Chris Thile – Thanks for Listening

Released a little over a year after Chris Thile took over as host of the public radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion, Thanks for Listening collects ten Song of the Week features from his inaugural season. Each song was an original written for that week and premiered live on the show. Finding a common theme among personal, societal, and political topics in some of the songs — namely, the art of listening — Thile headed to the studio with producer Thomas Bartlett to record selections for a cohesive album. On these versions, the mandolin virtuoso covers stringed instruments except bass and viola, and sings lead, though he’s joined on some songs by guest vocalists Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Gaby Moreno, all Prairie alumnae under Thile.

One of the album’s flashier mandolin performances can be found on the spare “Balboa,” whose multicultural wanderlust receives intricate and nuanced accompaniment. By and large, though, Thanks for Listening puts a premium on songs over chops, not that there’s any lack of instrumental proficiency here. An atmospheric track like “Feedback Loop,” for instance, uses a slow tempo, keyboards, and echo along with acoustic instruments. After setting an intentionally lethargic tone, lyrics get at our ability to filter unwelcome opinions on social media and elsewhere (“Feedback Loop, I play you to soothe my closed eyes/Closed mind/Open wounds/Open hate for anyone out of the Feedback Loop”). Later, the poppier “Falsetto” grapples with the constant derision, real and imagined, from a post-election Donald Trump, including what he might have to say about an activist musician. Other songs address fatherhood, family gatherings, and friendship in the context of the time’s technology and politics.

Despite its more collaborative origins, Thanks for Listening plays like a singer/songwriter album from Thile, one with moments of humor, poignancy, dread, and playfulness. Particularly “for anyone trying to hear through the din of a boorish year,” it captures the Zeitgeist of the first half of 2017 with a very human touch.

Humming House – Companion

Photo courtesy of the artist

2017 is an unusual year to release a new album. Songs that were possibly written years ago are listened to within the context of current events, and in many cases can take on new meanings: hopeful tracks become rallying cries, somber songs serve as soundtracks for fresh tragedies.

Nashville band Humming House’s new album Companion was written with such a phenomenon in mind. The album’s 12 tracks, which the band began writing in earnest in 2015, seek to be just as the LP’s title suggests: musical companions for trying times. The four-piece band recorded the album, which is the follow-up to 2015’s Revelries, with producers Jordan Lehning and Eric Masse, and recruited Ed Spear for mixing. The resulting album is a sonic departure for the band, described by vocalist Justin Wade Tam as “Humming House goes electric.”

“Our goal was to embrace where we’ve been as a band while simultaneously attempting to remove the barriers of genre and instrumentation,” Tam explains. “On our last album, we set out to arrange pop songs with solely acoustic instruments. While we enjoyed the exercise and are proud of it, we wanted to dive deeper.”

Thematically, many of the songs on Companion achieve a sense of universality by daring to venture into the deeply personal. “Make It Through” was inspired by Tam’s own chronic health problems but may as well be an anthem for those of us struggling to read the daily news. “Silver Lining” is exactly that — a sliver of brightness gleaming in the dark.

“’Wishing Well,’ one of my favorite songs, is an appeal to take care of one another, to recognize the beauty and fragility of our shared humanity,” Tam adds. “Such a central sentiment has felt increasingly poignant as we’ve faced so much tragedy in 2017. ‘Find What Waits,’ ‘Hope In My Head,’ and ‘Sign Me Up’ highlight my existential wandering and search for meaning. We’re all trying to find our path, our purpose, our means of survival.”

Ilya Portnov – Strong Brew

Harmonica player Ilya (i l e e y u h) Portnov’ s debut instrumental album contains nine eclectic tunes, seven of which are originals together with an arrangement of ‘Cincinnati Flow Rag’ and ‘In A Town Garden.’Here’s what Ilya has to say about his new recording:

“On this album, I wanted to feature different kinds of music that play a big role in my life. Being in the US I’ve been playing a lot of blues and roots and some jazz music. I’ve been also playing and recorded with a few bands that play Brazilian music in the styles of choro and forro both here and in Brazil. As I grew up in Russia, I was exposed to a lot of European and Russian classical music and folk music from Europe and Russia.

I wrote most of the music for this album and at first the plan was to feature all these three countries on the album. I was going to record the “American” and “Russian” parts here in the US and then go to Brazil to record the “Brazilian” part and mix everything in the US. But after we started recording here in the US I realized that the overall sound of the album seemed very “American,” even though there were a lot of elements coming from Europe and Russia. So, I decided to exclude the Brazilian part from this album and record a separate album in Brazil (hopefully sometime soon).

I wrote tunes in different styles for it; there is one that is kind of a tribute to a great early jazz clarinet player Sidney Bechet. There is a surf-rock tune. There are several kinds of blues. There is an old American ragtime tune by Rev. Gary Davis, ‘Cincinnati Flow Rag.’ There is a popular Russian tune from the 1940’s, ‘In A Town Garden,’ (one of my grandmother’s favorite) that we recorded in a kind of organ trio style. There is a waltz that I wrote. Tango is very big in Russia especially in the first half of the 20th century and many Russian composers wrote tangos. So, I wrote one for this album.

It was all recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose, which mostly specializes in blues and roots music. Kid plays bass and guitar on the album and was the recording engineer too. It also features some other great musicians that specialize in blues, roots and jazz music. Chris Burns plays piano and keyboard. June Core on drums and percussion. There are also a couple of special guests – Rob Vye on acoustic guitar on one of the tracks. (Rob and I have a country blues duo that participated in the 2017 IBC representing the Golden Gate Blues Society). And Ben Andrews plays violin on two tracks. (Ben also plays in my other band, Choro Bastardo).

So, there is a big mixture of things on the album and a lot of different styles and I was trying to be very respectful to each of these styles.”

BACKGROUND

Ilya was born in Russia and grew up in the suburbs of Moscow. As he was born in 1989, all his documents say that his place of birth is the USSR. He came to study at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he obtained his Master’s degree, as the first person to be accepted with the diatonic harmonica as the main instrument. After graduating from NEC in 2014, Ilya moved to the West Coast. At first to San Francisco and now he’s based in Los Angeles.

Ilya started out playing piano at the age of four, mostly classical music. His dad is really into rock music, so he always heard a lot of British rock (Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.) growing up. He also had a couple of friends, who played blues on the harmonica, and he was really into its sound. Finding an old harmonica that belonged to his dad, he was hooked and spent all his free time practicing, even skipping college just to stay home and practice. As he already had theoretical knowledge about music, he progressed swiftly on the harmonica and five years later was accepted into the Master’s program at the Contemporary Improvisation department of New England Conservatory, one of the most prestigious music schools in the US.

His first harmonica teacher in Russia, Alex Bratetsky, greatly influenced Ilya’s technique, developing an excellent basic foundation and introducing him to the “overblow” technique, which allows one to play a full chromatic scale on a diatonic harmonica. His teacher also introduced Ilya to the music of Jason Ricci, Howard Levy and Carlos del Junco, a major turning point in his development. “After hearing these guys, I realized that I can play anything on the harmonica and that’s when I became very serious about it,” says Ilya. “I always liked the blues and that’s what I started with on the harmonica, but I could never see it as the only thing I would do just because of my background, the place where I grew up, and the culture I was surrounded by. So, hearing these three guys really changed a lot for me and I realized I can play anything I want on the harmonica. And later I was lucky enough to study with all three of them on different occasions. Also since coming to the US (and especially after moving to the West Coast) I started studying blues and American roots music on a deeper level and it’s now a much bigger part of what I do. After graduating from NEC, I started playing chromatic harmonica too. And even though I can play all the chromatic notes on a diatonic harmonica, the chromatic harmonica has a different sound and I do like it for certain projects.”

“Strong Brew” is his debut solo project. A few years ago, Ilya recorded an album with one of his bands called Choro Bastardo, which plays Brazilian music, and he has also recorded on a bunch of other people’s albums. Some of them are released in the US, some in Brazil, and some in Russia. Ilya is featured in an NPR Music article on the harmonica – http://www.npr.org/2015/12/26/460860955/pocket-sized-revolution-behind-the-harmonicas-world-music-takeover.

 

TITLE
STRONG BREW
LABEL
SELF
RELEASE DATE
NOVEMBER 10, 2017
DISTRIBUTION
CD BABY
LINKS
Artist Website
Artist Facebook

Harmonica player Ilya (i l e e y u h) Portnov’ s debut instrumental album contains nine eclectic tunes, seven of which are originals together with an arrangement of ‘Cincinnati Flow Rag’ and ‘In A Town Garden.’Here’s what Ilya has to say about his new recording:

“On this album, I wanted to feature different kinds of music that play a big role in my life. Being in the US I’ve been playing a lot of blues and roots and some jazz music. I’ve been also playing and recorded with a few bands that play Brazilian music in the styles of choro and forro both here and in Brazil. As I grew up in Russia, I was exposed to a lot of European and Russian classical music and folk music from Europe and Russia.

I wrote most of the music for this album and at first the plan was to feature all these three countries on the album. I was going to record the “American” and “Russian” parts here in the US and then go to Brazil to record the “Brazilian” part and mix everything in the US. But after we started recording here in the US I realized that the overall sound of the album seemed very “American,” even though there were a lot of elements coming from Europe and Russia. So, I decided to exclude the Brazilian part from this album and record a separate album in Brazil (hopefully sometime soon).

I wrote tunes in different styles for it; there is one that is kind of a tribute to a great early jazz clarinet player Sidney Bechet. There is a surf-rock tune. There are several kinds of blues. There is an old American ragtime tune by Rev. Gary Davis, ‘Cincinnati Flow Rag.’ There is a popular Russian tune from the 1940’s, ‘In A Town Garden,’ (one of my grandmother’s favorite) that we recorded in a kind of organ trio style. There is a waltz that I wrote. Tango is very big in Russia especially in the first half of the 20th century and many Russian composers wrote tangos. So, I wrote one for this album.

View post on imgur.com

It was all recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose, which mostly specializes in blues and roots music. Kid plays bass and guitar on the album and was the recording engineer too. It also features some other great musicians that specialize in blues, roots and jazz music. Chris Burns plays piano and keyboard. June Core on drums and percussion. There are also a couple of special guests – Rob Vye on acoustic guitar on one of the tracks. (Rob and I have a country blues duo that participated in the 2017 IBC representing the Golden Gate Blues Society). And Ben Andrews plays violin on two tracks. (Ben also plays in my other band, Choro Bastardo).

So, there is a big mixture of things on the album and a lot of different styles and I was trying to be very respectful to each of these styles.”

BACKGROUND

Ilya was born in Russia and grew up in the suburbs of Moscow. As he was born in 1989, all his documents say that his place of birth is the USSR. He came to study at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he obtained his Master’s degree, as the first person to be accepted with the diatonic harmonica as the main instrument. After graduating from NEC in 2014, Ilya moved to the West Coast. At first to San Francisco and now he’s based in Los Angeles.

Ilya started out playing piano at the age of four, mostly classical music. His dad is really into rock music, so he always heard a lot of British rock (Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.) growing up. He also had a couple of friends, who played blues on the harmonica, and he was really into its sound. Finding an old harmonica that belonged to his dad, he was hooked and spent all his free time practicing, even skipping college just to stay home and practice. As he already had theoretical knowledge about music, he progressed swiftly on the harmonica and five years later was accepted into the Master’s program at the Contemporary Improvisation department of New England Conservatory, one of the most prestigious music schools in the US.

His first harmonica teacher in Russia, Alex Bratetsky, greatly influenced Ilya’s technique, developing an excellent basic foundation and introducing him to the “overblow” technique, which allows one to play a full chromatic scale on a diatonic harmonica. His teacher also introduced Ilya to the music of Jason Ricci, Howard Levy and Carlos del Junco, a major turning point in his development. “After hearing these guys, I realized that I can play anything on the harmonica and that’s when I became very serious about it,” says Ilya. “I always liked the blues and that’s what I started with on the harmonica, but I could never see it as the only thing I would do just because of my background, the place where I grew up, and the culture I was surrounded by. So, hearing these three guys really changed a lot for me and I realized I can play anything I want on the harmonica. And later I was lucky enough to study with all three of them on different occasions. Also since coming to the US (and especially after moving to the West Coast) I started studying blues and American roots music on a deeper level and it’s now a much bigger part of what I do. After graduating from NEC, I started playing chromatic harmonica too. And even though I can play all the chromatic notes on a diatonic harmonica, the chromatic harmonica has a different sound and I do like it for certain projects.”

“Strong Brew” is his debut solo project. A few years ago, Ilya recorded an album with one of his bands called Choro Bastardo, which plays Brazilian music, and he has also recorded on a bunch of other people’s albums. Some of them are released in the US, some in Brazil, and some in Russia. Ilya is featured in an NPR Music article on the harmonica – http://www.npr.org/2015/12/26/460860955/pocket-sized-revolution-behind-the-harmonicas-world-music-takeover.

 

TITLE
STRONG BREW
LABEL
SELF
RELEASE DATE
NOVEMBER 10, 2017
DISTRIBUTION
CD BABY
LINKS
Artist Website
Artist Facebook

May Erlewine – Mother Lion

“Her songs show a very real connection and concern with everyday folk.” Lifted from the first paragraph of May Erlewine’s Facebook biography, this is the singular, wholesome truth that sits at the center of the Michigan artist’s entire portfolio. Her music has a heart that connects with others’ hearts. It’s one that has been continuously conscious of the human condition and how it reacts to the ebb and flow of our everchanging world. She’s given a voice to everyday folk in artistically recognizing her place on our planet Earth as one, and we are all elevated together for it.

Her name might be recognized internationally, but any Michigander will tell you that she’s at the top rung of artists that they pride themselves in calling one of their home-state girls. Her latest record, Mother Lion, is reflective in this in the staff she’s brought on to help bring it to life. Members of Ann Arbor outlet Vulfpeck comprise her band (drummer Theo Katzman, bassist Joe Dart, and pianist Woody Goss) while acclaimed producer Tyler Duncan (Michelle Chamuel, Ella Riot) helps bring it all together.

The ending, everlasting result is a refreshingly vibrant addition to Erlewine’s discography. She’s always had an innate knack for speaking to the masses in any way they see fit to process it. Yet, as her relatable voice melds with crisp, modern, and eclectic production, we’ve come to a place where we realize that the artist is still coming up with ways to surprise us while touching our hearts even 10 solo albums in. Utterly empathetic and chockful of heart-tugging imagery, Mother Lion is an empowering hand to guide you headfirst in a bold new direction as much as it is a warm embrace to cry into and be told everything is going to be okay whenever the world gets you down.

Joshua Radin – The Fall

 

Joshua Radin graced us with his musical presence almost 12 years ago, and has yet to disappoint. He first gained traction in 2004 when his song “Winter” premiered on the popular television show, “Scrubs.” We have his good friend, Zach Braff, who Radin credits as the one who discovered him to thank for this, well, him and Ellen DeGeneres. In 2008, Radin was asked by Ellen to play the song “Today” along with several more for her wedding. She praised him for his beautiful music and honest words; and although these popular endorsements helped put Radin on the map, they’re certainly not what has kept him around for now nearly 13 years without an end in site.

 

Joshua Radin has been the same person since he started playing guitar at the age of 30. That wasn’t a typo; he only began this venture at 30 years old. He picked up a guitar and began writing almost as therapy to help through a breakup. The rest is history. It’s almost as if it was meant to be; you can’t fight fate. From his first album We Were Here in 2006, to one of his most popular albums in 2008 Simple Times, to his live album Live from the Village in 2016 (that is as flawless as any of the six studio albums he’s recorded in his career), Joshua Radin’s soothing guitar melodies matched with the smooth rasp of his voice set him far apart from the rest.

Although some his songs hold sadness, they still always contain hope and positivity. With his positive arrangements and authentic words, a Joshua Radin song will leave you feeling happy, sad, peaceful, and hopeful all at the same time. That is a true gift. It’s this uniqueness that allows people to relate to Radin in a way they wouldn’t with other artists. He’s never tried to be anything but himself. Radin allows himself to feel to the fullest extent in order to create the best and most honest body of work. Every song he writes is a “journal entry,” that has never changed and holds true with his upcoming record as well.

Joshua Radin’s seventh studio album, The Fall (out January 27, 2017 via Glass Bead Music), stays true to his diary style of writing. However, The Fall has an even more honest aspect to it, because for the first time in his career, Radin produced the entire album on his own. This album holds so much truth. From start to finish, it takes listeners through a story of beautiful melodies and heartfelt lyrics that are passionate, tragic, uplifting, and everything else in-between. Make sure you check this album out, and read our exclusive interview below with the incredibly kind, thoughtful and down-to-earth Joshua Radin.

Lotte Kestner – Covers

Ethereal folk covers with a blend of acoustic and electric elements.
Album Notes
Lotte Kestner is the solo project of Seattle-based musician Anna-Lynne Williams, who spent the last decade singing in the band Trespassers William. Her solo music has elements of her shoegaze past and influences, but lies somewhere closer to folk, relying on multi-layers of vocals to fill in the spaces, rather than electric instruments. Anna-Lynne has collaborated with the Chemical Brothers, Delerium, AFI, Ghosts I’ve Met, Anomie Belle, etc. and also sings in the duo Ormonde.
These covers are compiled from over 40 songs requested by fans during an epic Kickstarter.

Matt Hannah – Dreamland

Matt Hannah’s sophomore album expands his “acoustic, melancholy-country spin on Americana folk music”

Matt Hannah’s second album Dreamland is a first rate follow up to his 2014 debut Let the Lonely Fade that signals clear development since that highly praised initial release. Dreamland is a ten song collection with the rare quality of thematic coherence – the central question Hannah is meditating about over these tracks is the nature of memory and consciousness. Perhaps this sounds like a heady theme for a collection of popular music, but Hannah proves himself adept to the task without ever sacrificing the musicality of his material or risking self-indulgent pretentiousness. He doesn’t settle for a strictly folk song approach on Dreamland. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar present in various molds, but Hannah’s unafraid to mix things up with rugged electric guitar and strong drumming. His top shelf collaborators help him realize his musical vision without ever overshadowing his songs and the virtuoso trips common on recordings like this, unfortunately, are mercifully missing from this album.

The title track begins the release with the sort of attentiveness and nuance that serves notice we are in good hands as listeners. Hannah coaxes the lyrics out in a near-whisper, underplaying his delivery, and it helps invoke a strong mood in conjunction with the accompanying instrumentation. He takes on a much harder-nosed musical stand with the second track “Broken Hearts & Broken Bones”, bringing in biting electric guitar, but the song’s core is still guided by his voice and acoustic guitar playing. The album’s third track “Dandelion” drops his audience back into familiar acoustic territory and it’s one of the album’s more delicately rendered tracks. Such adjectives shouldn’t confuse readers that these are willowy, crystalline outings – despite their obvious sensitivity, Hannah writes sturdy guitar driven songs that never come off as coy or too precious for their own good. Electric guitar returns on the song “Set Free” and it’s accompanied by some tasteful organ courtesy of Matt Patrick hovering just below the top line instruments and understated flourishes from Aaron Febbrini’s pedal steel guitar.

“The Night Is My Home” might have a slightly portentous title, but the song is far from that. It’s one of the album’s more sensitive cuts and doesn’t come by its emotions in a cheap, premeditated way. It also features one of Hannah’s best vocals on the album and he makes every word count. The atmospherics of “Something in the Air” aren’t quite dreamy; instead, the feeling is more haunted, barely coalescing, and the song retains just enough artful shape to make an impact on the audience. The sound, ultimately, is poetic and helps form a greater whole in tandem with Hannah’s words. “Gone” has a quasi-shuffle tempo that the band never over-emphasizes and the welcome influence of blues gives it an unexpectedly jagged edge that other songs lack on this release. Dreamland ends with a note perfect curtain entitled “Morning Song”. Taken as half of a pair with the album opener, “Morning Song” makes for a marvelously apt conclusion and the acoustic guitar strings together a delicate, highly melodic spell. Matt Hannah has followed up Let the Lonely Fade with a recording that both reaffirms the first album’s strengths and builds on them.

Read more at http://ventsmagazine.com/2017/02/20/cd-review-dreamland-matt-hannah/#mq31CTgwXugQg4K7.99

Elliott Brood – Ghost Gardens

Several things spring to mind when one thinks of veteran folk rockers Elliott Brood: steely acoustic guitar strums, banjos and lyrics that address more bygone Canadiana than a Pierre Berton book, with all of those lines sung in a twangy downhome delivery. What we fans of the Ontario alt-country troop don’t expect, however, is for its members to put out tracks like “Searching,” one of the highlights from their new album Ghost Gardens.

The minute-and-a-half song comes second last on this LP, and features distortion and whines akin to synthesizers, all of it evoking a short-circuiting vintage radio. It’s not electronica or overly avant-garde, though; acoustic string plucks are thrown in for good measure, along with samples of a few distraught fellows shouting in the background.

It’s an experimental detour on a mostly downbeat, minimalistic folk album. This isn’t an entirely new, avant-garde foray, though; rather, “Searching,” and the other songs that make up Ghost Gardens, are unearthed demos that the band first started working on a decade and a half ago.

That means many of these songs are quintessential Brood. For instance: quaking mandolin notes and twangy guitar strums abound on closing track “For the Girl,” (which also features evocative lyrics like, “leave me here to blister away in the sun”). “The Widower” is even more traditional, featuring waltz-y guitar and piano notes in the opening moments, followed by echoing vocals, all of it amounting to one of the most gorgeously melancholy tracks of the band’s career. Then there’s the threadbare and forlorn “Adeline,” a winner thanks to its minimal banjo and piano backing. What really puts that track over, though, is its childlike lyrics and delivery, which make it adorably moving. It’s a folk lullaby that’ll tug the heartstrings of fans from any generation.

Don’t worry though: Ghost Gardens is not an overly downcast affair, and its softer numbers are balanced by bawdier tracks like the rockabilly-esque “‘Til the Sun Comes Up Again,” and the sing-along worthy “Dig a Little Hole.” Those peppier songs, along with its quieter moments, make Ghost Gardens a well-rounded release, meaning fans of both Elliott Brood and of folk in general will love every gorgeously crafted second of this new LP. (Paper Bag)

Josh Ritter – Gathering

I was going to write a great review but Popmatters did one for me.

On his ninth full-length studio album, Josh Ritter continues to combine poetic imagery with organic, expertly crafted arrangements.

Label: Pytheas Recordings / Thirty Tigers
US RELEASE DATE: 2017-09-22
AMAZON
ITUNES

In the upper echelon of today’s singer/songwriters, there’s a handful who could be counted among the literary elite — those whose lyrics are poetry that paints unique, evocative pictures — and Josh Ritter has long been considered near the top of that heap. His latest album is, among many other things, an absolute affirmation of this.

Gathering is Ritter’s ninth full-length studio album, coming off the heels of 2015’s Sermon on the Rocks. The songs were largely written in the aftermath of his highly fruitful collaboration with Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir (which resulted in Blue Mountain, Weir’s acclaimed 2016 album and his first solo studio album since 1978). The resulting creative explosion, according to Ritter, was a way to cut himself off from the expectations of others. “I began with an exciting sense of dissatisfaction,” Ritter explains in the album’s press release. “What emerged, as I began to find my voice, was a record full of storms.”

The storm-like energy is palpable on Gathering, and the creative spring from where he draws has helped create his finest album since 2010’s So Runs the World Away. Backed by his dependable and ever-present Royal City Band — Zachariah Hickman (bass, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer), Sam Kassirer (piano, organ, synthesizers, percussion), Josh Kaufman (guitar, synthesizer) and Ray Rizzo (drums, percussion) — Ritter seems positively giddy at unleashing his new compositions with a dynamic energy that flows through both the up-tempo numbers as well as the tender ballads.

Kicking off Gathering is the brief, hymn-like “Shaker Love Song (Leah)”, which opens the album in a stately manner and invites comparisons to the aloof, mysterious arrangements of Fleet Foxes. But it’s soon followed by the first single, “Showboat”, which kicks down the doors with a sunnier, more traditional execution. “Every time it rains it pours / I pray it rains just a little more on me,” Ritter belts out at the song’s beginning before the full band falls into place. The upbeat instrumentation masks the anguish in the lyrics, where Ritter struggles to remain brave and stoic in the face of a breakup. “I’m just a showboat,” he sings. “Won’t catch me crying, no / Won’t catch me showing any hurt.”

Typically, Ritter peppers his folky arrangements with rip-roaring, boom-chicka-boom rave-ups like the infectious “Friendamine”, an upbeat barn-burner that’s sure to bring down the house when Ritter and the Royal City Band hit the road later this year. That same Johnny Cash-like gallop continues, in a more subdued fashion, on “Feels Like Lightning”, which evokes an unvarnished “riding the rails” vibe. “Out across the fields are the thunderheads gathering / Clouds all turned to the color of a cavern,” Ritter sings, pairing his nature-rich, rustic imagery with the album’s underlying “storm” themes.

Comparisons to the aforementioned So Runs the World Away are hard to avoid, not just in the quality of the writing and performing, but in the use of brief, scene-setting tracks like “Shaker Love Song” and the gorgeous instrumental “Interlude”. There’s also a folk-noir feel that pervades Gathering, never more apparent than in the epic “Dreams”. Ritter has been accurately compared to Bob Dylan in both his organic musical approach as well as his inimitable gift for hyper-detailed, surreal storytelling, and on “Dreams”, he delivers in spades. The multiple verses are delivered in a rapid-fire, almost spoken-word style, tempered with the mantra-like chorus of “dreams’ll keep coming but the dream done gone”, over and over, like some Blonde on Blondeouttake. Ritter increases the tension with each consecutive verse as the instruments become more unhinged, dissonant, and nightmarish.

More of this dark atmosphere is present in “Myrna Loy”, a whisper-quiet ballad that combines eloquent verses (“Still every now and then sometimes when the night sky gets so bright / And no Bethlehem of stars could match its burning”) with a simple chorus (“In the darkness / In the darkness”). It’s a beautiful, unrushed gem of a recording – although, at just over seven minutes, I could do without at least one verse.

 

Ritter’s collaboration with Weir spills over into Gathering in the form of “When Will I Be Changed”, a duet with the legendary singer/songwriter. It’s an epic, gospel-flavored ballad infused with rich instrumentation, including wide-open acoustic guitar strumming, soulful horns and vintage organ fills. Weir and Ritter’s vocals are a winning combination — the sturdy legend trading verses with the young folk genius — and is a high point in an album that’s positively stuffed with beautiful moments.

The shift in dynamics between ballads and faster numbers is refreshing and never inappropriately jarring. For every “Myrna Loy”, there’s the careening rush of a song like “Cry Softly”, a rockabilly stomper highlighted by spry guitar leads and a fast, infectious beat. “Cry softly / Real quietly / Your tears are unsightly,” Ritter sings as the band fires on all cylinders behind him.

Josh Ritter’s music is obviously the result of a broad range of influences, which he manages to sprinkle liberally and smartly throughout his work. It’s never derivative and always manages to sound fresh and new. That is a rare gift, and like the artists to whom he’s often compared — Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan being the more obvious ones — his status as a peerless singer/songwriter is unmatched. Gathering proves once again that it’s great to be living in a time when Josh Ritter is making music.

Alana Henderson New Single Out, Let This Remain

New folk-laden single from Hozier’s long-time cellist available now

 

——————–

In addition to the beautiful instrumentation, Henderson boasts an incredible, lush songwriting talent characteristic of many Irish folk artists. Her vocals are arresting and her bohemian sound haunting. The cello is inventive and subtle, a lilting undercurrent behind soft electronics.(Earmilk)

Alana Henderson is a cellist and singer-songwriter from Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland.  Her self-released Wax and WaneEP (2014) drew solid comparisons to Joanna Newsome and Fiona Apple. Shortly thereafter she stepped up to accompany Hozier on cello and supporting vocals. Between 2014-2015 she played over 300 headline shows with Hozier’s band, including notable performances at Glastonbury, Saturday Night Live, Jools Holland and the Grammy’s with Annie Lennox. Her new single, “Let This Remain,” is an icy and unforgiving anti-ballad, fusing an electronic undercurrent to her darkly organic indie-folk.

Alana’s mastery of the cello is a highlight of the track, showcasing her dynamic techniques that are looped and overlapped to create a dramatic atmosphere; expertly balancing an arrangement that is both haunting and beautiful.  Written in L.A. near the end of that massive tour, the lyrics reflect on the transient nature of relationships on the road and the emotional detachment that ensues.  When no relationship is expected to last, she jabs, “you could be the one I don’t regret…yet.”

 

“After a period of post-tour decompression it was recorded at a friend’s isolated Irish cottage with the help of Belfast-based musician/producer Alan Haslam and using only the most rudimentary equipment; my cello, a Roland Juno-106 synthesiser and a TR-808 drum machine, along with some improvised acoustic percussion (we snapped a pair of shoe trees together for the snare sound).”

L I S T E N

Alana Henderson – Let This Remain

https://soundcloud.com/alanahenderson/let-this-remain

D I S C O V E R

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/alanahenderson
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alanahendersoncello/
Website: https://www.alanahenderson.com/
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6P6SqdQjXIzTWKj5QBWliY