Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute to the Rolling Stones
The idea of low-gazing roots rock combos revisiting classic tracks from the Rolling Stones catalog may seem like an unlikely pairing, but credit rookie label Reimagine Music for pulling it together seamlessly. Following a similar tribute to Bob Dylan offered up last year, the company has upped the ante in terms of name-value and gathered some of alt-country’s more impressive – if consistently hushed – voices -- among them, Matthew Ryan, the Great Lake Swimmers, Cowboy Junkies, Hem, Blue Mountain, Giant Sand and the Handsome Family, making this a collection of considerable merit. Still, the transposition would seem befuddling were it not for the excellent choices made by the participants. Although a handful of better known tracks are included (“Wild Horses,” “Paint It Black,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”), it’s quite the stroke of genius to emphasize more obscure entries like “Streets of Love,” “Before They Make Me Run” and “Coming Down Again,” all of which seem open to rediscovery. Likewise, the Stones’ flirtation with Americana, transposed via songs such as “Moonlight Mile,” “Sweet Virginia,” “Wild Horses” and “Faraway Eyes” find an ideal connection with the downcast delivery so prevalent here. An excellent compendium, this is one tribute that’s absolutely essential.
The Long Weight
Three albums on, Kip Boardman continues to take his cue from some obvious forebears. His lithe, airy approach often brings to mind Paul Simon, especially with album opener “All Fall Down” and the soulful sway of “All That Bad” a few tracks on. Given a careful ear, hints of Michael Frank and Stephen Bishop surface also, underscoring Boardman’s penchant for gentle, breezy melodies and a quiet, restrained pastiche. Nevertheless, Boardman is obviously invested in his material, and the pretty piano ballad “This Too Shall Pass” and the supple sway that cushions “Wind Is Restless” demonstrate the fact that austerity and authority need not be mutually exclusive. Besides, Boardman has a knack for surrounding himself with skilled players and here again, The Long Weight proves no exception, with both Eric Heywood and Jay Bellarose credited among the musicians. The curious can dissect the double meaning in the title and come to their own conclusions, but it only takes a single listen to recognize that The Long Weight is definitely worth any indulgence.
Hoots & Hellmouth
Face First In the Dirt
A feel-good combo that blends the authenticity of rustic, down-home country with an upstart, feel-good attitude, Hoots & Hellmouth are an engaging outfit clearly at home at folk festivals, the local tavern and all sorts of other spontaneous gatherings. Their music possesses a natural spark and spontaneity that shines through in this four song EP, a stop-gap of sorts meant to assuage fans prior to their next full-length which is due this fall. The swampy “Threadbare” provides a good example of their denser textures, but it’s the upbeat, back-porch feel of “Returning in Pieces” and “Picked Up by the Root’ that best exemplify their populist appeal. Likewise, “Antebellum Tree” provides the best connection to authentic Americana in its tender trappings. Inevitably, Face First In the Dirt leaves fans eagerly anticipating their next move.
Maxim Ludwig & The Santa Fe Seven
There may be a certain amount of angst undercutting Maxim Ludwig’s hard-bitten anthems, but on songs like the ringing “Hudson Valley Blues” and “Big Black Train” – two tracks that in a perfect world, would ensure the band’s immortality – the unbridled energy and clear conviction are undeniable. The band’s tough yet tender sentiments inform practically every note on this noteworthy debut, coming across in ways reminiscent of the Band and Tom Petty with all their attendant issues and emotions. “Dead Ringer” and “Don’t Hold My Hand’ hint at a troubled psyche, a tenuous disposition that also affirms the darker side of remorseful ballads like “Paradise Cove” in particular, a song in which every note seems to linger only inches from an abyss. As a result, the band’s heady, deliberate approach demands to be taken seriously and suggests that Ludwig is a voice of consequence worthy of garnering serious attentionm and in fact, future anticipation as well.
Days of the Greats
Ad Vanderveen might hail from the Netherlands, but don’t be mistaken; his ties to Americana are remarkably engaged. Days of the Greats documents his earliest encounters with the American mystique, the title track recounting an early visit to Canada and a glimpse across the border to realms where JFK and Clint Eastwood held sway over the world’s imagination. Vanderveen’s easy, reflective musings give the album a breezy accessibility, and on tender ballads like “No Way to Quit” and “Grow Old With Me,” his charming demeanor is all but irresistible. He occasionally takes his cues from others, as evidenced by the ragtag folkie ruminations of “How Free,” which brings Gordon Lightfoot to mind, and the tempestuous underpinnings of “Slippin’ Past” which echoes Neil Young in full frenzy. Still Vanderveen is at his best when he relies on his own devices, an MO well established after several solo albums, various efforts in the company of Iain Matthews and an early stint with his band, the O’Neils. A formidable talent who’s been waiting in the wings, Days of the Greats offers the possibility of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
(Lonely One Records)
Knoxville Tennessee has become quite the wellspring of Americana talent in recent years and Matt Woods is one of those young up and coming artists that typify the talents that hail from those eastern Tennessee realms. Woods has several strong previous albums to his credit, but his latest effort, appropriately tiled Manifesto, may prove to be his strongest record yet. Its dozen songs effectively sum up his strengths – a gritty, relentless energy that reflects some blue collar leanings, a determination and drive manifest in his resolute melodies, a rugged alt-country regimen that incorporates fiddles, double time rhythms and Woods’ edgy, authoritarian vocals. The songs take hold quickly, from the ragged deliberation of “Days of Walking” and the raucous, unbridled enthusiasm of “Friday Night,” to the hard luck tale of a ne’er do well named “Johnny Dupree.” Manifesto is Wood’s masterpiece and a strong indication that this talented singer/songwriter has the smarts and savvy to achieve all his ambitions and even more.