ReviewShine Wednesday: Amelia Curran and Dala

Posted in Amelia Curran, Dala on January 26, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

Every Wednesday, I feature a brief review of at least one album that has been submitted to me through the ReviewShine website. I have cleverly titled this recurring segment “ReviewShine Wednesday.”

This week, I’m taking a look back at an album that I should have reviewed some time ago.  I first downloaded Amelia Curran’s Hunter, Hunter back in September around the time she was releasing it in the United States after it had already become a critical success in Curran’s homeland of Canada.  I remember liking it at the time, but for some reason I never got around to writing about it.  Last week, I found a physical copy of the disc in the WDVX stash and started spending time with it again.  Once I found out that Curran was honored as the Solo Artist of the Year last month at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (The CFMA’s helped turn me on to Catherine MacLellan and Madison Violet… I tend to trust their judgement), I knew now was the time to share her music.

Hunter, Hunter is the Newfoundland native’s fifth, and most highly praised, release.  Her win at the Canadian Folk Music Awards came on the heels of her victory at the Juno Awards for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year and merely serves to validate the numerous glowing reviews I’ve found online for the record.  Curran’s arrangements are simple and understated, but her voice and melodies are strangely haunting and affecting.  It’s not a disc that knocks you over on first listen.  Rather, it bores its way into your brain over repeated spins until its stuck there for good.  Before long, the lilting melody of “Julia” or the subtle harmonies of “Bye, Bye Montreal” become a part of you, and Hunter, Hunter has claimed its prey.

Amelia Curran: Bye, Bye Montreal (Buy Album)

Bonus YouTube:

Double Bonus:

Hiding in the same stack of CD’s where I found Hunter, Hunter was a disc called Everyone is Someone from a female duo called Dala.  Dala is another Canadian act who was also recently honored at the Canadian Folk Music Awards as the Vocal Group of the Year.  Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine (Dala is the last two letters of their first names) have been writing and singing together since high school.  Their fourth studio album, Everyone is Someone was a 2009 release and was followed last year by the concert recording Girls from the North Country.  Dala refers to their sound as acoustic pop, but there’s plenty of folk to go around as well.

Incidentally, this album was not put up for review on ReviewShine, but I thought this was as good a place as any to share it.

Dala: Alive (Buy Album)

The Jompson Brothers

Posted in Chris Stapleton, Jompson Brothers Band on January 24, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

2011 is a strange time.

Robert Plant, perhaps the greatest vocalist in Rock & Roll history has a chance to win a Grammy in the Americana category when the awards are handed out next month.  This, just two years after winning in a Folk category for his collaboration with bluegrass legend Alison Krauss.

On the flip side, we have Chris Stapleton, who is nominated for multiple Grammy awards this year in a variety of country and bluegrass categories, and has already won an award from the International Bluegrass Music Association for his work with his former band The Steeldrivers.  Of course, Stapleton’s new project is a hard rock outfit called The Jompson Brothers.  Their sound is a fairly heavy brand of guitar rock that is much closer to Ozzy Osbourne than Bobby Osborne.

To say this new endeavor is a step in a different direction for Stapleton is a bit of an understatement.  It’s more like a step, a leap, a jump, and a plane ride.

The thing is… it doesn’t really matter.  Whether backed by acoustic banjos or a distorted guitar played through a stack of amps, Stapleton’s voice becomes the focus of whatever music he’s making. Go back and listen to some of those Steeldrivers tracks where he really lets loose with his voice and growls his way through a note like he does at the end of “Midnight Train to Memphis,” and it isn’t that hard to imagine him in the arena rock setting.

This is about the point where I should mention, for those of you who don’t know, that I’ve known and been good friends with Chris Stapleton since his family moved to my hometown when we were both in the second grade.  I’ve probably heard him sing as much as anyone over the last 25 years, and no matter the setting or the style, the power of his voice has never been in doubt.

As Tony Lawson, my program director at WDVX, said to me last week when talking about Stapleton, “Talent is talent, and it’s going to shine through.”  Again, it isn’t the style that’s important… the substance is there.

The same is true for Jompson Brothers bass player JT Cure.  Cure is another acquaintance of mine from my college days at Morehead State University, and until now I’d only ever seen him play the stand up bass in old-time string bands.  It was a bit of a shock to hear him forming the backbone of a band as muscular and powerful as The Jompson Brothers, but he handles the transition as naturally as Stapleton and fits right into the Rock & Roll format.

I’m less familiar with the band’s other two members, lead guitarist Greg McKee and drummer Bard McNamee, but no less impressed.  Next to Stapleton’s voice, McKee’s licks are the standout feature of the Jompson sound and are ready-made for the arena.  McNamee joins with Cure to keep everything locked in and on time.  It’s a solid four piece group.

The Jompson Brothers made their Knoxville debut last weekend to a curious crowd at the WDVX Blue Plate Special anxious to hear the new project from Stapleton.  Later that night, they played to a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Preservation Pub.  Stapleton told me after the show that a lot of the faces he saw near the stage at the Pres Pub were the same faces he saw at WDVX earlier in the day.  It was just one more validation of the diversity of WDVX listeners and the talent on the stage at both performances.

For those who missed the two Knoxville gigs, don’t worry.  The Jompson Brothers have some more shows lined up around the south in the next few months, including a return trip to Knoxville in March.  They have also just released their self-titled debut record, and it is guaranteed to satisfy and hard rock cravings you may be having.  Here’s a taste…

The Jompson Brothers: Motor Running (Buy Album)

…and a bonus video of the Jompson Brothers taking their shot at The Steeldrivers’ “Midnight Train to Memphis.”

Weekend YouTube: Jayhawks & Jompson Brothers

Posted in Jompson Brothers Band, The Jayhawks on January 22, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

I spent a good deal of time this week listening to the reissued and expanded versions of two classic Jayhawks records.  Tomorrow the Green Grass and Hollywood Town Hall both got the special treatment this week in preparation of the release of a brand new Jayhawks record in 2011.

Here are two classic Jayhawks tracks to get you through the weekend.

One from Hollywood Town Hall…

And one from Tomorrow the Green Grass

On a completely unrelated note…

I finally got to see The Jompson Brothers play last weekend when they made a stop in Knoxville. This is the new project from Chris Stapleton, formerly of The Steeldrivers.  I’ll have some more thoughts on The Jompsons in a few days.  In the meantime, here’s a vid of their show in Knoxville.

ReviewShine Wednesday: Kim Lamothe Tree-Oh and Meatyard

Posted in Kim Lamothe Tree-Oh on January 19, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

Every Wednesday, I feature a brief review of at least one album that has been submitted to me through the ReviewShine website. I have cleverly titled this recurring segment “ReviewShine Wednesday.

First up is the Kim Lamothe Tree-Oh, a three piece outfit (say Tree-Oh out loud quickly) out of Rhode Island that has produced an album full of jazz flavored Americana grooves.  Mystery of Viburnum is Lamothe’s sophomore effort, but her first backed by Tree-Oh members Brendan Whipple on guitar and bass and Eric Hastings on drums.  When the three play together, they comfortably slip into groove after groove like a favorite pair of slippers, and it’s easy to slip in with them as you tap your feet along.  The song I’m sharing here is “8A,” the first full song on the album and one that sets the tone for the rest of the record.

Kim Lamothe Tree-Oh: 8A (Buy Album)

Up next is a band from L.A. called Meatyard.  Their sophomore album Sweet Old Green Life is a hauntingly melancholy collection of mid-tempo shuffles highlighted by the harmonies of vocalists Josh Welch and Molly Hansen.  It’s a fully fleshed out sound, but it almost didn’t happen.  Welch had originally envisioned a stripped down acoustic approach to the record with little accompaniment or production.  Once he introduced the songs to Hansen and heard her vocal contributions, Welch changed his mind.  One listen to the album opener, “Hats on the Five” proves he made the right choice.

Meatyard: Hats on the Five (Buy Album)

Brief Reviews of a Couple of Older Albums I Missed Out On Before but Recently Discovered and Now Enjoy

Posted in Austin Collins, Jason Myles Goss on January 17, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

Sorry… can’t thing of a less convoluted title for this post than what you see above.  These albums aren’t quite new, but they’ve only recently made their way to my ears.

A Prayer for Dreamland from Brooklyn’s Jason Myles Goss came out in June of 2009, but I first heard it when he sent a copy to WDVX in advance of his appearance on the Blue Plate Special a few weeks ago.  I thought it looked promising at first, and then I read that Goss is backed on this record by the same band that backs Josh Ritter.  Impressively enough, Goss proves worthy of his company including bassist Zack Hickman, guitarist Austin Nevins, and keyboardist Sam Kassirer.  A few tracks like “Dive Bars” even bear a strong resemblance to Ritter’s sound.  Plus, any album that contains an ode to Goonies legend Chester Copperpot is worth a spin in my book.

Jason Myles Goss: Dive Bars (Buy Album)

Next is a slightly newer release from Austin, TX’s Austin Collins & The Rainbirds.  Wrong Control came out in April of 2010 and is a disc I heard some buzz about, but never took the time to track down.  I pulled it out of another stack at the station a couple of weeks ago and have been enjoying ever since.  This solid alt-country rocker is the third release for Collins and finds him building quite a nice sound for himself along with band mates Dylan McDougal on guitar and Craig Bagby on drums.  Collins adds some guitars himself, but there isn’t much else going on to clutter up the mix.  The songs are straight forward and the hooks infectious… well worth a listen.

Austin Collins & The Rainbirds: Conventional Lust (Buy Album)

Weekend YouTube: Caleb Stine

Posted in Caleb Stine on January 15, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

First: Read my review of Caleb Stine’s new album I Wasn’t Meant for a Life Like This.

Second: Watch these videos of Stine performing a few songs from the record.

Third: (Buy Album)

ReviewShine Wednesday: Caleb Stine

Posted in Caleb Stine on January 13, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

Every Wednesday (sometimes Thursday), I feature a brief review of at least one album that has been submitted to me through the ReviewShine website. I have cleverly titled this recurring segment “ReviewShine Wednesday.  We took a little break for the Holidays… but we’re (hopefully) back on schedule now.

Caleb Stine is a songwriter from Baltimore who has been on my radar for a little over a year now since I first heard him perform at the WDVX Blue Plate Special back in 2009.  Stine caught my ear with a song that involved aliens hearing a Gram Parsons song on some far off future radio and holding humanity in mistakenly high regard based solely on the beauty of the song.  The idea intrigued me, and I vowed to keep an eye out for his music in the future.  Well… the future is now with Stine having released I Wasn’t Built for a Life Like This back in December (which is why I didn’t catch it until this week… dang Holiday breaks).

There is nothing quite as fantastical as an alien jukebox on this record.  In contrast, it’s one of the most grounded recordings I’ve heard in some time.  Stine delivers each song with nothing more than his vocals and an acoustic guitar save for Dave Hadley’s dobro on “God Once Raised a Son.”  This album reminds me a lot of Joe Pug’s Messenger (my favorite of 2010) in that it relies on the power of Stine’s words and the beauty of his melodies rather than some studio wizardry to provide the power of the songs.

The bareness of the arrangements also highlights the rawness of the emotions held in each tune.  You’re left behind with Stine in “My Service isn’t Needed Anymore.”  You feel his longing in “When She Comes,” share his weariness in the title track, and hold to his same fleeting hope in “God Once Raised a Son.”  It’s easy when those emotions are kept so close to the surface and delivered in such a deliberate manner.

I Wasn’t Built for a Life Like This isn’t an easy listen, but it isn’t supposed to be.  It is, however, a rewarding disc for those who make it through all ten tracks.  I’m already trying to figure out how I’m going to justify including it in my Top 21 list for 2011 even though it was released in 2010.  This one is the real deal.

Caleb Stine: My Service Isn’t Needed Anymore (Buy Album)

As a bonus… Here’s that “alien jukebox” song I was talking about before.  This is “Country Music Won’t Kill You” from Stine’s I’ll Head West Again.

Caleb Stine: Country Music Won’t Kill You (Buy Album)

Ray LaMontagne Should Have Made My 2010 List

Posted in Ray Lamontagne on January 6, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

As I said when I started writing it… I knew my Top 21 of 2010 list would omit a few albums that just got lost in the shuffle over the past year.  It turns out that one of those albums was God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise by Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs.  I’m not sure where it would have fit on the list, and I’m not going to go back and include it now.  I just think it’s a pretty darn fine record that deserves a mention here.

Why didn’t it make the list?  I always knew I liked it, but I just didn’t get to spend enough time with it to warrant its inclusion.  Once we put a few songs into rotation at WDVX, and I got a chance to sit with it a little more, I realized LaMontagne had turned in another strong effort filled with mellow country flavored tunes that are populated by banjos, steel guitars, and LaMontagne’s signature hushed vocal delivery.

Although this isn’t necessarily the best measure of artistic merit, the album is strong enough that it received three Grammy Nominations including Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) and Best Contemporary Folk Album.  LaMontagne even snagged a nom for Song of the Year for “Beg Steal or Borrow,” another one of those mellow, mid-tempo numbers.

Given the feel of the rest of the album, it may be odd that the song that grabs me the most is the one that’s a bit of a departure from the rest.  The album opening “Repo Man” is an extremely funky exercise that has LaMontagne excoriating an ex-lover as he emphatically tells her that he will not be taking her back.  The song is infectiously funky and has a way of worming its way deep into your brain.  It’s quickly moving up the ranks of my favorite songs from last year.

Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs: Repo Man (Buy Album)

Best of 2010: 3-1

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Chip Robinson, Joe Pug, Top 21 of 2010 on January 2, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

#3 – Mylow – by Chip Robinson

If such a thing existed, Chip Robinson would be the hands-down winner of the Americana Comeback of the Year Award.  Robinson came onto the scene in the 1990’s as the front man of The Backsliders, an alt-country outfit out of Raleigh, NC.  The group released two studio albums and a live EP before disbanding in 2000.  After that, Robinson disappeared for the better part of a decade only to resurface earlier this year with the deeply personal Mylow.

Robinson recounts the lost decade on the dark, and almost industrial sounding album opener “Preface” when he tells of the “deep, dark, hole” he fell into full of drugs, alcohol, cancer, and darkness from which no one could rescue him.  The song is captivating  due to its rawness and sense of despair, but it ends with Robinson looking to find a way home.  And that’s the line this album walks so well.  All of Robinson’s clouds have a silver lining hiding somewhere, and while he deals with the missteps of his past, the album is also filled with a sense of joy for having returned with a fresh song to sing.

Chip Robinson: Preface (Buy Album)
Chip Robinson: Kutschy Rye (Buy Album)

#2 – Street Songs of Love by Alejandro Escovedo

My feelings on the music of Alejandro Escovedo have been well documented during the lifetime of this blog.  I’ve written about him more than any artist not named Scott Miller.  His 2008 CD Real Animal was the first new album I ever reviewed.  It was also my favorite album of 2008.  He produced one of my favorite albums of the past decade.  He melted faces at Tennessee Shines.  He did it again in January.

That most recent trip to Knoxville gave me the chance to actually talk to Escovedo for a while and preview several of the songs from this album a full week before he even went into the studio to record it.  I don’t know if it’s possible to love an album before you’ve heard it, but if you can… i did with this one.  Sonically, this is a continuation of Real Animal with the multifaceted Escovedo mostly playing to his rock and roll roots on full throttle rave ups like “Tender Heart,” “This Bed is Getting Crowded,” and “Faith.”  The latter features a duet with Bruce Springsteen.  The centerpiece of the album, however, is one of its slower numbers, “Down in the Bowery,”  a song Escovedo wrote for his son.

Alejandro Escovedo: Down in the Bowery (Buy Album)

#1 – Messenger by Joe Pug

My favorite album of the year is also my favorite discovery of the year, Messenger by Chicago songwriter Joe Pug.  Pug was studying to become a playwright at the University of North Carolina when he decided to turn his gift for wordplay to songwriting instead.  In fact, his debut EP Nation of Heat (available as a free download if you join his mailing list) was comprised primarily of songs that were based on ideas from a play he had been previously working on.  He embarked on a grass roots marketing and music distribution campaign to spread his songs and gain new fans, and his audience steadily grew and grew.  I first discovered his music when I learned he would be the opening act for Josh Ritter at the Bijou Theatre back in May.  I want to thank Ritter for giving me the nudge I needed to give this record a shot.

With a few exceptions, Messenger is a bare bones kind of album.  The arrangements are sparse and focus mainly on Pug’s words and gentle acoustic melodies.  Truthfully, that’s all he needs.  Whether he sings as the fallen soldier who asks to be buried away from his uniform so that God will see his face, or the gentleman stricken by the beauty of the unnamed messenger, his words draw your ears and demand your attention.  Add to that Pug’s voice which is composed of a unique nasal resonance and a strangely affecting timbre, and you have a combination of lyrics and vocals that are impossible to ignore.

In past years (last year especially) I’ve had trouble deciding on the album to place in this #1 spot.  This time it was easy.  I look forward to seeing where his career goes from here.

Joe Pug: How Good You Are (Buy Album)

Weekend YouTube: New Year’s Day

Posted in Charlie Robison, Slaid Cleaves on January 1, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

Happy New Year!