Lee's Listening Stack: Twenty -- Count 'Em, Twenty! -- Reviews for the Start of Summer

Cold Satellite


(Signature Sounds)
Up until now, Jeffrey Foucault has mainly been known as an intuitive singer/songwriter with a ready grasp of what makes for a compelling melody and a telling storyline. This latest outing, which finds him again performing under the banner of Cold Satellite, has him sharing songwriting duties with poet Lisa Olstein, while relaying the results in a full band format. Gone for the most part are the tender ballads of past efforts, and in their place, a series of gritty, hard-rocking songs of surprising intensity, similar in stance to Crazy Horse or the Black Crowes in their edginess and outpour. This isn’t the first time Foucault’s adopted the Cold Satellite moniker to define his darker dimensions -- a 2010 album of the same name helped pave the way -- but Cavalcade is the effort that finds him digging in deeper with songs like the riveting “Elegy (In A Distant Room)” and the blues infused “Necessary Monsters” helping to ensure that visceral edge. While some may be shaken by the darkness and defiance, others will appreciate the lengths to which Foucault goes to drive hime his delivery. A decidedly bold effort that packs a remarkable wallop, Cavalcade is easily his most stirring set yet. (www.coldsatellite.com)

Peter Lacey

(Pink Hedgehog)
Britain’s ever-relentless tunesmith, the cheery Mr. Lacey, further pursues his delightful obsession with sun, fun and the Beach Boys via his latest, a lush and lovely EP that taps the rather obvious influences of Brian Wilson and his clan’s vintage Sunflower and Surf’s Up period. All the elements are here -- hushed harmonies, a morning glow and, in opening track “In A Golden State of Mind,” unabashed reverence for the mystical pull of California. The three part medley “Heyday/Slump/Closing Time” taps into dear Brian’s orchestrated ambitions, but a one-off collaboration with frequent Wilson collaborator Stephen Kalinich brings the connection ever closer, although oddly enough, the track that results, “Our Light,” is the sole offering that breaks the mould. Otherwise, Grinmace is pure bliss, good vibrations all round. (www.pinkhedgehog.com)

Eric Bogle with John Munro

A Toss of the Coin

Revered folksinger and traditional troubadour Eric Bogle currently resides in Australia, but his vast musical expanse casts a wide world view, one that draws from storied iconic influences. Over the years, he’s produced an ongoing series of sepia-tinged musical heirlooms, all filled with emotional resonance and rugged tales suitable for hearth and heart. This time around, Bogle teams with John Munro, former front man for anthemic Scottish folk rockers Runrig, and the results are every bit as stunning and stirring as one would might expect. Chock full of weathered ballads (“Ashes,” “Absolution”) and songs that probe the depth of human feelings and frailties under the most trying of circumstances (“Home is the Hero,” “In Flanders Fields,” “Glory Days”), the melodies have the ability to leave the listener on the verge of tears. Within these tender tales -- drawn from Ireland, Scotland and other parts of the British Isles -- there are universal truths that never fail to touch the tattered minstrel in us all.  (www.ericbogle.net)

Sweet Dreams and Quiet Desires
(Real Gone Music)

Although they pretty much escaped notice at the time, Borderline could be considered in the same category as Poco, Pure Prairie League, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and other early ‘70s outfits that made the headlong plunge from rock ‘n’ roll to country and never gave a glance back. Sadly though, after releasing only a single album -- the wistfully titled Sweet Dreams and Quiet Desires -- the band disappeared without a trace here in their homeland, although a second set of songs, aptly dubbed The Second Album, was recorded and posthumously released in Japan. Had more people paid attention, Borderline could have risen up the ranks and set a precedent for today’s Americana expression, but as it was, various members of their conglomerate did find greater glories, specifically vocalist/guitarist Jim Rooney who would go on to gain a certain measure of fame as a noted Nashville producer. Perhaps more notably, the two albums served as a gathering for some noted guest musicians, among them bassist Will Lee, the Band’s Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, John Simon, Vassar Clements and Ben Keith. Those names alone would likely be enough of a lure to tempt the curious, but the fact that the music still stands up and both albums have been resurrected and released on a single CD makes its acquisition all the more essential. Borderline’s country rock may seem unremarkable in light of today’s cross-genre transfusion, but it remains a curio that’s still remarkably compelling. (realgonemusic.com)

Will Courtney

A Century Behind

(The Calla Lily Company)
Behind his mournful facade, Will Courtney offers pearls of wisdom. “Dreams don’t change, they adjust to the times,” he counsels on the austere opener “A Century Behind.” So while the title track to this low-cast seven song EP clearly sets the tone, Courtney also goes about expanding upon his somber reflections throughout. “I’d Have To Be Crazy” finds him musing thusly: “I’d have to be crazy to stop singing, And never play my music again.” Indeed, given the pristine sounds he offers herein, he makes a convincing case for sticking with his muse. Courtney’s hollow-eyed balladry seems downcast at times, but the spare accompaniment -- mostly acoustic guitar modestly dappled with pedal steel, dobro, piano and violin -- nicely accommodates his thoughtful repose. Courtney applies a tender touch, but it leaves a strong impression in its stride. (www.myspace.com/willcourtney)

Terry Allen

Bottom of the World

Nobody expresses regret and remorse better than Texas troubadour Terry Allen. One of a rarified group of singer/songwriters from the Lone Star State, Allen is in the same league as Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jerry Jeff Walker and other revered, hard-bitten desperados whose music defines, and is defined by, their dusty, panoramic environs. Songs such as “Four Corners” and “Bottom of the World” are richly descriptive road narratives, covering a wide expanse of rugged terrain, while “Wake of the Red Witch” and “John Wayne is Dead” foster the same weighty, world-weary despair. Likewise, “The Gift” takes what appears to be typical father/son rumination to a tragic and sinister conclusion. Still, the most poignant of all these reflective soliloquies is “Queenie’s Song,” a lament for Allen’s dog, who was shot by a local showing off his gun. Animal lovers, take heed – the lyrics alone may bring you to tears. Skip ahead if you must, but definitely don’t stop there. The brilliant Bottom of the World resonates like pure poetry. (www.terryallenartmusic.com)

Laura Smith

Everything Is Moving

Canadian songstress Laura Smith takes her cue from the music that emanated from the British Isles, specifically the sounds of the Scottish Highlands and Ireland’s gilded shores. With perfect pitch and pure expression, her voice recalls the angelic tones of Judy Collins, Sandy Denny and Joan Baez, especially in the way she composes grand old anthems borne from traditional templates. The songs can be heartbreaking -- “I Built a Boat,” “Horse and Plough,” and “The Blues and I” are all infused with angst each in its own way -- but the sheer, stirring emotion she evokes ensures nothing less than a compelling encounter. Though she often sings of tragedy and despair, Smith is a stoic presence, with songs that urge their listeners to rally from adversity and meet those headwinds straight on. That makes Everything Is Moving an ideal introduction for those heretofore unfamiliar with her work, and like all good introductions, it encourages newcomers to check out each of her earlier efforts as well. Expressive and evocative, Everything Is Moving deserves to be considered a candidate for folk album of the year, an adroit blend of both ageless reverence and contemporary interpretation. In a word, Ms. Smith is superb. (www.laurasmith.ca)

Brian Dolzani
If I Didn’t Speak a Word

Brian Dolzani’s melancholy musings are remarkably affecting, and while he sometimes seems as if he’s in a perpetual state of yearning -- if not mourning -- his relationship worries are easily relatable to anyone engaged in the long distance quest to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. On songs such as “Reason,” “Whether Or Not,” and “I’m Sorry Now.” Dolzani struggles with the heartbreak and heartache that all too frequently derail the path to love and happiness. As in any relationship, the emotions are often contradictory; although he’s able to find a hint of optimism following a big break-up in “Not As Lonely,” mostly he wails about remorse, regret and despair in the songs surrounding it. “You have grown tired of being with me and I can’t say I blame you,” he admits on the nakedly confessional “Broken.” Happily though, Dolzani is a skilled songwriter who’s able to turn even the most pessimistic circumstances into a scenario worth singing about, with melodies that are eternally engaging, and, on more than one occasion, even soothing and seductive. Check out the lovely “Before Goodnight” as but one example. Dolzani will hopefully find the happiness he longs for, and we can only hope that he documents that journey as effectively as he’s confronted it here at the outset. (www.briandolzani.com)

Blue Cartoon
Are You Getting On?
(Aardvark Records)
Blue Cartoon has yet to catch on as far as any wider recognition is concerned, but those in the know will attest to the fact that their brand of catchy and compelling power pop has always been something super special. There are plenty of pretenders to the retro rock throne, but Blue Cartoon have consistently shown what it takes to rise above the fray. One would think they’d keep on doing what they do best, but with the aptly titled Are You Getting On?, the band bravely veers from their patented formula and ventures into realms which might seem somewhat beyond their comfort zone. That’s admirable of course, but those who have become familiar with their past MO might be a bit unnerved at their current turn towards a more progressive stance. The lush harmonies and deliberate pace of “Gray Horizon” offer the first hint of this decidedly different tack, but when they wrap things up with “The Primrose Path” and its obvious nod to Yes and Genesis, it’s apparent that Blue Cartoon is fully committed to taking a more adventurous track, at least for now. On the other hand, the instant appeal of songs like “Only Cowboy in Timbuktu,” “Dreaming Beautiful Songs” and “Pity Party” ensures the faithful have no reason to fret, because Are You Getting On? demonstrates that their melodic instincts are clearly intact. (www.bluecartoon.com)

Drivin’ N’ Cryin’

Songs From the Psychedelic Time Clock

(New! Records)
The latest instalment in a series of EPs devoted to different subjects and themes, this latest set of songs pursues the exact tack its title implies, taking listeners in a musical time machine back to the hallowed days of the late ‘60s, when mind expansion, sitars and celestial sensibilities were all the rage. Tracks one and two -- “The Little Record Store Just Around the Corner” and “Metamorphcycle,” respectively -- set the tone with opening shots of adrenalin, but the lovely “Upside Down Round and Round” and the mind-bending “Sometimes the Rain (Is Just the Rain)” affirm the fact that the band are well situated to tackle this surreal circumstance. While an ability to engage in all matter of cosmic creativity is clearly evident, Songs From the Psychedelic Time Clock is more than mere parody, but rather a commendable vehicle for Kevn Kinney and company to complete a well-deserved comeback of their own. Genre tapping aside, it’s outstanding indeed. (www.DrivinNCryin.com)

Paper Bird

A seven piece communal combo consisting of two brother/sister pairings, Paper Bird demonstrates a remarkable diversity throughout this ten song set. At times, the instrumental weave and vocal blend bring to mind a sound akin to Paul Simon’s epoch Graceland, although a song like “Blood & Bones” offers the populist appeal of prime Grateful Dead. Mostly though, this Denver-based band excel at being a mellow back porch conglomerate, part bluegrass, part soothing ensemble. Songs such as “Seaside Lullaby,” “Just Sing” and “Through These Days” emphasise that ability, their lilting lullabies infused with a unique homespun sensibility. Given their varied arrangements -- it’s not surprising to find trumpet given equal footing with banjo and acoustic guitars -- Paper Bird defy easy description. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t deter anyone curious about an initial introduction. Paper Bird not only aims higher, but they actually seem to soar. Lilting, graceful and incredibly impress, Rooms is a most commendable effort indeed. (www.paperbirdband.com)

JL Stiles

House of Murmurs
Though relatively unknown, JL Stiles makes a powerful impression, even at the outset. While a title like House of Murmurs may seem somewhat suspect, the songs contained herein are anything but. Opening track “All in a Day” provides some breezy bossa nova horns and immediate assurance that Mr. Stiles is likely to be more the affable type. That fact’s confirmed by all that follows, particularly the sturdy sounds of “Spring Light of Day” and “Song Beside My Grave,” two songs that seem to take a cue from troubadour tomes of decades past. The occasional introspective melody notwithstanding -- the somber “Frostbite Falls” being the most obvious example -- Stiles offers a carefree sound supported by tasteful embellishment, assured performances of considerable consequence. Even a quiet guitar ramble like “Movin” comes across as genuinely agreeable, thanks to Stiles’ plucky fret work and the chirpy backing vocals. Engaging and unpretentious, Stiles proves his mettle in a manner that’s most unobtrusive. “I’m just a man of simple faith/I’m just a man who’s found his place,” he sings on the song “Simple Faith,” and judging by what he offers throughout this delightful eleven song set, it’s easy to take him at his word. (www.jlstiles.com)

The Chapin Sisters

A Date with the Everly Brothers

(Lake Bottom Records)

The concept seems a natural… one pair of siblings covering songs by another pair of siblings. It’s ideal in fact, and the Chapins’ sisterly harmonies certainly do our Everlys’ justice. Nevertheless, the prospect of retracing such familiar material has its upside… and its downside as well. On the one hand, while the songs guarantee instant appeal -- not to mention the familiarity that accompanies such revered classics – it doesn’t necessarily mean the remakes will work. Given the high bar cast with the originals, the Chapins had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, they pull it off with aplomb, rendering such songs as “Crying in the Rain,” “Cathy’s Clown,” “Love Hurts,” and the rest of these superb standards with the proper amount of nuance and sensitivity. They’re so effective in fact, that the gender switch is hardly noticeable. Great songs, superb harmonies… This Date provides a perfect pairing. (www.theChapinSisters.com)

Echo Bloom



It’s difficult to adequately describe the spectacular sound Kyle Evans manages to evoke under the moniker of Echo Bloom. Utilizing little more than a grouping of magnificent voices, and coupling them with barebones instrumentation, this ensemble offers proof positive that more can be done with less. Consequently Evans and company provide a stirring and soaring series of songs that can’t be defined by any word other than “awesome.” There’s a reverential quality that sweeps through the acapella opener “Annunciation” and continues to grace the eight tracks that follow. Indeed, a glance at the list of credits might suggest a cast of thousands, what with the violins, viola, French horn, autoharp, cello and other forms of orchestration listed along with Evans’ own multi-instrumental arsenal. Credit this imaginative arranger with ensuring a subtle sound that emphasizes celestial harmonies, thoughtful melodies, a theatrical flair and high ambition. Clearly, originality is Evans’ strong suit, and with Blue he’s made a masterpiece. (www.echobloom.com)

The Nadas

Lovejoy Revival

(Authentic Records)

It’s ironic that a band that bears such an unassuming moniker would make such exceptional music. So exceptional in fact, that they could provide a blueprint for all the elements that make a genuine Americana sound so engaging. One need look no further than the note-perfect harmonies that grace opening track “Star Crossed,” a vocal blend so ideal it gives Crosby Stills and Nash a run for their money. And then there’s the heartbreak etched in songs such as “Meant To Be” and “Visitor,” emotions so vivid and persuasive they can’t help but make an indelible impression. Also check out the riveting “Honor,” a weathered but resilient rocker that demonstrates their feistier expression, For further evidence there’s their remarkably sturdy take on the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” which makes the verdict inarguable -- this is a band with the savvy and know how to become way better known than they are. Of course, to those that have followed their progress to date that’s no extreme revelation; they’ve demonstrated that expressive ability on every album they’ve offered up until now... one reason that their’s is a catalog well worth accumulating, and quickly. Clearly, the Nadas ought not be negated. Lovejoy Revival offers a sound worth celebrating. (www.thenadas.com)

John Batdorf and James Lee Stanley

All Wood and Stones II

(Beachwood Recordings)

Having each etched individual identities as venerable folkies over the past couple of decades, James Lee Stanley and his collaborators -- first, Cliff Eberhardt and now, John Batdorf -- have found viable common ground by banding together for a series of covers albums in which they render venerable rock classics with acoustic accompaniment, thus creating something new and unexpected out of the already familiar. Their third entry in this series, a revisit to the Rolling Stones catalogue they tapped on the first All Wood and Stones recording (they’ve also applied similar treatment to the work of the Doors), finds them culling classics they missed the first time around, and coming up with equally intriguing results. While it may be hard to imagine “Miss You,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Get Off My Cloud” and “Sympathy for the Devil” rendered with the tenderness usually associated with coffeehouse pickers, the covers somehow work, in part because they retain the signature riffs -- albeit it toned down or slowed down -- and partly because they bring the lyrics into clearer focus. In fact, eliminating Mick Jagger’s arrogant snarl goes a long way towards bringing out the poetry and nuance in words most of us have wrestled with in the past. So while there’s little reason to suspect these versions will ever become the standard fare, at least as a curiosity they do provide an interesting respite. (www.allwoodandstones.com)

The Looking

Songs for a Traveller

(Astraea Records)

The latest album by The Looking is a decidedly somber affair, one that draws from a number of traditional tunes and well-worn standards, all of which help purvey those darker designs. And yet with familiar favorites like “900 Miles,” “Black Is The Color,” “Ol Man River,”“Wayfaring Stranger” and “Long Black Veil” playing a prominent role in the song selection, it would be easy to label them as just another cover combo. Happily then, the band’s ad hoc leader and musical director Todd Carter treats these tunes with appropriate reverence, while also making it clear he’s happy to add some edgier elements to the mix. That overriding attitude ensures the fact that The Looking offer something of their own, giving Songs for a Traveller the individual stamp that’s obviously needed. Ultimately, it’s an album worth a modest investment, if for no other reason than to introduce yourself to a new generation of Americana insurgents determined to follow a road of their own choosing. (www.thelooking.com)

Stephen Kellogg

Blunderstone Rookery


While Stephen Kellogg’s present separation from his superb band the Sixers is indeed unfortunate, all concern is immediately mitigated by Blunderstone Rookery, an excellent example of Kellogg’s powers of songwriting and delivery. Despite hints of Springsteen, Petty, Steve Earl and, in his mellower moments, Tim Eastman and Jackson Browne, Kellogg remains his own man, whether ripping through a rowdy rebuke like “The Brain Is A Beautiful Thing,” offering the poignant reflection etched in “Ingrid’s Song” and “Thanksgiving,” or engaged in rugged romps such as “Lost and Found” and “Forgive You, Forgive Me.” “I Don’t Want To Die On The Road” and “Good Ol’ Days” are especially telling, autobiographical narratives of sorts that reflect on the hard realities which accompany Rock ‘n’ Roll ambitions and aspirations. Kellogg would seem far too young to harbor such concerns and indeed, there’s such obvious resilience etched into his melodies that any regrets he maintains seem moot. That’s but one reason why Blunderstone Rookery comes across as such a remarkable record, and one that will inevitably yield greater rewards with each successive hearing.(www.stephenkellogg.com)

Jeff Finlin

My Moby Dick

(Dent Wheel Records)

Over the course of his prodigious career, Jeff Finlin’s parched, aching vocals have consistently distinguished him from the competition, making his album mini-epochs filled with drama, anguish and the kind of emotion rarely conveyed by melody alone. Finlin’s one of a kind, an artist with a unique ability to express himself in ways that make his experiences leap out of the speakers and resonate with their listeners. As the title of this latest outing might imply, My Moby Dick is no exception, a collection of tracks with somewhat sinister overtones (particularly the first song,“Walking On Air” and the ominous “Killed Myself Last Night”) that also show resilience shining through (“Woke Up Inside a Revolution,” “Going Nowhere”). Sitars fit easily alongside pedal steel, all adding to the ambiance, but it’s that voice -- like a weary meld of Captain Beefheart and Nick Cave -- that ensures the intrigue. Ultimately, this is an album that’s all but impossible to listen to with indifference. Compelling songs, a striking delivery and a sense of foreboding find it taking instant command.The listener is well advised to let it do just that. (www.jefffinlin.com)

Arlon Bennett

World of Possibility

(Red Sea Records)

Optimism reigns supreme throughout Arlon Bennett’s aptly named latest offering, World Of Possibility, as manifest in its sparkling melodies, shimmering arrangements and a sound that recalls James Taylor at his most engaging. Every song is an absolute joy to behold, and the touching sentiments that adorn “Question For Einstein,” “Sal,” “A Friend Like You,” “Even When She Cries” and “The Christmas Tree On Salem Street” resonate with bittersweet emotions that manage to bring both a smile and a tear. Bennett has a wonderful gift of pure positive expression, and on this new set of songs he puts those gifts to good use. The songs are memorable, the sentiments are embracing, and Bennett himself is in superior form. This is music that tugs at the heartstrings, baring feelings that are universal and endearing to all but the most icy hearted. In short, World Of Possibility is the kind of album destined to find a hallowed place in any album collection, particularly for those that still savor the sounds of the early 70s, when singer/songwriters were plentiful and good vibes were still being cast. It can’t be recommended highly enough. (www,arlonbennett.com)

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