Call for Book Reviewers and Bloggers

Music

5 - 1

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA


cover art

Son Volt

Honky Tonk

(Rounder)

Review [3.Mar.2013]

5


Son Volt
Honky Tonk


After 18 years of listening to crowds go crazy for “Windfall”, the country-laced classic from Son Volt‘s 1995 debut Trace, Jay Farrar finally figured it was time to make a whole album of songs like that. So, ditching the sonic experimentation of his most recent records, Farrar brings out the fiddles and steel guitars for the appropriately titled Honky Tonk. Inspired by playing with a classic country cover band in St. Louis, Farrar embraces his No Depression legacy, draping his warm moan over songs like “Wild Side” and “Bakersfield”, thereby making his own influences explicit. The songs adhere to Farrar’s typical instinct to slow things down, but with these cozy consistently fine songs and with lovely playing from multi-instrumentalist Gary Hunt and pedal-steel ace Brad Sarno, Honky Tonk is the twangy treat that Uncle Tupelo nostalgists have long been waiting for. Steve Leftridge


 

cover art

Patty Griffin

American Kid

(New West)

Review [15.May.2013]

4


Patty Griffin
American Kid


Patty Griffin fans have had plenty to celebrate in the last few years—a gospel covers album, Downtown Church, which topped PopMatters’ Best Americana list in 2010, and an album and tour as Robert Plant‘s lemon-squeezing folk-soul-mama duet partner. But Griffin’s biggest admirers couldn’t help but notice that she hadn’t released an album of original material—her real bread and butter—in six years. So does American Kid find that Patty’s powers have waned in the interim? Please. As a song cycle built on biographical sketches of her recently deceased father, the album is a triumph, one gorgeous song after another that moves easily among meditative folk, Irish balladry, ethereal duets with Plant, scorched-earth blues, and pint-hoisting hymns. Each is a marvel, as is Griffin’s vocal prowess, as unadorned here as on any record since her ‘96 debut. The years have added a crackle to her voice that complements these songs’ reflections on personal history, aging, and mortality. Several songs here rank alongside Griffin’s best, most compositionally ambitious tunes—the dreamy “Ohio”, the lovely “That Kind of Lonely”, and the meditative album-closing “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone”. Steve Leftridge


 

cover art

Neko Case

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

(Anti-)

3


Neko Case
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You


Neko Case‘s most accomplished album since 2007’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (if not her most accomplished ever), The Worse Things Get… makes a good argument for her being one of the best singer-songwriters of her generation. Although it’s fun enough to cite this album as Fiona Apple-worthy simply by virtue of its lengthy title, Case demonstrates that the album is also Apple-worthy in the sense of its emotional depth and artistic heft. Though it is not quite Case unhinged, this album shows a zanier and more emotional side of Case than anything else she’s done before. The furious and rollicking “Man”, buoyed by searing guitar work from M. Ward, finds Case swearing and sneering at perceptions surrounding gender: “And if I’m dipshit drunk on pink perfume / Then I’m the man in the fucking moon / ‘Cause you didn’t know what a man was / Until I showed you.”


Though Case’s lyrics are indirect to the point of being enigmatic more often than not, several of the songs on The Worse Things Get… find her in an honest, nearly straightforward mood. In particular, the mostly a capella “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” reflects on an episode of verbal abuse between a mother and her child, witnessed by Case at a bus stop in Hawaii. Reaching back through time to comfort the child, Case explains, “I just want to say that it happened / ‘Cause one day / When you ask yourself, / ‘Did it really happen?’ / You won’t believe it, but yes, it did / And I’m sorry.” The track that follows, “Calling Cards”, reflects on the travails of a long-distance relationship, culminating in the piercing (and sadly funny) snippet of telephone conversation, “‘Blah blah blah blah blah blah’ / They talk about,” sounding off as an echo of the stark and unforgettable (and yet, as Case points out, potentially forgettable) anger of the mother in the previous song. This thoughtful play with notions of memory and identity, paired with Case’s dangerous consistency, makes this one of the year’s most affecting albums. Taylor Coe


 

cover art

Jason Isbell

Southeastern

(Thirty Tigers)

Review [18.Jun.2013]

2


Jason Isbell
Southeastern


Jason Isbell‘s semi-confessional disc Southeastern tells the conventional story of a man whose dissolute behavior causes him great distress before he is saved by the love of a good woman. The tale is so common that it’s a cliché, except that Isbell tells it so creatively and with such passion that he makes it fresh again. Isbell also takes on other topics that may seem hackneyed or trite in the hands of a lesser artist—like death by cancer or the need for human companionship—and expresses the details of deep human feelings in simple terms whose intimacy seems simultaneously urgent and timeless. When he croons, “There’s one thing that’s real clear to me / No one dies with dignity,” anyone who has ever witnessed the death by disease of a loved one cannot help but bow one’s head and say amen. Instrumentally, the sparse production often works to blunt the impact of the rough subject matter. In Neil Young terms, whose mid-‘70s country rock sound Isbell often evokes, this is more On the Beach than Tonight’s the Night. Isbell finds the dark humor in just being alive whether he’s joshing about teaching dogs card tricks or being so high that even a prostitute won’t take his money. Being funny is just one way of beating the demons and gives him perspective on how lucky we all are just to be breathing. Steve Horowitz


 

cover art

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow

(Descendant)

Review [3.Apr.2013]

1


The Lone Bellow
The Lone Bellow


What if a band took the two-guys-and-a-girl harmonies and big choruses of modern country and paired them with neo-folk’s acoustic instrumentalsim, loud-quiet dynamics, and rolling, heart-swelling crescendos? Enter the Lone Bellow, a trio of Brooklyn transplants led by primary songwriter and singer Zach Williams alongside mandolinist/singer Kanene Doheney Pipkin and guitarist/singer Brian Elmquist. To suggest, however, that the Lone Bellow is a product of focus grouping is to undercut how authentically great an accomplishment the group’s self-titled debut is. These 11 tracks showcase a group that sounds fully developed on its first time out. Some of those moments reflect a gentler acoustic folk, but this is one band that can’t wait to go for the gusto—nearly every song finds them building to aorta-exploding vocal climaxes, the three singers pushing the top of their ranges in often-gorgeous harmonies. Every song here is a showstopper, but the gospel-soul heartbreak of “You Never Need Nobody” is one of the real ringers; starting with a placid piano and a round chorus, the song achieves carnal liftoff, making quite a racket before a gentle landing, although you can’t keep these kids from big-throated belting for long. It’s a terrifically sung affair, but the group also stretches out with country-picking flash and banjo-laced glory. Overall, the Lone Bellow may be tagged this year with inevitable comparisons, but the songs and the performances on their debut are simply too good to need any qualifying. Released in January, The Lone Bellow was the year’s first great Americana album, the one to beat. Nothing else in 2013 ever did. Steve Leftridge


Related Articles
20 Jun 2014
You should know compared to people on a global scale our kind has had it relatively easy. Jason Isbell gets that -- and a lot more as well. His 2013 release is this week’s Counterbalance.
16 Jun 2014
The tenth annual Nelsonville Music Festival took place from May 29 to June 1.
28 Apr 2014
Jason Isbell delivered one of the strongest records in 2013, and in doing so, he helped redefine the parameters of Americana.
14 Jan 2014
These Mumford protegés' debut EP sounds like a better, more compact version of Mumford & Sons Sigh No More.
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
Win a 15-CD Pack of Brazilian Music CDs from Six Degrees Records! in PopMatters Contests on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.