Lee's Listening Stack -- Fab Picks for February, Part One

Nataly Dawn
How I Knew Her
(Nonesuch)

Being half of a duo called Pomplamoose hardly ensures immortality, but now, by venturing out on her own, Nataly Dawn finds new life as a solo artist of considerable merit. Quirky in a winsome sort of way, Dawn offers up a dozen autobiographical vignettes that bring to mind the unorthodox appeal of Kate Bush, Tori Amos and others of that ilk. Backed by an all star band that includes several high-profile session players, Dawn proffers a series of loping washboard melodies, each endowed with a spunky, plucky, undeniable charm. The skittish “Arcaceli,” the loose and loping “Leslie’ and the ragtime rhythms of “Caroline” are propelled by expressive indulgence, and with her chipper attitude and modest designs, the music proves both effusive and incorrigible. Likewise, when she goes into a smooth croon and supper club chanteuse-like persona on “Still a Bleiver” and “Even Steven,” Dawn’s playful persona expands that much further.  All told, How I Knew Her finds the process of getting acquainted proving quite a pleasure. (www.natalydawn.tumblr.com)

Brown Bird
Fits of Reason
(Supply and Demand)

Brown Bird has been garnering quite a buzz of late, having made the rounds of the major folk festivals and received the kudos of some major acoustic music pundits in the process. While many initially suggested they were a Bluegrass bunch in disguise, their new albums veers more towards a gypsy sound and sensibility, with songs like “Bow for Blades,” “Iblis”and “The Messenger” mining a stealth-like sway, complete with guitar, fiddle and exotic rhythms. Had they settled for a traditional stance, Brown Brown would likely have made a strong impact regardless, especially given their intricate instrumental interplay, but the fact that they’ve opted to veer towards darker realms further affirms their mystique. Only two albums on, the band has already established a distinct sound, one that bodes well for future endeavors. Clearly, this Bird can soar. (www.brownbird.net)

Tim Lee 3
Devil’s Rope
(Cool Dog Sound)

Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee have to be the most capable rock ‘n’ roll couple around. Tim’s steely demeanor and Susan’s patented posture accompany a tough, tenacious swagger that perfectly accommodates their stripped down sound and elevated amplitude. On the no-nonsense Devil’s Rope, the duo -- along with drummer Chris Bates -- steers their punk pose into ‘80s New Wave and Garage Rock terrain, full of agitation, defiance and a cool, confident repast. Susan Lee’s vocals are better than ever; having evolved from strictly a support role, she’s grown into a commanding lead singer, incorporating both edginess and nuance into a delivery that occasionally brings to mind Joan Jett, Patti Smith and Susanna Hoffs, even without directly referencing any or all. Clearly “Jet Boys,” “Open the Door,” “Devil’s Rope” and “Says Baby Strange” are destined to make superb staples of their live set. There’s little doubt that Devil’s Rope will further the Tim Lee 3’s collective reputation as gritty, groovy purveyors of supreme Rock revelry. (www.timleethree.com)

Blue Sky Riders
Finally Home
(3 Dream Records)

Kenny Loggins successfully reinvents himself by teaming with fellow troubadours Georgia Middleman and Garr Burr to bring a band sound to his upbeat endeavors. Finally Home often recalls his earlier pop MO, particularly on such effusive, upbeat entries as “I Am a Rider (Finally Home),” “You Took All the Words (Right Outta My Mouth)” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me,” as well as the harmony-drenched “Another Spring” -- all of which could have been plucked from Kenny’s first album with future co-conspirator Jim Messina. While rumour had it that the band was intended as a Bluegrass entity, it clearly hasn’t worked out that way. Still, it does serve to temper Loggins’ commercial excesses by giving equal time to the well-hewn talents of Middleman and Burr, both of whom prove up to the formidable task of complementing Loggins’ pop perfect technique with savvy songwriting of their own. No wonder then that Middleman’s “Little Victories” and Burr’s “A Thousand Wild Horses” represent two of the album’s better ballads. So too, credit veteran producer Peter Asher, the man behind the board for so many Southern California prototypes, for polishing off all the rough edges, and a seasoned musical support team for helping to hew the sound to near perfection.  Highly recommended to Loggins fans old and new. (www.blueskyridersband.com)

BoDeans
Amped Across America
(self-released)

The archetypical American journeyman combo, the BoDeans have begun anew following the departure of co-founder Sammy Llamas. Happily then, the band’s other guiding force, Kurt Neumann, has wasted no time in regrouping, and the proof is here for perusing on Amped Across America, the latest live album from a band that was tailor-made for the concert stage. The BoDeans have always been best at providing anthemic sing-alongs, and here they’re given full throttle, thanks to the inclusion of such standards as “You Don’t Get Much,” “Good Things,” and, natch, the tune that qualifies as their signature song, “Closer to Free.” And yet while Amped Across America fully encapsulates the energy and exhilaration so essential to the band’s musical motif, it’s also clear the group’s still evolving and moving forward. Fiddle fueled Celtic carousing, hints of R&B and swampier sounds have clearly intruded on the band’s otherwise relentless MO. And while Neumann naturally takes center stage, it’s also clear that his fellow musicians have been fully integrated into the fold. Consequently, this new double disc serves as a definitive statement that recaps their past, defines them for the present, and gives a hint as to where they’re headed. (www.bodeans.com)

Pal Shazar and Jules Shear
Shear/Shazar
(self-released)

There’s a certain advantage to having two superb singer/songwriters residing under the same roof. For one thing, it can yield an album as wonderful and remarkable as Shear/Shazar. And for another... well, frankly, that first reason alone is enough to convince. Husband- wife duo Pal Shazar and Jules Shear have long since proven their individual credence, but now, officially pooling their talents for the first time, they’ve created an elegiac album of ornate chamber pop performances -- soft and subdued, whimsical and reflective. The carefully crafted arrangements yield a host of treasures -- the delicate yet radiant string-laden sound of “Passion Flowers,” the effervescent glow of “The Mermaid of Lake Hollywood,” the fiddle fueled finesse borne by “See That Star” being but a few examples. Indeed, this is an album that begs you to lean in; both artists demonstrate the supple ability to create magical melodies and then delicately deliver them with the gentle grace that’s decidedly their due. One would be well advised to go back and explore their individual musings, but for those needing incentive, one listen to this charming endeavor is the best encouragement we can offer. (www.shear-shazar.com)

Noah Earle
A Ghost in the Attic
(self-released)

He may share the surname of certain alt-country insurgent – one whose first name is Steve – but Noah Earle couldn’t be any more different. Nor does he resemble Steve’s offspring, Justin Townes Earle, although it’s likely the two are fairly close in age. Indeed, Noah Earle has pursued his own musical path, one that’s generally as thoughtful, but yet far more agreeable than the two gentlemen with whom he shares his last name. A Ghost in the Attic, the most recent album he’s released under his independent auspices, reflects an artist with a clear confidence and a knowing stance. Yet even when he conveys the gravitas of a song like “A Lark Before the War,” there’s no sense of hostility or alienation. Earle’s Midwestern roots may have something to do with this amiable attitude, one that occasionally positions him with some unlikely circumstance (i.e. the jazzy barstool croon of “The Lonely Side of Town” and the Spanish sung “Semillas”).  Indeed, for all his hummable melodies and personable precepts, there’s an underlying edge that gives Earle decided substance. Ultimately, that’s the thing that qualifies A Ghost in the Attic as a highly haunting encounter. (www.noahearle.com)

Annie Dressner
East Twenties
(independent)

Following up her full-length debut of a couple of years back, Annie Dressner offers up a winsome four song EP graced by gentle melodies, her soft, child-like vocals and the supple arrangements that help seal this delicate delight. U.S. born but now residing in the U.K., Dressner is a folk poet par excellence, a singer/songwriter who’s adept at turning feelings of loss and longing into tender odes to romance and resolve. The song titles -- “Heartbreaker,” “I Can’t Forget,” “Lost in a Car” -- sum up the mood succinctly, but where desperation and despair might otherwise prevail, Dressner never resorts to self-pity. Instead, she emphasizes their more tender trappings and emerges unscathed. Here then, is an able auteur whose career is off to an excellent start. (www.AnnieDressner.com)

Brad Mackeson
1945
(self-released)

 One would expect that an album titled 1945 would bear its share of retro references. What one wouldn’t expect is that it would be the product of a 23 year old musician taking his first proper outing. Well, not quite his first… two years he scrapped what was intended to be his debut, and deemed it unsatisfactory, a highly unusual move for an artist still trying to get his bearings. Little wonder then that Mackeson could be considered something of a perfectionist, a feeling that floats over every note of this album, from the swelling choruses of “Thousand Drums” to the hard bitten balladry-turned rousing revelry of “Seein’ Ghosts. Mackeson has clearly absorbed some revered influences, whether it’s stoic Americana of “Feeling Like America” and dogged shuffle of “Rooftop” or the Lennon-esque wail and ELO-stringed embellishment of “Lonesome Feeling.” Mackeson claims 1945 was written with his grandparents in mind – 1945 being the year that World War II ended, when they fell in love and subsequently migrated to America – but regardless, the sentiments shine beyond that soft sheen of nostalgia and help these songs resonate all the more than effectively. (www.bradmackeson.com)

Rich Mahan
Blame Bobby Bare
(Snortin Horse Records)

Rich Mahan ought to know a thing or two about what makes an album awesome. For a time, he worked on the other side of the biz, peddling his company’s wares to radio. As an artist, he seems to have learned his lessons as well, because what we have here is a series of spirited rave-ups in a classic country tradition. While the album title cites Bobby Bare as cause, other legends could be singled out as well -- Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Willie Nelson and Carl Perkins among them -- particularly in terms of the irreverent attitude that informs it. Mahan delights in serving up his otherwise unintentional blunders -- his encounter with a randy waitress (“Hills of South Dakota”), his mother’s discovery of his drug use (“Mama Found My Bong”), a parable about delving in drink (“Tequila Y Mota”), a lover’s fascination with his apparel (“Favorite Shirt”) and a girlfriend fascinated by celebrities (“Put a Little Lovin on Me”). His off the cuff delivery suits these songs well, given the predominance of piano and a  carousing country delivery. (www.richmahan.com)

Kacey Johansing
Grand Ghosts
(self-released)

 For her sophomore set, San Francisco’s Kacey Johansing offers up the same amorphous mix she provided with her debut. Describing her sound as an unlikely combination of Joni Mitchell’s ethereal narratives and the symphonic strains of Smile-era Beach Boys may be the best bet when it comes to establishing a point of reference, but in truth, these everyday analogies are still inadequate. Whether it’s the calming tones of “River” (which makes the point she can nick one of Mitchell’s song titles without having to feel remorse) or the bucolic strains of “Disappearing Act,” Johansing makes any pat comparison somewhat irrelevant. The pluck and swoon of “Enemy” and the easy lope of “Pinecone” give a more personal feel to the proceedings, a gentle caress that proves a perfect respite from everyday duress. Definable hooks won’t be found in obvious abundance, but then again, the vivid arrangements point to the profundity of the proceedings. Given the evidence contained herein, Johansing appears to be one to watch. (www.kaceyjohansing.com

Nicholas Altobelli
Without A Home
(Dalton Records)

What a lovely dissertation! Produced by the great Salim Nourallah, a superb solo artist in his own right and the man behind the boards for the Old 97s, Without a Home boasts a series of sublime, wide-eyed narratives, each powered by subtle refrains, quietly engaging melodies and the sort of sentiments that automatically elevate them to pop perfection. Altobelli may be a newcomer, but his instincts are spot on; with songs like “Glitter,” “I Don’t Think Tonight Is Going To Be a Good Night,” “Never Enough” and “Over My Head” he retraces the same wistful terrain usually trod by Ron Sexsmith, Steve Forbert, Josh Ritter and others who are often found kneeling at the throne of one Ray Davies. That is to say, Altobelli possesses the same self-demurring attitude as those others -- modest, reserved and oftentimes understated, and yet he’s still adept at pulling out brilliant hooks and indelible imagery. Consider Altobelli one brilliant discovery and an artist to look forward to hearing again and again. Spot on! (www.nicholasaltobelli.com)

Tim Mahoney Band
Shine Through
(self-released)

Truth be told, Tim Mahoney’s no fresh-faced newcomer. A product of Minneapolis’ vibrant music scene, he’s been making music for more than a dozen years, although the world at large seems to have totally passed him by. That’s a shame -- even though he demonstrates as to why the major labels are seemingly so oblivious to new talent, he’s produced album after album of stirring sounds graced by adept execution. Mahoney’s a pop-rocker supreme, and while his songs would make ideal radio fodder, he never stoops to rehashing the same old tired cliches and overused inanities. Songs such as “Put A Line There,” “Wanna Know About You” and “Heart Attack” demonstrate the fact that the traditional pop template still has much to offer when in the hands of a musician who knows how to milk every nuance and make the most of a stirring refrain. Likewise, his take on Jackson Browne’s oft-covered “These Days” is nothing less than a revelation. Shine Through is the latest in a series of exceptional efforts Mahoney has proffered over the years, and one more reason why he ought to be embraced and appreciated sooner rather than later. (www.timmahoney.com)

Tarmac Adam
The History Effect
(self-released)

Bassist Nick Seymour proved there’s pop life left after Crowded House, and with The History Effect. he demonstrates that indeed history need not repeat in order to score success. This Aussie quartet’s only similarity to Crowded House -- other than the presence of Mr. Seymour of course -- is a natural affinity for catchy hooks and pleasing melodies. However, in their case, they show some folkier strains, as evidenced by the gentle opening pluck of “Chalk and Slate” and the beguiling vibe and sweet delivery of “Bygones.” Consequently, it’s also clear that name-dropping isn’t necessary; clearly Tarmac Adams has well positioned themselves for this, their sophomore set. In fact, the lush arrangements bring to mind Deacon Blue, Aztec Camera and the Smiths to some extent, in that they’re all dreamy and desirable. Maddy May’s guest vocal on “You As Me” further affirms their sensual designs and the fact that this band deserves consideration as unsigned act of the year thus far. It’s rare to find such proficiency from some unexpected quarters. (www.tarmacadam.com.au)

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Tags: 3, Adam, Annie, Band, Bird, Blue, BoDeans, Brad, Brown, Dawn, More…Dressner, Earle, Joahnsing, Jules, Kacey, Kenny, Lee, Loggins, Mackeson, Mahan, Mahoney, Nataly, Noah, Pal, Rich, Riders, Shazar, Shear, Sky, Tarmac, Tim

Comment by Joseph May on February 22, 2013 at 9:16am

  Thanks for the info Lee didn't know that BoDeans was out there. 

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