Lee’s Listening Sack — Eighteen (count ’em EIGHTEEN) mighty reviews for September
Ian McLagan & The Bump Band
Live at the Lucky Lounge
Ian McLagan’s transition from noted sideman and member of dual Rock and Roll Hall Fame bands the Faces and Small Faces has been steadily advancing successfully over the past decade, following his resettlement in Austin Texas where he’s now a major part of the local musical landscape. There’s no better evidence of this creative shift than in this 14 song live set recorded at one of his favorite hometown venues, featuring a well-rounded selection of choice tracks representing the various facets of his carer. Small Faces fans will no doubt find delight in the fact that the set opens with the relatively obscure Steve Marriott/Ronnie Lane composition “Get Yourself Together,” plucked from the earliest phase of his stint with that band, while the Faces’ rowdier “Cindy Incidentally,” written with bandmates Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, and Lane’s tender “Kuschty Rye” get similarly enthusiastic reads. The tracks in-between — particularly “I’m Hot/I’m Cool” and “Date With An Angel” — represent McLagan and company’s affection for early rock ‘n’ roll, the kind mined by Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. It all adds up to a rollicking good time, one that extends a little of that luck to all of us.
Another Self Portrait
Widely derided at first — Greil Marcus’ anguished “What is this shit?” review intro serving to echo fan’s frustrations — Self Portrait has gained scant respect over the years, widely viewed as Dylan’s attempt to distance himself from the gilded sainthood bestowed on him early on, or merely as his opportunity to reach back to his roots, a tact he’d return to later as well. Another Self Portrait, the tenth volume in Legacy’s enlightening Bootleg Series, offers opportunity to reexamine this particular phase of the Bobster’s career, one that also produced the low-key “comeback” New Morning and integrated his time spent in Nashville with the city’s best pickers and players. Personally, I found the original Self Portrait rather intriguing, an intimate set of songs that allowed Dylan to expound on his appreciation of American music tradition, both contemporary (at the time) and the more revered. Another Self Portrait confirms that fascination, giving further credence to the fact that, liberated from the constraints and expectations of his starry-eyed devotees, he was free to find broader latitude and freedom in the company of trusted handpicked compatriots, David Bromberg, Charlie McCoy and Al Kooper. Thus, we get essential stripped-down versions of songs like “Little Sadie,” “Went to See the Gypsy,” “If Not For You.” “Time Passes Slowly,” “Wallflower” and other songs that would show up later in reworked incarnations. Even the basic two disc set (more expensive variations include the remastered original album and the complete concert from the Isle of Wight) offers a generous 35 tracks, all unreleased, altered or in demo form. Suffice it to say, Another Self Portrait paints an extraordinary picture of an artist in the full flush of inspiration.
Rain Perry’s honed her talents well over the past few years, releasing four exemplary albums while still managing to maintain a presence that sadly lingers well below the radar. Her latest, auspiciously entitled Men, affirms those talents, and the presence of producer Mark Hallman further assures the fact that recognition will finally be accorded any day now. Or at least it ought to be. From the first effusive notes of “Get in the Car,” Perry procures a buoyant pop style that blends well with her sturdily crafted singer/songwriter stance. She exudes the requisite sensitivity required by songs like “Done,” but she never falls into the mopey melancholia exuded by her less able contemporaries. Mallman’s production helps keep things on an upward spiral, and even her most despondent moments retain an aura of resolve and resilience. “Umami” is an ideal example; whereas the basic tone boasts a stealth-like stance, the feisty pulse prevents the proceedings from falling into a lethargic haze. Likewise, contributions from such stellar players as Matt the Electrician, Sara Hickman, Scrappy Jud Newcomb and others help maintain the studio sheen, even though it’s also clear that it’s Perry’s purposeful approach that instills the inspiration. “You are a wreck today, shaky and sad,” Matt sings on the soothing duet, “One of Those Days,” but given the evidence presented herein, the truth is you’d never know that at all.
(Fluff and Gravy)
Two albums on, Jack Wilson manages to keep his listeners guessing, turning in a sumptuous yet plaintive collection of songs that resides in otherworldly realms while somehow remaining just out of reach. There’s an unmistakable air of mystery inherent in Wilson’s new motif, a sound that emits an elusive edge through melodies that rarely seem to coalesce. Nevertheless, these atmospheric contemplations create a unified feeling of atmospheric intent; it’s the sound and not necessarily the songs that seems most purposeful here. Wilson’s a master when it comes to manipulating the mood, and even the snatches of dialogue that waft through the title track seem keyed to convey that ethereal glance. It follows then that Spare Key isn’t the type of record that creates any kind of instant impression; rather, it demands repeated listens before the entire effect sinks in and leaves its admittedly obtuse impression. It’s difficult to second guess Wilson’s inherent aims, but if judged on the basis of these cosmic designs, he’s clearly succeeded in procuring a unified work that gleans from most if not all the sum of its parts.
The Mother Hips
After more than 20 years of plying some hippie happenstance, The Mother Hips make a sterling return via the aptly titled Behind Beyond, an album which once again demonstrates their debt to both the southern California tradition of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s and the Grateful Dead’s affable populist approach. Indeed, the ghost of Jerry Garcia seems to haunt songs like “Toughie,” “Creation Smiles” and “Isle Not of Man,” while a hint of the New Riders of the Purple Sage clearly pervades the rest, and “Song for J.B.” in particular. Yet, Tim Bluhm and company are too deft and far more adept to merely be tied into any tempting comparisons; the subtle melodic shifts of songs like “Feed from a Prison” and “Jefferson Army” demonstrate that they’re more than capable when it comes to creating a seductive sound all their own. Sadly though, despite an attentive fan following and an admirable catalog well worthy of notice (including their recent four disc retrospective, Days of Sun and Grass), the Mother Hips have sadly been denied the greater attention that’s clearly been their due. Hopefully then, Behind Beyond will bring the populace as a whole well up to speed.
The Fall Comes Early
(The Recording Company)
Make that Jo Henley, not Don Henley, although the connections between the two might not be all that obtuse. After four excellent albums of amiable ‘70s sounding California rock, the two Henleys inevitably share similar roots. The Fall Comes Early offers another example of the band’s affinity for soft, unassuming country-tinged melodies, and on songs such as “Never Can See the Sun,” “It Can’t Rain All the Time” and “Better Off With Him,” they create the kind of warm embrace that ought to be accompanied by a hazy Laurel Canyon glow. Acoustic guitars combine with an easy, breezy attitude to create a beguiling tone, and even when the music is rendered sans vocals, as is the case on the low-cast “Big City” and the sublime variation of “Amazing Grace,” the results measure up in ways both sensual and seductive. Lithe and lilting, Jo Henley offers no pretence, aiming only to entice, an attribute that they have no trouble in delivering as their basic stock in trade. Likewise, they also excel with effortlessly uptempo melodies tailor made for getting their audiences to swing and sway. Here then is proof that retro doesn’t have to be redundant. File with Poco, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Pure Prairie League and all those fondly remembered country rock auteurs best known for their disarming charm. In a very real sense, The Fall Comes Early can indeed be classified as an album for all seasons.
My Friend Hafiz
The idea of adapting the poetry of a 14th century mystic may seem a strange way to advance contemporary folk music, but husband/wife duo Ira Scott Levin and Julia Bordenaro Levin have done exactly that, and the results exceed well beyond any expectation. Amply imbued with classicism and charm, and then underscored with an eclectic variety of acoustic instruments — cello, mandocello, tabla, shakers and several additives of eastern origin — the couple’s erudite arrangements and gilded harmonies find this soothing set of songs a joy to behold and a must to enjoy. “The Sun Never Says,” “A Root in Each Act and Creature,” “Every Child” and “Your Mother and My Mother” glide along with a grace and delicacy that is seamless and sublime, a sound for Sunday mornings or dimly lit evenings when carefree contemplation is ideal. The meditative nature of the material is meant to impart gentle philosophical lessons, each a much needed remedy for a hurried and harried world. They also serve to remind us of that old adage that says music and poetry can indeed be a soothing balm for troubled times. Credit the Levins for showering these ancient proverbs and admonishments with such enticing appeal.
(Red Shield Music)
For their fourth album in ten years, Santa Fe’s Round Mountain continues to proffer the remarkably diverse sound that’s been their stock in trade ever since the beginning. Those looking for easy categorisation will find only frustration, given the band’s blend of Celtic, African, Appalachian, Balkan and middle eastern influences, an approach which varies from track to track but deftly finds solid footing throughout. The array of instrumental additives is equally dazzling, with bagpipes, dobro, bouzouki and all manner of exotic world music elements entering into the fray. One need only start at the beginning to absorb the breadth and depth of their style, be it the jaunty brass revelry of “Without Fear,” the flighty flourishes of “Coffee,” the low-key yet celebratory style of “San Ysidro,” or the mystical meditations of “St. Joseph.”That said, the most enchanting entry belongs to “Mama Sweet Mama,” a gentle ramble that slows the pace and exhibits the most sublime hint of pure folk finesse. Round Mountain deserve kudos, not only for their experimental posture, but also for the lessons of acceptance they impart to their listeners. In their capable hands, it becomes a small world of music after all.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
“Everyone’s got their own set of troubles, everyone’s got their own set of blues/Walk a mile in another man’s shoes,” Drew Holcomb admonishes on “Another Man’s Hoes,” the sturdy yet sweet opener to Good Light, the quartet’s beguiling and, appropriately, illuminating new album. Indeed, for those who are yet unawares, Good Light provides an excellent introduction to a band that inexplicably has lingered well below the radar, despite a series of consistently exceptional efforts spanning the past decade or so. The title track is uplifting and exemplary in the way it conveys its positive glow, while the soothing tones and tomes that characterise such tracks as “Can’t Take It With You,” “Tennessee” and “A Place to Lay My Head” all lend a warm affirmative embrace. Despite Holcomb and company’s tendency towards a somewhat giddy sound stance — the unlikely cheeriness of “Nothing But Trouble” and the unabashed sentiment of “I Love You, I Do” more or less epitomise their unfailingly cheery mindset — they never come across as cloying or unnecessarily sentimental. Indeed, the lithe harmonies and understated arrangements all confirm the group’s supple designs. Ultimately, Good Light is a good get, one which should encourage further examination of these good Neighbors’ intents. It is, in a word, exceptional.
Irons in the Fire
Employing an equal measure of grit and sensitivity, Matthew Maxfield continues a musical trek begun well over a decade ago, thanks to this sturdily conceived Irons in the Fire, a collection of tracks that reflect the honesty and integrity that’s been his calling card since the beginning. “In Or Out,” “Tonight” and “Look Me in the Eye” capture the unflinching angst and intensity Mayfield’s made his MO, and when he slows the momentum on a song like “Follow You Down,” the understated emotion remains equally affecting. Though he’s not even reached the age of 30 (!), Mayfield channels the unbridled skill, craft and conviction of someone far older and significantly more worldly. And while it’s only nine songs long, Irons in the Fire is wholly captivating from beginning to end, its songs exuding a quiet confidence and deliberate determination. By the time the EP reaches its conclusion, it leaves a lingering impression that suggests something very profound has transpired. Indeed, it’s quite clear already that Mayfield is capable of making music for the ages.
Michael Martin Murphy
Red River Drifter
Michael Martin Murphy’s long and varied career has never found him faltering, whether he’s revelling in mainstream hits like “Wildfire” and “Carolina in the Pine” or simply pursuing his pure cowboy ethic. Yours truly had the pleasure of attending one of Murphy’s Westfest musical gatherings many years ago and it was one of the most fulfilling celebrations I’ve ever witnessed. Sure enough, on his latest album, Red River Drifter, Martin continues his survey of pure American music, taking in bluegrass, ballads and an array of prairie melodies with both heart and humor. From the remorseful laments “Mountain Storm” and “Hardscrabble Creek” to the jocular “Shake It Off” and the poor man’s tale of “Faded Blues,” Murphy encapsulates an Everyman sensibility with a western resilience that only a veteran troubadour could be capable of. Those that haven’t revisited Murphy lately really ought to get reacquainted; these campfire sounds adroitly capture the pure soul of America’s essential musical heritage with an unerring authenticity, an accomplishment that flags him as a genuine original and the capable bearer of a legacy worth cherishing. This Red River Drifter is well worth flagging down.
Singer/songwriter Siddhartha Khosla seems like an amiable sort of guy. At least that’s the impression he offers in the music he makes under the moniker of Goldspot. Three albums on, he and his band mine the perfect synthesis of alt-progressive melodies and a particularly pleasant attitude. As a result, Goldspot’s latest, Aerogramme, can best be described as agreeable easy listening with the slightest hint of an edgy approach. While the songs tend to meander somewhat, the emphatic stomp that underscores “The Border Line” and the snap and crunch that propels “Evergreen Cassette” add weight to an otherwise giddy persona. Whether it’s the loping rhythms of “New Haven Green” or the light and lithe strum that accompanies “Salt of the Earth” and “If the Hudson Overflows,” Khosla and company procure a sound that’s easy on the ears without any sense of disruption. The one exception comes via “Resident Alien,” which, as its title implies, sounds distinctly otherworldly. Still, that’s a minor distraction. Goldspot’s radiant efforts allow Aerogramme to truly shine.
Mountains Beaches Cities
(12th South Records)
With their third studio album, Nashville’s Moon Taxi tackles a sound as expansive as the album title might imply. Expanding on their initial jam band template, the group peppers their communal approach with elements of rock, electronica, intimate balladry and effusive pop, creating a melting pop of contemporary influences that ought to do well when it comes to endearing them to the jam band crowd. “Running Wild,” “Morocco” and “Change” work best in this regard, their sparking arrangements and yearning vocals creating a welcome and winsome embrace. And while the song “The New Black” tends to drone on to the point of monotony, tracks like “Young Journey”and “River Water” more than makes up for any momentary diversions via a clear, endearing melodic outreach, vaguely sweet sentiments and even occasional banjo plucking on the former to fill in the occasional recesses. Mountains Beaches Cities clearly marks a new chapter for the band, one that offers a more sophisticated style and hints of further evolution. As long as they retain the ability to craft the appealing melodies evidenced herein, Moon Taxi should have no problem arriving at whatever destination they choose.
(Kool Kat Musik)
A veritable one man band, Stephen Lawrenson makes his mark as genuine pop auteur with the oddly titled Obscuriosity, an album that finds him alone at the helm and ably piloting this exceptional effort towards fruition. Released on the consistently superior Koot Kat Musik label, it reflects Lawrenson’s obvious respect for pop precedents, with the Raspberries, the Records and Emitt Rhodes being among the most apparent. Still, with songs like the title track and “Your Karma” leading the pack, it’s also clear that Lawrenson has all the skills necessary to pursue a sound all his own. His voice has a willowy characteristic that manages to propel him somewhere midway between eagerness and urgency, imbuing a certain fragility that proves consistently endearing and engaging. That trait’s clearly borne out on offerings like “Words To Say” and “Small White House,” where the cooing, soothing harmonies form a perfect backdrop for the songs’ pleading perspective. Hopefully he’ll get the attention he not only desires, but also clearly deserves. Obscuriosity is a modest little gem of an album that ought to be uncovered.
(Forty Below Records)
Newcomer Kail Baxley makes an auspicious debut via a full length entry that combines early songs from two previous EPs. It’s a good tack, because Baxley is one of those deep thinkers whose very presence portends the essence of something especially ominous. With a brooding vocal that rings of impending doom and gloom, there’s nothing here that ought to be taken lightly. Although the set moves briskly, songs like “Legend of the Western Hills” and “The Rebel” seem to echo weighty circumstance, a scenario helped along by the inspired arrangements and the hint of dark clouds looming just over the horizon. Still, Baxley inspires a certain fascination in his efforts to channel Elliot Smith and Nick Drake through a moody rumination such as “Black River Son” in particular. Of the two “sides” presented here, the second is clearly the most promising… and hopefully a foretelling of equally thoughtful things to come.
Three albums on, Mando Saenz continues to secure his place on the same pantheon as today’s top alt country singer/songwriters. Like Raul Malo, Guy Clark and Steve Earle, Saenz makes music that retains the essence of traditional country, possessing the same verve and expression that comes courtesy of a modern motif. Saenz’s songs are consistently compelling, not because they strive to break down barricades, but rather because they retain the essence of classic composition. Consequently, “Breakaway Speed,” “The Road I’m On,” “Nobody” and “Pocket Change” create a striking first impression, sounding for all the world like songs that have been around forever and become part of a classic catalogue. Saenz has been slowly attracting notice simply because his talent deserves attention. Yet, he’s far from the star he ought to be. Hopefully Studebaker will speed his ascent.
Jeff Larson never fails to impress. A consistent music maker and sometimes collaborator with the band America, his songs boast melodic qualities that entrance from the first listen on. On Leaves, they mostly soothe, given that it’s a superior set of piano and acoustic guitar ballads seemingly plucked from the ether and transported to our ears via his uncannily supple sensibilities. “Good Good Morning,” “Frontier Village” and “Postcard From Here” might be considered the best of the lot, but the fact is, each of these sumptuous tunes fills the bill, making the ability to single out any individual offerings all but impossible. Suffice it to say, Leaves ought to be unturned effective immediately. If you’re reading this and haven’t discovered Larson’s efforts for yourself yet, then quit wasting time and check him out immediately. You’ll thank me for it sooner rather than later.
Gold Boots Glitter
It took only their eponymous debut to determine that the Wheeler Brothers was a band worth watching. That suspicion is affirmed with Gold Boots Glitter, a lavishly packaged disc that suggests the Brothers’ ambitions are easily the equal of their abilities. Radiant harmonies echo throughout, but it’s the glowingly effusive melodies and their skill in varying the tone and tempo that’s especially striking here. It’s amazing how some bands emerge so fully formed, seemingly capable of crafting albums so effectively satisfying even at the outset, but the Wheelers prove that precept can be achieved. Here, slow, harmony-laced mid tempo ballads like the title track, “Heather” and “Straight and Steady” find equal footing with sturdy yet sensible rockers like “Cigarette Smoke,” Under the Bridge,” “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” and “Yukon,” leaving no lapse when it comes to enjoyment or fascination. Clearly, the Wheelers possess a decided studio savvy that makes each song well worth savouring. Both this and their initial entry will likely be considered classics someday, savvy examples of how homespun sentiment and well exercised ambitions can add up to such awesome efforts. The Wheeler Brothers are easily among the very best of Americana’s new breed.