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The Avett Brothers

The Carpenter

(American)

Review [11.Sep.2012]

10


The Avett Brothers
The Carpenter


The Avetts followed their breakthrough, I and Love and You, by reteaming with producer Rick Rubin, but the Brothers insist on evolving, replicating neither the mountain-punk freakouts of their earliest records nor the epic pop grandeur of their last album. Instead, they’ve returned with a set of fireside tunes wrapped in organic, snuggle-folk environs. The Carpenter is understated, but nobody does open-hearted restraint like the Avetts, and bittersweet songs like “Winter in My Heart” and “February Seven” are songs that every country-folk-rock fan should be happy to toast. Steve Leftridge


 

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Black Prairie

A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart

(Sugar Hill)

9


Black Prairie
A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart


Black Prairie started as a side project by three members of the Decemberists—dobroist Chris Funk, bassist Nate Query, and accordionist Jenny Conlee—as a way to explore their mutual love of progressive bluegrass styles between Colin Meloy’s writing bursts. Black Prairie’s first album, Feast of the Hunter’s Moon was the best gypsy-klezmer-newgrass album of 2010. Now with their sophomore release, the band expands their sound into some seriously gorgeous music, and as instrumentalists, they’ve graduated from mere Jerry Douglas worshippers to legitimate contenders. Much of the credit goes to the more prominent role of vocalist and violinist Annalisa Tornfelt, who helps make songs like “Rock of Ages” so knee-bucklingly beautiful. It’s a generous record of serious musical accomplishment, one of the most pleasant surprises in roots music this year. Steve Leftridge


 

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Shovels & Rope

O’ Be Joyful

(Dualtone)

8


Shovels & Rope
O’ Be Joyful


The next big singer-guitarist and drummer duo is married couple Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, who make up Shovels & Rope. Hearst has been around a while as a solo artist, but in Trent she’s found a perfectly sympatico songwriting and vocal partner. She’s the tough-as-nails guitar player with a raspy vocal power and range that will make your hair stand on end. He’s the drummer and occasional guitar strummer who sings the soulful harmonies. These South Carolinians sound rural as hell, yet they aren’t afraid to turn up the indie-rock distortion so that at times their ticking-bomb blues-rockspeak makes like the hick Black Keys, but S&R demonstrate far more diversity, going from Folkways facsimiles to jug-band cloggers to garage pop to molten hard country on one of the year’s most promising debuts. Steve Leftridge


 

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Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, Yim Yames

New Multitudes

(Rounder)

7


Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, Yim Yames
New Multitudes


On paper, this seems to be a redundant idea. Making albums out of old, unfinished Woody Guthrie lyrics has been done several times before, including most prominently by Jay Farrar’s old Uncle Tupelo bandmate. However, the musicians involved in this project—Farrar, Johnson, Parker, and Yames—are some of the best in the business at conveying those high, lonesome, and conflicted emotions that Guthrie expressed throughout his writings and songs. Rather than try to encompass the entirety of Guthrie’s vast canon, the musicians distinguish their approach by concentrating here on Guthrie’s bleak and desolate L.A. months, where he spent some time contemplating the frailties and troubles of his life. As a result, the album’s subject matter tends towards the bleaker side of things, with dark and swirling introspective ballads like “Talking Empty Bed Blues” and “Careless Reckless Love” highlighting the track listing. However, the vocal duties are passed around and as the four singers each step into the spotlight, their individual strengths shine and breathe a set of fresh perspectives to the lyrics. It’s not all doom and gloom, particularly when Parker shoots a dose of optimism into “Flying High” or when Johnson embodies Guthrie’s sly wink to vice on “V.D. City”. At the end, the album feels like a necessary accompaniment to the plethora of tributes we’ve gotten this year for the Guthrie Centennial. It may not be a definitive testament to Woody, but a necessary and uniquely interesting perspective to explore. Jeff Strowe


The fact that this record went so overlooked is a puzzler—a project that brings in Jay Farrar and Jim James, two of the most highly-regarded honchos of roots-oriented rock, for newly-penned music set to lost Woody Guthrie lyrics, just in time for the centennial Guthrie year. Throw in alt-country scrapper Will Johnson and Vernaline singer-songwriter Anders Parker, and you have New Multitudes, a bewitching set of warm, responsive tunes based on Guthrie’s early Los Angeles writings. Much of the record adopts Farrar’s recent instincts to slow things down, which works to bring out a seductive refinement, particularly on Farrar’s terrific “Careless Reckless Love” and Parker’s corn-fried “Fly High”. Steve Leftridge


 

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Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale

Buddy and Jim

(New West)

6


Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale
Buddy and Jim


Miller and Lauderdale are, of course, two of the great utility men in roots music—guys who sing better, write better, play better than pretty much anybody. They’ve also served as essential backup singer and pickers for everyone from country-folk luminaries like Emmylou and Lucinda to rock heroes like Robert Plant and Elvis Costello. So it’s high time the two sat down and made a proper album together. And with these two blending voices and pitching each other cool songs to sing, you know the finished product sounds great. Predictably, these friends gallivant through a several territories, cutting loose on lusty tunes like Joe Tex’s “I Want to Do Everything For You,” but Buddy and Jim are best of all when they lean in together on country weepers, none better than Buddy’s wife Julie’s “It Hurts Me”. Steve Leftridge


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