Lee's Listening Stack -- Fifteen Album Choices For The End Of October

Bedhead and Blondy
Down South
(independent)

It’s tempting to compare any male-female duo possessing a down home sensibility to Johnny and June, Gram and Emmylou, Porter and Dolly etc., but to their credit, Bedhead and Blondy, AKA Jay Studdard and Fran Jackson, make it fairly clear they don’t want to be lumped in with anyone else. Theirs is a sassy sound that’s bred with a cool confidence that’s readily apparent on every song herein. Jackson’s vocals purvey a swampy, sensuous style that quickly comes across in early entries like “Merry Go Round (Bummer)” and “This Time Tomorrow,” but when the duo sing in sync on a song such as “Hearts,” the back and forth give and take between the two conveys the ideal synergy.  Down South is an apt title, given the music’s smoky southern sway and the pair’s naturally unhurried approach. A sleeper of a record, it’s one with the potential to gain added momentum even as it discreetly reveals its charms. (www.bedheadandblondy.com)

The Blueflowers
Stealing the Moon
(independent)

The combination of an ethereal atmosphere and Kate Hinote’s diva-descriptive vocal creates a rather cinematic soundscape on this, the band’s impressive third outing. This is an outfit that’s visceral as well as suggestive, and though the arrangements occasionally seem over the top, the net effect is often enticing. Tremelo effects and surf guitars add to the essence of songs such as “I Might” and “The Plan,” but overall descriptions are generally hard to come by. That’s due in part to Hinote’s larger than life presence; clearly, she’s the hinge that this band is anchored on. That’s especially evident on the album’s sole non-original, teh Pomus and Shulman standard “Surrender,” which milks its emotion and stunted setup for all its worth. Indeed, the Blueflowers   possess an extraordinary sense of style, one that elevates their approach and puts them on a platform of all their own creation. Whether or not Stealing the Moon makes good on the promise its title implies may be a matter of debate, but when it comes to at least aiming for the moon, there’s little doubt that the Blueflowers do indeed try. (www.theblueflowers.com)

Buffy Ford Stewart
Same Old Heart
(Global Recording Artists)

When John Stewart died in 2008, America lost one of its great songsmiths, a man whose music reflected the heart of  the nation in both spirit and its sensibility. Although Buffy Ford Stewart was only credited on two of the great man’s albums, she was there in spirit throughout his entire career, beginning with the music the two delivered during Robert Kennedy’s last campaign in 1968. It’s appropriate then that Buffy’s first album since John’s passing carries on his legacy, not only through covers of his songs – most, with the exception of “Daydream Believer,” lesser known – but through music of her own making that bears the same essential homespun sentiments. Same Old Heart couldn’t be a more appropriate title, because indeed these are sounds filled with honesty and humility. To her credit, she enlists a remarkable cast of supporting players – Roseanne Cash, Timothy B. Schmit, Kris Kristofferson, Pete and Maura Kennedy, and – on the aforementioned “Daydream Believer” -- the late Davy Jones, the man who sang it with originally with the Monkees. That’s a nice touch, and it also reinforces the bittersweet feel that envelopes the album overall. Buffy deserves kudos and appreciation for keeping her husband’s music alive for the rest of us to savor. (www.buffyfordstewart.com)

Peter Lacey
Worlds End Amateur Melodramatic Society Ball
(Pink Hedgehog)

For several years now, Britain’s Peter Lacey has bred a successful cottage industry via his independent Pink Hedgehog label and a series of albums that spotlight him as a crafty one man band with a decidedly affable point of view. Lacey makes no mystery regarding his influences -- Beatles, Badfinger, Beach Boys and all things having to do with a ‘60s sensibility provide his stock in trade. His latest, the tongue twistingly titled Worlds End Amateur Melodramatic Society Ball, is no exception, a treasure trove of freshly energetic tunes that might find Paul McCartney himself licking his chops in his eagerness claim them as his own. A listen to songs such as “Percy Cute” and the title track alone could easily induce a case of mistaken identity with Sir Macca if one were led blindfolded into the listening booth. Still, comparisons aside, Lacey’s ability to layer these dense arrangements and create such delightfully winsome and precocious melodies is impressive in and of itself, and as a result, this particular Ball is one worth attending. (www.pinkhedgehog.com)

Dylan LeBlanc
Cast the Same Old Shadow
(Rough Trade)

On first hearing, some all-too familiar references to Nick Drake may readily come to mind, no surprise really considering the moody croon and the arched, atmospheric arrangements. Nevertheless, on this, his second album following an equally superb debut, Dylan LeBlanc takes great pains to spin his own solemn soundscapes, an aching, darkly clouded pastiche that runs the gamut from the quite literal moan of “Part One: The End” and the parched repast of “Brother “ to the quiet sway of “Diamonds and Pearls” and the weary waltz of “Where Are You Now.” As one might deduce by now, LeBlanc is an unabashedly emotive singer, one heavy of heart and clearly capable of carrying a heavy burden, but these solitary soliloquies are also quite capable of luring the listener in and inducing him to feel those tattered emotions as well. Rarely has one so young affected such a bittersweet journey, as well as one so clearly compelling. (www.dylanleblanc.com)

Ad Vanderveen
Driven by a Dream
(Blue Rose)

Ad Vanderveen’s penchant for pursuing rugged Americana has made him a reliable journeyman musician for the better part of the past 15 years, although his fame on this side of the Atlantic is far from assured. Nevertheless, the aptly titled Driven by a Dream offers ample reason why he deserves wider recognition. Songs such as “Time Has Told,” “So Happy I Could Cry” and “Will and Testament” reflect lessons well learned from the likes of the Band, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and other revered icons who are well skilled at dictating dark, dense narratives that resonate thoroughly even the first time around. Indeed, Vanderveen’s original material sounds like they’re standards, and when he actually tackles a tune that’s thoroughly well known -- Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” the sole cover included here -- he makes it sound as if it’s his own as well. The common bond throughout is Vanderveen’s ability to connect with both the subject matter and with those giving a listen, creating an indelible bond that finds these songs essential listening. And naturally, that’s reason enough to make this, not to mention each of his albums, worthy of recommendation.  A thorough recommendation that is.
(www.bluerose-records.com

Kevin Bowe and The Okemah Prophets
Natchez Trace
(Applause)

A journeyman rocker of the highest order, Kevin Bowe’s carved out a steady catalogue of burnished Americana over the past few years, both on his own and with his reliable ensemble the Okemah Prophets. Nevertheless Natchez Trace ought to be the album that will elevate a profile that still remains too far below the radar. A sturdy cross between Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and Band of Horses, with any number of Americana merchants that could be tossed into the mix, Bowe’s tunes are an earnest and oftentimes insurgent amalgam of roots rock and high, lonesome balladry. He’s also capable of tossing in a well-placed cover or two as well, in this case, a harrowing take on John Lennon’s “I Found Out” and Spirit’s “Nature’s Way,” which he manages to convey with admirable aplomb. Suffice it to say, this initial encounter begs repeated listenings, the familiarity in approach becoming more embracing with each successive hearing. These songs sound like they’ve been circling around in the ethos indefinitely, and with Natchez Trace, Bowe and company successfully lasso them down to earth. In a word, outstanding. (www.kevinbowe.com)

We Are the Woods
Whales and Roses
(independent)

Lovely and evocative, We Are the Woods’ hushed harmonies, twilight vocals and intimate melodies converge for a debut album that strongly suggests they’re a band worth watching. A previous EP, Eight Belles, gave guitarist Jessie Murphy the main billing, but here the band operates on all the same cylinders and produce a set so assured most bands wouldn’t realize its proficiency until several sessions on. Among the many standouts: the irresistible “Ghost Is the Color,” a giddy “Black Diamond, Pink Diamond,” the bracing “Subway” and the pop-pervasive “In the Library.” The songs are crisp yet precious, cheery with a slight hint of fairy tale charm. Murphy’s been cited for guitar prowess, but this isn’t a guitar album per se. Rather it’s an effort where ambiance and intrigue take center stage and that makes it one enticing escapade. This woodland journey is heartily encouraged. (www.wearethewoods.com)

The Piedmont Brothers Band
III
(independent)

As Barnes Newberry, radio host of the popular onlineprogram My Back Pages, states so splendidly in the liner notes accompanying the Piedmonts’ latest opus, Marco Zanzi and Ron Martin could very well be twins brothers by different mothers. With Zanzi hailing from the Piedmont area of Italy and Martin a native of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, their geographical divide seems insignificant in terms of the common bond they share through their music. Three albums on, these two players continue to extoll the virtues of classic Americana, as specifically by the Byrds, the Burritos, Buffalo Springfield, Poco and the various ensembles that sprung up in their wake. The references are more than merely a matter of emulation; aside from spot-on covers of Gene Clark’s “Full Circle,” the Byrds’ take on “The Christian Life” and the Burritos’ “Sin City,” they manage to elevate their credibility to impressive heights by actually enlisting some of the original players -- Richie Furay, Herb Pederson and Rick Roberts among them -- to share the spotlight. Not that they need the help; nearly every song in the set shows their skill in recreating that early country rock template. Rosella Cellamaro’s vocal on the lovely folk gem “This Love Will Carry” brings additional incentive, although it becomes clear from the outset no further persuasion is needed. (www.piedmontbrothersband.com)

Jeff Slate
Birds of Paradox
(independent)

It’s one thing to name drop, but it’s quite another to prove you’re worthy to keep their company. Happily then, Jeff Slate proves his acumen not only by surrounding himself with some familiar names (ex Wings Laurence Juber and Steve Holley chief among them), but crafting some fine material that allows them to show off their skills. Slate sounds like a seasoned player, and his songs come off as overly familiar even on his first hearing. He mostly sticks to the tried-and-true -- unabashed rockers like “Babylon” and “Baby Forgive Me,” easy, affable fare like “Lucky Day Sunset” and “Alone Together,” sweetly sentimental ballads such as “San Francisco Days” and “A Little Piece of Me” -- all hew to a well established template. It’s little wonder then that echoes of the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers are frequently filtered into the mix, offering immediate assurance that these songs are radio ready from the get-go. Well crafted and solidly set up, Birds of Paradox suggests that at this point Slate’s deserving of wider recognition. (www.jeffslate.net)

Session Americana
Love & Dirt
(independent)

A loosely assembled New England amalgram, Session Americana isn’t so much a band as a musical co-op built around guests who drift in and an out according to whim. Nevertheless, as Love & Dirt so ably illustrates, the band works extremely well in tandem, living up to their name with finely burnished ballads and frayed rootsy rockers. The one-two opening punch of “Down to You” and “Love Changes Everything” suggest the musky scent of backwoods collaboration and even the occasional derivation from form -- the Doors-like boogie of “Making Hay,” for example, offers the impression that they take their cues from indelible sources. There’s a sense of calm and confidence emitting from these sturdy grooves, all reliable riffing from a mostly weathered perspective.  Songs such as the homespun “Barbed Wire” and a rollicking “Beauty’s in the Eye” come across as stoic and well-heeled back porch narratives hewn with a carefree, freewheeling stance. So while their handle may strike some as too general an impression, they leave little doubt they’re deserving of the pedigree. (www.sessionamericana.com)

Bonnie Bishop
Free
(independent)

Finding common ground with white women blues wailers like Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Susan Tedeschi and others of that ilk, Bonnie Bishop stakes her claim to fame with Free, a seven song EP that bristles with unbridled energy and a soulful swagger. Bishop’s gritty rasp suggests she’s not one for tidy expression or postured pouting. Indeed, “Keep Using Me” and “Shrinkin’ Violet” launch the set with a raucous assault, but the title track that follows this volatile one-two wallop reveals Bishop’s more sensitive side as well. Likewise, “Best Songs Come from Broken Hearts” soars to a stunning crescendo by taking its cue from the mantra the title clearly conveys. Later, Bishop’s back to espousing unruly insurgence with “Bad Seed,” a tale about a young girl who’s clearly on the road to ruin. Not that Bishop’s being judgmental; she positions herself as an outcast railing from the outside in. Rugged, raw and filled with fury, Bishop offers up a bluesy bluster that’s unapologetically assertive. For those who find Ms. Raitt too tame these days and still lament the Janis’ premature demise, Bonnie Bishop may be the soulful sister that fills the void. (www.bonniebishop.com)

Ari Shine
Songs of Solomon
(independent)

With each successive effort, Ari Shine has gradually gained the respect and admiration of the Americana community, so much so than his new album, Songs of Solomon, has been nominated by Grammy voters for top honors in the Americana category. Shine’s weary, raspy delivery makes those nods seem a natural fit, but the material affirms that stance as well, all rustically adorned and zeroed in all the basics of hardships in the hinterlands. So while opening track “Ninety Nine” takes the protest route by railing about big money and power brokers, the optimism that weighs in from “Got a Song Coming to You” mitigates any sense of displacement and despair. Shine’s music dwells heavily in the realms of contemplation, but his honesty and emotion seeps through these threadbare narratives and strike an acute sense of immediacy. Pardon the pun, but it has to be said -- offering due attention to Songs of Solomon would be a wise choice. (www.arishine.com)

Forest Sun
Just Begun
(Painted Sun)

Forest Sun’s folk-centric style has transfixed the denim and patchouli crowd for the better part of the past dozen years or so, and it’s little wonder. Sun’s organic sound eschews most modern accoutrements in favor of acoustic guitars, mandolin, dulcimer and an unassuming homespun sensibility. With Just Begun, he makes an unlikely nod to hipper environs, recording at Tucson Arizona’s Wavelab Studios, home base to Calexco and the migrating destination for other artists on the cutting edge of alt-rock acceptance. Nevertheless, Sun’s populist approach remains undeterred, and the earnest sing-along style that characterises songs such as “Just Begun,” “Nostalgic Bells” and “Like Water in the Desert” gives the album an uncommonly agreeable appeal. Sun’s singing partner Ingrid Serban is largely responsible for this cheery disposition, and the duo’s obvious chemistry often makes this seem more like a natural pairing as opposed to Sun’s effort alone. Regardless, his old school approach -- all fresh and exuberant -- seems a throwback to an earlier era and that makes Just Begun an ideal intro for all those unaware. (www.paintedsun.com)

Fred Eaglesmith
6 Volts
(independent)

For the last 20 years or so, Fred Eaglesmith’s been the sort of tireless troubadour good for both a sly commentary and a heartbreaking lament. A kind of Canadian Everyman, his blend of folk and country is filled with wry observations and universal truths often portrayed from a somewhat cynical point of view. Eaglesmith’s new album is a perfect case in point, veering from an easy sway and shuffle (“Stars,” “”Betty,” “”Johnny Cash”) to darker tales of death and deceit (“Katie,” “Dangerous”), while taking in a Bruce Springsteen-like rumination (the title track). Eaglesmith’s scratchy vocals and frayed rhythms provide the common bond, and in listening to these sometimes subdued narratives, one gets the feeling they’re being dictated by someone who’s seen both truth and turmoil. Those unfamiliar with Eaglesmith will find this collection a good place to begin, but it’s only a beginning. It’s no surprise then that 6 Volts is all the spark needed to get things started. (www.fredeaglesmith.com)

Views: 825

Comment by Marco Zanzi on October 29, 2012 at 9:37am

Thanks so much Lee. Great review and great choices: I'll check them all!!!!
Keep up the great job!

Marco - PBB

Comment by Dennis McGough on November 2, 2012 at 5:49am

I mention this not to be critical but in the interest of accuracy. It should read Bedhed and Blondy not Beadhead and Bondy. One of the url's I found for them is http://bedhedandblondy.blogspot.com/. Thanks for taking the time to post these reviews.

Comment by Jay Studdard on November 6, 2012 at 8:38am

Thanks for the kind words Lee! And yep Dennis, our our blog site address is our official website....thanks for helping folks find it.....we should have thought more about spelling Bedhed the way we do.....the band name is misspelled more than not.....oh well, live and learn. Thanks again guys! Jay

www.bedhedandblondy.com  

Comment by Lee Zimmerman on November 6, 2012 at 8:46am

i did change the name though - Good stuff indeed!!

Comment by Jay Studdard on November 6, 2012 at 8:48am

Thanks!! :)

Comment by Jay Studdard on November 6, 2012 at 8:50am

But it's supposed to be Bedhed......(not Bedhead)......that's what I mean about it confusing folks! It happens around town a lot too!

Comment by Dennis McGough on November 6, 2012 at 8:57am

No matter how it's spelled I bought it and love it! It will definitely be among my Best Of for 2012.

Comment by Jay Studdard on November 6, 2012 at 9:03am

Hey Dennis! It pumps us up to hear from music lovers like you and Lee. It helps to keep us motivated to do what we're trying to do. Thanks brotherhood! Jay

Comment by Lee Zimmerman on November 6, 2012 at 9:08am

OH!! OK -will change later!

Comment by Jay Studdard on November 6, 2012 at 9:17am

Sweet...'preciate it man!  :)

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