Lee's Listening Stack -- Fourteen Solid Picks to Start Off the Year!

Jenee Halstead
Raised By Wolves
(self-released)

With Raised By Wolves, Jenee Halstead ascends fup the ladder leading to well deserved admiration, thanks to a clever spin of her melodic sensibilities and a voice that never fails to absolutely entice. In practically the same breath, she goes from a woozy swoon (“Rodeo of Sadness,” “Bitten By the Night”) and a seductive sway (“Havana Dress”) to an electric pulse (“Get Good With It,” “Garden of Love”) or a sound that simply soars (“Never Another”). She accomplishes these vocal acrobatics with such supple grace that one never gets the feeling she’s overtly attempting to show off or impress; that she manages to catch attention with such subtle intents is a another mark of her skill and suggestion. Halstead is a true chanteuse, a hypnotic performer well deserving of a substantial audience, and once she is discovered, appreciation is bound to following. Raised By Wolves finds this emerging artist already fully matured. (www.jeneehalstead.com)

Susan Werner
Belong
(self-released)

Susan Werner’s been around for a while, but sadly she’s stayed on the fringe of public awareness. An enticing singer/songwriter who’s uniquely gifted at crafting lush, seductive ballads and tunes that recall certain centuries-old traditions, she rarely opts for the expected, making each of her outings both fascinating and intriguing. Belong follows suit, an album chock full of vibrant ballads and songs that range from Brecht-like narratives (“Lullaby of Manhattan”) to quiet, caressing old school folk (“Delph”) and even a clip-clop tango (“City of the Roses”). Somehow it all seems to... well... belong, and Werner’s swoon and sway continues to resonate with unabated confidence. She proves unfailingly seductive and convincingly evocative, whether sharing the vocals on “On the Bridge to Williamsburg” and “Everything We Had Was Good,” or stripping down the sentiments on the gloriously emotive “The Cure For Me.” That sense of joy and confidence remains consistent throughout, and proves how worthy of wider recognition Werner really is. (www.susanmckeown.com)

Jamie & Steve
Imaginary Café
(self-released)

It’s unclear whether this superb third effort from Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel, AKA Jamie & Steve, is really a live effort or the place of fantasy alluded to in the duo’s line notes. While applause can be heard at the inclusion of the title track, the remainder of this six song disc provides further examples of the pop perfect designs the duo purvey in their day jobs as members of the well accredited retro rock combo the Spongetones. Indeed, each of these songs make an immediate impression, from the Beatle-esque designs of “Imaginary Café” and the jaunty bounce of “Gold Mine” to the dramatic flourishes of “Tokyo Sleeping” and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of “We Two.” Indeed, all these tracks reflect the pair’s penchant for brilliant Anglo-infused melodic designs that brim over with effusive hooks, radiant harmonies and the sort of irresistible refrains that linger long after the disc leaves the player. And really, what could be better? (www.jamiehoover.net)

Tokyo Rosenthal
Tokyo’s Fifth
(Rock & Sock Records)

For those unawares, it’s best to set the record straight early on. Contrary to what his moniker might imply, Tokyo Rosenthal is not the brand name of a Jewish sushi service. Nor is it a Japanese-American business venture of any sort. In fact, it belongs to a supremely gifted Americana auteur with an impressive catalogue of alt-country/folk recordings deserving of far more attention than they’ve achieved so far. Still, the axiom that states it’s never too late to latch on to a good thing proves true here once again; Tokyo’s Fifth is not only a fine introduction, but a superb sampling of his rootsy regimen as well. Whether it’s the mournful strains of “Killaloe,” a fiddle-fueled hoedown like “Mulberry Place,” a south of the border serenade in the form of “The Immigrant,” or the totally unexpected Bluegrass reinvention of the Beatles standard “Helter Skelter,” Rosenthal proves his ability to get under the skin after only an initial encounter. Tokyo’s Fifth is one of those albums that instantly elevates its author to the upper echelons on his craft, and if, in the future, he’s mentioned alongside the likes of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell, this album will likely be the reason why. (www.tokyorosenthalrecords.com)

Big Wreck
Albatross
(Anthem/Zoe)

It’s been nearly a dozen years since Big Wreck’s last album, and while there’s no ready reason for their absence, it does seem the band spent the time wisely by tightening up their sound. They also might have been holed up with their record collections, because much of Albatross’ hard rock banter sounds as if it was written with Van Halen, Journey and Styx in mind. There’s a real crunch and thump embedded in songs such as “Head Together,” “All Is Fair” and “Rest of the World,” almost to the point where it might be considered headbanger material. Sandwiched in-between however, are several songs that could be considered a real respite -- whether its the acoustic shimmer of “Time” and “Albatross” or the sunny mandolin of “Wolves” and the sunny strum of “Glass Room.” In truth, those are the numbers that really stand out over-all and make Big Wreck seem anything but. (www.bigwreckmusic.com)

Dan Stuart
The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings
(Cadiz Music)

Ex Green on Red lynchpin Dan Stuart comes out with new albums only infrequently, which makes any new release a rather auspicious event. Happily, The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings proves the wait was well worth the anticipation. Now residing in Mexico, Stuart offers his most accessible effort yet, one filled with glorious ballads, easy rockers and at least one enduring anthem in the stirring “What Are You Laughing About?,” easily the album’s most indelible imprint. Co-produced by former bandmate Jack Waterson, whose own output is sadly scarce of late, the album offers several other keepers as well -- the good-natured and Dylan-esque “Gap Toothed Girl,” the pop perfection of “Gonna Change,” the turbulent undertow of “Clean White Sheet” and the slow and solemn “Love Will Kill You,” among them. And that’s only for starters. It’s hard to imagine what Stuart’s been doing during his time off, but suffice it to say The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings provides a welcome return, one that’s inspired and enticing as well. Highly recommended and an essential acquisition, to say the very least. (www.marlowebillings.com)

Alex Wise
Blurred
(self-released)

The discovery of the year? Who knows at this early junction, but clearly Blurred is an easy contender. Never mind the fact that Wise released his debut a decade ago and has remained conspicuously silent ever since; Blurred is the kind of album that commands immediate attention. Opening track “The Rule of Joy” is prefaced by sweeping piano and a world weary vocal that suggests its author measured all different aspects of what the title suggests. Other tracks purvey the same solitary stance -- “Someone Else Like You,” “Blurred” and “Don’t Slip Now” among them -- but that doesn’t mean Wise isn’t capable of raising a ruckus. “Blame on My Shoulder” has him affecting a Keith Richards-like slur for a rough hewn rocker that offers proof he’s more than just another lovelorn crooner. Besides, few other artists could cover Steve Forbert’s signature song “Romeo’s Tune” and pull it off like it’s his own/ Likewise, the arrangements are penetrating and precise, veering from tropical rhythms to lounge-like serenades and even a hint of funk and R&B. Blurred is assured, the stunning example of why Wise is well worth watching. (www.alexwise.com)

The Lonetones
Modern Victims
(Little Thing Records)

The Lonetones (not to be confused with the Lovetones, a dissimilar power pop outfit), hail from Knoxville Tennessee, a hotbed of incredibly vibrant music and home to rootsy combos of incredible aptitude. Modern Victims is the first offering from this immensely talented five piece and an auspicious intro at that, an album that sounds more like the product of a band with at least a decade under their collective belts, certainly not a group made up of novices or newcomers. Sweet and joyful at every turn, it casts melodies as sweet as honey and tunes every bit as beguiling. Whether it’s the soft shimmer of “Missions,” the rugged, resilient folk-like burnish of “Unprepared” or the catchy acoustic riffing of “Alone,” the band seems to have emerged fully formed and solidly structured from the get-go. Fiddle, mandolin and quiet harmonies play a prominent part in the proceedings, making songs like “Shame” and “Loosely Based” sound something like an Appalachian revival meeting. Yet,  the tradition they tap becomes only part of the overall equation; these engaging encounters could be considered radio-ready regardless of the environs.  To say this is an outstanding effort doesn’t even begin to describe it. (www.thelonetones.com)

Bill Mallonee
Amber Waves
(self released)

I daresay there’s no musician more consistently brilliant and yet at the same time more consistently overlooked than the brilliant Bill Mallonee. As prolific as he is proficient, the onetime leader of the equally astute Vigilantes of Love continues to fly below the radar despite an ever growing catalogue available solely from his website. Look there and the number of offerings is practically overwhelming, each a worthy acquisition for anyone aspiring to be a completist. Now the focus turns on his latest, the utterly compelling Amber Waves, a collection of rugged heartland anthems that strikes an instant impression. Whether it’s the Dylan-like strains of “It Was Always Autumn in My Heart” and “Walking Disaster,” the bittersweet lament “Once Your Heart Gets Broken (It Just Keeps on Breaking)” or the sturdy and sweeping title track, Mallonee -- as always -- seems incapable of hitting a bum note, or, for that matter, crafting a melody that’s anything less than instantly memorable. Calling Amber Waves an instant classic is hardly hyperbole. The fact is, the same can be said about anything in his vast catalogue. The world ought to start catching up, and Amber Waves is an ideal place to start. (www.volsounds.com)

Eric Lichter
Elks in Paris
(Diamond Market Records)

Taking a rare respite from his day job with the magnificent Green Pajamas, multi-instrumentalist Eric Lichter and ace producer and Posie Ken Stringfellow have fashioned an album that’s already destined to be distinguished as a sleeper of the year and, more importantly, something that already sounds like a near classic. Veering away from the Pajamas’ semi psychedelic sound and into classic pop realms, Lichter shapes an audio travelogue and precise narrative filled with bright, evocative imagery and obviously astute arrangements. Songs such as “Subway to the Sun,” “Back to the Best,” “Coroners Motel” and “Fantastic” convey an unmistakable glow through their vibrant, effervescent melodies and lyrics so precise they might have come from the pen of Ray Davies or a younger Paul McCartney. Hopefully the flood of kudos Mr. Lichter will inevitably receive won’t lure him away from his longtime colleagues, but there’s little doubt that it’s already destined to stand up as an album for the ages. What a sumptuous treat! (www.elksinparis.com)

The Salim Nourallah Treefort 5
Hit Parade
(Tapate Records)

If Salim Nourallah added nothing more to his resume than his stint as producer of the Old 97s, chances are his credentials would still be complete. So the fact that he also has a budding solo career only serves to bolster his credibility. Unlike some of those that sit behind the boards and then venture out to record on their own album as a sideline or a lark, Nourallah is as much a singer and songwriter as he is a musical architect. All those traits come together in his various individual outings, and never more so than in the aptly titled Hit Parade, a glorious example of his pure pop craft.  Here again, unmistakable traces of Ray Davies come to the fore, with hints of Paul McCartney, Ron Sexsmith and various Anglophile influences surfacing throughout. Mostly he keeps things sounding gentle and genteel, as evidenced by the title track, “The Quitter” and “Friends for Life,” but he does show his fiercer side as well, seeming to ape the Who on “Everybody Knows.” Still, for all the retro references, Nourallah never opts for predictability; a supreme craftsman, he shows the skill and savvy that he applies to efforts he oversees by others. An accompanying EP, Friends for Life, makes a fine companion piece, further proof that Nourallah is  a superb pop practitioners who deserves his own turn in the spotlight. (www.salimnourallah.com)

Ancient History
Tracks
(self-released)

Ancient History, the alter-ego for one Donald Ducote, creates an eerily intriguing sound, a series of celestial soundscapes that provide a haunting visage. By turns ominous and surreal, the music is strangely entrancing, a spectral creation that can be bleak or beautiful depending on one’s perspective. Ducote’s hushed vocals leave a lethargic effect, but when the band proffers a spunky pulse, as on “Subway Dreams,” or builds the pace unexpectedly, as is the case on “Eskimo,” the results are both sensual and sublime. Unlike other cosmic concoctions of this sort, the tunes aren’t several steps removed; in fact, there’s a feeling of forward progress that pervades each one. Ultimately Tracks defies description, given Ducote’s imaginative setups, but after a thorough hearing, the melodies become oddly intoxicating. It’s for that reason Tracks is well recommended. After all, in its own way, Ancient History could be considered past perfect.

Parson Red Heads
Yearling (Deluxe Version)
(Second Motion)

The Parson Red Heads is a band destined for greatness. That’s apparent not only in their sound but in the influences they bring to bear, namely a classic southern California sTYLE that also gives its nod to early country rock crusaders. Think the Beach Boys meshed with the Byrds and Burrito Brothers, cushioned by gentles harmonies and the soft cushion of pedal steel guitar. These are melodies that take hold on first encounter, with song titles like “Burning Up the Sky,” “Hazy Dream” and “Peace in the Valley” offering a hint of their spectral sensibility. Ironically, “Unemotional” proves the most emphatic effort here, a song full of resolve within an unapologetic syntax. Nevertheless, instant accessibility is all but guaranteed, thanks to a pleasingly persuasive sway that wafts through a gentle middle ground. Ultimately, Yearling is an album that will call for repeat listens in to fully appreciate the full sweep of its charms, but now, expanded by a full six tracks, the reasons for a revisit is all the more persuasive. A classic album waiting for due appreciation, Yearling is consistently outstanding. (www.theparsonredheads.com)

Anders & Kendall
Wild Chorus
(NMR)

Like Johnny and June, Dolly and George or Gram and Emmylou, Anders & Kendall know how to sing rings around one another and make it sound sexy and sweet. Anders Parker, formerly the mastermind behind the band Varnaline, is the veteran here, but Kendall Jane Meade makes it clear she’s also a genuine contender. No wonder then that Wild Chorus stays true to its title, thanks to a series of sensuous and spunky duets. There’s a knowing style shared between the two, and the chemistry that comes to the fore on songs such as “Let’s Get Lost,” “Can You Forgive Me” and “Dreamers on the Ground” makes it seem like this pair of lost souls have been in search of one another for years. At very least, it suggests that the duo have been singing together for a very long time. In fact, that’s not far from the truth; although Anders and Parker share billing here for the very first time, Kendall has loaned her vocals to every album Parker’s been involved with since the start of his solo career. Consequently, a joint offering is clearly long overdue. Let’s hope it won’t be their last. (www.andersandkendall.com)

Views: 1326

Tags: &, Alex, Amders, Ancient, Big, Bill, Dan, Donald, Ducote, Eric, More…Green, Halstead, Heads, History, Hoover, Jamie, Jenee, Kendall, Lichter, Lonetones, Mallonee, Nourallah, Pajamas, Parker, Parsons, Red, Rosenthal, Salim, Spongetones, Steve, Stoeckel, Stuart, Susan, The, Tokyo, Werner, Wise, Wreck

Comment by Tom Semioli on January 31, 2013 at 2:42pm

Excellent reviews Lee! 

Comment by Kevin Nordlie on February 1, 2013 at 6:20am

Believe the link for Susan Werner is the wrong Susan.

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