A Baker’s Dozen of Upcoming Albums, through the Photographer’s Eye
As usual, there always seems to be exciting releases on the horizon. While I cannot cover everything, here is my fourth edition of some outstanding new roots muisc releases heading our way in the next few weeks. Accompanied, of course, by ND’s crack team of photographers who are on the scene to keep us enthralled. I hope you are excited as I am.
It has been six years since her last full-length album, and a lot has happened since then. From the beginning, Cook’s wit, tempered with a cranky sentimentality and family stories, left me wanting more. Even more when I learned that her mom was from my hometown. “Methadone Blues” has been available since last month at NPR Music, but the real treat is her cover story in this month’s The East Nashvillian, which I highly recommend. I cannot wait to hear the rest of what NPR’s Jewly Hight calls the “swampy, nearly psychedelic blues-rock” sound of Exodus of Venus. The clam shell opens on June 17.
Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle
While Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle have known each other for some 30 years, and toured together in 2014, they finally decided to do an album together, with Buddy Miller producing. If “Tell Moses” (currently available for listening at a Wall Street Journal blog is any indication, the self-titled album should be something special. The sea parts on June 10.
Speaking of something special, alt-country chanteuse Neko Case joins one-of-a-kind crooner k.d. lang (whom I saw years before she revealed on stage that she was a “la… la… la… Lawrence Welk fan,” and if you were there you know what I mean) and indie cult favorite Laura Veirs to form a super-trio ala CS&N. “Delirium” from the album can be streamed at Rolling Stone. But, perhaps it’s really a quartet, of sorts, as they pay homage to the unnecessarily forgotten singer-songwriter Judee Sill. (I still have my Asylum vinyls.) case/lang/viers slips through a hole in heaven on June 17, and a lengthy tour follows.
Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses
I thank ND photographer Cynthia Elliott for turning me on to Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses, whose music mixes new songs of a post-modern American West, while continuing Southwestern and Mexican traditional musics. Michael J. Ronstadt, the younger brother of Linda, formed the band in 2009 with his two sons, Michael G. and Petie, after a late-night Thanksgiving jam session. The family added Los Tucsonenses in 2012. With banjo, saxophone, and occasional tuba, the group stretches the boundaries of jazz and world music. In the Land of the Setting Sun came out on May 20.
Paul Simon is the closest thing we have had to a “modern” contributor to the Great American Songbook. While his movie (One Trick Pony) and musical play (The Capeman) may have faltered, the music from those projects — as well as his lesser-known pre-Graceland albums on Warner Bros. — have been no less worthwhile than his numerous hit records. Stranger to Stranger saunters into our homes and media players on June 10.
Robert Rex Waller Jr.
While Robert Rex Waller Jr. is far from a household name, he’s the frontman for my favorite West Coast band, I See Hawks in L.A., whom I affectionally reviewed in ND some time back. With his distinctive vocal style and sensibility that harkens back to a time in the ’70s when what we now call Americana was gaining form, his first solo album is, oddly enough, one of covers. With songs by Nina Simone, the Doors, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Hollies, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, Fancy Free takes us on a soundscape of exuberance and heartache, and much in between. My personal highlight is “Waterloo Sunset,” which is part, whether intentionally or not, of a wonderful Ray Davies and the Kinks revival. The album takes flight on July 1.
Fitz & the Tantrums
Fitz & the Tantrums is one of several highly regarded, if not as well known, neo-soul bands on the scene today, with a bit of Bowie added to the adventuresome mix. I am quite taken with them. I am anxious to see what they have in store for us this time. Their last album peaked at number 26 on the Billboard chart, and “Handclap” from the new self-titled album can be heard on Spotify. Look for it on June 10.
Sarah Jarosz has been doing a lot lately, from the I’m With Her tour (with Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan) to the America the Beautiful tour with Garrison Keillor, where she palys the affable straight woman to his verbal wanderings. Somehow Jarosz found time to record a fourth album, Undercurrent, which she describes as the “impact of life as a full-time artist living in New York.” As I write this I just got a note that the Brooklyn Vegan (another wonderful online publication) is streaming the charming “Take Another Turn.” The album takes you back to shore on June 17.
Bruce Hornsby’s new album with his band, the Noisemakers, finds him playing dulcimer. The album expands upon the group’s dulcimer-led mini-sets, which have become fan-favorites during recent tours and comprised Hornsby’s entire set at the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam last December in Asheville. Rehab Reunion completes its 12-step program on June 17.
Mumford & Sons
I can take or leave Mumford & Sons’ music, though I respect those who do take them and what they are accomplishing. Nowhere is that more evident in the new album and movie Johannesburg, filmed live with Baaba Maal (!) and others in that South African city. It sounds like they have left their comfort zone. I may even change my mind about them. The film will be released June 17.
On his just released new album, The Blackberry Train, McCartney wanted to add a bit of the grunge factor to his otherwise spiritually centeredness of psychedelia, so he brought in Steve Albini of Nirvana and PJ Harvey fame. But the disc builds on the sound on his other four albums and EPs rather than rejecting it. Thus, it also contains jangling rockers, a folk song, and a soulful ballad, among others. Highlights include the edgy melodic “Unicorn,” the anthemic “Peyote Coyote,” and that soulful ballad, “Prayer.” One very personal song is the reflective “Waterfall,” which was inspired by memories of his mother. Give it a listen, it just may be your cup of tea.
Last, but certainly not least, I turn my attention to two local favorites from my home state, West Virginia. First, Rebecca Wudarski has just released Palimpsest, her third album where she continues to explore and reimagine old-timey, traditional folk songs by smashing together swing and just the right amount of indie rock. All of this comes on a voice that belies her young age. She’s a one-woman band, playing guitar (acoustic and electric), bass drum, and hi-hat. She’s also a painter who usually takes art work with her, not just to see but to give the venue an ambience, as if to visually communicate as well as musically. Her songs can be streamed on her website. She can also be regularly heard live at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, West Virginia — one of my favorite music venues.
Andrew Adkins is somewhat like the recently departed Guy Clark inasmuch as he builds and works on guitars (and many other things made of wood), as well as being a singer-songwriter. While he is also a member of the Wild Rumpus, Wooden Heart is his second solo album. Tim O’Brien calls him a cross between Tom Hanks and Ernest Tubb. But Amanda Anne Platt of the Honeycutters says it best: “Andrew Adkins knows how to tell a story and give it a melody to stick with you. His onstage presence is the perfect mix of humor and humility, putting his audience at ease and drawing them into a songscape that originates in the mountains of West Virginia and stretches to include the emotions and experiences that people of every corner of the country can relate to.”
Adkins is a staple on the acoustic music scene all over the state, whether it be at songwriter circles, opening for folks like the Honeycutters, or being first-billed. And one other thing: if you look at the album cover, you’ll notice he’s walking down a street, guitar in hand, with no shoes … because he has never worn them. The aptly titled album, with Platt on a duet, comes out of the shop on June 11.