Tom Brosseau – Perfect Abandon


What has been most remarkable about singer/songwriter Tom Brosseau is not, amazingly enough, his songs. Since the beginning of the century they have been almost uniformly fine in craft, but it is the grain of his voice when delivering them — on recordings and on stages — that casts a pervasive spell. Almost since the beginning, on 2002’s North Dakota (named for his home state), Brosseau has been spinning tales with a timeless brand of popular song that descends equally from gospel, early country and bluegrass, folk music, and the Great American Songbook. Perfect Abandon is his ninth album. It was produced by John Parish and engineered by Ali Chant in an old community theater in Bristol, England. The collective approach was to record a pretty spare band — acoustic and electric guitars, two-piece drum kit, and double bass — around a single microphone. The feel of early Sun Records sessions haunts the fringes of the sound a little — especially since Parish initially thought to record there — but it’s in the electric guitars rather than anywhere else. Brosseau‘s songs are as enchanting as ever. The spoken word opener, “Hard Luck Boy,” is a heartbreaking tale delivered in spoken word with musical accompaniment. Brosseau expects no sympathy and gives no quarter; without guile or artifice he simply tells the story accompanied by the band — its content needs no embellishment to resonate. First single “Roll Along with Me” is a country song delivered with Johnny Cash‘s early cut-time two-step, but his voice floats and hovers, seeing the road wide open as he invites the listener along for the immediacy of the experience. “Take Fountain” has a straight country rockabilly backdrop; its fluid observations are fleet yet fluid, in the moment, full of loneliness and wonder. “Landlord Jackie,” a tale of fantasy, is half spoken, half sung; it sounds made up in the moment, a straight yet dark recollection of a woman desired by a guy so inside his own head he couldn’t get out if he wanted to. “Goodbye Empire Builder” has its own instrumental intro, and is a slow, 4/4 boogie with a melody straight out of the 1940s, but Brosseau lets the lyric move through his throat before running out of his mouth like water, just behind the beat. “Island in the Prairie Sea,” an unaccompanied acoustic number, drips with ache and reverie. Throughout Perfect Abandon‘s nine vocal songs, Brosseau‘s unhurried delivery transports the listener from her own world into his seamlessly. Everything stops, gets very small, and opens wide into a panorama of moments that link to one another and toward the horizon and beyond.

William Elliott Whitmore – Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore is well-known for his raw, poetic, rural folk albums. On all of them, his rough-hewn growl of a voice is skeletally accompanied by only his banjo or acoustic guitar. Whitmore‘s always played in punk clubs, and he’s claimed bands from the Jesus Lizard and Bad Brains to the Minutemen as influences on his own music. It’s been somewhat difficult to hear that influence until now. Radium Death still contains Whitmore‘s hard folk roots. A third of these songs find him solo, spitting out his love for the land and his rage at those who would destroy it and his way of life. The rest range from rock & roll and folk-rock to country songs that find him backed by a varying assortment of musicians who played live in the studio. Recorded over two years, Whitmore drove two hours from his Lee County farm to Iowa City to work with producer Luke Tweedy. They cut various versions of tunes and decided on the arrangements as they went. Whitmore‘s strengths as a songwriter have always been in very simple, direct melodies and in lyrics that cut through the veneer and get to the soul of things. The larger — but by no means excessive — arrangements underscore their poignancy. And, while always strong, his delivery just roars here at times. Check the blistering, clattering opener “Healing to Do,” which pairs the heat of a punk band with the blues moan in Them‘s “Gloria.” “A Thousand Deaths,” played solo on a slightly out of tune electric guitar, is a garage folk song worthy of Phil Ochs. “Don’t Strike Me Down” is a blistering, full-band country boogie with a pumping, upright piano balancing the distorted guitar and drum attack with a full “ooh-ooh” female backing chorus to add some sweetness to the sweat. “Can’t Go Back” is a country waltz complete with pedal steel and a walking bassline. The solo work isn’t gone, however — the ragged tenderness in “Civilizations” and the agony in “Have Mercy” find Whitmore importing his lived-in, time-worn wisdom with only his banjo and guitar, respectively. “Ain’t Gone Yet” closes the set as a humanist, honky tonk gospel-waltz. A backing chorus, electric piano, and shuffling drums amid the acoustic and electric guitars bear witness to Whitmore‘s paean to his presence in the moment as a man on earth, and his belief he will return to it, not Jesus. Radium Death finds Whitmore at his songwriting and singing best. That said, his successful indulgence in rock & roll’s various forms makes one wish he had just put the entire album on stun.


Nathaniel Rateliff – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

 Songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff established himself as a critically celebrated folksy Americana singer/songwriter on 2010’s In Memory Of Loss, his Rounder Records debut. Though he played in straight-ahead rock & roll bands before then, his independent releases since have been of intimate, poignant, and pensive songs. Until now. This self-titled offering on Stax is a hard-swinging, house-rocking affair that draws heavily on vintage R&B, soul, and proto rock & roll. Though Rateliff has displayed emotion in his vocals since the beginning, even fans have never heard him like this. Influences from Sam & Dave to Van Morrison to Sam Cooke range freely on this set — and he has the voice to pull it off. The sessions were helmed by producer Richard Swift, who captured Rateliff and his large band — complete with a swaggering horn section (and occasionally subtle strings) — with just enough reverb to make it sound live. “I’ve Been Falling,” with its upright piano and handclaps, delves deep into vintage Morrison territory without really emulating him (though Rateliff comes closer on the album’s last track, “Mellow Out”). The raw soul passion in “Trying So Hard Not to Know” evokes the historic Stax ethos perfectly, while sidling up to the Band‘s Big Pink era. “S.O.B.” has verses saturated in Southern gospel, with foot stomping and handclaps as the only accompaniment, before the entire band erupts in a carousing chorus. This reverses gospel’s usual Saturday-night-to-Sunday-morning course; it is one of the rowdiest broken-heart songs you’ll ever hear. “I’d Be Waiting” is a tender, wide-open love song with a late-night jazzy soul feel. The singer’s voice is haunted equally by the spirits of Cooke and Bobby “Blue” Bland. If this album has a weakness — and it does — it’s that Rateliff‘s use of these forms and styles in his writing is not only basic — which is fine — but overly formulaic. Only the pedal steel-driven Americana in the absolutely lovely “Wasting Time” — which recalls the Gregg Allman of Laid Back — deviates; one or two more songs in this vein (especially with this band) would have made all the difference. That’s a small complaint, one that will deter few. Rateliff‘s world-weary, deeply expressive tenor and lyrics place him on a different level than any of the current crew of revivalists. 

Old Man Luedecke – Domestic Eccentric

In times when uninspired sameness and unjustified experimentation appear to be the norm seeing some old-school cool in the music industry is refreshing. With his upcoming album “Domestic Eccentric” Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Luedecke does justice to his stage name “Old Man” and delivers craftsmanship quality proper of yesteryears.
Each and every song in the record is a different take on family affairs. They talk about relationships, adulthood and the perks/troubles of being a parent – a reflection, thus, of the artist’s situation at the moment, his life in a backwood cabin with wife and baby twins. When art tries to replicate reality the results are often enticing.
That is why the studio of choice for this record was his own house: there’s no better place to deal with private matters than one’s own backyard. The only “intruder” Luedecke allowed in his personal statement was long-time friend and Grammy award-winner Tim O’Brien. Because, well, the multi-instrumentalist knows how to work his strings.
“Tim is my favourite musician,” explains Luedecke. “Working with him in a duet environment in a cabin at home was a waking dream.” The two had paired twice before (including for 2012’s “Tender is the Night”, which won Album of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards), but this time around the partnership sounds even more fluid and organic.
Songs like “Prologue: Yodelady” and “The Briar and the Rose” are simply delightful and good examples of the balanced arrangement the duo managed to apply throughout the entire disc. All in all, “Domestic Eccentric” sounds subtle and fun without ever losing contact with the message it is trying to convey in the best traditions of the folk and country music.
Luedecke’s fine way with language – “We’re saving up for date night so we can have our fight,” he sings in “The Early Days” –  is a perfect match to O’Brien’s skills. The poetry one writes probably wouldn’t have the same power without the accurate adorning provided by the other. Together, however, they are unison.
“Domestic Eccentric” is the seventh album by Canadian singer-songwriter Old Man Luedecke, third recorded alongside Tim O’Brien, and will be released online and in stores on 24th of July.

Yep, one of the quirkiest love songs I ever heard.

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.