With the leading edge of what promises to be yet another "storm of the century" beginning to push through the Hudson Valley this weekend, I could either finish season three of Downton Abbey on Amazon Prime, read a book, do more online job hunting, clean the apartment, eat food or listen to some new music. Of which there seems to be plenty of. I suppose I should open this with my usual pronouncement: There are over 100,000 new album releases each year, and 97,500 of them sell 500 units or less. Which means most of what is being created today goes unheard and unnoticed. Not an uncommon problem when you would walk into a large record store back in the day, but compounded now by a wild world of endless blogs and websites, internet retailers and radio stations, streaming and video options. Too many places screaming for our attention, and we come and go with the click of a mouse. So we seek out communities, such as here, where one might discover something from someone who tends to have similar tastes. Or if we're truly lucky, similar points of reference with different discoveries.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds/Push The Sky Away: This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of this band and this is the 15th release, not counting side projects. Hard to consider this Americana when they hail from Australia, but it has all the elements of a roots recording with the usual poetical lyricism one has come to expect from Cave and the stripped down guitars. Equal parts Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen, this isn't the bluegrass album you were hoping for I'm sure, but it's a deeply moving and thoughtful collection. Here's a video of "Jubilee Street":
Daniel Romano/Come Cry With Me: “The type of country that I like doesn’t exist any more. I’m not trying to save it, but in the back of my mind, I know it’s what country needs,” says Daniel Romano, who produces his own albums and plays nearly every instrument on his records. “What doesn’t make sense is why the songwriting is so bad. The production I can get past — it’s cheesy and stupid, but if the songs were good, it wouldn’t matter. Instead, the music has gone down the drain.” Compared to just about every single country icon of yesteryear you crave and love, from Hank to Buck to Merle, and to a more modern Gram Parsons ,this third album of his fulfills all the promises of his earlier work. Put this side by side with "Grievous Angel" and it would feel right at home. Another non-US Americana North American...he's Canadian.
Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer/Child Ballads: I just finished reading a review of this new album and not a word was mentioned of collaborator Hamer. Sitting on top of the heap of modern folkies, with her past accomplishments and future prospects, it's easy to think of this as a new Mitchell solo recording. But alas, it is a wonderful and charming set from two artists, and Hamer stands shoulder to shoulder with Mitchell in making this one of the finest recordings of recent vintage. Pulling songs from the Child Ballads collection assembled by the American folklorist and Harvard professor Francis C. Child, who published The English and Scottish Popular Ballads in five volumes between 1882 and 1898, most of them date from the 17th and 18th centuries, though the roots of several are much older. To be very, very clear...this is not a children's recording. No Barney or Sesame Street; no Jack no beanstalk.
Naftule Brandwein/The King Of The Klezmer Clarinet: Released by Rounder records in 1997, this is a new discovery for me rather than a new release. And it came from my college freshman son, who has had a Klezmer interest for well over a year now. I wanted something authentic to listen to, and he provided me with this one. Great choice. "Emreging from New York City's professional Jewish musical community in the early 20th century, this exceptional collection of remastered 78 rpm sides mostly issued for the first time between 1922 and 1926 demonstrates the melodic intensity of Brandweins improvisational style plus his trademarked weightless swoops." (Allmusic.com) Over in Brooklyn these days there's an interest among younger folks in this type of music, and Andy Statman is one of the leading performers. Great to dance to, and hard not to.
Jessica Pratt/Jessica Pratt: Released during Hurricane Sandy, this album from the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter exploded in the blogosphere, getting high marks and praise for its simplicity and a sound that many (I guess I will continue the trend) compare to the plethora of sixties female folksingers, with Joni often cited. "I’ve lived here for five-and-a-half years and have been playing music the whole time. I didn’t necessarily think that I was actually going to pursue [music] to its end and actually put a record out. The first couple years, I took it kind of half-seriously and didn’t really put all my effort into it, and then I kind of realized that that was stupid, and I should, so now I’ve been focusing really hard on it. I’ve only just ever played by myself. I’m kind of reclusive. I’ve only played a couple shows a year and all of the music I’ve played has been just me recording stuff at home. Like on the four track. It’s just been me by myself." (Fader)
Laneway/Turn Your Love Up: On all the year end lists of favorite 2012 releases, I seem to have been the only one that mentioned Laneway. An Australian couple, they put out a beautiful album of ballads, rockers and what I'd call old school cow punk. Not an easy album to find here in the US, I did discover that the mp3 is available for download on Amazon. They have a lovely bio, one of the most evocative I think: "Deep in the forested hills of the Natural Bridge, on the edge of an extinct volcano, amidst the speckled light of glowworms, tucked beneath damp and heavy air, hushed by the ripple of the spring fed creek is a cabin with a stone floor that is the home of Louise O’Reilly and Paul Hannan. Herein is the space where flowers in the hair, tapping of the boots, a swaying of the hips has been translated into the sound of the death of 1000 summers." They were awarded the prestigious honor of the Grant McLennan Memorial Fellowship in 2012, named after the GoBetweens songwriter and founding member, which sent them to Berlin for two months of study. In June Louise received a career development course from Berklee School of Music that came out of her involvement with the songwriting workshop Song Summit. If you're interested, there's music and videos to be found on the interwebs. Enjoy.