Music

Della Mae: This World Oft Can Be

This World Oft Can Be is the rarest kind of roots album: The past grounds it, but so too does the present, and the result illuminates both.


Della Mae

This World Oft Can Be

Label: Rounder
US Release Date: 2013-05-28
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

The problem with roots revivalism, whatever specific form it takes, is two-fold. On the one hand, you have musicians so indebted to and enamored of their form and its forebears that they succumb to simple imitation. Remember the Stray Cats? Enjoyable stuff, to be sure, but it did nothing to push rockabilly forward. It remained at the end of the day an exceedingly competent simulation. On the other hand, you have artists who, fearful of being mere imitators, produce forced, often gimmicky musical hybrids. Steve Martin’s and Edie Brickell’s recent effort, Love Has Come for You, suffers from the uncomfortable pairing of Martin’s quite traditional musical approach and Brickell’s alt-rock attack. Intellectually speaking, an interesting proposition, but as music it fails.

Bearing these traps in mind, it was with considerable trepidation that I approached Della Mae’s debut LP for Rounder, This World Oft Can Be. The record’s accompanying press release did little to allay my concerns, harping rather anxiously about how this group is “respectful of American musical tradition, but not restricted by it, combining centuries’ worth of musical influences with an emotionally tough, undeniably modern songwriting sensibility”. A tall order, one that even veterans of the form rarely pull off, which is why I’m happy, albeit a bit surprised, to report that This World Oft Can Be lives up to that promise.

The lead track, “Letter from Down the Road”, kicks off with a lovely fiddle line, indicating in no uncertain terms that we’re in the presence of some very fine players. What’s more, as soon as lead vocalist Celia Woodsmith launches in, it’s clear too that we’re in the presence of one hell of a singer. Her approach is relaxed, confident -- Woodsmith is content to impress instead of dazzle. Her phrasing is exquisite and she has a keen sense of melody (note the way she makes a hook out of each word of the line, “I swear he’s the prettiest thing that this girl ever did see”).

There are more standouts here than you can shake a stick at. “Hounds” is so successful as straight music (another winning melody, and dig that banjo) that you scarcely notice the way its lyrics engage and confound roots music tradition. The titular hounds are not Robert Johnson’s hellhounds, but rather the “hounds of heaven”, threatening the narrator with a death she’s not ready for (and, by the sound of it, not resigning to without a good fight). “Heaven’s Gate” moves from mourning to obstinance with striking subtlety. And the jaunty, irrepressible “Turtle Dove” is so well played that Woodsmith is able to deliver lines that would sink a lesser singer and writer (case in point, “Why don’t you preen your feathers and fly into the light? / Oh, I would fall like Icarus, despairing of my plight”).

There’s nary a clinker to be found here (though “Pine Tree” is a touch too precious for my tastes), and the whole thing maintains a consistency of quality that would be the envy of many established artists. What’s most impressive, though, is not that Della Mae has succeeded, but that the band has done it and made it seem so easy. There are no signs of the self-consciousness and strain that mar so many roots-based releases. Instead, This World Oft Can Be is the rarest kind of success: the past grounds it, sure, but so too does the present, and the result illuminates both.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image