Lees Listening Stack -- Ten Terrific Albums Worth Listening To Right Now

Reagan Boggs
Quicksand
(Reckless Bess Records)

Reagan Boggs’s style comes from the same wellspring of heartfelt emotion, bittersweet reflection and bleak back porch desire that birthed great singers like Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wells, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris. Her voice is filtered through a mix of hard wrought emotion and soothing sensitivity, the kind that breeds great balladry and stirs the senses simultaneously. Quicksand is Boggs’ third album to date, but given the fact that up until this point she’s more or less lingered in the shadows, it ought to give newcomers the impetus to make up for lost time. While she mostly offers some somber readings – especially on songs such as the tellingly titled “On a Bad Note” and “Can’t Do Life” (which bears the lyric that gives the album its name) -- she does vary the template in some interesting ways. Her duet with Eric Brace on the Eddie Vedder song “Better Man” provides an unexpected twist in the tune’s point of view, while the robust read of her own “On My Own” demonstrates a poise and confidence that belies the more sobering settings. And when she declares “Things will change, people seldom do,” she imparts an obvious yet insightful wisdom that’s also well worth remembering. (www.reganboggs.com)

Leo & Anto
Flyin’ It!
(Shamtown)

Presumably a one-off side project by Saw Doctors principals Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlewaite, Flyin’ It finds the duo soaring solo, stripping songs down to the basics and plying all the charm they can muster. Combing a pair of Saw Doctors standards (the fairly obscure “Wisdom of Youth” and the achingly nostalgic “Clare Island”), it’s an unassuming album that finds its strengths in Moran’s affecting vocals and Thistlewaite’s ongoing tendency towards multi-tasking. Not surprisingly, it’s also rather laid back when compared to the labors of their day job, but with no new sounds or tour dates yet on the horizon for the band as a whole, fans should find it satisfying to the point where it can help fill the gap. Gentle and genteel, it’s just what the Doctors ordered. (www.sawdoctors.com)

 

Peter Lacey
Last Leaf
(Pink Hedgehog)

Sussex England’s favorite son, Peter Lacey, has always been something of a musical wunderkind, a one man music machine who turns every outing into something akin to an absolute spectacle. His reverence for Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys has always been apparent, given that each of his albums emulate the multi-layered harmonies and symphonic majesty typified by that band in all their late ‘60s splendor. Consequently, it’s a bit surprising to find Lacey scaling things back and revealing his folk roots. While the songs still retain his impeccable arrangements, the convergence of flutes, subtle strings and jazzier designs create a more pastoral impression. Indeed, songs such as “Gatekeepers,” “Country Mile” and “Sparrow” suggest a hint of Traffic in their early cottage days. It doesn’t get any lovelier than that, and even though Lacey veers more towards introspection this time out, the care and craft he’s always been known for still shine through. Last Leaf may be a new chapter in Lacey’s trajectory, but happily, it finds him as intriguing as ever. (http://www.pinkhedgehog.com/lastleaf.htm)

 

Fred Eaglesmith
Tambourine
(E-One)

Heralded as a genius of Dylan-like stature north of the Canadian border but still in need of greater appreciation here in the lower 48, Fred Eaglesmith takes a dramatic leap forward with the latest in a series of albums that stretches back over two decades. With an emphasis on charisma and cool, Tambourine frequently brings to mind a mix of Van Morrison and Willie Deville in the straightforward soulfulness that fills its grooves. Eaglesmith’s vocals substitute a yearning and hard-pressed desire for Morrison’s bellow and Deville’s gypsy flair, but the cooing choir and steady pace of the melodies are stamped with an arched anticipation that’s riveting throughout. Eaglesmith’s sardonic sense of humor isn’t always evident, but songs such as “Nobody Gets Everything,” “Nobody’s Friend” and “Small Town” impart a sense of weary reflection that’s every bit as affecting. Producer Scott Merritt does an exceptional job of coloring the arrangements with a subtle blend of back porch instrumentation -- acoustic guitar, accordion, mandolin and so forth -- but the overall effect is one of sepia-tinted sobriety. Eaglesmith is a tireless journeyman, and with the striking Tambourine, he clearly gets in his groove. (www.fredeaglesmith.com)

Parker Millsap
s/t
(Okra Homa Records/Thirty Tigers)

Folksy yet fine-tuned, Parker Millsap isn’t your run of the mill retiring singer/songwriter type. He’s pointedly peculiar, with a sandpapery vocal that comes across like a cross between the aw-shucksy Midwestern candor of Steve Forbert and the wry, emotionally off-kilter perspective of early Tom Waits. You could even toss in the irreverence of Randy Newman as well. And yet, while his songs may come across as somewhat wry and oddly sentimental, his awkward observations leave room for some quiet contemplation. References to religion come straight to the fore on the revved up remake of the traditional gospel rave “Old Time Religion” and the redneck ramble “Truck Stop Gospel,” just as the track “At the Bar” revels in “Wizard of Oz” references (“Over the rainbow, I’ve never flown/Tell me Dorothy, is there really no place like home”) Still, his sentiments might be best summed up by that song’s final stanzas – “Don’t get me wrong/I’m as happy as the daytime is long/But in a melancholy melody, that’s the place I belong.” Happily – and we do mean HAPPILY – Millsap isn’t prone to dwell on melancholia. In fact, “Quite Contrary,” with its lyrical twists on old nursery rhymes, frames him as a closet hipster. At the fragile age of only 20, Millsap seems to have mastered his domain. (www.parkermillsap.com)

Kimmie Rhodes
Covers
(independent)

Kimmie Rhodes has worked her way up to the vanguard of renowned Americana singers over the past several years, a woman who is every bit the equal of such stellar artists as Emmylou Harris, Kim Richey, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin, but has somehow been relegated to areas well below the radar.  While her earlier albums are all worthy of investigation, Covers may be the one to attract newcomers to the fold if, for no other reason, than the fact that its wealth of great material makes it all so mesmerizing. While the inclusion of songs like “Yesterday,” “With A Little Help From My Friends” or “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” may seem obligatory, Rhodes’ way with a melody elevates each entry and gives it a unique interpretation that’s all her own. Likewise, the songs she surrounds them with offer an insight not only into her abilities, but also her musical mindset. Indeed, with a range of material that encompasses authors such as Tom Petty, U2, Rodney Crowell, Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt, Rhodes offers insight into both her taste and her mettle. So sample this selection, but then pick up the rest of her catalogue and get the full range of her aptitude and excellence. (www.kimmierhodes.com)

The Royal Oui
s/t
(FU:M/MAPL)

Ari Shine and Adrienne Pierce, the compatible couple that make up the cleverly bannered duo, The Royal Oui, sing with a a harmony and synchronicity that belies the fact that this is their first effort together. Shine in particular is known for his ongoing series of solo albums, but here, paired with Pierce, he seems to have found his natural environs.  Both cheery and sublime, this perky duo make music of a harmonious variety, lithe and lovely on tracks like “True” and “When You Lose Your Mind,” shimmery and filled with folk finesse on such songs as “Dirty Snow” and “Heart Safe.” It’s a modest effort at best, but also one that clearly demonstrates that occasionally, more is less. Voices and acoustic guitar are the sole elements in the mix, and if the combination comes across as a bit dainty and precious at times, it’s the product of a soothing sound tailor- made for more intimate environs, like a Sunday morning sleep-in or a cuddly moment that blends heart and hearth. We’ll look forward to more. (www.theroyaloui.com)

David G. Smith
One House
(indie)

David G. Smith’s rugged and weary blend of homegrown sentiment and sturdy bluesy Americana results in an affecting combination of heart and humanity. His rumination on politics and injustice is pointed and polemic, and in the case of “Angels Flew,” an ode to 9/11, and “Ivories,” a discourse on the killing of elephants for their tusks (each of which feature the haunting moan of guest Mary Gauthier), those sentiments are especially piercing. Likewise, his “Made For Her,” a first place winner in the International Song Competition, is particularly poignant in its tale of shifting familial situations. What’s more, if “Doesn’t Tale Much Light,” a tribute to Smith’s former scoutmaster and mentor, and “Second Chances,” a tale of a child’s organ donation, don’t inspire you and touch your heart, you might want to double check that you have one to begin with.  With about half of these songs having come from his pen, Smith proves himself a capable writer as well as interpreter. Indeed, on a track like “Jesus Is In Prison,” he comes across with the same sort of weathered resolve that best exemplifies fellow travelers like Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt. Likewise, tunes like the euphemistic “Rest” and “Give Your Love Away” already sound like soft pop standouts in the vein of James Taylor or Marc Cohn, Clearly, Smith has a connection to his material and an earnest emotional commitment that give each offering a lingering impression. (www.davidgsmithmusic.com)

Machine Don’t Lie
Nobody Panic
(indie)

Only two albums in, and Ben Mallott has already proven he’s a force to be reckoned with. Currently branding himself under the handle Machine Don’t Lie, he offers up a set of honest, melodic, emotion-charged songs that strike a mighty impression even on first hearing. Whether it’s the exuberant opener “Shadows,” the inspired “As We Please,” the revved up rocker “Cheery Bomb,” or tender ballads “Don’t Look Back,” “Josephine” and “Rain Song,” these tracks resonate with an immediacy and authority that’s wholly compelling and completely captivating. Borrowing the slightest hint of Dylan, Steve Forbert and various unnamed Americana heroes, Mallott and company make a kind of music that is warm, reverberating and compelling, the kind of sound that sucks you in and simply doesn’t let go. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that the publicist had been mentioning this to me for some time and it took me awhile to get to it. Now that I have, I’m kicking myself for having waited so long.) Don’t be surprised if Nobody Panic emerges as the sleeper of the year. It’s that good. (www.machinedon’tlie.com)

 

So Brown
Point Legere
(indie)

Bluesy, seductive and mostly nocturnal, So Brown’s Point Legere features a commanding cast of players, among them Norah Jones, Adam Levy and Sasha Dobson, all of who lend their persuasive talents to this sublime set of sashaying tempos and bluesy lullabies. Possessing a captivating caress, So Brown borders on cabaret, but the jazzy undertones give songs such as “Lonesome George” and “August” a decidedly seductive feel. The upbeat “Mean Old Man’ provide the proceedings with a much needed burst of adrenaline, all the better to show off the musicians’ collective spunk, while the vampish “Livin’ On The Bottom” offers the prerequisite combination of remorse and regret, sentiments that someone like Tom Waits might find in common. Likewise, “Don’t Start Me Cryin’” and the title track would be well suited to Billie Holiday in her day. Point Legere could be the home of any roadside saloon; the music suggests a cool groove that would be the delight of patrons and barflies alike.(www.sobrownmusic.com)

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Tags: &, AntoPeter, Boggs, Brown, David, Don't, Eaglesmith, Fred, G., Kimmie, More…Lacey, Leo, Lie, Machien, Milsap, Oui, Parker, Reagan, Rhodes, Royal, Smith, So, The

Comment by Victoria Folkerts on February 26, 2014 at 7:06am

Thank you for the suggestions! Love Kimmie Rhodes, will check the others out.

Comment by Julie Wenger Watson on February 28, 2014 at 3:58am

Looking forward to checking these out! Great reviews. Thanks.

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