Sunday Music Interlude — Lydia Loveless performing “Somewhere Else”

Lydia Loveless, though merely 25 years old, has been on the music scene in a big way for about six years wowing critics and music lovers with her alt-country songs, which fuses elements of trad country, rock, singer/songwriter, and punk, about life and living.  She hails from the town of Coschocton, Ohio where she grew up on a farm and where her father ran a local honky-tonk for a while.  A member of a musical family, she performed in the band “Carson Drew”, which drew its inspiration from the father in the Nancy Drew books series, along with her father, Parker Chandler, and older sisters, Eleanor Sinacola and Jessica.

She released her first album in 2010 entitled The Only Man.  It was greeted by favorable reviews, especially on the alt-country scene.  A little more than a year later she released the album Indestructible Machine on Bloodshot Records.  This album of her original music dealt with issues regarding growing up in an insular rural town, dangerous relationships, and country staples such as isolation, drinking, and depression.  The hard edge of her lyrics which SPIN characterized as “utter lack of bullshit” by the “Ohio hellion” appealed to a wider audience and her music was greeted with rave reviews across the critical music spectrum.

She followed up Indestructible Machine with the EP Boy Crazy, which further solidified her musical cred and which served as a segue to the full album entitled Somewhere Else.  Anyone who doubted that Loveless was a major talent was converted with this album.  This past August she followed that one up with another gem entitled Real.  This album, as her previous efforts, has garnered almost universal praise.

As she has matured her voice, which is led by a Midwest twang, reveals great depth and control.  At the core of her talent, which is multi-faceted, is her ability to exploit an expansive vocal range–one greater than found in most rock and country singers.  Depending on the topic at hand she travels–sometimes in the same song–from a singer who possesses considerable pipes who can belt out a controlled and sustained melody, to verbal intimacy that expresses raw, scratchy emotion like a youthful Patti Smith.  Her lyrics are both mature beyond her years and reveal an openness and emotional vulnerability that only the most talented singers can maintain.  It is a high wire act by someone barely aware of what she is doing–and we can only hope that she continues to eschew any artifice of self-awareness that, even among the most talented, can devolve into self-parody and archness.

Here she is performing “Somewhere Else” on Audiotree Live.

Sunday Music Interlude — Adia Victoria, SHEL, and onDeadWaves

I haven’t written about music in a while, so it’s time to catch up on some of the more interesting new acts and new projects that I’ve come across.

Originally out of South Carolina, Adia Victoria now calls Nashville home.  Her interesting bio can be found at Allmusic.com here.  Her original music is a combination of country and electric blues, punk, garage rock, and a modern type of dark Americana roots music borne of the narrative tradition and neo-folk.  Her voice consists of a girlish rasp wrapped in an alto silkiness.  You can learn more about her at her website at www.adiavictoria.com.

She was named WXPN’s Artist to Watch for July 2016, and just performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.  The performance from this last appears below.

 

SHEL is a group of four sisters out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  I wrote about them back in September 2014 as they were just out of the egg, featuring their neo-folk music after an EP and first album.  They have since matured and have come out with a critically hailed album entitled Just Crazy Enough.  They just played live on Echoes.org with John Diliberto.   Here they are performing a couple of selections that reveal both their developing maturity and natural talent informed by that maturity.  The first is “Let Me Do.”  The song begins as a deceptively simplistic song that then changes both tempo and melody, carried by the ethereal combined voice of their harmony vocals in the call and response from narrative to chorus.

Speaking of ethereal, here is SHEL performing “I’m Just a Shadow.”  This is first class neo-noir folk and roots music.  The following Lyric Video highlights the emotional power of the lyrics.

It is probably time for a shout-out to John Diliberto at Echoes.org.  I actually came across John’s taste in music through the program Star’s End, which is still on-going.  There I was introduced to ambient and space music in the 1970s when I split time between visits to my home state of New Jersey and during trips from my job in Washington, D.C.  FM radio waves being as they were, especially in the early morning over weekends, I would occasionally be able to tune into the program, which memory serves was out of Philly, while driving down some deserted highway with the star-streaked night sky above, and wish that the feeling of my movement through time and space, the fresh air from the open windows, the firmament of the night sky, and the music–which seemed to transport me to some other dimension–would never end.  Then, after years traveling and at sea, I was reintroduced to John as music critic through his contributions to the long-missed CD Review magazine.  His thoughtful, eloquent, and informative reviews opened my world to new music and new musical genre’s that I would probably not otherwise have explored.  There are a few critics that fall into this category which, for me, includes Ralph Gleason, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, John McDonough, Robert Christgau, Gary Giddins, Orrin Keepnews, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Michael Cuscuna, and David Dye, among a few–all good company.

This serves as introduction to another project to which I was introduced through Echoes.org and Mr. Diliberto.  It is the group onDeadWaves.  The group consists of British singers Polly Scattergood and James Chapman.  Their maiden album is this month’s Echoes CD of the Month.  According to the review by John Diliberto, onDeadWaves’s sound is like “a meeting of Lanterna, driving across the desert in a 57 ‘Chevy, with Leonard Cohen and Lucinda Williams in the backseat.”  Their music, also called “shoegaze west”, seems more varied, especially when confronted by the 60’s Byrd’s-like guitar and unrestrained punk of the song “California.”  Overall, though, I can hear the influence of the moodier neo-noir song-styling of Lana Del Rey through most of the songs.  Perhaps Ms. Del Rey was onto something after all.

Here they are the song “Blue Inside”.  Other videos are also available at the Echoes site linked above.

 

Sunday Music — Lucinda Williams performing “The Ghosts of Highway 20”

Since I listened to an album entitled Sweet Old World, I have been mesmerized by the gritty and poetic music of Lucinda Williams. At this point in her musical life, her torn and ragged voice fits perfectly with the subjects of her story-songs.  She has slowly worked toward being among the pantheon of the American folk tradition, updating a traditional form to fit in with our modern world.  Even when singing the blues, her songs are uplifting and full of hope and determination.  She records both the shortcomings and fulfillments of the American experience, the universal desire for human dignity and freedom, and living a life of meaning.  She has a new album out and here she is on Nic Harcourt’s Transmissions (apparently the website is still under construction) singing the title song, “The Ghosts of Highway 20.”

Sunday Music Interlude — Brandi Carlile performing “The Eye” and Josh Ritter performing “The Stone”

Brandi Carlile is a neo-folk and country singer-songwriter with a great sense of time and place.  According to her Allmusic biography, she grew up in the small and isolated town of Ravensdale, Washington, which is about 50 miles outside of Seattle.  There she lived the life of imagination and didn’t find formal schooling to her liking.  She joined the Seattle music scene at a very young age, and eventually formed a local band.  Her style started out within the rock & roll tradition, especially focused on the classic rock of the 1970s, but then she began to find her own voice and music.  That voice, powerful and clear, breaks into the emotive style reminiscent of the folk, bluegrass, and country traditions.  Here she is performing a song from her latest album.  The song is “The Eye” and the album is The Firewatcher’s Daughter, which was released this past March.  It is an album, according to the New York Times music critic Jon Pareles, where her life is embedded in her music.  That is a high praise for a songwriter documenting her times and the human condition.

Josh Ritter is also from the Northwestern United States.  According to his bio, he hails from the town of Moscow (pronounced with a long ‘o’ at the end in lieu of the ‘ow’), Idaho, best known as the home of the University of Idaho, a place to which I have an ersatz connection.  He studied neuroscience at Oberlin College for a while, but dropped out to pursue a music career, with Dylan and Johnny Cash among his biggest influences.  Attracted to contemporary folk, he sought gigs on the east coast that supported the genre, and found a means of self-financing his tours for a few years before finally being picked up by a major label.  Since 2001 he is considered one of the leading lights in contemporary folk, though his music has, at times, at least for me–and particularly over the last couple of years–has swerved into verbosity, fractured prose, navel gazing, and parody.  A recent divorce seemed to magnify these negative traits, lacking the emotional strength, subtlety, and compassion of confessional musical predecessors like the Thompsons’ Shoot Out the Lights, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and Roseanne Cash’s The Wheel.

To a certain extent comparing any artist’s work to these classic works is somewhat unfair, but given the high esteem and standard to which Ritter is held, it is useful to point out that he did not attain the same level of connection to himself and the world at large in the wake of what one would view as personal pain and tragedy.  Earlier in his career he confused addressing big subjects with the a connection to the world at large.  Such a path in music is not an intellectual or literary discourse–it is an emotive one.  Hipsters and intellectuals may like his music, but folk is and was always intended to be the music of the people.  It is the humanizing palliative in a world where people are too tired, too overworked, and too frustrated to listen to a lecture, otherwise the power of the dehumanizing elements win out.  If you want to connect with people you have to do it on their terms.  Ritter seems to have learned this lesson in his latest album, Sermon on the Rocks.  Here he is performing the song “The Stone.”

 

Early Saturday Music Interlude — Pentangle performing “Hunting Song” and “House Carpenter”

Project Management writing has been interrupted by travel but will continue shortly.  On the music front, however, I learned during my travels that guitarist John Redbourn passed away on the 26th of March.  Below are two recordings from his days on the British folk-rock super-group Pentangle, circa 1970.  Aside from Redbourn, the band was made up of vocalist Jacqui McShee, guitar legend Bert Jansch, Danny Thompson on bass, and Terry Cox on drums.  Their first albums set the standard for British folk-rock along with their contemporaries at Fairport Convention.  Like most lights that burn hot and brightly very early, the original band had disbanded by 1973.  Still, their musical legacy is secure, not just by the recordings they left behind, but thanks to the tremendous talent and dedication they brought to their music.  They continued to be influential both in the U.K. and in the United States, as they pursued separate musical careers.

 

 

Sunday Early Morning Music — Ryley Walker performing “Primrose Green”

Designated the March Artist to Watch by WXPN in Philadelphia, Ryley Walker is a guitar virtuoso and folk/singer-songwriter out of Chicago.  His first CD, which was released last year, was the well-received All Kinds of You.  His talent is extraordinary and his musical interests span traditional folk, Celtic, jazz-folk, British late ’60s era folk-rock, country blues, and psychedelica.  His new full-length CD is entitled Primrose Green.  The title song is what follows and it is very reminiscent of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, and Donovan.

 

Saturday Music Interlude — French for Rabbits performing “Hard Luck Stories”

Out of Wellington, New Zealand, French for Rabbits is a folk-rock/dream-pop duo composed of vocalist/keyboardist Brooke Singer and guitarist John Fitzgerald.  They have been performing since 2011 and have just come out with their debut album.  The subjects of their songs reflect the cold seafaring and rocky coastal environment of their origins, especially in the case of Singer, who hails originally from Waikuku Beach.  But, of course, nothing is that simple in art.  Listening to their music evokes in the mind more significant connections and analogies.  Their music has matured and gained greater complexity since their first forays in 2012 and 2013.  Among the best is “Hard Luck Stories”, which follows.  Its tone is simultaneously dreamy and organic at the same time, overlaid with Singer’s beautiful vocals that leads us through her lyrical world of loneliness and desire.