Lee’s Listening Stack – Chip Taylor, Ari Shine, Steve Conn, Good Luck Mountain and more
Steve Conn may be the best singer you’ve never heard, and after a single listen to Beautiful Dream, the obvious question that begs asking is where has he been hiding up to this point? A stirring vocalist whose voice commands instant attention, Conn has produced a sturdy set that blends heartfelt ballads and rousing upbeat rhythms which mine the essence of both Pop and R&B. “Easier Said Than Done,” perhaps the prettiest of the lot, could serve as a mantra of sorts in the way it suggests that talent isn’t always the determining factor when it comes to attaining that Big Break. Fortunately, Conn isn’t the type to wallow in self-pity, and in the title track, his exclamation of optimism seems more than enough to convince disbelievers that dreams may indeed come true. The rich arrangements that surround his melodious vocals and fluid keyboards help him assert his stance, with horns and strings providing an additional flourish that speaks to his polish and professionalism. “Let the Rain Fall Down” hints at the early tenderness of Randy Newman, while the full-out funk of “It Is What It Is” and “Trouble” invoke the no nonsense attitude of any number of swampy soul singers. Yet through it all Conn is clearly in command.
Good Luck Mountain
Hushed and haunting, the self-titled debut by Good Luck Mountain is as breathtaking as the expansive landscape captured on its cover. A new incarnation of the sadly unappreciated Americana band Tandy, the group changed its name after the passing of one of its key members, Drew Glackin who plit his time between Tandy and the Silos. That sense of sadness is manifest in the eloquent and emotional “Heaven in the Haze” and a softly spoken “The Perfect Circle,” two tracks that find singer/mainstay Mike Ferrio offering heartfelt laments that practically challenge the tear ducts to stay dry. Parched vocals and a subtle weave of violin, viola, harp and trumpets enhance the sobering sound, and indeed, there’s not a song here that doesn’t make a lasting impression even when the volume knob demands it be turned to a higher register. Rarely is an album as affecting, and indeed, in terms of casting its spell, Good Luck Mountain has already scaled a most magnificent peak.
Ghost Town Directory
Ari Shine may be a relative rookie in terms of carving out a career, but even after only two albums, it’s already obvious he’s a knowing power pop practitioner. Consequently, Ghost Town Directory is the kind of album any veteran artist would likely be thrilled to call his or her own. Indeed, from the unabashed exuberance of songs like “All I’ve Got Is Love” to the sophisticated mix of melody and mayhem embraced on “Here With Me,” Shine shines and puts many artists boasting a far lengthier trajectory on notice that they face formidable competition. Here’s an up and comer who’s got his groove, both literally and figuratively, and even a first listen is all it takes to convince. Ghost Town Directory not only begs repeated returns, but gets better and more engaging every single time.
Chip Taylor, Kendel Carson, John Platania
Rock and Roll Joe
(Train Wreck Records)
Subtitled A Tribute to the Unsung Heroes of Rock N’ Roll, Rock and Roll Joe is literally a love song to the forgotten musicians and uncredited session players that have contributed to the pop canon over the course of the last 50 years. Chip Taylor, by contrast a heralded hero owing to his classic catalog, instigates what promises to be an ongoing homage, striking a suggestive chord in terms of both substance and style. Guitar, fiddle and an ace rhythm section vary the tempo between routine rave-ups and ragged rumination, Taylor’s gruff, world-weary vocals suggesting the appropriate timbre. Taken in tandem, the sixteen songs gel well, from the unabashed enthusiasm of “Measurin’” and “Sugar Sugaree,” to the withering remorse of “Malmo Nights” and the title track. The album is awash in personal insights, as expressed both in the liner notes and an occasional spoken aside, with “The Van Song,” a tongue in cheek reference to Platania’s ongoing tenure with Van Morrison, providing its humorous highlight. Inspired and insightful, Rock and Roll Joe is a journeyman’s gem.
The Best of Times: Texas Artists Performing the Music of Sara Hickman
In conceiving an album meant as a fundraiser benefiting a favorite charity, specifically the most worthy Theater Action Project, Sara Hickman gives fans and newcomers alike something to savor, with more than three dozen songs spread across two discs, all of which have been culled from her catalog and covered by an impressive array of contributors. While Hickman’s made her mark as a renowned Americana artist and a successful performer who also caters to children and families, the incredible array of styles on display here doesn’t discriminate, offering equal album time to R&B, Roots, World Music and pertinent Pop. The music lends itself well to interpretation, and even with such big name guests as Willie Nelson, Edie Brickell, the Flatlanders, Shawn Colvin and Robert Earl Keen — simply for starters — it’s the material that shines, even in deference to the performers gracing the marquee. Hickman’s reputation in the Lone Star State is well established – she holds the prestigious designation of being a former Texas State Musician – but with this sumptuous collection, she’s indelibly etched as an icon.
The Wilderness of Manitoba
When You Left the Fire
Here’s another band that takes its cue from its picturesque handle, doing so in a most evocative manner. Based in Toronto, this lo-fi combo creates a sparse yet sumptuous sound that’s breathtakingly beautiful at every turn. Hushed harmonies — think CSN at their most pensive — and shimmering arrangements create a spacious sound that’s still sublime, from the somber tones and understated essence of “November” to the enigmatic yet emphatic sheen of “Summer Fires.” As No Depression noted in an earlier review, “the singing is never short of heavenly,” and indeed, the combination of aura and imagery elevates this effort to more ethereal realms. Final track “Reveries en Couleurs” takes the cosmic connection to an extreme, but it’s their rustic regimen and that smoldering fire which leaves the most lingering impression.