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Chadwick Stokes’ second album, The Horse Comanche, sounds like Paul Simon for the SnapChat generation.
On “Pine Needle Tea,” Stokes takes a foundation of woodsy marimba, lightweight guitars and galloping percussion and sprinkles it with the luminous harmonies of Simon and his one-time foil, Art Garfunkel, arming the whole affair with shimmering electric guitars a la Richard Thompson. “Prison Blue Eyes” sounds like a Simon cut gone modernist, a reggae-styled pop song that bears all the harmonic and melodic trademarks of the latter’s “Mother And Child Reunion” period, infused with banging rivets of snare drum.
“I Want You Like A Seatbelt,” wherein Stokes says he “wants you across his lap,” is a hand-clapping two-step that owes it’s essence to the bedroom fantasy of “Cecilia.” There’s more Simon & Garfunkel harmonies on the title cut and, once it gets rolling, “Our Lives, Our Time” has the rapping lyrical patois of “Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard” (with a hint of late-era Dion DiMucci).
This is not to say Stokes’ is a Simon mockingbird. The buzzy guitars of “New Haven” are decidedly post-modern, “Dead Badger” owes more to Ben Harper than “Feelin’ Groovy” and the echoey metallic sheen of the album’s production (courtesy of Noah Georgeson, Brian Deck and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam) is certainly more modern than “Mrs. Robinson.” But this is still Paul Simon for the modern ear, which is not a bad feather for Stokes to stick in his cap.
This is a damn good record, one that’ll bring happiness to Americana music lovers of all stripes.
Folks who like old time country will dig tunes like “Before The Sun Goes Down,” an easy-going fiddle and dobro number that would sound as comfortable on the radio of a ‘49 Chevy pickup as it does on a Spotify playlist. “I’d Rather be Gone,” with it’s lonesome pedal steel guitar, comes straight from the roadhouse jukebox songbook of Hank Williams while the beautiful ballad “More Than Roses” speaks to a later era of country music, when the likes of Marty Robbins ruled the radio airwaves.
On the bluegrass tip, there’s the ramblin’ “Little Cabin Home On The Hill,” a enthusiastic piece that highlights Hensley’s fine guitar playing. “Some folks called him ‘Lightnin’, but I just called him ‘Dad’,” they sing on their ode to “runnin’ shine” called “Lightnin'” but no words are necessary to get the jist of “Raisin’ The Dickens,” a rambunctious instrumental piece that gives everyone in the band a taste of the action.
Fans of contemporary country will probably like this album, too. Though the record harkens back to a sound of 50 years yore, the songs still sound fresh and new (and will probably be covered by the likes of Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan in just a moment’s time). Everybody knows Ickes is a dobro genius — still! — and everyone should know young Hensley (just 24 years old) is gifted with a voice that easily earns its comparisons to George Jones and Merle Haggard.
Yeah, this is just a damn good record of fine country music.
When a clutch of unfinished lyrics written during Bob Dylan‘s 1967 sojourn at Big Pink in Woodstock, New York was discovered in 2013, there were really only two choices left for his publisher: either they could be collected as text or set to music. Once the decision to turn these words into songs was made, there was really only one logical choice to direct the project: T-Bone Burnett, the master of impressionistic Americana. He had played with Dylan during the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975 and 1976 — a tour that happened to occur in the wake of the first official release of The Basement Tapes — but more importantly, his 2002 work on the Grammy-winning O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack established him as deft modernizer of classic American folk and country, skills that were needed for an album that wound up called Lost on the River. Burnett decided to assemble a loose-knit band of Americana superstars to write the music and play as a band. That’s how Burnett‘s old pal Elvis Costello, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, and Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops became a band called the New Basement Tapes (the name seems more of a formality than an actual moniker), and if Burnett‘s intent was to approximate the communal spirit Dylan had with the Band at Big Pink, the execution was much different. The New Basement Tapes recorded Lost on the River in a real studio fully aware there was an audience awaiting their output, an attitude that’s the polar opposite of the ramshackle joshing around of the original Basement Tapes. Thankfully, nobody involved with Lost on the River contrives to replicate either the sound or feel of the 1967 sessions, even if the artists consciously pick up the strands of country, folk, and soul dangling on the originals. Wisely, the songwriters steer their given lyrics toward their own wheelhouses, which means this contains a little of the woolliness of a collective but Burnett sands off the rough edges, tying this all together. Certainly, some musicians make their presence known more than others — there’s a slow, soulful ease to James‘ four contributions that stand in nice contrast to Costello‘s canny bluster (“Married to My Hack” would’ve fit onto any EC album featuring Marc Ribot) — but the best work might come from Goldsmith, who strikes a delicate, beguiling balance between his own idiosyncrasies and the Americana currents that flow out of The Basement Tapes. Then again, the whole project is rather impressive: Burnett and the New Basement Tapes remain faithful to the spirit of The Basement Tapes yet take enough liberties to achieve their own identity, which is a difficult trick to achieve.
Gareth Dickson is best known for his live accompaniment of English singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan — but that shouldn’t be all the guitarist is known for. Dickson’s latest collection of songs, Invisible String, solidifies his position as a highly skilled singer in his own right. The album is an assortment of live tracks Dickson recorded on his travels through Europe, a journey that took him from Istanbul to Paris and everywhere in between.
Our Song of the Week “Like a Clock” is a haunting meditation on spirituality, a delicate combination of fingerpicked guitar and vocals that echo one of Dickson’s musical inspirations, Nick Drake.
“I initially recorded this track a good few years ago and released it on my Collected Recordings album, but the original version is a good deal more lo-fi than this one believe it or not,” he tells The Bluegrass Situation.
“It’s about finding yourself turning to a god of some kind, despite having reservations about doing so due to the suffering in the world, after exhausting the first searches for meaning that many people go through — namely science, art and love. In that order, in my case. At the same time, however, I never felt the need to go back to any of the established religions.”
“Big Boy Crudup recorded a song with this title,” says Dave Bromberg of the tune “If I Get Lucky,” one of a dozen gems that make up this debut archive recording. “Elvis did his version on one of his first records,” he continues. “I thought at one time I was doing Big Boy Crudup’s song. This song has nothing to do with that one beyond the first line. I think I wrote it.” So goes the brand of self-effacing sincerity that informs this collection of train songs, love songs, train songs about love and love songs about trains. Drawing primarily from live recordings and radio programs he did in the early ’70s, Bromberg offers an intimate version of The Carter Family’s “Cannonball,” taken from Howard and Roz Lamer’s Folkscene program along with the aforementioned “If I Get Lucky,” which was harvested from his 1970 appearance at the Philly Folk Fest.
From an early ’70s coffee house performance, Bromberg offers a stunning version of “Salt Creek.” “I was playing it in the Jabberwocky Coffee House in Syracuse,” he recalls in his liner notes. “(I) decided on the spur of the moment to see if I could play the harmony and the melody part at the same time. I didn’t think it worked, so I doubt that I ever did it again. It actually did work, but I never heard the tape until 2014.”
“James Brown, eat your heart out,” he announces over the intro of “Danger Man,” which features an early version of his band that included bassist Steve Burgh, saxophonist Andy Statman, mandolinist Will Scarlett and guitarist Peter Ecklund (who grabs a trumpet and does his best Beiderbecke imitation for this one). Bromberg recommends checking out the YouTube video for this version of “Jelly Jaw Joe,” wherein drummer Steve Mosley plays a solo on his cheeks (among other wacked-out band antics) and notes that “Send Me To The Electric Chair” is one of his most very favorite Bessie Smith tunes.
When all is said and done, Bromberg’s earnest liner notes combined with his always stellar playing — and the program’s nice range of covers and originals, all nicely remastered — paint a joyous picture of a guy who has always been a serious player but has never taken himself too seriously.