill companions or Sub Pop labelmates (mid- to late aughts), and well before they recorded a covers album together. Perhaps a studio collaboration was inevitable or even overdue given their amity, frequent path-crossing, and shared tastes and influences represented small-scale here on the 12-track Sing into My Mouth. The title is taken from lyrics in the opening track, “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads, a sign of the relative diversity to come, which bridges Sade, John Cale, El Perro del Mar, and Peter La Farge. The Talking Heads tune is a toned-down take with acoustic and slide guitars, bass, piano, accordion, and light percussion, representative of an album full of slide guitar-heavy arrangements that fall squarely within folky expectations. Versions most similar to the originals include Ronnie Lane‘s “Done This One Before,” ’70s U.K. band Unicorn‘s “No Way Out of Here” (better known via David Gilmore‘s cover), Spiritualized‘s “Straight and Narrow,” and fellow South Carolinians the Marshall Tucker Band‘s beautifully spare “Ab’s Song” — all folk-inspired or twang-leaning to begin with, and covered affectionately with Beam and Bridwell trading lead-vocal duty throughout the record. Most altered are the duo’s reworkings of the strings-supported, Brill Building-esque “God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)” by Sweden’s El Perro del Mar, which is slowed down here and given an earthy woodwind and guitar delivery; Sade‘s “Bullet Proof Soul,” which still sounds uniquely Sade despite a rootsy rearrangement; and Them Two‘s 1967 soul plea “Am I a Good Man?,” previously covered by Bridwell‘s Band of Horses and captured with enthusiasm on Sing into My Mouth by piano, reed instruments, electric guitars, bass, and percussion. Other songs include Bonnie Raitt‘s “Anyday Woman,” John Cale‘s “You Know Me More Than I Know,” and J.J. Cale‘s “Magnolia.” That kind of variety keeps things interesting, though none of the arrangements comes as a real surprise with the exception of the closer, “Coyote, My Little Brother” (later covered by Pete Seeger but recorded by its songwriter Peter La Farge in 1963), a yodeling, Native American-inspired lament that gets full dream pop treatment with Bridwell on lead. Still, the represented songwriters and the sequencing, which nimbly waltzes through 50 years of song selections beginning with a quirky new wave tune and ending with a howling cautionary ballad, are rendered with grace. Those attracted to the collaboration’s premise will very likely appreciate its results.

Dustbowl Revival – With a Lampshade On

The Dustbowl Revival is at the forefront of yet another pre-rock ‘n’ roll revival, and don’t mistake this for a fad. Sure, everyone remembers the “Swing revival” of the late ‘90s with Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy leading the charge (while Brian Setzer Orchestra cashed the checks). The bands got hot and then got dumped into used CD bins. But, the thing is, there are always going to be artists taken with the sounds and styles of pre-World War II music, an era with pockets no less musically rebellious than our own subcultures, an era of racial and stylistic mingling, and of costumes no less gaudy than those of any glam-era apologist.
Taking inspiration from Louis Armstrong‘s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, Fats Waller, and, even, Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes, the Dustbowl Revival were named “Best Live Band” by L.A. Weekly in 2013 and are poised to win a national audience with their fourth album With a Lampshade On.
You may have seen them on your Facebook feed or as Huffington Post clickbait a few weeks back (time, and our collective attention span, does fly) when their video for “Never Had to Go”, featuring Dick Van Dyke and his wife, makeup stylist Arlene Silver, went viral. The Van Dykes were so taken with the band’s music after seeing them open for the Preservation Jazz Hall Band that they invited them into their home to record the video for With a Lampshade On’s first single. “Never Had to Go” is as infectious as Mr. Van Dyke’s fleet footed moves in the video, which has been viewed over two million times on YouTube, and the album’s other 13 cuts, mostly recorded live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and the Troubadour in Los Angeles, comprise an upbeat and stylistically diverse collection performed by a collective at the top of its game.
These revivalists are masters at melding diverse genres and time periods into a danceable stew. One travels from the moors to the bayou to the Blue Ridge in the space of three minutes during their dervish-like performance of “Old Joe Clark”. Follow up “Feels Good” opens with a riff straight out of Velvet Underground’s Loaded before sweeping horns introduce vocalist Liz Beebe’s sassy and commanding vocals. “Hey Baby” features powerhouse horns and call-and-response singing straight out of a Chicago blues house party. “Standing Next to Me” shuffles along with a doo-wop inspired R&B vibe.
The band consists of founder Zach Lupetin on guitar and vocals, Beebe on vocals and washboard, Daniel Mark on mandolin, Connor Vance on fiddle, Matt Rubin and Ulf Bjorlin on trumpet and trombone, James Klopfleisch on bass, and Joshlyn Heffernan on drums. With a Lampshade On gives each member a moment in the spotlight, be it Heffernan’s extended solo on “Ain’t My Fault”, Rubin’s French-cabaret inflected trumpet playing on “Bright Lights”, or Vance’s fiddle reel that opens “Cherokee Shuffle”. Lupetin and Beebe trade off on vocals throughout, each proving an expressive singer. Lupetin’s strong voice is cloaked in bayou brassiness while in Beebe they have a vocalist capable of bluesy sass, chatterbox nightclub swagger, and jazz-chanteuse sweetness. But it’s as a collective that they triumph, playing it loose but tight, the best way to win over a crowd, and they do. Album closer “Whiskey in the Well” is a tour-de-force of a band playing at full-speed, without-a-net joy.
Summer is the perfect time for this upbeat and foot-stomping album’s release. Dim the lights, put the drinks on ice, and press play: with With a Lampshade On, the Dustbowl Revival promises to be the life of the party.

Rayland Baxter – Imaginary Man

Some roots rock performers go far out of their way to convince you of their down-home bona fides, but Rayland Baxter‘s music sounds as easily and unaffectedly Southern as a glass of sweet iced tea enjoyed on the back porch on a warm and slightly humid day. There’s not a lot of twang in Baxter‘s music (or his voice), but his melodies and arrangements are evocative in the manner of a good novel, painting a vivid portrait of time and place, and there’s a laid-back but emotionally powerful vibe to his lyrics and vocals that’s smart but unpretentious, and generates a sense of drama that feels low key on the surface, but inside is as potent as vintage Tennessee Williams. Rayland Baxter‘s second album, 2015’s Imaginary Man, shows he’s not afraid of being a grand-scale romantic, portraying himself as a regretful heartbreaker on “Yellow Eyes,” painting regret in several different colors in “Mother Mother,” and opening up his heart on “Rugged Lovers” and “All in My Head.” Baxter‘s songs are supported by concise but colorful arrangements (with thoughtful string charts and occasional pedal steel work from Rayland‘s father, Bucky Baxter) that make clever use of echo and reverb to give the performances a rich, powerful sound that makes their case without weighing down the music. And if Baxter isn’t quite the virtuoso as he is a singer, he knows instinctively how to tell his stories and make his characters seem real and compelling. Imaginary Man presents Baxter and his material in a manner that’s vividly passionate and a little swampy while avoiding cliches as he offers these sketches on life and love in the American South; it’s a big step forward for Baxter, and will hopefully help him gain the audience he deserves.

 

Sledding With Tigers – Come on and Slam

To date, it has been retweeted 1,084 and the band has made good on their promise. They are releasing Come On and Slam, a seven-track concept album based on the Bill Murray/Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny classic. Man, the internet is an extremely powerful tool for either good or evil. Be careful what you do with it! Anyway, since this premise is ridiculous enough, let’s let Sledding with Tigers’ Dan Faughdner explain it:
“Halfway through this process, I think I really started to regret ever telling anyone that I would write an entire concept album about Space Jam, but now, I’m actually pretty stoked on it. I think I might be the only person self-centered enough to take the plot of a 90s children’s movie, and end up writing a bunch of songs that are secretly about myself. I really hope people like it, but the most important part is that my friends and I had a ton of fun making it.”
Well, folks, here’s your chance, do your dance, to this album about Space Jam. Listen to the song “Take It from Me, Michael Jordan.”