Railroad Earth -- Long Walk Home by aibrean
Friday, October 29, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
I'm sure those who are familiar with Pug know his back-story, but for those who don't, it's an interesting and inspiring tale. Pug dropped out of the University of North Carolina where he was a playwright student and moved to Chicago to become a singer-songwriter. Whenever there was an opening at the studio he rushed in and recorded 2008's Nation of Heat EP. After creating the EP, he spent most of his time (and he still does) touring to promote his music. He has also sent out unlimited copies of a two-song sampler CD to fans who wanted to spread the word. Pug estimates that he has mailed out around 15,000 CDs. Also, he has released a second EP, In the Meantime, which can be downloaded for free on his website. In February 2010, Pug released his first full-length album, Messenger, on Lightning Rod Records. The record received a lot of hype and positive reviews.
Messenger is an exhibition of Pug's folk mastery. He doesn't veer far from the traditional, Dylanesque folk song structures, like "Not So Sure" and "How Good You Are." His simple and honest yet poetic lyrics are a testament to his songwriting talents. Every line in every song is teeming with an experienced wisdom and truth. In "Not So Sure" it's just Pug fingerpicking his guitar and singing wearily while he muses on lost love and religion and confesses, "I undressed someone’s daughter and then complained about her looks." It's so mundane but profound at the same time. His lyrical prowess can also be heard in the tearjerking indictment and anti-war song, "Bury Me Far (From My Uniform)".
Throughout Messenger, Pug uses common folk instrumentation -- acoustic guitar, banjo, and harmonica -- and most of the songs on the album have a slow and intimate quality. The banjo-powered track, "The Door Was Always Open," is catchy and upbeat with a hopeful feeling. However, there are a couple of tracks that are completely roots based -- "Messenger" and "Speak Plainly, Diana." The title track fits into that alt-country mold with its gritty vocals, rock arrangement, and a pedal steel giving it a hint of country. And, "Speak Plainly, Diana" is an assertive rock number with a distorted guitar and layered vocals.
Since Pug wasn't rushing to the studio every time there was an opening, he was able to create a fully realized and focused album. Messenger is an impressive and magnetic record that draws you in with its familiar sound and honest lyrics.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Blue Sky Vertigo is a collection of U2's best-selling singles. It’s a fusion of pleasant female vocals and electronic beats. Each song features a different female vocalists' interpretation of Bono's lyrics. Although the females on the album have lovely vocals, they are void of the passion and emotion needed to pull off the tracks. Blue Sky Vertigo has also replaced The Edge's electrifying guitar with synthesizers, thus losing a particular quality and atmosphere the songs are meant to convey. For example, the synthesizer replaced the familiar apocalyptic scream of the electric guitar in "Bullet the Blue Sky." This track was one of U2's most overtly political songs and written as a criticism of the United States' military intervention in El Salvador. On the tribute album, "New Year's Day" lacks the urgency and fervor felt on the original. The cover isn't appropriate for a song inspired by the Polish Solidarity movement. And, the most disappointing is "Sunday Bloody Sunday" because it lacks the indignation and horror one would feel while watching the massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, some of the songs are reminiscent of 90s radio. For instance, the musical composition and vocals on "Two Hearts Beat As One" sounds as if Garbage is covering the track. And, U2's up-tempo and punkish, "I Will Follow" just drags on sedately. Their cover of "With or Without You" is pleasant but without yearning and echoing guitar.
Nevertheless, Blue Sky Vertigo isn't horrible, it just isn't what I like to listen to. I also realize that this is a tribute and interpretation, so the collection isn't going to sound exactly like U2. And, while the vocals are lovely, they are also lacking. I will give Electron Love Theory credit for keeping with the recognizable melodies, however I just wish there was more oomph in the vocals and instrumentation.
If you do like Electron Love Theory's tribute to U2, I suggest that you buy it because portions of the profits will go to the ONECampaign and Project RED.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Clumsy Seduction showcases Emma's songwriting talents and her ability to create memorable melodies. Her strong folk and Americana roots are shown in the run-of-the-mill instrumentation, but her lush vocals are an extraordinary focal point in each song. Emma's impressive range and emotional quality enhances her lyrics by creating feeling and character. The song, "Your Fool," has a heartfelt vulnerability with vocal restraint, a delicate guitar and sighing strings towards the end. And, Emma's moving and overwrought vocals and poignant lyrics on "Crazy" provide the album’s strongest track. Finally, Emma's subtle inflections on the title track project the feelings of rejection and heartache.
Moreover, the effortless flow of the diverse musical arrangements on Clumsy Seduction keeps the listener interested and invested. The countrified "One Glass Too Many" has a twangy banjo and the slide of a steel guitar, while the surprising scat in the pessimistic "Doctor" is a melancholic vocal gem, and "Goodbye" has an acoustic pop-tinged appeal. No one track sounds the same yet each track works in unison creating a cohesive and seamless album.
The combination of Emma Hill's gorgeous vocals, signature songwriting, and musical variations makes for a remarkable and fascinating album. Clumsy Seduction is a wonderful product of an artist on the threshold of success and stardom on the folk/Americana scene. Currently, Emma Hill and Her Gentlemen Callers are working on her third album, Meet Me at the Moon expected to be released in early 2011.
05 - Crazy by aibrean
07 - Clumsy Seduction by aibrean
09 - Goodbye by aibrean
02 - One Glass Too Many by aibrean
03 - Your Fool by aibrean
11 - Doctor by aibrean
Saturday, October 16, 2010
First Aid Kit is a duo of Swedish sisters, Johanna (20) and Klara (17) Soderberg. Their close vocal harmonies and songwriting style is heavily influenced by the likes of groups and singers like Fleet Foxes. In 2008 the duo released their debut EP Drunken Trees in Sweden and was reissued in 2009 on London-based Wichita Records. Their YouTube video cover of Fleet Foxes' "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" quickly spread the duo's name. Then in January 2010, First Aid Kit released their debut full-length album, The Big Black & The Blue on Wichita Records.
There is nothing groundbreaking or overwhelming about the record. If anything it is a dull and underwhelming album that focuses on their amazing vocal harmonies and songwriting. The sweetly, doleful opener, "In the Morning," paves the way for the antiquated sound and harmony-centered record. Their mature and wise-beyond-years songwriting skills are clear on the second track, "Hard Believer," when they sing, "Love is tough/Time is rough on me/And it’s one life and it’s this life and it’s beautiful." No one their age should know about the hardships of love and time. The simple melody and guitar of "Waltz for Richard" creates a feeling of being in a remote, bucolic area of America. And, the hooky guitar line and light harmonies don't weigh "Heavy Storm" down. The emotional "Ghost Town" is about leaving a love to find yourself before settling down only to find that they have moved on with another. The regret is palpable. Then, lead single, "I Met up with the King," (which is reminiscent of Neko Case) tells of broken love. Finally, the album ends with a serene and uncomplicated lullaby "Wills of the River."
Overall The Big Black & The Blue is a pleasant but uninteresting album with only a few standout tracks. While the album as a whole focuses solely on the Soderberg sisters' astounding harmonies, it lacks any movement or excitement. The unadorned arrangements and the unfussy and primitive instrumentation cause the record to go flat and blend into the atmosphere after several listens.
First Aid Kit – I Met Up With A King by Wichita Recordings
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Thistled Spring is a stunning record with brilliant and cinematic musical arrangements. Its string-driven folk songs and muted vocals create a moodiness that permeates the record. Every track on the album affectively weaves in and out of quiet sadness and urgent desperation. The moving composition combined with lead singer, Justin Ringle's, hushed and emotive vocals beautifully enhances each song.
Ringle's songwriting on the title track keeps in line with the morose lyrics on his previous albums: "An old love of mine to wed the worst man she finds /A blossom that’s bloomed, in a house that’s a tomb, trapped in the rhododendron fumes." However, the shining simplicity of the piano gives light and life to the heavy lyrics and woebegone vocals. The song, "Belly of June," is wonderfully textured with swinging strings, Ringle's lonesome voice and a jubilant banjo which maintains a hopeful tone throughout despite its unhappy story. In "This Bed" the gently rollicking banjo swells into a gorgeous climax with swaying strings and rolling cymbals. Next, "The Drought," starts with a clanging banjo which crescendos into a soaring orchestra of violins, cello and mandolin. Also, Ringle’s voice is at its fullest and most emotional. His voice rises and falls with a pleading desperation of a farmer praying for rain. And, the ebullient banjo and brooding strings creates a lively yet foreboding mood on "Vernonia Blues".
Not only is Thistled Spring a captivating album full of intricate and ornate arrangements, it is also an album of lyrical beauty with a pastoral eloquence only fitting for an album about the Spring. On this album, Horse Feathers push the boundaries of folk music into an orchestral direction which gives Thistled Spring a majestic sound not usually found in the folk genre.
Justin Ringle - vocals, guitar, banjo, percussion
Nathan Crockett - violin, vocals, musical saw
Catherine Odell - cello, vocals
Sam Cooper - banjo, violin, mandolin, percussion, vocals, harmonium
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Wye Oak is an indie folk-rock duo that hails from Balitimore, Maryland. The duo consists of Jenn Wasner on guitar and Andy Stack on drums but both members alternate vocals. Formerly known as Monarch, they changed their name to Wye Oak, which is the Maryland state tree. They released their album, If Children, independently in 2007 and re-released it after signing to Merge Records in 2008.
If Children is a neat and overproduced record with sonic folk marked by touches of noise. The songs on the album are good examples of songwriting but are overpowered by the music. And, it moves seamlessly from song to song ebbing and flowing and hitting and missing.
The album opener, "Please Concrete," has the finger-picked sound of folk music interrupted by the surges of noise. The song starts soft and laid-back with Wasner's subdued vocals and a pleasant guitar, but swells dramatically toward the end. The first single from If Children, "Warning," is boisterous and urgent but maintains a pop charm. The lovely and quiet "Regret" has Andy Stack on vocals and a simple acoustic style. The song, "Archaic Smile," is a beautiful and serene slow-burning tune with a mid-90's feel. And, "Family Glue" is a catchy number with hooky strings that provide a dramatic end to the otherwise plain song. "I Don't Feel Young," starts restrained but rises into an electrifying surge of sonic richness and is probably the best song on the record. Finally, Stack's languid vocals and an uncomplicated guitar give the dawdling country song, "A Lawn to Mow," a relaxed and sedate quality.
Even though Wye Oak isn't Merge's best-known act, they deliver a strong and admirable debut album which isn't exactly groundbreaking. If Children is both pleasantly loud and melodious showing restraint and gaining momentum, but remaining mediocre because of its lack of depth.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The Infamous Stringdusters had the privilege to spend a few days recording Things That Fly at Dave Matthews' Haunted Hollow studio with producer Gary Paczosa. This album is a first-class example of The Infamous Stringdusters' precise quick-pickin' and their songwriting talent. It exhibits each member's gift as a whole as well as showcasing their skills individually. The album features all of the standard bluegrass instruments -- banjo, dobro, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and upright bass -- but, they occasionally slip in a not-so-standard organ and piano.
The album opens with a song by dobro player, Andy Hall, called "You Can't Stop the Changes." It's a bluegrass tune infused with a rock style that fits the song and is a suitable introduction to the entire album. Then, the Stringdusters throw a curveball with their commendable bluegrass cover of U2's "In God's Country." The next track, "All the Same," showcases the vocals of bassist, Travis Book. This song has a laid-back, jazzy feel created by the bass and guitarist, Andy Falco, who can also be heard on the organ. And, the up-tempo "Those Who've Gone On" is a lively dedication for all of those who have passed but still provide guidance. The light and sunny "It'll Be Alright" exhibit the Stringdusters' solid harmonies and excellent instrumentals. The nontraditional bluegrass track, "Masquerade," has a sophisticated style that is complex yet sparse which compliments the moody, melancholic aura of the song. Dierks Bentley makes a duet appearance on the Jody Stecher poor man's anthem, "17 Cents." And, finally, no bluegrass album is complete without skilled instrumentals which "Magic #9" and "The Deputy" provide.
On Things That Fly, the Infamous Stringdusters demonstrate their impressive musicianship and explore and expand the musical boundaries of bluegrass without going too far. And, by abandoning the high-lonesome sound of traditional bluegrass they give the genre a fresh and modern feel that will appeal to old and new fans alike.
Andy Hall - dobro
Andy Falco - guitar
Chris Pandolfi - banjo
Jerry Garrett - fiddle
Jesse Cobb - mandolin
Travis Book - upright bass