Josh Farrow‘s “Who’s Gonna Love You When I’m Gone” carries itself with an aura of impermeable coolness, suave organ and killer bassline as smooth as silk. Its looseness belies the expert skill of the musicians behind it, a relaxed piece which achieves that laxness through a tight arrangement and a band which gels incredibly well. Farrow’s cocksure drawl is accentuated by the world-class vocals of Ruby Amanfu—if there’s anything wrong with this song, it’s that she’s relegated to backup vocals, but even those she kills. This one’s a good’un.
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Mandolin Orange‘s “Hard Travelin’” is a delightful mix of Americana, bluegrass and country. As the band’s name might suggest, mandolins feature heavily alongside loosely-tuned snares and slide guitars. Solos trade off between guitar and mandolin, injecting an otherwise standard verse-chorus stomper with an immense amount of vigor. Mandolin Orange’s consummate musicianship honors the genres they traverse.
decker.’s rock draws from blues, garage-rock revival, and psychedelic—all genres stemming from a dusty, down-home electricity. “The Holy Ghost” stomps in double time, driving 12-bar blues marrying frenetic guitar in an explosion of weariness. decker.’s harried twang holds down center stage, wildly gesticulating in a way that mirrors the live-wire guitar solo midway through. It’s stressful in the most enticing way, driving full speed towards a wall and living off the thrill of being so close to the edge.
Nathan Bell’s music comes from a place of exhaustion. His mellow, world-weary folk music chronicles the endless grind of all shades of the working person in America, from mine workers to middle managers. Bell writes from personal experience: his musical career bookends a 15-year hiatus in the ‘90s and ‘00s, during which he worked as both a manual laborer and a phone company manager. He’s been involved in both blue-collar and white-collar life, and understands that both lifestyles are uniquely draining. His new album I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love examines the different stripes of dead-end Americana over guitar and mandolin.
The Steeldrivers - “Can You Run” - Reckless (Rounder, 2010)
As far as I’m concerned, Nashville’s Steeldrivers are the finest neo-bluegrass group on the planet right now. Blending the literary songwriting of Mike Henderson (who sadly left the band at the end of last year) with the masterful musicianship of bluegrass/country veterans, fiddler Tammy Rogers, bassist Mike Fleming, and banjoist Richard Baileyand, as well as the soulful vocals of Chris Stapleton (now replaced by Gary Nichols), the Steeldrivers create virtuostic songs focused on Southern life past and present.