Lee's Listening Stack -- A Baker's Dozen of Early September's Best

Kevin Abernathy
Some Stories

Knoxville does it again! It seems that everything that comes out of that city hits a home run the first time at bat. Not surprisingly then, Kevin Abernathy does the home town proud with an album boasting both new songs and older songs from Abernathy’s repertoire, music that gets under the skin even on the initial encounter. Like Matt Woods and Mic Harrison, two fellow denizens of Eastern Tennessee, Abernathy demonstrates the ability to temper back-porch narratives with heartfelt sentiment, mixing it up with wistful reflection and thoughtful rumination besides. The gritty “Gudger Town” offers the best of the good old boy motif, its fiddle and banjo taking him down some rural routes. Mostly though, Abernathy purveys a mellow mood, with “The Ring Line,” “Some Stories” and “Noticed the Moon” as pretty as exceptional can be, broken hearted ballads that are as articulate as they are introspective.  Abernathy clearly has a way with a lyric, and on “Funny Ha Ha, Funny Strange” he tackles the taboo topic of sexual tolerance with the same eloquence he applies to songs about heartache and heartbreak. Here’s a singer/songwriter that demands immediate discovery, because Some Stories isn’t just some album. Dare we say, it’s quite a masterpiece. www.KevinAbernathyMusic.com

Ben Sollee
Half Made Man
(Thirty Tigers)

Ben’s third album on his own finds him further evolving from traditional enthusiast to a pop purveyer of exceptional aptitude. Although the sound remains mostly mellow, Sollee’s inviting optimism and surprisingly soulful performances have him sounding like a veteran auteur, one who can tip the mood whenever opportunity serves him. As he demonstrated during his recent appearances at the Newport Folk Fest, he’s a player who can readily adapt to circumstance, and sure enough, on Half Made Man. he easily shifts from the inviting pop sparkle of “Whole Lot to Give” and “The Healer” to the anthemic heights of “Unfinished,” and further on, to a gritty guitar groove like the one found on the steadfast “The Pursuit of Happiness.” “DIY” sums up his ethos effectively, borrowing on a life lesson most of us were taught early on: “If you want something done, then you’ve got to do it yourself.” Suffice it to say, Sollee not only follows his own advice, but he proves the point. Watch for his star to continue to rise. (www.bensollee.com)

Eleni Mandell
I Can See The Future
(Yep Roc)

With a voice so pure and pristine, Eleni Mandell seems to be emulating the angels at times. There’s little that could be considered lovelier than the opening track, “The Future,” and the lilting entries that immediately follow -- “Magic Summertime,” “Now We’re Strangers” and “I’m Lucky”-- each confirm that assessment. Mandell’s vocals, combined with a gilded folk finesse, dominate this effort -- her eighth to date -- but there are occasional moments where she allows herself a little spunk, such as on the reggae tinged “Who You Gonna Dance With” and the relatively propulsive “Never Have to Fall in Love Again” in particular. Still, it’s her soothing, sensual powers of seduction that affirm her winning ways and make I Can See the Future one of the most satisfying discoveries so far this year. That an artist of such superior talent should remain undiscovered up until now is indeed a mystery, but to borrow the moniker of this outstanding album, I can see the future and it indicates she won’t remain unknown for very long. (www.elenimandell.com)

The Kennedys
Closer Than You Think

There are some artists whose every album is well worth anticipating, secure in the knowledge that no matter what they do, the results will reward the time spent waiting. Over the past decade or so, the Kennedys have moved into that elite niche, making them more than worthy of the title of First Couple of American Folk and Americana. While their new album continues to affirm that pronouncement, it also finds them moving into a slightly more celestial realm, one which finds them  emulating the kind of English trad stance often inhabited by Steeleye Span, Renaissance and others who generally bask in more ethereal haunts. Maura Kennedy assumes the majority of the vocals on her own, giving cause for this effusive glow, but credit also goes to Pete Kennedy for his fluid and flawless fret work, always the couple’s key element. That’s especially obvious on the extraordinarily delicate “Marina Dream” and “Made of Sand,” a song that finds them leaning towards an exoteric extreme. Happily, theycome bouncing back via the eagerly infectious “Big Star Song,” the self-descriptive “Happy Again” and the equally upbeat “Wild Honey,” all of which purveys their usual charm and chime. Given the aforementioned anticipation, Closer Than You Think couldn’t have come some enough. (www.KennedysMusic.com)

The Coal Porters
Find the One

Leave it to a Yank to get the rest of the world to listen. Sid Griffin -- formerly of the Long Ryders, author and devotee for all things Dylan, Byrds and Gene Clark, scribe and London resident -- transposes a little Americana to the U.K. with his ongoing band the Coal Porters. It’s a rather bold leap to be sure, taking traditional bluegrass and serving it back to the Brits, but one would never know there’s been any change of locale given the Coal Porters’ feckless and flawless delivery, their cheery combination of banjo, fiddle, dobro, mandolin and, and an appealing and upbeat delivery overall. That’s apparent early on -- in the opening volley of “Barefoot on the Courthouse Lawn” and “Never Right his Wrong” -- but that spirit and sensibility are also emphasized throughout. Still, it’s worth taking note of the final encore, an inspired take on the Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” not to mention a stunning duet on David Bowie’s “Heroes,” both of which bow to both his current motif and a good old fashion sense of American know-how. In a word... outstanding. (http://www.myspace.com/thecoalporters)

Sarah Fimm
Barn Sessions

With her last album, Near Infinite Possibility,Sarah Fimm turned a corner on her career, transitioning from the ambient environs on her earlier work to a more emphatic means of expression. In a sense, the five song Barn Sessions represent a transition of sorts, one that finds Fimm mostly solo and playing piano, emulating the serious and somber pursuits of say, Kate Bush and Tori Amos. Fortunately though, the EP finds her offering up more than melancholy musings as well, as a straight forward take on Neil Young’s “Don't Let It Bring You Down” and a breathtaking duet with John Andrews entitled “Hiding” clearly demonstrate. Given the bare-boned performances and her renewed possibilities as a potent singer/songwriter, future offerings can also certainly be given eager anticipation. (www.sarahfimm.com)

The Redlands Palomino Company
Don’t Fade
(Clubhouse Records)

Attention all you Anglophiles. Here’s yet another U.K. outfit purveying Americana and doing it so convincingly, even the hometown crowd might be fooled. Three albums on, even as the Redlands Palomino Company continue to reside below the surface of far-flung appreciation, they’re gaining ground among roots rock enthusiasts. Theirs is an easy, breezy sort of sound -- one built on gentle harmonies, twangy guitars and shimmering pedal steel --with each of the songs evoking a ‘70s-sounding California sway. Singer Hannah Elton-Wall nestles up gently to that soft, soothing approach, thanks to a comforting presence that wraps these tunes in a lilting yet lofty caress. In fact, tracks like “Call Me Up” and “She Rides Home” might have been plucked from an early Linda Ronstadt songbook, given their gentle airs and the sympathetic embrace bestowed by the band. As the album name implores, even a quick listen to Don’t Fade assures a lasting and lingering impression. (www.redlandspalomino.com)

Slim Chance
The Show Goes On
(Fishpool Records)

The late Ronnie Lane was a humble yet soulful bloke, capable of inciting a rousing good time or an invitation to peer deep into his soul. Working in cahoots with singer Steve Marriott, he was largely responsible for the Small faces’ cache of classics, a role he dutifully maintained after Marriott split and the band recruited Rod Stewart and Ron Wood to maintain their trajectory. Ever the restless one, Lane eventually quit that outfit as well and ventured out on his own, recruiting his own pack of fellow journeymen he alternately dubbed the Passing Show and Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. That’s when he reinvented himself as a country troubadour, penning songs that celebrated a gypsy lifestyle and a carefree mantra that turned its back on his former rock star ways. The songs he composed during this time reflected that love of simplicity and became minor classics that are now worthy of a revisit. It’s appropriate then that 15 years after his passing, his old mates should regroup and offer this heartfelt tribute aimed at keeping those songs alive. “Anymore For Anymore,” sung here by Alun Davies -- once Cat Stevens’ second in command -- is as lovely as ever, more than capable of coaxing a tear. And while I personally would have loved to hear a replay of “Debris,” the bittersweet ballad he contributed to the Faces, the jaunty strains of “Kuschy Rye” and “Flags and Banners” (a co-write with Rod Stewart) more than suffice. The show goes on indeed... as well it should.(www.slim-chance.co.uk)

Ben Taylor
(Sun Pedal Recordings)

Not surprisingly, the first misconception Ben Taylor has to overcome is that somehow, because he’s Sweet Baby James’ offspring, he’s going to sound a lot like dad. Or even mom, who in this case happens to be Carly Simon. The fact is, he doesn’t bear much of a musical resemblance to either, and as a result, he effectively refutes the skeptics who think he might be out to take over the family practice. In truth, Ben’s material is far more emphatic than the starry-eyed sentiments purveyed by his elders, and in listening to Listening, that edgier attitude becomes increasingly evident. Ben’s musical palette encompasses hard-bitten ballads like the telling title track (“All I’m trying to do is find myself/All I need is a little help”), the fully fueled funk of “Oh Brother,” bouncy pop like “Giulia,” and the hint of reggae that fuels songs like “Worlds Are Made of Paper,” “America,” “You Could Be Mine” and “Dirty.” Nevertheless, Ben is best when he sings from the heart, a truth made all that more evident on “Burning Bridges” and “Next Time Around.” This isn’t Ben’s first outing, but it is the first to make Listening mandatory. (www.bentaylormusic.com)

Matt Keating
Wrong Way Home

It’s worth noting that Matt Keating has never made a bad record. In fact, he’s never written a bad song. Okay, let’s now up the ante. Keating has never offered anything that’s less than exceptional. He’s a model of what every singer/songwriter ought to aspire to -- gut wrenching songs of reflection and recollection, descriptive aural narratives that paint rich emotional panoramas. evocative soundscapes, and songs that get under the skin on first encounter. The latest proof of his prowess resides in Wrong Way Home, an album so rich and effusive, it literally sounds like a classic from the get-go. From its opening track, the spry “Just About Now,” through to the final thoughtful piano ballad “Let,” Keating keeps his listeners mesmerized with the sheer brilliance and variety of his songwriting skills. The highlights are too numerous to mention -- after all, every entry attains that high bar -- but with the ruminating “Maybe He’ll Meet You,” the sunny “Go to the Beach,” the colorful “1913 Coney Island,” the seaside return of “Jersey Sky” and the fresh sway of “Nobody’ Talkin’,” he manages to shift both mood and tempo while making each tune a fresh experience. Keating incorporates the breadth and depth of Dylan, John Hiatt, Randy Newman and Alejandro Escovedo and yet still leaves his own stirling impression. Wrong Way Home provides continuing proof Keating’s on the right path, one that ought to bring him closer to the acclaim he so clearly deserves. (www.mattkeating.com

Carolyn Mark
The Queen of Vancouver Island

Regardless of whether she bears rightful command or holds some special sovereignty, Ms. Mark carries herself with regal bearing indeed.  A singer/songwriter who consistently proves her mettle, she does so unapologetically, even at the risk of skirting an occasional potshot or two. The Queen of Vancouver Island finds this captivating Canadian as feisty and playful as ever, a would-be diva with a knack for a catchy chorus and the occasional rave-up as well. Though things start out a bit murky with “Poor Farmers,” in no time at all she’s in her groove. Despite the sparkle and sheen of the title track, “Not Talk,” “Best Friend” and “Flaming Star,” the melodies sometime seem a bit jittery, but they’re also consistently compelling. Unceasingly cheery, Mark’s winsome ways keep the listener coming back for more, and with the delightful designs of “Mellie’s Book,” the brassy “You’re Not a Whore (If No One’s Paying)” and the swinging “The Cereal Is the Prize,” that sassy charm is all the more evident. “O baby, pick up the phone/I want to touch you before I touch something else,” she teases on the semi-cynical “Not Like the Movies.” Count on Ms. Mark not to pull any punches. (wwwcarolynmarkcom)

Bry Webb
(idee fixe)

Admittedly, it always seems somewhat out of sync when a member of an unabashedly raucous combo opts to go solo and produces a debut that sounds like a startling 365 degree turn from where he was before. Bry Webb of the alt-punk Canadian band the Constantines makes a move that’s obviously unexpected, given the downcast sentiments he showcases in his first try out of his own. With the exception of the all too aptly named “Ex-Punks” -- an ominous, rhythm pounding display of pure nihilism -- Provider mostly offers song of quiet contemplation -- dark, despondent and dominated by songs with a slow burn. While some are barely audible, others like “Rivers of Gold” convey a memorable, if moody, firsthand narrative. Webb is clearly comfortable with cerebral rumination and his brooding delivery is all the more affecting when the volume is turned up and a return visit is sanctioned. Consequently, the weeping steel guitar and solitary tone of “Persistent Spirit” provide but one reason why Webb could achieve notoriety all on his own. (www.brywebb.com)

Faux Pas
(EgOmaniac Music)

Great music comes from near and far, and so its no surprise that the western realms of Australia have produced a creative, consistent artist like Joe Algeri. Like his fellow countrymen Angus Stone and Michael Carpenter, Algeri boasts an impressive catalogue and a knack for stringing together hooks in such a way as to grab instant attention. His latest effort, billed as The JAC, finds him offering up more of the same, eleven examples of pure pop perfection, Opening track “Play All the Instruments” says it all,with Algeri unabashedly giving himself credit for being a solo studio operator. Likewise, the tune that follows, “I Just Want To Be Weird” nods towards Algeri’s off the cuff attitude and unabashed bravado. Mostly though, he follows his melodic instincts, confining the off-kilter moments to the bonus set of covers, where he treats Johnny and Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” like a techno-tempered squeak. So if “I’m Just a Glass of Orange Juice” comes across as an unlikely statement of purpose, don’t be dissuaded. This Aussie is far more fulfilling. (www.thejac.com.au)

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Tags: Abernathy, Algeri, Ben, Bry, Carolyn, Chance, Coal, Company, Constantines, Eleni, More…Fimm, JAC, Joe, Keating, Kennedys, Kevin, Lane, Mandell, Mark, Matt, Palomino, Porters, Redlands, Ronnie, Slim, SoleeSarah, Taylor, The, Webb

Comment by Tom Stevens on September 4, 2012 at 8:12am

Sid wants you to know that more Coal Porters music can be heard at http://www.myspace.com/thecoalporters.   The link above is broken.

Comment by Lee Zimmerman on September 4, 2012 at 8:26am

OK - I can change that tonight


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.