Welcome to our second Short Cuts feature where AUK casts a brief eye and ear on several albums we’ve received recently which just didn’t make the cut for a full review. Like most major music websites we can’t mention every album or EP we get sent but we reckon the picks below deserve a nod. Click on the links to hear a song.
Recorded in Vermont, Maple Run Band’s ‘Used To Be The Next Big Thing’ is described by their songwriter Trevor Crist as reaching for a mid seventies soft rock album with a retro-vintage country sound. And by and large the band have been quite successful in their quest. There’s a hint of the Allman’s circa ‘Brothers And Sisters’ in the opening song ‘Used To Be The Next Big Thing’ while ‘Loretta‘ would sit comfortably on any number of singer/songwriter albums of the period albeit that it harks back to an earlier age with Crist explaining that the Louvin Brothers were an inspiration here.
Speaking of singer/songwriters, James Houlahan releases his sixth album, ‘Beyond The Borders’, a fine collection of world wearied yet optimistic songs written as he navigated his way through the pandemic. Ranging from the sparkling country rock of ‘Back To The Start‘ to the Scarlett Rivera fiddle led ‘O What Is That Sound’ (Houlahan’s setting of a W.H. Auden poem) it’s a very pleasant listen. ‘And the Horse Began to Dance’, based on the legend of Lakota leader Sitting Bull’s legendary horse is a fine number which is reminiscent of Jerry Jeff Walker.
Sarah Streitz, on her fourth album outing, ‘Different Space’ has opted out from her usual sound to inhabit a gloomier world which is suffused with retro organ and loose limbed twanged guitars. The result is at times akin to The Doors fronted by a sensitive chanteuse instead of a blow hard would be symbolist poet. Of note is the opening song ‘Waiting‘ which surpasses those which follow it although ‘Time Passes’ is an interesting take on living in New Mexico.
Portland Oregon seems to throw up an alarming number of really good acts and The Stubborn Lovers are no exception. ‘Come A Reckoning’ is packed full of great songs enlivened by some excellent playing as on the cosmic country of ‘Cottonwood Run’ and the galloping drive of ‘Ghost Train’. AUK has already featured the lead single, ‘Counting Feathers On A Sparrows Wing‘ and the rest of the album is just as good as this fleet footed number. Highly recommended.
The Joseph Parsons Band, led by an American residing in Germany, has a booming rock sound with echoes of Springsteen toughness and Jackie Leven romanticism embedded within it. ‘Holy Loneliness Divine’ is Parsons’ 25th release under various guises and it doesn’t deviate far from the sound of his last album ‘At Mercy’s Edge’. While the opening song ‘Dreaming A Universe‘ might be a tad over the top in its wide eyed optimism there’s no doubting its stadium like rock’n’roll punch. More restrained is the Tom Petty like chime of ‘Daring To Fall’ and the slow unfold to a taut climax which is to be found on ‘Thankful’.
As global warming poses an increasing threat, Colorado’s Canyon City (essentially a vehicle for singer-songwriter Paul Johnson) unleash ‘Dear Earth, Love, Moon’, described as a song cycle exploring new fatherhood in a world at an ecological tipping point. On a deliberately hushed album, almost a lullaby throughout, Johnson adopts the persona of the moon advising mother earth on her foolhardiness. ‘These Days’ harks back to happy times as captured on picture postcards while foundering on what to do to stop the rot while ‘Dreams‘, another song suffused with nostalgia, is quite delightful in its crepuscular soul searching.
‘Long Gone’ is the final album from Wisconsin’s The Narrators as Tom Dupuis, one half of the duo died from cancer in 2021 with Jim Felhofer, the surviving member completing the album several months later. This knowledge makes one song in particular, ‘The Little Things’, particularly poignant as the pair sing of the memories left after a loss. Overall the album is a collection of laid back semi acoustic numbers with the high point the pair’s vocals which harmonise as tightly as The Everlys. The album closes with an elegy to Dupois on ‘The Other Side‘.
It’s that time of year when Christmas albums start to tumble out and first off the block here is ‘Pickin’ On Christmas’, an instrumental album from Davis Causey and Jay Smith. It’s a recording from 1998 which the pair released privately to give to family and friends but is now released following the demise of Smith (a weird coincidence following on from The Narrators’ album). Davis has had a garlanded career playing with all manner of folks from Motown to Nashville and Muscle Shoals and the record is a collection of lovely, laid back, almost jazzy, guitar instrumentals of well known Christmas songs along with tunes composed for the album such as ‘Following A Star‘ which channels Bach along with the carol ‘We Three Kings’. If you want a laid back Christmas then have a listen.
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