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The Pines

Dark So Gold

(Red House)

20


The Pines
Dark So Gold


The Pines remain one of indie-roots’ most overlooked groups, David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey are Minneapolis-via-Iowa boys who pick delicate, spare acoustic guitars wrapped in glass-slide reverberations and gentle, haunting organ embellishments on these ten scorched-earth songs. The singers whisper their vocals for the most part, which help establish the alienation in lyrics set when late night becomes indistinguishable from early morning and there’s nothing left to lose. The Pines create patient songs—Delta blues drifts, lonely melodies, intertwining fingerpicked guitar, and shimmering brushed percussion. Coming of the excellent Tremelo (2009), Dark So Gold is another elegant, cohesive, and seductive record. Steve Leftridge


 

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Brandi Carlile

Bear Creek

(Sony)

Review [21.Jun.2012]

19


Brandi Carlile
Bear Creek


Recorded in a Washington cabin, Bear Creek, Brandi Carlile’s fourth album, is a twangier operation than her last time out. Brandi maintains, of course, much of the folk-pop charm that has gotten her here, and she has formidable weapons in her arsenal: a rich voice with an adorable knack for phrasing, a penchant for melodies that tickle your neurotransmitters, and twin musical monsters Tim and Phil Hanseroth backing her up. Plus, the big gorgeous piano ballads are here again, like lead single “That Wasn’t Me”, but Bear Creek makes this list for its country-folk moments, and there are plenty of priceless ones, including “Hard Way Home”, which finds Brandi tapping into her inner Loretta Lynn, and “Keep Your Heart Young”, the Hanseroths’ rustic John Prine-esque singalong. Steve Leftridge


 

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The Stray Birds

The Stray Birds

(The Stray Birds)

18


The Stray Birds
The Stray Birds


The Stray Birds, a folk-grass trio from rural Pennsylvania, are gaining traction for their self-titled debut, a collection that showcases the band members’ kindred dedication to traditional American folk music. Pastoral and literate, the Stray Birds sing three-part harmonies over drowsy fiddle and gentle clawhammer banjo with obvious reverence to ancient forms. Yet the Birds are young enough to have absorbed a number of folk-rock idioms, which show up now and then, as on the halcyon CSN-style harmonies of “My Brother’s Hill”. But let’s hear it for Maya de Vitry, a genuine talent on all fronts as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and singer. The sky’s the limit. Steve Leftridge


 

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John Fullbright

From the Ground Up

(Blue Dirt)

Review [7.Jan.2013]

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John Fullbright
From the Ground Up


Throughout the course of his debut LP, Fullbright, a twenty-something Oklahoman, wears his influences proudly on his sleeve. There’s some Randy Newman sardonic piano pop (“Fat Man”), Outlaw Country prophecy (“Satan and St. Paul”), and sly Guy Clark-esque longing (“Me Wanting You”). There’s also the Townes Van Zandt indebted album cover photo and the “can’t make this up” fact that his birthplace is indeed Okemah, Oklahoma that add to a surefire Americana hero. He’s also getting lots of recognition and the accompanying star power, as this album’s recent Grammy nomination can attest. However, the music is what matters most, and as much as Fullbright’s output can be traced back to source material, an original and authentic spirit shines through with each repeated listen. You may recognize the themes, and nod along with the sentiments, but appreciate the songcraft all the same. Like his forebears, Fullbright doesn’t cut corners and is willing to chase songs down those dark and troubling alleys. He may not have answers, but his spirited examinations of complex human emotions make for great musical exercises. Far from a derivative knock-off, Fullbright, alongside contemporaries like Justin Townes Earle and Hayes Carll, has positioned himself as a viable bearer of the torch. Jeff Strowe


 

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Americana

(Reprise)

16


Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Americana


Over the past year, Young has reconnected with his most ferocious sounding outfit for two albums, one composed of originals, and this one, a collection of familiar and beloved traditional folk-songs set to that jarring and pounding Crazy Horse backbeat. Here, Young makes the conscious effort to emphasize the forgotten or excised lyrics of sing-along anthems like “This Land Is Your Land”, “Clementine”, and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” (here titled “Jesus’ Chariot”), which gives these well-known standards a darker, more intense feel. It’s far from a somber affair, though, as infectious enthusiasm for the music is captured on tape throughout. It’s a wonder to listen to ol’ Neil growl his way through murder ballads, tales of revenge, and proclamations of civic pride. The recording is loose and free, with snippets of conversation between the band members left in for a live feel that makes the album glide by like a one-off, spur-of-the-moment show. Not everything works, namely the unfortunate stab at doo-wap in “Get a Job”, but for the most part, this is a classic band injecting a fresh take into old and comforting material. Jeff Strowe


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