Lee’s Listening Stack – Wagons, Kris Delmhorst, Jeff Talmadge and more (The Best of the Rest Part 2)
Rumble, Shake and Tumble
Wagons, a seven piece outfit helmed by namesake singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Henry Wagons, doesn’t demur when it comes to fawning over their forebears (“Sometimes I listen to Elvis/Sometimes I listen to Cash/Sometimes I listen to Waylon/But it all goes back to the one and only… Willie…” Wagons wails on the adoring “Willie Nelson”), but given their insurgent stomp, they’re not content to simply offer their admiration. Theirs is a staunch, defiant sound anchored by a deep bottom end and an occasional country sway. The rousing “Save Me” encourages sing-along participation, but the menacing glare of “Mary Lou,” “Life’s Too Short” and “Love Is Burning” could keep the timid at bay. While the music sometimes suggests what would happen if Johnny Cash mixed it up with Nick Cave, there’s a tip towards tradition that boasts more than a hint of reverence as well.
Let The Storm Roll In
(Bet the Ranch)
The title of Nashville singer/songwriter Claudia Nygaard’s latest takes on a certain irony, given the recent encounter with Hurricane Irene, but then again, Nygaard’s wistful sentiments have always kept a connection with real life. There’s a poignancy suggested by her best songs and the immigration saga that accompanies “Big Country” and the naiveté of youth recalled in “J.C.” are relayed from both a tender and touching perspective. Yet Nygaard’s also got a scrappy side to her as well. Her sympathetic homage to Miss Kitty of TV’s “Gunsmoke” fame is absolutely hilarious and her plea to a reticent lover in the song simply titled “Say It” conveys both desperation and desire without resorting to self-pity. Nygood is a knowing soul and Let The Storm Roll In offers a torrent of wisdom and reflection.
It would seem that Michael Fracasso has all the environmental input needed to ensure success. Carving out his career in New York’s thriving folk scene, he eventually relocated to Austin Texas, a place that seemed tailor made for his savvy songwriting skills and high lonesome style. His latest, Saint Monday, demonstrates how well he’s merged the influence of those two locales, and yet, the result is a compelling set of songs that defies the musical norms of each. Unlike many of his fellow Austin artists, Fracasso often propels his melodies at a kinetic pace that keeps the propulsion but boosts the sentiment in the process. “ADA, OK” boasts the brooding rumination of a terrific ballad that’s been boosted by its charging tempo. Likewise, his skittish remake of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” adds a veracity that eluded the original. In fact, “Gypsy Moth,” with its loping rhythm, may well be the best song Paul Simon has yet to write. Still, he can be tender; the tongue-in-cheek desire of “Another Million” and the slow shuffle induced in the title track demonstrate that Fracasso’s music is ultimately fueled by its earnest emotion.
Kind of Everything
Jeff Talmadge is another of those artists whose been confined to the shadows too long. With a string of exceptional albums to his credit, Talmadge remains undeterred in his pursuit of quality song craft, with the latest example conveyed through his newest effort, the excellent Kind of Everything. While the tile suggests a more diverse approach, Talmadge wisely sticks to the MO that defines him best – poignant, personal ballads often tempered with weary resignation and then salvaged through optimism and resilience. The tender touch applied to songs like “One Spectacular Moon,” “Summer Road,” and “He’ll Give Her back This Town Tonight” each provide a case in point, superb examples of Talmadge’s way with beautifully beguiling melodies. Add the lilting country sway of “Hamburg Violin and the jaunting “Sometimes You Choose Love,” and Kind of Everything kind of covers all the emotions one could hope for in a genuinely intuitive offering.
Save the Clocktower
With their psychedelic sensibility, the trio that calls themselves Save the Clocktower does well when it comes to offering the unexpected. And yet, they excel at doing more than simply sidestepping predictability. Songs such as the hazy “You Got Me” and the loopy “The One Thing” come across as both bizarre and beguiling, showing their penchant for experimentation and cosmic concoction. Yet when they opt to tailor a soothing melody, ala “They,” or “Headphones,” the band shows they’re capable of more than mere mischief or mayhem. Indeed, the propulsive drive of a song like “Taped Noise” proves genuinely compelling despite its eerier attributes. Suffice it to say Carousel deserves a spin, despite — or more likely, because of — its share of intriguing twists and turns.
The intersection of Americana folkie Kris Delmhorst and a slick new wave outfit like the Cars initially seems hard to imagine, but given Delmhorst’s obvious affection for the band’s catalogue, the meld works remarkably well. Taking ten of the Cars’ best-known songs, Delmhorst doesn’t so much reinterpret them (indeed, the handclaps and the vocal inflections remain intact), but, rather, strips away the gloss and exposes their melodic essence. Fans of Ocasek and company will find instant recognition in more up-tempo tracks like “You Might Think,” “Just What I Needed,” “Shake It Up” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” (given a supple sexual twist), although the darker aspects of songs like “Drive” and “Why Can’t I have You” also get due emphasis in Delmhorst’s seductive interpretations. Delmhorst has proven herself a rapidly rising presence in singer-songwriter circles, but with here she shows her imagination and intuition are also well above par. Consider Cars a prime example of class and design.
Dan Israel blurs that fine line between folk and Americana, and pulls it off with an admirable aplomb. With his woozy vocals and affirmative stance, he offers an upbeat sound that easily ingratiates itself and keeps its listeners coming back for more. Crosstown Traveler is certainly no exception, and on offerings such as “I’ll Never Make It Through,” “Up To You” and “”Never To Be Found,” Israel conveys a clear theme of optimism and encouragement, lessons in self-help instilled in song. Fortunately, the melodies keep pace with the message, and the outpouring of exuberance and enthusiasm makes a powerful first impression. The rousing “When the Day Is Done” is an obvious standout, but even the more subdued set-ups – be it the gritty delivery of “Only See Red” or the subtle, string-laden gaze of “This Love’s Gonna Stay” – resonate with a powerful tug on emotion. Israel is an exceptional singer/songwriter, and deserves ample attention. For those intrigued, Crosstown Traveler makes for a damn good place to start.