Three Albums By Three Bands You Should Hear: Red June- “Beauty Will Come; “I See Hawks in L.A.- “New Kind of Lonely”; Dehlia Low- “Ravens & Crows”
I have been in serious decompression after four music festivals in six weeks, on the road, in tents, campsites with friends and strangers, wet and cold one day, sunscreen the next, hoofing from stage to stage, while who knows what is going on back home. It is a reality of the regional music spring fests that brings me out of winter’s lethargy.
It’s realism is not the reality of life, but of the kind of music that gives resonance and shape to the disordered lives of people who seek out these festivals, the artists and their music.
With those thoughts in mind, I returned to find an armload of new albums on my doorstep and another I’ve been listening to for a long while. Of those, three stand out, in reverse chronological order: Red June-Beauty Will Come (Red June); I See Hawks in L.A.-New Kind of Lonely (Western Seeds); and Dehlia Low-Ravens & Crows (Rebel).
Dehlia Low: I first saw Dehlia Low at MerleFest two years ago and was excited to see and hear a band unaffected by the American Idol-ness that has been creeping into Americana. Coming out of the vibrant Ashville, N.C. music scene, with a couple of regional recordings under their belt, their mature commitment to Appalachian music was not only obvious at first blush but made the other young-ish bands at MerleFest 2010 seem like impostors.
Co-produced by Travis Book (of The Infamous Stringdusters), “Ravens & Crows” it is apparent that they have been influenced by Allison Krauss’s band (but, then who hasn’t?) and while they are traveling similar paths, creating music that speaks from their experiences, Dehlia Low follows a more traditional aesthetic and a down-to-earth nature that has a more fearsome, less sentimental result.
The title song, like Tara Nevins’ “Wood & Stone,” “Ravens & Crows” stakes out their territory, establishing not only where they came from but who they are as well. The song weaves a seminal event in a woman’s life into the much larger fabric of human existence, coated with a melody that belies its existentialism. Like a devastating bossa nova, it goes down so smoothly you may not notice it’s eaten your heart. Think Arto Lindsay.
But do not fear, the rest of the album takes you down much more familiar roads. However, any band that takes a chance like that is one to take note of.
Red June: While I was looking forward to Dehlia Low’s return visit to MerleFest this year, a band pregnancy prevented that. However, all was not lost when I first heard Red June’s sets. Co-incidentally, they are also from Asheville, and is co-founded by fiddler Natalya Weinstein who just happens to be part of one of the most influential bands you have likely not heard of — Polecat Creek with the unbelievably talented Laurelyn Dossett.
Having caught all of their sets at MF2012, I eagerly awaited the trio’s second album, “Beauty Will Come,” that was released on June 5.
To distinguish their sound from that of Dehlia Low, the latter is more southwest Virginian in flavor and Red June more North Carolina with a jig, a reel and a breakdown thrown into the mix while using a resonator guitar instead of a dobro that gives their music an Uncle Josh flavor without overpowering it. Given that that Red June is a trio, they walk the fine, distinguished line of substantial delicacy, the fiddle and guitar floating inside their vital harmonies.
Ten of the album’s eleven songs are originals, and seem like each came from a different strain covered by the great umbrella now called Americana. No matter how good originals may be — and these are the best I have heard during the first five months of 2012 — often times its the cover of a non-original that separates adults from wannabes. In Red June’s case its the venerable bluegrass gospel “I’m Willing To Try” that, quite frankly, has been done to death by too many in vain attempts to show off their suspect vocal chops. However, here Red June lets the song come to them and fully demonstrates how good their harmonies are. It is an outstanding track.
That song follows my personal fav, Natalya Weinstein’s first solo vocal on “Bittersweet.” While it is a gorgeous song, it also gives rise to the album’s title and soul, another summer has come and gone without you here. It is reminiscent of that great Kate Wolf song, “Here In California.” And that is high praise.
I See Hawks in L.A.: I had been listening to I See Hawks in L.A. for several years before this album came out last month — a friend sent me some live recordings of this California band, so I am nearly as acquainted with them live as with Red June and Dehlia Low. It is a sound I like.
“New Kind of Lonely” reminds me of the vibrant bluegrass/new country scene in L. A. of some 40 years ago. Think the Dillards, Tony Rice, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and even a whiff of Gram Parsons. It’s the kind of music we played on front porches of farmhouses in southeastern Ohio back when the great divide was closing.
As with “Beauty Will Come” and “Ravens & Crows” this album is full of originals. They have another thing in common with those albums, they all sound like you have heard them before — and no drums anywhere in sight. Nowhere is this feeling more present than it the album’s opening tracks, “Bohemian Highway” and “Dear Flash.” More dharma bum than on the road.
And again, those harmonies, those wonderful trio harmonies inside country-psychedelia, those hippie melodies, laughing and crying without even trying in “I Fell In Love With the Grateful Dead.”
The band has been primarily an electric one, but for this album it was decided not only to go all acoustic but also to record the songs live in the studio while sitting in a circle. The spontaneity and interplay are obvious from the start.
I also like how they work into the songs’ lyrics, including the Whole Earth Catalog, Grateful Dead shows, neighborhoods in L. A. and music venues. But it is not mere nostalgia. Thoughtful, well constructed, lively tunes that revives a tradition that had become muddled over the years.
My fav on the album is its last song, “If You Lead I Will Follow” — “The angels are singing/And I’m still clinging to the crack at the end of the ledge/You’re calling to me/Denying gravity/I close my eyes and step over the edge.” It would have been a hit when country-rock was still on the radio.
Touring: Before heading to Ireland and the U.K., I See Hawks in L. A. play L. A. on Saturday night. Red June is touring in the Sates at the moment, and I plan to catch them again at The Living Room on NY’s lower east side. And, as noted above, Dehlia Low is on hiatus for pregnancy leave. In short, put these bands on your radar and see them as soon as you can.
Red June’s “Bittersweet:
I See Hawk’s In L. A.’s “New Kind of Lonely:”
Dehlia Low’s “Ravens & Crows:”