Lee's Listening Stack - More of the Best of the Rest

Rob Picott
Welding Burns

 Admittedly I’m playing a bit of catch-up here, because technically Welding Burns was released at the tail end of 2011. Still, this time next year, anyone reading this can feel free to remind me that I predicted it would emerge as one of the best roots/folk/Americana efforts of this year. Picott’s been plying his craft for quite awhile now, and sadly, too few people have taken notice. Which is all the more reason why this latest offering makes for such contender. Picott’s sandpapery vocal, a knack for creating an unavoidable hook and his consistently supple arrangements work in perfect tandem throughout, and with as ideal a supporting cast as one could wish for – Will Kimbough, Amanda Shires, Paul Griffith and David Henry being among those assembled herein – it’s an album that’s bound to find a ready home on your I Pod or disc player for a very long time come. “Black T-Shirt” is simply drop-dead gorgeous, while “Little Scar” and “Rust Belt Fields” provide viable contenders for that distinction as well. Likewise, the rugged blue-collar anthems “Sheetrock Hanger” and “Welding Blues” are equally affecting. A wonderful record in every regard, it demands you check it out. Now. (www.rodpicott.com)


Michael Carpenter

Michael Carpenter & the Cuban Heels
By Request, Volume 2

Astonishingly productive, Australia’s Michael Carpenter seems to have developed a proficiency for tapping cover tunes and turning them into a factory industry all his own. Once a sidebar to his original material, his SOOP series (SOOP as in Songs of Other People) has now climbed to number four in its trajectory, following a third volume released only a few months earlier. And with this second effort from his country-oriented outfit, the Cuban Heels, he seems intent on pursuing his retro obsession at least for the near future. He’ll find no quibbles here; Carpenter’s choice of source material is both eclectic and engaging. Like the earlier volume, SOOP#4 avoids the obvious, but still plucks from the wellspring of fond memories. Consequently, we get such tasty tracks as the Band’s “Stagefright,” the Waterboys’ “The Whole of the Moon,” “FM” by Steely Dan, and entries by big names that are somewhat obscure by comparison – “Getting Closer” by Paul McCartney and Tom Petty’s “Keep Me Alive.” Clearly, it takes a real fan to sort out those choces. The Cuban Heels’ entries stick to the same formula, balancing the Stones’ classic “Ruby Tuesday” with a song by the Monkees – and not even a likely choice at that – “Tapioca Tundra.” In Carpenter’s case, execution is everything, and these ready-stocked jukebox selections are practically as good as the real deal. (www.mcarp.com)


My Darling Clementine
How Do You Plead

Britain’s journeyman troubadour Michael Weston King turns up in a new guise as My Darling Clementine, a Johnny and June coupling with singer Lou Dalgleish that plucks the essence of classic country western sob songs. King’s lengthy discography – encompassing more than 15 years, albums with his early band The Good Sons, and nearly a dozen efforts on his own – has rarely found him remaining in one place too long. His last album, I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier surveyed protest songs by notable singer/songwriters from that genre. Likewise, How Do You Plead – its title a clever pun on the tendency for songs in this style to extract tears in the beer – may be his boldest move yet.  King and Dalgleish sing in strict southern accents that belie their English origins, and on such fiery and feisty offerings as “You’ve Found Your Man,” “I Bought Some Roses” and “Going Back to Memphis” the authenticity is astounding. If these were strictly covers that would be impressive enough, but the fact is that these are mostly King compositions clinches it as a mark of both dedication and devotion. Up until now, King’s popularity has been confined mainly to his homeland, but with How Do You Plead he’s gone the distance in terms of transplanting his tenacity to the heartland. (www.michaelwestonking.com)


Peter Lacey
We Are Sand
(Pink Hedgehog Records)

Despite a sound that originates from the English hinterlands, Peter Lacey bears a clear fascination with America’s Left Coast via a sound that emulates the clear-voiced harmonies and intricate arrangements of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. Lacey’s latest is no exception, especially as evidenced in the overdubbed vocals that resonate through the conclusion of “Drinkin’ in the Sunshine” and “There’s a Feeling.” Being a virtual one-man band, Lacey’s instrumental dexterity is enough to cause wonder, but his ambition is also extraordinary, and the clever spoken bits  that punctuate the proceedings – think the Moody Blues’ early works --make We Are Sand more an audio adventure. Fortunately, the songs are strong enough to override any confinement to context, and the joyful ebullience provides the unifying factor throughout. Lacey’s homegrown circumstance belies the complex circumstance and over-the-top pretense that places the material in the context of a fictitious radio broadcast, turning the album into yet another work of wonder. Whether or not Lacey will ever be discovered by the world at large remains a matter of conjecture, but anyone that’s fond of English whimsy and invention will find him a most worthy resource. (www.pinkhedgehog.com)


Jeff Larson
Russ & Julie’s House Concert

Recorded a year ago at a house concert in California, Jeff Larson finds yet another opportunity to prove he’s one of the most underrated singer/songwriters applying his craft today. Larson’s studio efforts have always been astute examples of melodic marvels, songs that sound timeless and embracing even on first hearing, and the fact that he’s a close associate of the band America makes perfect sense. Whether strummed simply on guitar or graced by supple keyboards, Larson is a pop purveyor in the classic sense. Here, stripped down to nothing more than guitar and harmonies, the songs still sound radio-ready from the get-go, a fact borne out by the shimmering exuberance of “Hey!” and the gentle lilt of “See It fall,” “Approaching Midnight” and “I Don’t Mind the Rain.” Soft-hued and harmony driven, the music recalls the classic California sounds of the early ‘70s without sounding like they were directly tapped from the sources. Excellent isn’t a strong enough adjective to describe Larson’s talents, and one can only hope that the rest of the world eventually discovers that which this intimate audience has already enjoyed. (www.jefflarson-music.com)


Tatiana Kochkareva

Tatiana Kochkareva may not have a name tailor made for the marquee, but her assertive presence allows her to make a bold mark regardless. Her latest effort boasts a presumptive title, but it’s chock full of gravitas and desperation, songs that ring with intensity and foreboding right from the start. The titles suggest something of a melancholy mood – a pensive “Man of Tormented feelings,” the surprisingly rousing “Downville Town” and the soothing “Can’t Sleep” in particular – but fortunately, Kochkareva plys her craft with careful consideration and an authoritative presence. Likewise, keyboards and harmonium dominate in circumstances fleshed out solely by drums and bass, enhancing the didactic template. In a very real sense, darkness becomes her – ironically, one of the tracks is titled “Don’t Dim the Lights” – but her agile melodies, vibrant vocals and clear command of the proceedings make her a must-listen, from Infinity to beyond. (www.tatianakochkareva.com)


Lincoln Durham

Lincoln Durham’s whiskey soaked vocals offer up the image of a hard-bitten, backwoods rambler whose circumstances have never been easy and whose determination to overcome the odds is no less deterred. Produced by Ray Wylie Hubbard, a musician who’s always been at ease with ramshackle scenarios, theshovel[vs]thehowlingbones makes for an auspicious debut, a swampy set of blues and bluster that as intimidating as it is incisive. Durham sounds like an Americana cousin of Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers, and his arched melodies find the two men treading common ground. On songs like “Mud (Puddles)” and “Drifting (Wood),” he combines sinewy rhythms and gritty bottleneck guitars with an insurgent attitude and an edgy, unapologetic delivery. Durham’s uncompromising stance isn’t for the faint of heart, but those that favor the darker corners of the heartland will likely be enthralled. (www.lincolndurham.com)


Jim Cuddy
Skyscraper Soul
(Warner Music Canada)

Blue Rodeo is a national treasure in their native Canada, but to their neighbors down south, they’re only marginally successful in terms of overall awareness. That’s a shame, given their considerable pedigree and a penchant for churning out heartfelt anthems that can wring out the emotion in both stadium settings and small club environs. One need only listen to their latest album, The Things We Left Behind, to bear that out. The same can be said of Jim Cuddy’s latest, Skyscraper Soul, the latest of several solo albums that have emerged from the band’s realms. It must have been difficult to determine which songs would go toward this individual outing and which would be saved for the band, especially given that such entries as “Regular Days,” “Watch Yourself Go Down,” “What Is So Wrong” and the title track show there’s no fall off in terms of credible, compelling performances. Here again, the material takes hold on first encounter, a riveting set of songs that’s destined to get thousands of air guitars primed and ready for play. Yet, Cuddy’s no poser or pretender; his songs are always heartfelt and sincere, as is evidenced by poignant ballads like “Everyone Watched the Wedding,” “Ready to Fall” and “Don’t Know That Much.” As always, he seizes on the sentiment and allows it to resonate with an investment of genuinely affecting emotion. That honesty is affirmed in his delivery – sweeping, stirring and still flush with nuance. Stated succinctly, Skyscraper Soul represents a singer/songwriter at the peek of his prowess. (www.jimcuddy.com)


Noam Weinstein


After half a dozen albums under his own auspices, Noam Weinstein has established a singular reputation as a confident and oftentimes quirky singer/songwriter. The cover of his latest disc -- showing him in a boxer ring hand in hand with a referee – attests to that notion, but as with his past releases, Weinstein’s newest set of performances is all but irresistible. The emphatic and intoxicating pulse of “Birthday,” “Healthy” and the percolating stroke of “Kill Me Again” reflect an absolute emphasis on pure pop perfection. Catchy, concise and delivered with emotional underpinnings, Clocked is melodic and memorable, sung from a vulnerable first person perspective. Charm rather than chance is the key element here, as Weinstein nails every hook and shades his songs with rich melodic tapestries helped along by producer Mike Viola, a respected pop auteur in his own right. Weinstein is another example of someone deserving of wider success, and whether or not he achieves it will inevitably be due to factors having nothing to do with talent, because clearly his skills are more than sufficient. There are songs here that could be eventually be seen as standards if they reached enough willing ears. Hopefully then, there’s plenty of time for Weinstein the clock the attention he deserves. (www.enoam.com)


Anna Coogan
The Wasted Ocean

In the liner notes to her latest album Seattle singer/songwriter Anna Coogan said that after spending a summer in Alaska, she spent three weeks last February relearning the traditional songs she listened to in her youth. Inspired by that exercise, she then took a month and wrote some original material based on the sea shanties and traditional tunes she rediscovered these many years later. The result is a breathtakingly beautiful collection that sounds like the songs she intended to emulate, all brittle ballads and tales of lament driven by the inspiration of old wayfarer narratives. Yet even those who know nothing about whaling ships and pitting mind, body and spirit against the ocean’s fury will be able to embrace the sentiment that shines through here. “Blood on the Sails,” “Come the Wind, Come the Rain” and “Come Ashore, Love” ring with a harrowing heartbreak that’s cinematic in style and yet intimate in the finer details. Fans of folk music – particularly as recorded by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Stan Rogers and the Clancy Brothers -- will find welcome harbor here. (www.annacoogan.com)


Hired Hand
Hired Hand
(Fake Four) 

It wasn’t that long ago that South Florida’s  Jim Wurster was trumpeting the latest in a series of superb solo albums, Straight To Me, an effort that provided a harrowing glimpse at Americana’s dark side. Wurster has never been a stranger to those darker environs; his early efforts with the band Black Janet first established him as a prodigious artist with a flair for drama and intensity. His later work with the Atomic Cowboys found him newly concerned with country music, a style that clearly found him equally as adept. That said, Wurster’s new project, Hired Hand, might be his most striking work yet. Recorded with his stepson Bud Berning’s band SkyRider, its origins go back nearly a decade, derived from an incident that turned into a terrible tragedy. As Wurster tells it, Berning used his 2002 summer break from college to embark on a road trip that would take him from Oregon to Central America. During the Mexican segment of the journey he was involved in a horrible accident that resulted in him suffering multiple fractures, including shattered bones in his legs, forehead and cheeks. Not surprisingly then, the result is an album that’s as tortured and tumultuous as the scenario that preceded it. With a full band in tow - Wurster on vocals and guitar, Berning on bass, guitar, keyboard, and percussion, William Ryan Fritch playing a multitude of other instruments and John Wagner on drums - the new music combines dense psychedelic undertones with Wurster’s ominous invocations. Songs such as “Cold Wind,” “Dark Skies” and “Suicide Soliloquy” maximize the foreboding manifest in those titles with a dire despair reminiscent of Nick Cave, Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen at his most morose. And yet, its also an inspiring record, one that finds redemption in its beautiful coda, “There’s a Reward” as well as its otherwise upbeat intro, “Queen of My Heart.”  An ideal record for today’s uncertain times, Hired Hand reminds us that revelation and inspiration can be found in even the worst of circumstance. (www.fakefourinc.com)

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Tags: Anna, Blue, Carpenter, Clementine, Coogan, Cuban, Cuddy, Darling, Durham, Hand, More…Heels, Hired, Jeff, Jim, King, Kochkareva, Lacey, Larson, Lincoln, Michael, My, Noam, Peter, Picott, Rod, Rodeo, Tatiana, The, Weinstein, Weston, Wurster

Comment by Independent Music Promotions on January 25, 2012 at 9:11am

Especially enjoy the Noam Weinstein and Hired Hand material(quite dark stuff). Thanks for the post!



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