Patrick Park, Mipso, and More First Listen Reviews
I do these First Listen Reviews every now and then, pulling a couple of CDs at random from the often overwhelming stacks of review copies piling up in my office. Were I to write a full-length well-considered review, I would give the album at least five spins. Often it takes until the fifth time through to really connect with the music at all. This time around, I got lucky and connected with most of it right off the bat. So, without further ado, here are four new albums, all well worth checking out:
PATRICK PARK – We Fall Out of Touch
I don’t honestly want to say much about this EP. It’s too short, but it’s also just the right size. It’s dreamy and sad and emotional and simple, and does everything right. More instruments and voices show up only when they’re necessary, then immediately go away. Park’s lilting vocals are somewhere between Lou Reed and Elliott Smith. The spirit of the songs is in the same vein as Gregory Alan Isakov’s new, lovely record. It’s delivered by two people playing everything between themselves: Park on vocals, guitars, bass, and piano; Luke Adams on all the percussion. The whole thing is tear-at-y0ur-heartstrings emotional, the kind of stuff where you want to turn off all the lights, crank up the speakers, and let the rain fall outside. I feel like trying to write any more words about it will distill it into something it’s not, so just go buy a copy.
MIPSO – Dark Holler Pop
My adopted homestate of North Carolina is doing some darn good stuff with traditional music lately. This year’s IBMA, which took place in Raleigh, saw Asheville boys Town Mountain winning a couple of emerging artist awards and WNC natives Steep Canyon Rangers hosting the awards. Then, of course, there are the Avetts and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and all the fine folks pouring out of the Triangle area (not to mention the discriminating taste of Dolph Ramseur at Ramseur Records). Mipso is yet another quite-talented trio to emerge from the Triangle and I’ve seen them put on a heck of a show when they come to Asheville. I get the impression that Dark Holler Pop is an album they’re hoping a lot more people hear, and it’s clear why. The harmonies are strong, the instrumentalism is tight and intuitive, and the production is solid. Except for the fact that the banjo’s a little too far forward in the mix for my tastes on “Tried Too Hard”, but some banjo-enthusiasts might be thrilled to hear it so prominent. That small complaint aside, Dark Holler Pop is a great effort that’s likely to win the band some new fans. Besides, the album is reminiscent of Nickel Creek in many ways, with the way they handle the balance between indie pop and contemporary bluegrass. Then there are songs that are straight-up old school country (“Louise,” “Red Eye to Raleigh”). It’s a sweet mix, and I’ll definitely listen again. Besides, they pull off lines like “Sign me up for experimental cardiopathic laproscopy to work on my broken heart.”
THE STONE FOXES – Small Fires
Honestly, my very first thought is that Kyla might like this. It’s also the closest I’ve seen any band come recently to exacting the sound of the music in their album coverart. This is filthy rock-country-blues, or something. (I’m against the use of hyphens to describe music, but that’s the best I can do with placing it in a genre.) It’s a little too much for me here and there, but then they drop a hardcore harmonica solo and drag me back in. “Ulysses Jones” is a very early high point. The title track makes me think these guys must have listened to some Guns N Roses back in the day, in between their Jason & the Scorchers albums. There’s a lot to really dig into on this album, but I’m not sure it’s something I’ll personally listen to all that much. About half of the songs are damn good, and about half are just too raw even for my personal taste. There’s some Elvis Costello in there, some hair band influences, some 70s punk, maybe some Faith No More? You can tell from the recording that they probably throw down live. In fact, chances are this is a band best experienced live. But, folks who go to Muddy Roots Festival or listen to more rural punk stuff will likely eat this stuff up, once they get over the fact that these guys are from San Francisco.
MELODY WALKER & JACOB GROOPMAN – We Made It Home
Now for something completely different. This one landed on my desk from Hearth Music PR, and it sounds real nice. Very simple, basic, duo stuff (guitar, mandolin, duo harmonies). It’s heavy on the harmonies and dynamics. Walker’s voice is smooth and pliant. Her songs are a little predictable in the sense that they sound like something you may have already heard. Some people count that as an asset, others see it as a drawback. I’ll let you decide. Regardless, they throw in a Paul Simon cover (“Graceland”), a Peter Rowan tune (“Mississippi Moon”), and a darn good song about a couple of mules (“Come on Mule”). There’s some wonderful chemistry between these two and the instrumentation is decidedly skillful. But, there’s something about this disc that simply doesn’t shoot lightning bolts down my spine. The odd, creative, syncopated rhythms that make Paul Simon’s “Graceland” so excellent, for example, are stripped away in favor of something that’s much more clean and pressed. That album and all the songs on it was so much of a cultural exchange between Simon’s New York and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s folky South Africa. Walker and Groopman’s version kind of misses the point. I don’t doubt they had fun recording it, but that fun doesn’t translate on the listener end, perhaps because I have too much love for the original. To my ears, it would take a wicked amount of talent to bring anything else to that song that belongs there, but was missing the first time. These two are fare better suited for their own originals, as Simon’s masterpiece gives way to “Sweet Sunny Sounth” and a fabulous a capella “Yellow Haired Girl”.