THROUGH THE LENS: Outstanding Roots Music Releases to Wrap Up 2022
Robyn Hitchcock - Photo by C. Elliott
When I first thought about my final column of the year highlighting new releases that should not be missed, I knew it had to be something special. I narrowed it down to a manageable five. Here are very quick takes on some marvelous recent roots records by Rory Block, Robyn Hitchcock, I Draw Slow, and Tiffany Williams and an upcoming EP from a new independent Nashville label, 3Sirens.
Rory Block – Ain’t Nobody Worried
While the impetus of this album came from Block’s series of weekly online performances during the lockdown, I get the distinct feeling that these songs are ones she has loved forever, and loves doing when relaxing with family and friends — they’re not necessarily blues. Her genius is not in attempting to recreate these tunes, but rather in inhabiting them with a slide guitar mentality and a full life of playing the blues. Whether it be the adoring pop sensuality of Mary Wells’ “My Guy” or the dreams of those living on dead-end streets personified in Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” Block brings an acoustic immediacy, often a haunting one, in her ongoing series of “Celebrating Great Women of Song” albums.
Robyn Hitchcock – Shufflemania!
I cannot count the number of albums (of which I have many) Hitchcock has under his belt, but in each one I hear a multitude of personalities that he puts on, then sheds just as quickly. It’s a though he’s an ADD shapeshifter who’s able to see the inner lives of inanimate objects and hear the dreams of the wind rustling tree leaves, often viewing the world around him as pop-folk surrealist, psychedelic theater. To say his first album in five years is hypnotically addictive is an understatement; it’s more like a 10-song, 38-minute “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” With invaluable assistance from The Smiths’ Johnny Marr (!), Emma Swift, and others, this a great freaking record that I cannot get enough of.
I Draw Slow – I Draw Slow
Not long before this album was released I was thinking about what had happened to the band that blew many of us away at both MerleFest and AmericanaFest a few years ago. Had they lost it? However, to my great relief, this album demonstrates the Dublin-based band that has unabashedly embraced Americana has only gotten deeper, more resonant, and more inspiring. The album draws you in from the opening track, “Bring Out Your Dead,” like a Samuel Beckett play as personified by The Mamas & the Papas. As much as I love Beckett, the album’s masterpiece is “About a Bird in an Airport Terminal.” With harmonies reminiscent of The Roches, it’s a winding, freely associated, introspective look at a relationship. I keep playing it over and over.
Tiffany Williams – All Those Days of Drinking Dust
When I first heard Williams during a recent performance, she had a quiet, subdued air about her, with songs that quickly revealed a writer of the highest order, one from a world of literature. Because I was so taken with her songs, what I had missed, until this album, was her gorgeous voice, one reminiscent of a young Margo Timmins. Be it as the coal miner’s daughter (which she is) of the title track or the all-too forgiving lover in “Harder Heart,” Williams presents her songs in a straightforward, unassuming manner that’s also complete with texture, ambiance, and that voice, sometimes just above a whisper, that evokes a certain kind of knowing, as if you are watching yourself from the outside. She just could be the Alice Munro of song.
Various Artists – 3Sirens Presents: With Love Part 2 (Dec. 2)
Just when you think Nashville has gone to hell in a handbasket, the wife-husband roots duo The Grahams comes along with the dream of keeping the alternative side of town alive as they attempt to create a 1960s Laurel Canyon-style music community. It may be, as they said in press materials, “A nostalgic fantasy perhaps but a good pursuit nonetheless.” That dream consists of an “invitation only” recording studio, label (digital only), and, like all dreamers, an artistic vision.
While other recordings from the label are in the works (John Doe) and a couple are already out (The Grahams, Derek Hoke), what I want to highlight is the set of EPs from 3Sirens featuring fellow independent Nashville renegade dreamers. While I missed the first installment of this project last summer, the six tracks of the second one make it a knockout. Highlights include Elizabeth Cook doing Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World;” Chuck Mead doing Talking Heads; Lilly Hiatt doing The Church; and The Grahams doing The Pretenders. You do not want to let this one slip through the cracks. Next up for me is digging deeper into what they’re doing.
Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slideshow.